I’ve had little training as a painter, but one tenet I’ve tried to honor is the one that says, “Choose a brush you think is too large, then start your painting with one size larger.” However, human likenesses are comprised of so many fussy details — a slant, a crease, a ripple, a glint, a bulge — I’ve found myself resorting to smaller brushes.
The tenet is still useful, however, for whatever else may be in the picture. When I’m stuck trying to capture the minutiae of an artifact (today it’s rifles), overcoming reflex and falling back to a bigger brush often gets me into less trouble.
One day, aged nine, I couldn’t draw a satisfactory breath. The more I gasped, the worse it got. I lay on the cool hardwood floor with one of my books, “Mister Revere and I.” It was the tale of Paul Revere as told by his horse — familiar and comforting. For some reason, I decided to go against what my body was screaming to do, and hold my breath for a moment instead. It worked. I was hyperventilating. Trying less hard to breathe returned me to normal breathing.
I spent ten days in my uncle’s hospital room during his last illness. Besides lymphoma he suffered from COPD. A nurse would come in twice a day with a breathing treatment for him. Once he said, “I can’t get enough food in my lungs.” The nurse laughed indulgently. I knew she thought he was addled and talking irrationally, but in his agitation my cowboy uncle had stumbled upon an apt metaphor.
(Copyright 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.)