Light that Doesn’t Illuminate

Work in Progress (Detail): Stories Told by Water, charcoal, ink & gouache on paper, Leah Wilson

The creative process often feels dark and murky.

Sometimes shining a light on it makes it worse.

Highlights on a Lizard's Song - Leah Wilson

Highlights on a Lizard’s Song, oil on muslin on panel, Leah Wilson

Only the Present Exists

Pre-dawn mist in the forest swirls in front of me creating a bright wall that obscures everything, including the trail. At most I can see undefined shapes 3 feet in front of me, but no features. I can’t even see if the trail rises or dips in front of me. My legs can only detect what is happening now: we are running up a hill; Now we are running down. The light only illuminates enough to see where I plant my next footstep, but even so, sometimes even that is still guesswork. I focus on the edge where the smooth smooth trail meets the textured understory: That is the trail. 

Only the present exists.

South Yuba Underwater - Leah Wilson

South Yuba Underwater, photograph, Leah Wilson


If I switch off my headlamp, it is only black all around. Too much black obscures everything and the edge is gone.

If I switch my headlamp to a brighter setting, nothing exists but brighter swirling mist. Too much light also obscures everything and the edge is gone.

Occasionally I see a point of light blinking as it weaves in and out of trees above me, then later, one below me.

At Purdons with Cali 1 - Leah Wilson

At Purdons with Cali 1, oil on muslin on panel, Leah Wilson

Is That You?

There is a call from somewhere above me, “Casey, is that you?” It is me, but I am not Casey. I do not reply. I am only a point of light blinking as I weave in and out of trees below. I do not hear that call again, and I never see the origin of the voice.

This is where I am on the trail. This is where I am in the studio. 

Drifters 3 - Leah Wilson

Drifters III, oil on panel, 17 x 17 in., 2012, Leah Wilson


I can see where my hand draws a line and where that line may lead to the next, but no further. It is all dark around it, metaphorically, and if I try to shine a light to force illumination on the process there is nothing. It is all gone. When this happens, I sit and stare at the drawing until I regain my bearings by finding where I last made a mark. This is the edge of the trail, where the smooth trail of the unfolding drawing meets the textured, dark understory of the unknown.

Sometimes I hear an idea calling from somewhere else. But the idea is searching for Casey, not for me, and I never end up encountering it. The one that I am following is on this trail that I cannot see in front of me.

Work in Progress Stories Told by Water - Leah Wilson

Work in Progress 5 Detail: Stories Told by Water, charcoal, ink, gouache on paper, Leah Wilson

Slow Down – Only the Present Exists

My legs are forced to run slowly because my eyes cannot see far. My hand moves slowly across the paper because I cannot see where this line I am drawing with charcoal is leading and I cannot project it into the future very well. This drawing is as immediate as the running trail.

The sun will rise soon and then I will be able to detect rocks, roots, rises and dips as I run. But for now, only the one foot hitting the ground, a wall of swirling light, and an occasional weaving point of light and a call from the dark exists. There is no past. There is no future. There is only this one line being drawn right now. Only the present exists.

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