Last night the kids were watching TV and I wanted to sketch. I started with the intention to clear my mind. I wanted to have no conceptions, no ideas in my mind before putting pen to paper. To draw a line with no judgment, opens a world of possibilities and makes the work a lot less worrisome. Though to just decide to drop the narrative in one swift moment and release is such a subtle piece of business. For someone like me the subtlety of such business would take a long while on my cushion, with silence, and it still might not even come. So, it didn’t exactly work, at least not in the way I expected. I sketched a loop and a line across the base and this was all the mind needed to form an intention; with just these two lines it had become clear that it was a frog. Now to say that having intention is the same as conceptualizing is, I think, the subtle difference between being liberated from, or being tied to an idea. Because intention is just at this point frog, and a willingness to change if the idea of frog turns into something else. Conceptualizing would have been to take it further; Pacman frog sitting near a serene creek with a mountains and trees in the backdrop. Which then becomes a little more rigid, and fixed, and eventually gives rise to the judging mind. The artwork then becomes only an expression of the shackles of limitation. I formed the body and began to cut in a few tufts of grass near his feet, then gave him a familiar frog smile. At this point I saw the distinct horns of the Pacman frog we saw at the pet store earlier in the day. So I went with it and continued adding rocks nearby. I wondered what he would look like in his natural environment, not backed up in the glass corner of a bare terrarium. This wonder gave rise to the rest of the picture: a Pacman frog sitting near a serene creek with mountains and thickets nearby.
Not exactly masterful. Maybe whimsical. Not timeless, but fixed to a particular time and memory. Immediately after I finished I noticed a few spots that I could have made better; I could have added more detail to the mountains, made a stretch of treeline to give it depth, and added detail to the frog, or at least created bolder lines. But alas the kids were done with the TV. The reaction of my son was really what it was all about. His smile brought the picture to life.
Within the past few weeks while I walk the dog at night you can hear the little tree frogs from different wetland preserves around the neighborhood croaking in sinuous unison. My son and I love the croaking, a constant wave of croaking. We’ll go to the chain link fenced preserve and see if we can spot any venturing out of the pond and onto the river rocks. The noise is very loud, so much so that we don’t even bother to try to talk over it. Usually though it only lasts about a minute or so until we’ve been spotted and word gets out to shut off the croak box. Then silence descends and its as if there was never anything there at all, because to get a glimpse of them is nearly impossible.
Not only this bit of inspiration but I’ve fallen in love with the master Hakuin Ekaku and his work. He evokes such uncompromising commitment. Some prints are so childlike that the viewer can’t help but feel overwhelming joy. His lines are bold and in his work is the essence of Zen, there is perfection in his imperfection.
And so of course I’ve been working out my own sumi paintings of frogs.
Spring has suddenly become more obvious; the cherry trees are in full bloom, birds are nesting, the frogs are croaking in an undulating rhythm that makes one sure there is some kind of mating dance accompanied with it, and you may have noticed that the produce in the grocery store has been grown a little bit closer to home. This brings to mind the theme of new beginnings that comes with spring, the ceaseless beginnings and endings that make up life on earth, and the reminder that we also live in a way that is reflective of the seasons, even if we realize it or not. We can use art as a way to get in step with the natural rhythm of the mind and body. By being willing to open up to the intention frees us to accept outcomes and circumstances for what they are and deal with them more fluidly. For when we get stuck in an idea, or a concept we become fixed and rigid.
So needless to say clearing my mind from outside as well as past influences didn’t exactly work, however I did find that open spot, free from judgment, which allowed the creativity to flow. I might even say for a minute I got a glimpse of being free from the concepts of this fleeting world of form.