Saturday, November 03, 2012
Measuring The Marigolds
(Measuring the marigolds: A line from a song "Inch Worm" known to many from Sesame Street, written by Frank Loesser, and now recorded on Paul McCartney's new album, "Kisses On The Bottom").
My husband came into the kitchen the other day and stopped and gave me his quizzical look, head tilted to one side, one eye squinting and the other one scanning. I was at the stove, with my palm holding a few cumin seeds, gazing into hot oil, waiting. I was waiting for the right moment to put a seed in and to listen and watch for it to pop open. If the pan isn't hot enough, the seed won't pop. So the seed says ready or not.
While working on aquatint in Venice, at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, I was preparing to put the copper plate into the box, which contains a fine rosin. The rosin is agitated into a fine snowstorm, and the plate is placed inside. The amount or rosin deposited onto the copper plate has to be just right, and can only be determined by looking at it with an experienced eye. So I had the studio tech there to guide me. She said that 45 seconds was about right, "but never time it!". Never time it? Isn't that what second hands are for? All these old inky kitchen timers?
No, she tells me, it is better to just get so that you know.
Then, the next day out at Murano for the pour of Bertil Vallien's cast glass, I learned more about this question of time and techniques. My friend who was the lead assistant during these glass casting sessions talked about the difference in the Italian way and the Seattle way in these matters.
It happened that a color was required that was not available in the shop. One of the glass technicians said, no problem, we can make it right now. He picked up some hot glass on a rod, blew it out, in layers of clear and blues to match exactly the artist's requested color, with no formula, no timer, no recipe. (Well, there is a formula, but it is in the heads of the artisans, and is passed from father to son, or artist to apprentice). If people stop making things, the formulas will be lost in a generation. Italy does not seem to be in danger of losing the thread anytime soon.
If this had been done in Seattle, it is more likely that there would be a reliance on measurement in all its forms. Is the difference cultural? Looking at results, I think I'm sticking with the Italians on this one, even with the ever changing seat-of-the-pants method.
Back at the studio here at home, I am gearing up for a the winter stretch of quiet work time, weeding out the unnecessary, putting in supplies and evaluating the work, study, and alchemical magic from Venice as the starting point. I am looking at notes and observing the conflicting information about process not as potential mis-information, or mistake, but as indication of each expert person's own inner timer, inner guide, and as their own rule made because it worked for them. And they share it because it might work for others.
The thing about all of this is that it requires slowing down. If I barrel through the work, and look for exactly right answers to help me get through it faster, then I miss the whole boat for a stupid reason. I can never hear, (smell, and see) the seed pop if I don't wait for it. I fear we are losing abilities by our reliance on some outside authority for answers. We have those answers if we will let them surface.
Another line in the Inch Worm song: "....seems to me they'd stop and see, how beautiful they are."