The Coal Pencil

The Girl Scouts get all the credit. I gave a tour to a troop of them last summer and somewhere along the way, one of them asked me if I used coal to sketch pictures on the walls of The Ruins. I cannot quite explain to you the astonishment that rolled through my brain at such a simple question.

By Sager Mosaics

I am a mosaicist; therefore coal, to me, has always been a material to cut up and set into mortar. Seeing it as the simplest of writing tools had not occurred to me. The implications, both practical and symbolic, were kind of staggering. I was abashed that I had not thought of this my own self from day one.

At The Ruins Project

The coal as drawing tool incident reminds me of a phrase that came to me years ago but has not yet materialized on my substrate. Not officially anyway. The combination of the words humbled and confidence strike me as two words that I want to express as one phrase. They balance each other out. Anyone on the search for a meaning filled life will struggle with both pride and insecurity. And because I love words, I think about them. A lot. You may notice this as you meander through The Ruins. Words are important here. Just like the tesserae that make up the mosaic, the words here are chosen with care.

The coal pencil makes me think of this humbled confidence because I was not the one to have the good idea. I give that credit to The Girl Scouts. But I was confident enough in my own skin to embrace it, act on it, and then write about it. There is a fine line for an artist as she navigates through the ideas of her life. To get anywhere, she must pull confidence up from her insides and let it flow through her mouth and hands. At the same time, she needs to be humbled before God, a Higher Power, The Universe, Nature, whatever she needs to call it, in order to not fly away with her own egotism. The way I see it, you need to be humbled before something in order to transcend above the smallness of yourself. The humbling tethers you to the earth as a flawed, terrestrial being. It grounds you.

But, you need to also foster the confidence that will help you get better at whatever it may be that you do. The key is to string the two together in your mind so they work as a team. See below, Julie Sperling’s right foot as an example of a mosaic figuratively grounded because it was built entirely from material that she found at her feet in a small patch of Ruins ground.

The building of The Great Train with Stevo Sadvary happened before we discovered the coal pencil. Our struggle to trace the giant 67- foot long locomotive with sharpies was so impractical that I remember us using and destroying at least a dozen of them as we traced the lines on the rough concrete. Realizing that if we had just bent down and picked up some chunks of coal our job would have been faster, easier, and very satisfyingly full of meaning; drawing a coal train out of coal.

Another quality that coal as a sketching tool provides is its ephemeral nature. The black lines will fade after a few good rains which gives the artist the luxury to make quick mistakes. A humble tool that provides confidence. It makes me want to carve a piece of coal into a pencil!

The coal pencil is a trivial example of this long chewed upon idea, but it is the one I have at hand. Now that I have put it to paper, I know that it will be easier to recognize these two challengers, confidence and humility when they present themselves.

Writing about mosaic is almost as fun for me as the making of the mosaic. If you enjoyed this bit of writing, you may consider signing up for my newsletter. Click on link below.


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