The two of us stood there staring down at the pristine stretch of washi paper lying on the floor, in his hand, a long soft brush swollen with rich black sumi ink. I was one with my client.
It’s a tense breath-taking moment, that moment before staining the clean white expanse. I reminded him that he’d done his preparation well, sinking deep into reverie whilst rubbing the sumi stick rhythmically on the stone, as the oriental monks of old did, watching the water becoming deeper and deeper black. Then he’d test the ink and brush on practice sheets, feeling the soft sheep hair bundle give way under pressure, ever darkening gray lines becoming thick and strong, and then playing and dancing thinly as he used only the very tip.
Now, kneeling before the meter-long delicate white paper, comes hesitancy. It‘s a moment I know well. All artists know it. As we stand before a new canvas, an unmarked sketchbook, an unkneaded clump of clay; Excitement, panic, insecurity, and, always, the temptation to walk away, to give up.
“In life, too,” I said “these moments of fear before starting out on a new adventure, are phases we go through. You needn’t paint anything. Just play.” Gently placing the dripping brush on the paper, his first strokes were halting, then a little stiff, until finally sinking into “the Zone” of simply experiencing the process.
Finally putting the brush down, and looking at the black and white design, he found all kinds of symbols and meanings, even some memories of childhood. He’d crossed the threshold of fear and came out the other side enchanted.
I once learned that to see something in darkness, one should focus not on the object directly, but to the side of it. Sometimes, to solve a problem, to get moving when stuck, it’s best to take a break, and work indirectly. The artistic process is life’s practice, its subconscious work and sacred prayer.