Painting a morning


Some months back an illustrator friend wrote a post entitled “A confession and resolution.” In a roundabout way, this post of mine began there. Thank you, Kathryn Killackey, for both your challenge and inspiration – this goes out to you.

A donkey brays. A car door slams. A child’s small voice is answered by an older, deeper one. A gunshot cracks and the echo comes back seconds later. A swallow swoops by in the flowing wind, close enough that I hear the zzzzt of wings. Each time I shift, crisp grass crackles under me. My brush chinks against the water container as more shots sound, echoes cascading like far-off thunder.

I sit atop a high mound of earth with a panoramic view of a mountain valley at my feet. Toy houses are scattered across the slopes below me. Between the peaks a city glitters in the haze, unreal in its distance. Later I will learn that the hillock on which I rest once housed a tomb and ancient human remains, amateurishly excavated by the landowners.

As I craft my sketch, I work to understand the shadows; each shape yields a clue to the landscape casting them. This mass is rounded, that one sharper, these two connect with a curve, that one sits in front of this; mentally, I walk the highlands I will never reach by climbing. i study the varying shapes of trees – spheres and cones and cylinders – and note the subtlety coloured fields. The early morning light intensifies while I paint; shadows grow and recede. The sunlight grows warm on my skin.

I am aware of the immense pleasure of the act of drawing, my inner narrative both stirred and stilled by the quiet. This morning will be locked in my brain by this: the sounds, the sights, this feeling. One minute I am delighted at the ease of recording what I see. Later, I’m intensely aware of my inability to capture the enormity of the scene, conscious of my short-comings: too careful with colour, too cautious with shadows and contrast. The page is too small for this panorama. There is not enough time…

Eventually these concerns drop away. Sound, light, wind, brush, busy brain all blend into the solitude of learning this vista, understanding it well enough to command this stroke and then this until the picture I intended is swept up in the picture I have made. If only for me alone, it encompasses this perfect morning –  even the donkey’s bray and a child’s joyful greeting.