“I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle. ” ~Frederick Franck, The Zen of Seeing.
I like the above quote because it’s a bit cleverer than it looks if you meander away from just the sense of sight when interpreting the word seen.
I’m meandering towards the point in this blog. I’m a great fan of meandering, as a way of thinking. I’ve until now, mistakenly, described this as lateral thinking. It’s not. Lateral thinking is about active problem-solving. It’s about seeking out. While art is about problem-solving, thinking meanderingly (I know, there’s no such adverb as meanderingly) isn’t. It’s more like thinking magnetically. While thinking laterally requires action, thinking magnetically is passive. If a magnet takes a meander, whether it likes it or not it attracts objects to it as it goes. Thus, a magnetic thinker having a meander will attract thoughts, images, ideas. Even to the extent of hearing voices, having visions – the artist William Blake had full-blown visions from the age of six; at nine, he saw a tree full of angels.
Whether the attracted perceptions arise entirely from the mind or whether some come from an external source/sources, is a matter of experience and belief. What is different when it comes to art is that the artist spends long periods of time looking. And I suggest that this releases chemicals in the brain which open doors to heightened perception. I’ve had a number of experiences of heightened perception due purely to looking at something – such as a still life, while in the process of painting it – for long periods of time.
What I’m calling magnetic thinking is expressed so well, I think, in Baudelaire’s poem Correspondances from his collection Les Fleurs du mal. The original in French and a number of English translations can be found at fleursdumal.org
From the first verse: Man walks through woods of symbols, dark and dense, … (Trans. Jacques LeClercq) and this is both the destination and point of departure of magnetic thinking. Magnet meandering?
The sketch above is of waterlily leaves on my pond. No, they are not lotuses, which characteristically stand up out of the water, while waterlilies lie flat. My waterlilies don’t lie flat only because they’re overcrowded. Food for thought (magnetically attracted).
I started the sketch – which I am doing with the idea of stitch in mind – by drawing without looking at the paper. Just meandering (there’s that word again) over the paper, trying to capture the waterlily forms, with an HB pencil.
I hadn’t planned to meander in this way but it happened. Those grey thready lines in the background. I then focussed on a section of the pond and tried to draw some leaves in relationship with one another, superimposing these on top of the thready grey. I’m looking forward to trying to stitch something from this drawing. I’ll be doing a lot of studies of the pond. Different kinds of studies. I’ve taken some silt from the bottom and am grinding it into pigment for paint. For instance.
It came to me during this meander across the paper that the leaves were like bowls. That the pond is a bowl: bowls inside a bowl, jostling each other for space, light, air, water. Now there’s a symbol from the forest to die for. And homophonically speaking, to dye for. I will certainly dye but hopefully, not die, soon.
There’s a lovely mature wisteria growing right across the front of my house and I’ve been pruning it. So there were tons of prunings to dispose of. I filled a bucket with stems and leaves, chopped the stems into small pieces, added a good quantity to a stainless steel dye pan. I poured in tap water into which I’d dissolved a couple of teaspoonsful of soda ash – a dye-fixing agent – and simmered (not boiled) the brew for an hour or so to release the dye from the wisteria.
I then added some silks and cottons and threads and continued to simmer it for another house or so. I left it overnight to cool. The dye bath was a really dark brown, but look at the results: pale pinks and pinky beiges.
I was expecting a yellowy-green. Hmmm! It must be the water, which is the hardest in England. I’m having a water softener installed soon. It will be interesting to see how this affects dyeing. The silks as usual took up more dye than the cottons, though they aren’t quite as pink in reality as in the picture.
I must still have been thinking of bowls because I had lots and lots of whippy wisteria stems left over and wondered if they could be woven. I’ve never woven a basket in my life but I thought I’d have a go and found a You Tube video explaining very clearly how to weave a simple basket from blackberry stems. Be ready to be entertained as well as informed by the very funny Paco Warabi.
And here’s my basket. My first ever woven basket. And it only took about three hours to weave. I astonished myself. It’s not perfect, of course. Look at the base and you’ll see that it’s not centred. I did some research on basket-making and found that the shape that’s made when starting off a basket of this kind is called The Eye of God or God’s Eye.
And you’ll see if you watch Paco’s video that the basket is started-off by making a cross of three stems one way and three the other and the three stems end up as the twelve ribs around which other stems (weavers) are woven. You will also see that once the base is done, there is a thirteenth rib added. This ensures that the horizontal weave is always able to alternate between forward and back of the ribs. When I finished my basket I counted the ribs and I’d lost my thirteenth. I suppose I must have woven it back into the horizontals of the basket at some stage.
These twelve/thirteen ribs made me think of Jesus of Nazareth’s disciples and discovering the name for the centre of the basket’s base as the Eye of God confirmed to me the biblical and generally sacred aspect of basket-making. It pre-dates Christianity, of course, and evidence exists to prove that the practice dates back 25,000 years. There aren’t any 25,000 year old baskets of course, but there is archaeological evidence of them by way of carbon-dating results of impressions of baskets found in rocks.
I’ve been reading the Gospel of Judas on and off recently. It’s one of the scriptures found near Nag-Hammadi in Egypt not so long ago. And throws a whole new light on the role Judas played in the crucifixion story. It has never made sense to me that Judas would be chosen to be condemned for all time, by a loving God. I hope, like my rogue basket rib, that Judas is some time soon woven back more sympathetically into the Jesus fold. After all, had he not betrayed Jesus, Jesus would not have been crucified – and resurrected. He was part of the plan. So I’m calling my first woven basket, the Judas basket.
Bowls have so many metaphysical and spiritual connotations there are too many to list in this already criminally long blog. I really enjoyed the process of basket-weaving. It was a very calming and contemplative activity. I’m sure the shape – the bowl – had something to do with it.
So look what magnetic meandering got me. I have the beginnings of a new skill and lots of ideas for incorporating basket-weaving into my art practice. I found time to sit quietly and contemplate.
I’ve been to the seaside recently, twice. And started compiling a series of little books …