I’ve been working a lot on art lately. Although I went to art school for about two years back in the early seventies, I didn’t learn much about technique at all. Back then, I had a set of Winsor & Newton watercolors. What’s pertinent about them is that they are pretty traditional. They’re transparent and most of them don’t granulate, meaning that they give a pure, clear color with no texture. This was just what watercolor was back then. Very simple, straightforward, and no glitz.
When I wanted to get back into painting again a few years ago, I bought a set of watercolor pans from the same company, the same type of paints. I didn’t know how much things had changed in the watercolor world. I didn’t end up using the paints back then, so it didn’t matter one way or the other.
Only this past year have I begun painting again in earnest. The first thing I discovered was how much more economical tube paints were than pans. But then I found that a lot of new paint companies had arisen in my absence, and they were selling some pretty darn glitzy paints. For instance:
When you see something like this (Moonglow from Daniel Smith, for those who’d like to get themselves some–and check out the other beauties they have), it’s hard to go back to your simple little Perylene purple. Moonglow’s got three different pigments in it, plus it granulates like mad (those specks of color, which give it a LOT of texture), plus the description has got a ton of spin. So I succumbed and bought a number of such paints (although not this one) that have rather spectacular effects in terms of granulation and whatnot.
When I began painting with them, though, I noticed a problem. The glitzy paints called attention to themselves in a way that the subtle paints did not. So if I tried painting leaves with the glitzy paints, they looked a lot more like a painting than a leaf. IOW, they highlighted the process of painting rather than the end product. And even though it is cool to be in the moment and in the process, it is also cool to produce something that has worth in itself: a painting of a belladonna flower, not a painting about painting a belladonna flower.
I kept not liking the results, even though I absolutely loved paints like Diopside Green and Lunar Black. They just were not helping me paint. It reminded me of many years ago, when I used to knit. For years the only glitzy yarns available were tacky variegated yarns that typically ended up being featured in Grammaw’s crocheted afghan she draped over the back of the davenport. But when hand spinning began to become popular, all the sudden there were all sorts of very glitzy yarns out there–yarns that were handpainted, that had different colored slubs embedded in them, that had various sized bobbles in them, and even more, like iridescent thingies or beads or even feathers spun into them. I thought they were so cool, but when I tried to knit with them, I found that they did not serve me well. They were great if you wanted to draw attention to the yarn but not if you wanted to draw attention to the garment or its texture. I ended up going back to very simple yarns that did not have any particular texture of their own and so allowed the knitting stitches to really come through. These even had natural colors from the sheep itself instead of fancy dye painting. Using these, I created a lot of interesting garments, and this is the kind of knitted garment I still prefer (think fishermen sweaters, for instance).
So I am very reminded of that now, with my paints, and I’ve begun to refocus my paint collection on the old-fashioned transparent, single-pigment, non-granulating, non-glitzy paints. These are helping me create images that do not call attention to their paintedness as much as to what I am depicting. Boring? I hope not. I will save my glitzy paints for when I want to paint images that would be helped by them.
So what’s this got to do with witchcraft? I’ve found the same thing there. When we do magic, we can do it with fancy equipment, with fancy incantations, with fancy ingredients, fancy timing, fancy initiations, and fancy lineages or we can do it simply. This is not to say I don’t love me a good prop. I do, just as much as I love that Moonglow paint. But I have found that the fancy prop does not help my magic as much as a plain old transparent yellow helps my painting. And I do more magic with plain things than with fancy things, because with fancy things, I start getting distracted from the purpose by the tool. The thing keeps drawing attention to itself instead of helping you reach your goal. For instance, my tarot cards. I’ve used the Thoth deck since the seventies. I have a deck that is rather beat up and the Devil card is torn (symbolic? probably). I taped it back together but decided maybe I needed a new deck. I bought the big fancy full-sized Thoth. I bought some other fancy beautiful decks. But which one do I get the best readings out of? My old scotch-taped little Thoth deck that I store in an old box instead of a fancy carved wooden chest. The other decks are hardly even worth bothering with, pretty as they are. I’ll bet plenty of you have got similar stories.
The other part of this issue is what I mentioned above about not learning technique. When the technique is unfamiliar or even unknown, it is easier to be enticed by fancy tools. We can come to believe that it is the tool that will get us where we want to go instead of our knowledge and skill acquired through practice that we bring to a tool. I didn’t know what I had back in art school in terms of my paints, and when I began painting again, I didn’t know what I didn’t know about paints. I just saw “ooh pretties!” Learning about the tools of watercolor combined with actually painting with the pretties helped me realize that part of what was wrong with my paintings was my paint. The more I learn about painting techniques, the more I practice, the more I see how much the simple stuff can do. I think it’s true with magic as well.
I haven’t been writing here much, because I have been doing so much art practice, like I said, and because I thought well, what’s it got to do with magic or gardening? But I’m going to start writing about it, because my art is tied inextricably to my magic and to my gardening. If it were not for magic and gardening, I don’t think I would have a subject for my art. I’ve been painting lots of practice images of belladonna, for instance, and now I think I’m finally ready to paint one that I will have printed and will sell on my site. I’ll be doing a lot more paintings of the witching herbs. I’ve also started working on a painting of what I’m calling a wizard’s house. I want to create images of witch cottages and witchy still lifes and scenes to do with magic. I hope you will find the process interesting. I’ll be posting stuff here as I get things done, maybe some sketches as well.