Life has been so challenging, on every front, and for everyone I know! I have finally managed to clean and organize my studio, and found that health issues plus stress still kept me from making the art I needed to make. The act of creating art is a visceral pull for me – I feel it in every pore, and every ounce of my being, but sometimes the spirit wants more than the body can deliver! My Essential Tremor has been so bad for months, that I can’t believe we have any dishes left, and that I haven’t cut off a finger while cooking. I’ve had 2 more concussions. I’ve burned my arm from the inside and the outside where the plate holds my wrist together. Seriously, it’s been a challenge to get up and dressed some mornings – I know many of you can relate! I decided to go back to acupuncture, switch to all organic foods, really change my diet (and warm my chi), and go outside every day – for a short walk, or a bit of gardening. Or maybe just sit and feel the sun on my face. It has helped remarkably! I began sketching again, and just made up my mind to draw something, no matter how small or how shaky it may be, every day. EVERY day. In one week, I took two online courses, got a piece into a juried exhibit, and sold two pieces of art. This week, I am still exhausted, shaky, anxious, and aggravated, but I pushed through it. In the Essential Tremor community, we have a saying – “Embrace the Shake.” Accept it for what it is, and do what you can – adapt, re-invent, experiment, but don’t quit. March is International Essential Tremor Month, and I have decided to celebrate my degenerative neurological condition with a bang. I enrolled in a 30 portraits in 30 days course (even if it takes me 3 months to complete, I will feel the forward momentum. And it’s a much better momentum than the one I feel falling down the stairs.) I decided to practice some before the class starts, and I sold not one, but two pieces of art, including the first face I have painted in over a year. So, whatever it is that is keeping you from making art, be it a tremor or other physical challenge, fear, a messy workspace, or children running everywhere, just take a deep breath, ground yourself, and embrace your situation so that you can move forward. You’ll be glad you did. And maybe you’ll like yourself more. And be easier to live with!
Recently I posted a comment in an artists’ thread about using projectors to draw. Wow. I had forgotten about the controversy! “Cheating” was never on my mind. In fact many of the masters used a variety of ingenious devices to help them transfer drawings onto canvas. But as someone with a degenerative neurological condition, as well as arthritis, I’m ALWAYS about adapting and evolving so I can continue to create art. But just as I used to remember everyone’s phone numbers before I had a cell phone to do it for me (now I just remember my family’s) I find that by forcing my brain to work on the brain/eye/hand connection, I am doing the best thing I can do to not lose my ability to draw what I see. Otherwise, like with the cell phone, I would soon become dependent on the tool and lose my skill. Is a projector a time saver? Yes, absolutely. In fact there were many workshops where I was the only student who did not use a projector. The underdrawing could take me weeks instead of a day. But the reason I do more loose work now, instead of tight and precise (crystal, or photorealism) is because of my tremor and arthritis. It’s an acceptance and adaptation, and allowing my style to change and evolve as I do. I choose to accept the shakes and squiggles, and occasionally use rulers or pencils if I am needing straight-ish lines. No matter what one chooses to do, skill goes up with practice. Even as my coordination may decline with age and illness, I choose to work slower, with less fixation on the “exact” and more concentration on the love and zen of simply creating. All that being said, if you want to be able to be good at drawing, use your neurons and not a projector. And know that perfection does not have to be your goal. Just make art however you can!
I’ve been spending a lot of time swimming lately, and so happy to have a pool that is 96 degrees to do my laps in, and to occasionally just float around like these lovely manatees:). Growing up in Florida, when it was actually mostly swamp land, gave me a chance to enjoy the water from many different perspectives, including hurricane evacuation, but I still find trying to capture the sunlight and reflective nature of water to be one of my most difficult challenges as an artist. You’d think after all these years of practice, I’d have it nailed, but guess what – every time you paint from nature, IT’S DIFFERENT! The time of day, the clouds, the wind, or even silt stirred up from boat traffic, will affect what you see. And then of course, it’s always difficult to get the wildlife to cooperate. This mother and baby were especially challenging, and also sad, because the mother had been injured by a boat propeller, and we needed to try to keep them nearby until the folks from Marine Wildlife Rescue made it over. Luckily, they both really enjoyed the trickle of water that we had coming out of our hose, so they cooperated and were rescued. Hooray for happy endings! In the meantime, I will keep practicing painting water, and hopefully, the manatees and I will live happily and healthily ever after…
In these days of uncertainty and stress, I find the meditative properties of process are the single most calming influence of my days. Once a thumbnail looks like what I’m after, the drawing and then color palette is chosen. Decisions are made about the lightest, darkest, and midrange areas, and in this particular case, masking is placed over the areas to remain white. After drying, water and some lighter primary colors are painted, and then set aside to dry again. The process repeats as many times as the piece requires, and the concentration required to make the decisions and paint still my mind and nothing else exists. (This is why I need to set alarms when I cook!) When everything is fully dry, I remove the rubber masking and then begin to paint freely, allowing areas to dry in between (because, well, watercolor.) Perhaps it is the printmaker in me, but the order of the process, as well as the element of the unknown surprise lurking beneath the mask, is always a thrill. And sometimes what begins as one painting, ends up as another. Which is fine with me, as long as I have process to center me and I get to make art!
A teacher once told me (yes, Tami Havton, I’m talking about you!) that if
you don’t know where to begin, and keep staring at blank paper, make
a dot in one corner, and VOILA, your paper is no longer blank and scary. What begins as a dot, becomes a doodle, becomes a design, becomes something recognizable. Then it continues. It asks for more here, or more there. It begs for color, different line thicknesses, highlights. It’s always a wonderful feeling of zen, to begin something without knowing where it is going, and just allowing your right brain to take the reins completely. and accept whatever happens. And when you are done, you may or may not end up with something you love, but you will always feel so much calmer. And you may have expressed something you didn’t even know you were feeling, and can finally put a finger on it. I call this small piece “Baggage”, done with ink and watercolors. It was absolutely cathartic!
Apparently, small studios can get out of hand very quickly. Since the alone time at home has been eliminated, it’s definitely a huge motivator to reorganize my room so that I can work. And also, so that I have a room of my own again. To paint. Ok, and to escape reality. But just a little. Looking forward to reclaiming my space, and to also figuring out how to teach my students virtually without my iPad falling to the floor.
Who would have thought that I’d get out of radioactive quarantine and still never leave my own Hotel California because of a global pandemic. I may be missing pizza, vacations, and art workshops, but hey, I get to practice my baking. And also, 24/7 uninterrupted painting time:)
There are many times when the spirit moves you, but the body doesn’t cooperate. Essential Tremor can be a game changer, but it doesn’t have to be a game stopper. Luckily, I have a lot of art books and magazines to catch up on and inspire me for my next project, whatever that may be. On a positive note, I did finally finish this piece! (A Bed of Roses) Enormous kudos to the inventor of the lucite bridge I can rest and steady my hand on, and see through while protecting my work from smudges. Brilliant, and in the nick of time!
Sometimes, when you get on a roll, life wants to interrupt. Just a bitty scar and not the Frankenstein look I was expecting, but radioactive isotopes are not for the faint of heart! Lots of sleeping and reading going on, but there is light on the other side, and looking forward to painting with renewed energy very soon!