A world of contrasts lies between the powerful opposites among all the colors we can see. In the space between those beautiful extremes, between the flame of orange and the deep sea of indigo, between scarlet and emerald, is where we can begin to take the measure of our understanding of the visible world. And in the knowing, we can rejoice in the wideness of the visible world that resides between late-night violet and the dazzling yellow of daffodil petals newly sprung, between scarlet and emerald.
I’ve been taught that color, or at least our perceptions of it, might be manageable. As an artist, I try my best to take advantage of that possibility. But I know my limitations. Even rather experienced and advanced color theorists in this day and age come up against problems with explaining and understanding precisely what color is and how it acts, despite knowing the differences between additive and subtractive mixing, knowing how the retina and brain perceive and communicate color ideas to us, or knowing how the environment and context of what we see affects our perceptions of color.
What does it really mean if I say that Black is a construct that represents the absence of color and White, one representing all colors combined? Or if I tell you that an orange is, well, orange, but in deep shadow it might appear brown or black, or light yellow? Or that humans have white or black or red skin! What gives a single one of these concepts any credence at all? Color, it seems to me, is a matter of faith as much as of science—like so many things we think of as immutable Fact in our little universe. What both science and faith seek to explain, it seems to me, is beyond the scope of human understanding no matter how brilliantly we study and how majestic and divine our inspiration would appear. What is all around us is supremely complex and beautiful and, to my mind, needs no understandable explanation to be so glorious.
No matter what color it is.
Among the many ways we find our way through the world, ways we make sense out of what we experience, and navigate through life, there’s what we can see and feel on the surface of things. It’s easy to speak disparagingly of these things that are shallow as inherently lacking in spiritual depth or value, too, but that’s an unfair assessment to attach automatically to everything.
In practice, it takes but little tactile variation on surfaces to warn us, for example, not to grab nutmeg graters and 60-grit sandpaper hard in the soft palms of our hands, or expect to get a grip on a slippery fish without difficulty. Even the simplest human, once taught to recognize it, respects the distinctive visual patterns on a Diamondback rattlesnake from a safe distance. Conversely, we learn quickly enough the appeal of what we can recognize as soft, dense fur and sleek satin that invite our touch, and admire the enchanting graces brought to a garment by lace, to an elegant chair or door by skillful carving.
What we see and what we feel teach us how to interact with and respond to our environs. It’s not always a bad thing to need to rely on even snap judgements about things based on their surfaces. That, after all, is where an enormous amount of the beauty, utility and comfort that attracts us to them in the first place resides.
It would be hard to imagine a person who is less the early adopter than I am. Newness frightens me even under the best of circumstances, and I am intimidated beyond words at the idea of trying to learn anything. Worst possible example for anyone’s edification when it comes to scholarship, growth, adventure, futurism, daring, and tireless commitment to progress of any sort. I’m the one you’ll find huddled somewhere in the shady corner as far back of the starting blocks as I can manage to be, while everyone else is already sprinting gleefully into the turn.
Chalk it up, pretty succinctly, to fear. My self-diagnosis, summing up my own observations and experiences with the insights of better educated therapist and doctor supporters over my lifespan, is that the recipe made by my own ingredients of personality, health, situation and resources tends to combine into a person who’s timid and easily defeated. Add a dollop of laziness to my already potent blend of anxiety, dyslexia and other perceptive and receptive oddities, and my lack of physical strength and grace, not to mention of any sort of courage, and you get an unwillingness, even a very stubborn one, to set foot into new territories, whether actual or metaphorical.
When I feel I can experiment safely and without anyone else observing me at work, I may occasionally delve into something new with a surprising (to me, at least) sense of play and eagerness. Though I’ve resisted the idea of learning to use any new forms of technology, at least until they’re far from new anymore on a general scale, even these can be both useful and entertaining if and when I finally get up the gumption to try them. So here I am, finally, fiddling around with the iPad as an artistic medium. On our recent week’s jaunt to Puerto Rico, the iPad provided a convenient way to reduce the weight and size of my baggage from the old laptop I have lugged around for the last five years, and while I found it slightly irksome to peck at the tiny integrated keypad on it to write posts, it did work for that, and as long as I used newly made images or ones in my stream of digitally stored photos, I could plug in illustrations as well. Photos taken on my iPad or iPhone do not impress me much, and I find both a bit awkward to use at this point. But with a new set of digital drawing/painting toys, I’m distracted from any such photographic and textual shortcomings by the process of teasing out the secrets of each art-related program.
Once introduced to this plaything, of course, I loosen up and lose my inhibitions gradually. Knowing that after years of such untutored play with various iterations of Photoshop, I still only use a hundredth of the possible functions and tools it offers—and those, probably, in wildly incorrect and inefficient ways—I can only imagine that there will be exponentially more things I can learn and do, as well as fail to learn and do, with these newer tools and toys. But at least I’ve managed to wiggle my recalcitrant self into trying them, for a start.
I’m having some new kinds of fun, y’all. Several of you have inquired about my media and techniques in some of the more recent illustrations and images here, and it’s technology that’s getting me revved up these days. Who knew? I’m so dull-witted in electronic terms and yet here I am having a heyday with my new techie toys.
My dearest bought me a an iPad Air in January. I uploaded a handful of free drawing/art programs right away and have been playing with them all since. It’s fun to see what each offers in terms of virtual tools and media and techniques, how I can use them individually, what can be done by moving an image from one program to another in order to further manipulate it and alter its dependence on the potential of the first program in which it was developed. If that makes sense.
I am a newbie at this stuff. It’s kind of amazing to think that some of the early adopters have been at least beta testing this kind of thing for several decades already; me, I’m nearly always well behind the curve. But I’m having a great time drawing curves and any other thing I can think of at the moment as I get underway and strive to catch up a little.
Certainly one of the aspects of this techno-approach to drawing, painting or whatever one ought to call it is its wonderful malleability. I love that I can not only delete and erase marks without too much fuss and mess with my virtual erasers but also by removing entire layers. Even better is the ability to trade the order and placement of layers, so that I can begin with the top, outlined image and, like a kid with a coloring book, fill in the shapes and blanks with all sorts of color and texture, then move the layers around until I go from the upside-down or inside-out look of such operations to something that is closer to my original intent.
Best of all is that I am finding that digital media are just as serendipitous and cagey as concrete media: I’m just as unlikely to know from the beginning what the end result of my noodling and doodling is going to look like or what the final image(s) will be as I ever was when sitting down with pencil and paper. I don’t expect I’ll give up concrete media either, for that matter, because sometimes one just has to get grubby with silvery-grey graphite dust from elbow to fingertips in order to feel that Art is being made, but it sure does make it fun to gallop around this new frontier of mine with stylus in hand, too.
Despite my admiration for—nay, adoration of—color, I can be a little timid about being bold and colorful myself. Whether it stems from any inner quirk or flaw or simply is, I can’t begin to guess, but when I become aware of my fearful nature beginning to stifle other aspects of my personality I get a little irritated with my sheepish side and want to jump up on the table and do a dazzling tap-dance that ends with a spectacular back flip, splashing adrenaline into the hearts of all others present.
I don’t know how to tap dance. That kind of throws a monkey wrench into Plan A, even if I did have the remotest idea of how to do a back flip of any kind other than the I-just-got-pushed-off-a-cliff kind, and since that one ends fairly inevitably in messy death, the whole of the plan quickly loses its appeal.
But I can make artworks, and colorful ones at that, so as an acceptable Plan B I am quite often glad to whip out the spicier colors and wilder strokes of a bold design to assuage my spirits and reassure myself that I’m not entirely straightjacketed by my timidity. It’s good and wholesome to kick my own self in the pants occasionally (as well as less gymnastic, no matter how it sounds, than back-flips and tap dancing) and remember that I may be mild-mannered in general but even the quietest soul can sometimes have a momentary outburst and not only survive it but kind of relish the shock that it gives those around me who have also forgotten the possibility of my doing any such thing.
Strangely enough, the bond of sleep, that weight of Lethe sitting on my soul,
Reminds me constantly to keep from letting diamond days turn back to coal,
For stillness rejuvenates bone and blood and sinew strong enough to bring me on,
And sleep is a portal through which a flood of musings sweep me forward to the dawn,
So rest is essential, and there I lie, seeming immobile while I dance at speed,
Or mounting on magical wings to the sky, to soar as sweetly high as I should need
To see in sleep, in my mind’s eye, new ways to spring from dark to day’s desire,
To find in the darkness of night what I love most amid the constellations’ fire
And planets and comets’ tails’ dross and stone what I can reinvent as suns for day,
Even when I meet them in places of common interest I am surprised to encounter like-minded creatures. I suppose that’s part of the human psyche, to imagine ourselves so individual as to be unique in all ways. What we really are is unique combinations of characteristics, so we might be better explained as having innumerable subsets in common with others, but not all with anyone else.
And that makes for practically infinite possible serendipitous discoveries of the shared traits, ideas, bits of history, likes, dislikes and curiosities. The potential for finding ways in which we are like others is probably greater, when it comes right down to it, than for finding differences.
Of course, having desires in common means that, like siblings, we still find our shared interests a reason–if not an excuse–to compete with each other, even to fight. We might get a bit too busy comparing ourselves with each other because of our commonalities as well, and whether we think ourselves superior or inferior the imbalance in the equation can lend itself to conflict. We are contentious beings, we humans.
But all told, the advantageous delights of finding others with whom we share views and loves and hopes and pleasures far outweigh the complications. Whether we are introverts or extroverts, worldly or otherworldly, there is great happiness to be found on discovering kindred spirits. It is possible to live our own fairytales when we find the right characters with whom to share them.
Our Own Heroics
Our history is riddled with the tangled lines of man and myth,
Lines blurred by our conception of ourselves and powers that are with
All spirits, in our being; juxtaposed with this our creeping sense
That makes each want to change the balance, name himself the paladin,
The master, royalty, creator of all good in this our sphere,
So we can worship our fine selves in glorious beauty without fear–
That we wish inside, mere humans, that what’s fancied and what’s known
Were no grander than our smallness, so we’ve always tried to make
Ourselves the gods, the overmasters, even if it’s clearly fake–
We’ll try anything we think can make us kings of heaven, hell,
Or earthly realm–but here’s the problem: it looks great, but just a touch
Too great–it turns out we’re grand, but not for long, and not so much.
Would that I had the blithe wit and urbane persona of a Noël Coward, but alas, I operate on a lower and more plebeian plane. And for those who are keeping score, yes, I am a big chicken, if that’s what you were reading in today’s title. Still and all, I think of myself as being less than hideously fearful when it comes to self-exposure as an artist.Though the upshot of all this may be that my audiences become unwitting consumers of drivel and bilge at least part of the time, I also remind myself that there is some credible evidence, historically speaking, that the greatest masters of the many forms of art are represented in the present age only by those portions of their respective oeuvres that they or others chose to retain. Long have I wished that I might gain access to, if you will, the Rubbish Bins of the Old Masters to see something more accurately representing the whole of the bodies of work that led to the known and treasured glories. So here I am, letting all and sundry look into the underwear drawer of my art closet, so to speak. After all, I think that I’m merely admitting to what my betters may have left to the imagination.So I’ll keep showing off process and behind-the-curtain action from time to time, knowing as I do that not only are folk wonderfully gracious and patient with me even when critiquing but also , and more importantly, that I appreciate those of my fellow artists who are willing to share the same access to their gifts with me. We all have our weaknesses. But when it comes to showing off my work, I’m no coward.