A Painful Experience Turns into an Artwork

Inspiration can come from some pretty unexpected places. For me, sometimes it comes in a flash as I am driving in my car. Other times I can listen to a song I have heard hundreds of times before, but suddenly feel it in a new way, and that leads to an artistic idea. Sometimes ideas are birthed while talking with friends over a drink. For my Swan painting, inspiration came from a rather unique, and painful encounter I had at one of my local parks. 

If you are not local to Central Florida, you may conjure up images of Orlando that include a crowded sea of mouse ears, roller coasters, plastic castles, and whale shows. While this is some of what our region offers, it is really only a thin slice of life here in the Sunshine State. To be honest....I am not the biggest theme park goer. Sure, I do my annual pop in visits, and spend time with friends and family when they are in town, but on the day to day I much prefer the other offerings Orlando has cultivated over the years. One of my very favorite places to enjoy when the weather is nice is Lake Eola, one of our most beautiful and visited public parks. 

The park is centered around the lake with paths that take you through public works of art, a bandshell used for special events, along a boardwalk that hosts farmer's markets and art festivals, and along a couple of spots to grab a beer or a light bite. It is right next to our downtown area and a stone's throw from our performing arts center. It is gorgeous day and night, and in the evenings lit up by the Eola Fountain. 

The lake is also host to a myriad of wildlife, from herons to turtles, but its most famous residents are the Eola Swans. When i spend time on the lake, I love to have my DSLR camera with me in the hopes of catching a few good shots of the swans. 

The photo below may look a little familiar. I snapped this on a wonderful crisp and sunny day sometime in 2016:

While I love to go down and snap photos of the swans, it never really occured to me to do much with the photos other than use them for my own personal enjoyment. I just found it relaxing to sit and watch them glide by, or take my greyhound on a walk around the lake to have a look at them, or use them as practice with the camera in general (I am not a natural with the camera, and I need as much practice as I can get!)

However, there was one park visit I had that differed from the others. It was June 13th, the day after the Pulse tragedy. The city was reeling and hurting. Orlandoans of all walks of life were engulfed in shock, sadness, pain, heartbreak, disbelief, and a sea of other emotions. Downtown Orlando, the peforming arts center, and Lake Eola, became gathering places for us to try and make sense of the horror that had happened in our city, to comfort those in pain, and to show support and solidarity for our LGBTQ community. 

I have written about Pulse in another blog at another time, and so my thoughts are laid out in much more detail there. The purpose of this blog is not to understate or make light of what happened on that day in any way.  I state it in this blog because I found myself down at the lake with a group of friends, some very old and dear, and others I had just met that day. The atmosphere was somber and sad. Many in our little group would begin to cry here and there. It was at times tense, and awkward. We didn't really know what we were walking toward, who we would meet, what would be said, or if we would be safe. We just....felt we had to be there, and so we were. But the mood was dark and difficult. 

We walked along the paved path that curved around the lake on our way to the performing arts center in one of the many moments of oppressive silence that periodically fell onto our little group, no one knowing quite what to say at times. It was during one of these heavier moments of the evening, that I walked passed some bushes. Tucked within these bushes, unbeknownst to me, was one of the massive white Eola swans. The walkway was crowded that day, and person after person in front of us had passed these bushes uneventfully. However, as I passed them, the giant bird decided it did not like the cut of my jib, so to speak, and charged out of those bushes like the t-rex in Jurassic Park. Startled beyond startled, I yelped, and began to run down the sidewalk. To drive his message of disdain for me home, the bird ran after me, wings fanned out, neck cocked, squawking as if we had a long running beef with one another. He closed the gap between us in a flash, lunged out his neck, and BAMN!...he bit me...HARD...right at the junction where my rear end meets my thigh. Having then made his point, the bird relaxed, folded up his wings, and quietly, peacfully walked away. 

Our small group had frozen in our tracks. The people behind them had frozen in their tracks. Others in the vacinity stopped and looked. Everyone began to laugh, REALLY laugh. I was in pain, a lot of pain. That bird was big and that bite was HARD. But I began to laugh too. It was the type of laugh where you are bent over, hands on your knees, tears in your eyes laugh. I am normally a shy person. It was humiliating to have all these people stare and laugh at me, but i lso knew it was hysterical at the same time. 

It was the first time any of us had laughed in the last couple of days. For some of us, it would be the only time we laughed for days to come. It was a sad, horrific time. But this one little moment, the aburdity of it, was a small ray of ridiculous sunshine on a really dark day. 

The end of that day is hard to put into words. I think we all felt a million different things. We felt sorrow, and loss, and hurt. We felt hope at the strong words that were said at the vigil. We cried and hugged strangers and just...loved one another. It was carthartic and sad and emotionally exhausting, but it felt like the right place to be. After a few hours, that bite had transformed into a gloriously awful, deep purple bruise, visible from the hem of my shorts. It was a bruise I would carry for a number of weeks afterward. My good friend took a peek at it for me and said "wow, this looks really nasty! What are you going to do?"

I didn't really know how to respond. How does one treat a bruise like that on the very bottom of one's rear end? It seemed like a strange thing to be worried about on such a strange and surreal day. I replied. "I dunno....I guess I am going to have to paint that f%#@^&$ng bird!". This made us both laugh again.We laughed hard. It wasn't a disrespectful laugh, it was a needed laugh, a small reduction of stress and tension at something abstract and absurd in the face of utter sadness.

Some months later, i had been thinking back on that strange day. I remembered a lot of things, but also remembered that good laugh we had when we really needed it. I looked through all the photos I had taken of those swans over my many visits to the lake. I began to sketch out some ideas, and really, that was how the Swan painting came into being. In the end, I went with a surreal feeling for the piece. I placed the swan among the stars, sailing through a galaxy. I wanted to highlight lights in the darkness, and a sense of connectivness in all things. I wanted to use a lot of colors I had not used in a while. I wanted to make a pretty piece of art that was rich in color and peacful in composition. I wanted to paint something that was representative of my city, and those birds are pretty iconic to those that live here. But really...when you get down to it, I would not have painted a beautiful, graceful, magestic swan, gliding across nebulas and a twinkling starscape....if one had not charged through some bushes and bit me on the ass.