Posts Tagged ‘art journal’

Adaptation This very autobiographical piece done in my art journal in mixed media..pen & ink, colored pencil, watercolor, and acrylic.  It was expressed as a wordless journal entry, and I will leave only the image as explanation here.  You are free to interpret this image for yourself;  even those who know me well, have discovered facets of me in it that I didn’t even notice myself at first.  Since I can’t plan to draw anything at all, I didn’t decide anything consciously in creating this image, and am also discovering the messages as they are revealed to me.


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journal page 080610 So much has been happening, and I’ve been happening to so much, as well!   Change and transition and uncertainty and obstacles/threats, and both anger and fear, triggered by the present, but often with fuel from the past, leaves me somedays feeling positively beaten about the head and neck!  But it passes.  That’s the cool thing, and also the not cool thing.  It’s cool, because I know that even in the throes of pain, confusion, anxiety, depression at times, not knowing what exactly to do/how to cope, I also know that I am experiencing this pain right NOW, and the time of suffering will pass, the fog will clear, the mood will lift, and I will emerge from those moments with something more than I had before—more insight, more relief, more control over the experience (not so much restrictive, as experiencing it intentionally, mindfully, as the process unfolds).  I am keenly aware, as I never have been before, of how I have been shaped by experiences that I didn’t even remember, that telling the story of what I learn along the way, including detailed scrutiny of processes at work, both passive and active/proactively, is itself a multitude of lessons.  It gives me insight into how my own thought processes work—very differently from most of the world, I might add, and why it’s always been so difficult for me to fully connect with others effectively. 

The image is of me, approximately in my 20’s, but connected to me is this elephant.  The elephant represents the fact, unbekownst to myself or my family, that I was, since birth, the “elephant-in-the-room” born autistic (Aspergers), with all the cognitive, functional, and medical potential that Aspies are shaped by, even before they are born.  And this little Aspie “elephant” spent the better part of the first two years of her life, being forcefed toxic pollutants while living next door to a coal burning power plant, years before the Clean Air Act even existed, and decades before they managed to effectively enforce restrictions on coal-fueled electricity.  The damage was already done to this autistic girl who already had a compromised immune system to begin with.

I was constantly sick, and had even been hospitalized once in 1963 with severe dehydration.  I got every virus that came my way, and, as my father later reported to a pediatric neurologist in 1971, “allergic to everything.” 

The third major developmental “insult” occurred when I fell from the upper floor fire landing of a local gymnasium, head first onto solid concrete. It was a very bad head injury, 3” skull fracture, intracranial hypertension and secondary brain injury, also referred to as “diffuse axonal injury.”  The secondary injury, caused by swelling and increased pressures on the brain, caused a lot of the connections between nerves to “shear” or tear apart, while at the same time the brain has trying to heal itself and keep me alive.  This went on for so long, that how it healed, and the rewiring to do it, took the hard wiring in my brain another huge step further away from “normal”.  From the outside, one could observe that the swelling and bruising finally went down, I did not die, and about 9 months after I came home, I was able to sit up in bed without head pressure problems. 

But there was not only no understanding whatsoever of Aspergers Syndrome back then, but also doctors had no idea what such an injury might do to a brain that survived such a fall.  No therapies or medications were administered, no tests for functional damage was done, and I, being only 5 years old at the time, had no idea that I had even less in common with neurotypical humans in how I would interact with my world going forward.  I had a strong sense that I was different from other children as early as 3 years old, but I had no idea why, nor any ability to understand the minds of others. 

Bridging the communication gap has been a lifelong struggle for me, both to understand and to be understood.   I want to be able to relate to other people, to connect with them in ways that are valuable and mutually beneficial.   It’s been agonizingly difficult, cumbersome, time consuming, and exhausting for all parties when I am trying to explain, to clarify my thoughts, feelings, overall perspective on a thing, yet know that I have failed, based on the reaction of those on the receiving end.  I fail for a number of reasons. I have gotten quite expert at being able to profile others, to analyze their behaviors, provided that I am not interacting with them at the time, or at least interacting where I have to be concerned about their perception of me.  This became a huge strength for me in my former job, and as it turns out, is a manifestation of one of many savant abilties.  The way that I journal now helps me really give glimpses into my own mind.  While I do my journaling totally for myself (as I do all of my art these days), I’m open to sharing parts that may be  of interest or benefit to others, or where it illuminates where my head and heart were, on some past event that may have gone totally awry. 

It’s interesting to me how varied my self-portraits are—the images are relative to time, heavily symbolic, even iconic at times.  This was done in my cheap standard lined lab-type notebook, in whic the pages are stitched into a cheap cardboard cover, typically imprinted with some sort of marbled effect, in various covers.  My thoughts that day are about my present situation, but the connections to past events…looking back and experiencing the connections more than the details, how I am represented depends upon what I am experiencing as the most important aspects of the connections in that moment.  Here, I am in my early 20’s.  The elephant part of me, has existed and endured the onslaught of many “insults” that have altered my brain to render me something almost other-humanly in how I think and process input from the world.  With the exception of autism, which I was born with, most of it was caused by the decisions by others act or fail to act—some were family, others including teachers, judges, police, school official, and it developed its own momentum after a while, with the blind following the blind, being slapped with labels/definitions that came to be accepted because the path was well worn, and, neuro-typical humans of all ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds, being naturally susceptible to their own attributional and cognitive biases, unique creatures like myself more often will not be able to sustain acceptance when I come up against those biases.  They used to think people like me were schizophrenic, and often spent their whole lives in institutions.  I was kept in one as a child for 2.5 years, records show that I was orderly, compliant, a good student, and remained there only because there was no stable place for me to live who would accept me.  No one.

The filters are a kind of lazy rule-based system that assumes that I should think and act in a certain way because I look like I belong to a certain group, and when I violate the social rules—spoken and unspoken, the belief is that I knew, or should have known about the rule, and that the violated social rule is something that I can and should conform to, without question.   What

I don’t feel invested in the “blame and shame” game, at least when it comes to my own family’s roles in that damage.  I am less forgiving of societal institutions that participated or turned a blind eye, when they could have taken some simple steps to help.  I understand the things that motivated their choices, their biases at the time as society existed.  That does not mean that I am prepared to forgive.  I still feel that I am owed a debt, at a minimum for the many intentional harms (ie., rapes), looking the other way when abuse was staring them in the face and I was complaining of being molested and raped (which they chose not to even report), noticing, documenting irregularities provided them in reports that they never questioned, never investigated, and never told me about, and leaving it for this brain-damaged woman who happened to have certain gifts, to discover from their own records, piece together the connections, and discover the truth, and even then, only after becoming totally disabled by the ravages of all the mistakes and abuses that had accumulated.  No one is willing to take responsibility.  That is wrong.  I am accustomed to that, but that doesn’t mean that it is right to just accept that nothing should be done to right the wrongs that can be righted, and at least recognize these human-made perfect storms. 

Is it any wonder that I feel safer far away from civilization?  Disasters happen in nature, as well, but nature operates by rules, at least, and they may have undesirable outcomes, but at least they make sense.  That is something I can live with.  I can accept death by tsunami, however tragic.  I’m not yet prepared to accept “that’s just the way things are” when the way things are is entirely constructed by humans motivated by personal agendae, that may or may not have anything to do with justice or even equity.  That is my issue.  And if it can happen to me then, and still happens to me now (except that I fight back), it can happen to others, so it’s not just in the past.  I feel a deep sense of personal responsibility to do something before I die to prevent similar harm from befalling others.  I need to become an advocate.

But first, I need to become an effective advocate for myself, and that means going through this right now.  My art enables me to communicate with others, and to get them to be more open through the way I approach presenting the principles, getting acceptance of possible situations like mine, and only then, telling them my story.  It is becoming easier to have dialogues that are more receptive to understanding my perspective, suspending disbelief long enough to consider the reality, and build bridges of understanding. 

I think in pictures, not words.  I learned many languages, trying to discover the key to communicate with others, but it was woefully inadequate.  Now that I can draw, can do art (since almost one year ago for the first time), I am finding ways to bridge the gaps and find opportunities to improve things.  I hope I can live long enough to do something with it that will help others.  Then it will have been worthwhile.

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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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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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Ok, the “art and technique” of it all first.  This was done on 9” x 12” 120 lb cold-pressed watercolor paper in mixed media, with altered image transfer (only the hookah-smoking caterpillar) which I redrew and painted, so little of the original image was left intact, and the rest is entirely my original work.  The tree was sketched and painted on a page of sheet music printed in reverse (intentionally part of the theme), which was collaged on, then further refined with the rest of the composition.  This is the first time I have actually used this textured paper, mainly because I liked working on smooth paper with my other journal pages, but this paper was thicker and I needed something that could hold up to the heavy layers of media that I seem to apply, which had posed some difficulty with my previous pages, trying to put them on sheets of sketch paper (they buckled easily). 

I could stretch them on a frame or paint them on a stretched canvas to stabilize them, but I like to be able to have the pieces be more portable and the framing is too bulky for that.  I like to scan and print them at various stages of progress, too, as viewing the changes is also instructive about changes in my perspective and mental state, and anything much thicker than the painted page gets logistically difficult to manage with scanners & copiers & whatnot.  Media:  acrylic & watercolor paints, graphite, charcoal, soft pastel & colored pencils, lettering & outline in black micron pigma, gel pens in detailing & sig, finished with two coats of Golden Heavy Gloss Gel.  I have a bad habit of painting right up to the edges of the pages (I know, bad idea), and I’m working on that….sort of.  At least I keep promising myself to mask off the edges and stay inside those boundaries, but I’ve never been good at sticking to painting inside the lines, even though I now have to figure out how to put these oversized sheets into a bound journal.  I bought some 12” x 12” cardstock, to which I will mount these pages, then I can make  12” x 12” ring binder to serve for my growing collection of 9” x 12” originals.  Or maybe I’ll just get a scrapbooking journal with drop-in pages to hold them when they are not being displayed for some reason.  Ok, here’s the my art journal page:

Go Ask Alice 8.5 x 11

This is the story of my life , pretty much since I “got pushed through the looking glass” somewhere around 5 years of age (when I fell off a gymnasium head first onto solid concrete and cracked my head), up to, and including the present day.  I’ve been taken down more rabbit holes than I thought could happen in ten people’s lifetimes, and have been led down them by people who were entrusted with my care in one way or another–family, authority figures and, most of all, doctors and related professionals.  The latest and longest one (medical), I discovered on my own, due to a misdiagnosis by a negligent doctor almost 20 years ago, which has caused irreparable damage to my body, personal and professional reputation, and self-esteem.  What he prescribed, based on his misdiagnosis and what was accepted without question by every subsequent doctor, were his original diagnosis (which I have still not gotten hospital to remove from my record as inaccurate), and a long series of MANY drugs that I not only did not need, but I was allergic to each and every one of them.  I shudder to think how many times I probably came close to my own death without knowing it, when I was not doing better, so they just kept INCREASING the dosage, without ever using their professional expertise to actually try to understand if someone along the way might have actually gotten it wrong.  Yes, it is something that could actually have killed me.

While I am damned lucky that it didn’t, I’m struggling with moving past how that has impacted me, now that I know the truth, and what consequences are still ahead of me, not to mention the deep sense of betrayal with the majority of the medical profession.  I have lost count of the litany of surgeries that I have had to endure and the complications and permanent damage from those surgeries, all because someone screwed up a diagnosis, and scores of doctors to follow blindly followed that lead and made tons of wrong assumptions about what it meant.  I am actually the one who figured out what was actually wrong with me, and took action on my own (I stopped taking any of these kinds of medications completely) and declared that such drugs were off-limits for me ever again and that problem is now corrected in terms of taking those drugs.  The rest of it simply can’t be undone, and this journal is me processing those feelings.

The words on the page are a rewrite of the Jefferson Starship song, “White Rabbit,” and someone who knows me really well will understand my reference to the recurring theme in my own life of dealing with “the blind men and the elephant,” and the “deaf man” telling me to take another drug for my head.  Pretty much tells the whole story, and yes, “Alice” is a self-portrait.

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Family Bliss Journal 08.2009 4084x3272.2009 4084x3272

Some treasured memories from my childhood, and fodder for future art journals, since there are no pictures of most of these things, I will have to create them myself!  I was 12 years old in this pic and had just left home.  When my grandmother looked at me with the look she has in this picture, I knew that I was good enough in her eyes.  She was so peaceful!  I miss her!

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Mood Journal 08.2009#3 4981x6847 5112x4088.2009 5112x4088

Another one that I’d been working on recently.  Too easy when things are tough in a family to forget the moments that we’ve enjoyed together.  As I was working on this, my first cousin died tragically, the circumstances of which underline the importance of remembering the goodness that you’ve shared together across generations.  This journal page cheers me up & makes me smile.  the tree in the main image is the pecan tree from my grandmother’s house, which really was literally the family tree for me, as so much of the good parts of my family life as a child took place in the vicinity of this tree.  It reminds me of so many important lessons that I eventually learned as a result of what took place around that tree, though it took decades in some cases for me to get the lesson.

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This is the 4th and final stage of this mood journal series.  Here, I have reached the conclusion that, as always before, I have always found solutions to the toughest problems that I have had to confront, and solution/resolution to the current problem will be found within me, as well.  Rather than looking for answers (illumination/strength) from outside, clearly I have the ability to come up with my own solutions that work for me, and I just need to focus on figuring that out by putting my energy there.

This final installment stands as a reminder to me of my own power to move these seemingly solid hard walls.  Historically, the tougher the problem that I have to solve, the more energized and focused I get, and the more powerful and amazing are the creative solutions that I develop.  While it may appear that I have been cut off at the knees (literally in this picture), and bound to stone structures that haven’t been moved in centuries.  Pretty compelling representation of (seemingly) impossible obstacles.  Yet, it is clear that, despite the current situation, that power comes from within, and all that I need still exists in me.  So now I simply need to gather the information and develop the action plan.  Removing the emotional obstacles (negative perceptions) is key.

I have developed one image that has the 4 stages together, because it helps me to clearly see the progression and transition:

Art Journal

I really like how much more effective this was for me, and I intend to do more.

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In stage 3, I finished developing the majority of my self-portrait:

Mood Journal 08.2009#3 4981x6847 5029x6604

The detailing in the wings and choking poison ivy really builds the sense of the great potential and the severity of the perceived constraints and potential harm without solution.  Of course, it’s not the whole story, because the perception at this stage is clearly one of helplessness without a sense for a way out of the dilemma.  Seeing the image gives me a clear picture of how I am seeing myself at this stage, and enables me to sort of look at myself from the outside, and to think about whether it is realistic, and if there are other ways of seeing my situation.  It’s the most encouraging message that I could get when facing doubt, and by putting irrational fears into an image, it enables me to expel them.  At this point, there was real momentum built around completing the process in the final stage (next post).

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Mood Journal 08.2009#3 5104x6232.2009#3 4981x6847 5104x6232-1

Here’s stage 2:

Here, I decided that what I was feeling was that I had the ability to do really great things and could fly in the figurative sense, at least, and had done so many times in my career and personal life on multiple levels.   But what I was feeling was constrained by various things, and I wasn’t sure what to do about that.  The longer it took for me to get past the things that were getting in my way, the more confined I was feeling, and the more difficult I thought it would be for me to overcome this.  Here are the beginnings of wings and strangling vines (actually poison ivy, which will become more apparent in subsequent stages).  I was pleased with the concept, but these things needed more work.

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