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(Just skim the two paragraphs of techie art neep if you’re not interested in paint. The essay proper begins below them.)

I just participated in a month-long journal challenge with a group of women artists, and Got Religion–I discovered a new medium! It’s Japanese watercolor, often called “gansai tambi” as that’s the ad blurb used by the manufacturer to describe them.  (It literally means something like “vibrant aesthetic.”) I majored in what I suppose I must now call Western watercolor in college, making full sheet (22×30″) color field paintings (think Rothko, only busier) and thinking I was having the time of my life. Then fast forward thirty years and here’s this stuff that made me squee when I unpacked it. (Disclosure: I had a $50 gift card from doing a survey, and went on Amazon. The 36 pan set, three water brushes, and another six-pan set of metallics left a buck and change on the card; YMMV.)

Part of my honeymoon joy is being forced once again to learn what stuff does–the great thing about the big abstracts I did as a kid is that it showed me pretty much every trick Western watercolor and its French cousin, gouache have up their sleeves. It’s a little like gouache, a little like either sort of tempera in consistency, and behaves on paper like nothing else I’ve found. The pigment is crazy thick and you need a lot of water to make it behave like . . . watercolor. Sigh . . .

Anyway, I whacked out a basic image to use as the Tribe of Tiger cover and came back to the computer because the sun was in my eyes. I noticed, almost as a by-the-way, that I was ecstatic. It was very much a body feeling–a combination of terrific sex, a filling breakfast, and a satisfactory trip to the loo. Oh, and the best coffee. I feel this way every time I make art I’m pleased with, and even when I’m depressed, it makes me feel at least some better, at the very least while I’m making something.

I thought to myself, “Weird. I guess sex is the closest many people get to ecstasy.” Maybe joy too. I don’t know how that makes me feel. Am I right? If so, am I being kind of snobby to feel a bit sorry for them? Or is this more about me being abnormally unimpressed with sex?

Don’t get me wrong–I’ve had some great sex. It just doesn’t hit the same spots as, say, the smell of oil paint, which makes me tremble and moan. I have similar reactions to music I like, which is to say, much of it, but maybe particularly early music (think Byrd and Tallis).

As for writing, the feeling is more subdued, possibly because I’m not getting as much sensory input, and it’s more draining. But I still come away from good sessions feeling like this is why I’ve been put on earth.

So what do y’all think? Especially other creatives–is it better than sex? Is it ecstasy? Or do we need a new word?

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