Wordless Rest

FullSizeRender-4This is an in-progress drawing that’s been living on my desk the past week. It was a thin watercolor sketch from a photo I shot last summer, which I decided at the time didn’t appeal much. Somehow, I found it and started messing around with some excellent pens I found last summer when Mel Scott and I wandered around (one of) the gigantic Blick’s stores in New York.  It’s not meant to be great art; I’m posting it to show you how my creative process is evolving.

As I posted last week, I’ve been working with great focus on the Restoration project, Whi
tehall,** set in the court of Charles II of England, one of the most fascinating characters to ever hold the throne. I love everything about this era–the people and the clothes and the world hurtling from the old into the new. It was a time of burgeoning knowledge in the sciences, particularly “natural philosophy” an early term for the observation and recording of the natural world, in all arenas from medicine to botany, for which Charles also had a passion.The Royal Society, one of the world’s most revered scientific communities, had its first meetings at this time.

And who could help but love the brilliant, rakish, doomed John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester?

When I agreed last summer to do the project, I had a thimble-full of history about the era, which has meant fervid immersion in all things Restoration, which is a lot of intense mental work. Which is one of the reasons I became a writer, frankly–there’s nothing I love more than learning all about something–but it’s hard work. Tiring. I have to take breaks, look away, change both my mental focus and my visual focus.

So I’ve been painting and drawing more. I write/research for an hour, then spent ten or fifteen or twenty minutes drawing, painting, scribbling. Something. It moves my brain into a completely different mode, entirely non-verbal but also laser focused. Every molecule of my attention goes into the shape of a line, a petal, a shadow, this very minute portion of the work. Which is like writing in a way, of course–you can only write the sentence at hand.

But behind each sentence in a novel are dozens, maybe hundreds, of bits of information. Fifth grade grammar class and the research from how gardens were arranged and where they were located to the shoes of the characters and her undergarments and how her hair was curled and what how the fabric moved and the relative positions of the players and what I wrote in the former scene and what’s coming later. It’s a lot of heavy lifting.

A line is particular, but it is particular to itself and this drawing or painting. I am only interested in how it shapes this page. I suppose there is a lot behind that line I draw, the colors I choose, other studies I’ve made, classes I’ve taken, but it’s not words. For this writer, I suppose that’s the thing. There are no words in painting. I love to read and I love to write, but sometimes that part of my brain just gets very tired. That’s why I cook. That’s why I garden. And now, that’s why I paint and draw.

If you work with words, what are your tricks for resting your brain? If you work in other ways, do you need a different kind of rest? 

**The first episode of Whitehall will be released in mid-May. Sign up for my newsletter if you want to be sure to be reminded when it begins.

Winter Light

16659679817_c417f03b88_bBirches in Winter by Mayfield Parrish, from Flickr Creative Commons.

One of my goals as I get back to blogging is to celebrate beauty in as many forms as I can. Books, food, animals, writing, love. And paintings. This one is by Mayfield Parrish. He’s a favorite of mine because of the way he used light and especially the way he captured the light of the mountains, the strange, rosy look of it.

This one is appropriate for a snowy winter day. That mountain could easily be Pikes Peak. It makes me feel calm. As if all is well and maybe I should go cook dinner.

I’ve just learned this afternoon that his work is unique and he belongs to no particular school. He created his own process of glazing thin layers of oil alternating with varnish. Until just now, I didn’t know that some of his paintings hang in the Broadmoor, an old luxury hotel here in Colorado Springs. I should go have a look at them.

Is there a painter who captures your part of the world especially well?

What I Love 3/365: The Smell of Cat Fur

Looking for a cuddle
Looking for a cuddle

One of the great things about living with cats is that moment when one of them comes in from outside and wants some attention and leaps up on a lap or the bed or a sink while you’re washing your hands and head butts you and you bend over and bury your nose in their fur, that thick soft place right over her shoulder blades. It is one of the freshest, sweetest scents in the universe, made of sunshine and breezes and the brush of cosmo leaves and the thorough attentions of both this cat and her compatriots who must spend approximately twenty-two of of every twenty-four hours on grooming themselves and each other.