The lake vomited up all types of treasure. In the sand and mud I’d find patches of slick, red clay, fish bones, and rocks of all shapes and sizes. My family had a blue and white boat that sputtered and creaked as it accelerated, and as a kid I always kept an eye out for the shores that seemed especially promising.
Sometimes we found arrowheads and spearheads left behind by the Comanche tribes that hunted in western Oklahoma. This is one of them:
I was lucky, they said, because I always seemed to pick the side of the boat where fish bit the most. But personally, I lived only for the moments when something strange and bizarre was caught on the other end of the fishing line, like a greenish-brown, vacant-eyed drumfish, a gnarled snapping turtle, or a gleaming blue catfish. To me, each was alien and other-worldly, and when I got home I’d do my best to draw them from memory on orange construction paper with broken, half melted crayons. Purple and green hues were among my favorites.
To me, this was a life of adventure and excitement; raw and undiluted. When we stopped at a beach my eyes never stopped moving; always searching for something half-buried, as the best treasures always were. The reddish-ochre color of the clay was due to the high iron content, and when it hardened in the sun it sparkled and glittered with more vigor and greater enthusiasm than any gemstone I’ve ever seen. I made all types of things from that clay: bulbous nosed heroes, tentacled monsters, alien faces, human heads… and swords.
Lot and lots of swords.
Back then, my cousin owned a number of those “Choose your adventure!” books, where you were given different choices, then flipped to the corresponding page to find out what fresh hell you’d brought down on your imaginary self. As often as possible, I chose the darkest paths, avoiding the safe, cautious choices, and skirting the edges of nightmares that led to death by owl, slow starvation, or an eternity lost among distant stars.
Now, as an adult, I love challenge, I love the obscure, and the strange.
My first experiences painting were in the back of an art store named “The Mushroom”, at the stern instructions of the old woman who taught classes there. I was ten years old, and she towered over me, always wearing a paint slathered apron, with sleeves rolled up past her elbows. Her glasses were mauve, and thick rimmed.
“Nature doesn’t make straight lines, Jonathan.”
“You never leave bare canvas visible, Jonathan.”
Bernice was always right. Always.
She painted with the deft, practiced hand; never pausing, and never hesitating.
I recognized a master when I saw one. She rarely sketched anything out, and scarcely looked at her pallette as she mixed paints in a whirl of motion and raw, unthinking intuition.
I had so much to learn, and I angered easily at my feeble efforts to depict beauty with my young hands.
But I didn’t stop trying. I never have. I’ve always been a competitive soul, and that old woman had a special smile reserved for moments where she could lean over my shoulder and offer up a superior solution to a problem I couldn’t solve. She hated computers though. She claimed you couldn’t make *true* art with a computer, that it took real paints and real canvas to do nature justice.
But now, two decades removed from those days, I look back, and I feel a smirk tug at the corners of my mouth when I consider what she would say of the work I’ve done, and what I’ve done it with. I’ve never limited myself to any medium, and I’ve always pushed, higher and higher, inspired by technology and equally delighted to be sculpting in Zbrush, writing shader code, or coding in C++.
We live in an age where an artist has a myriad of mediums to explore, and I always relish those moments when something goes wrong: it may be a misplaced brushstroke, an unintentional down-click, or a clump of ceramic clay in the wrong spot, but then… the moment pauses, stretches, then expands… and suddenly I’ll feel this rush of adrenaline as I realize a GREAT way to work it into the piece.
I think a part of me never left the foamy shorelines of my childhood, and I feel that much of the work I’ve done reflects those enchanting, distant days. I adore bright, vibrant colors, and often I fall in love more strongly with the sketch of something than the final piece itself. Everything works out, in the end, but the beginning is always special and poignant in it’s own unique way.