Painting like I Play

alice's violin2

This is Alice’s violin, not mine, but I play a little.  I play “by ear” and “par coeur.”  As I grow in playing I find that I retrace steps I once took in becoming an artist.  Thus I learned where the notes are on my violin by trial and error.  I started playing at a rather late era for violin, so I felt there was no time to waste.  Couldn’t be bothered reading music — never have been very good at it anyway.  Plus jazz being the great love of my life, most every line I yearn to play hasn’t been written down in any interesting fashion, and if it were it’d be far beyond my meager sight-reading abilities.

So I learned awkwardly, making tons of mistakes, to locate pitches.  I reasoned to myself that it was similar to singing.  You don’t know what muscles you’re using to make a note — and usually don’t know what pitch you’re singing.  You just sing.  I told myself I would train my fingers to do what my throat muscles do.  Just go there.  And after a while they have begun, gradually more and more, to obey.

Now some of you know that a pitch can be played in more than one place on a violin.  Certain notes have locations on more than one string.  The same pitch has slightly different “coloring” depending upon where it’s played.  But it’s still fundamentally the same note.  And there’s the rub — here’s where your unconscious mind can do wonderful magic if you let it — if you are willing to play the fool — go out on a musical limb and jump!

You see, I — like any student violinist — am trying to learn to play faster!  And to do this requires a certain amount of letting go.  I listen to the music in my head, listen to it getting faster, and I try to keep up.  As a child when you jumped rope, once they began to swing the rope faster, you just had to jump faster!  And you stay in for as long as you stay in.  It’s kind of like that. 

But because you can play the same note in various places, and because I am improvising, I don’t know which location my hand is going to choose.  When I succeed (I’m getting better, more and more I succeed), I don’t afterwards know which location my hand chose.  Think about that for a minute.  My hand chose.  My fingers have learned where these notes are, and they find them.  But my conscious mind cannot keep up.

One really can do this, and the proof is in the listening.  And when you paint — because I was getting back to that you see — the same holds true.  You can paint without knowing what you are doing.  Sometimes it goes best when you don’t know.  You see, you choose.  It happens quickly.  Your hands move.  Presto chango.  The picture appears.

It can happen like that.  I like it when it happens like that.  Sometimes cluelessness is a virtue.

Finishing Fish

koi finishing

I have begun finishing koi paintings.  It’s a strange process finishing a painting because it’s such an open-ended and uncertain process.  Of course, in truth, finishing is nothing more than continuing to paint until one is “done.”  If you have a very specific notion of what the image should look like, arriving at “done” is mostly a matter of nose grind-stoning.  But it’s very possible for a picture to be elusive right until the very last minute, which is kind of what I’m up against with these koi — and this is all the more ironic since I’m painting some of them from preexisting images.  All I need really do is just copy my image (the painting’s are enlargements of something), but somehow mystery enters during the translation.  I don’t recognize the paintings being at all identical to their sources — indeed they are so different that I can honestly say I have no idea how they will turn out.

I get some sense of what novelists talk about when they describe their characters taking over a novel while it’s being written.  I knew I was making progress on a painting when the koi started swimming — and that’s a good thing.  I want them to swim.  But I don’t know where they are going.  And you’d think I would know.

Why is the artist always the last to know?

Above, still unresolved swimming going on.