The brush slid over the canvas and she became aware of the surface’s texture as though she was running her naked fingertip across it. The sound of the horsehair bristles flattening and reshaping to a point, the rasp of the long strokes and the feathered dabs of the short, the hum of her little studio refrigerator as it cycled on. The smell of burned leaves that always pervaded the space, one of the reasons she’d chosen it in the first place, mixed with the turpentine and oil odors. It was a heady atmosphere, one that she’d crafted all for herself, for her muse, to help channel the art out from wherever it came, to transmit the messages from her creative ether into physical form. Everything was perfectly tuned and yet-
She let the brush slip from her fingers and she heard it clatter to floor, felt the spatter of a few drops hitting her ankles. She closed her eyes and breathed deep, trying to inhale the mood that now rushed away from her; a corridor receding and elongating, lengthening as she tried to pursue that fleeting moment of inspiration, so that every step she took pushed her further and further from it.
Who can encapsulate the artist’s frustration in simple terms? To describe the ebb and flow of the tides of creativity is not as simple as the relationship between a sea and her moon. It is a maddening, irrational thing, one that cannot be cajoled or seduced or reasoned with, one that comes and goes as it pleases and, more often than not, leaves its host a sobbing wreck. And yet it is desired as readily as any beloved companion, its presence an absolute requirement for work.
She covered her face with her paint-stained hands and was surprised to find that she couldn’t even muster a sob. Had the effort taken so much from her? With her eyes still covered she took a step backward, then another, then a longer stride and stood to look at what she’d accomplished that afternoon.
The scene on the canvas was still in the process of appearing, that much was clear, but the rough shapes she’d defined with the movement of the spirit-guided brush were evident. A meadow, surrounded by a copse of dark trees, a sunset sky over all. A ring of stones, some standing and some tumbled, broken by age and erosion. Black birds on the horizon. She didn’t dare ask what it was, for that would dispel her vision, as though talking of a thing could somehow banish it, and she needed to move once more into that creature’s embrace so that together they might add the details that would further flesh out the scene.
She dropped down to her haunches and fished a cigarette from her shirt pocket. She plugged it into her mouth and let it dangle there, more for the comfort of it than the function. Outside the studio the real sun was setting, and it cast long blood-red shafts over the rough wooden floor. She sighed, and retreated from the canvas, like a warrior routed from battle. She’d need time to regroup, collect herself, and then once more throw her will at the work.
It was time for a drink.