Written and Painted by: Sam Rathvon
A blank page. No words to adorn or embellish; creating meaning on a large white space. A space that does not require you to put anything down. It is a choice to begin, it is a choice to continue, and it is a choice to strive towards completion.
A blank canvas. Not a mark on it. No prompt to begin with, nothing to read to kick start your creativity. Take a stroke of any kind to begin the flood, and imagination begins to fill in the blank space. First one spot, then another, followed by another. Step back to view what you have done…
Sometimes thinking, “What have I done…” Not in a sense of awe or amazement, but utter confusion as to why you thought this would be a good idea. Plans are hatched to hide this painting away where it shall never be seen by anyone. Laying thick layers of Gesso to destroy any evidence of my struggle to create something of value; too bad there is no thick opaque substance to blot out the mistakes of my creation.
But enough bullshit and flower words. This is the biggest undertaking that I have done so far in my journey into art. The Canvas is 48’ by 60’. I had to rearrange my whole room to just hang it on the wall, and there it stood. It was the first thing I saw when I got up, and the last thing I saw before I went to bed. At first, there was a sense of excitement and joy.
“What am I going to do? Where is this going to go? How long will it take?”
These words played in my head ad-nausea until the novelty wore thin and it was time to do something. Then, the fear kicked in. This is what I call the stall in my process. I buy something new and feel amazingly motivated, but eventually, self-doubt becomes my master.
“You aren’t good enough to do what you want. That idea is stupid. You wasted your money. What are you going to do with this when it is done? It will be a waste of time and money. Your a talent-less idiot, and everyone in your life is lying to you about your art. It’s terrible, you’re terrible…”
I am not sure what propels me through this time. I cannot tell if it is getting easier or harder to start something new. All I know is that I keep sitting down, refusing to move until I put at least one single mark on canvas. The first stroke is the scariest. It is always a meaningless line, never visibly prominent at the end of my piece, but, it is the start.
After that initial mark, I just give it up. I let whatever is going to come out over the next hours, days, or months, just happen. I force thought out of my mind and “let it be”, (to quote the great theologian Mother Mary.) Time becomes irrelevant, the world becomes very small, and I just go.
I would continue to describe what happens next, but I can’t. Not “I won’t”, but “I can’t”. It is one of those emotions that can only be understood when felt. No judgement against my skills, the canvas itself, or direction that I am going. At this point, I am just along for the ride. I put this feeling akin to a drive down the highway while greatly exceeding the speed limit with the windows down, and you go careening past a cop. He pulls out to get you, but you pull off an exit in front of an 18-wheeler. Your clever tactic ends in you seeing the cop rifling down the highway seeking you, but never finding. Your heart is racing, but you’re smiling and laughing. The sun shines in the window and a soft gust blows through your car as you re-engage the engine to continue feeling the wind on your cheek. The kind of drive where the destination comes upon you too soon, and you want to just keep driving just because it brings you joy. There is no deeper meaning, or anything to analyze. No one is going to peer review you, or give you a performance grade sheet; no judgment from any perceived enemy.
My only real enemy is what is going inside of my own head. Is this good enough? Will others like it? What am I doing this for? The questions just go round and round like a carousel. There is always a deep breath before I put brush into paint and then to canvas. It is a practice in letting go. I have come to find that I am powerless over people, places, and things. But that is just the short version of the list. I am in many ways powerless over passing thoughts, over paint that is unevenly distributed on a brush, and over the shifting of my perception. I can keep myself in a state of openness, more readily able to accept different perspectives, however, there is no guarantee that this perspective will be better than the one I currently have.
Many times, my mind is engaged in a veritable ping-pong game between proud and empowered about what I am creating, to absolute disgust with not only the piece in question, but my own abilities as an artist.
This too shall pass.
If I just keep working on it, it will get better. That is the philosophy I have had to take. If I just keep going, and trying new things, it will work out. It may not be what I intended or something I even like, but it will be what it is meant to be and I have to be open to accepting that my plan is not the omega of design.
The only thing that stops me is fear of doing one more thing and screwing up something that I think is good. But I can not dwell on it. I have to keep moving forward. It is sad to say that fear plays a large part of my process towards completion. Such is life. Such is being human. I don’t want to destroy something that I have poured so much of myself into. At a certain point, I find that adding anything else would just be vain and over the top. I see something in what I have done and I want to just stop and appreciate it. This is when I know it is time to begin anew.
A new canvas, drawing, and in a few cases, a new day. Many times, I have seen the sun rise over my shoulder and light up a canvas, only to morph it into something completely different. The light of the moon and the stars have a very different effect, neither is better or worse. To me, the tension between the two guiding forces of life is what allows creativity to happen. As creators, we are merely capturing what we see in our lives, our view, and our minds. One days slips into another, and then another; and so on and so forth.
Days have been slipping together for millennia. So in the grand scheme of things, I am not that far removed from a time when the only medium was charcoal and the sheer wall of a cave. In my own way, I am carrying on a tradition. Not in a big way(I don’t think I will captivate the world and be remembered for generations, no that is too much), I am doing it in my own way. I capture these moments for myself, and I am exhilarated at the effect it has on those around me. I never expected anyone to like anything I did. Just as I am sure, all those years ago, a distant relative of mine did not foresee the practice of art shaping us as a species. We are curious. We are struggling to find meaning and purpose. We are afraid. We will come to a close…
That is what drives me. That is what leads me to believe in how special each moment of our lives is. What we see and capture is precious.
It is said that you will never see the same river twice. You may stand in the same spot on the bank of the river for everyday of your life, but it will never be the same in any two consecutive moments. The water is moving, creating shifts and changes to the bed of the river, and all things that are in the waters path. It is happening so slowly, that we cannot see the creation, or the evolution, of the river. The water, much like time, is continually changing things in order to create an easier path for whatever is coming down the stream later. The water of spring will never see how much has changed by the coming of winter, just as the snow will not see its affect in the summer.
This is also true to me. I am trying to capture something about myself that I never will. The effort, though, is really to create an easier path for anyone who happens to be coming along behind me. Art is just a small part of that larger goal.
When someone comes to me and says “I want what you have, how do I do that?”
The answer is simple. Do what I do, don’t be afraid to ask for help, be honest in all things, and find something that makes the world disappear for a while. Something that requires work, dedication, and passion. Don’t use a short cut or cop out like using drugs or alcohol. Clear your head by getting all of those things that haunt you out of your mind.
I paint, and draw. I spend a lot of time staring at others paintings and the world around me for inspiration. Find what inspires you and chase after it as if nothing else matters.
You may not find happiness right away, but at least you will be moving towards something better. Days slipping into days will become new opportunities to do what you failed to do yesterday, or refine something started last week.
If you don’t believe me that you can do this. Believe that I believe. I found my hope in the darkest hours of my life, and took a passing suggestion that turned into something much bigger than I ever anticipated. Believe that I believe, in you, in your plans, in your passions.
Just start something, and don’t stop until it is done.
You can do this