Drawing and painting are very different expressions for me. Each offers me a different way to “say” what I am experiencing, very much like speaking a different language. There are many words and phrases in some languages that don’t exist in others. For example, cafuné is a Portuguese word that means the act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair. What I express in a drawing versus a painting is exactly like this. I capture something in a drawing that is untranslatable in another medium. Over the years, I’ve noticed this in my own work. This summer, I decided to explore this idea after a day drawing in a park.
I sat silently, completely absorbed in drawing little snippets of the vegetation in front of us. I like making little cartoonish studies of what I see with black pen and some crayons. For me, drawing helps me catch form. I like focusing on shapes, how they relate to one another, and how they inhabit empty space when I draw. Drawing tends to be form over substance, for me. While I can capture an overview of the environment, it lacks an accurate account of the feeling of the place.
How often do we sit with another person and describe what we see? As I walked through the whistling grasses with my dog, I admired how the delicate blades turned from green to sliver as the wind flickered through them. The small wildflowers swayed in the cool breeze, and I saw their jigsaw-shaped petals and leaves fit together perfectly. The little park exuded peace and serenity. Perhaps you’ve never seen a park the way I’ve described it. But I’ll bet that you have felt the calming benefits of a walk outside.
A cloud passed through the sun, the wind subsided, and I wondered how I could paint that feeling. That’s a difficult task, isn’t it? Emotions are abstract. They are beyond language, because they are intangible . . . ineffable. Linguistically, the term abstract nouns are used refer to objects you can experience with your five senses. They can identify concepts, experiences, ideas, qualities, and feeling that can really only be hinted at. The word makes sense if you have felt that experience.
Painting is where substance over form can manifest for me. There is just something accurate about portraying a mood in paint. Maybe it’s because the colors can be mixed together to create the perfect hue. Maybe it’s they way the surface can be layered over and over again with different colors. Maybe it’s the perfect combination: an abstract medium to represent an abstract experience.
Truthfully, it’s all of those things. But it’s also something else that I haven’t quite identified. I know when I’m finished with a painting because of the way it makes me feel. At this stage of the painting (below), I really felt that I was finished. I captured all of the lush, verdant blades of grass, how they turned silver and bent in the wind, and even suggested at the small wildflowers that bowed their heads gently into the landscape.
It all made sense to me. I stepped away for a few weeks. Yet a nagging thought kept popping into my head – what about all those people who can’t see what I see? How could I allow them to see what I see? This would require me trying something new. To show everyone the flowers and blades of grass that I see, I decided to highlight them. I covered my favorite spots of the painting, the ones that really felt like a landscape with tape and paper. And then I painted the background black.
The result? I think you can experience it for yourself, but the wild garden came to life.