March 5th, 2014 (From Below)
by Steven Townshend
Looking back, most of the good things I’ve ever made (things I’ve enjoyed) have come from a curious tinkering, experimentation without stakes.
Ideally we all want to be able to create good art all the time. To be disciplined and productive. But should you force yourself to create soulless things that you’re not feeling because that’s what a disciplined artist does? Or should you turn your focus toward creating something you enjoy rather than what you feel obligated to create? Who’s keeping score? These are questions I’ve been asking myself.
I used my brush to thin the other line of paint I’d drawn. Even at the breadth of a millimeter it was too wide, too awkward on the miniature spaceship. I dipped my brush in the pool of paint slowly congealing in the miniature plastic easel, dipped the brush again in the plastic cup of cloudy water and, hunched over the miniature, I thinned the line, holding my hands steady, elbows braced against the countertop so that the brush wouldn’t slide as it had so many times, requiring me to dip into another color and fix a new problem.
I painted through the night on Friday and Saturday, in the company of the cats, Pentangle and Pink Floyd playing softly through the overhead speakers. As I painted, the hours drifted by and I didn’t notice that they’d passed until I glanced up at the clock on the stove and it was 5 a.m.
I made mistakes as I painted, some of them worse than others. Whenever I began to paint, the ship I was painting didn’t look like much. The washes dipped into the grooves of the primed figure but the thing had no detail. It looked raw and clumsy, nowhere near how I’d imagined it. As I began to fill in details the ship began to take gradual shape until at last it became a thing utterly unlike what it had been, and it was strange to see it so transformed. There has only been one ship group that I’ve messed up so bad I need to start over. All the other mistakes I’ve been able to salvage or transform into something better.
The essential difference between painting one of these ships or making a photograph vs. writing a story is that I don’t have to be a good ship painter; I don’t have to be a good photographer either. The painted figures and the photographs only need to be good enough to make me happy. In my mind, a story needs to please everyone that will ever read it. This isn’t true, of course, but it’s hard to stay outside that kind of thinking sometimes when you’re serious about it. I want to get back to the place where I can enjoy playing with words. Where they become less an obligation and more a constantly changing experiment.
My favorite album might be Sweet Child, by Pentangle. It’s an album I can listen to repeatedly and it never grows old. Today I treated myself to another of their albums–Reflection, from 1971. It was far better than I thought it would be.
STRANGER THAN FICTION
As it happens, this is the coldest Chicago winter on record. As a surprise to absolutely nobody that lives here.