As soon as he walks in the room, Mista Funn lives up to his name (that’s his real name, too!). He is wearing jeans painted from belt to hem in colorful cartoons- perfect replicas of characters well loved across generations. He highfives everyone on the Paint Love team and within a few minutes, before the kids even arrive, he is showing us how to make simple animations with a piece of paper rolled around a pencil.
Soon, an excited mom walks in with her baby who expresses more interest in eating the crayons than drawing with them and in an instant Mista Funn folds a piece of paper into a moving origami crane and the child squeals in delight.
The kids and families who trickled into the craft room call the Ronald McDonald House home while they are going through treatment at local Atlanta hospitals. Mista Funn engages each kid as soon as they walk or roll their wheelchair through the door- he somehow encourages them to come out of their shell. “Do you know how to draw?” He asks a teenage girl and she shakes her head softly. He writes the word “boy” on a huge post-it note and she lights up and says “Oh! I know what you’re going to do!” Mista Funn hands her the marker and she transforms the word into a cartoon boy. “I thought you didn’t know how to draw!” He jokes. He shows the group how to transform “Girl” into a girl with long eyelashes, and then the word “love” into a whale. He then leads the group through creating a simple four-page book using only a single piece of folded paper. A shy girl with colorful barrettes in her braids and sitting in a wheelchair writes a story called “I love ribs.”
Paint Love events are all about the kids but once the young people were all diligently crafting their stories, Mista Funn turns to the chaperones and parents, most heavy eyed after long days dealing with the stress of medical jargon, insurance companies, and sick kids, and challenges them to create their own stories. They resist but grab crayons and write heartfelt stories about their families, about being far from home, even about Paint Love.
While the parents write more serious, cathartic stories about their personal journeys, the teenage girl writes a story about an anthropomorphized bowl of spaghetti who goes on a stroll looking for a friend. He meets a lonely ice cream cone and a friendship blossoms until they are both gobbled up by a hungry giant. As she reads her story out loud, holding it up to show off the colorful illustrations, the younger kids in the room howl with laughter, forgetting their battles for a moment, putting aside their treatments or their sick siblings to just laugh and be creative and just be kids.
Thank you so much to Amber Wilburn for capturing these amazing photos!