My first painting class at Parsons School of Design in New York thirty years ago was in no uncertain terms utterly terrifying. I really had no idea what to expect, nightime class so many people easels a teacher who was a painter not good in groups less so with strangers, the introductions and the quasi interest in your goals mumbling through mine unintelligable, a blathering stream of ‘is that really what I said’ bad and a request to ‘say it again and louder please this time so we can all hear you’ would have sent me straight for the exit.
Thankfully that didn’t happen the teacher I noticed immediately was himself fidgeting, moving his head in fact everything seemed to be in rubbery motion all limbs and digits simultaneously. You might, if your little self speech was rehearsed for days crafted refined be a little offended because Paul seemed to want to move past and get this over with as soon as possible and let’s start to paint, as much as I did.
I’m not sure if anyone else saw this, I didn’t ask but I did take notice impossible for me not to a sympatico there with Paul, a resonance of familiar that eased my anxiety allowed me to breath again to settle in and feel maybe just maybe I could do this, after all.
He was the best teacher I ever had I grew to love him as only a drought thirsty student could love a teacher who offered so much so freely. His way was gentle, cautious always saying a lot less than others wanted that’s what I heard in whispers during breaks. Everything was a question they said, nothing concrete and how good a teacher could he be if he didn’t tell you exactly how to paint?
He told me everything in his questions.
The only rules the absolutes were these:
Sketch.. sketch.. sketch.. and look, always.
If you get stuck turn the canvass to the wall.
As we studied the masters he would point his dirty fingernail at strokes of paint and say furrowed brow emphatically over and over,
‘Nothing on that canvas is an accident!’
These rules these truths on painting The 3 Rules of Paul I carried with me cherished throughout my life, always watching observing absorbing, filing pictures in my head for recall later. Patience like painting is indeed a virtue a gift to yourself and others as you try negotiate communicate the trickiness of everyday relationships every word what we do and why is important.
Nothing is invaluable enough to waste.
And just in case you’re wondering I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention because it all sounds so perfect on paper, in retrospect it wasn’t and won’t be. Hardly. There’s human here flesh and bones and mistakes, far too many to list here. It’s just that I try hard, I’m persistent but when I inevitably fail fall short the harshest critic my own formidable enemy myself and it’s been a continuous voice over playing in my background for as long as I can remember.
And so it goes with writing now a new craft passion I didn’t know I had hadn’t even considered there was no forewarning that I could paint with words and sketch with letters because words were not my vocabulary. I’m just a picture person or I was just that person until fairly recently. It was all about images an impression pictures imprinted for recall at a later date but now words phrases and paragraphs are attaching themselves sticking to the pictures like Post It Notes on a magazine page. They glue meld and are inseperable now a new language an eye opening, what the hell is this discovery that I’m beginning to like.
So there’s a process now developing I’m recognizing the repeat as absolute as anything I’ve ever known, as familiar as my fingerprints.
I just had no idea whatsoever that the same rules would apply no clue that it would be this universal so easily applicable to sketching with letters and painting with words. Words…. I’m beginninng to wear them breaking them in getting acclimated and comfy. I let them resonate now color an otherwise gloomy outlook depressed.
Words, a self comfort I didn’t know I had.
I sketch now, write paragraphs fill up templates save and preview turn the canvas to the wall stuck and walk away, not all paragraphs are paintings they won’t be, they can’t be at least not for me, sketching always. Paintings are definitive a statement and over time they begin to take shape layers edit, reveal themselves and feel complete this essay. Sketching is an exploration an urgent attempt to mark a moment make mistakes ask questions and turn the page and ask some more.
Painting the process form follows function sketching has always been solitary singular done in private not shared everything quiet and still in the slow of the night. And as comfortable a process as this has become for me now something new has emerged sharing written words, I’m beginning to wear it well a little a day beginning to like it and am trusting the results.
If I sound wide eyed it’s because I am, there’s a revelation here and I might be in awe of what I’ve become so late in my day. I could try and explain its significance profound but I can’t so I’ll tell what I did today instead. It snowed heavy in Chicago an inch an hour grey sloppy roads unplowed unpassable.
So I went to the secondhand store to buy some clothes.
It’s a barn of a place a brick box bare bones flourescent lights aisles and rack after rack few mirrors. There are always people there I watch them observe as always they’re busy in their heads moving hangers and studying prices making calculations and compromises.
I didn’t head for the dark stuff today my worn out route memorized and I left with 2 giant shopping bags there’s a sale most everyday 10 shirts sheatshirts vest and some hoodies and less than $65 came out of my pocket. A bargain by any measure and maybe a statement too because none of these used new clothes as is my usual habit not a single one was black.
Written January 2012, edited.