I find myself struggling with a bit of a painting dry spell. It seems to be that I have forgotten how to make my hands work! After a couple of small disasters in the last week or so, I decided to give it a rest. The desire to hibernate sets in at this time of year, accelerated by the unusual amount of snowfall. We have about 3 feet on the ground and it is still falling as I write this. It can have a dulling effect on my energy and I am forced to resort to my archive from warmer days past for material. Sometimes this does not have the desired effect.
Creativity can call in a number of ways. Sometimes I just have to put down the brush for a little while and try sewing or beading… or writing. The last few days I started to make myself a new journal cover for my Moleskine. I have taken to writing down things that move me; things I hear on the street, on television or that I read in books or newspapers. The tiny pieces of paper I was just grabbing here and there were getting a little out of hand and, afraid of them getting lost, I purchased the Moleskine.
They say when you are stuck the best thing to do is get out of the studio. So, I spent a couple of hours in a used book store last week. The store is in an old building from the 1800’s and is called the “Owl Pen” after the stories by Kenneth Wells (see post July 23, 2008). The floors are uneven and the windows are a bit drafty and coated in many layers of paint. Upstairs there is a back room full of Literature and Poetry and some of the books are nearly 100 years old. I could spend hours in this room alone. Tennyson, Whitman, Dickinson, Browning, Scott…. Wordsworth! I even made a new discovery…
On a table in the center of the room were these two books of leather and rough paper. The dark grey cover had such worn edges that the natural colour of the leather from which it was made was beginning to emerge. The liner paper was a shimmering silver and the title plate was printed to imitate illumination. On the opposite page was a pastoral ink painting (see above). This book contained a single poem, Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy – Written in a Country Churchyard‘. I opened this delicate book a read the first few lines:
The Curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
There are some things in life that just hit you and you take a breath… The book now sits on my desk beside me. In the poem were echoes of my own thoughts on the passing of simple country folk. Those who tended the land and whose homes and buildings I have spent the last year painting. The metaphor of Gray’s churchyard is my silent house.
I looked up Thomas Gray (1716 – 1771) and discovered that he was an accomplished poet and scholar in the mid 18th century who, in his lifetime, published very little because he was so critical of his own work – a fear of failure that I can relate to. I also discovered that some of Gray’s poems were later illustrated by William Blake in the 19th century. The common phrase “Far from the madding crowd” is from this poem. There is an interesting article on Gray at Wikipedia.
For thee, who mindful of th’ unhonour’d Dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred Spirit shall inquire thy fate…