Why Must I Art?

 


It’s 11:30 PM on a Monday night. The wind howls against my glass-paneled door. The branches of an old oak scrape against the roof. A little black cat named Bacon makes figure-eights around my ankles.

My concentration never breaks.

I’m in a zone, and nothing in the world can touch me.

It’s on nights like these, with a glass of scotch in hand and a Hans Zimmer soundtrack thrumming, I’m happiest. My rickety wooden easel stands before me, and my paintbrush flies. I can’t quite remember the exact moment I decided to start making art again. As a kid and a teenager, I’d done the same, but many years have passed since then. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like to shut the world out and make pictures.

What am I doing here?

Recapturing my youth?

Striving to be the next Van Gogh or modern-day Michelangelo?

Gunning for likes on Facebook?

Nope. None of these.

The music drops off into a somber violin piece. It’s something by Olafur Arnalds. I’ve just messed up while drawing the curve of a woman’s lower lip, and my eraser is on the move. Lower lips are hard sometimes, especially when drawing them from a side-view perspective. But I’ll get it right. Another sip of Balvenie, and I’ve fixed it. Instead of pouty, she looks deadly serious. Just wait til I add her horns:

Princess Oblivia

I don’t have to do art. I want to. I do it because I love it, I think. But sometimes, just sometimes, I feel like an imposter. I’m not classically trained. I don’t have a specific job in the field. No one will ever ask me to illustrate their comic book, draw their company logo, or paint a portrait of their dog. It’s a good thing, too. Commissions can mean big money for some artists, but I just can’t do it. I can’t. I paint what I want to paint. If that’s not good enough, so be it.

And I definitely don’t want to paint someone’s dog.

It’s late now. Late, late. My kid, the G Man, has curled up on the couch and fallen asleep with his favorite book in hand. It’s a Calvin & Hobbes anthology. Everyone’s kid should read it. The art is neat, Calvin is hilarious, and there’s a bit of philosophy paired with every little panel. Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes’ creator) is pretty much a genius. With a few pen strokes and splash of philosophy, he’s made his art come alive. He fills a need we didn’t even know we had.

And maybe that’s why I’m painting. To satisfy some philosophical need. To ponder my existence while I paint. To separate myself from the world so completely that nothing else exists besides my tiny atmosphere of music, liquor, and art.

My phone is silent. I don’t want to hear it ring…or even vibrate. The world can go ahead and end. I’ll be happy if I’m the last to know.

I don’t have cable TV, satellite, or Netflix. I don’t want to consume everyone else’s creativity. I need to embrace my own.

I’m tired. I’m tipsy. The bones in my hands sing with pain from pounding on a punching bag earlier in the day.

But my paintbrush is steady.

…and the table beside me is a mess.

Truth is, when I decided to start creating again, art wasn’t my first choice. Some thousand years ago – or maybe it was only fifteen – I decided the best way to escape was to write books. Long books. Sloppy existential fantasy books no one would actually want to read. If I’m honest, I did it to escape my marriage. My life. My responsibilities. Everything.

But writing didn’t bring me peace. Turns out, while making words is great for the mind, it tends to injure the soul. Long stretches of solitude tucked away in a black room can unsettle even the most steadfast heart. And the time commitment, often several months for even the most pedestrian-length book, is all-consuming. It hurts. Sometimes a lot.

Art, on the other hand…

In a few hours, one can draw something beautiful. And one can be at utter peace while doing so.

Given a full night, an artist can conceive a surreal world and splash it onto a canvas. While sipping wine, listening to music, and carrying on a rich conversation with anyone in the room.

And in a week…well…

Art can be whatever its maker desires. It’s a quick commitment, short and satisfying. It’s a month-long project, with each session bringing a creator visibly closer to the ecstasy of completion. It’s a study of pencil strokes, the movement of watercolor across paper, or the feel of broad lashes of a brush thick with scarlet paint.

I’m no fan of poetry. At least not the kind that uses words. But perhaps art is poetry of another kind. The poetry of motion. The passion of turning shapeless blobs of paint into visible, touchable emotion.

…or sometimes just pretty girls with demon horns surrounded by coins.

Lately I’ve been co-painting. I’ve paired with a fellow artist to create things I’d have never thought of on my own. It’s just another reason making art is sometimes a more powerful elixir for one’s self than writing literature. Writing or painting by oneself can be self-restricting. It can lead one to fall into a creative vacuum.

But art made in the company of other artists…it’s like a conversation in a crowded room. It’s fluid. It allows ideas to flow uninhibited. She sculpts something, and I give it color. I draw a tree, a woman, or a demon, and she makes it real.

If you’ve never tried it, invite your friends over to paint with you. Pour something delicious into a glass, silence your phones, set Spotify to random, and fall into your art together. Doesn’t matter how seriously you take it. Chances are, you’ll feel all your stresses melt away.

Maybe that’s the reason. Maybe…

Melting the world, escaping into a 16″ x 20″ piece of stretched canvas, forgetting about your pain, your job, your mortgage. Maybe it’s not about the actual art, but the catharsis. The quick creation of worlds more appealing than our own. Or the exorcism of our fears by painting something terrifying…and realizing our imaginations are more powerful than reality.

My co-artist, Tahina. Her smile is divine. Her hat is…questionable.

It’s morning now. I’m crawling out of bed, and I’m slow to greet the world. My head hurts, my knuckles are sore, and it’s cold in here.

I don’t really want to wake up.

But I know if I do, there’s a canvas downstairs awaiting me. It’s blank and ready to be filled with shadows.

Once I pick up my favorite brush, I’ll be hooked. The sun will rise, the music will play, and I’ll fall away from this world.

…and into my own.

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J Edward Neill

My top 5 brands of scotch

On a rainy winter’s eve in the heart of Atlanta, someone slid a glass of scotch my way.

Single ice cube. Short glass. Bright amber color.

I sipped once.

I sipped twice.

And I fell in love.

Since that night, I’ve made it my mission to find delicious, affordable scotches wherever I go.

These are my top five brands (and bottles within each brand.)


Balvenie

In the shadow of Balvenie Castle, Dufftown, Scotland, the finest scotch-makers in the world distill casks of liquid sunshine.

With bright, bold flavors in a wide variety of prices, Balvenie is great for both entry-level scotch sippers and seasoned scotch lovers.

My first sip of scotch ever was a glass of Doublewood 17, possessed of a particularly dark & bold flavor. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to try almost every Balvenie (save the elusive 50-year, of which I’d kill to claim a bottle.) I’ve yet to find one I don’t enjoy.

Favorite cask – Balvenie 21 Portwood – equal parts dark and delicious.

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Aberlour

A friend and fellow scotch lover offhandedly mentioned his experience with a bottle of Aberlour 15 Select Cask Reserve (shown above.)

I bought the very same bottle that very night, and now I’m hooked. Aberlour’s a somewhat smoother, slightly less colorful scotch than Balvenie, but no less amazing. I prefer it when grilling red meat, noshing on a fine dessert, or closing out evenings on the back deck.

For a bargain, Aberlour 12 will serve your palate right.

To step it up a notch, try my personal favorite, Aberlour 16. Can’t beat the bourbon and sherry dual-cask flavor.

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Glenlivet

Probably the single finest bottle of scotch I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste – Glenlivet XXV (25y)  It’s pretty much like drinking sunshine. I recommend it to everyone…even people who don’t normally like scotch.

So there’s that…

Most full-bar restaurants in Atlanta (and elsewhere) carry Glenlivet 12. If I’m you, I stay clear of the 12; it’s unnecessarily sharp. However, all the other casks are worthwhile.

My favorite, other than the XXV (which will set you back a pretty penny) is the Archive 21. It’s so rich you’ll think you’re drinking a glass of sunshine-flavored syrup. Aunt Jemima wishes she were this delicious.

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Glenmorangie

Glenmorangie translates roughly into the Gaelic term ‘Vale of Tranquility.’ More like ‘Vale of Big Flavor,’ leastways to me. Few scotches are as bright, sharp, and bold as the Glenmorangie family.

Nectar D’Or, Glen’s 12-year offering, is an excellent introductory scotch. It’s reasonably priced with a crisp, bold flavor easily blowing away the standard American whiskeys of the world. Eat your heart out, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and all the rest. Glenmorangie has your number.

They say alcohol (in one form or another) has been produced in Tain (hometown of Glenmorangie’s distillery) since the early 1700’s. Makes sense to me. The stuff’s got the taste of something I’d gladly drink for 300 years.

My favorite is definitely the aforementioned Nectar D’Or. Grab a bottle tonight…and spend some time in Heaven.

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Dalmore

I’m new to the Dalmore experience, so I can’t claim a range of knowledge about every last one of their casks.

For starters, check out their interesting backstory, which explains the stag appearing on every Dalmore bottle.

At least for the bottles I’ve sampled, I’ve found Dalmore to be smokier than other brands. It’s a flavor that might deter new scotch drinkers, but one that appeals to me for its uniqueness. It’s best sipped after a glass of fresh water, and probably separate from meals – so as to best appreciate its spicy, smoky punch to the palate.

My favorite thus far – Dalmore 15. The subtle hints of orange compliment the smoky sherry flavor rather well.

Try it.

Try them all.

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If you’re thirsty and want to read more of my scotch adventures, go here.

If you’re more of a wine-lover, try this.

J Edward Neill – Artist and scotch aficionado