Sunday, March 9, 2008

How Did I Get Here?

I am sitting at my art table, where I paint in watercolor, ink, and less frequently in acrylics. On the table is a big blank page, a full sheet of Arches 140 lb hot press, stapled to a piece of plywood, stretched so tightly that the edges curl up and make a sound like a musical tone when I thumb them just right. It's just a white rectangle, and I looked at it this evening and saw so much.

A year ago I was still covering white rectangles as quickly as possible, holding my breath and not looking too closely, getting lines and shapes all over it before the paralysis would hit. The mental snow blindness that started in art school, the great blank art project abyss I fell into many college mornings so I would cut classes and walk the rails out of town, or haunt the poetry stacks of the library. I was grateful, a year ago, to be able to do this mental dive, getting through the fear long enough to get something on the page, where life could return to normal and I could react to what was there - anything already there. For the first time in decades I could paint again, but only after this sprint past the scary blankness.

Now I sit here and see the promise and possibility of the big white surface. I daydream about larger white surfaces - canvases, whole walls. I don't have anything big enough for those surfaces, but I know that if I did I'd have a good time working that large. And I'm dumbfounded this evening to find I can think that way.

To some, this may seem like a small thing. To others, who know me outside cyberspace, this may seem strange - they may be unable to picture me having this kind of hang-up. But the indescribable need to paint or draw, and the inability to start, was a scar on my heart for many years, a blemish made huge by the fact that it seemed like a stupid small problem, something I should just have been able to get over, but couldn't. The white noise would get louder and louder until I was deaf and had to turn away entirely from image making. Studio art classes were the greatest impossible scenario for me - I had to quit (twice) to escape the futility, pain, and embarrassment of trying to tackle my great white whale in public. The whale that seemed plainly no more frightening than a guppy to the other students around me, blissfully painting while I stood looking off into the infinite blank horizon on my easel.

And tonight I realized that I've recently painted a half dozen or so pieces which simply began in my mind and then migrated quietly to the blank pages. I'm stunned that I missed the transition from fear to comfort. I'm sitting here recalling some of the steps and people along that road. The October vacation, over two years ago, when we discussed imaginary worlds and blogging and painting for the first time - a vacation that started me thinking again as a creative person. The used bookstore, home again in Hillsborough on the last day of that same vacation, where the book The Artist's Way practically leaped off the shelf at me (I still do Morning Pages nearly every day). The business woman and artist who encouraged me in my first attempts to paint again, and who invited me to the gathering of artists that became the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts, where I showed my work for the first time, sold my first paintings, and realized I could do this. My family who has bought paintings, encouraged the work, and quietly let me do this - especially my wife and children, who have made room (figuratively and literally) for me to paint. The lady from Winston-Salem who invited me into the project which became seven illustrations for a book, not yet published. The blogs and artists who have inspired me to play and relax, and lose my inner critic more and more often: Shano, Wally Torta, Annie Bissett, Cindy Woods, Megan Foldenauer, many more, and the artists in the Gallery, especially Kerry Nelson and Pat Merriman. The encouragement of friends and neighbors, fellow artists, everyone, really.

I'm stunned. I'm ecstatic. I'm grateful. I'm free.

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