That Certain Feeling

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Fledgling red wing blackbird

All the years I was a writer and especially when I was working on my one published novel (there are others in boxes or my computer files), I discovered an odd emotion that came when I knew a passage was right. Dead-on right. When the pieces clicked together not in the “well-made” sense, which is death to good writing, but in the “now the gears are meshing perfectly” sense.

Call it inspiration, call it a gift from the Goddess, call it anything you like, but the feeling is undeniable. Until now that feeling has eluded me with the art.

I often remind you – and myself – that I’m a fledgling. And then I remember a man my first art teacher told me about. “He always takes the beginning class. He’s been doing it for years.” She told me he was a good artist, but didn’t have the confidence to go to the next level.

Maybe the breakthrough came a week or so ago when I did the “What the hell, why not?” paint-throwing bit. Maybe I’ve been learning more than I realized with the practice of developing my body of art. Maybe it’s good luck.

Writer John Gardner said, “Good luck is nothing but being in shape to act with the Universe when the Universe says, ‘Now!’ “

I’ve been working this week on two pieces I’m entering in a juried show here in San Diego. One of them was already finished (I thought) from an earlier exercise and fit the theme of the show. The other is a new piece created just for this occasion. Both were a stretch for me, but I felt good about them.

Last night, I called them good enough. And then another thing from writing days hit me. Good enough is not the same as good. Something was missing in each of them, but I had no idea just what. A few ideas came but I hesitated and went to bed to sleep on them.

This morning I knew what was missing, but the idea was risky. I knew that if I screwed the paintings up at this late moment, just a couple of days before I have to deliver them to the jury, I’d regret it. But a bigger push was working on me: I knew that if I didn’t take the risk, I’d regret it even more.  I’ve taught other people how to take good risks and I weighed this one carefully.

I mixed the paint, picked up my brush, took a breath and said softly, “What the hell, why not?”

I didn’t change anything big in either piece. These were finishing touches, but the kinds of finishing touches that change everything.

I thought of Hemingway who said the biggest problem with writing was getting the words right.  Same thing here. And then, as I stepped back from the paintings, I felt it:  The sense of rightness. The sense of gears meshing and clicks clicking, followed immediately by that odd emotion.  I can only describe it as the kind of relief one might feel after crossing a chasm on a high and shaky bridge.  A little giddy, a little scared, crazy happy and wanting to try it again right away!

I’m still a fledgling, but I know one good new thing today. Take the risks. I’m going to make a sign and put it next to my easel. I don’t plan to stay in the beginner’s class – or the nest – forever.

Notes from the “What the Hell – Why Not?” School of Painting

I was a writer for many years – corporate writing, technical writing, editing, free-lance journalism. I penned the occasional poem or short story and eventually wrote novels and full-length plays.  I’m still a writer, but no longer for money.  I’ve graduated to being the fledgling artist that I am these days, satisfying a deeper and older creative urge.

When I was a writer – and before computers – I did what all writers did when they were stumped or had written five paragraphs of what could only be called crap, known in more polite society as a “rough draft.”  I pulled the paper out of the typewriter, wadded it into a ball and tossed it either into the wastebasket or across the room, sometimes narrowly missing the cat.

Computers have made this a challenge. The delete key works, but hitting the delete key is a puny and generally unsatisfying answer to the frustration of hitting a block on the road to creativity.

This morning I found myself up against the painting equivalent of writing five paragraphs of crap, and I also found the painting equivalent of wadding up the paper and tossing it across the room.

I’ve been working on a new mixed media abstract piece for a few days and was becoming increasingly frustrated as it seemed to go from “Gee, I like this one a lot,” to “What the…?,” back to “Oh, this will work,” and then again to “What the…?”

After a couple of hours this morning, I nudged it to a place I liked pretty well, very close to the original “Gee, I like this one a lot,” when doubts and general frustration began to set in along with a sense that I was facing one of those blocks in the road.

Then I did it.  The Thing.  I wadded it into a ball and tossed it across the room.  And I have to say it was much more satisfying than any such moment in my writing.

Of course, you can’t wad a 12″ x 15″ piece of heavy illustration board into a ball, so I did the next best thing – for me.  I loaded up one of my brushes with my favorite shade of red, stood back and threw the paint at the painting in progress.

It was one of those “What have I got to lose?” moments.  But even fledgling artists and writers and musicians and dancers know that if we’re not pushing the edge, taking the risks, we’re really not going anywhere.

I could have fiddled with this for another three days, the way writers endlessly fiddle with a bad paragraph in a “rough draft” only to find it doesn’t get better.

I’m happy to report that the painting got a lot better.  I have awarded myself the Red Badge of Courage for today.  And this fledgling has flown just a little higher toward the sun.

Art Is Where You Find It, and You Can Find It Everywhere

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A favorite silk scarf…beauty is everywhere.

The holidays are over, and it’s time to get back to work. Seriously, back to work.

Yesterday, I took a walk through the neighborhood to check out some new shops in an area of funky old buildings in Old Town San Diego that are being redone, and I happened on a color and design bonanza at Cal Soul Apparel and Vintage Aloha Shirts.

I was checking out the spaces for a possible small gallery and studio for myself – still a possibility – but also found owner Mike Moore who gave me a visual tour of his beautiful collection of vintage shirts and dresses.

Color is my animal these days and the shop is filled with it.  But there was more as Mike told me about the various designs and patterns on the shirts – where in the Pacific Islands they might have originated and why they’d mean something to the owner.

I have an old card around here about the “art police” coming because someone is wearing a beautiful shirt.  The owner says, “Take me away.”

Aloha shirts might not be in the same ballpark as a VanGogh, but that’s mostly because of the “collector appeal.”  Believe me, if there were only one of these shirts left in the world, it would be at Sotheby’s today drawing big bucks.

Fortunately for us, we still have more than one.  And for those of us who love color, that’s a very good thing.  I knew there was a mystique about Aloha shirts in southern California (which are suitable dress anytime anyplace), but I didn’t realize there’s also a love of art that goes with them.

Let us not get ourselves into art boxes so tiny we can’t appreciate art on the back of a surfer dude or dudette for what it is.  Fine, that’s what it is. Exceptionally fine.

Wishing everyone a happy and productive new year whether you’re painting like VanGogh or stitching up a beautiful shirt!