We’re heading into my favorite time of year, springtime. We’re not quite there yet, but the first ritual–spring training–has begun. That means Opening Day is on the horizon, my team (the Boston Red Sox, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention) could win this year, and anything is possible.
Although spring’s not here yet, I feel it around the corner. I saw some green leaves just beginning to poke out of the cold ground yesterday, and Opening Day is exactly a month away. All this thinking about baseball has made me think about the many similarities that exist between painting and baseball.
● There is no time limit to either making a painting or playing a game of baseball. You can try to guess what time you’re going to be done, but then you go into extra innings, or realize that the painting has not been resolved…it can take a while. You never know.
● Preparation. The grass is cut, the infield dirt is raked within an inch of its life. In the studio, the canvas or paper is pristine, prepared just the way you like. Everything is ready.
● Everything always starts out orderly enough, with a full field of players and a bench in reserve; everyone is theoretically ready to step in. In the studio, you’ve got your brushes, your tools, your ideas for a new painting; you’re ready to go.
● The pitcher serves up the first pitch, the way you load up a brush with paint and move in. And things start to happen.
People who say nothing happens in baseball are crazy–or at least lulled by the crude, stopwatch action of those other games that are ruled by the clock. Patterns are created in the dirt by running cleats. There are beautiful curves and actions like the angle of the second baseman’s arm as he tags the runner, the arc and speed of hit balls, the stance of batters. These patterns and timing are fascinating and exist in painting too, like the way a drip of paint will fall off the brush when you swing your arm, the way layers of paint build on each other and create bumps and lumps on the surface, or glimpses to the layers beneath, the way you can bear down or just use the very tip of the pencil or brush, and it makes a difference in how the painting appears.
● There are many roles to play. (Purists might argue that’s more true in the American League, where we have the Designated Hitter who doesn’t play a position in the field, but that’s for another post).
So, you have your DH, who hits for power. You have a lead-off batter who’s supposed to get on base however he can, then steal, run like the wind, and score as soon as possible. Closers are pitching specialists brought in late in the game, when their team is ahead, to seal a win.
Likewise in painting. I have my go-to moves that are always productive, like drawing on the surface. Usually, this will create an interesting shape that can even become the main object of the painting, but even if it’s terrible and I have to paint over it, that creates an interesting texture. Sometimes I’m a superstar on fire (a la David Ortiz in 2004) and I can do no wrong in the painting; it all goes quickly and effortlessly. More often, I’m a grinder like Dustin Pedroia, who will foul off pitch after pitch, doing everything to not create an out, trying to get something productive out of each and every at-bat. Sometimes I’m the closer, trying to home in on the last detail that I need to finish up a painting and that can be delicate–if you do too much, you’re going to have to mop up your own mess, and if you do too little, you don’t feel satisfied. Closers get paid alot, and that’s because what they do is hard.
● There are lots of ways to end the game/painting.
As mentioned above, you could be playing extra innings until one in the morning, you never know. You could have a heroic walk-off home run. You could have a tense nail-biter that goes down to the wire and gives everyone gray hairs. You might go home dirty as hell, (like Rickey Henderson who eventually became the all-time stolen base leader because as a Little Leaguer, his mother didn’t believe he’d put in any effort if he didn’t come home dirty, and the best way to get dirty was to slide into bases). All of those metaphors apply to painting just as well as they apply to baseball.
● Habits, like the ritualistic tapping of bat on heel or dirt at the beginning of every at bat. In the studio, I have my own little patterns. The brushes get lined up a certain way. I do certain things first–prime the panel with a sealer like Matte Medium, put down a thin layer of paint, begin drawing freehand shapes and doodles to clear my head, look at what I’ve done, then begin painting over the chaos that now exists on the canvas. The rest of the painting time will be spent editing, so to speak. But the steps I take first are important and set the tone for what comes after. I think the players who adhere to habits and rituals feel the same way. It’s their way of opening the door for themselves, focusing on one thing at a time, allowing something to happen, then dealing with what happens.
● Muscle memory and confidence. By taking batting practice, hitters improve their timing and speed. By fielding many, many balls, outfielders learn how the ball caroms off the wall and grass, and it’s the same with painting. By painting, you become a better painter. Your hand and eye get more practice and things happen more naturally. You get better and more confident about knowing when to keep going, and when to leave something alone.
● Competition. Let’s leave the opposing team out of it for a minute and talk about individual performance…Like any ballplayer, I’m competing with myself, trying to do the best I can to make something memorable. Trying to do it better than I did yesterday. Never being satisfied.
Here’s to success in the studio, and Go Sox!