Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ferns along the boardwalk

Only spread a fern-frond over a man's head
and worldly cares are cast out,
and freedom and beauty and peace come in.
~ John Muir

Patterns in nature have always intrigued me. I focus my camera on a rock or tree bark while others are taking photos of landscapes! While walking on the boardwalk at Freedom Park the other day I was captivated by the fronds of swamp ferns and the patterns the shapes and shadows made. The ferns were lush and a gorgeous shade of green in the late afternoon sun. A sense of wonder and peace fell over me as I mused on its beauty. The quote above by John Muir (the founder of the Sierra Club) captures those feelings in a few succinct words.

I tried to capture the scene in watercolor, but I’m not sure any painting could illustrate the moment. I had to stop my painting to go to work, and when I came back to it, I decided that I liked the unfinished look of it. Somehow I felt that the light area at the bottom reflected a sense of the luminous radiance of light on leaf. Last week I participated as a visiting artist for a local summer camp, and while looking through my sketchbook, one of the children asked if I was going to finish my cormorant pencil sketch. I explained that I had decided that it WAS finished, and that it was okay to leave things a bit wanting.

That interaction started me thinking about the artist’s role as an editor. Sometimes I am so wrapped up in the details (you know me!), that I forget to let the viewer participate. I like the idea of inviting someone into a drawing or painting and letting him (or her) finish the story, so to speak. Having the outside world intrude and limit my painting made me think of other limitations as well. Limitations from the inside (as we edit the things in our drawings), as well as limitations from the outside (not having time or the right paint or color or paper) pushes us into the realm of creative problem solving.

Limitations can be our opportunity. When money and time for art are scarce, we learn to use the materials at hand or invent new ways to create. We learn that a quick drawing from the car can be as rewarding as a hour at the drawing table. Sometimes the limits come from my own expectations – when I’m disappointed in how a sketch turns out or I’ve overlooked a glaring error in perspective.

I’ve found that once I’ve reached that point, a shift in my thinking takes place. Since the art is not what I visualized and therefore “wrong”, I feel much freer to experiment since I can’t possibly make it worse! I open up creatively; the limitations have vanished. And another shift happens...many times (not always!) my willingness to experiment results in a piece that works and has more meaning.

Do you have experiences like this? How do you problem solve in life or as an artist?