I don’t know why but I find grey really does matter. Whether it is the various greys within a storm cloud, or the deep dark grey of a shadow, each portend their significance next to the stark reality of the vibrant colors surrounding them.
The very first time I was tasked with an assignment to draw an animal of my choice with pencil, I had never had any formal training as an artist. Prior to this I had relegated my drawing to stick figures and misshaped objects that very nearly didn’t represent any formal structure or even the object visualized within my mind.
All this changed when I moved, and sat in my first art class of my new school and my first assignment was to draw an animal.
I first harkened on the search for my choice animal within the library of our school and of course I found myself drawn towards a picture of a young colt with long gangly legs that looked too long and thin to hold him up if he ever chose to unfold them from their comfortable position underneath his solid young body. His head held high and looking at the person who had snapped his picture showed no fear and only curiosity. My artist’s eye could very clearly see him as a very nubile young male horse cantering after the filly of his choice once he got a good scent of her heat.
I quickly signed the book out of the library taking it home trembling with nervous fingers wondering how on earth I could ever capture the essence of that young colt destined to become the stallion of my imagination.
I was careful in my selection of paper and pencil. I knew I needed a pencil whose lead would allow for fine details. However, did I have the ability to transpose those fine details from my mind’s eye through my arm, to the tips of my fingers into the pencil they so tenderly held? I had never done or even dared to try and yet here I was trying hard not to hold the pencil with anything other than gentle fingers when all they wanted to do was grasp it so tightly it would snap in two.
I began tentatively, like an inexperienced lover not knowing where to begin, how softly or how firmly to touch and caress until finally… I decided to breathe… to take in a deep breath and let it out slowly and allow my logical brain to let go.
There is a point at which when two lovers meet for the first time when they finally let go of the fear, when they finally allow themselves to stop thinking and just feel, for when the brain finally shuts down and their senses become alive, where each caress, each soft kiss, each gentle sound becomes the oxygen which fuels their fire.
At that moment, the logical world becomes non-existent and the greys of a creative world emerges. The mind stops asking questions, stops looking outward… A communication so profound joins the two lovers as though they are one.
As I picked up my pencil to draw this beautiful creature, my mind, my thoughts were filled with questions:
Where do I start?
Is the line curved just right?
Is it too harsh, too barren, too stark?
I don’t like that hard line, how do I soften it?
Then the reprimands start:
Ugh, this isn’t coming out like the picture.
I didn’t draw that like I saw it, like I wanted to.
It’s never going to come out the way I see it.
Then something happens. Somehow my imagination digs through all the riffraff and I start to experiment. First, a light brush of my finger across a line that is too harsh, too dark for the purpose it was meant, and the result is like striking a match to the kindling of my imagination. If my finger can do that with one light stroke, what else could be done?
Next, I try a different stroke with my pencil, a broader line, not so dark, then rub my finger tentatively at first and then with more purpose as the results start to manifest.
Then I reach for a tissue, I want a finer area shaded which the smallest of my fingers is too broad for. I take a corner, fold it and twist it into a tight pointy twist. I lower it to the exact spot in my drawing and gently rub. The area swells with a gathering and softening greyness, as it expands becomes lighter and lighter until the shadow emerges and my eyes behold the contours of the valley between my colt’s belly and his thigh.
Before I know it my thoughts are silenced except for the tingling electrical synapses with each newly discovered textile experience of pencil, paper, and fingers which send hot sparks as if a lover’s tongue were flicking, licking and swirling tasting my peaks and valleys.
This was a day of discovery. It is a mystery to me how the mind works. I was drawn to the newborn colt. I could pick anything I wanted to draw and when I saw it, I knew nothing else would suffice. I said ‘of course’ earlier because I’ve had a love of horses from as early as I can remember. I thought I had been drawn to the colt because of my love of horses but in reality, in looking back, I realize the young colt was as newborn as I was and was quite representative of what I was about to learn about myself. The colt and I were the same. We were both young, never been tried, never stood upon our own feet and we were about to learn about the various greys of our world.
I don’t know how ideas are generated. All I know is one minute I was drawing with a pencil making stark harsh strokes with my pencil that left the drawing looking cold and harsh like an abandoned lover standing alone on a street corner.
Then without thought, like two long lost lovers coming together, without words, without thought, they just look at each other and know, join together, meld together as if they had never been parted, my fingers, my mind, the paper, the strokes of the pencil came together to discover the various shades of grey.
I learned that day, when an artist creates, they are not seeing the item before them. They are not trying to copy. They are not trying to repeat in exacting detail what they see before them. An artist joins with their subject, become its lover, finding all its shades, all its various contours, strokes it with a lover’s touch, caresses, kisses, holds it, cherishes it, speaks to it with loving words, and in doing so opens themselves to the joy of the journey they take together.
I think of my teacher often. He didn’t stand before us and tell us how important the various greys are in our creation. He just told us to do, and let us discover, let us walk and stumble and discover on our own that grey does matter.