They painted with brushes and bubbles and string.
They blew paint through a straw and squirted it from plastic bottles. They painted to music and by themselves and with a friend. They painted ornaments and cookies and clay bowls. They painted carefully or with abandon.
But whatever the tool or technique, the children who participated in the Oneonta World of Learning's Paintfest last Saturday painted for fun.
It was amazing to watch, this painting extravaganza. Children in clear plastic smocks pulled their parents from one classroom to the next, where volunteers passed out supplies, helped with techniques and hung finished creations to dry.
The littlest painters squatted or knelt on the floor, completely intent on their work, oblivious to the globs of paint oozing off the corner of a poster, spattered on jeans and smudged on hands.
In the hallway, children waited for a turn to paint at an easel. Outside, they squirted paint at Oneonta Mayor John Nader, dressed for the occasion in a white hooded suit and plastic goggles.
It was a day of painting in its purest form: painting for art and exploration and self-expression and the sheer, kinesthetic joy of splattering color across a blank canvas.
We are a painting culture. We paint our toenails and our faces. We paint to get a fresh start in a new place, and we paint to cover up the stale look of an old place. We paint to express our style and our personality. We paint to redefine ourselves and our space.
We paint because we can. Interior decorating is big business in our do-it-yourself world. Every home-improvement store devotes prime real estate to paint-swatch displays designed to seduce us into redecorating with glossy photos of bright, sun-filled rooms and colors with names like Seafoam and Lilac Whisper.
It's not until after you bring home the new paint that you realize what you signed up for is more tedious and messy than it is glamorous: moving furniture, unscrewing switch plates, taping around windows and baseboards, spackling holes, cleaning brushes and rollers and all the inevitable drips.
Yet, the desire to paint can be contagious. Earlier this month, I helped paint the living room of a friend's new house, which inspired me to repaint my bathroom, which prompted my 11-year-old daughter to remind me that I'd promised to redecorate her bedroom, which motivated me to actually do it.
It has been a long time since I thought of painting as a creative endeavor.
The kind of painting I've been doing is painting for a purpose, not for art or for fun. Yet it is fun, in its way. I love the smell of fresh paint.
And, despite the work and the mess, there's a lot of satisfaction in rolling over an old color, finishing a whole wall without smudging the ceiling, and discovering the way a simple color switch and a few inexpensive accessories can transform a whole room.
At the Paintfest, I ran into my elementary school art teacher. She was helping preschoolers gently lay paper atop mounds of bubbles they'd blown through straws.
"I think you need to try this," she said, as I hovered, marveling at each cool new paint-bubble design.
I didn't take her seriously.
The truth is art is outside of my comfort zone. I've never been able to visualize things clearly enough to draw or mold them. My memories of elementary school art class involve gray blobs of clay, smudgy pastels, fruit-scented markers, a gold-spray-painted toothpick sculpture and a macramé owl.
I remember, too, that even when I was disappointed with the results, I had fun with the tools and the materials.
As an adult, life is all too often about the results, and there never seems to be enough time to enjoy the process. That's why events like the Paintfest are so important _ not just for children, but for parents, too.
As a busy mom, I need to be reminded now and then to slow down: to set aside time to imagine, explore and create with my kids; to forgo books and board games for finger paint and science experiments.
With two rooms freshly painted, I'm ready to put away the rollers and brushes for a while. And the next time I get the urge to paint, it just might be with bubbles and straws.
Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at email@example.com.