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The Tinkered Mind
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May 31st, 2020
A wisp of blue emerged and danced out upon the canvas, trailing Lucilius’ paintbrush. He took a step back from the painting and looked at it sideways. The piece seemed to be coming together, and he wondered how much left he had to do. Could it be done? He wondered. He stepped in close to the painting, and seemed to see it anew. He nicked a bit of color and mixed it into the blue that he was working with and brought the shade up to the canvas. He leaned in closer and touched the paintbrush to the canvas. Then he leaned back again and tried to take in the whole context of the change. The tiny addition seemed to leave the whole piece lacking, and Lucilius suddenly felt that he had a lot further to go before he was done. The tiny addition revealed an entire range of details across the painting that now seemed to be missing. So he went to work.
The next day, Lucilius bought an entire set of smaller brushes. It was clear the painting needed a new level of detail, and he needed a precision that he couldn’t achieve with his current set. He got to work with the small brushes, leaning in closely to the canvas. Before long he found he was constantly rubbing his eyes, as the fineness of the detail was making him go a little cross-eyed.
The next day, Lucilius bought a pair of glasses used by jewelers, and with them, he could see the details of paint and color on an entirely new level.
Soon he was painting with brushes that had scarcely more than a couple bristles, carrying the tiniest amount of paint between the pallet and the canvas. Each tiny portion of the painting was now it’s own story, an epic construction that Lucilius labored upon as he worked slower and slower in order to hunt down the level of detail that seemed to be eluding him.
He was at this work for weeks, when one day he walked into his studio and finally for the first time in a long while, he saw the painting from a distance. During his long and laborious foray into the minutia he’d been exploring he’d forgotten to take a step back and look at the whole thing.
The painting seemed strange and foreign to him. It wasn’t at all the painting he felt he’d been working on for so long, and now, realizing that this is how everyone else would see it, he was confused and disappointed with the effort. His gaze drifted off to the jeweler’s glasses and the tiny brushes. He struck the setup with back of his hand and sent brushes and mineral oil scattering in a mess across the studio floor.
He got out his larger brushes, and reluctantly, picked up the small set that littered the floor. He added them together, and sighed before the work of the painting. It seemed as though the more progress he made, the further he had to go. The painting would have to be completely reworked.
He set about it, taking larger strokes, plastering over levels of detail in a way that filled him with doubt and disappointment. But when he leaned back far from the surface of the canvas, the bold stroke seemed to work. Slowly, he worked, trying to find a balance between the exquisite detail he’d carved with the tiny brushes and the dangerous structure of a larger way of painting.
After a few weeks Lucilius leaned in close and found that the painting no longer seemed to work so close up. When he stood up and backed away, the painting failed again to spark in him the right response. Now it seemed as though the work left ahead was infinite, as though he would have to chase the image for all eternity. He rubbed his face, sighing at the prospect, when there was a knock on his studio door.
“Come in,” he miserably proclaimed.
A young woman entered, carrying a pizza and a bottle of wine. She emerged into the main room of the studio, and saw the painting.
“Oh, you finished!” she exclaimed.
“What?” Lucilius said, confused. “Not at all.”
“Sure you have,” the young woman said. “It’s just missing one thing.”
“What?” Lucilius asked.
She set the pizza down and handed the bottle to Lucilius. “Here, open this, we’re gonna celebrate your new painting.”
She approached the easel, slowly, smiling at the painting, and then she quickly looked around at his materials and tools until she spotted what she wanted. She picked up a block stamp that Lucilius had carved a design of fractal triangles into. The image it printed stood as his signature. The young woman dipped it in ink and crouched down to then gently press the stamp into the lower corner of the painting.
Suddenly, with that simple touch, the whole painting seemed riddled with a life that he couldn’t see before. The woman backed away until she was standing next to him. She looked at it sideways.
“Perfect,” she said.
Surprised, Lucilius found he could hardly disagree. He walked over to the small kitchen to get a corkscrew, smiling, and as he wove the tool into the bottle, he found himself looking at a collection of blank canvases that were leaned against the wall.
All of them were waiting for paint.
Years later the two were having another pizza, catching up on lost time, reminiscing over times long ago, when Lucilius brought up the painting he’d spent so long.
“Oh gosh,” the woman said, “the never-ending painting.”
Lucilius reflected. “I definitely put a lot of work into that one.”
“And you wouldn’t stop!” the woman said, her eyes wide with the ridiculousness of the memory. “That’s why I stamped it with your sign.”
“What?” Lucilius asked. “You said it was finished. That it was perfect.”
The woman took a sip of wine, looking at Lucilius over the rim of the glass. She rolled her eyes at his confusion.
“That painting looked wonderful during the last three months that you were working on it. It was clear you were caught in some strange loop. And if you’ll recall, I had a gallery to fill at the time.”