But we are what we are, and fighting that can turn process into product as well, the goal this time being self-reform, ticking off boxes for Relax This Morning, Ten Minutes. . . .
I have, definitely, been slowing down, putting many projects on hold until we are once more in a home that will support them with space and organisation and ergonomics. To fill the time that's left to me each day, I've been running and cycling more (although doing less yoga, unfortunately, because I haven't yet sorted the reinforcements I like to keep my practice going -- regularity of private time in enough space to get on the mat at home and the comfort and challenge, both, of a studio that works for me). I've been reading more. I've been trying to blog more, although with mixed results admittedly.
I've also been happy with my continued commitment to a portable project I added last fall, that of language acquisition, and I'll chat a bit more about that in a short post very soon.
What I'm using this post for, though, is to lurch my way back into another activity that could be sustaining, that was, in fact, sustaining me in my need to make this time work for me (and yes, I know that insistence is fraught with problems, but indulge me, would you?). I'm talking about my very rocky pathway to get in touch with my "artistic" side. I put that word in quotations because it's so simplistic in this overused trope that I've tended to accept, since grade school, of those who simply are artistic (and in this use, the term often gestures clumsily at the visual arts) and then the rest of us who rely on stick figures if we're pushed to draw for a board game, but otherwise say we "can't draw or paint because we're not artistic." As if that magical ability were simply conferred at birth.
No doubt there are innate talents, but I discovered a few years ago (through a weekend workshop with my friend, a professional artist and teacher) that I could develop enough illustrative chops to make me happy. Since then, I've played with paints, even taking a watercolour course where I learned that a roomful of women, all more "artistic" than I, so much more accomplished with pencil and paintbrush, were almost as hesitant to claim the word for themselves but, inspiringly, had all made art-making as a process part of their daily lives. Somehow, their occasional, even regular, frustrations with what they created on paper or canvas impelled them onward. They found joy in the process even when they weren't thrilled with the product.
That course ended just before winter last year, and then life went a bit sideways with the packing and the listing and the selling and the moving, but once we got settled here, I managed to start up a five-minutes-a-day sketching habit, which often stretched to ten or fifteen minutes, and which I took outdoors a few times, once even joining with a local Urban Sketchers Meet-Up.
The sketchbook, pencil, eraser, and a few pens were easy enough to keep on the table in our small apartment, but I began to feel some pressure to work paints back into the mix. So one day -- July 9th, says my illustrated journal -- after I'd sketched some beets we'd brought home from the market, I looked at those jewel-coloured vegetables, their ruby globes below and rippling emerald foliage above, the strawberry-Twizzler stems yoking the two, the weird terminal decoration of those hairy rat-tail roots . . . I looked at them and decided it was time to get my colours out. My tiny travelling paintbox doesn't take much room, but then I needed a glass of water and room to set out paintbrushes. Artist's sprawl was underway, but Pater was very tolerant, and I mixed and played and slid reds and greens and blues onto the page, letting each section dry, coming back every so often to admire and to adjust and to check readiness for the next colour's application. . .
It was all going along quite swimmingly, in fact, and I was rather pleased with myself. The painting itself I have no illusions about. Even had I got around to adding some veining to the leaves, it lacks depth and vibrancy and I know I could benefit hugely from having a more experienced artist give me pointers. But these were recognisably beets, and I'd created that recognisability all by myself. My "artist" self had, and I was happy for/with her.
And then I flipped back to bask in more satisfaction, wanting to survey what I'd recorded over the past several weeks. . . .only to find that my paints had soaked through the preceding two pages, ruining the quickly sketched portrait of Nola I'd been pleased to make as we sat together with pencils in hand a few days earlier. ugly red blotches marring not only that page but insinuating their wet way through the journal. "Rookie move," I berated myself. You should have remembered that the paper that comprises a Sketchbook won't stand up to much soaking. In fact, as I started flipping through the pages, I saw that I'd made a similar error last summer.
For two whole weeks, it was clear, but enough is enough, right?
So Monday afternoon, I wrote this post, and I decided I would finish it with a commitment to getting my sketchbook out again, adding another page to my illustrated journal, re-establishing a five-minute sketch habit again, reclaiming a tiny patch of space for my "artistic" self. Pater and I had plans to cycle out to Burnaby Lake, a nature preserve about twenty kilometres from us, and I knew I'd be tired enough to make anti-sketching excuses by the time we got back. The solution, of course, was to bring the art materials along, and once Monday's post-writing was done, I packed the black-bound, coil-ringed book into my bike's jaunty neon-green wire basket next to a pencil case full of pencils, pens, eraser and sharpener.
I will admit that even with this commitment, I second-guessed myself at the site. Not only was there the inevitable self-consciousness about outdoor (public!) drawing, but I kept rejecting possible subjects as beyond my abilities. I tried sketching a pathway lined with trees but erased it in frustration at the difficulties of perspective and so many planes of foliage. At that point, to be honest, I started to pack the whole kit-and-caboodle away, scolding myself that I should be happy enough with the cycling and with being outdoors -- why complicate the day by trying to do things I don't have the talent for.
But Pater intervened. Reminded me that I just had to find something and sit with it for five minutes. And I guess that gentle shove was all I needed. After all, five minutes? What else would I do with five minutes that was so important? And who would expect much from a five-minute sketch? Anything I got on the page would be held to a pretty relaxed standard, right?
I surrendered, then, to the five minutes, and I focused on the pair of song sparrows hanging out on the rail fence bordering the walking path. They flitted and preened and turned and sang and fanned tail feathers far too much for me to feel responsible for any accurate, recognisable representation. Instead, I watched them, soaked up their appearance, their behaviour, their movement, all the while my pencil moving as quickly as I could. At first, yes, I was trying to get a likeness, and yes, I was annoyed at the first switch of position, the head-turn that made me abandon my first attempt. But then I decided I could simply go with this, just get a series of bird-wisps on the page. I'm going to show you, but the images won't look like much, won't mean anything to you -- to me (and I remind myself that's who my journal is for) they recall not only the antics of my fine feathered friends, but also the temperature around me yesterday morning, a bit cooler where I stood in the shade of the woods than just a few feet away in summer sunshine. The images conjure the smell of the dank mud nearby where the lake is receding in the summer heat, the brighter notes of green leaves and blackberries ripening on the vine. I recall the various species of ducks we saw -- the ubiquitous mallards, of course, but also the rarer, delightfully painted wood ducks, shovellers -- the Canada geese, several long-billed dowitchers. And the sounds of those fowl, their clucks and quacks and splashes.
Because five minutes of sketching is not really about the product itself. Rather, it's about the process, not just the process of putting pencil lead on paper, but the process of observing in order to draw. Or rather, ideally I think, of just disappearing into observation and recording as being, one with breathing or something zen like that. . . . Whatever. Probably best not to analyse it too much at the moment. It's still rather delicate, rather tentative for me. I'm nowhere near suspending judgment as I'd like to be. But for five minutes yesterday, this was me. And the world. Together, on a page. . .
So that was yesterday's sketch. Today is another day, and I've made sure some sketching will happen by arranging a meet-up with a fellow sketcher. Motivation, but also a bit intimidating as she's an accomplished artist, and my inner editor -- far stronger a character than my inner wistful artist -- is sure to begin making comparisons quickly. I know, though, that she's also encouraging and very creative and open in her own art-making, so I'm going to do my best to trust to process. I'll let you know how it goes!
Meanwhile, since your comments on my recent post affirm the usefulness of questions in generating a conversation, let me ask you if you've ever let a childhood conviction that you aren't "artistic" dissuade you from putting pen or paintbrush to paper. Or, instead, how have you moved past doubts that you could learn to do something you've always wanted to do? Play a clarinet, knit a sweater, learn a language, grow a gardenia, throw a pot (not at someone, but in a ceramics studio!), ride a horse. . . . Just popped back to add another prompt for our conversation: have you any tips for how to make sure the new project continues, to keep the learning going in the face of discouragement and doubts? But the conversation doesn't have to begin or end with these questions, of course. All (but the nasty!) comments are welcome, and if you just want to leave a "hello" that's fine as well. . .
Thanks to Eleonore's comment, below, I've been reminded of Diane Athill's words, in her wonderful memoir, Instead of a Book, wherein she describes learning to paint, in her 80s. She refers to earlier generations who took the acquisition of basic drawing and painting skills for granted, not worrying over whether they were "artistic" or not. I quoted a paragraph or two here, if you're interested.