55 – A Blank Canvas


A hundred artists descended on Colmenar earlier this month.  From nothing, each one created a finished painting within one single day.  The photographs here were all taken that day.


So.  It’s the beginning.  We have a blank canvas.  All the options are available to us – we must make our choices.

First, where should we be?  There is time to consider, time to explore different places, the choice does not have to be made straight away.  We can start, get settled, then change our minds and move to a different location, searching for what feels right.

Though it must be said, constant discontentment, constant changing, may not leave time for fruitful output.  Eventually, a decision needs to be made.  Time to settle, and then live with our choice.

Secondly, what outlook do we want?  There are interesting corners to look into, shadows to peer into, trying to see what treasures are hidden in the gloom.  Contrasts, light and shade, chiaroscuro. 

There are wide open spaces, great vistas.  There are close-up views, a detail to study, a chance to concentrate on extraordinary perfection and small imperfections.  Perhaps a combination – distance and detail in one, sunshine and shadow, the big view and the close-up.

We can stand in the same place, you and I, yet what we see is different.  What I see is only what I see, nothing more.  No inferences can be made.  What you see is what you see.

So now we are settled and ready for the task ahead.  The mind is prepared, we have what we need.  Deep breath, and begin.  We have chosen our viewpoint, we have chosen our palette.

A false start.  No problem.  It’s early days, we can gloss over the mistake and start again with our blank canvas.  Except the canvas isn’t blank any more, even though it looks it.  It is now covered with a thin veneer which acknowledges our earlier mistakes.  Our skin becomes thicker and incorporates but never hides the past.  The layers build up, each experience, each attempt, adding something to the finished article.

A re-think, more preparation, perhaps a slight shift to the side.  Start again.  Don’t focus on what went wrong, make a fresh start.

Confidence grows.  We can do this.  With that confidence our actions become more sweeping, more decisive.  We are clear on our overall direction and each step taken is a step towards our goal.  Oh!  Another mistake, but a small one.  Study it.  Look closely.  What remedial action is needed?  Not a disaster, no need to abandon everything, no need to start again.  Think.  Correct the error.  Cover it up if needed.   Absorb it.   A combination of these.  It’s OK.  Concentrate.  Carry on.  The eye and the mind are dragged back to the mistake.  Stop it!  Not productive.  Move on.  Look at the bigger picture.

Yes, it’s coming together.  We can be content with what we have done.  Tempting to keep adding, adjusting, tweaking.  But in the end, it’s time to stop.  Time to say “That’s it.  That’s what I have done.  Judge me on this, this is me.”

And so the judges gather, as they always will.  Comments are passed, sometimes favourable, sometimes not.  There are winners, there are losers.  Prizes are handed out.  Such is life.

Who will decide if we are winners?  Who will decide what the prize is?  In truth, it’s not the judges.  It’s possibly those who actively took part alongside us.  Perhaps those close to us.  Probably just ourselves though.  Did we do our best?   Are we developing, continuously improving what we do?  Is that even necessary?   Are we content with the choices we made and what we made of our choices?

In the end, contentment makes us winners, and regret makes us losers.  Our choice.

© Tamara Essex 2013

I need to remember to use estuve to say I was somewhere in the past, rather than yo estaba which is the continuous tense.  Why can’t I remember estuve?  Is it because it’s irregular?  Estuve en Marbella la semana pasada.  I was in Marbella last week.  Estuvimos en el bar hasta muy tarde.  We were in the bar until very late.

6 thoughts on “55 – A Blank Canvas

  1. Another beautiful piece, Tamara. I look forward to each one.

    Maybe I can give something back, albeit something a lot more prosaic! Re. ‘estuve’ versus ‘estaba’ – you may be comforted to know that this is one of things that students of Spanish find hardest to grasp. It is not limited to estuve/estaba, but is about which of two past tenses you should usedepending on context. It will therefore apply to any part of any verb – e.g., fui/fueron’ versus ‘era/eran’ or ‘compraste/compró’ versus ‘comprabas/ comprababa’. I will make this as brief as I possibly can…

    It’s all about the rules governing whether you should use the ‘pretérito indefinido’, which is the simple past (estuve/ fui/ fueron/ compraste/ compró/ entendí/ entendisteis ) or the ‘pretérito imperfecto’, which is the Spanish past imperfect (estaba/ era/ eran/ comprabas/ compraba/ entendía/ entendíais).

    Use the pretérito indefinido when:
    a) you refer to a specific point in time, such as ‘ayer’/ hace unos días’/’anoche’/ ‘la semana pasada’, etc.

    b) when you state the time, day, date, or year when something started or ended

    c) when the period of time is limited -i.e., you say exactly how long something lasted – it doesn’t matter whether it was a nanosecond or many years.

    This is complicated by the fact that for c), expressions that we would consider quite vague and imprecise (‘un rato’/’varias horas’/mucho tiempo’), in Spanish count as definite limitations on the period of time – hence ‘estuve en el bar hasta muy tarde’ and not ‘estaba…hasta muy tarde’, for example. I love this contradiction – I feel it is rich in cultural connotations!

    ‘Estaba’ is used for description of things, circumstances or feelings/emotions as well as corresponding to the English past continuous or past haitual ‘was …ing’/ ‘would’/ ‘used to’.

    This is actually pretty sketchy and I apologise sincerely if it confuses rather than enlightens. However, I know you’re keen on grammar, Tamara, so if you want more detail I’ll be more than happy to send you some of my class materials, which are designed for learners of Spanish who are native English speakers. You have my email, so feel free!

  2. Pingback: 102 – An Overdose of Culture | A Foot in Two Campos

  3. Pingback: 104 – All the Language Points in One Place | A Foot in Two Campos

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