“The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Be alone – that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.” Nikola Tesla
Although I live five kilometers from town and share the riverbank with my neighbors the birds, an interesting queue of people find their way to my door/gate. As they step into the studio for the first time and touch the tromp l’oeil floor then gaze at the river from the second-floor balcony, I’m humbled with the reality that my life is unique.
The beauty of the river provides a rich environment and incubation chamber for inspiration. One’s pulse naturally slows while watching the frigates spiral to the skies then swoop for touch and go’s on the water while petite wrens and swallows perch on branches near the house. During those times, silence is the best conversation.
For five or six hours each day, the river is not so quiet. Slightly upriver and downriver are oxen-sized pumps that supply the shrimp ponds with fresh water. During those times I often pair painting sessions with a music playlist; meticulous details require subtle piano, and ‘mas alegre’ music nudges me into a faster painting tempo!
Late at night while most of my neighboring world is asleep, the magical world of blissful silence casts its spell over my work environment. Sunset usually signals the end of (very little) traffic on the gravel road, and the pumps cease as the river lowers with the tides. Ahhhh, aside from nature’s whisperings, all is serene and quiet. Music during those times is an intrusion.
Last week’s three-inch rain triggered a new nesting frenzy, and the ibis and herons and egrets whisper and whimper throughout each night. With one ear tweaked to the comforting nocturnal sounds of the birds, I enter my most-focused painting session for the day. Time all but stops, and many times I am shocked to see that hours have passed after I’d planned to stop ‘in ten more minutes.’ (“Ten more minutes…”- ” Thirty more minutes…” – “When I finish floating this yellow wash of color…” – “After I strengthen the darkest areas…”) Physical fatigue stops me, usually around one in the morning, but there are times when I paint until almost sunrise.
Sometimes it’s as if I’m painting while dreaming – I emerge from what seems like a painting trance – quite like when one drives between two familiar points yet cannot really remember the details of making that drive.
While painting the “Night Gardens,” I selected several flowers – that only open at night – and painted late into the night to capture their essence. Without preliminary sketching, I tapped into a unique focus that works best when there are no distractions. Sketching would be a waste of time, so I mixed pigments and began painting. One by one, the flowers came to life as if they grew on the canvas. The flowers seemed to magically paint themselves!
Other times my mind wanders while my hand paints, and it’s as if my soul takes little journeys to visit my loved ones! This week I thought of my other friend named Joe, whose world shifted last week with a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. This Joe is a musician, and a lot of his music is on my painting playlist so that part of my energies are directed to him.
At times I get a strong sense of a loved one while painting and will later find that he/she was facing something either really really good or really really bad! This sense of knowledge usually strengthens when I am still and quiet for long periods of time. When I am hurried and with others, that ‘gift’ evaporates.
After I’ve been working for several hours in uninterrupted solitude, new inspirations course through my imagination as if they’re meteors! Whoosh-— What about painting this? Whoosh! — Oh yes, and what about that?— Whoosh! — Remember to find that photo of the upside bucket on the fence post! Whoosh–-I know what’s wrong with that painting – It has a push-pull conflict. The colors are at war with each other — Whoosh! — And that skull – Where is that lost photo of the cow skull? It’s time to being that sketch to life!”
I have to force myself to get some sleep! One night around midnight, I retrieved a heavy grapefruit-sized rock that had been staring at me for months. Intended to serve as a doorstop for a friend, it patiently awaited my attention. Although I had washed my brushes and put away my paints, I retrieved a photo of a beloved cat that my friend emailed last year. The Eureka moment struck, and as if being painted in a dream, this image flowed from computer to my hand to the rock through the magic of extreme focus and inspiration.
Morning arrives, and my senses awaken with the always-cheerful songbirds in the nearby canopy. For several hours I reconcile into the waking world while critiquing progress from the previous night. My work during daylight hours is often punctuated by unexpected interruptions, so I tackle small tasks while anticipating the nocturnal painting hour. There are countless ‘Bird Breaks” as well!
Tesla definitely understood how ‘uninterrupted solitude’ unlocks the mysteries of the unconscious while inspiring creative ideas. We all have special gifts, and it’s our duty to awaken them.
When is the last time you basked in several days’ immersion in total or almost-total silence? I highly recommend doing this, although even an hour or two will serve as a sweet tonic for your soul.