Tag Archives: inspiration in design

The mystery in art

For the past two days mist, fog, and occasionally, rain, has dampened my parched world. Last night, as my significant, Wug, and I were driving back from the Indianapolis Museum of Art to our downtown abode, we observed the city skyline shrouded in mist. Nearly invisible now, we both knew what they skyline normally looked like. Tall skinny buildings with blinking lights, glued shoulder-to-shoulder with their shorter, broad-chested brothers, sparkling lights beckoning us home after sunset. But last night, a veil of heavy mist left only faint, glowing smudges to lead us back where we belonged. Same city, different view.

Jazzman II, watercolor by Roderik Mayne

This morning, I received an email from artist Robert Genn, who sends out a lovely email twice a week to inspire painters. His words of insight and encouragement mean something to me. Today’s message resonated with me, and perhaps it will with you, too. Here it is:

Dear Nancy,
Recently, watercolorist Roderik Mayne of Toronto, Ontario wrote, “What do you mean when you talk about putting mystery in your work?”

Thanks, Roderik. I’m walking along a strange forest path. Others are with me–some fall back and some join later. We hear animals in the forest but cannot see them. We come upon surprises of incredible beauty that we can’t explain. Some are quite in focus and others are not. Always something is just ahead that we can’t quite get to. As we move forward, whatever it is moves forward also but we never can fully touch it.
If you’re still with me and you don’t think I’m losing it, and if you catch my drift, describing aspects of life is part of the artist’s job. Let me explain:
The path is also the road, stream, river, etc. Few of us have a straight one that leads directly to a big something. More in tune with the human experience is the curving, bumping-up-and-down path that disappears around a corner, over a hill or into a valley. This path winds and beguiles and serves a deep human need. It takes you some distance into the enigma.
The incompletely disclosed subject can be anything: a barn, a lake, a sunset, a splodge of paint, a boy, a girl. The subject need not be fully described, delineated or even fully understood. A hidden barn, a shrouded lake, an obscured sunset, an over-painted splodge, an escaping boy, a shy girl seen only in profile or from behind–all of these tease and caress you further into the enigma.

As you move forward along the path, toward the mysterious something up ahead, the elusive subject might be for a time in focus and the surrounding area not so. This is the nature of concentration–one thing at a time. It may seem unfortunate to some, and worth remedying, but in truth we cannot fully see the whole enigma. This condition, the “specific focus phenomenon,” shows the nature of both human sight and human aspiration. The rest is blurred, fleeting, disappearing. “Suddenly,” said Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “as rare things will, it vanished.”

Best regards,
PS: “What I’m trying to translate to you is more mysterious; it is entwined in the very roots of being, in the implacable source of sensations.” (Paul Cezanne) “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.” (Francis Bacon) “A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people.” (Edgar Degas) “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.” (Albert Einstein)
Esoterica: You may call them devices, and in some ways they are. But they are the very bones of your paintings, sculptures, even your quilts. Similar to the plot in a story, the theme in a poem, the continuity in a movie, you need them and they need you. FYI, we’ve put a selection of Roderik Mayne’s paintings at the top of the current clickback.

Handmade Found Object Necklace, "Play Misty for Me," by Nancy Lee
Handmade Found Object Necklace, “Play Misty for Me,” by Nancy Lee

Thanks, Robert, for being a source of inspiration. And for cluing me on why art isn’t always straightforward. Why artists choose NOT make everything obvious at the outset. Why an apple doesn’t have to always look like an apple. It allows us the taste of something different, deeper, more meaningful. And it keeps us coming back to look one more time. Same object, different view.

Willa’s Journey – Part Three (Final Installment)

Part Three and the final installment of Willa’s Journey, the pendant that wanted to tell a story. It all comes together here, and we find out how the pendant found it’s name and it’s new owner – in Australia!
But first, another story-within-the story – there was this little beautiful brass clock component I really wanted to use in the piece, but it was crooked. So I wanted to re-design and re-fabricate it out of silver. I probably could have made it work, but I just cannot stand imperfection – unless I am the master of it!!!

Willa's Journey progress photo by Nancy Lee
Willa’s Journey progress photo by Nancy Lee

So, I took that piece and made the new element, used bridal veil netting to run a pattern on it and the brass piece that embellished it (in a milling machine), then needed something – a stone – to set in it. I had picked out a synthetic blue sapphire that would have been fine. But then, while rummaging through my stones, I remembered the raw emerald. This emerald came to me via my sister Janet, in the form of a stone polishing outfit she gave me many years ago. It came in a box with lots of supplies and doodads. Floating at the bottom of the box was a little plastic vial with the raw emerald. I was pretty excited! OK, it’s not Crown Jewels grade, but it’s pretty sweet. I took the emerald and used my diamond tool bits to clean up the edges and refine it. But I questioned my decision to add it to this piece. Wouldn’t the synthetic sapphire do as well? I can always get more of them, but this little green beauty is one of a kind. I may or may not ever see another like it that fits this element so perfectly.
I decided to go for it, and at that moment, recalled the Willa Cather novel (Death Comes for the Archbishop), the decision to sacrifice a good element to the bigger story, and never looked back. In one fell swoop, I had my design and my piece had titled itself “Willa’s Journey.” Sometimes you just know that something is good.
I posted the picture of the completed pendant on Facebook, and it caused a stir. Conversations began with a friend that I was taking an online class with. After many emails, the pendant arrived at her new home – Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. You might imagine the thrill (and relief) I felt when my friend sent me this email:

Nancy…..it arrived!! It’s so beautiful. I love it more in person than I did in the photo. I had to put it on immediately of course. It’s so “me”.
Thankyou thankyou thankyou. Kind Regards, Michelle H.

Willas Journey Pendant
Willas Journey Pendant, photo by Nancy Lee