Homeschool Boldly: Creating a Masterpiece
By Kay Chance with Lil Prothro
colorful painting on a canvas
Spring Reflections
by Lil Prothro

Acrylic on Canvas, 4ft x 5ft

Maybe it’s time to rethink education.
For years the public school system has treated it as a paint-by-number project. You follow the directions and you get the same results… over and over again. As homeschoolers, we started to experiment a bit. We branched out some, maybe even dabbled in impressionism. Yet most of us still tended to be quite realistic in our paintings, replicating either what we saw or what we wanted to see.

But what if education isn’t about realism or even impressionism?
What if it’s really more abstract in nature? What if homeschooling is about creating unique masterpieces, different from all the other paintings?

I want to introduce you to Lil Prothro, a personal friend of mine who is an abstract artist. I think you’ll be amazed at the parallels between her process of creating a work of art and what it means to homeschool boldly.

Do you just start painting? Or do you have some sort of vision in mind from the beginning?
I try to have a vision or some sort of inspiration that is prompting the painting. Usually, it’s lyrics to a song or whatever I’m studying in the Bible at the time. Before I paint, I always begin with a prayer. Typically, I initially have ideas of colors and a general layout in mind of how I want to do it—but because I do abstract paintings, it’s not very traditional so you can get away with a lot.
We homeschool boldly when we begin with prayer and continue to pray, trusting that our children’s creator knows exactly what they need and when they need it.
I like to have an idea of where I want to place certain colors. But at the same time, I allow a lot of flexibility, because part of the beauty of abstract art is that, again, anything goes and I’m really letting each brushstroke kind of dictate the next. So there’s a lot of working through unknowns during my process. But I’ve found out time and time again: the end product is always better than I ever initially thought of.
We homeschool boldly when we know our “why” but allow the Holy Spirit to guide us along the journey.
For commissioned pieces, do your clients give you the inspiration—like a verse they like or colors they want in it?
I’ve gotten a little bit of both. So I recently just did something for my brother, and he wanted something for their living room. They told me they liked certain colors and even showed me a piece of artwork from another artist as an example. They said, “Hey, we like these colors. We think this will go well.” But at the same time, they didn’t ask me to replicate the exact same thing. They said they liked it, but for me to run with it.

That’s the best way that I work; it’s knowing that I’m not going to replicate someone else’s work. I find that when I do that I don’t do my best work. It’s very frustrating. So I know that I can take inspiration from what they want but do my own thing. When I’m inspired by someone else’s art but don’t try to replicate it, my paintings are so much better. I actually want to sign my name to it.

We homeschool boldly when we stop worrying about what other people think our kids need to learn. Instead of comparing our homeschool, we cultivate the one that works for our kids.
Symbolically, what does it mean for an artist to put their name on his or her painting?
I’m satisfied with the painting and I don’t want to do any more to it. It’s at the point where I feel proud to put my name on it—like this is part of not only my reputation as an artist, but also as a person. And when you think of the big picture, it’s really about leaving a legacy. It’s putting my mark in tangible ways that gives people a piece of myself, whether the painting goes in someone else’s home or in their office or even in like a little card.
We homeschool boldly when we recognize the impact we can have on our children’s lives—not just their education.
Tell us a little bit about some of the different techniques you use in your art.
I love simple paint brushes. That’s initially how I usually start—just working with a paintbrush—but I also love using a spray bottle. I will spray water onto wet paint and just let it drip. I’m a big fan of texture and paintings. Spraying it creates these drips down the canvas. Sometimes I’ll rotate the canvas to get it to go in a different direction.

I also like to use palette knives sometimes to put paint on the canvas. It’s another way to get texture and to create a different look. The paint is usually a lot thicker using this technique.

We homeschool boldly when we use a variety of resources but realize we are teaching the child and not the curriculum. Our educational methods and resources are meant to allow them to become who they were created to be.
colorful painting
So how do you know when to use the different techniques? How do you know this is the perfect time to spray this painting or I’ve got to get the palette knife out? How do you know which technique to do next since it’s not like you are doing “paint-by-the-numbers” kind of work?
It’s something that I’ve learned as I’ve developed my own style and my own process. It’s changed as I’ve grown as an abstract artist. But I’ve found out I do have a process that I do like to do.

I typically start off with just a paintbrush. Then I like doing the spray bottle early on. When I’m in the initial stages of the painting, there’s a lot of layers. I’ll do the spray, because I like having that to lay a base, then sometimes I’ll paint over the sprays or sometimes I’ll let them kind of peek through, but I don’t want them to be the main focus of the painting—it’s just kind of like an underlying texture to work with. And usually the last step I’ll do, because I want the most texture on the top layer, is with the palette. So that’s typically when I like using those different techniques in that order.

We homeschool boldly when we stay flexible, changing and adapting as needed, even while using a particular method.
So how do you know when to stop?
That is something I’m still trying to learn. I had an art teacher tell me that it’s anytime you are beginning to get frustrated. I have a tendency to overwork an area because there’s a lot of excitement when I get in the zone and the creative juices are flowing. It’s really easy to just want to get it done so I keep going. It’s then I notice I’m tending to overwork an area.

I realize I need to give it thirty minutes, or even wait until the next day. And on bigger paintings that I’ve done, it’s been several weeks, almost a month before I go to it again. I need to physically take a step back and look at what I’ve done so far. And instead of just going at it and hoping it turns out well, I have to ask myself: What does it actually need? What’s missing? What’s working? It’s a lot of the process—a process of evaluation through the entire time I’m painting. It’s a lot of stepping back and not painting until I figure it out.

I know I need to stop when I’m not enjoying it, or when I’m frustrated. Maybe I’m doing a certain brushstroke and the colors are mixing in a ugly way that I really don’t like. Thankfully with paint, you can just take some time and paint over it. Each time it’s just adding more layers; it’s adding a different aspect to it. So nothing is truly wasted in a painting.

We homeschool boldly when we recognize when we need to take a step back and rest or put away the books for a while. We don’t assume our kids’ frustration or lack of focus is always a character issue. We know that taking the time to evaluate will help us become better parents and educators.
colorful painting
Even if I consider something a mistake—or there’s something I don’t like—I still try to use it because I think that is the beauty of painting. You can use anything and everything to make a better picture. You can see the mistakes and think, “Oh, yeah, I remember that.” It ends up being a beautiful masterpiece regardless.
We homeschool boldly when we relax. Yes, our children will have gaps in their education because it’s impossible to know everything. But we can teach them how to learn!
Paintings go through very awkward stages. I’ve had people ask me to take progress pictures of when I’m doing a painting. They just want to see what that looks like. My brother, for example, wanted me to send pictures as I was working on his painting, but I told him, “No, no, because you’re going to judge it based on where it is in a certain stage before it’s signature worthy.” That can make them question, What did I just hire this person to do?

Once I’m done, then I’ll show them the progress pictures and they can see how much it changed. It’s very rarely how I envisioned it and it progresses to be a lot, sometimes very, different picture.

We homeschool boldly when we honor the fact that each of our children is unique and will learn differently.
colorful painting with paintbrushes
colorful painting on a canvas
Each painting I do, it’s an opportunity to step into the unknown and to trust God through the entire process. It may sound really cheesy to some people, but that’s how God works through me—especially knowing how I like to know exactly what I’m getting into. I don’t want any surprises, and I want to know exactly how it’s going to turn out so I can prepare myself for how I’m going to respond. This is a way that God has allowed me to gradually build my trust in Him. And each time, through each painting, it’s never failed because He’s always faithful. Each painting turns out better than I ever initially thought it would.

That’s not saying that the painting process is easy, but it’s what I love about it. I try not to completely wash over the mistakes because I know that I’ll want to use it eventually. Because that’s how God is with our lives. He is sovereign over it all. He has a purpose and a plan for each one of our lives. And He uses everything that you think isn’t valuable, or isn’t beautiful. He still uses those seasons in your life to make a masterpiece. I love thinking about that: nothing is unused, nothing is wasted.

We homeschool boldly when we trust the process, knowing the journey is just as important as the destination. We believe God is working in both our lives and the lives of our children.

Lil’s interview has been edited for clarity and space. To learn more about Lil’s painting process, work, and how God has brought healing in her life, listen to the entire interview here.

While you are there, You can also download The Art of Homeschooling Boldly, a guide to help you explore what it looks like to create an abstract educational masterpiece for your unique children, here.

Kay Chance headshot

ay Chance homeschooled her children for fifteen years. While teaching them, she discovered a passion for writing and developing curriculum resources. She loves sharing natural learning methods and creative lesson ideas with other homeschooling parents. Kay is the co-executive editor of Homeschooling Today magazine and the author of the older extensions for the Trail Guide to Learning series. She makes her home in Texas with her husband Brian.