Saturday, January 22, 2011

Blank Paper

I know a man who collected watercolor supplies. When I was younger, I remember going down to the basement and seeing beautiful brushes out on display. The kind of brushes artists dream about, with rich wood and perfect tips. And the paper—the finest from Italy or England, etc. Heavy grain, soft. Thick and thin.

But I don't remember any paintings. I can't remember a single time I saw him mixing colors and putting them to that gorgeous paper.

The paper and brushes ended up in storage. One time I went with him to get an unwanted couch—me and Nick's first uncomfortable-but-free couch. Complete with rat poop. The man opened drawer after drawer of paper, all sizes and grades and prices neatly written in the corner of every sheet. He told me about them, how valuable they were.

All I saw was blank paper. Slim drawers full of paintings that could have been.

I didn't understand. I still don't, really. Yes, the paper and the brushes are wonderful, but what good are they unused?

Sometimes I speculate on the mystery of the unused paper. Maybe he simply never had time. He was a busy man with a family to care for and hardships to face. Maybe he kept buying the supplies thinking, "One day. One day I'll have time to paint."

Collecting the supplies might have been easier than learning to use them. The man could have found more pleasure in the idea of being a painter, rather than enjoyment in actually painting. The supplies could be years of pretending and never becoming.

Or perhaps the man felt like he should save that paper until he became a better artist. "Not yet," he might have said to himself. "I'll ruin the paper." Maybe he thought the value of the paper was more than what he could put on it. It could have been fear of failing that kept those sheets blank.

I'm not sure I'll ever know the real reason, but whatever it is I can't help but feel sad when I think about the man who keeps blank paper in storage. Paper that may never have a brush put to it. Paper that is waiting for something, anything. Paper that could have been art.

All I know is that when the man shows me that paper, I would prefer to see paintings. Even if they were amateur or simple or strange. They would tell me about the man. They would be little windows into his life and interests. They would be something. There is nothing sadder than a blank piece of paper, a could have been.

Someday, perhaps I will have the chance to pull those brushes and that paper from storage. I may not be the best with watercolors, but those sheets have been blank long enough. I will fill them with my own stories.

27 comments:

  1. That is so beautiful. And so beautifully sad.

    I used to do this. I still do, actually. I have fine, beautiful stationary. I think about the fine beautiful letters I will write with it. Or the fine beautiful calligraphy I'll illustrate on it. Sometimes I do...sometimes I send an email, or sketch on notebook paper instead.

    I think I'll dig some out tonight...

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  2. Bittersweet. I love watercolor and would love to have brushes and paper like his.

    This also reminds me of writing. Sometimes we're so afraid to start something new, we're always staring at the blank paper/document, afraid to put words down because they might be the wrong words.

    Sometimes you just have to dive in and paint/write something.

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  3. I had a sewing machine for years that sat in a closet waiting for some day. I'm so glad I got it out and learned how to use it. I'm not great but I really enjoy it.

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  4. Wow, what a waste. My fingers would be itching to make a grab for it all. That really makes me sad that someone has all that stuff and never uses it when there are people who would do almost anything to have those 'sacred' supplies.

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  5. That is sad. I'm also guilty of this. Since I studied art in college I still have all my art supplies along with inks and pastels I'd like to use but never get around to it. I keep thinking I need more space and had a plan to organize so I can actually do some art but haven't gotten around to it yet. Same as the writing. I should have far more done than I do because I have the time.

    Something I need to work on. Great blog post.

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  6. What a beautiful post.

    Never wait for perfection.

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  7. The only way to keep this story from staying so sad is to wonder if the man was collecting the supplies for a future painter like his kid/niece/nephew/grandkid. Because that would be one amazing birthday to have all those supplies appear.

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  8. Natalie, I think we can all see pieces of ourselves in that story. We all need to make ourselves stretch and grow our talents. For example, I'm only a sometimes singer, but would love to further that talent. I have tons of art and crafting supplies, and want to do that, as well. I write poetry, but never published it. I wrote a book, but haven't yet progressed far enough on revision number four or five (I forget) to send it out on more queries. I love to cook, but have a hard time following recipes. ....and the list goes on! I have two copyrighted songs, but haven't learned to perform them in public. If I had no one but myself to look after and be responsible for, I might get some of these things done in the timeframe of excellence. As it stands today, most of these grand plans gather dust on a shelf, or sit as beautiful blank pages of future promise, in a drawerful of possibilities.

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  9. What a beautiful and sad image. There are so many things we put off because we're afraid to mess it up... but what's better than jumping in, hands on, and being happy with the outcome whatever it may be?

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  10. Thanks for sharing that, Natalie. This is particularly poignant for me because I waited so long to do something with the blank piece of paper. I reached a conclusion years ago when I was young that I could never write anything longer than a short story, so there was no point in trying to write anything longer. So for 30 years all the stories stayed in my head, and until a year ago I never dared to look at them as potentially anything bigger or better, I never too the time to learn to make them bigger or better.

    But I ain't dead yet. =D

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  11. Beautiful words, I could see the man looking at the paper every once in a while and dreaming about using it. I can thankfully say I use my papers and my brushes are a mess, But on the other hand my stories are hidden and haven't found a way out yet. Thank you for this gentle reminder.

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  12. I think the problem we’re all having with this story is the fact the man collects something that we do not see as valuable in itself and yet we accept that people buy expensive bottles of wine and never intend to drink it which also seems such a waste because we see the purpose of wine to be drunk and not accumulated. What we need to realise that this is a collector and as far as a collector goes possession is the end which is why people buy toys and never play with them, never even taking them out of the boxes. I myself have a comic that came pre-sealed with some trading cards that I can’t read because to do so would ruin its value. What’s the value of a book one is never going to read? What if the book was a first edition of say, En Attendant Godot? You’ll pay about $6000 for one of them and what are you going to do with it especially if you can’t read French?

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  13. Collecting just for the look - the feel of the thing... I can relate to that. Just going into an art shop is bliss. At school had to buy paper by the ream, the look, the feel of it. I purchase wonderful hard cover notebooks, A4, with a William Morris cover - the thrill of just handling them. :0)

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  14. I must admit I do occasionally buy new journals before I fill up the old ones. I think there's something about the thrill and the anticipation of a blank notebook waiting to be filled up with my writing.

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  15. I used to be like that with notebooks. Everytime someone gave me an expensive/pretty notebook I would put it in a drawer for when I had something 'worthwhile' to write in it. Thankfully I more-or-less kicked that habit a few years ago and started using them. They are wonderful but they are more wonderful when I am using them.

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  16. I do this same thing with blank journals, but I rarely bought them for myself. When I was younger, other people would buy me blank books as presents because they knew I liked to write, but I was too intimidated to use them for their intended purpose. Now I write in pencil on legal sheets, so that I don't have to worry about "ruined pages".

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  17. Sometimes, you take my words away with your posts. And all I ever want to leave is this:

    <3

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  18. That's so sad. If your fear of failure prevents you from even trying, you'll never know if you're truly capable of success.

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  19. Great story to illustrate what all of us need to keep in mind: you never know till you try! Beautifully written too. :) Thanks for sharing!

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  20. OOOH! Thanks for adding a bright splash of color to my day!

    I think I'm a little bit like that man. I have ideas, I want to write, but it took me a long, long time to convince myself that creation was a learning process.

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  21. Melissa Down UnderJanuary 23, 2011 at 2:38 PM

    This post feels like it was written just for me! It spoke to me, in so many ways. You could never imagine.
    Thank you.

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  22. "Or perhaps the man felt like he should save that paper until he became a better artist. "Not yet," he might have said to himself. "I'll ruin the paper." Maybe he thought the value of the paper was more than what he could put on it. It could have been fear of failing that kept those sheets blank."

    Yes. I know people like that. Sometimes I think it's silly, sometimes I think it's sad. All I know is that I don't want to leave my papers blank.

    Wonderful post, Natalie.

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  23. THAT was an amazing post. Beautiful analogy! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  24. I used to do that. I collected perfume and note books and pens only to look at them.

    Then one day I realized that life was short and hoping to use them one day would lead to not using them at all.

    Great post.

    :-)

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  25. Isak Dinesen wrote a beautiful story called "The Blank Page." Sometimes the story is found in the blankness itself -- as you show here. Sometimes that's the tale.

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  26. I really enjoyed this post--I can relate to it as a watercolorist and a writer. I know all too well that feeling of "I'll ruin the paper." I sometimes go through spells when I stock up on supplies and fondle brushes, as if somehow they will reassure me that 'I can paint!'

    As a writer, it's like having all the imagination but none the courage--what if I don't write it well...

    Fear and doubt are any artist's biggest foes, but it's so very sad if we never try.

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