Monday, December 7, 2009

A Well-Used Eraser

I just finished struggling with a "Lighthouse" installment for the Winter 2010 issue of The Boat, so now it's up to the proofers to hack away at it. This particular column is devoted to the contemplations we realistic artists might face in our work -- the difficulties, the triumphs, the confusions and our moments of "ah HA" in order to try and put it into a kind of useful context.

And this particular installment was about realism -- what it means, what it means to an artist and how we can keep perspective on the whole messy concept. I became inspired to tackle this subject at Brookgreen Gardens, because there, in one collection, were perfect examples of what I wanted to discuss.
I actually started it over Thanksgiving, tappin' away on my trusty Mac laptop in the hotel room, and cogitated it on the five hour trip back home, then wrapped it up this morning. But my struggle wasn't because I didn't know what to say, it was because I didn't quite know how to say it. Now for years I've heard the assertion that realism is difficult to pin down, and that's true, but only true to a point. A rather finite point, actually. After twenty years in this biz, I realize it's actually pretty easy to pick out those pieces that are more successful in that department...but only when you understand what "reality" means. That's the tricky part.

The problem comes when having to describe
in words what precisely makes a piece realistic. I discovered it's actually darn well near impossible because what is realistic is something we determine when seen, not when described. We can yap for days about the muscle groups attached to the femur in great detail, but until we see it and make our own comparisons can we actually begin to get it. This is why such attempts fail and why learning realism in this way is incomplete, and why I wasn't going to touch that task with a ten-foot pair of calipers. But this not only makes life challenging in the studio, it makes for a kicker of a conundrum when writing about it!

This brings me to my well-used eraser. The process of attaining more realism in my work has been littered with pieces I wish would be erased from existence. I think we all have those floating around in our past. But from my vantage point now, I realize that mistakes are part of the process, so with a bittersweet smile, I tolerate them. But I do admit that I'm desperately curious to know how I'll see my current work ten years in the future. I do hope I have that same bittersweet smile.

Anyway, I remember in a drawing class in junior high, the teacher -- I'll call her Mrs. T -- reiterated again and again, "Don't be afraid or ashamed to use your eraser! It's there for a fabulous reason and isn't it wonderful to erase your mistake and start over fresh? You get to change your mind as often as you want!" That has perhaps been the one thing that has stuck in my mind from junior high. Not math. Not English. Certainly not French. The eraser bit.

I do love my eraser -- it is my freedom and my power. I use it with abandon and I'm never ashamed when I do. I'm wary of the drawing that wasn't liberally erased in various areas. I distrust it. It's too confident, it's too bloated with its own certainty. When that happens, I know I've royally hosed something up somewhere!

And so it was with the Haffie mare. Lo - I thought she was near done, but something nagged at me. Something just didn't seem right -- you know the feeling. You know in your gut when something is finished. And, no -- no gut feeling yet. I think of my eraser. It's the mane. Yes. It went on too easily, with no eraser marks. It's too simple, too...what's the word...easy. So off areas must come with the eraser -- er -- dremel. We'll see where we go from there.

And so it also was with my Christmas ornament. I decided to make a rubber stamp to squish a design into a slab of clay because I simply ran out of time to sculpt something, make a mold of it and figure out tile pressing all in one go. But for two weeks I've hashed out designs and wrestled with ideas, creating intricate compositions and complex lay-outs to the point where I drew myself into a tight, uncomfortable corner. None of them seemed right. None of them screamed, "I'm the one and you know it four-eyes!" Argh! This doesn't have to be so difficult! Why is it so difficult?!

Ah. The eraser. Wipe the slate clean and start again.

So there I sat, with a clean slate and a fresh open mind. I thought -- this whole stamp and slab-rolling thing is a rather spontaneous idea. Kinda on the fly. Why not have the design be something equally impetuous? I decided to play a game with myself -- whatever I drew in one go would be it. It doesn't have to be realistic, it doesn't have to be what I've done before, it doesn't have to be inside my comfort zone and it doesn't even have to be pretty -- it can be something totally new, weird and wild.

Ten minutes -- done. And it's shouting, "Hey four-eyes! I'm the one!" YES.

"A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes." ~ Mark Twain

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