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Archive for October, 2009

 

This Is What I Had In Mind

So I hope I’m coming off a 2+ day flare (fingers crossed), and yesterday was really yucky, so I drew this last night in my 5”x7” sketchbook that I doodle in at bedtime, and yes, those are some tiiiiiiiiny lines!  I added the color this morning just for fun.  I’ve been working on a post to describe some options for accessing the power of your brain to improve pain, stress, and other discomforts, with references to the experts in the relevant fields, and links to more info, but the flare sidetracked me (can’t do words or critical thinking when flaring and trying to manage without meds), but still had the brain in the back of my mind, so I just went with it and let the flow just go with whatever came to mind.  As you can see, I have doodled this freely, and used a brain sort of outline to frame the doodling.  And, of course, whatever ended up in that frame was what spontaneously flowed out of my mind, with no plan whatsoever.  I really think that zentangles like this work best for me when I’m in a lot of pain, and they give me so much enjoyment, as well!  And while I’m actually doing them, my perceived pain levels are minimal for large chunks of time.  I’ve been told that the more I practice this during pain periods, the more effective it will be for me, and the easier it will be to tap into this powerful strength of the brain!  I’ve already seen improvement since I began doing this just over the last few weeks.

This was done in graphite, pens, markers, colored pencils.

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focus on pain doesn't help 102509

This is me, in pain, yesterday, in fact, and when I’m in pain, this is where I have to start to manage it, and this is what I can take, literally and figuratively.  Can’t take pills for pain, so I have 3 things at my disposal:  my two hands (to the extent that they are working that day) and my brain to manage pain and plug into a creative flow that can help me to not focus on the pain.  I post what I draw to manage pain, but thought it was important to also document where I have to come from to use art in pain management, and this is an actual portrait of me in the throes of a nasty flair.  I think the face tells the whole story.  I sketched this from photos that I took yesterday with my webcam during a bad pain episode, just before I started drawing.  My husband says this is excruciatingly accurate; it certainly *feels* right.

 

 

 

Pain Isn't Pretty I can sometimes draw some cool things at these times, but no, pain is NOT pretty, and it doesn’t feel pretty—AT ALL. I’m just grateful to be able to do something to get through it.  It was disturbing to even draw this, because I don’t like to focus on the downside.  I don’t want to do this very often, but it’s important to me to document the painful reality that is my starting point.  I think it’s clear that I was not in a good place, and not letting pain beat me is essential.  If I can start from right here and DO something to get through this, I can “take” anything, even if I can’t TAKE anything for the pain, and I can get through it.  Keeping my pencil sharp for what comes next….

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Come Fly With Me If you’ve read my early blog posts here, you know that I started art journaling as a form of therapy to deal with the emotional impact of “stuff happening”, like the onset of one illness or permanent surgical complication after another, that have left me permanently and severely physically debilitated.  A far cry from the body builder/singer-songwriter/can-do-anything person from the not-so-distant past!  I had a dynamic and brilliant career in the corporate world, picked as a “Top Talent” in the company, positioned to soar, and a true innovator.  And though I bravely fought back every time the flesh took me down, and returned to deliver even more amazing solutions to the company’s problems than before I’d left, one extended medical leave after another chipped away at the potential that was seen in me, and the periodic ravages to my body were stripping away my ability to do a job with any degree of consistency or predictability. 

In the last year, that has taken me down to the point where I spend large chunks of my day in bed or in a recliner, recovering between physical efforts, or riding out flares of pain, nausea, and muscle spasms.  I often need help with daily living functions like dressing myself and preparing meals.  I am quite literally deathly intolerant of pretty much all “mood management” medications for reasons that doctors have only been able to speculate about, the leading theory being multiple brain traumas.  Which means, of course, that if I become depressed, I cannot simply take Prozac or some other antidepressant and shake it off.  So I explored art journaling to keep my head together and to keep me from falling into depression or chronic anxiety patterns.  This has been far more effective than I’d ever imagined.

But there is more to cope with besides the emotional impact, and I live with chronic pain, nausea, and muscle spasms on a daily basis though in varying degrees of severity.  My medication intolerance extends to medications that control pain, muscle spasms and inflammation, as well.  So how does one manage these things without meds, when exercise is also not a realistic option at these times?  How does one experience a satisfying quality of life, and limit suffering under these conditions?  Since my philosophy about most things in life is that there are always options in tackling most every problem (maybe not all of them are desirable), my challenge has been to discover/develop solutions that could enable me to get through the bad spells, minimize stress responses that would aggravate them further, and find a way to “feel good” when my body doesn’t.  Many tell me that it is difficult to even imagine that I would be able to do anything more than just try to get life over with. 

But the thing is, that has never been me, or how I choose to experience life, and “there’s nothing you can do about it” has never impressed me as a life strategy.  I’ve heard stories of people who can walk on fire, sleep on beds of nails, do great things during times of extraordinary pain and devastation, without drugs or external help, in fact, with only the power of their minds at their disposal.  How do they do that?  What is the process to change how the brain functions, as needed, to control perception and filter out certain things while allowing other processes to happen?  I don’t pretend to have all of the answers; I am only beginning to discover bits of it through what works and doesn’t work for me.

So let’s look at how this process works for me, just using yesterday as an example.  Yesterday was another heavy pain day, so I had to come up with something to do that could push my brain away from pain focus and help me to be comfortable riding out the pain.  The challenge at these times is that I am well into the pain portion before it registers that I can’t simply ignore it by force of will, and it is so compelling that at that point, I’m not capable of choosing complex thoughts or organizing myself to do something in a linear, left-brain fashion.  I know that if I can access right-brain “flow” creative processing, I can get myself more comfortable while whatever is happening runs its course.  Watching TV only seems to exacerbate things—too much movement and noise–, and carrying on a conversation, or doing any kind of critical thinking or mental organization is too exhausting to try to start at this point.  I hit overwhelm easily and the next thing I know, the pain is escalating and I’m losing it, start crying, body tenses up, and I’m toast till I pass out from it.  Starting some emotionally intense art journal page is not a realistic option because the stress zone is not a good place to be while in this state.

Enter the doodle.  Given that I’m already in the pain zone, not in “flow-space”, making creative decisions of any complexity and other problem solving is out of the question.  I couldn’t even think of what to doodle, much less where to start.  So I printed off a freebie foot stencil that is used for spray painting, and thought I’d just doodle in that.  footprint-stencilNo critical thinking or real problem solving required.

So the conversation in my head at this point goes something like this:  “Ok, this should be pretty simple.  Focus on these simple lines, sure, I will try this.”  Pens are right by my chair, along with a cheap dollar store notepad that I use for doodling.  But as I looked at that foot stencil, and tried to make a decision about where to put a line, it occurred to me that this foot seemed too flat and was a little boring.  “What if I instead did it in a 3/4 view of the bottom of a foot, but what does that actually look like?  I don’t sit and stare at foot bottoms all day, or really, ever.  Oh wait, let me look at the bottom of my own foot, which, since I’m in a recliner in my pajamas, is actually easy to do!”  As I looked at this 3/4 view of my foot, I noticed the hills, valleys, angles, shadows, and interesting perspective, and I just started drawing.  How strange a subject, I thought, yet how fascinating it actually is!  Now, I was in the flow!

I started mapping out sections to isolate for patterns, like pieces of a puzzle, such as the bottom of the heel,  toes, ball of the foot, arch, etc., each of which had shape to play with dimensionally, and I laid in fun patterns in each, then I started applying shading and color with pens, just whatever felt good and flowed out of me.  As the flare raged on, I kept drawing and coloring, and adding layers of doodles, feeling good as long as I remained plugged into that flow, and creativity continued to expand and the drawing became increasingly more complex.  A couple of times I had to stop what I was doing, and focus on something else, like helping with some household organizational thing, or answering questions, which pulls me completely away from this mental state.  When this would happen, the pain would drift back into the body, not immediately, but gradually, and I would get the point where I had to cut it off and shift back to the doodle before the pain took over completely.  And so went my afternoon and evening.

Eventually, I finished that little zentangle, and scanned it into my computer, and here’s how it looks:

Put My Foot In It Again 

Fascinating what the brain can do when one can open up the flow state!  This is the exact angle of my foot as I looked at it, and the perspective is right.  Bizarre, yes, but I’m ok with that.  But wait, there’s more!  I started spinning this around on my computer, and chopping it up and combining the patterns (still in the flow), and I started to see other images in the patterns when manipulated. 

I saw the beginnings of a really cool moth, once I fused pieces of the image together, so I took these fused pieces, printed off this new image foundation, and drew the rest of it and shaded and colored it, and arrived at a new image:

Come Fly With Me

This one I really love!  The furry details in the body and wings, the tail, the way parts of the body seem to dip and others move up or away, all so dynamic and fun!  If that were a giant moth, I could see myself riding on its back to some magical destination.  And it’s clear that it is intricately detailed and elaborate, yet there is no way that I could have chosen to design this piece in the state of pain that I was in, which is the importance of the process of starting with something that I could wrap my brain around, like the stencil above.  I’m not a neurobiologist, so I don’t know if pain stimuli that are floating around in my body are experienced on any level by me, or to what extent they influence what is going on in the flow part of my brain, but I do know that just because I am in a flow state doesn’t mean that those parts of my brain aren’t functioning; they are, however, in a relaxed state, and are running more on a kind of autopilot.  They may influence the art in some way, but my subjective experience, at least, is one of relaxation, pleasure, creativity, and the resulting output gives me pleasure beyond the doing!  And the ravages of the body are meanwhile doing what they do, and I, at least, have done a very good thing to help my body with that by keeping the body as relaxed as possible while the flares run their course.

Summing up the process: when I find that I’m in severe pain or discomfort, I find something simple to look at and manipulate, and create an intention only to make marks of whatever kind arise spontaneously, no plan, no criticism, just make marks, doodle, make squiggles, doesn’t matter what, just the doing.  If my creative brain kicks in, it will create what it chooses and it will be fine.  If I fall asleep in mid-squiggle, that is fine, too, because the relaxation allowed my body to choose what it would do without the interference of my stress responses.  If I get energized around the doodling, flow has taken over, and I’m on my way to wherever the flow ride takes me.

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water colors 3

water world distort1

Just a couple of pieces that spun off the colors in Water World so far.  I already have plans and ideas for them!  I love these colors!

 

 

 

 

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sg0010-1

Ok, technical first from this newbie, as yet imbued with more passion than skill but learning:  

Now you can start to see detailing added, though this is *very* far from complete.  I needed to enlarge the image to get the intricate detailing built up in layers, and you are starting to see that begin to take shape in the main image here.  My scanner isn’t big enough to accommodate the entire picture now (which is currently around 10.5” x 16” in size vs the original 9” x 12”), which has been laser copied onto heavy cardstock.  Already, the limitations of the new substrate & laser copy  versus the original substrate have presented my first challenges from a mixed media standpoint in developing the image.  The first journal (“Turn On the Light”), I would get a little freaked out when I looked at the state of each stage as I was doing it, seeing changes come into it that felt out of control, and moved me seemingly away from the image that was growing in my mind, and I would worry at stages that I had ruined the vision, but watching some of the instructional videos that you can find online  or instructional articles by artists, such as Milliande, DJ Pettitt, Mysty Mawn, Pam Carriker, and Willowing, just to name a few (look for them on YouTube & elsewhere) who demonstrate working with layers, and seeing all of the evolutions, devolutions, and gradual building up of layers to arrive at their rich final images, full of depth and character, I would see interim layers that temporarily appeared to me to be digressions from the image they were after, until I saw the importance of those interim layers in the cumulative final image.  In the image to the left, for example, at this stage, the face lacks much detail and depth, and appears that the colors are a bit flat and incomplete, and much more harsh than the final image will be, but that’s ok, because it’s still being developed and this will ultimately contribute to the depth and dimension of the final image.  This is only 1 stage in the layering process, that will probably ultimately consist of 7 or more layers before it’s finished, and each subsequent layer will have significant changes from the previous image, just as this one does from Stages 1 (a & b).  That is all part of this process in  multi-media sense.

I already am battling small challenges with the media,though I am learning, and don’t get as frustrated as I become more familiar with how they behave with one another.  This is the complexity of working with mixed media, it’s like taking a whole lot of different prescriptions meds:  you not only have to be concerned with how a particular medication might act in your system, but how it interacts with everything else in your system, as well.  Same for mixed media, and depending on your depth of understanding all of the various media & substrates, etc., and the changes in those elements over time, this can prove to be an endless learning process.  I now had comparatively limited tooth for what I would have preferred to do with only graphite and colored pencils at this point, with some watercolor washes before moving over heavily into acrylic (which has been problematic to work with dry media later), so I try to get that bit down first before beginning to build up layers of acrylic.  However, this didn’t work so well on this slick sealed laser printed surface.  Even graphite didn’t adhere well to this surface, but softer graphite, like a B/HB was at least sufficient for me to get the scales drawn out which I then burnished in with yellow Prismacolor pencil (cadmium yellow), and I “washed” some scarlet red watercolor pencil over that, which settled down rather nicely into the grooves created by the burnishing of the gold.  I do like the 3D effect that the burnishing had on working with this new substrate.  I had them do the copy onto the heaviest cardstock that they had in this size, which is somewhere between poster board and matte board in weight and consistency, so burnishing left definite physical grooves in the substrate to good effect.  Although the laser print is at least not a glossy finish, the matte finish afforded me little improvement in applying dry media, but no matter.  I’ll make it work eventually.  I just want to be able to build up at least some thin transparent layers to give it depth and enhance a feeling that it is all floating within a watery environment, and to give it more dimension, and therefore portions of details of the image I am trying to get down on this first level.  Ultimately, I will use clear acrylic media to restore some tooth (I’m thinking at least one layer of matte medium or clear gesso at some points for tooth, an another of acrylic ground for pastels to bring in washes, and then later some glazes).  I will need to do an image transfer to lift this image off this surface, and sandwich it on top of another somewhat transparent layer of acrylic medium, probably one of the gel mediums, and adhere that to the permanent substrate, which I’m thinking will be a heavy watercolor paper.  I know I should probably go with canvas, but I resist because I still like to carry these in a big book to protect them and enjoy them at my leisure.

I used a white galaxy marker to bring some semi-opaque white over some areas to expand the gessoed portions of the 2nd layer (mermaid) juxtaposed on top of the background scene.  What I like about the Galaxy marker is both the opaqueness, and that it lacks the gloss, thickness and resistance that the other opaque marker options would have left, like the Deco Paint Markers or gel pens.  As I think about this, I guess another option would have been something like Staz-On Ink pad & brush.  I used it anywhere that I wanted to be able to bring some opaque white that had the potential to blend with either the laser inks subtly, as well as whatever I wanted to add next, prior to shifting over to mostly acrylic.  You can see this in the softening of the blue skin tones, and building out the fins, and I also hit each scale with a little bit of the white marker to add a layer of dimension and further enhance the impression that the scales are more concave and the light hits them more toward the centers where they stand out more, versus the valleys around the scales.  There will be some adjustment to this concept in a subsequent stage, as the tips of some scales overlap adjacent scales a bit, which will be developed in subsequent stages as it gets further refined. 

In the hair strokes, in addition to selective application of Deco Paint marker to lay out some specific whisps of hair, I have also used the Galaxy pen along with water soluble oil pastels to bring in a bit more blue/green into the hair as well.  My reservations about using the Deco Paint markers at this stage are that they have Xylon in them which is smelly, but more importantly, can dissolve the inks from the laser printing if I’m not careful, and I didn’t want to obliterate the lovely background that should show through bits of her flowing hair, at least not yet.  Lots more detailing and shading to come in subsequent layers on this mermaid, and there will be a story about this image, as well, which I will reserve until I have finished. 

To try to tell it now, as I see it would be incomplete at best, and possibly not very accurate, because my mind tends not to reveal everything of what this is about even to me, very often, not until some time after I have completed the piece, though by the end, and perhaps after a night or two of reflection on the completed piece, I usually have a mostly complete understanding of what my mind was trying to tell me.  This is a really funny thing about this process of art journaling and art therapy, because it opens up a kind of dialogue with your subconscious that gives you more direct access to what’s going on over there, though the way that I am able to achieve this kind of communication is unlike what happens on a conscious level or in a physical conversation with another person.  The hardest part for me, who has relied heavily on left brain working independently to tell me what I am thinking and feeling, is developing a process that is really about letting go of controlling my mind, and letting the other part of my brain drive the bus, and wait for it to reveal itself to me through this process.  But as new and unfamiliar as this was at first, regularly practicing it has shown me that it works, and I am growing my skill at increasing left-right brain integration, which is taking my mental capabilities far beyond what they were, not to mention pulling the pieces of me together, which I really need right now to deal with my challenges.

What I will tell you at this point about the story is that when I started it, as is often the case, an image began to form in my mind, or, I should say, portions of an image, each portion out of context, that seemed like whimsical images, that were just fun and relaxing to draw and explore.

There are a number of physical imperatives/impediments to art for me that affects how and when I do art.  The way I started this piece was really just to help me keep my mind off pain to keep me as calm and relaxed as possible, while my body was riding out a 5-day stretch of very nasty flares.  For those of you who have given birth to children, my experience is somewhat akin to labor and delivery, though it happens on a much more regular basis.  The art keeps me from getting overwhelmed with the waves of pain and gut upheavals that come with the flares, since there is no medication to manage the pain or spasms that is safe for me to take, so I have only what I can do with my mental state (biofeedback and constant attitude adjustments), and physical manipulations (massage, gentle walks, hot Epsom salt baths, having a good cry in my husband’s lap when I reach the end of my rope with it sometimes), and doing art is more effective in shifting me away from focus on suffering and discomfort without draining my energy, such as when I try to do something involving verbalizations & critical thinking. Only my left hand and arm were really available to me during this recent round of flares, and then only in a limited sense, and there have been painful consequences of using even my arm and hand, though these are minor by comparison.  Between these drawing sessions, which I try to gentle down as much as possible (keeping my hand and arm loose, well supported, and being careful not to create repetitive injury issues), I try not to work in any particular physical position for too long at  time.  I still get the spasms up and down my arm, and the Reynaud’s comes and goes (causing numbness and pain especially in my fingers), but at least, so long as I don’t try to do any serious gripping, twisting, pressing or pulling, the swelling in my joints doesn’t get too bad from the exercise.  If the spasms get too bad, I do have to stop, get some heat and gentle massage to the area, change positions, and rest it.  The most I can do when that is happening is to shift to drawing doodles, on little bits of paper, here and there.  Good ergonomics, both with the drawings and working on my laptop minimize the carpel tunnel symptoms that the RA & Reynaud’s cause, though sometimes I am in the “flow”, and don’t notice that I’m breaking this rule until I notice that I can’t feel my fingers while I am working sufficiently to get my attention.  I keep unruled paper and pencils & a drawing pen at my bedside table, as well as by my recliner, just to doodle things of not apparent import.

Ok, back to this image:  the mermaid is reclining on some giant seaweed, and you will see that she is focusing on something special when I bring the next major element into the picture.  The seaweed and the the rest of the surrounding context still have lots of work yet, as well as the effects of the underwater atmosphere, and I will develop those more before I introduce the new element.   More to follow, of course, but today, I’ve got husband available to help me do some heavy lifting and hopefully get some of the household restored to order so we can at least move around, so if I work on this more today, it will probably be later in the day.  However, I do have a couple of other tidbits that I did that I think will be fun and attractive, both rather serendipitous and have given me ideas for new pieces, and I’ll throw them up on a separate blog post.

Have a blessed and peaceful day!

 

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Water World St. 1

Ok, this is not the first phase of this new piece, just because I failed to scan the earliest step, but this will have to stand as Stage 1 (b).  Stage 1(a) was the background, which was drawn in graphite, then shaded to get values, then light colored pencils, followed by watercolor, and it isn’t finished yet.  There is still more detailing and shading to be done to the background.  Stage 1(b) was drawing the main image and adding gesso to it for opacity.  There is still more drawing and painting to do, including the hair and detailing of the image, and there will be an additional image that will be painted in, which will enable the background to show through.  There will also be an additional image incorporated that I drew earlier in the week.  Ultimately, this piece will incorporate graphite, colored pencil, oil pastels, various acrylic media, and layers of collaged tissue layers—all my original work.   While I think that it’s obvious that the beginning of my main image clearly has a mermaid in it, this piece will have a surprise ending, so stay tuned!

 

This is the first time that I have done the background (which itself is a significant image in its own right) before the main image—by accident, actually!  It was just an exercise in my sketchbook trying out watercolors for the first time (ever), and when I stepped back and looked at it, I realized that it was perfect for this piece.

 

 

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Tend Your Garden-1This was a doodle gone wild, I guess.  Wasn’t well the past couple of days and doodling was about as much as I could handle.   It started as a mandala but morphed to a zentangle without a theme, just drawing random patterns, and the next thing I knew, I was looking at it and realizing that the garden was growing into my picture, as I continued to work in pen and colored pencil, so it was completely spontaneous.  I rather liked the “planlessness” of it all!  I guess I had gardens on my mind when I was outside briefly today and happened to notice the trees were changing color, then I guess my poor neglected garden was lodged in my mind after that.  

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