One of the things I struggle with when I paint scientific pictures is how to straddle the line between illustration and imaginative art. I want to create something recognizable, but not something appropriate for a textbook. When I'm planning a picture, I'm generally focused on how to create a beautiful and meaningful image. But when I get down to the actual painting, I sometimes get more wrapped up in how to make something look like it has a glistening curve, or when to drop in the second color so it blooms just so. So oftentimes I end up with something that is closer in letter than in spirit to my original intent. Today was a nice exception.
I decided to work on some heart and blood-themed pieces. I'm not sure why, but some lines of a a fairly obscure poem kept going through my head the whole time I was painting. Here it is:
Two evils, monstrous either one apart,
Possessed me, and were long and loath at going:
A cry of Absence, Absence, in the heart,
And in the wood the furious winter blowing.
Think not, when fire was bright upon my bricks,
And past the tight boards hardly a wind could enter,
I glowed like them, the simple burning sticks,
Far from my cause, my proper heat and center.
Better to walk forth in the frozen air
And wash my wound in the snows; that would be healing;
Because my heart would throb less painful there,
Being caked with cold, and past the smart of feeling.
And where I walked, the murderous winter blast
Would have this body bowed, these eyeballs streaming,
And though I think this heart’s blood froze not fast
It ran too small to spare one drop for dreaming.
Dear love, these fingers that had known your touch,
And tied our separate forces first together,
Were ten poor idiot fingers not worth much,
Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather.
The lines "and though I think this heart's blood froze not fast/It ran too small to spare one drop for dreaming" swirled around and around in my head, and they helped me paint. I let myself relax about the technical details and focus on the flow, the dreaming. And a beautiful painting emerged.
It may be a stretch to link a poem about a man trying to forget his love while they are separated to a painting of cells and blood vessels. But it worked for me today. Because I let my heart's blood flow, and spared a drop for dreaming.