I didn’t paint anything in September and for about half of October. I feel like it’s been a longer time than that, though. I think when I’m not painting or writing or creating in some way, time seems to expand. Well, it expands and contracts at the same time: days go on forever and speed by with a whooshing noise (thank you Douglas Adams).
I was depleted for many reasons, and I couldn’t get my creative mojo back. I began to play a caricature of myself. I thought, what if after all these years, I just became a person with no creative goals? What if like most other people, I just existed, lived, and enjoyed the creativity of others? I’d still love the arts, but I could not have goals, I could just take care of myself, see my friends and family, and let all those beautiful troubled goals fly away.
Years ago, when I was in college and writing poetry, I got to meet the poet W. S. Merwin. I asked him how do you know if you’re a poet? At the time (and perhaps through my whole life), I worried I was faking and any insight I had into the arts was a fluke. He said, “Try to quit.” As my life went by, I changed art forms, but I didn’t quit. I had dry spells and blocks, but it’s always been my goal to get back into my creative flow.
This recent plan to quit only held for about 4 weeks. Then I started sketching a little. Then I started watching an open studio presentation by Gwenn Seemel. She’s working on a series on Mental Health in 2 one hour long live sessions per week on a platform called Twith.tv. One session is Monday 7-8 p.m. Eastern Time, the other is Thursday, Noon to 1p.m., ET. She paints live, and those watching can type in comments and questions. It’s fascinating to see how she makes decisions, what she changes in compositions, and what she conveys through her colorful style.
At first, I just watched and commented. Then I started sketching. Then I started painting. By watching Gwenn and seeing her ideas take shape, listening to her talk frankly about mental health during the pandemic and about a wide range of other subjects, I couldn’t not create anymore.
I felt rusty and like I’d lost some of my skills, but I have to say, I’d forgotten what a pleasure painting is. And what a great pain reliever creating is. I don’t notice pain as much while I’m working. And if I am hurting at night, I can re-focus my mind on what I think I should do next with my painting, and it takes my attention away from the pain. It’s still there, but it’s in the background.
Before the pandemic isolated us all, I was looking for some kind of art partner, someone who’d meet with me regularly, share the studio or go to a coffee house with me, and talk about art. Some one to help me stay on track, and to have accountability with. Showing up to watch Gwenn create her incredible art has been a way for me to get a similar kind of structure. And thus a creative practice has started again for me, and I was not able to quit.
I started by sketching moths — sphinx, hawk, and hummingbird moths. I was on the phone on the porch one evening, with a person who talks a lot. When the conversation ended it was dark. I was going inside when I heard the distinct buzzing sound of what I thought was a hummingbird, but it was a huge moth pollinating my moon flowers. It flew from flower to flower, a blur, hovering above each bloom. I tried to photograph it but it was too fast. And then it was gone.
I’ve seen one once again since then, but to identify it I had to get on the internet and look in my Butterfly and Moth identification book. At first I was sketching very carefully, trying to get an accurate, realistic picture of the Carolina Spinx and the Pink Spotted Hawkmoth, the two most likely to be in my area. But I let go after awhile, stopped looking at pictures and used memory and imagination to come up with the painting.
I also started one of my 5×7″ faces for my “It’s Written All Over Your Face,” series. I’m working on small pieces while I watch and listen and talk to Gwenn, because of the space I need to set up the computer on my painting table. (I also work on them when I’m not watching.)
This one didn’t come together as I’d hoped, I thought the colors and didn’t blend well enough, and I thought the stars and comet on the face threw it off balance, so I’ve painted it back to a blank canvas and will start over. This started as just a face, as they usually do, with lots of color, but then it became about the debate on Critical Race Theory, which is so troubling and infuriating.
During Gwenn’s Live Open Studio, we talked about the forgiving nature of acrylic paint. During the conversation I came up with a way of coping better with the need to repaint so much of time: The paint forgives me. And the paint stays there, behind the correction, supporting the change. So layers are now even more important to me. Mistakes are layers, adding to, holding up the final image.
Talking with others who are kind and generous adds so much to my internal conversation.
Lastly, I’m working on a tree on 20×24″ stretched canvas. I’m splashing and twirling around in color. I’m adding in metallic colors and having fun. It’s a tree of exuberance so far. My studio is in my bedroom, so it’s nice to wake up and see that this tree has grown a bit more each day.
When I began blogging, almost 15 years ago, I titled the blog Chronically Inspired, on using the arts to help manage chronic illness, aging and mental health. The blog has gone through many iterations since then. Recently, I thought about changing the the subtitle of my blog to art*stories*disabled life, but changed my mind. Life itself includes disability, mobility aids, mental health problems, mental health support. We’re all broken in some way as we make our way through this confusing and often scary world. But there is love, and there is healing. When we forgive the broken parts and incorporate them into our lives, they give us texture and add unexpected color to our lives.
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