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Archive for September, 2009

Sonja Memory Page -2

This maybe should not be considered Stage 1 of this piece, since I’ve done some sketches in graphite to try to reconstruct Sonja as my childish memory could recall when I was about 12-13 years old, but this is the first one that starts to put the image in context for me emotionally/spiritually, and where my mind was trying to take me, I think.  What has hit me about this, is that I am currently grappling with my own illnesses, that are now complicating each other, many cannot be corrected or cured, and I am trying to find a way to live with it, as well.  I needed to understand how & why Sonja arrived where she did, what it meant for her, and consider what, if anything, I could learn and apply to my own perspective and mindset.  It took me back to that time in childhood, when we were together for a few days at Grandmother’s house, and seeing each other truly for the first time. 

We were each in our own personal prisons and lost souls, and I just felt that there was something really important that I was trying to remember and learn that had everything to do with what I was grappling with now, that seemed to be really connected, both then and now.  Working on this journal page has helped me to uncover something extremely important that I really needed to get RIGHT NOW.  I needed to get this clarified in my head to get perspective on my own health issues, self-esteem, choices, what I believe about myself around these things, what I can do, and what I want to do.

What I want to do is to keep my humanity and am invested in maintaining my connections to extracting every ounce of value from my existence for as long as I can, accept the things I can’t change in my health, and physical limitations and unpredictability, and making the most of what I have.  That is not just a mandate to myself, but my belief about what I can do, and that will make me happy.  The rest is just stuff, and I’ll deal with it as I can.  I will do whatever I can to avoid depression and try my best to take good care of myself and stay as stress-free as possible.

Thank you, Sonja, for the lesson.  I’m so sorry that life took you so far away from bliss.  I always wished so much that you would get a break and be able to have a happier life.  You didn’t fail; you just lost your way.  Peace, Cousin; I will always love you.

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I have no reference photos of Sonja, either from childhood or as an adult, so this is only based on my own childhood memory of Sonja, and is intended to represent what she projected back then, according to my limited childhood memories.  Again, it’s a work in progress, and will be edited further.  Ironically, this was done in graphite on tissue paper!  Nothing else!  I started this one this way accidentally, just doodling and it developed into a study of sorts, so I just kept going with it, exploring expressions that were common with Sonja back then.  She wore glasses, too, but I haven’t put them on her here…I need to check and find out if she was wearing glasses this young (around her teens).  I will probably make some more changes to her eyes, in particular, as well as her cheekbones, as she had, as many of us, have the heavy upper eyelids of the Pendergraph family, and we have them from childhood.  Sonja was also a bit chubby, and face studies during adolescence would be more effective if I could see some photos of her at this age.  She just died at 52, and remembering through my teenage memories leaves considerable gaps in details.  The blogpost I previously posted I had accidentally hit “auto contrast” on my scanning program, and it took the shading away from what I had in the sketch.  I just redid it and this is how the drawing actually looks in its present state without any photo editing.

 

cousin memory sketch-1

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Sonja sketch 1I was thinking about Sonja a lot lately.  She was my cousin, and died tragically recently and was very unhappy until she died, and she was only 52 years old, just 2 years older than I am, and it was right around her birthday that she died.  I feel really sad that Sonja didn’t have the kind of life that I wished for her, ever since I got to know her when we were teenagers, and we spent a few days together at my grandmother’s house.  This is how she was back then:

 
She really didn’t smile much, and didn’t talk to people very often.  Mostly she acted like she wanted to be alone, but really, she was lonely.  She was chubby and had poor body image and very low self esteem.  But when she decided to talk to me, I found out that she was really nice and interesting, and honest, and had a lot to say that I thought was very worth saying.  I don’t my siblings ever really got to know Sonja, which is too bad, because she was worth knowing.  I really hope that she has a lot of peace in her soul now.  I really liked her.  It just seems unfair to me, that I feel like she never really had a chance.  This is just a quick sketch, and I had no reference photos of Sonja, either from childhood or as an adult, but this is how I remember her back then.  I may do a more finished picture

 

 

sg0149-1

 

Here’s a 2nd pass at some revisions to the sketch,still all in graphite.  I think I will work more on this sketch and develop it, perhaps in colored pencil, acrylic, or another mixed media, since I really have no pictures of Sonja from any age, and I want to try to capture a particular memory that was special to me.  For some reason, it seems to be important to me to memorialize some things visually for myself about Sonja and perhaps myself as well, don’t know yet. 

More to follow as it evolves in my head and with my hands.  This image was especially difficult to begin since I had no reference photos of Sonja at any age, as mentioned before, but now that I have my hands in it and have started, I am getting more and more feeling about what looks right to me, though admittedly, this is based on childhood memories alone, so reasonable minds who were around at the time may differ, however, the memory that I am putting together had a key visual theme to it, and there were important reasons that both of us were very aware of how we saw ourselves and each other at the time.  More on that later.

 

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If you’re an artist, you might find this interesting, and perhaps relevant for you, as well.  If you start reading and your eyes glaze over, I won’t feel offended if you aren’t interested in the "how it works" of it all, even if it is absolutely amazing to me.  Some people have artistic technical ability, and like being able to use it, in a mechanical sense, but may feel less interested in how the inner workings of the artistic/creative process work within the brain, or the potential for how to use them together as various tools to enhance brain function, and for the enhanced brain function to enhance their artistic expression and to potentially apply it to every part of one’s life.  I happen to be highly sensitive to patterns and connections between things, and the inter-workings of the whole, which is really core to my own creative processes, which appear in pretty much anything that I set my mind to do.  For someone with MS, where optimizing and prolonging brain function can become key to longevity and quality of life in an urgent and immediate sense, being able to tap into these kinds of skills could literally be life saving.  There are many ways to do this–art journaling happens to be the activity that is most effective for me, but it is one very powerful tool to accomplish this.

Art journaling as therapy has been more successful for me than I could have ever imagined, and no one is more surprised by that than me.  In fact, my counselor says that she has read about people being able to utilize it successfully at the complexity and speed that I am doing, but she’s never worked with anyone that was actually doing it this well before.  That’s not a statement about the "art" of it all (though from a technical standpoint, I see skill growth as well), but using it as a tool to access, integrate, and accelerate, and expand brain function, and what’s happening as a result is a virtual evolution in my own mental processes.  It’s like my brain has been rewriting all the rules that I’ve lived with all my life, reprogramming itself.  She describes it as throwing open all the windows and doors of my mind, getting out of my own way, and letting my mind do the work to take the raw data that has been stuffed into nooks, crannies, and various piles (much like my house), and to evaluate and reorganize that data (i.e., memories–childhood through recent), revise connections & significance, realign my world view and self view with my core values.  And the weirdest thing about it is during that work much of the time I feel like more of a passenger on the bus than the driver, with my brain set on autopilot.  It’s like being on this trip and I see the views out the windows as we go and I get these waves of awareness, insight, and clarity just come together.  it’s like being out in the middle of the ocean, and out on the horizon is a haze, and I don’t know exactly what it is, so I wait and I draw the shapes as I am seeing them right then.  As the image comes closer to what I can see, I see more details, more shape, more definition, I render that in the progression of the image that I am creating.  I just ride and let myself go where my mind is leading.  I don’t know why it is leading me toward a particular image, but as the image evolves and I take breaks, things come to me quite naturally, in bits and pieces sometimes, in tidal waves at other times.  When I have only a few pieces of the puzzle, what I imagine things mean are incomplete and sometimes incorrect, because I am interpreting before I have the whole story. It’s a big “what if” kind of thing, which is by itself a part of the creative process, as it requires being “open” to possibilities.  The two questions that I think are in my mind in this part of the process, is, “What is the story?” and “What am I trying to tell/teach myself?”  The process I am becoming familiar with, and I have a growing ability to utilize it as I get more practice, yet the outcome or output of the process each time continues to be invariably fascinating and unpredictable. 

That probably sounds like a bunch of psycho babble, but the incredible thing is that it is actually completely true, and is not about doing "couch time" in a therapeutic sense as much as it is based on hard science around actual brain function.  What is happening on a physical level started with removing bad drugs (all the serotonin-elevating drugs that I am allergic to, translated:  most of what I used to take), and adding good drugs (ADHD meds, which for me is Adderall and Provigil by day, and a tiny dose of Clonazepam at bedtime to counteract any residual stimulant effects of the daytime meds), which stopped what was physically interfering with how my brain was supposed to be able to work–stopped the sleep impairment, and shut down all the chaotic *noise* in my head that was a 24/7 thing my entire life.  I had no idea how noisy it really was, until it stopped. 

But getting the right balance of brain chemistry was only one element required to enable this to work for me like it does.  The next thing that had to happen was to actually learn how to shift how my brain managed workload distribution, and give up control of a lot of things that I used to try to control consciously, and open up my mind in this way.  Given that I had no previous points of reference to understand even what that was, much less how to DO it, fortunately, that part developed quite naturally on its own when I started doing art journaling.  As it turns out, with my brain chemistry in balance, and the good "brain genes" that I got from both parents in different ways, what I inadvertently triggered was a type of meditative state through journaling.  The reason that it worked this way, is the same reason that it worked as a stress reduction technique, because it actually causes a shift in the part of the brain that is actively working on a conscious level, and this frees the other part of the brain to work without interference on a subconscious level, while being completely awake.  While being in a “flow” state like this, the body is completely relaxed, and the fight-or-flight parts of the brain, the critical, judging, protecting, etc. areas stop carrying the burden of everything.  The next part is where the good genetics comes in as a bonus–potential for high integration between left and right brain is optimizable.

What had to happen first was for me to be able to just be still in my mind, which I couldn’t possibly do before I got my "head meds" straightened out.  I couldn’t have sat still to do visual art because my mind couldn’t be still enough for me to do something like that.  Spontaneous creation of a visual nature comes from the right brain, but critical analysis, verbal structure, and conscious control of things is a left brain or for those with highly integrated brain function, a dual-brain function.  With chronic left-brain dominance from previous dysfunction, it was habitually trying to control than it really should have had to do.  When things are noisy in one’s head and the brain is constantly struggling to control that kind of chaos, left brain is even more controlling than normal in an exhaustive effort to balance.  In this environment, it is impossible for the left brain control to relax and let things just "flow."  As a result, the individual never feels truly relaxed, is in a constantly hyper vigilant state, almost like perpetual "fight or flight" syndrome.  There may be variations in the intensity of this state, but a truly relaxed state is virtually impossible.  It’s like living in a hurricane all the time.  The winds die down a little sometimes, but the storm never completely stops. 

The process works something like this:  I let go of control by focusing solely on spontaneous creation of whatever image comes to mind for me, what I am sensing and seeing in my mind’s eye (the first time was so hard that I was miserably uncomfortable in the beginning), and I don’t focus on how the final product will be, or try to control it or worry about whether anyone would like it, or if it would be "good enough".  I just express the image that I am feeling, as clearly or as hazy as it felt to me as it came from my mind.  And this part of the process involves a complete absence of verbalization.  In fact, I can’t think in words and do this exercise at the same time.  If I have to listen to dialogue on a program or answer a question, or read or write something, my brain has to make a shift back to the verbal side, and then shift away from it again to resume what I am doing.  I am new enough at this that it takes effort and time for me to flip that switch, though I expect that it will get easier and quicker with practice.  But as I progress through each stage in the rendering of the image, when I pause and shift out of the flow, my conscious mind starts receiving massively complex and comprehensive ideas and insights that are new, and then I can verbalize what my mind has conceived at that stage.  But honestly, when I start a piece, I don’t know how the story will unfold, or how the chapter will end.  I discover that through the process.  And I guess this is also a metaphor for life.

I not only had no experience or technical skills whatsoever with rendering images before I did the first art journal page, and am not aware of having any particular skill to make them look "realistic." I doubt seriously that I have looked at many things in a visually accurate way before either.  I wasn’t really capable of doing that before, and just seeing things is a whole new thing for me.  Just like not being able to be still enough to create art, visually seeing things as completely and accurately as possible requires an ability to focus on those kinds of details.  You have to stop to *see* things in detail, and at least on a top level consciousness, I have skimmed through life and the world around me, aware of only bits and pieces and a lot of haze until now.  I believe that more registered in my visual memories on a subconscious level than I was aware of, or focused on, but couldn’t compete for attention. 

I also had no basis for understanding the "rules" for using various media, and on the front end, have had to expend a lot of effort fighting media issues, and learning more effective ways to work with them.  A metaphor for relationships in life, I think.  It all boils down to what works and what doesn’t work, and learning that stuff to accomplish what you are trying to accomplish through how you apply it to communication.  These are those things that can go wrong if you use it in ways that are inconsistent with the media’s properties or capabilities in working together to render the desired result.  In terms of media, examples would be things like a haze called "wax bloom" that can occur when applying many layers of dark colored pencils, or problems with trying to color on top of thick layers of textured acrylics with pencils, charcoal, or chalk pastels, or starting with dry media on drawing paper and then trying to switch to later to add paint and retain the ability to work on the same paper without it falling apart.  But even working through these kinds of complications are valuable, as long as I see those complications as a part of because the process of learning effective communication, and my focus stays away from being critical of the image or viewing the challenge as failure, and remains on the goal of rendering the image in my mind into something visual and/or tactile.

I *love* being able to flip through the journal pages that I have done at will.  I keep a little notebook with me most of the time, that has reduced copies of each page that I’ve done glued into a small notebook.  No matter what is happening around me, looking at those pages instantly changes my mood.  I like to look at them before I go to sleep at night, or when I’m physically sick and in pain.  My mental/emotional connections associated with those images are profound and extensive, and very useful to eliminate unhealthy distractions that pop up and reconnect me with my core strengths.

I actually wasn’t expecting any of this to happen, mostly because I’ve never experienced anything like it, and couldn’t even imagine it if someone had tried to explain it to me in words.  I was doing the art journaling as a way to stay calm and as unstressed as possible while I waited to get better physically, and not to ruminate about things that I couldn’t control.  That was the goal, and if I had accomplished just that (which even that much I couldn’t imagine being successful when it was first recommended to me), I would have considered it to be an amazingly mind-blowing success just based on that.

More to come….

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In the Dog Food Bin

This was done in graphite and charcoal as a quick sketch, so this is not polished or finalized.  Again, I was fighting the media, and having difficulty getting finer lines when I wanted them, so it’s not as detailed as I wanted, but I wasn’t trying to capture all of the details in this quick sketch, just the basics of the image.

This is a sketch of the time that my cousin Jan and I got into the dog food bin where Granddaddy kept Chatham dog food for his rabbit dogs (beagles).  I had climbed all the way into the bin and was sitting on the dog food and eating it, and Jan stood there eating it, too.  We were surprised at what this dog food tasted like, because it was full of grain, and not like we expected dog food to taste.  At this point, Jan was just telling me that if Granddaddy caught us with me sitting in his dog food he was going to take a switch to us.  And it was right at that moment that Granddaddy walked up behind us and started fussing.  He had a funny way of fussing at us, that was about the only time that any of us girls ever heard his voice, by the way.  And his way of scolding us sounded a bit like someone herding cattle, and not used to talking a lot.

We really thought he was going to chase us down and switch us, and we ran like crazy and tried to stay out of his way the rest of the day.  I was scared to death but we both kept laughing like crazy, like it was a great adventure!  I can only imagine, when he saw us, that the martians had landed!

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I LOVE this picture!  I call the big pecan tree at my grandmother’s house the “family tree".  It was the center of my universe of bliss as a child, and considering my “family history", it is the most accurate representation of any healthy parts of family and bliss and connection to the good parts of family that were available to me, and that time was when this was the most true.  I included photos of that tree in my first 2 journal pages: “Little Girl Bliss” and “Family Tree.”  Those of my siblings who were old enough before Grandmother moved away from the house in the country, including myself, all used to LOVE climbing on the pecan tree and playing on and around it.  Many many wonderful memories of many kinds in, around, and in the vicinity of that great tree.  In this picture, the cornfield is behind me, and I am facing the driveway by the back of the house from this angle.  That’s definitely me in the picture, of course.  Happy moments!

Hanging Around the Family Tree

This was done entirely in colored pencils—a first for me.  I am trying to learn how to use colored pencils better, as my last piece was the victim of “wax bloom” and by the time I discovered what was the source of the haze, I had added other media that made it impossible for me to correct it.  I may go back and do that one over again, at least the background, but I’d have to start from scratch on the background portion and lay over the rest of the image as a transfer.  But for now, I am busy constructing all of the images that I want to do for a series of “memories” from around my grandmother’s house and vicinity.  This is the second or these drawings that I have done so far.  The first is a quick sketch (aka “stage 1”) done in graphite and charcoal and I’ll upload it shortly.  I’m still not happy with my media skill with colored pencil coming out of this one, because I am still not getting the depth of color that I want before I have difficulty getting the paper to accept more layers, and I’ve seen colored pencil drawings that did achieve this, so I see potential to improve.  Could just be the cheap paper I’m using, or how I am constructing the layers.  I’m applying layers with a lighter touch with multiple layers in the buildup, and I’m using a workable fixative between sets of layers to avoid wax bloom and regain tooth, but I still don’t get back consistent tooth after applying the workable fixative as I feel there should be after about the 10th layer and then applying the workable fixative.  Maybe I need to apply more layers of the fixative, or be more careful about skin oils or other pollutants that are getting on the paper, or something else?  Will continue to work on refining technique with the pencils.

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The process of art journaling is like a form of meditation for me.  The process of developing a visual image in this way takes me away from words, labels, definitions of things, and pushes me over to a more heavily right-brain oriented activity.  Once I transition to right-brain emphasis, I easily get into a “flow” mental state, but what I am discovering is that, just as when I am sleeping & dreaming, my left brain isn’t turned off, though on a top level of consciousness it would seem so to me.  While my right brain has my main consciousness busy with lines and colors and shapes and texture and media and tapping my memories and imagination to create an image that represents something about my thoughts and feelings, there is also this heavily integrated left-brain/right-brain activity going on very intensely while my hands are working on the details in the journal page.  But the words and the story start flowing later, and the messages that my brain is sending through the journal page, and the significance of it really unfold and present themselves to me when I stop working on the image.  It’s an incredible thing, that I liken to how can go to sleep with some unresolved problem hanging out there with no clear solution (sometimes even the problem itself is not clear to me), and I wake up with an amazing perspective, both on the problem, and options for resolution.  This process is like doing that but I’m still awake.  I’m not even aware of this process going on while I work on my journal pages, but I am seeing a clear pattern emerging that this happens, even when I think that I am doing a journal page about one thing, but by the time I finish, I realize that it represents something very different that I had imagined was going on in my head.  It’s like the process throws open all these windows and doors inside of me that I didn’t know were there, and the bits of data that are related to one another seem to find each other and have tearful reunions in my head, and then catch each other up on what’s been happening with them since they were last connected.

 

I have a very strong ability to sense patterns (another right-brain characteristic) and relationships between things, and seeing as much of the whole picture as possible in order to put things into the proper context is something that I gravitate towards.  I feel the similarities and differences in things, and connections between them, even when someone is attempting to conceal them.  My brain apparently does this even better in auto-pilot mode when I am doing the art journaling, and my brain is getting a rest from words, labels, criticism, etc.  In that flow state, my brain seems to be able to see everything, and accesses it all, and when I stop doing the art, it tells me what it’s discovered while kicking around in my head, and as that happens, these realizations get incorporated into the next revision of the current image, or it may inspire a future image.  Ultimately, I find that with each journal page that I have completed, and even each time I do the process, I feel less burdened than before I did it.  I’m still amazed by that, and I wonder what others experience when they do art journaling?  This is dramatically obvious to both myself and my husband, and our amazement continues to grow with each new step in the process.  Who knew?

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