This morning over coffee Otis wanted to show me something about a gadget’s new operating system. I wanted to say shush, I’m feeling things….but I didn’t. The hyper-sensitive world I visit fairly often is best kept between me and the canvas and you who care to read this. It’s not appropriate to let moods spill out on the breakfast table.
It’s hard for me to hold back when the rush of time past blows so hard that nerve endings feel receptive to every slight temperature fluctuation and any subtle waft through the window. Acuity picks up patterns and reflection usually ignored. And the familiar smell of coffee, or flower blossoms, or holiday evergreens can bring flashbacks of people and places like a Lennon and McCartney song, along with the appropriate lump in the throat.
I’m not always sure what prompts this intensity. Sometimes the trigger is the seasons’ change or a movie and sometimes it’s a big life event, like a wedding or a birth, or when tragedy strikes. When the emotions swell and memories make meaning of past and present connections of bits of time string together, often out of order, but still with a sense of endurance.
I know what jewels these are. I refuse to let them pass unnoticed. Even if I don’t take the time to properly pick them up, I must regard them.
This is when my whole arm itches to hold a brush and snatch the emotion as the mind’s eye images slide by. With the only agenda to express, it’s like scratching an itch– all other outcomes be damned. Ahh, the pleasure that comes from squeezing a tube of paint
Recently, Susan challenged me by offering me a “prize” if I could paint a painting without a horizon line, something I rely on when I’m not sure what to paint. The challenge was clearly about a good time. And the only pressure I felt was speed so I could see what my prize was as quality was not a criteria. The collage box was close by and in addition I grabbed a couple of handy baskets of paints, so my palette was limited to yellows and neutrals. A red found its way into the mix, but other than that there was little other color available to me.
The under-painting was some demonstration piece that was comprised of a lot of dark so my first step was to collage a green patterned piece of whitish paper on the surface. Next came a response that was more of the same to balance. The shapes were simple but complimented each other. Soon a familiar profile of a sail had my mind racing in the sun and a repeat pattern was added for unity. I felt pretty satisfied with the piece within the hour. Subsequent viewings in all directions held my interest. Yes it’s a painting. I got my prize—Susan knows me well.
When the urgency to create has nothing to do with exhibiting, selling, or gold stars, it’s remarkable how easy the paints can dance.
So when you’re struggling with a piece to which you’re heavily invested put it aside. Get out a scrap of paper or an old painting. Gather. Give yourself limits—time, palette, etc. Require that you use something– an element, a material, a color– that you never use. Forget the ideas and the outcomes– just start. Feel. Let images from the most impactful times in your life show up on the page—a door, a meadow, the color of your favorite stuffed animal. Mix it all up. Deconstruct and rearrange. Get mad, if that’s appropriate and paint like it. Let tears blur your vision. Or paint things that make you laugh. Be quick and intense, have fun and be daring. And keep going until either it begins to coalesce or it’s time to tear it up. And even then—tear it in fours and see if the pieces can be put together in a new way, or perhaps become completed, smaller pieces—if not, toss it.
The real prize is to know you can paint again another day.