Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Size of Clouds

"Sometimes I think my head is so big because it's so full of dreams."
-- the Elephant Man.

I was sitting on the back porch earlier this morning, reading the Times, drinking coffee, speaking, on occasion, to the dog.  It's going to be a beautiful day -- topping out at perhaps 75 degrees.  Fahrenheit, obviously.  A high cloud cover, alternating with big patches of blue.

At one point I looked up and couldn't help noticing how fast the clouds were traveling.  I picked out a telephone pole as a reference point and watched as a cloud the size of, I'm guessing, New Zealand rolled past it -- although who knows how big clouds are.  Couldn't have been more than 30 seconds and the cloud was well past the pole and heading east.

I once painted clouds on the ceiling of Daughter #2's bedroom.  I did, I thought, a competent, workman-like job.  Painting clouds requires a palette of off-white, plus two or three shades of light to medium gray, all of which is applied against a light blue background.  The key is that you sponge the stuff on, allowing no hard or sharp line to stand.  Like a life well-led, everything must be fluffy and amorphous.  Add to this the keen understanding that clouds are three dimensional objects illuminated by the sun.  So you have to identify, as you paint your clouds, where the sun is and arrange your whites and grays accordingly.

As noted, use a sponge.  And not one of those square ones you use to clean the dishes either.  You need a sponge as irregular and amorphous as the clouds you're trying to paint.  And some humility.  Because, dude, you can paint clouds til the cows come home and you're still not going to be J.M.W. Turner.

The practitioners of the Arts and Crafts movement, Stickley et al., knew a bit about humility, frequently citing an ancient motto:

The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne.  

Which is a pretty good way to look at a lot of things.

A little of the Arts and Crafts movement can seem, after a while, to be quite a bit.  But some of their work remains tremendously beautiful.  And they created one of the most comfortable chairs in history ...

The sister of a dear friend of mine is an amateur painter.  Landscapes and portraits of dogs, mostly.  I've seen quite a bit of her work and, like most amateurs, some of it is okay, some of it is terrible, and perhaps five percent is quite lovely.  Mine too, come to think of it, but I like to think that my "quite lovely" percentage is considerably higher than 5%.

Anyway, we were looking at a portrait of a dog one day and she said to me that she was trying to paint as well as Leonardo da Vinci.  Which was fine, because I'm a firm believer in aspiring to greatness.  Aim high and all that business.  Then she said something like "And I'm almost there."

Really?  This is an approximation of the conversation -- I was so shaken by it that I've blocked a bit of it out.  I do, however, still have marks on my tongue from biting it.

Here's a Turner painting with some clouds ...

Now this is a man who knows where the sun is.


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