I’m going to share a trio of stories from my last day of the year; things that happened quite organically, though there seems to be a distinct thread of bird-magic running through them.
The first relates to a new artwork I released last week; a labour of love called Dare to Fly. I had also loaded this up to my Vida shop with a view to ordering myself a scarf from it…which was one of the initial incentives behind the wing-spread design; I wanted to wear those wings. However, this morning I received an urgent message from the production team telling me they were concerned about the quality of the enlarged file – it was likely my design would come out “less than” because, zoomed in, it looked pixellated in places and some of the sharp details that were meant to be subtle or not even noticeable looked harsh, ziggy-zaggy, like sharp gashes in the colour-flow.
This is an inherent challenge when enlarging artworks designed to be a few centimetres wide into the massive size required for a scarf. Though I use specialist software to do this, there are always pitfalls to making an image vastly bigger, especially when I design images, primarily, through the eyes of a painter, not as an experienced digital artist. Sometimes, pixelated effects can look quite appealing to me on the screen as I work with an image and I often choose to incorporate this if, say, it contributes as part of a background but this doesn’t make the printing process easy as printers require blocks of colour, not sharp dots and voids of empty space. The only solution seems to be to add more pixels, which has the effect of softening a design, making edges wooly, taking away from the overall crispness…and I like that less than having pixelated areas to my artwork; but this isn’t very practical.
The more I worked on this conundrum this morning, the more it struck me as a metaphor (as working with PhotoShop so often throws up powerful creator methaphors that speak of life itself…). Also as a timely occurrence for me to have to get to grips with on the very last day of a year that has been extremely focussed on my high-sensitivity, chronic pain and how “experiencing too much” is the biggest bugbear of my experience. It’s as though, akin to other highly sensitive people, I have virtually no filters and let everything through my experience net…and then feel each and every one of those “things” sharply, in high definition…when most people seem to have a far more select experience and pay far less attention to those details they do notice, by comparison. I’m reading a book right now (The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion: How Feelings Link the Brain, the Body, and the Sixth Sense) which examines high sensitivity as a health condition caused by a very-real lack of processing filters and this, I realise more than ever, is me and has been by experience, all my life; generating more and more challenges as the years go by.
Because, here in my artwork was (in essence) me, trying so desperately to spread my wings and take off…as I am always doing…and it felt like my self-invocation, ready for the new year; come on, fly! First reactions to it were impressive: comments like “stunning”, “dazzling”, “so very beautiful”, “oh, the light in those wings” came flooding in the first few hours after I first shared it. However, now my design had already crashed before the new year even happened because I had focused upon achieving a crisp, radiant, striking, super-well-defined image over substance; in other words, it looked nice on a screen but couldn’t be used for practical purpose. Then, when I added more substance (pixels) to grow the image to the size file I needed, it became wooly, faded, more commonplace, less defined; and I found myself resisting this seeming “dumming-down” of the artwork along every step of the way. How very “like me” and my spin on the experience of life. In light of my extreme sensitivity to everything, the way I let every minute experience through so sharply, with such razors edges, it’s as though I focus minutely on a lot of things…in fact, everything, all at once, like zillions of dotty pixels of experience jumping around in sharp relief, each of them unique and self-expressing; this is my filterless world, impressively all-inclusive but not very comfortable to be in as the one trying to make sense of it all through a nervous system that feels perpetually exhausted. Somehow, experiencing everything makes the overall “image” of my experience more defined, dazzling, exceptional…some of the time, seen from a distance. The downside is that, close up (within the physical experience of it), that experience can be unpleasant, far too sharp, jagged, painful, not ideal at all…my life; and who would want to swop for this amount of pain.
This all came through to me as I steadily, patiently as I could, used trial and error to solve my problem. And as I worked on the image, and (slowly but surely) came up with the solution I needed to reach a happy medium, a balance of good definition combined with appropriate blendeness of detail, in order to create the large-scale file I needed for Vida’s production team, it felt ever more important to me that the owl “take off” again before the new year rang in. In fact, I really wanted this to happen before nightfall…and I did it; loading the new-improved file to the website just as it started to get dark. And though the new image was fractionally softer and less crisply dazzling overall, it felt somehow more in balance and realistic than its predecessor. I knew it would be more useful for a range of applications; would make for a far better print on a range of sizes and also a far more satisfying scarf when I finally get it to wrap around me like a pair of wings in the new year.
So having achieved this, I set off for my walk and I very particularly wanted to go to my usual place by the river close to home, not one of the “special” new year’s eve walks I’ve tended to do in the past. I knew, somehow, I would meet my owl tonight and I was right….she came swooping down and, not only did she give us a really lengthy fly-around in the dusk but she came remarkably close, as though playing with us…a gift. She was my companion on just so many of my walks in the summer, during the late evening sunsets or on my 6 o’ clock morning walks before the days became too hot; but lately, she’s been far more elusive, just a distant glimpse of white wing-span through trees now and then. It felt so fitting to meet her properly again tonight, and at such close quarters; and like it was no coincidence to receive from her such a magical demonstration of her adeptness at taking off and flying so beautifully.
The other experience I had, which felt linked so I’ll share it, was that a vast flock of smallish birds came across the field in front of us, just as it was getting too dark to see well, and first landed or swooped at ground level before gliding up to one particular tree to roost for the night. We had no idea what they were, being too far away to identify in the dusk and as they were making no sound except that sense you get of the air making way for so many birds on the wings…because there were literally dozens and dozens of them arriving in relays. In fact, they were more like leaves on the breeze, so fleetingly did they skim the ground before disappearing into the tree’s dark sillhouettes…and though we walked right under that tree, there was no seeing them perched in there, all apart from one that I saw flitting from branch to branch. It was as though they became part of the tree, morphed with its winter-woody shape, and it made me smile to consider this. What if birds and trees are the very same things; birds being like the spirits of trees on-the-wing meaning that trees are not just these immobile, solidly grounded entities that we think they are. Rather, what if they distribute part of their essence out into the world each day, launched in flight in literally every direction, like energetic emissaries that bring back all those experiences each night, before they all dissolve back together into solid woody form again at nightime. After all, how often do we see all the birds that roost, even in winter’s bareness; how often, for that matter, do we find them dead on the ground except when we cause it.
This playful concept of trees daily-distributing as winged-forms, experiencing and coming back together again (even as the tree itself remains solidly grounded in the earth), like a veritable flock of tree ents, me smile so much as a final thought for the year. It felt like it was related to me exploring more fully, in the year ahead, how I get to experience more than I am exposed to in my daily life; without necessarily having to “go there” and feel everything myself…or become ungrounded all the time. What if I could do my own exploration of life a little more like this; sending my spirit out “on the wing”, to fly my attention towards whatever I happen to find of interest, rather than insisting upon feeling absolutely everything as it happens, right where I am standing. Perhaps this is my version of a filter; that filter being to learn to differentiate what is part of the main, deeply-rooted substance of my life and what can be allowed to be far more fleeting yet, ultimately, a choice when it comes to deciding what experiences to bring “home” to myself. This all felt like a very timely end-of-year learning to be having, delivered by so many birds.
So, these are my three winged-tales for the year-end. To finish off this trio with more playful winged-ness, we were treated to bats playfully circling around us in the graveyard as we sat on the bench to watch the last notes of colour dissolve from the sky as the night came fully in. Farewell 2018, its been an interesting year in so many ways; here’s to taking off a little more playfully, more softly, less painfully and with a lot more joy in the year to come.