Over ten years ago I started this drawing. As near as I can recall I did not get much farther with it. This photo may in fact have captured its stalled state.
The drawing is still somewhere I’m sure. I’ve kept most all of my artwork over the years. I’m not one to part with creative projects, even incomplete ones.
It’s been a good twelve years since I partially abandoned this piece. I can only recall shades of how I felt at the time. It had been a struggle, though I was keen to follow through with it. The book was checked out from a library, and both the peregrine falcon and its black-and-white photo were highly attractive. There’s so much character in the bird’s expression, even with eyes almost totally dark. The bird looks strong. It looks defiant.
In short, the drawing wasn’t working out. The shades of grey and black and white were as complex as the bird’s feather patterns. It was going to take time, no matter what, and I’m sure I fought with what aspects to work on first. I tended to draw things piece by piece, part by part, rather than with building overall structural aspects and then working inward. And to this day I struggle with a need to finish something in one go, rather than coming back to it.
Going by this photo, I’d clearly been fascinated by the falcon’s pitch black eye. Compared to the light tonal washes illuminated by the prairie sunlight, the bird’s eye seems somehow massive. Its ocular port is heavily shadowed too, bending and arched in what feels like deep, calculating emotion. The falcon isn’t even looking at you, but you’re drawn into its eye.
Its eye is so black as to ask for solid, wet ink rather than light, wispy pencil. I’d always had a light approach to drawing, always struggling with the commitment of thick, dark shading. It’s harder to erase when it’s dark enough. It’s harder to undo.
The eye was likely the key. The body and feathers and background action were complex enough in their own rights. But the eye… the eye told so much. Just what it was telling I don’t know, but it was also demanding. Even now it demands the most detail, if I were going to try again to render it. If I was going get anything right with this drawing it was with that eye, at once menacing and concerned, oblivious yet pulsing with energy, with life. Everything else, the feathers and the foliage, I could pour endless hours into the dull details of patterns both consistent and irregular. But the eye is constant, and vital. Everything else is wallpaper. The eye is the story.
I definitely struggled with the eye. I may have been content to distract myself with all the other aspects. The eye took up maybe 5% of the total space, the total content. The body of the bird so much more massive, the fields behind it implicitly endless. They don’t tell the bird’s story. They don’t present the bird.
I had to get the eye right, and it wasn’t happening. The shape, the shades… even now I can’t think of a word for how difficult it was to capture it. It wasn’t a solid black. It wasn’t perfectly round. The little reflected light in its upper corner, the tiny little sun mirrored a million miles away so as to tease you with insignificance but in turn taunting you with fumbling inaccuracy. 2H and HB and 6B pencil leads, blending stomps, erasers, in concert with flitting time and patience… I just couldn’t capture it.
I often refer to myself as more of an “idea man” than a practical “doer”. And what that entails is my mind so often being inspired with creative visions that I am rarely able to realize to a satisfying degree. Even when a project is completed, be it a drawing or a musical recording or a piece of writing, it at times feels like a compromise. As thoroughly pleased and even impressed with myself as I might be, something deeper doesn’t feel like I’d captured the essence of what I first imagined. I think so often my more quickly rewarding accomplishments are achieved in a short span, even immediately. If something takes longer, I find myself moved away from the vision. The more time passes, the greater the gap between first idea and the pencil and paper. The inspiration begins to dissolve; the vision fades.
This is a deep struggle for me, the notion of giving up on things I can’t achieve in one go. Especially in terms of artistic creation. It was a struggle in my younger fine art days, it’s a struggle as musician since then, and to this day. I don’t know what it means. But I’ve gotten better at recognizing the pattern. Better at stepping back, recognizing the big picture of just how much time and effort something will require. Better at resigning myself to what will surely entail good days and bad along the way. Better at recognizing that a multi-day effort can be just as rewarding as a single-day marathon.
It’s a shame I wasn’t able to come back to the falcon drawing later. It was for a drawing class, and I wasn’t able to work without outside of that context. More than that I likely knew that it wasn’t the attempt at drawing the bird in general that was faltering – it was this particular attempt. My first go at it wasn’t working, but I couldn’t see it as a “first” go. For whatever reason I had to get it right the first time. It can be difficult for me to discard something when so much work has already been put into it.
I’ve long since moved far away from fine art, becoming more of a musician and a writer. And though I’ve matured in some ways, I do still struggle with creativity the way I did with the peregrine falcon. But I recognize it now. And being a bit of a creative hoarder – I still have art-filled boxes, music-filled tapes and disc drives – something in me always feels like I can go back to old, unfinished projects and give them another go. Even with such furthered distances between idea and rendering, I can’t help but wonder what could happen.
As far as I can tell, I no longer have that original peregrine falcon drawing. But even with my no longer being an artist in that sense… who’s to say it has to remain the only attempt at capturing that bird’s eye?
©2016 Andrew Hall Writes