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Archive for the ‘art therapy’ Category

beaautiful creature s-p 052010 small file-1

This began as an elaborate graphite sketch in my small sketchbook, and I transferred the sketch to a notebook cover, then drew it out some more, and painted it in acrylic.    The image was not something that I thought about drawing; it sort of arose on the paper.  I later realized that it was very much a self-portrait, not perhaps in the literal sense, but maybe spiritually?  Everything about it says beautiful, natural, authentic, what I feel coming from it.  I think that I am perhaps more connected to this painting than many others, yet where is it?  Hanging on some wall of pride?  Nope.  It’s painted directly onto the soft cover of one of my notebooks.  You can see the curves on the edges, and lots of scratches.  I’ve recoated it a couple of times as it picked up stain and scratches.  I’ll have to put something a bit more durable, I suppose.

Does it make you think about beauty?  What sort of creature this is?  If it’s a self-portrait, what sort of creature am I?  Indeed, that is the question, is it not?  If you understand this creature, you will also understand how it is a mirror of me inside….

I’ll say this much, if you haven’t picked up from other posts:  I find creatures much more comfortable than people to be around.  They have an inner consistency and logic that I can understand and relate to.  Trying to play human rules is just plain stressful to me.  The rules they claim are broken more than followed.  Their social *intuition* usually gets them quicker conclusions about things, but wrong much more often than they will ever realize, and probably mostly won’t have to discover.  Their social intuition are more like blinders than wisdom, shorthand that they treat as if it’s longhand, and forget that when they fill in the blanks later, their shorthand may show that they missed it.  You probably have no idea what I’m talking about, but I am not socially intuitive with people, because people are filled with contradictions.  I “read” them, “read” the environment, “read” all the details, and do the math and figure out what things mean.  The rest of the creatures of the universe?  Social intuition is a fine thing, because they operate within their own logic, their own rules, and those can be understood.  They make sense in the context of the creatures.  But humans?  Not so much.  But when the intuitive process yields disaster, they call in creatures like me, to tell them what went wrong, and build a better working model, if possible.

When creatures like myself get themselves born, but they have a limited set of things in common with humans around them beyond what they actually look like, it can be tough sometimes to find a truly “familiar” face, a “kindred” soul.  But I do look for them sometimes, or at least keep my radar on, in case one shows up someday.  I’ll settle for a few humans who can accommodate a gentle creature like myself, who can leave me to be me and that’s just great for us all! 

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Ok, I’m way behind in getting some images uploaded…long story, will update this over the weekend, but here’s the last image I was working on yesterday.  I’ve been drawing, but had to modify to cope with lots of stuff going on.  This one has lots of meaning for me, but will revise this post with that later this week/weekend.  Here’s an image.  Direction in drawing has become very integrated into medical treatment now, and I’ll explain that, too.  I may yet tweak this one a little bit more, but this one was done in pen & ink, watercolor, and colored pencil.  The book is actually just a retail catalog that someone had discarded that was on fairly heavy paper and the size seemed suitable for my purposes (app 7.5” square).  On some pages, like this one, I have glued some cheap manilla-colored children’s drawing paper over the catalog pages to give it some thickness.  I use this book for random doodling like this.  Odd how I often do some of my favorite drawings in recycled books like this. I have a smaller one that I’ve been working in, that I’m going to have to rebind, as the painted pages have torn away from the stitching somewhat. 

For the most part these drawings at least start and progress for quite a while as automatic drawing, and later compositions arise out of them as the image begins to take form.  If I had to plan this picture, I probably couldn’t have done anything that I would enjoy nearly so much or that would mean as much to me.  That process of not planning that seems to have been consistently successful in my drawing apparently still holds true, although I did set an intention to use a limited pallet, primarily blue(without regard to what the actual image might become). 

 

Small Worlds, Big Potential 012810

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unicorn1.0 

I’m adding these themes to my working list of the sketchbook project that I have in process right now: 

  • you don’t have to be a tree hugger to talk to trees, and it can save the world
  • how an extraordinary little girl used every day magic to save the world (series of pages tell the story)
  • how “childish dreams” can save the world
  • can we be polite and still save the world?
  • what unicorns can teach us about saving the world (It’s a secret-this picture is a teaser page!  You’ll have to keep following the story to learn the secret!)
  • How what you believe could save the world

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Tangle Patterns #1

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs how helpful it can be do doodle when I’m not feeling well.  One of the activities that I’ve been working on was putting my doodle patterns into a notebook for me to flip through when I am thinking about doing fills in drawings and looking for ideas about patterns that I might want to use, and so I’ve been working on these zentangle pattern sheets with my own pattern designs.   The pattern template itself, is a 12-block blank grid that Milliande put together. 

 

Think of these as doodle patterns that I might use to incorporate into images.  The sheets that I drew them on are standard 8.5” x 11” paper, done in black pen and shaded with graphite pencils, all on the same sheet of paper that you see here.  This is just standard photocopy paper, so it was not doing to take a lot of wear and tear, but now I will transfer the completed pattern sheets to some sturdier stock, and hold onto the originals.  Each pattern was drawn for the first time on this sheet, and was completely unplanned—a bit terrifying, since I was doing them in pen, I tried not to think about what would happen if one of them didn’t work, since I had no “do-overs”!  Think of these as design idea sheets for me to reference, of patterns that I developed before, to give me some ideas for new drawings that I might want to do.  Some of these designs have pet names.  I might update this blog later with the pattern names. 

 

tangle patterns #2 dearley

Much of the detail lines are done with a Staedtler 0.1 pigment liner, which is the finest pen size that I’ve been able to find.  I had to do these drawings using both my reading glasses and my large magnifying task light, and my eyes are still killing me!  Ugh! 

 

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Greater Than the Sum of My PartsWell, today I did feel better, and I did go back and finish this image, as I saw it in my mind’s eye.   I like this picture very much, as well, it tells a story.  But the other picture, well, it IS a story, and they are both wonderful parts of the (w)hole that is me!  This was done in graphite, colored pencil, pens, and markers.  I feel glad about both of them!

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what not to do in pain management"Doctor, it hurts when I do this." "Well," the doctor says, "stop doing that."

 

Yesterday afternoon, I formed an intention to do a drawing as part of an art challenge in a terrific online community of women artists called Milliande Art Community around the theme of “holes”.  My intention was to do a drawing incorporating the holes as a concept and I had a few options for compositions that I thought would be fun and aesthetically pleasing, and intended to share the finished piece with the group. At the time I was feeling pretty good, low pain, plenty of energy, and excited about doing some art just for the joy of creating.  My mind was already in a creative flow around it, and I looked forward to drawing it up.  Well, here’s the drawing.  One can debate about whether it is finished or not, and reasonable minds may disagree about just how aesthetically pleasing this drawing is at this point either.  Assuming that throwing my sketchbook across the room in frustration and hoping to never look at it again constitutes “finished,” when I “finished” last night, nothing about it felt good for me.  In fact, I was completely frustrated and stressed throughout the entire effort, from the moment I began to look at the  sketchbook page and trying to imagine the composition on the page, to drawing, to the moment that I threw it aside in frustration.  The whole effort felt like failure to me, and I hated feeling that way.  Before I went to sleep, I remember thinking that I should just get up in the morning, and rip the page out, throw it away, and completely start over.

But after a fitful night of sleep and a little distance from last night’s frustration, sitting quietly in the gentle light of dawn this morning I was better able to reflect on what had transpired, and this yielded some clarity for me.  I am constantly reminded that we only actually fail if we have learned nothing from our “perceived” failures, and I was reminded of this again today!  I think I understand now why it is that this didn’t work for me, and what might have worked better, whether it be art or other tools that I am trying to use to enrich my life.  The key for me is recognizing that there are distinctly different processes that are appropriate to working with where/how I am at any given time, and the key is recognizing what condition I am in, starting from there, and using what works.  Instead, last night I tried to force reality to fit a specified process, rather than the other way around.  The resulting product was a bunch of media forced destructively onto paper, that in no way reflected the way an image had been in my mind earlier in the day, and the more I tried to “fix” it, the farther away from that image it became, and the more upset I became.  Instead, the image that evolved on the paper was me holding up a mirror to myself, and I was stubbornly refusing to see it until this morning.  There was no flow of inspiration; there was only fight, because at the time I did not recognize a very important fundamental truth:  My journey can only begin where I am, and it can only go where I take it.  Force of will of my “thinking” brain cannot alter this fact; resistance is futile! 

So what went so awry?  In contrast to earlier that day, by the time that I began working on this, I was in a high state of pain and serious distress, almost completely horizontal, with physical discomfort that prevented me from even carrying on a conversation.  But rather than start from how I was at the time and modify my process accordingly, I kept trying to forge ahead as if my mind were already relaxed and comfortable, already shifted into creative flow, rather than allowing myself to become calm, quiet my mind and gently allow things to open up and flow naturally.  Instead, I added stress and discomfort through critical thinking, controlling behavior, and placing unrealistic demands on my mind and body.  The result:  the demands of my “thinking” brain did influence the product, but not as intended.  But the journey went exactly where I took it, and where I took it was where I was capable of taking it, given my stubborn insistence on trying to adhere to a process that was entirely unrealistic.  My husband often says, “You just can’t go any faster than the car in front of you,” and he’s quite right.  It just took a while for my brain to realize that it was acting like a road-raging tailgater on a one-lane road behind the rest of me—not exactly a great strategy!

Having said that, I did actually succeed in incorporating holes into this image—in more ways than one.  I managed to dig very deep scratches into the thin paper, especially throughout the hole at the base of the tree that is also the pupil of the eye.  You see, as my “road rage” escalated,  I dug deeper into the paper with the pencils.  And this little drama that played itself out last night reveals the theme of holes, as well.  It showed me “holes” in my own thought processes, and in fact is a real metaphor for experiences that I’ve had in my larger life, as I have fallen into similar holes in other ways, using a similar strategy.  Food for thought! 

And as I look at the picture today, with a clearer head, it’s not as “bad” as it seemed to me last night, shredded paper and all.  In fact, it does show the beginnings of what I envisioned, and if I wanted to, I could probably transfer the existing image to some fresh paper and work from there.  If I want to.  We’ll see.  But no matter how a “new and improved” image might turn out, I think that this one is a keeper after all, because I believe that it has real value just the way it is.  When I think about it, notwithstanding the unrealistic demands of my “thinking” brain, it is clear that I began where I was at the time, that the journey went exactly where I took it based on constraints that I chose, and I learned something valuable from the experience.  For me, no matter how aesthetically pleasing or displeasing the image may seem to me or anyone else, this means to me that the journey was a successful one!

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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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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 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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