Black Swans and The Impact of the Unexpected


This little painting is my way of working out the kinks, technically and otherwise, in a larger painting that’s going to a paying customer (the commissioner). It’s where I can relax and have fun and make mistakes with reckless abandon. And sometimes the mistakes turn out to be in the right direction. Sometimes it’s a good idea not to overthink it too much. I repeat again what Gustave Moreau said, Art does not live by will alone; everything depends on docile submission to the inrush of the unconcious. I’m not sure how much absinthe he’d had by then, but I believe he’s right, up to a point. At some point the conscious mind should intervene and give a bit of direction. Or should it? Discuss among yourselves. See here for further enlightening instruction, but come right back.

So there I was, fussing and tightening up all those gray-edged black feathers (it’s really a beautiful pattern, but after awhile it was all you saw). My forest was vanishing under all the trees, the overall form (and that nice negative shape) was getting buried in detail. I suddenly saw this, grabbed a fat flat and started scooping darks at random off the palette. Big blobs of raw umber, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, and small swipes of light gray mixes that got in the way of the brush ended up on the swan. My purpose was to go back to the negative shape and try again, but something unexpected happened. The paint landed in a flurry of brushwork, unintended and unconscious, but when I stepped back the swan form had blossomed into positive shape. Nice edges, interesting sweeps of shape, interplays of warm and cool. I couldn’t have planned it better. And so I washed out the brushes, turned off the light, and went to make dinner. I know when one shouldn’t intervene with a good session of submission to the inrush of the unconscious.


The Black Swan Theory strikes again!

Speaking of highly conscious minds, Bill of the Birds has given me a mention on his very excellent blog. As Editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, he’s been an enthusiastic supporter and celebrator (is someone who celebrates called a celebrity?) of everything-bird-and-bird-art-related, including bird artists. BWD is one of the very few magazines today using commissioned illustrations. They use plenty of great photos, but every cover is a work of art, and there’s plenty of fine art between the covers. Oh, and Bill’s got a podcast now, filled with entertaining interviews and discussions with top birders. Yay, Bill and Bird Watcher’s Digest!

6 thoughts on “Black Swans and The Impact of the Unexpected

  1. wrjones says:

    I think it is looking very promising.

    You can get lucky sometimes but the great bulk of good paintings are produced by paying attention to each stroke. If you can paint without thinking about drawing, value, color, edges, and design, lucky you (or it could be an abstract piece).

    When you let things happen, your conscious painter side will have to clean up the errors.

  2. zeladoniac says:

    WR- such an interesting topic! I do agree with you completely that you need to have the essentials under your belt, and use them consciously. But then there’s something that occasionally happens, that you can’t really plan for, but you can prepare for. It’s called “flow” by athletes. Flow is being in the moment and mindful without thinking, in almost a meditative state, if that makes sense. What I was describing while painting the black swan was something like that state. Surely luck was with me, too. But I’ve had painting experiences before where the colors and shapes appeared out of nowhere and all I had to do was paint over them and make them real. I think that’s got to be a state of “flow”, too. Have you had experiences like this?

  3. wrjones says:

    I’m aware of the “being in the zone” concept which is most often applied to atheletes. But my thought of the zone is that it is extreme concentration to the point you are so focused you have abnormal clarity of vision or action. It could be described I suppose as an unconcious effort or flow but I think you have only blocked out extraneous influences; like when you are thinking so deeply about a subject that you drive home and end up there but don’t remember actually driving (or stopping off at O’malleys to down a few).

    I rarely experience such a thing as my mind is distracted by the slightest puff of wind.

    Your wonderful drawings and paintings are due to your hard work, dedication, and mindfulness. You will get lucky accidents once in a while but mostly you are simply a skilled artisan.

  4. caroline crayon says:

    Wow, MotMot, I really enjoyed these two posts. Now that I’m drawing more often, I’m starting to focus more on process. I can follow your thoughts and your intuitive moves. I love the way you did the water.

  5. Mike says:

    It seems to me creativity in any endeavor has two parts: the ability to generate a lot of ideas, and the wisdom to to cull those that don’t work. Certainly training is essential to both parts of the process. But the argument that creativity is all hard work, dedication, and mindfulness–that is, it’s all planned–downplays, well, “play”. It’s hard to do novel stuff without the willingness to play, make mistakes, and take chances. Granted, most of these little adventures don’t work. But that’s why God invented acrylics.

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