The Deer Chaser, Andrea, and Breakthrough Moments
I spent one summer as a worker/apprentice in an authentic Japanese Garden. Japanese Gardens are traditionally equipped with a clever gadget called a deer chaser. You may have seen one, but often you hear one before you see it. It’s a two-foot tube of hollow bamboo mounted like a see-saw over a stone basin that slowly collects dripping water through the uppermost end. When the bamboo fills and the tipping point is reached, it empties itself suddenly, coming back to rest with a loud noise, loud enough to startle any deer zeroing-in on the prize azaleas in the garden.
That’s a nice example of incrementalism, and I think you will agree with me that incrementalism is largely how life is lived, and how almost all good change within life is arrived at.
No matter what is going on, I’ve learned that it’s wise and good to consider each day as a one-of-a-kind privilege. Within that day one will have unexpected opportunities for incremental change, and I don’t wish to lose out on them. In reality we each have a limit on how long we have, and no one among us knows the expiration date stamped on our future.
This little portrait piece was another one of those opportunities yesterday. It was our last evening with Andrea, the model, and I had been working with students the first three sessions and hadn’t put in any painting time myself with her. Because I’d done a watercolor demonstration outdoors that morning, I untypically had that setup with me when I arrived at the portrait class, and I took advantage of that. Even though watercolor is not a great portrait medium, she’s a beautiful model and life is short. I wanted to take something away that day, make my little mark somehow, improve my skills, connect with fleeting opportunity.
I like the phrase “Nulla Dies Sine Linea”…never a day without a line. I keep that phrase in mind. It’s even the official motto of the Art Student’s League of New York, and a good choice. It says that no matter what else it may be, art is also a matter of our will.
I enjoy “breakthrough” moments as much as anyone when they happen. But I think they are the result of an incremental process of tiny movements, culminating in a tipping point that only appears to be spontaneous if one hasn’t been watching carefully.
Just keep painting…how many times I say that to myself as the world encourages and compels each of us not to (which is another absolute truth to be reckoned with). I sometimes think that the measure of the artist’s day may simply be how much time was spent thoughtfully with pencil or brush in hand.