I take a sip of coffee kept hot by a blanket of chocolate-drizzled foam. It’s a small concession for painfully-early hours. My watch, sitting mournfully on a drawing board, tells me it’s 3:35 a.m. Time is slipping. I turn back to the painting.
A line of paint issues from the end-hairs of a brush. My hands are ignored. They take orders and put up with anything. Everything. Maybe they aren’t what most expect an artist’s hands should be. Winter isn’t necessarily kind to my hands. Summer brings woodworking duties, when painting panels, frames and crucifixes are constructed. It also brings plenty of splinters, some of which are too deep to bother. I’m told my hands are too rough and I am told they are big, but they rarely have paint on them.
I detest sloppiness. Brushes booby-trapped with paint are my worst nightmare, and I never understand why anyone would want to paint with blobby, colorful brushes that, in my world, are barely useful as stir sticks. The only paint on my studio floor is in a can.
Again the lines blur between reality and a world inside the painted plane before me.
Needs more dead leaves on the forest floor. More needles and twigs. Would maple seeds make sense? Hmm, not in a pine forest. Pine twigs, sans needles. They have those little rows of knobs where the needles were. Hmm, do the knobs alternate? I need to go get a twig... Paint deep negative space. Umber, with a touch of white. Moldering leaves. November rot, crisp in the air.
|(Photo courtesy of 'The Mudge.')|
The details of forest detritus began years ago with a faint wisp of thought, as do most of my projects. While working on a far different piece, I began toying with the idea of a Scandinavian forest populated with characters from the hinterlands of my imagination. With a Norwegian stave church as a visual counter to fanciful characters, I created tension with an untold story on the verge of telling. Eventually the painting was laden with rich texture and details of flora native to Scandinavia. But I knew that painting – even before it was finished – was only the beginning.
The first painting, “Förtrollade Skogen,” was popular enough to encourage a second painting of a series. My mind had raced ahead with ideas even before its popularity peaked. Bits and pieces of thought became suspended in a mental whirlwind.
What did the Norwegian say? ... “Ven I vas leetle...” “A troll unter da bridge.” Or was he a Swede? Legends crossing cultural lines. French trolls. Even Dutch visitors told me of trolls. Stone. Water. Ships. A boy. A boy? Why are children the only ones? A pipe. Roof lines. Fluttering. Noises. Clattering of hooves on cobbles. Ebb tides. Neap tides. What is a neap tide, anyway? Sunset. Birds. Raking light. Why would the French have trolls? Nasty trolls. Big trolls turning to stone. Detail. The sound of feet too small for thistle down.
It almost seems a shame to make something concrete out of so many fragments of thought swirling about me, but what is left to blow around my diaphanous train of thought will be saved for the future. They will be a savory reward for hard work; monotonous work. And they will be a third piece – maybe a fourth.
A triptych. But what size? It could be 12 wide. Then it would have to be 52 tall. Even panels. Big. I don’t know if i like even panels. Why do they even WANT to know how long a painting takes to paint? Does it matter? A thousand hours? 45 seconds? ... White with snow.
This is the sometimes-lonely world of an artist. There is no one to tell me what to do except the guy inside my own cantankerous skull, and no one else to blame save the body beneath. What I now lack in company while I work is countered by the knowledge that I might touch countless people with the finished piece. They will hear the whisper of my thoughts through the voice of paint.
Now, where was I?
More pine needles. Ochre is getting low. Another tube in the wings? No, I’ll have to pick up another tube. Add more detail in the shadows. Layers of detail. Add more Prussian blue. More now. Ugh! Paint is getting stiff. It’s already drying. Needs a touch of Liquin. Cut that edge. That’s it. Another. Another. Load the brush. Snow. Flying snow. Tomorrow I’ll work on stone texture. A field – a vast plain. ... Sigh. The sound of snow falling...