So it’s the weekend, which means Ursula gets to paint Ursula stuff, rather than work stuff. (Okay, actually I put in a couple of hours on work, but I really needed to get Mr. Clean done. But for the main, I try to do my own art on weekends so that I don’t burn out, and anyway, I can always sell prints or something.) I pulled up the Hippogriff, which at the moment has a little mouse friar holding up a hand like a small rodent St. Francis, and set down to Paint Some Trees.
About twenty minutes later, the Muse put a metaphorical shotgun to the back of my head and said “Hands where I can see ‘em. We’re gonna be painting something else now,” which is how I found myself back in the gearworld, which is what I call all those paintings with concrete backgrounds and random clockwork–the evil egg, the woman with the broken swords, the other woman with the black orchid tattoos, the concrete origami crane–it’s all in the gearworld.
I’m not all that sure how I feel about the gearworld. It is somewhat at odds with my personal ethos. See, I try not to wax too mystical about the creative process. Really, I don’t. Part of it is being a professional illustrator–my Muse carries a sign, and that sign is “Will Work For Food,” because I really can’t afford to get pretentious or picky or sit and wait for inspiration to strike before I work on something. Right now, I have to paint pirates, and if I had to sit and wait for love of pirates to fill my brain, the deadline would be long gone while I was still learning the words to “Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest.” And so I tend to be rather contemptous of what I see as “pH3aR mY l33t Muse!” stuff.
Part of it, I suppose, is that I don’t have the “Woe! My Muse has abandoned me!” problem, I have the “My Muse wants something, and she’s packing heat,” problem. I can paint just fine on my own, she only shows up when she wants something, and god help me if I’m somewhere without art supplies. This may be why I feel this way. It’s possible.
Creativity, I’ve always felt, is rather like crapping. (Forgive me.) Everybody does it in some form or another. Everybody pretty much knows what it feels like. And yes, it may occasionally feel really cosmic while you’re doing it, but nobody else wants to hear about how cosmic it felt, and if you start going on about the process and your union with the spacetime continuum during it at great length, people will get a politely trapped expression and start trying to gnaw off their own limbs to escape. (Assume “everyone” is “all creative types” here, since I’m sure people will immediately bring up all those poor people who are suffering a permanent case of creative constipation, and that’s another kettle of goats.)
This is why I try to avoid getting mystical about the whole art thing. I am possibly in a minority, mind you–there are plenty of artists who will get wildly mystical about it, and some of them are much more talented than I am. Dali supposedly used to develop insane, paranoid scenarios about what went into a classical painting–i.e “These two farmers aren’t getting ready to plant, they’re burying a body! Their son! Whom the husband murdered! Because the wife was sleeping with the son! And she’s going to kill him next!” and so on, then would do a painting based on some far extrapolation where the wife hired a flaming hit-giraffe or something, and obviously it worked for him. But I am no Dali, and I figure that it’s part of what keeps art inaccessible a lot of times, and given the choice, I prefer to be as hardheaded and pragmatic about it all as possible.
Except that…well…there’s the gearworld, and damned if I know what it all means. So if you’re still reading, I’m sorry–try not to gnaw off any limbs as I wax on about it all. I won’t be offended if you flee. Really.
It doesn’t feel like the rest of my paintings so much. It’s the closest I’m gonna get to Fine Art in this lifetime, I imagine–I don’t know quite what it is or why I’m doing it, but it wants to be what it is. There are symbols involved, and I don’t always know what they mean or put ‘em in deliberatly, which is a low-level chafe on the soul. Symbolism rash. I am suspicious of symbolism that is too cryptic, and contemptuous of that which is too obvious, so this is like sandpaper. And I don’t want to wax mystical about it–I am the artist, damnit, so the gearworld has to be made up of things I’ve seen, refiltered and recombined in my grey matter, just like all the rest of my art–but it…just doesn’t behave quite like the rest.
I don’t know very much about the gearworld except what a few bits of it look like. It’s concrete, labrynthical, and dark. It goes up and down, but mostly down. There are forests along the edge of part of it and the tree roots invade. There are staircases and steampipes. There are people, but not cities as such, pipes and puddles and streams, but no large bodies of water. I trip over random rooms of it in my head every now and then. I know that a lot of people do heavy worldbuilding and then illustrate it, which is fine and dandy and has given rise to some lovely art, but I seem to be stuck going about it backwards myself–I sit there with an empty brain, and try to draw something in the gear world, and if I get close enough, it snaps in. (There are things that I know are there, but don’t know what they look like, too. I know there’s a hall of suits of armor for dogs and oxen, but no clue what it looks like.) It has to be close, though. There’s one with a dead tree on a flat gear in a courtyard full of leaves that’s almost got it–the tree is right–but the background isn’t, and until I get it right, it won’t socket into place. (This sounds very mystical, but in actual practice, it’s more like Insert Tab A into Slot B, where you have to drill out Slot B to make Tab A actually fit, and then it’s a tight, frictiony jamming, with a lot of swearing, getting the damn thing to fit. Once it’s in, though, you’d need the Jaws of Life to get it out.)
Having built more than one world in my time–Digger’s world, for example, (which is cannibalized in part from the setting of my Obligatory Unpublished Fantasy Novel and in part made up as I go along) or the Underbed, or various D&D campaigns and whatnot–I know how it feels, and the gearworld just isn’t quite the same. It isn’t as malleable. If I wanted a race of talking panda bears with jewels in their foreheads in “Digger,” I could introduce them. I could have ‘em in the Underbed. I could work them into a D&D campaign. It might be a strain, I might have to use my foot to get it shoved in all the way, but it’s ultimately doable, even if it’s a mildly dorky principle. It might not improve any of those worlds, but I could stick it in, and make it–if not work, at least not be a dealbreaker.
If I tried to put ‘em in the gearworld, it just wouldn’t take. I’d never finish the painting. They don’t belong there, and–maybe this is the point I’m working at obliquely–the art has veto power over the artist. (Panda skulls, maybe. Live pandas…eh, I have my doubts. Of course, I could find one tomorrow, you never know. Breaking their teeth on iron bamboo or something. It’d have to be tragic. Pandas are tragic. Even then, I dunno.) Giant squids, maybe, somewhere downstairs. White ceramic coffee mugs with hearts on them–oddly enough, yes. Frogs, absolutely. Fish in glass tubes bolted to the walls, definitely. Rainbows, certainly not, unless there’s an oilslick involved. Digital clocks, no. Orchids yes, daffodils, possibly, hydrangeas, no. Chintz, no chance. No books by Frank Lloyd Wright. I have nothing against Wright, I think he was a genius, but I didn’t make the rules here.
The things that fit there seem to have no particular logic, and I can’t seem to change them. It’s not really dictated by my likes or dislikes. I quite like wombats, as we all know, and so far the gearworld is a wombat-free zone. No naked mole rats, either. Go figure. It’s changeable, though, so ten years from now it might be very different, but I don’t seem to have much control over it.
I figure it’s probably based on the bunkers. Back when I was a kid, my mother took me to the old WWII bunkers in Oregon–there are a few, oddly enough–and they’re basically big concrete boxes with peeling paint, graffiti-riddled walls. Get a room or two inside, and it’s the kind of true, inky blackness you generally only find inside mines–there’s literally not a drop of light in them. And my mother did a series of paintings of these walls, again, when I was young, and I think they imprinted in my brain to a large extent, because I feel on some level that one of those paintings–a bunch of sardines tied together to make a ladder, called “Scaling the Wall” (hah!)–is set in what my brain thinks of as the gearworld.
I dunno. I guess there’s no law that says every world in your head has to act the same. This one just feels a little more deeply buried–like I’m excavating it rather than inventing it, and it’s occasionally unsettling to have so little control over what is ultimately a product of my hands and brain. Which is probably good for the soul and all, but it smacks of mystical arty ph3ar mY l33t Musedom, and we all know how I feel about that.
And now, more than enough talk. More painting.
Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.