Blasted Birch

Blasted Birch

Ronald Kok, Blasted Birch, 2018, chalk pastels on paper

Part of my week is tending to a small art studio in the day program where I work. Once in awhile, I’ll pull out a different kind of medium as a challenge. I know that it is easy to get too comfortable with one medium. You get used to it and suddenly feel that you have to cling to that all the time, almost like a security blanket. The problem with that is it can stifle new forms of expression. So I will personally use different media to keep myself fresh and will use the same approach with the artists I help guide in their creativity.

This week I pulled out the chalk pastels and encouraged a couple of my artists to use them. I showed them how cool they can be to blend and displayed some of the different effects you can get with them. Then, as they were drawing, I started doodling myself with the pastels on a piece of brown paper, blending colors and making layers. I ended up with the drawing above.

I always find it fascinating to begin with no clear end in mind. That is kind of counter intuitive to all the seminars we attend and books we read on paths to success and having a purpose-filled life, etc., etc. The concept of goals and setting out your path to achieve them has always rubbed against the grain for me. There is nothing inherently wrong with making goals, of course. But it can, at times, stifle the serendipitous.

As I drew, a stand of birch trees emerged. I was simply trying to get an impressionistic feel of a forest in late fall/early winter. But after I was done, I realized there was a melancholy feel to this, and it reminded me of photos I’ve seen from World War I, after a copse of trees has been blasted apart by artillery; or of the remains of a woods after a forest fire has marched a path of destruction. How did I get there? I’m not sure. Certainly, as I look at this drawing I can’t help but feel I’ve made something reflective of my state of mind, my perspective on my life as a whole right now. There is a part of me that feels blasted, kind of torn up and scorched. In some ways, I think I made a self-portrait here. Maybe that happens more freely when you begin with no clear end in mind.

The good news? You can blast a bunch of birch – either through war or fire or change of seasons – and it will come back. There will be green again. Buds will form, life returns, and hope appears.

That is something I need to be reminded of when I am feeling shredded, when things look grey all around me. An image like this captures a moment in time but never, ever the full picture.

Not a bad thing to keep in mind if you, like me, are not where you want to be right now.

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