Friday, August 31, 2012

An experience of creative grace

This past Tuesday, I went to my painting studio in the morning. I'd been fighting a cold and didn't have much energy but I had left a painting unfinished on Sunday morning and I didn't want to lose the ideas that I had for it. The building was quiet--most of the other artists who use this cooperative warren of studio spaces come later in the day. I put on my headphones and went happily to work finishing a big floral piece.

But this only took about 40 minutes and I felt at loose ends. I didn't want to start another big piece because I didn't have the energy for it and yet I didn't want to leave yet. My eye landed on some photos I'd taken off the web, and I was in such a who-cares-what-happens place that I got out some pencils and chalks and old paper and sat down to see what would happen.

The photos are of split-rail fences and came off the website of two guys who build such fences in North Carolina. Over the last couple of years, I've had several photos of split-rail fences, some of the photos quite artistic, but none of them were what I had in mind and I couldn't seem to assemble those images into the picture that I have wanted.

In 2009, I finished my first novel. In the opening chapter, the main character, Jake, is watching his friend Paul and a group of students weave yards of colored silk into a split-rail fence in rural Virginia. I wanted some version of that fence, that meadow, those woods on my cover and I wanted to create that myself. I had found a couple of possibilities and done maybe a dozen small drawings but nothing worked.

And as I sat there on Tuesday, the first version I drew was awful. That isn't modesty talking. It was awful. But I didn't care and the composition had something going for it, so I turned the paper over and changed to some different chalks and it began to work in an amazing and effortless way. I suddenly "knew" how to make the fence look like the fence. I don't know where the knowing came from. It just seemed to drop into my body.

I also knew I needed to do it again and on black paper this time. I had only a black backing for a pad of already used paper and I tore that off and sat down and in about 10 minutes, I had the cover art for my book. It was a breath-taking experience of creative grace.