Art, fear and obsession

A few evenings ago, I started re-reading Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life, Richard Meryman's excellent biography of one of my favorite artists since I was in my early teens. It got me thinking about the complicated reasons I keep doing art. Because it isn't exactly fun most of the time. A lot of it is a confrontation with my deepest fears. I am a perfectionist, and I'm afraid of not being good enough. It makes me extremely reluctant to start, and even more reluctant to persist through frustration, self doubt, and results that fall short of that impossibly high mark. It makes me want to give up. And it makes me angry at my cowardice and fragile ego.

That anger drove me out the door this dreary morning with my sketchbook and colored pencils to do yet another drawing of the VW Karmann Ghia rusting on a trailer in the alley, with which I've lately become oddly obsessed. I was going to do a violent scribble to bleed out the rage. Sometimes that helps, jolts me out of my funk, breaks me out of my inertia, and occasionally the energy comes across in a visually compelling way.

When I unfolded my stool and sat down to draw though, the fear and anger were washed away by sadness. It was a physical sensation that's hard to describe. I had to gently set it aside so I could focus.

Then I tried, once again, to resolve what was in front of me with what colored my outlook.



Collectible junk

A few weeks back when I was walking along the alley on my way down to the river, I noticed that someone had parked a rickety car trailer in front of a decrepit cinderblock shack. On the trailerbed sat an old VW Karmann Ghia coupe, one of Volkswagen's pretty cool early collaborations with an Italian design studio to style a sports car. This one, something between a barn find and a junkyard relic, looks like an ambitious project for an amateur restorer. Or maybe, more likely, it will continue to rust away in the alley until the owner comes to his senses.

Not all of us do.



A few hardy blossoms that managed to survive winter's sneak attack. Daffodils, counter to what their delicate appearance suggests, do not so easily succumb to a late season cold snap and heavy snowfall. They're remarkably resilient. They bounce back, their beauty undiminished. And they do it year after year. That inspires me to hope.



The restless month

March buffets me with impatience. Projects need attention. Sustained focus is elusive. I'm suffused with restless energy that resists discipline. I run out of patience, find myself distracted. When that happens, a change of activity often helps. Like a brief interlude with a sketchbook and soft graphite pencil out in a windswept field.


Weekend thaw

The third week in March for the past four years has taken me to New York City for the Architectural Digest Design Show, where my latest work in product design with Rutt HandCrafted Cabinetry has been shown. As a benchmark of more than a year of intense collaborative work, the positive response of the design community matters a lot, and we pull out all the stops to make it happen. It's satisfying to see the work and enjoy the feedback, and it leaves me and my colleagues wrung out from the sustained effort.

Fatigued from a particularly harried show complicated by last week's snowfall, it was Sunday before I recovered enough energy to feel like holding a paintbrush. A portable easel and paintbox I'd bought more than two years ago had yet to see first use. I figured it was long past time. I filled a couple of jars with fresh water, loaded the box with a couple of old dessert plates smeared with unused watercolor paint, and lugged them into the woods along the river. Found the spot I'd sketched the previous week and set up in the melting snow.

I am a perfectionist, and that sometimes interferes with my enjoyment of doing art. The kind of work I like to do, energetic and immediate, takes a lot of practice and requires a set of skills I've yet to acquire with watercolors. Standing behind the easel, I struggled with dissatisfaction, frustrated with myself.

Then I noticed what had really pulled me out there in the first place, the quiet reflection of the bluff on the river's surface. The loveliness of late winter's morning sunlight and the cool blue shadows on the melting snow. The softness of a faint breeze in the thawing woods. I remembered that most of the reason I do art is to connect with my surroundings. I relaxed and let myself be grateful just to be out there.