All creative people devise ways to communicate with the mysterious place where ideas come from. A scientific person might call it the right side of the brain. A more mystical one (that would be me) probably calls it the universe or Spirit. Whatever the name, we all learn over time to trust the whispering prompts that nudge us into a particular direction.
I’ve had some weird communications going on with the universe over painter JMW Turner, an Englishman I’d honestly never heard of until three months ago. I don’t know how I missed him now, since he is one of the most highly regarded of all English painters, and his style was a forerunner of the Impressionists, whom I adore with heart and soul, but there’s the truth. I had never heard of him or seen his work until I needed a painter for Brilliant. Jess gives Tyler a biography of a painter for Christmas, so I googled watercolorists and Turner came up. He was an eccentric who did things his own way and he fit the bill, so I ran with it. (Deadlines make a writer practical. Yep, works, toss it in there, move on.)
Afterward, Turner kept coming up—everywhere. At first, I put it down to simply awareness. You never notice how many cars of a certain model there are until you start driving one, then they are everywhere. Or you learn a new word and then see it in twenty places the next few weeks. I’m studying watercolors a bit, so reading in that world, and he’s a master. Of course I would see his name.
But it kept going and going. An article in a magazine I rarely read. A comment about the new movie. (Me: “There’s a movie?”) We wandered down to Lyme Regis on a family outing one day, and someone said, “Turner painted here, you know.” Christopher Robin chuckled. In a teeny tiny bookstore in Rye (and I do mean teeny tiny—it was so small not one more person could have come in without one of us having to step out), CR plucked a bio off the shelf and handed it to me. I nodded and accepted the book, starting to realize that this was starting to be more than a matter of noticing. The universe was saying, “Ahem, notice this, please.” I shrugged and thought, maybe he’s a good teacher for watercolor. CR suggested that since we would be in London, maybe we should see if there were any of his paintings. Turned out there was an entire, massive exhibit at the Tate, and one portion of it was his later work. Okay, I thought. I’ll go! Promise! We dropped our plants to visit the Tower (CR had not been enthusiastic and I’ve been before) in favor of the special exhibit.
Just in case we hadn’t go the message, we were at lunch with some old friends of CR’s and one of them said, out of the blue and without a single mention of our little Turner journey, “You know, Turner was born just down the road a bit. They’re trying to save his house.” CR grinned. I said, “I’m listening.” And when we stopped in a coffeeshop on the way home (it was cold and very damp, we needed lots of treats and cups of tea). While I was waiting, CR plucked something off the wall and when we sat down, he spread it out on the table ceremoniously. It was a flyer for the Turner exhibit. “Just in case you hadn’t got the message by now.”
So we went, and I was curious to discover what the big deal was.
And here is the truth: I am still a bit bemused. I liked his work all right, but can’t say it was madly inspiring. I loved examining his watercolors up close, to see how he drew the lines of mountains and sketched towns. It’s an odd sort of immediacy in seeing those pencil lines, a kind of time travel. I have been struggling with how to make light glow in watercolors and he’s a master of that. He also worked in the kind of mountainous landscape that I draw and paint over and over and over and over and have for as long as I can remember, and it was illuminating to see how he worked with the layers (see above). I loved his palette in watercolors, less so in the oils, and I never like those big classicist paintings of legends and bible stories. Yawn. The sketchbooks were wildly interesting–unfinished pieces showing unpainted pencil areas, very fast washes of color to catch something. I noticed one sunset scene had been layered with chalk and that was interesting, too.
Later we meandered through the rest of the museum and found a collection of Pre-Raphaelites that were spectacular, which was a thrill. It was a quiet sort of day, filling the well with color and images, and I can’t complain about that.
As for the urgent prompts, however, I have grown used to thinking everything is for a book, but this time, I think it was for my hobby, a kindly offering: Here is a great painter who liked some of the things you do. Maybe you can learn from him, from that little squiggle he made on that paper with a pencil he held in his hand a hundred and fifty years ago. What do you think of that splash of color there, that edge of bluff, that sunset over water? What about those colors in that one?
Nothing massive, no crazy ah-ha moment, just this, for the hobby that is so consuming me the past few months, a joy that’s hard to even express, and the one thing I allow myself to be absolutely terrible at, because it feeds my other work, because it make me see things in new ways, because, as Henry Miller said “To paint is to love again.”
As a creative person, engaged in creative work for my entire life, I’ve learned to follow prompts. I don’t always know where it they will take me, but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s successful, and other times it leads to a project that grows out of the compost of another. Who knows. I only know it works and I trust It, whatever It is.
Have you had conversations like this with the universe? Did you learn why you were led to a thing, or not? Do you have a creative hobby other than writing?