It's Saturday. It's 9am. I am painting.
I woke up with a picture in my head. It doesn't happen to me very often these days. When I was younger, the pictures used to arrive almost every day, drifting shyly in when my mind was occupied by other things. I would be in a meeting, or watching TV, or on the bus, and suddenly there it would be. Or rather the potential image would be there. Paintings never come exactly as images for me, although I have an idea of what the image should be. It's more a ...a feel, a ball of emotions and ideas, a sense of a palette of colours and correlations with similar things I've read or seen. There's usually a sense of a backstory, although I don't always bother analysing what it is.
When I'm first drawing, I like to work in ball-point pen rather than pencil. Then I like to paint over the ball-point in oil or acrylic.
I once painted a picture of Matthew.
In this picture it's night. Matthew is sitting on a low, crumbling stone wall and behind him there is a mass of vegetation. It could be a hedge, or an overgrown garden, but it's too dark to see anything but the outline of a few twigs. At the very top of the painting there are some stars among the branches.
Matthew is wearing a black polo shirt and faded jeans. He's staring straight out of the painting, smiling slightly, and between his knees he has a brand-new hub-cap. He holds the rim with his hands. The hub cap is shiny enough to see my tiny distorted reflection imprisoned between his long pale fingers.
I'm not in any way an accomplished artist. I've never devoted enough time to learning, I just do it when I feel like it, and I lose interest in pictures when I've finished them. I usually keep them, in a folder in the drawer under my bed, but I don't look at them again. When they're over, they're done. I'm not even sure that anyone else knows I paint, but then I don't suppose that makes any difference. The pictures wouldn't mean anything to other people. They are complicated, coded messages from a me who is far inside, far down, to the outer me who lives in conscious reality.
But I don't want to throw them away, even though I'm unsure what to do with them when they're over. The exception was the painting of Matthew. I didn't like having it in the house, so I burnt it.
I drink some of my tea and look at the blank sheet of white paper. I run my fingers over it. It's smooth to the touch.
Today I am thinking of a girl. I'm thinking of an endless green forest in the height of summer. Beech trees and hornbeams and oaks, Peaseblossom and Mustardseed. I'm thinking of flowers and fireflies, glades and long grass, sweet-smelling crackling undergrowth. Dandelion seeds drifting through sunlit air.
I remember when I was ten, I went on holiday with my family to Gloucestershire. We visited an ancient woodland called Puzzlewood. I remember Labyrinth; Little, Big; The Passion of Darkly Noon; waterfalls I saw in Thailand.
A magic forest, innocent and beautiful, but with a terrifying darkness deep in its heart. A forest "where all things are perfect, and poisonous." The forest I sometimes dream about being lost in. The forest where you can sometimes hear singing at the end of a dirt track, or chuckling laughter from behind a rock (but when you go to look there is nothing there. Perhaps a tiny footprint or a strand of golden hair; or wine made from blackberries and honey, left for you in a strange blue glass. When you lift it it is as fragile as a soap bubble).
I'm thinking of Paradise.
I draw a woman who is a snake. She is holding an apple. The Devil is supposed to be a man, but I have always thought that perhaps he isn't. When you read old fairy tales, it's always the witches, the old women, who hold out the apples.
My picture has green eyes. Snake scales overlap on her neck. She does not smile. Her feet are bare and her tangled blonde hair has flowers threaded through it. Her white dress is torn at the shoulder. Fireflies are tangled in the long grass at her feet and there are eyes in the branches behind her.
It should have the feel of a tarot card, I think, although I'm not really aware I'm thinking. No, not a tarot card. An illustrated book like the monks used to make. I draw a border, fill it with twining leaves and dancing hares and sly-faced monkeys. I wish I knew how to do gilding. It needs gold on the border, and on her hair, and on the apple in her hand. I suddenly remember something and hunt about in a drawer till I find a pen with gold ink I used to write Amanda's birthday card.
That's better. Once the ink's dry, I'll paint it.
My phone goes off. The moment freezes and shatters, but the idea is there in front of me, caged in ink on the page.
As always, I feel slightly disappointed. I am not able enough to capture exactly what I saw. I know just how far I've fallen short. But this is close enough. I know this is as close as I can get within the limits of ink, paper, and my artistic ability. I'm satisfied with that. Everything else - adding paint, refining lines - will just be embellishment.