I’m in a sketch posting mood, and also a thinking about old, unfinished projects mood.
Back in 1999 through 2001 I had worked pretty hard on the conceptual phases of mounting a stage production of Shakespeare’s the Tempest. It’s an odd, thoughtful play in which very little actually happens, but there is great beauty in the spaces between sparse action. I did a close reading and fell in love with it’s heart full of forgiveness, disillusionment and surrender to the crushing wheel of time.
These sketches were a joy to make. I dug through two wonderful Renaissance woodcut and 18th Century illustration reproduction books, Vecellio’s and Lechevallier-Chevignard’s, imagining up the looks of all the characters and trying to make some detailed, evocative pencil sketches. There are several more of them than I am posting, I’ve done all but one or two individuals from the play. I keep expecting to do something with this work someday, but what, exactly, I haven’t been able to resolve.
In addition to all the design work I wrote a very large set of incredibly detailed notes about what I thought the history of these characters was, and what their lives became after the events of the play. I found connections in them to other classic literature. I tried in these exercises to stay as true to the characters as written as possible. Too often, I think, people will approach a play like this and bring too much of their own politics or convictions, and disrupt what is a carefully balanced mix of personalities with grafted polemic. Caliban, for example, is surely oppressed, but he is not a noble savage, though it is often tempting for a modern production to portray him so.
I made a physical map of the island in the play and did several illustrations of scene-scapes. I didn’t think they would be built for stage exactly as drawn, but thought the work of drawing them would invite surprises in my thinking about how to arrange the sets.
As the geography started coming together, the whole story started coming together, and some real momentum was building.
Like splitting the logs in a seemingly endless woodpile, all these small acts of thought and drawing were reducing a mountain of chaos into a stack of ordered and useful ideas.
Unfortunately, in the end the steam ran out and I never got a solid thing completed. But this body of effort remains in sketchbooks and notes, and I come back and raid it occasionally for ideas in other projects. The final project for a CGI class. The subject for a sculpture.
Now, as I’m looking at what to do here in the coming year, I’m thinking there is still some life in here, and may be expanding on this work. What’s in it? A book maybe. A gallery show. It could go in several directions.
Easily the most frustrating thing about having a restless imagination is not being able to settle on any one project to see through to the end. I’ve found I work best under the management of someone else, or as one member of a collaborative group. Without the fact of a project outside of my full control I am mostly unable to do the mental triage necessary to keep work focused on serving the project in a timely manner. All my self motivated endeavors stretch out endlessly and get big and unmanageable.
But I’m also generally unable to find collaborators I can work with. Either their ideas don’t inspire me or I don’t respect the quality of their work. I’m sure my ego is obstructing my growth as an artist here, but it’s a fact I need to learn to deal with. There are only two people I’ve been able to repeatedly collaborate with.
One is a friend I used to do comedy with, we’ve made short films, live performances and multi-media things together and they’ve always been decent. With him it works, only when it revolves around comedy, because I find him incredibly funny, and so can almost always turn my work to serving his vision. I trust he’ll have better instincts than me in that way.
The other is someone I produced a play with once, and later have done artwork under the direction of. She is a graphic designer with a really acute eye, and though I generally wouldn’t go myself in the directions she generally goes, or maybe because of that, I also trust her judgment in following artwork down the paths she wants to take it.
I guess I do my best work partially blind, under the guidance of someone I trust can see the road. If you leave me to try the roads myself, I’ll go part way up and down all the ones that look interesting to me, but I’ll never decide which to follow all the way.
That flaw is what I need to work on this year.