Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Painting the stove

The artist Paul Cezzane said, 'if you have nothing to paint, then paint the stove.' His point was that to be inspired you need to practice. That the very process of putting pigment on paper will lead you to respond; interest and creativity will follow.

Writers know something of this too. Julia Cameron in her book, The Artists Way, suggests three pages of writing every morning which she calls 'morning pages'.  The process is close to writing as a stream of consciousness; your hand should never stop moving; you are not creating, simply reacting to the flow of your thoughts.

I wrote morning pages for two years, and coincidentally to this blog post, (which is being written with no idea where it is going) they are on top of a box by my desk. In a moment I shall photograph them - but, hold on, you've already seen the photo that I'm about to take ...

That's the sort of puzzle philosophers like, and it's given me an idea for a piece about the illusions words create. So already this post that was going nowhere has opened up some new possibilities.

Another trick I used as a painter was to rip up old pictures, retaining a fragment of the past as a starting point for the new. Frank Auerbach works this way, drawing and erasing, drawing and erasing, drawing and erasing... many of his pictures are patched because he has worn the paper through. I find that using fragments works less well with writing, however, I know others who think the approach is helpful.

But for all the tricks and techniques, sometimes it is serendipity that matters most.

Yesterday, taking some junk to my car, a blackbird took offence at me in 'her' garden. The closer I approached, the more agitated she became. She puffed along a branch, her cries receding as I stood motionless - until we faced each other for a long silent minute.

I'm not sure I've ever looked that closely at a blackbird. She wasn't black at all, but a sparkling umber, with a speckled chest and an orange ochre beak. Her head was cocked to one side, a green eye staring at me, staring at her. Blackbirds are one of our commonest species, I thought; we must pass each other every day. And yet I couldn't say which of us appeared the stranger to the other.

Our postman came ambling up our drive, and the moment was gone.


  1. Inspiration can strike you, allow you to work for her or hide for an age and then allow you to find her. As long as she's happy to play with me I'm happy to accept her on her terms.

  2. Just before I read your post I found my old notebooks of morning pages. Did you ever do the final chapter exercise of re-reading the whole lot? I admit I bottled out. It didn't matter, as the process had worked by then. Now I'm never short of inspiration, just the time to put it into words.

  3. I envy you your dedication to your crafts. Nice story about the blackbird too. I could just see the two of you. :-)

  4. I had forgotten about that. My art tutor used a little apperture to find a part of a painting that was pleasing in an otherwise "disaster".

  5. The Artist's Way was given to me by a thoughtful and kind friend a year or two back. I'm ashamed to say I have not read it yet. I am looking at it on the shelf above me as I write and I am stretching up my hand now to take it down....

    Thank you, Mark, for reminding me it was there