When I draw or paint without a model or a preconceived subject, I find that three compositions or images recur.
The first is a series of verticals, of differing widths, with their starts and stops at different heights. It's a forest of trees. It's a grove. I see this in many real things, as well - nearly any series of vertical (from my perspective) will end up evoking trees to me. This doesn't surprise me - trees have been at the core of my being for as long as I can remember.* When people use the epithet "tree hugger" I wince, because I have literally hugged trees, particularly some that seemed to have presence. I still do, occasionally, particularly beeches or unusually potent tulip poplars. I have pieces of long lost, important trees embedded in my hiking staff.
I can recall a particular paper birch, at the head of a small grove which may have been entirely her descendants; I had a silent relationship with that birch when I was fifteen. I used to hike to her many afternoons after school, and sit by her. The last year we lived in New York, a road was put through the grove, wiping out eighty percent of it, I was consumed by rage and grief for days. The main tree survived, though. I don't know if this experience forms the grounding for the recurring image - or if both are linked to something earlier and more primal in my life.
Another, much less positive, image that often emerges when I am just doodling on a large surface (anything larger than eight and half by eleven) is an "x." I hate and curse this image with all my heart, because I dislike it aesthetically, distrust it whenever it appears, and I can't prevent it emerging in many cases. It can show up in any composition, if I'm not careful. Sometimes it's OK, and I can allow it - other times I struggle to remove it or abandon the work altogether.
And finally there are the stupid sheep**. Three times now I have had images come forward, in non-objective (abstract) works, which ended up being a small group of sheep with light coming from behind them, at the upper right corner of the image. The first time I was amused and enjoyed it, though the painting was a failure, and I ultimately cut it up for CD covers (like the piece Grizzlies in Central Park which ended up making three covers). The second time the sheep emerged I refused to participate. I erased them. The third time I just laughed and cussed and figured I was not going to be done with these stupid sheep until they were done. So the painting above (more gray/blue in the photo above than the original, which is more intense) is the result this time.
I say "this time" because I have a feeling this is not the last. I can still feel the sheep needing more. And this image is black-faced sheep, and I sense that there is another breed that wants out. The sheep have also made appearances in the book illustrations I completed last year.
And if you've been paying attention, you may have realized that this painting is also an example of trees... And if you look closely, there is an overall implied "x," as well.
* I have posted about important trees and my relationships or feelings for them before. Here, here, and here.
**If you listen to the lyrics of Insomnia Blues by Carla Sciaky, you'll hear the phrase, "Where's the stupid sheep?" Moomin Light wrote about this piece, here. Another favorite of mine (by Carla Sciaky) is This Deep Love.