The spirituality of jigsaws

© photo by Louise Adey Huish
Published by Louise Adey Huish on Sat, 4 Apr 2020 13:11
Louise's blog

I wrote this piece some years ago and have revisited it for the blog – not least because I imagine quite a few people are doing jigsaws right now to help pass the time!

The spirituality of jigsaws

 The spirituality of jigsaws may be especially powerful for those of us who like to be in control. Jigsaws can be an effective tool for opening our minds to the intuitive as well as the sensuous aspects of our nature. I have a particular passion for the kind of jigsaws made by Wentworth, where all the pieces are different (some unusually different!), and straight edges don’t necessarily denote outer edges: Wentworth puzzles can have internal straight lines and edge pieces which don’t look edgy. I also try not to look at the picture on the box, so that I’m thrown back on colour and line, and I only have a go at the frame of the jigsaw when I’m really struggling. I like images that are taken from fine art, and as a result I’ve learned an enormous amount about painting, as well as about the art of really seeing. I remember taking my daughter to Vienna at a time when she was fascinated by art nouveau, and watching her virtually lick the paint off one of Klimt’s most famous works: her practical interest in painting meant that she could take in details of composition and brushwork which pass me by. Yet in communing with my jigsaws I’ve discovered how what I thought was one colour is in fact another, how lines are not lines at all, how thematic colouring recurs and is modified in different parts of the painting.

  I always begin by examining all the pieces and setting them out. I generally do this in daylight, as I find that artificial light distorts and dampens colour. Usually as I sort through, I start to recognize pieces which belong together, and group them according to colour. I build up and out from these, bearing in mind that the colour is likely to occur more than once in any given image, so that pieces I think are connected may in fact be quite separate. Then I start to notice gradations and subtle variations in colour which suggest where different pieces may go. I try not to think about what I’m doing, but allow my eye and hand to guide the work. As soon as I start scrutinizing the picture on the box in order to work out where a piece belongs, my cognitive, controlling self takes over and then I lose the ability to see both the fragment and the whole.

  The edges of the picture build themselves up almost incidentally, as a natural development of colour clusters. Deliberately working on the edges is almost a counsel of despair, as the edge pieces are generally easier to identify; yet even then it may be that a missing edge piece turns out to be a deep ‘V’ shape between two sloping ones, while a corner is created by two isosceles triangles and doesn’t look corner-shaped at all. And, without the image on the box, I can be left wondering which way is up. Sky or the tops of trees might indicate a top edge – but then again, they can be deliberately misleading, or the picture may have no common-sense shape of this kind. Sometimes it’s only towards the end of the work on a particular jigsaw that I discover its relationship to reality.

  Trusting in the unconscious is essential to the art of puzzling.  Intuition can tell me when pieces belong together, whereas deliberate checking and matching simply makes me more frustrated, and often leads to that addictive fury which has me staying up, trying the same pieces in the same places over and over again, long after everyone else has gone to bed. The counter-intuitive truth is that the puzzle isn’t solved by gnawing at it. It’s solved by going out for a walk, having a cup of tea, checking my emails or going to bed and having another look in the morning. It’s extraordinary how often the missing piece will simply leap to my hand after time spent doing something else. Or else I find that I had the right piece all along, but was trying to put it in the wrong way up.

  Jigsaw puzzles can create sacred space. Like every sort of prayer they occupy the front of the mind so that the deep darkness behind can start to stir. The total concentration that puzzling requires blanks out superficial distraction and allows me to exist solely in the here and now, in a deep, deep kind of rest. The abdication of self, the almost automatic working of hand and eye, the trust in intuition which is essential to the process: these create fallow ground. Acceptance of the rhythms of the work, the balance between euphoric, triumphant fitting-together and tailing-off into frustration, knowing when to keep trying and when to walk away, this all leads me away from my controlling, pro-active self towards a humbler place of grace.


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