The Accidental Artist
Is there an artists' equivalent of writers' block? I'd never heard of it but I was beginning to have my suspicions because something like this was happening to me; after many years of steady artistic productivity, I had hit a creative brick-wall. To my dismay I noticed that more and more of my pictures were becoming increasingly dull and formulaic; weak drawings and weaker watercolours. They just looked 'a bit tired'. Just like, in fact, their creator! And the worst of it was I couldn't really see a way to improve matters.
Then an unexpected thing happened. I was involved in an accident, hurting my right hand quite badly. Damaged tendons meant I had to radically alter the way I grasped things. Even when the worst was over and I could resume practical work again, for the foreseeable future my injury would mean me adopting a very different approach to picture-making.
Firstly, I found because I was drawing from the elbow rather than the wrist, that meant standing much further away from my work. While the painting side of things wasn't too badly affected, actual drawing was a very different matter. Precise control and fine detail were now beyond me so most of my former, pencil-wielding skills went out of the window. Making a virtue of necessity, I swapped my preferred fine-pointed pencils for much softer ones, and these, in turn, led me to switch to a paper with a bit more 'tooth'. While I soon adapted to this new looseness, it took longer to get used to the blunter points that resulted. A new strategy helped here. Working on coarser paper with my pencil at a shallower angle I discovered that, by drawing lines upwards whenever possible, I could maintain the points for longer. (It was a bit like sharpening chisels on an oil-stone.)
One way and another, I found I could still function; even quite liking the fact that my basic drawing-style had taken on a new 'trembly' quality. It's difficult to convey in words but it was almost as if my pencils were now 'dribbling' the lines onto the paper despite me. This may have been just my lack of dexterity but, at times, it felt like I was unintentionally following Paul Klee's famous dictum about 'taking a line for a walk'. Except that, in my case, it was more a matter of the line taking me for a walk!
Whatever the reason, this loose, slightly eccentric, draughtsmanship was to form the basis of my new more relaxed approach. One where I increasingly allowed pictures to evolve in their own way and at their own pace. As part of this change, in some areas I now deliberately left under-drawing visible while with others - in the spirit of 'less is more' – I left the paper blank. Along with this freer drawing came freer painting. My colour selection became more adventurous and my brush-marks bolder. I also began experimenting by overlaying colour washes, working wet-in-wet and mixing pigments on the paper as well as on the palette.
Before my accident this improvisational way of working, of 'going with the flow' would have been anathema to me. But now, here I was, actually enjoying such new-found spontaneity and freedom. For the perhaps the first time, I realised that an element of uncertainty added a bit of spice to the creative process.
Of course working faster and looser inevitably resulted in false starts and occasional failures but, with less time invested, these mistakes no longer represented the loss of so many hours' toil. Indeed, the very concept of 'toil' no longer seemed relevant to what I was doing. Put quite simply, I realised that picture-making had become fun again!
While concluding on that happy note, I can't help reflecting on the irony of my situation. Why, I wondered, should a purely random accident have led me in a whole new creative direction? Would I still have discovered it under different circumstances? And now, given that I have been promised a good recovery, would I be able to maintain this momentum? Lots to ponder on. Perhaps our future really is decided by the whim of the Gods or maybe, as in my case, (dreadful pun) - by the hand of fate!