Confessions of Two Fundamentalists

Color blobs

Craig’s image usually flows from my words, but today I wrote from his watercolor.   


“You’re such a word nerd,” Craig teased. I had just finished listening to an audio on apostrophes – why it’s okay to write farmers market but not womens shoes* – and I embraced the accusation. I also wondered if he caught its irony from where he sat at his computer, as he had most every evening the past month, experimenting with images of snow.

Yet I see why I’m the nerd in our relationship. People are intrigued by an artist’s eye – how cool to see that a white mound actually contains a rainbow of colors – but give an icy shoulder to an editor impassioned by proper possessives, pronouns and punctuation.

SnowballThanks to Miss Claeys, my ninth-grade English teacher, I’m a stickler for the fundamentals. She taught me what makes a sentence whole and how I tear it up if I dangle participles or misplace modifiers. She demanded perfection. If an essay had misspelled words, the highest grade it could receive was a B; with a run-on sentence, it earned at best a C. In my quest for A’s, I kept my dictionary open and followed every subject with a predicate and period.

Craig also espouses the basics, not the ABCs, but the ROY G. BIVs. He spent three hours every day of his first year at the American Academy of Art with Vern Stake, his very own Miss Claeys, learning the Fundamentals of Art. Every week in class he drew or painted from a still life arranged at the front of the room and was brutally critiqued on his form, lighting, perspective and color. Every week at home he painted a color chart that filled our kitchen table, a carefully constructed grid or wheel with dozens of colors, each hue a smoothly brushed square or triangle butting against another box a small gradation lighter or darker.

He mixed and applied color every night, oblivious to his new wife’s hope for a little attention. I staged a protest one night, lying on the kitchen linoleum next to the table where he painted. He stopped working long enough to cover me with a blanket after I fell asleep.

Each of us is rather fanatical about our craft.

If we’re not careful, we become peevish. When Craig and many others at our church were praising a new novel’s portrayal of the Trinity, I couldn’t slog through the overwritten scenes. The painting I bought at a charity auction hangs at work because Craig said it was based on a formula, not fundamentals, and he refused to let me hang it at home.

But usually we remember that the craft is only the foundation, that it’s simply the support for the work we’re building, the scene being rendered, the hope or outrage painted with words or brushstrokes. We don’t use the fundamentals to seek perfection, but to express truth. To create art. Beauty found in the swirls of color breaking through the lines. Truth sometimes proclaimed in fragments. A square’s edges softened by the flow.


* Click here to listen to the fabulous Grammar Underground lessons of June Casagrande.



  1. Ha! This is the best.

    And I really need to know why farmers market is okay but not women’s shoes. Ugh.

    Please don’t read my blog.

    I would get an F, fo sho.

    • Lee Lueck says:

      I do like to use that mysterious apostrophe correctly, but it’s really a minor issue in a world with major suffering. Thanks for checking out the blog, Duane.

  2. Fundamentals and artisitic expression are like the warp and weft in weaving. The warp is the strong, stationary fiber through which the long continuous strands of weft are threaded. The resulting fabric exhibits characteristics of both. The dedicated Miss Claeys and Vern Stakes of the world help firmly attach the warp, the fundamentals of our craft, to our very bones. Then we are free to weave as we like. Thanks for displaying your hand-woven sketches and notes every week!

    • Lee Lueck says:

      What a beautiful image, Julie, and another reminder – if you will let me mix metaphors (so sorry, Miss Claeys) – that we need roots to ground us and wings for our creativity to fly.

  3. Craig Lueck says:

    Erin, “winging it” has always been the very first fundamental method for me. Freedom of expression and most of my important creative discoveries have depended on this being part of the process. It is messy, until it is not.

  4. Great post. Fantastic. Wish I knew more about the fundamentals of art (I’m forever just winging it and then ending up a bit frustrated by the results). :)

    • Lee Lueck says:

      Thanks, Erin. So much to learn but so little time. In most areas of my life, writing excluded, I’ve learned to be content with being good enough.