An Anchor For My Rubber Duck: It’s More Than Inspiration
Painting is a lot of work. It may not feel like work because I enjoy it, but there’s more to the process than rolling out of bed in the morning full of God-given talent and inspiration. The inspiration comes easily — everyone is inspired by one thing or another. Perhaps an artist is more adept at expressing the inspiration, but that’s the result of practice and experience. As for talent, it is simply there: no one asks for it, no one earns it, and no one deserves credit for having it. All that remains is the amount of work a person is willing to invest in their talent: sketching, studies, trial and error, and in mistakes. Especially the mistakes. Each mistake I make — and there are plenty — means that I’ve just learned something. If I ever quit makingthem it will either mean I have reached perfection, an impossibility, or that I’ve given up trying, in which case I should quit. Years ago a major mistake would mean flying brushes, ripped canvas, and a nagging feeling that I just wasn’t good enough, but I don’t think I ever learned much from doing something correctly. Luckily, I have a natural proclivity for screwing up and that’s what keeps me going. I understand why Edison said he’d discovered a thousand ways not to make a lightbulb.
The other day I heard Curly Dowd tell Sammy Blue how wonderful it must be to have his musical talent; to be able to play his guitar and sing so that folks stop what they’re doing just to listen. Nippy swears even the birds stop singing when Sammy starts and though he’s exaggerating, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did, except for crows. Sammy’s singing can give anyone goosebumps. He tried to explain to Curly that he was wrong, but it didn’t take. Sammy said it took forty years of broken strings and sore fingers to make folks feel what was inside him. Curly assumed Sammy was being modest. Maybe that’s why I find myself spending more time with Sammy Blue — because he understands. Sammy understands why I couldn’t simply paint a rubber duck. It didn’t sound silly to him that I needed to make a rubber duck anchor so I could put it in Sanderling’s Run and watch how it sat and bobbled. The light from above and the reflection from below couldn’t be duplicated without actually seeing it. I’ve nailed my underwear to a barn, made a scarecrow from a pig skull, and sketched in the hot sun, in the rain, and in the snow… Not because I’m anything special. Because that’s what it takes.