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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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“I see, said the blind man, when he could not see at all.”

 

horse study #1 5x7 11.13.09 I feel as if I saw a horse for the first time yesterday—I mean really saw what a horse looks like,and they are incredible!  In fact, I feel as if I’ve lived the last 44 years of my life, prior to this past year, as if I’d been blind in so many ways.  During those years, I can count very few, very brief memories of actually experiencing the pleasure of just being, of really connecting with the world around me, in the absence of external or internal judgment or criticism, regret or worry, or the nagging feeling in my gut that something was badly wrong or missing. 

Having struggled most of my life to uncover information that would lead me to some sort of enlightenment about what was wrong, I didn’t have a clue about how I was actually “supposed” to feel.  I just knew that I didn’t feel right.  And the more I learned as I searched for answers, I was afraid that I might not even know what to do with them if I ever did find them.  Experts would  sometimes conclude that whatever was wrong with me was “all in my head”, and those opinions certainly didn’t get me any closer to the answers that I needed, or help me restore a feeling of wholeness and normalcy that was unknown to me. 

Well, I found the answers I was looking for, and what can now be remedied has been or is being remedied, and the rest is with me on this journey for now.  Some of the fallout is physically disabling, and incurable, and I often hear from caring and concerned people that they don’t know how I get through the day, how I don’t feel like giving up, why I’m not bitter, depressed, and so forth. I can say that I did feel a lot of frustration for years, and it was a bit of a shock when I finally discovered what was behind everything. For a short time after discovering the truth, I thought that doctors should have tried harder to figure it out, since they were supposed to be the “experts”, but honestly, I just don’t think that is very realistic, nor does it matter to me any longer.  However I got them, I do have the answers I needed, I’m still alive, and more alive in many ways than I ever was before. 

The thing is that I don’t really see my brain as “damaged” now, even if my body has suffered some setbacks, even if the various growing collection of inflammatory diseases, surgical complications, etc. can be traced back to a very nasty accident that should have killed me before I saw the inside of my first classroom.  The injury healed a long time ago, and just happen to have reprogrammed my brain, but I can hardly call it brain damage, when the “experts” couldn’t have sorted it out with my brain’s help!  That is one of the advantages that I enjoy with this reprogrammed brain.  I prefer to think of it as just different, but it is about as unique in how it functions as a fingerprint, or so I’m told.  In fact, I am blessed to have a brain that gives me significant abilities when it comes to making these kinds of connections, apparently due to massive connectivity & coordination between right and left hemispheres, with amazing abilities to intuitively sense patterns, relationships, and make connections of many kinds, that are not readily apparent to many people, even without particular expertise in those fields. Now that I’m not getting pumped full of intolerable chemicals that interfere with my brain, it does this even better.

I feel no bitterness about the past, what I didn’t have, or don’t have now, I’m not worried about what I won’t have or be able to do in the future.  I’m not afraid of the future, and I’m not miserable about the past. I feel really peaceful right now. Because the thing that I do have now, is what I have been searching for my whole life: to be able to be in this moment, and experience everything that I can experience right now. I LOVE that!  To take all of my living right now, and drink it in, to experience it without judgment or fear, makes me feel more alive than I’ve ever felt before. It’s true that a lot of my body parts don’t work like they used to, and I can’t do all of the things that I used to enjoy doing, but who is 50 and hasn’t experienced that, even if not to the same degree as me right now? Hell, I could have died 100 times from all this stuff, but I didn’t.  Instead, I have lived long enough to be able to experience life fully, and to understand me as a whole self today!  How great is that?!  Things finally make sense, and for the first time in my life, all the experts work with me as a team, and I couldn’t be happier!

And although I can’t do some things that I used to, there are so many new things that I am discovering every day that I can do, that I never dreamed of, like drawing a horse!  This gives me great joy. I can SEE things now, that I could never see before!  And what I see, I can draw, and I see so much more than I ever did before, things that used to be so elusive to me, like what a horse’s eyes actually look like, its muscles, and so many other things that are fantastic and amazing!  I think I first felt the NEED to draw, not in spite of pain, but BECAUSE I was in pain.  Now that I was feeling everything, I needed a way to process things, and integrate it into a more aware ME.  I started drawing for the first time ever in July.  It opened up new ways for me to connect with life around me, to experience it, to see it, and to feel more alive and whole.  Now my mind’s eye can see new things, too, things that spring from my own imagination, many possibilities, and delightful impossibilities!  I can show what is inside of me through images now, and not only with words.  How incredible!   Why wallow in disappointments of the past, when I have this to experience right now?  I don’t need to run away from anything, and I don’t need to desperately search for something to fill a hole in my bucket—I have all that I need right now, experiencing this moment.  I am blessed!

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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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IMG000049 Some days I don’t really have energy to do much of anything, and it affects my creativity and also my positivity to navigate my way through the day’s challenges, whatever they may be. I am posting a list of tips that I will update as I think of/discover additional tips for boosting energy. 

This first list is derived from one that MSN had recently posted via Redbook Magazine, called “12 Surprising Things That Are Making You Tired.”

  • Have I taken a pleasure break lately?  Read jokes, share them with others, flip through a magazine, call a friend, daydream, doodle, waste time, play a game, play a CD while you’re doing routine tasks.  Mini-breaks will make your time more “ho” than “hum.”
  • Have I had my light boost today?—get outside for a 10-minute walk of some kind at least once during the day or when you’re most tired—bright light has a caffeine-like power to make you more alert. Even if it’s cloudy, you get more light exposure than sitting in your studio or office. If getting out isn’t an option, at least try to spend a few minutes in a room with lots of natural light, and if that isn’t possible, use natural spectrum lighting in your workspace.  Some people get the seasonal blues and blas when the days get shorter and they are outdoors less. 
  • Am I Breathing?  breathe from your diaphragm several times each day—when you’re feeling tired or you’re about to go into an energy-draining situation. Put your hand over your belly button. As you inhale, focus on making your stomach and chest move. This will automatically expand your lower lungs so you take in more air with each breath.  The increase in blood oxygen is rapid and the energy boost and relaxation enhancement is significant.
  • Have I Moved Lately?  Doesn’t have to be dramatic to work. At the gym, I had a 5 minute promise to myself to HAVE TO spend only 5 minutes exercising, and if I didn’t feel like doing more,I could stop.  Before I hit 3 minutes, I was always energized and motivate to continue.  The 5-minute rule has changed for me during flare periods, with so many co-morbid illnesses that fight with each other, but even then, I can do what I can to stretch, walk wherever I can, even yawn (with the whole body). Even striding to the bathroom. When I feel better, I try to break up long periods of immobility and concentration on a project with little breaks to keep my body alert. I’ve found that with doing detailed art, intensive research, and concentrating on a project, being in the flow, I lose track of time, but my body feels some effect from long uninterrupted periods without much body movement, and my eyes become strained when I don’t change my focus periodically.  So I try to look off into some sort of distant point about every 30 minutes or so to give those muscles a rest. Feelings of eyestrain can bring the whole body down into a state of fatigue and strain.  If a long involved project has left me with severe eyestrain, I may need to take a break for hours or days and do something else for a while that gives my eyes a little more rest, and come back to it when they feel better. 
  • How is my sleep hygiene?  It is important for me to try to go to sleep as close to the same time each night as possible, and wake up around the same time, to keep sleep cycles stable.  This is less stressful and fatiguing on my body, and enables it to cycle more efficiently. Lack of good restorative sleep is probably my biggest aggravator of uncomfortable physical symptoms and stress, which drains energy, and makes it more difficult for my mind to shift into a creative and relaxed flow.  Flares, for me, are both an indicator and a cause of sleep interference, so when I am having them, it is even more important for me to pay special attention to getting myself to sleep on my schedule the best that I can, and to eliminate anything in my environment that may interfere with that, such as caffeine, worrying about stuff, clean & comfortable sleep atmosphere (clean room, fresh air, humidity, clean air filters, no noise or late night TV), avoid stimulating activities just before bedtime (TV, work, exercise, arguments & other stressful things), wind down period, avoid daytime naps. And make sure to dim the lights leading up to bedtime, to get your brain shifting into the sleep mode (the opposite of “lighten up” above).
  • Am I getting enough water?  By the time you’re feeling thirsty, you are already somewhat dehydrated, and your heart has to pump harder to circulate blood and get oxygen and nutrients to your brain, so your energy drops.  9-12 glasses of water a day, depending on how sedentary you are and the environment.  Fresh fruit and vegetables have very high water content (as much as 90% and more) in an optimal form for absorption by the body, so use these when a bottle of water isn’t within reach.
  • Did I eat a healthy breakfast?  Usually the answer for me is no, but it matters.  Eat a healthy breakfast—make sure there is good quality protein and long-acting complex carbs.  I’m bad on this one, just because I am almost NEVER hungry, and food is hard for me to handle anytime, as eating easily sets off problems for me rather rapidly. Two things that I currently do ok with, is part of a chewy TLC bar by Kashi (my favorite is the Trail Mix bar). Each 140 calorie bar contains 6g protein, 20 grams carbs w/4 g fiber,and 0 trans fat, and the 5g fat comes from nuts & grains.  I used to do well with oatmeal, but the last 2 times I tried that didn’t go well; not sure why.  Probably because I don’t eat often enough.  I can also handle limited quantities of fresh fruit, and protein powder, and I should at least get in a protein shake made with fresh fruit and a scoop of protein powder, to get me going with 20 g protein plus some fiber & carbs.  Raw veggies & raw fish (sushi/sashimi) generally always are ok to my gut, but not exactly the breakfast of choice!
  • How’s my posture? Check my posture and body language—if I’m slouching a lot, energy isn’t flowing properly.  Change positions, straighten up, pay attention to ergonomics in my environment that may be creating chronic stressors and setting me up for some sort of repetitive injuries (i.e., carpel tunnel syndrome) that will drag me down.
  • Get away from noise.  Noisy environments can be draining to cope with.  Bring down the volume when you can on noise.  It’s ok to play stimulating music for exercise, but control what you can of interfering extraneous noise.  I personally enjoy the morning hours, sometimes most of the day, with virtual silence, since my ADHD is managed effectively now, I really cherish the quiet.  Before the ADHD was being managed, I used to work in a really noisy loud environment as it seemed to somewhat dampen the constant noise and clutter in my head.  I don’t know why it worked, but playing bagpipe music at maximum volume on headphones was the only thing that managed to drown out the noise in my head and enable me to focus enough to get through law school papers & exams.  After 49 years of perpetual noise, movement, and chaos, it is almost shocking to a lot of people at how quiet and still I prefer to be a lot of the time.  But it’s so peaceful now, and I don’t like to disturb that precious calm.  When I have to be around much noise for long, I get tired quickly, and look for somewhere quiet to escape to.  I don’t so much find the noise to be distracting now, as irritating.  It’s like screeching chalk across a blackboard for me now, and it feels like a roadblock to my flow.

    If I am trying to do something creative, and having difficulty shifting into flow, the very first thing I have to do is to quiet and still my mind—to bring it down to a state of openness to flow.  If I am having a flare, I have to do exactly the same thing before I can begin to be able to use creative activity to manage pain effectively and get through the flare with the least impact, but I am starting even farther away from a flow state when I am in a flare.  At that time, my entire body is more sensitized to every kind of external stimulation—light, noise, smell, taste, touch—they all increase pain and spasms—so it may be necessary to go to a quieter room, what I might call a “clean room” that is as devoid of harsh sensory stimulation as possible, to get my mind in the right condition to shift into flow and access positive energy.

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So I’m participating in The Sketchbook Project, which means that I will complete an art journal that will be a part of a traveling exhibit before moving to a permanent collection next year.  It’s very exciting, but also a little bit daunting.  I’ve been assigned the theme:  “How to Save the World".”  So I am going to be posting to this blog and updating it with thoughts about my pages, and looking for ideas/inspiration on the theme.  I have thought of a few topic ideas for my pages already, and would do pages around any of these ideas from the list below, that reflect my vision of what we all could do, to save the world:

  • Organize a WORLD COLOR DAY: set up network & internet coverage that can be captured and sent by anyone via camera phones, email, live webcam feeds, and global news organizations.   Anyone in the world who is willing and able should color pages, and people in leadership positions should be obligated to participate, especially political/government leaders:  everyone can choose from a collection of various coloring pages (can be shapes/designs like patterned mandalas or still life pictures, or line art illustrations). Embellishment of the pages is entirely at the user’s discretion.  This enables us to “see” one another through use of color, rather than the color of our skin, hair,etc. It is a common language, regardless of the language that we speak, and does not require special skill or elaborate materials.  Color may be applied with anything from crayons, paint, pencils, to grass, food, soil, makeup.  Anything goes, as long as the paper can hold it.  Coloring is very calming, enhances health, and problem-solving abilities.  It would help the human race, to build bridges through individual expression–without judgment or criticism–and enable people to not be burdened and divided by cultural differences.  
  • Raise children to see differences among people as “interesting,” not bad.  Role models: “walk the walk” 
  • Be mindful that every choice that you make has consequences somewhere, somehow, and/or to someone or something.  Doing nothing is a choice, too.
  • Stand for something that demonstrates the best aspects of your character.  The way you live reveals what it is that you stand for.
  • Forgiving others relieves YOU of the burden of YOUR anger.  Save yourself and the world at the same time.
  • Treat all humans with dignity, respect, and compassion.
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Permit the innocent to speak of harm done to them by others without inflicting a sense of personal shame on them.  However unpleasant it may be to hear about their abuse and pain, they were victims, and the first-hand experience was undoubtedly at least as unpleasant for them.
  • With power comes responsibility—do your very best to take responsibility
  • Challenge negative assumptions about others and ourselves; acting on negative assumptions generally yields negative results
  • Hope is not a strategy—start from where you are, and act according to your ability.
  • Don’t waste or destroy, just because you can.
  • Always question the source and validity of strong feelings of judgment, anger, sweeping generalizations and prejudice.
  • The value of a gift is not measured in quantity or money or scope, but in the true generosity of spirit, purity of intention, and ability to give of oneself

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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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The Family Homestead-stage 1This is the very beginning of a new drawing that I’m working on.  This is probably THE most special and magical and wonderful place for many of my cherished memories, and perhaps for many of my siblings (I have a brother and 4 sisters!), my first cousins, my father, and his brothers, and perhaps even their wives, as well.  I would go so far as to say that the majority of the most blissful memories from my childhood around this place.  That big old pecan tree on the left grew alongside 4 generations of our family, was the hub of our family gatherings, and was a favorite place to spend many an afternoon and evening, breaking bread together, sharing stories, and just experiencing life, each of us as individuals, and also with each other. 

I have long referred to that particular tree as “The Family Tree,” and I have done a lot of images and journaling around the theme of “family tree”.  The life of a tree is a wonderful metaphor for the life of a person or of a family, as there are a so many parallels between them.  Trees can can see all kinds of weather, both rough and beautiful; sometimes they can bend with the wind, and sometimes they break.  Perhaps all that gets broken is a branch or two, and sometimes the storm just rips them apart at the roots.  When trees break, they can cause damage to things that are close to them, and that damage can reach farther sometimes than we can imagine.  They can get diseased, twisted, contorted and distorted, they can be hurt, they can die, and they can be killed.  Something can be happening in one branch of the tree that may not appear outwardly to affect the other branches, but they are all connected, even when those connections are not apparent.  The same roots feed them all, though sometimes inconsistently or differently. 

Trees can make beautiful and delicious fruit, but sometimes fruit falls too soon and fails to ripen, or it rots on the ground, or it evolves into something else, maybe a wonderful concoction in a single delectable meal.  The event of a single meal that may be remembered and cherished for the rest of one’s life, even shared in stories, or it may be viewed as too “ordinary” to be remembered at all.  The fruit from the tree may be carefully preserved and eventually be enjoyed by many generations, and its place in family traditions passed along from one generation to another.  Or, this fruit might just be gathered up by a few sad souls, trying to fill holes in their spiritual buckets by hoarding the fruit, so that it languishes in some overstuffed cupboard, neglected and forgotten beyond that desperate moment of acquisition.  It instead falls rancid, benefiting only a few generations of weevils and a few rodents, and by the time that it is eventually discovered after the sad souls pass on, all that is left are dust, shells, disintegrating cocoons, a few moth skeletons, and trash.  But then, every once in a while, a bit of that fruit may just manage to become a young tree that just maybe—just maybe–might one day become the foundation for a new “family tree”, in some other place and time.   Or a memory of it may become the seed of inspiration for the future.

Look at any family long and hard enough, and you will see bits of these parallels.  But I have to look no further than my own family to see ALL of the parallels, almost to the point of being surreal.  All of the potential of the life of a tree that I have described above happened in the life of the “family tree” of this picture, and in the family that lived pieces or even the bulk of their lives around it.  However much time we passed in there, whether by choice or circumstance, we were family, and we were connected to each other, and whether we realize it or not, even though this tree, and this house, and this family is no longer physically there any longer, and we no longer gather here, and my grandchildren have never seen this place, we are still connected, and my life and their lives continue to be touched by what happened there.  When people and trees and special places like the place above die and disappear physically, only those who are left behind have the potential to tell the stories that enable us to learn about—and from—the histories of our family trees.  When we shut away ourselves and our children from those connections with people, places, and their histories, we deprive them and ourselves of important cumulative experiences and perspectives, and leave future generations without important context, and connections with others that might help to ground and secure them through the storms of their own lives.  Those who have experience with this, and manage to gain insight and wisdom with age, experience, and reflection, realize just how true this is. 

To the extent that I have managed to glean any sliver of wisdom from this whatsoever, it is important to me personally, to not let that fall away from memory.  I have family members who have died, and though now gone, their lives as they lived them had significance.  We are all connected.  Their stories held meaning and lessons for me.  I wish I knew the stories of those who lived and died before my time, but who were, nevertheless, a part of my own family tree.  But in many cases, there is no one left alive who remembers the stories, or they did not share them with those who are still living, or if they did, they have not shared them with me.  But I have stories and I will tell what I know or have been told.  Some of them are about my life and my families’ lives that took place around the family tree, in and around my grandmother’s house (center), the workshop and shed situated to the right, and the surrounding areas just outside the image area above.  I am striving to write and render these images that are my collection of stories, first and foremost for myself.  If you’ve read my blogs here, you know how many ways this is beneficial to me, at every step of the way.  If there is anything in these images and stories that might someday be of benefit to someone else, whether they are a part of my family tree or someone else’s famil tree, well, that is icing on the cake.  If anything from my stories ever proves to be helpful to my children, their children, or their children’s children, or subsequent generations that I will never meet, and who will never meet me, except through my stories, even in the smallest way, that for me will give this effort value beyond the measure of my own brief and fragile mortal existence.

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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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