The white paper between pen lines — if only you were there! — it hums with hidden insects. We play hide and seek with spiders. They hide. We find (not meaning to seek). They dash. We shriek!
The rolling hedges hum with cicadas singing. The air fills with vibrations from insect wings.
The intense green of the grass, the intense blue of the sky, the golden sunlight pouring over everything, the heat that lifts in waves from the ground, that makes you fold down onto the ground, makes you sit upon the grass, that stills the hurry and puts you back down onto the earth, the real earth of this moment in time.
The straw hat scatters light over her face, the warm tones of her face glow as she laughs. The child knows how to live in a simple summer day. A child knows what it is for. This just being here now. In joy.
I was thinking about making a still life using pictures of flowers from a calendar. And I took it a bit literally. I kept the flowers inside the pages of the calendar and imagined the pages laid out above the vase. Makes prisoners of the flowers. And yet a drawing on a sheet of paper with the square edges is a little bit like this idea. To see the world around you as material for drawing. Everything being laid down into the square edges of the page. Lines around everything. And the pen lines being like thoughts that put them there.
In the veiled and imminent dawn you can dream a different kind of dream. In this soft light, inside these paled thoughts, everything is so much more possible. The quiet haze of heavy thoughts amorphous holds inside its fuzzy boundaries ideas whose exact shapes are unknown, and in their uncertainty offer possibilities too many to count.
How I try to use these dreams of semi-wakefulness. The half actual shapes, the lines whose endings cannot be imagined. When asking questions is like holding the pen, and the words that your mind speaks back to you in halting phrases are lines whose character the time has yet to determine.
When I first began drawing, many years ago, I withered whenever I made a drawing that included big errors of proportion. I suppose I would have suffered a severe case of the vapors, back in the day, upon making a drawing like the one above. Drawing this mobile frisky parrot from life, I became very interested in the bird’s claws, and that enthusiasm appears to have completely commandeered my pen. Happily, big feet don’t bother me now.
I know today that “drawing is drawing.” I don’t worry about making a “correct” drawing. I just draw what I draw. Proportion is hugely important, and I personally like drawings that depict animals in naturalistic ways, but it’s equally true that exaggeration arrives at meanings that natualism misses. However, it’s just as significant that different drawings record different impressions and that sometimes you just act upon your direct unfiltered perceptions. If unfiltered thoughts pour into the parrot’s claws, well that’s just part of how the artist learns inside a lively process that shakes out lots of ideas over the span of many drawing sessions.
If you wanted an exaggerated drawing that registered the parrot’s claw as a mighty appendage, this would be just the start. And that’s a factor that artists need to recognize. Sometimes you want accuracy and purity, and other times you want extravagant ideas and “big” thinking.
Draw a lot, draw very freely, and you’re bound someday to have the whole continuum.
I used to be afraid of spiders. Or, more precisely, I used to be more afraid of them than I am now. I’m still afraid — in certain circumstances — sometimes more afraid and sometimes less afraid. But my overall fear trajectory has moved in the direction of rational co-existence.
At some point in my life long ago, I decided for the most whimsical reasons that I should try to like spiders. They are, after all, very conspiculously present in my environment. And whenever you’re on a ladder trying to clean out the gutters — a place that I periodically would find myself — they can “make you hurt yourself,” as my uncle used to say.
Not that they want to. I’m not sure whether they are even conscious of their effect. But I have wondered at times whether or not they scare each other. It must be hard having a good solid relationship when you’re a spider.
But we try to find the good in life. After observing that spiders were building their orbs right across my doorway at night where I’d be sure to get caught in the nocturnal trap myself, I decided that maybe I should come to terms somehow with my fear. Without knowing anything about phobias, I decided just to watch them. At least the web is beautiful even if the spider isn’t. I learned that the porch spider would typically begin building around 8pm, so I’d get my chores out of the way early and make myself available to watch the show.
Several warm summer nights I stood on the porch and watched. A big fat hairy and most creepy spider would patiently build her web and when it was finished she positioned herself in the web’s center where she would wait for supper to arrive. Wow, she’s hungry. It was funny how I could begin to anthropomorphize aspects of the spider’s behaviors in ways that made me sympathize. After a while I began to worry about her a little. Would make sure the porch light was on — it attracts bugs. I would be careful to find the evening’s web before I ventured onto the porch myself — not as much out of fear this time, but so that I wouldn’t destroy all that patient work — for the web building took an hour of labor and she seemed to spend an entire day’s energy on it: I never saw a spider rebuild a web the same night that one had been damaged.
More time passed. Sometimes I would get closer. A couple times I even reached out my finger just to tap — or almost tap — her. You can see where this is going, I guess. Soon these spiders will be afraid of me. They will be asking other spiders for advice: “how can I get the human to stop tapping me?”
The humans! They are so big and scary! (Well, that’s a problem for the other species to solve.)
Everything they told me was wrong, and it’s taken me thirty years to fully appreciate this fact. Thank goodness I never believed them. However I did listen because you tend to hear the things that people around you are saying even when you don’t agree. Happily I was very stubborn and so I resisted the bad advice that I got from people all these years.
Now then, I wish I could say that their advice had been completely ineffective. If I could say that I guess I’d be superwoman — or superartist. I heard people giving me bad advice and some of that advice did creep into my brain, and it caused me to have doubts. So for thirty years I’m doing paintings that are not really “art” and I’m doubting myself along the way. But I have this big stubborn streak too so I’m doing what I want to do anyway because it’s my life. And thank goodness, I was surrounded by other stubborn people in my family. The worst of them were far more stubborn than me — which certainly could make living with them challenging at times — but there they were teaching me daily lessons in a kind of persistence that has served me well for those times when I want to do what I want.
I did sense that that the bad advice was bad advice. But what if I hadn’t? What if I had believed the forecasters of doom since they said they knew what they were talking about?
The beauty is that I had something in my own heart that tugged me where I wanted to go, so that even when the false narrative was most attractive I had this other happy impulse to follow. It teased me along the way you tease a cat with a piece of string. Even when the sound and the motion was quiet or slight, it was compelling in that beautiful way of desire. And that siren voice kept telling me to be the artist I wanted to be. And I listened because it was fun to listen.
And I’m still doing that. And it’s still fun.
I have been thinking about thinking, reading about thinking too. Can’t say exactly what I learned though because I was watching thoughts move, and they mostly seem to flow like water. They go by so quickly that it’s hard to catch one before it’s gone.
But then there’s another one. Have you ever had a bunch of good ideas, and you watched them and thought “wow” those are neat. And yet afterwards you couldn’t have told anyone what they were.
Sometimes ideas scatter like a flock of birds. Truly I don’t quite think they were my ideas, but were migrating electrons that appeared in my head, danced in wave after wave like fire flies and then as mysteriously disappeared.
And the afterwards is like the memory of a lovely summer night in which flower bloom aromas drifted upon the air. How I would like to put them into a vase of blue with light shining through and keep them.
I’m learning a valuable lesson: that it’s motion nonetheless even when it’s slow motion. My appointments with the easel have been less routine lately because I’ve had a bunch of rather mundane chores to do, but I nibble away at various paintings and marvel that even nibbles produce ideas. The pictures happen more slowly, but they still happen.
Sometimes a lot of change gets compressed into a small space. I don’t know what the effects of working slowly really are, how the painting done in captured moments will differ from pictures that I could do with sustained interest, but I am painting. I am thinking about colors and lines. I gaze at forests in imagination and at the atmosphere.
And who can say what influence my chores have, also, upon the pictorial thoughts? Perhaps adding a beneficent influence from wider Life?
The point is that you just keep patiently working. And stuff — good stuff — will happen.
In mathematics the fudge factor is “a quantity introduced into a calculation in order to “fudge” the results: that is, either to make them match better what happens in the real world, or to add an error margin.” Of course, in art everything an artist does is a fudge factor. It’s all fudge. Is a regular fudge factory.
(Hope I’m not making anyone hungry.)
No matter how carefully an artist draws (and artists should always draw carefully), one can never draw the world the way it is. If you drew the world as it is, your drawing would need to be one-to-one. And that sheet of paper is just too big.
So what you leave out and what you put in matters enormously. And half of the genius of art lies in getting stuff wrong. We live in the land of metaphor and analogy.
I have wandered the hills and valleys, splashed in the lakes, swum with the fishes, and sung with the birds. I drudged through leaf litter in the dark forest and lifted my head to see the sky and watched it fill everything until all you could see was sky.
I had a traveling companion, an adventuresome Mockingbird who stands sentinel over one of my trees some mornings.
It was entirely mental travel. No baggage fees, no boarding passes, comfortable seating and plenty of free coffee and healthy snacks. The only passport anyone ever asked for was imagination. And we had enough of that to give the boarder guards a run for their money!