I have a dear friend who keeps the word ‘intention’ near him while he works. He’s an extremely talented writer with a moving curiosity for and notable understanding of human nature. Despite this and his command of the tapestry of screenwriting, it’s taken awhile to get to a point less static career-wise than the years he’s spent building his collection of work.
Sometimes when we commiserate (or maybe I’ll use the word ‘muse’) over FaceTime about the roller-coaster that is being a writer he holds up the word ‘intention’ to the tiny iPhone camera, blocking out his face. What I appreciate most about this is the fact that the word is printed in ballpoint pen on a piece of Steno notebook paper. It’s not etched in a shiny river rock. It’s not embroidered in cursive on a throw pillow. It’s not spelled in old typewriter keys in some form of 3-D collage (though, that sounds pretty cool). It’s completely unaffected and simple. Begging for him to test pens on the same page, just asking to be crumpled up in anger and re-written, illustrating in its simplicity how constant and renewable intention is.
I was reminded of this the other day. A few months ago I met a new friend at a screenwriting seminar in Austin, Texas, and naturally set about stalking his Facebook page. Among his photos was one of those images I knew I just had to paint. If you’ve followed my blog at all, you know I have an obsession for images of things that are either in the state of being built or of being destroyed. Over the course of this fairly recent obsession, I’ve lost a bit of the human form in my work.
But there it was!
A breezy beachy shot of my new friend and some companions bent over the beach, toiling over a sand castle. A slightly more lyrical scene than the image of the crashed Blackhawk helicopter in Joplin, MO, that I’d recently painted, but somehow, despite the blue skies and sand castles, it avoided being cloying or precious, portraying, instead, focus and industry. I had to paint it, but resolved to paint it only as a study, a hesitant attempt to bring people back into what had become more architectural work.
I’ll admit it. I was nervous about painting people again.
I gave myself an out, told myself my intention was only to ‘study’ the image in paint. To make this concept concrete, I, without design or premeditation, did something I have never done. I sketched the figures in Sharpee directly onto the canvas first. Instantly, the fear of ruining the image or the piece was gone because, in my mind, I had already ruined it.
I started working on it.
I could have stopped here and almost did. But something made me keep going.
I finally became so lost in the image that I forgot about the black lines of the Sharpee, forgot about trying to cover them, I even forgot about following them.
And the final result:
It ended up being one of my favorite pieces that I’ve painted. And even with the black lines showing through (more obvious in real life than in the photograph here), in a weird way I think they add, show motion in the image, and remind me of the power of imperfection.
If I had been more honest with myself, I would have admitted that my ultimate intention with painting the image was expressing the feeling it gave me. Expression, all the way, not just a way to get the image out of my head and onto a canvas. Not just a tool to combine my ‘old stuff’ with my ‘new stuff.’ I had given myself something of a pass. But…intention is deeper and greater than we know, and if you let yourself get lost in it, it’s stronger than our conscious minds and is, better yet, smug in the face of our cowardly inner critics. It’s like a friend that knows us better than we know ourselves.