In the midst of a late spring art class, I discovered that there’s a really cool name for a literal and metaphoric technique of which I’ve grown fond: scumbling.
Evidently, every time I’ve blurred lines at points where contrasting colors collide—a shift from shade to sun in a landscape, for instance, or the intersection of highlights and shadows on a canvas depiction of skin—I’ve been executing a fun-on-the-tongue art maneuver: Scumbling! Who knew?
The first time I scumbled in the literal sense was doubtless in the second-floor painting studio where Art Teacher J (not his real name) supervises the acrylic renderings of a resolute cluster of semi-serious artists and an ever-present gaggle of hopefuls. Art Teacher J was not fond of an apparently amateurish habit I picked up at a competing studio wherein I placed, side by side, wildly contrasting hues for emphasis. He found my transitions jarring and harsh, not unlike a compare/contrast essay composed by a struggling Comp 101 student.
Indeed, my experiences in writing should have warned me that transitions on canvas would be no easier than they are in print. Even as a good piece of prose depends on a convincing linking of concepts, a realistic visual representation depends on smooth seams and subtle shifts of shade. Art teacher J was a proponent of gradual mergers of color, of smooth slides from dark to light, soft to firm, one thing to another. A good scumble requires a gentle back and forth, a weaving of divergent colors and they form a unified image.
But just as art imitates life, the possibility exists for life to be informed by art. In the same way proper scumbling can render a more unified likeness, this same little tip, could, theoretically be applied to real life.
I perform instinctive acts of scumbling on a daily basis. Coffee happens to be my medium of choice when it comes to making smooth real life transitions. In the morning, it’s the link between sleep and shower. I bring a full mug of it every time I move from the sunny tones of my home environment to the varied shades of work, invariably dribbling it in artful splotches along my route as I forge a connection between the two arenas. After dinner, it’s the common thread between savory and sweet.
I scumble, too, every time I pack pillows, blankets, or other comfort items for a trip, and, conversely, bring home souvenirs; some—like my Mexican blanket--that eventually become comfort items in their own right.
But not all scumbles are instinctive. Some elements in life seem to defy seamlessness. The sheer number of venues in which we must perform can make our experiences feel disjointed, jarring. We operate in seemingly distinct arenas, often without a unified sense of purpose. I, for instance, have spent innumerous hours wondering if my “artist” persona is trying to kill my identity as a writer.
One day, it occurred to me just how much wisdom there was in the thought that both are creative pursuits—two facets of a single passion. So I scumbled them, in a single word and slapped it on a business card—and, just like that—I’m the sole proprietor of ARTicles; or Me, Incorporated.
Does this insight solve all of my problems? Hardly. But every masterpiece was once a work in progress. This is my work-- I’ll keep you updated on the progress.
What's your work--and does it, well,work with the rest of your life? Am I alone in feeling pulled in divergent directions?