Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Art of Revision

When I first entered Pat’s studio, I immediately noticed that one piece of furniture—a large retro-style wooden wardrobe—was coated with nothing more than basic whitewash. To all minimalist-inclined furniture lovers, the white coating would certainly be ideal; the wardrobe’s lines and style would blend comfortably into any streamlined suburban home.

As settled and demure as the wardrobe appeared, I wasn’t fooled: in Pat’s studio, white paint simply meant that the wardrobe was not fulfilling its bright destiny.

“What are you going to do with it?” I asked, trying to imagine brilliant turquoise skies, sunflowers, and iridescent butterflies drifting across that blank surface.

“I don’t know,” Pat said, frowning at the wardrobe as if it had been defying her for some time. She grabbed two soft black art pencils and handed me one. “C’mon. You can help me think about it.”

To a writer, thinking means scribbling. But to an artist, thinking means sketching, and within thirty seconds, Pat had detailed a thought onto one of the panels. A grandfatherly face peered at me rather drowsily through a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles—on the verge of either telling a story or dozing off to sleep.

Delighted, I timidly mimicked Pat’s style, sketching a counterpart onto the opposite panel. A grandma appeared, equally placid, replete with beaded earrings, a small pursed mouth, and reading glasses sliding down her long nose. I complained about her curls, which had none of the depth and texture of Grandpa’s.

“Well then, just change them,” Pat urged, leading by example, smudging her fingers across Grandpa’s mouth, then his eye, “You can’t hurt the paint . . . see?”

Her casual revision brought an immediate tension to the picture that thrilled my storyteller’s mind. Grandpa now sported a shadowed upper lip and a dark shiner of an eye that strongly hinted at his not-too-placid past. I cast a suspicious glance at Grandma, wondering if she’d had anything to do with that shiner. She did look smug. Actually, the longer I studied Grandma, the more I feared that any further sketching or revising on my part would bring out her true nature. Villains have a way of threatening to take over an entire story, and I wasn’t about to unleash this gal in Pat’s cheery angel-decked studio, beads or no beads.

“You understand . . .” Pat hesitated, stepping back from the wardrobe, contemplating the elderly couple, “they aren’t going to stay this way.”

“Oh, I understand,” I replied, wondering if counseling could help the pair, never mind how many years they’d been married.

Pat chuckled. “I’ll probably change them into cats or dogs.”

Squinting at Grandpa and Grandma, I revised them yet again. Perky ears, facial fur, and a few more spots on Grandpa . . . . It might just work.
No counseling needed.
Blessings, Dear Reader!