Altered Attic

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Got Junk?

Who has to worry about running out of junk, stuff, rusty parts and curious bits? Not me. This printer's tray was been parked against a wall in the studio for years and then became highly visible after brief stretches of organization. One day last week, I was particularly drained and decided it would be a brain friendly, albeit creative way to spend the afternoon.  I've seen these trays for years with brilliant collections of oddities and I thought it would be time consuming; however, it was frighteningly easy. I didn't have to dig very deep at all to locate more than enough small odds and ends to fill the rectangular/horizontal spaces.

A quality photo would require a different lens, so, after much effort and delay I decided to publish this one anyway, because the point isn't about stunning photography. It has everything to do with an abiding passion for art, my saving grace. Creating daily (with rare exceptions) improves mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health. My stress level has been been magnified recently, which has fueled many hours of anxiety and sadness, feeling overwhelmed and spiraling out into strange, deep space. Not close to my emotional center, my happy place. 

A while back I established an early morning ritual of brewing coffee, putting on my headphones and tucked away in my studio, I begin by considering the endless possibilities for paint, canvas, paper, ink, stuff and more stuff. This habit defines me and helps block my vision of past and future by bringing me back to a known, safe place where I belong, in the present moment; the here and now.

The projects might vary widely but the one thing they have in common is the validation and satisfaction that comes with making something that did not exist before. Filling this tray was easy, fun and a reminder that no matter what the day brings, I can create a physical manifestation of my curiosity, fears, joy and sorrow, underlined by a comforting sense of my truest identity. Amazing. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Flowers Rock!

Sold!! To bidder #21, an artist I don't know but one to whom I'm eternally grateful. Selling a piece is fabulous enough, but, I wonder if I'm the only one who gets an extra thrill when the buyer is a complete stranger... The theme of the event was Floral Freeway (if you can't tell), and the object was to incorporate as many flowers from donated cuff bracelets as possible. 

The event was a charity (silent) auction and the invited guests were a who's who of the regional art scene. I won't pretend that I wasn't nervous, to have my work alongside widely collected artists. It was one of those galas where the hors d' oeuvres were delish, no matter that I had no idea what was in them, and the friendly, popular guy strolling through the crowd with bottles of wine.

On the flip side, I submitted a second piece to Lesley Riley, whose book of illustrated quotes is being expanded for republication by F&W/North Light Books later this year. There were only 30 slots available and she received an overwhelming 230+ pieces of art. No, one of the 30 slots was not filled with my piece. Knowing I had less than a 2% chance didn't ease the sting, but it also didn't slow me down. Not for a minute. In fact, I've painted nearly every day, probably 15-20 hours a week. Rejection is an inherent part of putting your self out there, yet I don't often read much about it in blogland. There was a time when it would have stopped me cold, shut down the muse. That just means I wasn't ready. I doubt anyone welcomes the 'no thanks' but it's inevitable if you think about it, and I believe I'm one submission closer to being accepted.

The fabulous Miz Katie left a comment on my previous post, recommending that I listen to a segment from Artists Helping Artists on Blog Talk Radio. The focus is on finding your signature style, and is an extremely good discussion on a subject about which I've given quite a lot of thought. A statement the artist, Nancy Rhodes Harper, made has really stuck with me. She says you have to put in the hours, do the work, for hours, years even. It's one of those statements that may be patently obvious but heard at the right time, speaks volumes. And it explained my insatiable need to work in the studio (obviously instead of paying attention to my blog), with a relentless, determined, eager - and positive - attitude.  I highly recommend you listen and thanks again Katie!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Can it be?? Really?

Got an anonymous comment (four to be exact) on my last post about how vanilla my title was and that I really should add more content. Then anonymous went on to say I should visit Yahoo (not that yahoo, for sure!), and so on. I love reading those - the bad grammar, broken sentences, what a hoot!

As I've continued to paint faces on a daily basis, I believe I've (finally) turned a corner. After complaining to my husband that they all my faces looked like a variation on the same theme, I realized that's because I've been using the same approach. And, Jim told me I really needed to loosen up before another, truer voice would appear. How true! Instead of starting off with torn bits of pages I'd painted, I went with black gesso, such a stark difference. Then I added color(s) and then scribbled on the background to show some character and hopefully a bit of the black.

Below is the beginning of the painting I posted last week - fairly bizarre - at least to my prior thinking style. But the more scribbly I worked, the more fun I had, and with results that I'm actually pleased with. A month ago I would have looked at the above beginning with horror - you mean, it's OK not to make pretty art (as my good friend Lesley Riley says)??

I'm a long way from where I want to be but so much closer than I was a week ago - if that makes sense. The word journey is defined as: traveling from one place to another. While I've kept the music blaring (headphones are my security blanket) and the coffee brewing, I came to see that this alteration in approach was the only way to get to the next place. And to me there is nothing more alive and exciting than being immersed in truly creative process, not over-thinking, just doing. After all, a bit of paint and an 8x10 canvas from Dick Blick aren't really that expensive. So, I hope you'll agree that I'm learning to loosen up a bit and play!

The anonymous poster also said I should add more content to my posts. Hmmm, I've always thought I had a decent blend of writing and art. Perhaps I'll visit Yahoo...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

50 ways to save a face

Though the frequency of my blog posts suggests otherwise, I've been working in the studio nearly every day for an hour, or three on a good day. I've been painting... faces. Still. I seem to have come up with a 'face' but I don't think I've really broken through the surface. It is truly difficult to really let go, be counterintuitive, dig beneath the rubble of what is and is not good and/or acceptable. But I'm not going to stop. 

I don't know about you, but every so often I see an artist's work and a voice screams up from the depths - I want to paint like that. Of course, copying, imitating never works but it does give me hope. Reason to keep going, to be relentless and never, ever give up. Maybe this process is like evolution... never really fast enough but silent wheels turning.

My studio is adorned by at least 50 face paintings, started after the Misty Mawn workshop late last September, and many influenced by Juliette Crane's fabulous technique classes. I haven't felt the need to show them, to anyone really. Painting is enormously good therapy, a mood stabilizer, a reason to get up extra early. A cup of coffee in hand, music/headphones and a quick washing of the brushes has become zen-like, a meditation on creativity - what at it's core and why it's so crucially critical for me to practice.

I've been painting for the sake of creating, no goals or plans. There are literally stacks - sorted by canvas size, watercolor sheets and, well, the dud pile, which is thankfully small. Each one started with a blank canvas, paint palette and brushes. (Aside from the chalk self-portrait to reflect my awful case of pink eye - the suggestion of my good friend Rachel - thank you very much).

Today I decided to go against the grain, ditch the comfort zone and try for more than variations on a single theme. And, I did a couple of crappy paintings, but then I did the one at the top of this post. And I like her. Parts of the background, technique and the face itself is starting to look different. Not sure where I go from here, but I'll figure it out. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Serendipity & Leading an Altered Life

The Art Every Day icon was on my blog for most of November, which is also when I last posted. It isn't that I did work on art every day, it's just that, well, I'm in workshop mode. Ever since I left Random Arts in September, I've been in a painting frenzy! A two-day workshop with Misty Mawn was a great start but I needed more, wanted to expand my brushes...

I'm currently taking a course called Serendipity, with the lovely and talented Juliette Crane! It's a year-long class with different techniques, supplies and project each month! Highly, highly recommended! I am stuck on September though, wanting to secure a few things, like faces (still!). My daughter told me yesterday that the girls in my paintings aren't smiling and I said happy lips are harder to draw/paint. Last night I drew 30 mouths, thankfully noticing a bit of improvement. I'm going to try to make the deers in the headlights less grim.

I hope all my art pals (and everyone else) is in the Christmas (Hanukkah or Kwanza) spirit by now. I don't know about you but I spend the weeks leading up to the event so busy I don't see anybody! I did cut back on the decorating this year since the arthritis has been kicking my butt for the past couple of months, but I get to choose what I will and won't compromise on. 

There are so many of us living with illnesses, disability, both physical and mental - and spiritual. While it does limit the energy hours I have learned to spend them well. Most of the time! Making art became my therapy several years ago and when I woke up a bit sad this morning, I put my headphones on (loud music) and took a mug of coffee up to the studio at 7:00 am. In a matter of minutes I forgot about moods and irritations, annoyances and the chronic 'sick and tired of feeling sick and tired' and instead, my muse - who is thankfully so good to me - took over.

I'm writing a piece that addresses illness and art and it's for those of us who lead altered lives, use art to replace all that we used to do, much of which has been given up. For me, it's running the business I started with my beloved, Jim, in 1990. He's had a new business partner since the beginning of 2012 and even after eight years, the loss is keen.

Nearing the home stretch in an advanced fiction program in late 2004 (loved those trips to San Fran!), I had to drop it, too tired, cognitive dysfunction and all. And my horse, Sir Richard, (I loved him with all my heart) went too. Art does give me a sense of accomplishment (though I change my medium and style like seasonal wardrobes). And I know that living a true life means being rather than doing, but most people haven't gotten that memo.

So if you are living an altered life, I want to hear from YOU. Really. Please - I need your hard-earned badges of wisdom, frustrations, thoughts that you might not share with those who don't 'get' invisible illness, know what I mean? :)

Hope. Grace. Gratitude. I am thankful for my friends and art pals, you know who you are, with your love and words of encouragement. Most of the time I realize how much there is to be thankful for, to celebrate. 

“I know you can’t live on hope alone, but without hope life isn’t worth living." Sean Penn

As always, blessings and satisfaction to you!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Yay, I'm published!

Good News: Quotes Illustrated, by the fabulous Lesley Riley, has been published! I am very honored to be included in this incredible collection (thanks Lesley), so if you're interested it's on Amazon or you can email me for details.

The Art Every Day icon was on my blog for the second half of November, which is also when I last posted. It isn't that I did work on art every day, it's just that, well, I'm in workshop mode. Ever since I left Random Arts in September, I've been in a painting frenzy! A two-day workshop with Misty Mawn was a great start but I needed more, wanted to expand my brushes...

Stay tuned for more tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Art Every Day Month

November is Art Every Day Month, an event hosted by the fabulous Leah Piken Kolidas. AEDM is designed to encourage daily creativity, which I manage most of the time. I do NOT, however, always or even usually post it, so, here is my first attempt at a dog (hahahahaha, or should I say woof)! 

Check out the site for a list of participants and consider signing up. Leah states that the rules are made to be broken, meaning there's no penalty (self-imposed or otherwise) for not posting daily. And, it's the 6th but that doesn't matter either, glad when an art pal reminded me that it's better late than never.

What's on your table today?

Peace and blessings!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

two heads are better than one

After living with the feeling that I'd gone as far as I could with faces, I discovered the next challenge - color. And texture. Incorporating some of my texturing techniques and creating layers - with varying degrees of visibility - opened a whole new channel in this process. 

I felt a little bored, maybe frustrated when I finished the series of 45 faces (ha, for me that's a huge series), and it worried me. I fretted, during an illness-flare week I stewed, trying to reason my way through the Big R (resistance, thanks Steven Pressfield). I caught phrases running through my head like, "I'm not a real artist, I can only get to point X," and "why am I doing this anyway, there are so many more experienced, far more talented face makers out there..." Not quite fast enough to silence them - yet - but I'll bet anyone reading this knows just what I'm talking about - monkey mind!

Then I saw a post on a friend's Facebook page and read it. Three times. Words by Kurt Vonnegut, who says that creating art makes life more bearable. Hmm, hadn't quite thought of it that way, but by golly, he's right. (Who am I to question Vonnegut after all:).

I quickly decided that the next step would be to incorporate mixed media techniques I so love into this painting venture and, well, see what happens. The above watercolor sheet looks quite a lot like the faces I've been painting but if you look a bit closer, you'll notice mesh in girl #1's face and a bird in girl #2's forehead, along with old book pages and texture/patterned papers (wholey paper, of course, Jane!), and bits from paper napkins for good measure. And I didn't bump the saturation or saturation before posting. I still have to deal with hair and variations on the expression/face but mixing it up a bit released the joy I've become accustomed to when working in the studio, and had been lacking (thankfully not for too long).

Having a chronic illness is so wildly unpredictable - imagine my surprise at finding that I need to spend the better part of 8 days lying down. Surprise doesn't begin to describe the disappointment, resentment and frustration, the sense of being on hold. Again. But, the flip side is having long stretches of time to read, to feed my brain. The web is packed with fabulous articles about creative energy and its sources, the creative process, science, psychology studies, literary book reviews, poetry and there's always a cruise through my favorite social media sites and blogs. Then, when I do have a good day, it's off to the studio I go!

Here are Vonnegut's words, hope they generate positive energy, open creative channels and call to the muse. I am eternally grateful that I am a crazy creative!

Monday, October 28, 2013

30 days and 42 faces later

I had just found my groove... using my photography and writing to create mixed-media pages. Then I went to Random Arts (the coolest place ever) for a painting workshop. Being familiar with paint and loving Saluda seemed like good enough reasons to go. 

Like I said, I hadn't painted a single face before. Ever. I suppose it's logical, then, to return and do nothing in the studio except paint faces. Forty-two to be exact. And I'm still not completely sure why I'm doing it, just trusting that there doesn't have to be a solid reason other than the fact that I'm creating and learning. These are posted in order of occurrence.

I've felt like a beginner since I started making art. Every time a finish a series using one voice, I switch languages (thanks to Lesley Riley for that metaphor!). But this bender has been one of the biggest surprises of all considering that I've never ever been inspired to paint faces before the workshop. 

I've also spent hours examining the compelling, unique and delightful faces being created by far more experienced artists. I suppose the only justification I need to continue is that I do enjoy it, though if I had one I won't quit my day job. So for now, I will just accept that this phase is another dimension of my creative identity and I'll see what's next when I get there.

My faces are evolving and I've experimented with a variety of techniques - collage, black gesso, bright colors, Stabilo pencils... (sure is hard to keep those eyeballs white!). 

But in spite of longing for other art supplies - the rusty metal, lace and cajillion doodads that call from drawers, bins and shelves, I continue to paint pages...

A renewed commitment to posting regularly was also derailed by this endeavor, since I felt like I was doing the same thing over and over and what fun is that in a blog post? But as I photographed a handful of favorites I realized that the geography of the face has been the only constant and there are endless variations on the theme.

Monday, September 16, 2013

About Face

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Artists, however, continue learning and growing until the cows come home. If your ducks are always in row, well, life gets a bit stale. Goofy metaphors aside, I do believe in ditching my creative comfort zone often enough to keep things exciting. And I certainly did just that last weekend! 

The ever-fabulous Jane Powell hosted the Drawn to Paint workshop at Random Arts. You may not think Misty Mawn was the instructor based on my favorite piece (one of the exercises was collage painting - my fave - and I did get a bit carried away), but I do like this guy.

Is there any experience more fulfilling than being in the company of talented, funny women who, being fellow creatives, just get it - very few explanations needed?! Not for me. I do wish I could travel more often but given the chronic illness that wipes me out, and my family, it's just not a reality. 

If you haven't been in the company of Misty Mawn, I'd highly recommend it! (even if, like me, you don't draw, or didn't before the workshop!) She does make it look annoyingly easy, which she more than makes up for with her insight, encouragement and all-round fabulous personality!

I try to do a workshop once a year (one that involves traveling:), and though I haven't been to many I find that they're life changing in many ways. Renewal of the spirit, truly. Especially in this case, when a turned a 2-day workshop into a six-day adventure! I stayed at the lovely Carolina Cottage, a gorgeous retreat tucked away in the woods, far from traffic, noise and reliable cell phone service.

Karen joined me on Saturday, making the trip even more fabulous! We have been best friends for more than forty years, most of those spent living in different states. But, since she now lives in the eastern part of North Carolina, Saluda was conveniently halfway for us both!

So, why am I sharing the work I did? You know how you say, "oh, I can't do that!" Really, stop and think - you know you say that. How often do we give ourselves credit for the vast stores of wisdom and experience we have? So, along with always telling that we got it for such a great price when complimented, the bashful, timid golly gosh is one of those things we just do.

Thing is, when I said that (more than once), I was really serious. I have drawn no more than a dozen doodle faces in my life. Can you say intimidated? So, when she started mushing paint around on the page, highlighting, accenting, saying "just follow the lines, the curves" and producing an angel, I did this gal!

OK, so she's a little wonky. Point is, I stretched in previously unimaginably ways. Along with being able to reproduce what resembles an actual human, I really enjoyed mixing colors, dabbing, blotting, working fast and with no abandon! Bizarre thing is, when I got home and rested for a day, I found myself in the studio... painting faces, which I really did not think would happen!

And if I had a day job I wouldn't quit, but I really am having too much fun!! And I'm sharing because, well, I have gotten such inconceivably positive feedback and I am proud of myself. Really. For taking a risk and being blessed by the incredible atmosphere and energy I brought away from Saluda. Sigh... my home away from home!

I already know that realism isn't going to be my thing, but that's OK. And I'll never be a Misty Mawn, and that's OK too, but I'm having a darned good time being me right now!

Happy Creating!!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Thoughts on Friendship

Invisible Illness (Awareness) Week has begun! In keeping with the theme, another of my choices is to be my best possible self. And that includes reaching out, sharing, caring, helping when I can... all qualities of being a good friend. There's an old saying, to make a friend you first have to be one. True, but. Sometimes those of us with chronic illness get overlooked, passed by as though not being able to able make the party means we don't need to get an invitation. 

The text I used in this piece of art, called Thoughts on Friendship, is an excerpt from a friendship 'manifesto' I wrote several years ago, after experiencing what I call being tossed from the merry-go-round. When life as I knew it ended and, unlike those with visible injuries and acute illnesses (especially cancer - God forbid), the carousel kept right on turning without me. Don't get me wrong, my family has always been really supportive and I do have good friends. But there were a couple of years when, along with being really sick, I felt isolated, lost, alone.  Walking away from my business, my horse, my fiction-writing venture, my social identity, my life, turned out to be far more painful than I'd bargained for; it was, in a word, grief.

We chronics endure repeated, sporadic grief cycles because we mourn the loss but there is no end. Just lots of beginnings, I can now say with gratitude. But before the warm fuzzies there was pain, feeling abandoned, let down, forgotten and it took time and effort to mend those wounds. The (almost) funny thing is, I was taking so much medication that for a few years I did look fairly sick. But in a vague, perpetual sense. Three years ago I scaled back on the prednisone and lost the moon face and extra 50 lbs. and that's when the invisibility factor really hit. Hard. People said things like, "oh, you're back" and "you seem like a completely different person" as I struggled through an evening. There wasn't an obvious reason in the world for the fatigue gnawing its way from the inside out, the cognitive disfunction (brain drain) that settled like London fog, the flu-like feeling that is my last-chance signal to get the hell out of wherever I am and go to bed! I've had lots of practice. I cried, grieved, learned the bits and pieces of acceptance, made lots of art and built a close, fabulous new community of online friends with whom I communicate regularly.   

So now, when I do venture out of my studio wearing my former-sized (healthy) clothes, jewelry and makeup I no longer even think about guilt or apologies. I am fierce. And I'm a better friend now than ever before. And my friends here, the ones who really know me get it, and that's enough, for now. 

Following is the entire piece - I welcome thoughts and comments about attributes I've overlooked, points I may have missed, i.e., YOUR opinion.
Happy Tuesday - hope it's creative and filled with friendship.

Thoughts on Friendship

     When you think of a ‘friend,’ who comes to mind? Someone with whom you can go to a movie or fishing? A neighbor who always has a cup of sugar, the person who sits next to you at church, school or work? Or, a person with whom you can entrust your life, your deepest fears, dreams you’re afraid are too big to come true?

     Friendship can be defined, classified, measured in so many ways. Perhaps the most important element is simply the willingness to be there. To be tuned to the fine strings upon which our friends’ lives are balanced. To reach for part of the burden when there is immeasurable grief or sorrow.  And to multiply the joy of triumph, celebration, good news.

     Authentic friends speak the truth even when it isn’t universal because there is freedom to reveal oneself and an openness to another’s worldview. Friends don’t quit when the air grows heavy with misunderstanding or tension. They work harder to breathe instead. Connecting with a friend at the soul level is sharing the life force that keeps us trudging, skipping, lurching, running toward whatever our destination might be. They are the fuel that sustains our journey. The food that fills our longing, hunger, blindness so that we might walk closer to our true path.

     The world is full of magic. The way leaves swirl in random patterns through the air in fall. In spring when the first evidence of new life comes in the purple and white crocuses urging their way up through matted yellow grass. It is the triumph that comes with achieving a personal goal. A letter or phone call or hug given at the exact moment that it is needed. The fullness of spirit after sharing a meal.
     It is also sick and cold and dark. Bombs, terrorists, pornography, insecurity, accidents, extinction, natural disaster, illness, loneliness. People, material possessions, financial security, peace, health and happiness can come and go so quickly that our lives can be changed in a single moment. What do we do when confronted with the raw instability of life?  When the unthinkable happens, our world is shaken, or compromised? Most of us turn to those whom we love, and who love us back, in spite of our flaws and failures. This is the reality: the only tangible worth of living in this world is the people with whom we fill our lives.

     Without these relationships all of the glory and accomplishment, health and happiness, is poised on a shell that could crack under the slightest pressure. Who are those nearest and dearest to your heart?  Have you invested in them all that they are worth to you? Open your heart, reach out and whether or not you are needed, be there. Breathe each day the fragility and wildness and wonder of life and love.

    Celebrate yourself and your friends. Know that I celebrate you.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

I Choose To

The theme of this year's National Chronic Invisible Illness Week is "I Choose To" and one of my choices is to always be emerging from the cocoon, seeking the new and extraordinary, finding and using wings that had been dormant, not settling for a life spent crawling. Well, not all the time. I wake up and wait to see how I'm going to feel for the day and more often than not it's so-so, meaning, no errands, social events or major chores. So, I choose to go to the studio, put on my headphones and blast my fight songs - Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin, Three Days' Grace, Rolling Stones, Tool, well, you get the idea. And then I gesso a page, prepare for takeoff...

I most always start out with a layer of texture - paper, trim, stuff that will give my page depth. By then I usually have a photograph in mind and I choose a color palette. Hopefully with one or two colors I haven't used recently. That's when I reach high altitude. Paint on the hands, the artist's manicure, messy, whatever you want to call it, is my favorite state of being. Ever. 

Then, progressing to the 'put it all together' in a cohesive way stage takes me into bins, drawers, bags and stashes, exploring and in search of the elements that make my heart sing. Or fly. And after I've glued everything down, I use Pan Pastels to touch the piece with color, make it pop. And when I land I'm sitting in the exact same spot but have traveled through worlds of color, texture, music, depth, insight and love.


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