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Sunday, February 2, 2014

The line draws me

I made yet another New Year's resolution this year.  I've done this before, but this time I've actually honored my resolution for the month of January and the first of February. Before, I never got much past the first week, as abandoned folders on my desktop ("Poem of the Day," "Story Idea of the Day" -- never, mind you,"Housework of the Day") will attest. But this time I put it out there -- as on FaceBook-- that I would create "a picture a day."

The notion of audience is powerful, as are digital tools. Using those at catapulted me past the logistics of supplies, and messy spaces, spaces for display and allowed me that remarkable--almost godly--bulwark against false starts, the UNDO button. (Which of us doesn't wish we had one in life?)

I've been hearing the call of art from the time I could hold a pencil, and avoiding it like crazy. Drawing in the flyleaves of books, on the woodwork, on the cardboard rectangles that used to be part of the packaging for my mother's hosiery, and later the margins of notebook paper in school and yellow legal pads at work, I made almost all of my efforts casual. In these latter places, I rarely wrote down much and, although I could usually remember what I should have been writing down just by looking at the pictures, I was often reprimanded by teachers and even written up by a supervisor for my "inattention" during meetings.

I've done some formal art from time to time--a couple of restaurant murals, a few paintings that went to a friend's gallery (where my mother promptly bought them so I'd think I was successful, just as she once sent me an anonymous bouquet of pink roses in college so I would think someone liked me) but little else. Usually, however, the burden of knowing I only had one canvas or sheaf of paper stunted whatever free-flow might otherwise have emerged. (I am the same way when someone gives me one of those beautiful blank books to write in--the stress of writing something worthy of the gift closes me down.)

I began without expecting much of myself -- it was to be a discipline. I believed real art was always done with brushes and paint, or chalk or ink. Sadly, I've even held that photographs weren't quite on the level with other art. Snob! Further, I've always seen my art as going from brain to hand to canvas or page. I didn't realize it could happen the other way around.

In the past when I've done digital art, I've used a stylus and tablet. This time, however, that would have meant actually going downstairs to my desk. The dogs need supervision, however, so I stayed in my chair and drew with my finger on the track pad and drifted back to my days of finger-painting, admittedly with a much better set of paints. My first efforts resembled my marginal doodles, especially the man in the moon I've been drawing for about 20 years. There was a progression, though, especially when I started using filters and overlays, achieving effects I could never approach with my own techniques. Such fun!

"Evil Moon"

With the three images above, I already knew I was going to draw a moon and play around with it. The art became better, however, when I started without an idea and let the initial lines not only tell me what they wanted to be, but began to tell me stories as well. I revisited memories and the titles of the works changed according:

"Wyoming Road Trip, January, 1963"
"Moscow Pullman Highway in Spring"

The line I didn't know became both evocative and communicative, and I would suddenly understand, remember what I was drawing.

Even more interesting was when the line took on a life of its own, and I had no idea what the picture would be until it was done. Here is an example:
Beginning line: I had no idea what it was.

Second line, all in one stroke: It was a face in a babushka!

When I saw the addition of the babushka had turned the first line into a face, I thought for a moment I was drawing Baba Yaga. I decided to add some shadowing where the eyes would be and start the body. Again I was surprised. The eyes, the emerging face and body were young and joyful. I knew, too that my girl was blind.

She emerged, unexpectedly.
I added a background, a skyscape, I had created some months before and for the first time saw the image of a swan I hadn't noticed before. Cygnus.


"Blind girl sees Cygnus"

What's happening here seems miraculous to me. I begin to feel as if I have channeled this art. It came to me, and all I had to do was recognize it, birth it, and send it out into the world. It is the same when I write. I have so often begun one story that became another, encountered characters who would not behave, and words that became the instigating line in a world of surprises. All art is in a constant state of becoming.

In both art and writing, it seems, it is the line that draws me. My friend Tim Gillespie once told me, "The muse follows the call of the moving pen..." or cursor. It surely does. And perhaps I am not even writing or drawing, rather pulling a thread from the web of meaning that surrounds us, and following it into possibility.