Thoughts are sometimes best left to themselves, gambolling around in the wide open expanses of my head and allowed to roam free until required to attend to the necessities in life. Left in this idyllic and carefree existence, I find that more often than not, they manage to sort themselves out into some semblance of a system which enables me to negotiate my way through life in a relatively pain free manner.
If I try and sergeant-major them into orderly squads, shouting at them and shoving them around – I find they tend to get stressed, confused and worst, simply go awol – giving me a sometimes much needed excuse to have a nap, read a book or just another cup of tea. There are, however, always a few rogue ones that insist on spoiling it for everyone else…. well me actually. With a rather frightening degree of insistence, they remain standing firmly to attention on the parade ground of my mind, demanding to be dealt with, whilst their more sensitive and shy comrades long ago went back to the barracks for a lie down or more likely – the mess-hall to get drunk.
The persistence of these rogue thoughts is what enables us to navigate the more necessary heavy duties in life – getting out of bed, paying bills, keeping the relationships in our lives maintained at a tolerable level of smoothness, and walking the dog when it’s really pissing down.
Sketching – I can’t help feel is a somewhat similar past-time.
When an idea strikes – you know the kind – the ones that spring unbidden out of subconscious ruminations and rumblings into glorious full colour existence. The ones that rampage out of our imaginations bellowing for attention and demanding the right to life. Adrenalin levels quickly peak at the prospect of bringing this fully realised tableau into the world. Turning the blank piece of paper (for us archaic types) into something so wondrous and beautiful, that people privileged to gaze upon it can only shake their heads in bemusement at how empty and desolate their lives had been before the earth had been graced by it’s presence.
However, before the afore mentioned masses can have their lives finally given meaning and immeasurably enriched – one actually has to sit down and do it. Unlike a film director who can, and usually must, call upon the talents of swarms of concept artists, cameramen, lighting technicians, digital magicians and composers to help bring his vision to life, most of us must simply shut the door and get on with it all by ourselves – a fact that a blank piece of paper seems to proclaim all too loudly. Confronted with that ominous, beckoning and blank expanse we must embark alone, with, perhaps only a disinterested cat or a lovesick dog to bear witness to our endeavours (fish don’t count).
So, the pencils have being sharpened, the eraser strategically poised, the tea drunk; all that remains is hitch up the artistic trousers, dive in and reproduce the dazzling image lighting up our imagination and ferociously stoking the fires of creativity.
And, of course, this is where it all collapses. The pristine image disintegrates into a myriad little problems that need solving. It’s the art mathematics of it all that is so wearying. I can throw out some thumbnail scribbles that effortlessly capture the whole planned masterpiece in spirit. Sadly – I know what the masterpiece already looks like, so my eager mind racing heedlessly on ahead, fills in all the blanks. However, to the casual observer those blanks will remain steadfastly blank. The squiggles confronting them will not magically resolve themselves into a finished wonder. They will defiantly remain as squiggles – illegible to all but ourselves. We will have to fill in the blanks. Sadly, I can’t get a painting to the painting stage by producing pages and pages of thumbnails. At some point, a confrontation is inevitable and problems must be solved. All that stuff, that when wanting to paint something convincing (vey important when dealing with “fantasy”) just never seems to get any easier. Anatomy, perspective,anatomy, dynamic composition, construction lines, and anatomy. How I wish the solutions would just flow from the end of my pencils – but, alas – no. Everything. Each character and their corresponding body parts, expressions, accoutrements and attitude has to be fought over, corrected, twisted into place. Then they have to have a meaningful relationship to other characters and all of their respective body parts. Then they have to be placed, or planted in an environment that looks like it could physically sustain their presence. Then they all have to be corrected. Then everything has to be tweaked……..and corrected again.
It’s all very tiresome to a simple soul like me, who just wants to squeeze out some pretty colours and start splashing around. There are some admirable, yet slightly irritating types, who without any prior marking on the canvas of their choice can throw caution to the winds and confidently start slinging pigment around with admittedly impressive results ( not counting those more than slightly irritating “abstract” or “modern”art brethren…..). I can’t include myself in that elite group of brush-pushers – so must, as I suspect most of us, trudge through scribbles, sketches and all sorts of frantic markings trying to reproduce that now, increasingly elusive image that once emblazoned itself so proudly in my imagination. Happily it is that same image, sparked from our imagination that makes the whole thing bearable. The knowledge that pages of terrible anatomy and woeful drawing, if persisted with, leads eventually to verdant and colourful pastures where characters with fully functional knees, hands and elbows can make the whole process just about tolerable. All that ” art maths” gets me somewhere. Most importantly – somewhere I really want to be. At school, at an age where unfortunately it mattered, I was truly terrible at maths. Mathematic problems only ever lead to more mathematic problems. I had no desire whatsoever to go there. I failed important exams – twice. Graded”U” each time. Means Ungraded – wasn’t really worth marking. And the second time I tried. Much to my poor fathers exasperated astonishment I just could not make any connections. He was a qualified engineer, so those kind of mental pyrotechnics seemed to come easily and deliver pleasurable satisfaction at the same time. My, admittedly, reluctant brain would just do a”Homer” on me. Sadly, not a reference to any of the rather groundbreaking literature and accompanying mathematic theorems that went on in Greece. Rather just a dull voice announcing “I,m outta here.”.The slamming of a door and the sound of footsteps fading into the distance. Just never saw the point. But, the saving grace with all this art stuff, is that usually there is some kind of visual goal to strive towards, which, for now, we will say justifies the effort put in to get there.
I realise this all sounds frightfully gloomy and maybe a tad negative. Some of you are probably wondering why on earth I bother in the first place or how I manage to get anything done at all. Well – of course – it is the sheer fun of painting, safe in the knowledge that I now know what I,m doing, and the hard work has been done.
And it’s discipline. Always a rather intimidating word with possible unpleasant implications, but we all have it to a degree. If we didn’t, none of us would get anything done and be quite content to loll about on chaise-lounges, sighing gently, whilst slowly sinking into a life of indolence and decadence – tinged with slight regret. I don’t mind admitting to being a little proud when it is pointed out to me that I must be pretty disciplined to be able get out of bed, stumble to my cellar and and start putting pencil/brush to paper all by myself. Never really think about it myself – but I think they might be right. We are driven people, often still in our cellars when others have long since been able to forget about the days work and demands that others have placed upon them. We have somewhere nice to drive to. And it’s all ours.
Feeling that I am – as is my want – straying off some vague and overgrown path here, it might be necessary to establish a sense of direction. To counter all this condemnation of nuts and bolts sketching, maybe it should be pointed out that it is not quite the torturous trek into the dark places of my soul as I have maybe made it out to be. Amongst those swarms of made marks, things do fall into place. Some bugger of an anatomical problem reveals itself to have been solved. A hinted at face suddenly shows a spark of life and hint of personality. All these little victories are signposts. Each one emboldening my lines and strengthening my conviction that I chose the right path. I can maybe even see a glimpse of colour on the horizon.
Now, there are those of you out there who happily stay within the parameters of tonal work , excel at it, make a personal language out of it and generally amaze those of us who tend to regard it as the titular necessary evil. These beautiful works are so complete in their own existence that it very rarely occurs to me to wonder what on earth it was that stopped the artist from getting their colours out and finishing it properly. I suspect that this is because I see a beautiful finished piece and have no need to take it further. I am also equally sure that these finished works were arrived at after a journey through lots of ideas – possibly like mine – frantic marks on paper trying to make sense from the images tangled in the imagination. If I had been privy to peruse these sketches, I am also sure that my own imagination would have very quickly taken the rough images to a full colour conclusion – whether or not that was the artists intent.
Not wanting to have to repeat myself when I get to the happy painting place, I do try and keep my drawings relatively uncluttered – providing just enough information for me to take them further in colour – without too much angst. If the positioning and anatomy is more or less sorted – then I feel confident enough to let the paint take care of the rest. A balance between some foundations been laid and then completely winging it with all the pretty colours. I can get caught up in a face, and take a scribble into sketch territory, but pretty much never into finished art. I’ll leave that to the pro’s.
Luckily, in order to ensure our continued – if somewhat increasingly fragile toehold on this planet, Nature has very thoughtfully gifted our bodies with the ability to manufacture mood enhancing chemicals that seem to reward certain patterns of behaviour. This nearly always involves blotting out the memory of just what it took to attain this rather lovely state of affairs. For some people this blotting out of the risks can, and does get them killed whilst pursuing this natural high. I,m not bold enough to insinuate that what I get up to in my cellar ever really approaches anything truly life-threatening – but it’s reassuring to know that Mother Nature very kindly sweeps debris from the creative process under the proverbial carpet each time a painting is finished. And it is precisely this very thoughtful, selective pruning of memory, coupled with promise of a little chemical rush, that provides the need – and naivety to start the process all over again.