I was working in my yard the other day, rototilling the back lawn, reseeding the lawn, pruning rose bushes, pulling weeds. As I worked away at the soil, I found myself consumed by the thought of the paintings I want to be doing, but am not doing. I’ve been painting a lot, and I’ve been producing smaller paintings based on some interesting and random themes. These paintings have been going along well enough, but to be honest, I’m not content to be working in such a scattered way. I stay up at night, consumed by the thought of paintings that I want to channel my energies toward. I stare at the ceiling, brimming with eager energy, thinking of these works. But when I wake up, I am reminded of the fact that I don’t have the canvases made for them yet.
There is a holly tree beside my back fence, a tall, handsome figure that has the command of the entire back yard. It is a beautiful tree, very well shaped. I place a chair underneath this holly on a summer day, enjoying the dense shade that it provides. In the winter I am cheered up by its lush green glow, while the fair weather friends, the other trees, are nothing but bare bones. Lately, I’ve been concerned because the holly has been a bit spotty, and the leaves have been a bit yellow. As I guided the snorting, rearing rototiller along the yard, I approached the trunk of the holly and noticed something. All along the very base of the trunk were numerous small branches, their arms bedecked with the lush, spring foliage of young holly leaves. I suddenly remembered a conversation I had with an arborist friend of mine: these small branches harness all of the energy of the tree, at the expense of the tree itself. These small branches, called suckers, literally suck the energy right out of the tree. You have to remove them with a sharp pair of pruners, right at the base of the trunk.
Although I am satisfied with how much time I spend painting, I just want to focus better. It’s not that I’m discontent with my work schedule, it is that I am eager to focus on what’s important to me, in painting. But to create these works, for this step forward in painting, I have to think differently. I have to identify which is the tree, and which is the sucker. I enjoy writing this blog, it helps me clarify my thoughts and focus on what is most important, and is a wonderful dialogue between myself and those who are interested- “tree”. I have no mess sink to wash my brushes in, so I have to drive across town to the warehouse to wash my brushes- “sucker”. I spend so much of my time absorbed with trifling little details- painting random thoughts, ordering art materials, making canvases, running out to the store to buy turpentine, etc. These suckers are preventing me from doing the things I want to be doing. I am going to attack these larger works that have consumed my thoughts, and remove these suckers with sharp pruners. I found a hard working person who is happy to make a bit of money on the side by making canvases for me. I’m going to build another wooden palette, several feet long, which will attach to a folding bench, so that I can mix a generous portion of colours without running out of space. I am going to order larger tubs of paint. I am going to book models to pose for the paintings that I am thinking of.
I sometimes fear the younger generation
will be deprived
of the pleasures of hoeing;
there is no knowing
how many souls have been formed by this
The dry earth like a great scab breaks,
moist-dark loam –the pea-root’s home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.
How neatly the great weeds go under!
The blade chops the earth new.
Ignorant the wise boy who
has never rendered thus the world
– John Updike