Mark Ballard

Building the layers of life

By MARK BALLARD - Special to The Telegraph

For the past seven months, I’ve been creating a number of drawings for an upcoming art show. Each blank sheet of paper I purchase begs to be transformed from being something ordinary to something original.

In my mind, I can see the finished product. All I have to do is use my colored pencils to build layers and layers of different shades and colors until the image stored in my head appears on the paper.

Recently, as I was working into the night on a drawing, my mind wandered to the process of layering and how it affects us much like it affects color. With each layer of color, a visible change occurs without much effort.

Some colors become stronger when used together, while others soften when combined. Just as in life, without the process, the result can’t evolve.

Years ago, when we were completely renovating our kitchen, the process of layering became clearly evident. Since our house is almost a century old, it is a textbook study in layers. Stripping away wallpaper offered peeks into past decorating preferences of former owners.

I lost count of the layers of wallpaper, but at one point I could clearly see the remnants of several decades.

Removing the flooring opened many other doors to the past. Several layers of linoleum and various designs of tile covered the wooden floor like layers of quilts do a bed on a cold winter’s night.

Adhesives were reluctant to let any of them go, but finally surrendered to the strength and tools of the workers. Their purpose had been served with pride but they never complained when another layer was added.

I couldn’t help but wonder how many people had walked on each layer, leaving scuffs and scratches like battle scars.

What fascinated me the most were the multiple layers of paint. Our kitchen had been just about every color imaginable over the years. The cabinets and moulding had remained but took on a plethora of different looks as the latest trends voiced their opinions.

I grabbed a piece of moulding -- destined to become rubbish -- for a closer examination of the different shades it had proudly displayed over the years. With just the swish of a paintbrush, it changed and changed and changed again.

Just as each year adds a layer, or a ring, to a tree, our lives are also the result of the layering process. We may not be painted or stained, but we certainly are altered by each layer we add.

Slowly, and sometimes without notice, we are constantly changing. This has never been more evident to me than it is as I become older.

We are who we are today because of the layers life has given us. Many of them are positive and add luster to our lives. Others have attached to shield and protect us from things that have hurt us.

Some of our layers are there because of wise choices we made, while others are there to remind us of our mistakes. Whatever the reason for them, when stacked together they define us.

Just like a faded shade of paint, even though we add a fresh new layer, the old layer remains hidden underneath.

The older I become, the less I worry about the older layers that seemed so important to me during childhood. Or the ones during my teenage years that appeared to be of a life-and-death importance but, in the big scheme of things, weren’t really a threat at all.

As time has mellowed me, I now concentrate on just adding positive layers to my life. It is easier said than done and I’m definitely a work in progress.

When someone or something brings negative layers to the surface, maturity has left me with an alarm system that sounds inside my head to warn me. I’m getting so much better at being aware of that bell and heeding its warning.

I’ll end on a sweet note.

Since I do a lot of baking, I sometimes think of life as a cake, which just happens to also be a series of layers. If we are fortunate, all of our layers are moist and delicious on their own. But if they’re not quite perfect, we still can rely on the layers of rich, creamy icing in between.

Every cake is an original, just as we are. Although not always successful, it is my goal to be the sweetest, moistest cake I can be. Think about that the next time you see a slice of cake -- build your layers accordingly.


“The Mark of a Pencil”: Mark’s first one-man art show in 25 years will be on display Aug. 1-31 at the Macon Arts gallery, 486 First St. Join Mark at the free opening reception, 5-8 p.m. Aug. 1 at the gallery.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.