I knew an artist once who stood before a human-sized canvas and drew lines from left to right, over and over and over, all the way down the canvas from her head to her blue-shoed, paint-speckled toes.
I hung around some mornings on the couch in her studio. It was attic space, unheated in that year but plenty of light, and no need to tidy up if it didn’t suit her. I kept my coat on, tucked my feet under me, and drank the coffee she did without. This was freehand. She couldn’t risk the shakes.
She worked, and we talked, all the highs and lows of the neighborhood taken on. What is lucky about a visual artist’s work is that there can be a portion of it where they can socialize. At that point, it’s about the hand, not the mind. I don’t find anything comparable in a writer’s life, and I envy that luxury.
Still, though we conversed, she held her concentration to the canvas. Over and over, her back to me, she drew her freehand lines across a black canvas, pencil on black paint, enough lines by which to write a novel by the time she was done (not really, but a lot).
I watched her careful craft, never mind the art, and wondered what it was that brought her to do this work, no coffee, even, no heat.
I never lingered more than an hour. I had my own blank pages waiting for my lines. At least it doesn’t matter in my work if my hand was shaky.
Why do it at all?
Possibly, it’s a form of obsession. Perhaps we, who insist on filling blank spaces with our scratching, do it from some nameless urgency to reduce a thing to its most specific, most useful, and most exact form. Call it a search for precision in a messy world.
Turns out, that line painting came my way. It’s hanging outside my office.