Wednesday, September 21, 2011

DWP Challenge... sort of...

Ever since discovering the Daily Paintworks website and their weekly challenges. I have really wanted to try one. The Zippo Challenge is the one I most wanted to try first. You use only titanium white, ultramarine blue and burnt sienna on your palette and nothing else. To be frank, I had to force myself into my studio. And after only a few brushstrokes, I wiped the entire canvas board clear.

I've been in a horribly depressed state for the past few weeks. 6 months of chronic pain and exhaustion and the return of my mother's cancer? Not exactly what I'd call conducive to happiness and joy. I was wandering about the house aimlessly. My appetite all but vanished. I spent many of my days feeling close to tears. I'd love to say I snapped myself out of it. I'd love to say that prayer and positive thinking is what did it. But I broke down and asked my therapist for anti-depressants. Since my breakdown two years ago, I had been on a variety of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs but was weaned off of them in the spring shortly after my illness began. In retrospect, it probably was not the best timing to come off of them. But I was holding my own until a few weeks ago. The great thing about the medication I'm on now is that it begins to work almost immediately. I've only been on the stuff for two days and I can already feel my spirits lifting.

And they lifted enough for me to begin painting again. I probably should have gone back to the Zippo Challenge but I decided to do something harder. I went for The 10 minute challenge. 10 minutes is not a long time especially when you're caught up in painting. And I knew that it would not be long enough for me to complete anything I'd be happy with. I pulled a lemon out of my fridge, I figured it would be the simplest object, and then modified the time allotment.

The top three versions were done in 20 minutes. It was immediately clear to me that 20 minutes was too long. I felt as if I was able to more leisurely futz with things and make minor corrections. Even though I knew I had extended the time limit too much, I completed the other two anyway. I do feel that I improved what I was able to fit into those 20 minutes.

For the bottom row I decided to shave off 5 minutes from the time allotment. Now, I felt like I was racing the clock. I was surprised how fast those 15 minutes flew by in my first attempt. I felt like I was in an episode of Iron Chef. I was more prepared for my second attempt and managed to fit more in. But, again, the time beeped there were still things unfinished. The last attempt I got too comfortable. I felt like I had the time management down but I actually didn't. I think the bottom middle is the best effort.

I plan on doing more of these so that I can get it down into the 10 minutes. All in all I found this to be an excellent exercise in simplification. I am always bogged down in the details. A great learning experience!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Back to the easel

With my mother safely at home and out of the hospital, I more than felt the need to decompress. I'm still worried as hell for her but I know that it's just way too much medical knowledge floating around in my head. I knew exactly what I needed to force myself to do today. I needed to get back in front of my easel.

When I was a teenager my parents bought me an easel. It's a simple A-frame easel that probably ran them a few hundred dollars back in the 90's. It's a great little easel. To be honest, I have no idea why they bought it. I never painted at home. Ever. But, being the pack rats they are, they never threw the thing away. So now it's over 20 years later and here I am back into painting and here it is in use again! The down side? (Other than the fact that they'll use this as an excuse to hold onto everything)

This type of easel was not designed for small panels and boards. It's meant to hold stretched canvases and not small canvases either. While wandering around many of the blogs I've found on Daily Paintworks, I came across the Altereasel! What a dream come true! Before I was wedging the board between the rims of the easel slots. Push the brush too hard? The board would pop out like a cork. This easel has completely changed all that. I love it, love it, love it!

My father is an avid gardener. He always has been. I was raised on organic produce before anyone knew what the hell that was. These are two giant beefsteak tomatoes straight from his garden. Although, I think he originally intended me to eat them.

These things have been an excellent exercise in squinting. The rubbery skins and red color make discerning value difficult. In the past, I would constantly mix color with my brushes. I'd mix enough for a couple of brush strokes and then have to remix. It didn't seem to matter much when I was a kid, but it seems like a waste of effort now. So this time, since I knew the predominant color of this painting, I mixed my colors in four values. It took a lot of testing before I got the hues to my liking. In fact, I painted the whole damned tomatoes four times. I am so proud of myself for wiping away this painting as many times as I have.

It's something valuable I learned in my recent art class... you can wipe it away. So that's what I kept doing. I drew in the tomatoes and I didn't like how high they were on the panel. I wiped it away. I redrew them but something wasn't right about the left tomato. I wiped it away. I redrew the left one, something was wrong again on the right. I wiped the whole thing and started again. I mixed up 4 colors, a dark, a light and two mid-tones. I painted the two tomatoes with it. I really liked the red color. I thought they looked beautiful and red and something was wrong. The red was too cool. I stared good and hard at them. I realized, I was trying to paint what I knew. I knew the color on my palette was red and tomatoes are red. Right? Wrong. I took a good solid look at the mid-tones and realized these tomatoes are slightly under ripe. They're leaning more towards orange and yellow and even a green tinge in some spots. It took three remixes of my colors until I got this result. I think the color is spot on now. There is still much to be done with this painting and I wouldn't consider it done yet. But I am very very happy with it so far!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Frying pan. Fire.

My Mom's not doing so great. Another setback, she's developed clots in her lungs. They've got her back in hospital and on blood thinners. I don't think I've been so scared.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I'm taking a break from just about everything now that Mom's gotten sick. She's home and recovering from surgery. She's picked up a bit of a head cold and I'm trying not to let her or my father even know how much that terrifies me or how dangerous it is.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Last Class

Even though I didn't get any sleep last night, I decided to go to my art class. It was the last class with the model posing. After ever single class with the model, I was amazed at how different it is painting with her instead of my reference photos. I know that I've been taking poor photographs but you never really realize just how bad they are until you're back in front of the live person.

There are still quite a few subtle problems. There's something wrong with the eye that I can't quite make out. There's also some problems in the mouth area. Unfortunately I don't really know what's wrong all I know is that something is wrong. I'm very happy with the painting from the neck down though. The dress is wonderful. The shadowed flesh of the back is also wonderful. I hadn't put the small shadow that fell between the shoulder blades before and she was starting to look humpbacked. The addition of that small shadow has made her appear slimmer. I'm also very happy with the hair as well. My teacher was pointing out that something was wrong with the ear's tone but, actually, I don't really see anything really wrong with it. I don't want it to really stand out.

My teacher was pointing out my lack of color in my mid-tones and my over usage of brown in the shadows without enriching the flesh tone that was making the painting appear not really dull and lifeless. I spent a lot of time correcting the flesh tones and enriching the shadows. The eye was giving me a great deal of trouble. She almost looks startled now.

I'm not sure whether or not I'll continue with it or not. I guess it depends on how well I can get the reference photos to come up on my laptop. One of the websites I've been reading mentioned that they always paint from a monitor when they use digital reference photos. And the explanation was very valid. Printing it is sort of like making a copy of a copy. You're becoming even one more degree removed from the best subject which is life. So instead of printing my reference photos I'm going to start dragging my laptop into my studio. If the photos work out well, I may continue with the minor corrections.

Tomorrow, I also plan on cleaning and organizing my studio. Again, a website I read said that a cluttered and chaotic space is not conducive to creativity. And of course, it seems very obvious, and it's very correct. I really want to organize it better and get rid of some things that don't belong there. I also have a decent sized collection of bottles and other still life subjects. They need to be put into one spot together. Right now they're all over the place. I also think I need to rearrange the studio so that I can more easily step back from my easel and so that I'm standing far enough away from my subject so that the lighting for my canvas and palette isn't interfering the subject's lighting. It's a very small room though so I'm not sure how much wiggle room I'll have.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Safe and sound

I didn't really sleep Saturday night. The rain and the wind was so loud I have no idea how my husband slept through it. It sound like a herd of elephants were river dancing on our roof. As if that wasn't bad enough there was this pervasive constant roar of the wind. I fell asleep around 5:30 when the rain finally died down enough to make it quieter. In my latest insomnia news, I have a feeling that what doctors have been telling me about caffeine is right. Ever since I stopped working my intake of caffeine has decreased a great deal. And on the weeks when I'm consuming literally zero coffee, I'm actually sleeping better. Well, not really sleeping better. I'm waking up better. I wake up far less groggy. I'm very not happy about that. I do love my coffee in the morning. Actually I just love coffee.

One of our neighbor's trees fell down about 3 houses down the street. That seemed to be the only major damage I could see from the yard. I'm sure other trees came down but Chris and I didn't really drive around looking at the damage. Most of what was littered everywhere was leaves and small branches. All in all, not bad.

The only real inconvenience was the loss of electricity. It went out around 5AM and didn't come back on until 10PM. Again, not really all that bad. There are quite a few people, like Chris's friend Steve, who don't have power and the power company doesn't expect them to have it back on until Friday or later.

I still haven't done any painting. I am in the middle of creating some shadow boxes so I can control the light on my still lives better. Basically I've spray painted the inside of some cardboard boxes black. I'm really trying to minimize the amount of light bouncing around. I need to do more web searching to see if there are some other ideas I can use.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Down with the Oak

In preparation for Hurricane Irene, Chris and I decided to bite the bullet and take down a diseased tree in our yard sooner than we anticipated. We have no idea where we're going to get the money for it but we figured it was better than leaving the tree up and having it come down on our kitchen or our neighbor's house. Although it coming down on our house probably wouldn't be so bad, I'd get a new kitchen :)

They were here at 6AM to take down most of the branches and that's 2 hours earlier than they usually start. They left a good portion of the trunk in place and then they had to go off to do another job. I really do appreciate the fitting this job in the way they are. I feel bad for the noise so early in the morning but, well, it's got to come down now. The left pretty early but they're back now to remove the rest of the trunk and grind down the stump.

I set up a lovely still life today with a red onion and a coffee glass. I don't think I'm going to paint it though because I love the composition and I really wanted it to be on a larger board and right now all I have are 5x5's. I'd really rather it be on a 6x6 at the smallest or even better an 8x8 but I just don't have those on hand right now. I have cheap crappy canvas boards but I want this one to go onto something better.

Friday, August 26, 2011

After many mistakes...

1) The color of the mug is spot on. I'd like to say it took a deep understanding of color to nail it just right but it's just caput mortem straight out of the tube. I experimented with some different color mixtures but nothing was coming close and when I mixed the caput mortem with some quinacridone red mixed in.
2) I love the way the rim came out.
3) The background color was a good choice. I like taking colors straight out of the tube and using them in the background because it isn't often that you get to use a color straight out of the tube and I do love naples yellow.

1) It's crooked. I'm not sure how it's crooked or what's making it seem crooked but it is.
2) The highlights on the handle were very difficult and they still don't seem right to me but I'm not sure why.

Changing the value of a color doesn't always mean adding white. I started painting the mug's mid-tones with the caput mortem mixed in with white and it looked so wrong. I mean like really wrong. That was when I discovered that mixing the quinacridone red made the value of the caput mortem lighter. The color of this mug was extremely difficult. The darkness of the color just made it very difficult to see the values in the mug. I also had a lot of difficulty reproducing the lighter mid-tones. I've also realized that I need to control the light in my studio better. I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to do that but I have to do it. It's making things way harder for me than they need to be. All of the bouncing light is really making some things way more confusing than they need to be.

Mug #2

Technically this is mug painting #3. But I have fallen in love with the gessoboards to the point that I am going to redo the first mug in the series on a board; hence the renumbering.

I'm not going to go through my normal pro/con/lesson process right now as this is still a work in progress and may have to span a few days. I'm not going for super realistic here. I do want to keep it very very loose but the emblem in the middle is causing me serious headaches. My initial rough draw in was very very wrong. Even though I went over that initial sketch, it seems to still be in my head. And despite the fact that it's NOT on the board, I'm still painting like it is. So I think I may need to step away from this for a few minutes and clear my mind... after I go back into my studio and wipe off the emblem which is so crooked it's hurting my brain.

EDIT: Well after wiping out and redoing the emblem four times, I finally gave up. I am going to include the emblem but I'm going to wait for the painting to dry and redo it again. The emblem doesn't have a lot of contrast with the board so I'm having to paint in the mug color to really check to see if it's right which is a lot of work to keep removing and redoing. Plus I'm fighting against the wet edges as well. Letting it dry will remove some of the other challenges and will let me focus on getting the damned thing drawn in properly. I managed to get in the darks, the midtones and the lights painted onto the mug. There is a lot of reflective light and other reflections going on.

EDIT 2: Fiddled with the painting again. Ended up wiping out the handle... twice.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Next to last class

I knew the great night of sleep I got on Sunday night would come back to haunt me. I didn't fall asleep last night until around 6:30 in the morning. I did manage to drag myself out of bed around 9 and get to my art class. I thought it was going to be the last class and since I missed last week's class, I was worried about time constraints. Turns out that the model was out also and they had someone else so I actually didn't miss anything. And it turns out we're going to get one more week to make up for it which works out even better.

I tried to work on the painting from a picture I had taken with my phone but the camera on my phone isn't all that great so the picture was useless for any fine detail. It was good enough to block in some of the values, get a decent approximation of the skin tone and correct some drawing errors. I should have taken a picture of that stage but I completely forgot.

It all worked out so much better when I got back in front of the live model. The studio had the air turned up a little too high and she was cold so this time she put her sweater around her arms and it looked really nice so I decided to include it. I'm also happy that this painting is starting to move away from looking like a police sketch drawing and beginning to look like an actual individual. In the past my portraits tend to get stuck in that generic sort of stage. Yes they look like a human. Yes you can tell if it's male or female. But it looks like a person you saw out of the corner of your eye. It has no characteristics of the individual. I really need to get my teacher's advice on how to get farther away from that police sketch stage.

There is still a lot of fine tuning to do. I hope the pictures I got come out okay because this is not something that I'll be satisfied with after only one more session with the model. There are just too many little things all over the place that need to be adjusted.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mug Series #2

Despite the leg pain, I decided to go ahead with my painting today. I didn't really know how standing would work but, surprisingly, I was able to handle it. I don't even really seem to be experiencing any fallout from it either. I think it may have helped my back pain a little.

Chris bought me this mug a few years ago. Back when we lived in Ithaca, there was this amazing shop downtown that sold all sorts of handmade unique items. Some of it was created by local artisans and craftspeople but some of it was imported from all across the country. These mugs with little animals on the bottom were some of my favorite items. I've only drank out of this thing once. And I cannot tell you how much it made me smile when I got 3/4 of the way down and I had frog eyes staring back up at me. I'd use it more often but the figure on the bottom means you can't stir anything in the mug.

1) I love the way the little frog in the middle came out. I obviously wanted it to be the focal point and I managed to paint it as the focal point.
2) This is the best drawn painting I've done so far.
3) I was able to stop and not overwork it. I really want to loosen up my painting style and I think I managed to do that here.

1) The dots are on the mug and I was hesitant to include them in the painting. Without them, the mug looked very stark to me and uninteresting. But I'm not sure I like the mug with them either.
2) No matter how much I seemed to fiddle with it, the shadow under the mug's handle never really looked right. And it still looks a little off to me and I'm not really sure why.
3) The last mug painting was a white mug also and it came out more looking like a cream colored mug. And while I think you can definitely tell that this is a white mug, I still found the white challenging. Creating the proper value in the lighter areas was difficult. I was always thinking they were too light but when I darkened them, the mug started to look like it was grey. But when I left the values light, highlights didn't contrast well.

I'm going to be standing up from now on. It doesn't seem to hurt my legs and I actually stepped back from this painting a good half a dozen times. I will probably have to get something taller to put my palette on though. The snack tray I have it on now is too low.
This was my first time using an Ampersand Gessoboard. I had read about other people using them on various blogs and I really wanted to give them a try. I love the smooth surface. I feel like the brush strokes are really standing out rather than being obscured by the weave of the canvas, though that could be the produce of my using really cheap canvas boards. The smooth surface does have its drawbacks. I am one of those painters who will brush over an area again and again. I know you're not supposed to because you'll end up removing paint. This surface is not forgiving of that. It is extremely easy to remove paint from the surface with too much brushwork especially if you are stingy with paint. Both of those are things I need to work on and since this surface doesn't give me a way around it, I think I'll continue to use them.

BIG Triumph!

A full night of sleep with minimal problems falling asleep and I didn't wake up once in the night. It's like a small miracle. I honestly don't think I could be happier right now. I'm not even bummed about the pain in my legs today.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Small Victory

I managed to fall asleep at around 1:30 in the morning for about an hour and a half. It was one of those short stints of sleep where you wake up and haven't even realized that you've been asleep. Of course that didn't stop me from be up ever since. But hell I fell asleep! I mean, at a normal hour. Okay I wasn't asleep long but it's something!

After I finish this I'm going to try sleeping again for a little while. I have to be at my parent's house for dinner today. Dad's really worried about Mom and as usual he's in hyper-control freak mode. Like Mom's lung is going to grow more cancer if he's not at her side. I should back up. More than 10 years ago my mother had breast cancer. I was just a teenager at the time so I pretty much ignored it. She got better and the doctors have watched her closely ever since and this year they found something.

It's hard to get an accurate picture from my parents. Don't get me wrong. I love them. Really. It's just that my mother isn't exactly what you'd call the sharpest knife in the drawer. She sort of wanders through life with her head in the clouds or jammed into the sand. She has two states of mind. Either she's oblivious or she's ignoring something. Medical jargon isn't exactly something she even attempts to figure out. To make matters worse, my father doesn't pay attention to really what the doctors are saying. He's all into hidden meanings my father... how was it said... in what tone of voice... why this word was placed by this one. In fact, since they've found this spot on my Mom's lung, all my Dad keeps asking me is "What do you think he really means by he's taking a subtle approach?" And all my Mom can keep asking me is what the word "subtle" means and why isn't it spelled the way it sounds. I'm in the dark and have no idea what's going on because nothing that comes out of their mouths makes any sense.

Which reminds me I have to warn my husband about the whole "subtle" thing because they'll be bothering him about that too.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mug Series

As usual I was unable to sleep last night. I'm positive that my schedule has become "delayed" as the moronic sleep specialists like to call it. Before Chris left on his little trip, I was well on my way to fixing it. I was falling asleep at an hour that was decent (for me anyway) and waking up pretty much at the same time every day and it went on like this for about two weeks. Even though I was getting a good 6 hours of sleep a night, it was sleep at a time when my body didn't want it. So I'd roll myself out of bed at 8 or 9. Every muscle in my back tense and stiff. My legs, arms and shoulders screaming with shooting and stabbing pains. Of course, I'd also feel like I'd gotten absolutely no sleep at all. My forehead usually was pounding and I was totally nauseated. I'd drag myself around for most of the day feeling like I had some horrible combination of the flu and food poisoning. If I'd been able to keep it up for a month, it would have started to get better. But then my husband went on one of his helicopter hobby trips. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't have cared. But I knew that him leaving would send me into an emotional tail spin. Not to mention the fact that I can barely dress myself let alone do any sort of household chore. I knew it would be a complete and utter disaster and it was. I was appalled that he'd leave me alone in my state for so long. I can manage two days or while he's at work... but 5? I thought he was acting selfish and inconsiderate and let him know it. My only consolation is that his little 5 day excursion was about as horrible as mine. He decided to drive and was stuck in the car for 13 hours with people he wasn't exactly thrilled about. Plus weather problems at the event itself. I tried to be sympathetic when he got back but he could tell I was faking it.

So anyway, around 5:30 in the morning I gave up on attempting to sleep. I wandered into my little make-shift studio, laid out my paints and started this painting. I have a bunch of mugs and I may do a whole series of them.

1) I feel I really got the reflections made by the fabric well.
2) The negative space the handle is forming is actually damned near perfect to the model.
3) I managed to place the mug correctly on the canvas. It's exactly where I wanted it.

1) I wish I could have captured the fabric the mug was sitting on better. It's a beautiful quarter yard from my quilting collection. I deliberately simplified it down to a simple stripe because I really wanted the reflection practice.
2) Despite a few measurements, the actual mug is shorter and wider than this mug. Even though I measured the mug's width and height, I still wasn't able to capture the squat look of the original mug.
3) Also the actual mug is white and you'd think this was painted from more of a cream colored subject.
4) The mug's still has some minor drawing issues. The mug itself is not symmetrical which is making it appear taller on the right than the left. The correct left edge is not matching up with the incorrect right edge. The rim is also not symmetrical.

Buy better god damned paint. When I made my charge back into oil painting, I did what many beginners do. I cheaped out. I bought student grade paints and brushes and I've been regretting that decision ever since. Cheap brushes are generally the first thing to break down so those have long since been placed. The paint tubes last longer though. I have slowly been replacing them with higher quality paints but some of those tubes are lasting way longer than I thought they would. As usual I need to step backwards more often. I probably really need to start standing up when I paint.

I laid out the painting flat to dry and set up what I'm going to be diving into tomorrow if I'm able to. I really need to organize my studio area. Right now it's serving a dual purpose as cat corral and art studio. My oldest cat, Hannah, had something of a breakdown last year around Thanksgiving and we have kept her separated from the other cats ever since. She is terrified of all the other cats in the house (to the point of spontaneous urination and defecation at the sight of them) and doesn't want to emerge from that room. Behavior therapy and finally medication have not helped her so in her little room she stays. It is getting rather cluttered with items that really should be in other parts of the house.

On to still life

I want to try to set up a nice little single item still life. I had set up a wine bottle. I like to take the labels off so I have naked glass but this bottle's label was quite stubborn. When I took it out of the dishwasher, the label was ripped in a few spots. It looked so good I left it like that. I had set that one up first but then I decided I wanted something smaller and easier. I went with a white mug my Mom got me from starbucks while she was in Las Vegas. i toned the canvases for it tonight. Well they're not canvases they're canvas panels I got on sale at Michaels. I tried to improve the painting surface with some gesso. Actually I may break into one of those gessoboards now that I'm thinking of it. Maybe one of my cool mugs. There was a mug challenge on DPW (Daily paintworks).

That's my plan for tomorrow. PAINT! I'm sick of working on these long term paintings. I really want to try to just crank one out. It must be doable. I see all these other people do it.

Of course I'm up at this ungodly hour because I can't sleep. Which is why I toned the canvases tonight since I wasn't doing anything else but reading some teen novel series. Yes, I'm 33 and I occasionally read YA fiction. My friend MaryBeth introduced me to the whole Percy Jackson series. Oddly enough it's not the storylines or the great quests or adventures that I'm loving. It's how the greek gods have evolved to fit the times. Hermes carries around an electronic signature pad when he delivers packages. He has a cell phone. Apollo pulls the sun across the sky in a bright red Maserati. Ares rides a harley. And you'll find Hephaestus tinkering under the hood of a car in a mechanic's jumpsuit with his name embroidered on it. They have Hephaestus TV, all reality shows all the time! See, that's the shit that makes me giggle.

And I need a good giggle. It's been better since Chris has been back. I'm not as anxious about random bumps and noises in the house. Not that I think Chris is a good protector. An excellent provider yes. A protector? Sorry ladies, when you marry a nerd, trust me, you're going to want to be the one holding the bat and checking out the noise in the middle of the night. Oh i have no doubt in a real danger, Chris would have no second thought about putting himself between me and a mugger's gun. He wouldn't do anything so stupid as to try to save the situation and that I love him for. A knight in shining armor can still turn into a dead knight in shining armor.

Forgive any typoes. I don't have my glasses on.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Signed Cherries!

The cherries finally dried and I was able to paint in the stems. Something is still bothering me about the damned thing and I can't figure out what it is. I admit that I'm the type of person who will continually futz with a painting but there's something more than that about this one. I mean it's usually the little things I tend to screw around with ad nauseum. There's something larger here and I think it's compositional.

Ah well, it's heading off to my parent's house after it's dry anyway. That way I won't have to look at it very often and it won't have to bother me.

I really do like still life. You can control the composition. You can control the light to some extent. I'll probably do more still life. When I was a kid, I used to paint on large canvases. In fact, the bigger the better. But I'm finding a lot of these smaller canvases are so much nicer. The less surface area is really nice. I have some gessoboard I really want to experiment with.

As usual, I can't sleep. I'm not quite sure why I'm so frazzled lately. I fell asleep for about 4 hours this (technically yesterday) morning (8AM to noon). The night before that it was from 4AM until about 10. The night before that, I got no sleep at all. I'm not really sure how to approach it anymore. I mostly spend the night trying to fall asleep about every hour with other activities in between. I got into bed around 11. Laid in bed with my eyes shut not falling asleep until about 1:30. Read for about an hour. Tried again to sleep around 2:30 until about near 4. Got up, painted my cherry stems. And here I still am.

And as usual I walked around dragging myself all day, barely able to keep my eyes open. Except for when I actually got into bed. Then my eyes snapped right open and I was wide awake. Probably could have run a damned marathon.

I can't wait until tonight. When I get to repeat this happy process.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This brain runs on fumes...

While some things may be changing about my illness, somethings remain the same. And it always turns out that sleep deprivation always makes the pain worse. Without a doubt, if I have not slept, I will be in pain during the coming day regardless of anything else. It's the one thing I can absolutely count on. Two sleepless nights in under 7 days. I'd like to say that's a record for me but it isn't. At one point a few years ago I was falling asleep only every other day, but it's certainly my worst sleep stretch in at least two years. I guess I'll try to chalk it up to left over pms and a traveling husband insanity.

But as usual when I see the sun come up, I desperately try not to fall asleep until it goes back down again. When trying to pull an all nighter as an adult, I never intend to fall asleep. It's an accident or a weakening of the will. I rest my head back on the couch and close my eyes for a second or I tell myself I'll just lay down for a few hours and before I know it? 8 or 9 hours have gone by. So today has been a steady stream of working through my pain and exhaustion, while doing my best to keep my eyes wide open and not accidentally fall asleep.

Paint. The first order of business. I was supposed to go to art class this morning but an all nighter means absolutely NO driving. I've fallen asleep at the wheel before. There's usually no warning and it's so lightning fast you never notice. One second your car is in the left lane. The next? It's on the grassy shoulder and to your own utter horror you have no memory of the time in between. And it can happen even on that 5 minute trip around the corner. I think that any driver who even risks it is absolutely friggin' completely insane.

So I started filling in cherries this morning at around 10AM. I am waiting for them to dry so I can fill in the stems. I don't know quite what I want to do about stems yet. I suppose I'll also have to adjust some of the shadows to match the stems however I decide to draw them in. It's going to be an artistic license thing because I don't like the way the stems appear on the actual still life. I'm only working from a poor picture now.

I really do love the way it's turning out. There's just something about the composition I cannot wrap my brain around. Maybe it's how one sided it is. Like the pitcher and the cherries are just off on one side and then there's this big chunk of empty blue cloth on the left side. It might just be my eye that's drawn to it. I find that when you become more familiar with a painting, you only see the flaws that are glaring to you and not to anyone else. Maybe I should turn the thing upside down or on its side or something. I don't know really how to become "unfamiliar" with it. And I don't know how to figure out exactly what it is that's bothering me. Last class, I may bring it back to the teacher to figure out what it is. I appreciate her encouragement. But I really hope she can tell me what it is that may be off.

No painting done

Haven't managed to fiddle with any of my paintings the way I planned. A day of pain filled legs had me firmly glued to the couch.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Feeling so much better today

Since my husband has been away at his radio controlled helicopter adventure, I have been feeling pretty miserable. Don't get me wrong, I miss him but I'm not really feeling all that lonely. I've mostly been feeling vulnerable and filled to the brim with anxiety. It's relaxed a little now and my spirits have raised. For a few days there, I was feeling really miserable and depressed. The insomnia is still bad as ever. After not sleeping all Thursday night, I finally did fall asleep at around 3AM last night. But I'm still awake now but it's not causing me any worries. I may only try to catch a catnap for this unit of sleep.

I think that what has raised my spirits the most has been the relative pain-free existence I've had for the past 24 hours. I'm still quite weak and have very little stamina but I think that this coming week I may try to build back into my normal household routine. I tried it this past week with poor results.

I fiddled with the cherry and pitcher still life painting a little more. I didn't feel the need to take or post a picture since all I did was futz with the left edge of that pitcher. It looks way better now but the change is so subtle I doubt it would show up on a picture. Unfortunately, that edge is STILL bothering me. I found it very useful to turn the painting on its side. A good lesson was learned there. Just because it's going to be viewed right side up doesn't mean you have to paint it that way. I found it much easier to see the flaws in the two edges once I turned it on its side with the offending edge on the bottom. I'm now starting to think that a small waver in the right edge is actually what may be causing me to feel the left edge is so wrong. I'm going to correct that tomorrow.

I am also planning on diving into the cherries tomorrow. I'm trying to figure out exactly how I want to do the cherries. I think there's going to be a lot of creative license here where it comes to color and I think it could make or break the composition which I already think is a little flawed. I pondered moving the cherries around and changing them by printing out the cherries and just tacking them up onto the painting and I can't seem to find a composition I'm happy with. I think I should have placed the whole composition more to the left of the canvas. That way I could have used the cherries as a way to lead the eye into the bowl and pitcher. I suppose I could paint over the whole damned thing and start again but I think I need to just let it go and keep it as a reminder to plan better in the future.

I was thinking of fiddling with the portrait painting as well but I think I want to keep the pressure of having the painting done only in class. It's good to have a time limit. I really want to set up a nice simple still life at home but I don't really have any idea how to properly control the lighting. I'll ask my teacher next class if she can give me any suggestions about that.

Friday, August 12, 2011

48 hours

At this point I've been awake for 48 hours. I'm being painfully reminded of two years ago when I could only manage to fall asleep on my couch in the living room and only after the sun had finally risen. At one point, I had gone 60 hours without sleep. I remember laying on my couch like a zombie, watching late night television. I fought sleep every single time I felt it creep up on me.

I remember how it felt; how my body had screeched with adrenaline every time I felt my eyes shut; and how my heart raced with terror, jolting me awake. I remember crying hour after hour wanting nothing but to fall asleep for a little while but feeling nothing but cold sweats and clammy hands every time I felt myself drifting off.

Two years and I'm right back where I was.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

More insomnia

I sat around today. Didn't actually do anything particularly constructive or useful. It was nice actually and I find it odd how some days, even in my long passed months of illness and inactivity, I can still find it nice to have a day of just sitting about doing nothing and not worrying about anything. Not really true, I worried about a lot of things.

I think it's in a woman's nature to worry. I've met quite a few carefree men in my life, but I don't think I've ever met a woman with the same amount of carefree attitude. Maybe men hide it better?

When my panic attacks started over two years ago, what frustrated me the most about them is I had no idea what on earth caused them. I'm always so obsessive about my own behavior, turning things over in my head again and again until I can get to the root of why I've done something. These jolts of panic and anxiety seemingly came out of nowhere. Yes, they started after a major change in my life. But there was something deeper. There was a larger reason why that devastating disappointment manifested itself like this. And I couldn't put my finger on it. I still can't. I only see pieces of the puzzle. It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle when you don't have all the pieces and no idea what the damned thing look like to begin with.

It all circles itself back to death. It's what my panic and anxiety centers on. Who isn't nervous at the thought of their own demise? Who isn't afraid of what lays beyond? It's hard to explain to therapists what goes on in my head especially when I think it's so absurd myself. You'd think knowing how absurd it is would make it easier. It doesn't. It makes me feel weak. It's hard to explain to them that it isn't that I'm afraid of being injured or getting sick. It isn't that I'm afraid of growing old and senile. I merely picture myself at the precise moment of death and experience sheer panic, terror, and the completely absurd desire to flee.

I have largely suppressed and controlled these moments with either sheer will or psychotropic medications. Two years have gone by and still I can't seem to explain to myself where this is coming from. And I feel like I'm no more in control of it than I was two years ago. In fact, I often feel like I'm coming more and more unhinged probably because I've come off of the anti-anxiety/depression medication. And my current therapist's solution seems to only be medication.

I'm reluctant to switch therapists and downgrade, so to speak, from a nurse practitioner to a social worker or psychologist because the RNP can write prescriptions. I still do require the occasional as needed tranquilizer and sleeping pill. It's extremely convenient, not to mention cheaper, to only see one person. It's also hard to find a good therapist that won't let you just sit there and babble but someone who can actually guide things and help you grow and actually get something out of it. And it can take a while, sometimes months, before you realize you're seeing a therapist that isn't helping you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

More minor fiddling

I did some more minor fiddling with the cherry cup and the table shadows. The painting and re-painting sections is really starting to get under my skin. I am continually fudging the rim of the cup without success. I have been unable to replicate the tapered and rounded edge to my satisfaction. The inside of the cup is also proving difficult. I completely painted over the tops of the cherries. Actually, the entire cup is wrong. The oval shape is far more wide and doesn't come up as high on the pitcher. I don't want to leave it but the pitcher right now is beautifully rendered to me. I don't want to have to repaint any of it. I plan on working the cherries more thoroughly once the inside of the cup and the rim dry. The cup isn't my focus, the pitcher and the cherries themselves are so I think I may just let the cup's flaws go. This paint is not going to be one I'll be able to keep around the house, I may give it to my parents. It will continue to bother me if I keep it around.

I did some more work on my "Manhattan Henge" painting. The photograph I am working from appears to have been taken on whatever street it is that the Chrysler building is on and that famous building is in the picture. I'm debating whether to include it or to not bother trying to make that particular building distinguishable or not. I'm leaning towards not trying to replicate the building and instead creating a non-descript building with a spire on top. I like shapes on the right side. I don't want both sides to be just typical square buildings and I have that on the left side. There are some beautiful light sections, almost like highlights, of the canvas underneath. In retrospect I wish I had thought ahead more and used that somehow.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The human figure

Probably one of my most challenging things to paint is a human being and more specifically faces.

It has always given me trouble. I have never really nail a likeness. Oh it ends up looking like a person and relatively non-deformed and I get the proportions mostly correct. But making the picture look like the particular person in question? So difficult and not something I have not gotten the hang of yet. So I was a little nervous (okay kinda panicked) when my teacher said that this week we'd be having a clothed figure.

(I apologize in advance for not asking this model if I could publish a picture of her sitting on this blog). The picture I took of the actual model is pretty much garbage for trying to work with on my own. The printout I made came out horrible. I may be able to use it for basic corrections though. Next time I may bring my actual camera to class and perhaps photograph the model from various angles. There was a view on the other side of the room where the light glinted beautifully off a necklace she was wearing but once she put her hair up in the pony tail, I decided that this was the view I wanted. There's also a great quality to the light on her face at this angle. She is a lovely young woman. There's almost a graceful elegance to her face. And I really admire her being able to sit still like that even at 20 minute intervals with 5 minute breaks in between.

I have been reading that book by Richard Schmid and have found a lot of his painting advice to be very helpful. I think one of the best things he keeps saying is the concept of slowing down and thinking and rethinking and considering and taking a step back. Those are probably the two most biggest things I need to do. I need to stop the autopilot and think and be more careful about how I'm painting rather than trying to just churn something out. I also really need to stop staying so glued to my canvas. I need to start stepping back and considering my work more.

This is the result. As a starting? I think it's getting off great. I am a little nervous that I didn't flesh out any of the actual skin tones since I will only have two more chances for this but I really wanted to concentrate more on the actual drawing and values. I even ran out of time with just that. The shoulder looks extremely wrong since I didn't get a chance to put in the values for the sleeveless dress she was wearing. Honestly, I'm not too worried about capturing this particular model's likeness or face. It would really more be a bonus to me. I more want to get the pose right. I can already see that in the set of the shoulders, you can tell she's sitting slightly off angle, but you can't tell that in the set of her jaw and neck. I can already see several errors in the shapes of the values I placed on her neck and cheek area.

I really was trying to follow Schmid's advice and try to get everything as correct as I possibly could at this particular stage. I am so happy with it at this point. And it's so rare I say something like that!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Another sleepless night.

To this day I wonder how people who can fall asleep do it. I see watch my husband shut off his Kindle or his iPad, roll over and within 10 minutes the man is snoring. And unless I've been awake for more than 24 hours or it's some sort of mid-day exhaustion, I have never had that happen to me. I even remember as a carefree happy child wandering into my parent's bedroom at least once a week to tell them I couldn't sleep. I always found my mother's answer of, "Try harder" a little confusing. It always seems the harder I try to fall asleep, the more it eludes me.

My father, a fellow insomniac, has always been the only one to understand. Although my father does seem to be much better at falling asleep, he is not so good at staying that way. And until I was about 29/30, I had no issues with staying asleep. In fact, once I was out it was nearly impossible to get me back out of bed and awake and that's yet another thing I tend to struggle with every day since after 20 years of chronic insomnia the best regulator of my sleep is when I wake up. The rip your hair out frustrating part is when you're had only 3-4 hours of sleep a night and have been dragging yourself out of bed at 8AM for weeks and still can't fall asleep that night. I don't know if there's any proof to this, it's just observation but I think that sleep deprivation is something you can gradually become accustomed to over long periods. And I'd say 20 years is a long period. Although, not 15 anymore I can't tolerate an all-nighter the way I once could.

I'm sure I'm not doing myself any favors by reading before bed. All the "experts" tell you not to do that and practice what they call "sleep hygiene."My choice of pre-bedtime reading material could be better. I have lately been reading the series of novels that the procedural police drama Rizzoli and Isles is based on. And it wouldn't take a sleep expert to tell you that reading about women being stalked, raped, mutilated and murdered by serial killers isn't a good call for someone with my anxiety problems. I do enjoy reading and I have found it to cause me to fall asleep during the day regardless of the subject choice. I have literally no idea really why it doesn't do that at night. I got through 18 boring chapters of Anna Karenina one sleepless night. I have tried the Bible (my sincere apologies to Christians everywhere, I found it to be very dry at some points). I try not to read Baha'i scripture before bed though because I inevitably become so glued that I can't stop. Actually it's probably not the subject matter of the aforementioned triller novels, it's when some of them are quite gripping they really keep me awake. Stargate novels have that effect on me as well in a "OMG what did they do to Rodney!?" sort of way. I probably should classify everything on my reading list now as before bed reading material vs during the day reading material.

While I tend to think that most of it is a very good idea, there are some parts that are utter rubbish for me. Currently I am engaging in one of their many tips; that if you cannot fall asleep within 20 minutes you should rise out of bed and go do something and then give it another go. I can see how this could work with someone who hasn't been having the problem long so that they don't start to look at their bed and go "shit will I be able to sleep or not" the way I do. I think it's too deep in me now. It's sunk its claws. I know my bed is going to be a place where either sleep and I will regrettable lovers waking in the morning... or we'll be two parents going at it at 3AM because he's worked late again, the baby's screaming and the he's got some lacy knickers in his pocket who aren't his wife's.

I can feel the Ambien kicking in and GABA is being bound up in my brain so you'd think it would have a lovely effect on the gabapentin I'm taking which also acts on the GABA neurochemical system so if anyone is following this blog I would like to apologize for any text that comes after it as I have entered into a state of Ambnesia and gabacrosis. Anway.... oh yes fighting with your bed.

She has just forgotten is all.

Color and mixing exercises

Making the grids for these little charts was an exercise in patience. It seems that the 1/4" width of the tape and the minimum 1" width of the square didn't exactly make for even divisibility into the 9"x12" canvas board I used. And I'm a real stickler for that sort of neurosis. I made it work eventually. It took me near all day to get it to work. I was really happy and eager to get to painting and I really tried not to rush it. I knew if I messed it up and it looked uneven it would really bother me.

I tried to organize it as light to dark as I could make out. The naples yellow was the hardest of all the colors since it starts out so light to begin with. In the picture it actually is hard to make out the change at all. The book said 5 values. At my class, the teacher had us do small examples with three. I found the 3 value one to be fairly easy and got the hang of it quickly in class. This 5 value one was quite a different story. Even though it seems logical that the 3rd value should appear halfway between and the 2nd and 4th values should appear halfway between those, respectively, it's a lot harder in practice. While I think the entire 10 values would probably be excessive, I actually think it would be way easier to judge out the small gradations and make than even. If you roll a ball down a steep hill, you know it will get to the bottom and touch the spot where the hill meets the ground. If you bounce the ball, it's harder to get the ball to land on that spot.

I really wish there was some way to figure whether or not this actually correct. Some of the values feel like value 4 is the mid point and that the rest of the values are just gradations down between the actual 50% and between, almost like value 4 and the other values seem too light. Like there's a huge dump between the straight from the tube and value 4 and the rest of the grades are fine. Yet when I attempt to correct them, they seem far too dark. Even adjusting one or two seems to throw the whole thing off and make it seem even more wrong.

Sometimes it's really so hard to see the cause of an error because all you know is that something is wrong and you can't figure out why. And sometimes you don't really know if there is an error. Something may feel off and it may just be my own lack in my abilities that's telling me something is wrong when really there is nothing wrong. Also having the other colors next to them was difficult to make the judgement and I probably should have covered them up as I did each column.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Nuts and Bolts

Since I decided to make a charge back into oils, I have read so many websites and bought some books who all seem to say the same thing: don't use cheap materials. And I do connect some problems I'm having with the cheapness of my canvas.

The canvas is the only thing I really tend to cheap out on. I will spend the money on good quality paints and brushes and mediums... and toss them onto a 69 cent canvas panel I picked up on clearance at Michael's. I have been trying to improve the canvases by coats of acrylic gesso but I suppose that will only improve the canvas to a point. I have a small pack of Ambersand gessoboards that is sitting in the shrink wrap that I can't wait to try sometime soon. I also desperately want to give linen a shot but the cost of the stuff is staggering and I doubt my illness will permit the level of strength or stamina to stretch and prime a canvas. Reading a blog entry about stretching linen, applying and sanding multiple coats of white lead exhausted me. I wonder if even buying one pre-made expensive linen canvas just to try it out is worth it at this stage of my painting ability.

Although, I am not really sure what to consider my level of ability. Sometimes I think of myself as an intermediate painter and other times as a beginner. I'm not really sure if classifying myself would even be helpful.

I am trying to return to some mechanical basics of painting. I am planning to create color charts ala Richard Schmid's Alla Prima book (which I have read up to chapter 5 so far and is arguably the most informative painting resource I have encountered thus far). I'm trying to do as he suggests and slow down. Yes, i want to get paint onto canvas but he's right in the fact that if you don't plan and you don't think and you rush, something is going to go terribly wrong and you're going to end up unhappy...

The cherry and pitcher painting is the particular case. At this point I have become quite fed up with the painting to the point where I think I need to stop fiddling with it for a good amount of time. Whenever I sit down in front if it, I feel exasperated and I haven't even started the painting yet! Time to walk away from it for a bit I think, step back and slow down because everything that I am fed up with in that painting has to do with things done in the initial steps of a painting: the placement, the composition and inaccuracy of my drawing. I'm sure this thing would not be giving me such hell now if I had taken the patience to do them well in the beginning instead of rushing in. Check the pool for water before you dive.

I remember when I was a child, I had something that people always say children tend to lack... patience. My mother would give up on a problem almost instantly and it was always Kelly to the rescue. If a necklace chain was a tangled mess, my mother would pull at one end and when it didn't magically unravel, throw her hands up and give the thing to me. I remember her continually saying "That's just too much work!" so many times that it almost became the mantra of my childhood. I have become far less and less patient as I have grown into an adult. I always thought it was usually the other way around! I tend to constantly think that I was born with only a certain pool of patience and that I've used it all :)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Another mostly wasted day

I woke up in a horrible mood and in terrible spirits this morning. The pain in my arms and legs dulled with a higher dosage of medication. While the doctor insists that I am on an extremely low dosage of the medicine, a neuroleptic called gabapentin, I seem to be sensitive to its side effects, more so than I ever have been before with medication.

I really just thought of the fact I have no way of knowing if it's my illness making me so tired or the medication even though now that I'm taking two 100 mg pills instead of just one, I'm finding myself more tired. Then again I also haven't been sleeping but there's nothing unusual about that for me. The medicine also seems to be making me dizzy and giving me slight headaches. All my life I have been made very easily motion sick and the combination does not work well. With arm and limb pain gone, just walking around my house makes me feel like I'm standing on a bobbing boat. I ended up with a murderous migraine this afternoon and spent four hours face down in bed.

Chris and I are really starting to feel the loss of my small income. We've never been very good budgeters and we've been lucky that that skill was not really required before. But Long Island living is far more expensive than either of us remember. Since moving down here from upstate NY, what we pay for each kilowatt/hour has doubled as has what we pay per unit of natural gas. This house is nearly double the size so not only has how much we pay gone up but also how much we're using. Our grocery bill has also nearly doubled. Our car insurance has also nearly doubled. Unexpected household problems were minor inconveniences for us and are now major concerns. And I have no real idea how to make the major expenses any less than they are. Our mortgage is what it is. Our taxes are what they are. We switch car insurance companies twice in the past year to keep the price down. I grocery shop every other week, buying minimal amounts and I try to shop the sales as much as is physically possible for me.

One month of my salary would have covered our carpenter ant problem and another the fallen tree. But unable to work, and ill on top of it, I have plenty of time on my hands but no ability to take care of things. Although neither of these things is something a homeowner can handle on their own, there are things that, with all my free time from not working, I'd be able to usually handle on my own. Simple things like cleaning or yard care and minor breaks and fixes around the house. Instead we have to shell out money to hire people to take care of these things and the medical bills are also piling up even with my husband's excellent insurance.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Awake... at 2:30AM

Not unusual for me as of late but it is probably unusual given the 20mg of Ambien coursing its way through my bloodstream. I can really feel its odd effects. Everything is kind of dreamy. I haven't actually had a full blown out "sleepwalking" incident that you hear about on the commercials. Usually what I do is specifically what they tell you to do when you can't sleep. If you're not asleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing and quiet for 10-15 minutes and return to bed. Yeah, don't do that if you take ambien but since I'm a chronic and life long insomniac I've been taking ambien for years and years and have built up quite a tolerance. So I can take 20mg (like tonight), not be asleep in 20 minutes, and following the old advice I would get up and do something.

The very first thing I did was some gardening. In the house my husband and I had upstate there was a huge brick fireplace that we liked to leave going all winter long at a roaring crack. The empty wood rack was outside behind our garage and was no longer level. I'd taken my ambien got into bed and couldn't sleep. Sat on the couch. I guess at some point I got up, cleared away the old mulch, leveled the stone tiles the rack sat on and replaced the old mulch with a layer of fresh mulch on top. I woke up with very dirty fingernails and no memory of doing this.

When we moved back down to Long Island, I was still taking the drug. One night I couldn't sleep and decided to sit in my studio. At one point I decided to break out my largest brushes... my most vibrant colors and paint a floral mural on the guest room wall. A large white lily (now masked by the headboard) and a huge sunflower. I also scribbled Baha'i symbols and bits of scripture around the wall and painted a Qiblih line on the ceiling. I had been reading some of the writings of Baha'u'llah's before bed.

Another time I thought it would be best to organize my craft items in the basement. (Scary part here!) Drove our cars into the driveway to get them out of the garage leaving the driver's side door open on my husband's car and (it's a manual) was in neutral. My SUV was in park and all doors were closed. I then used a wheeling cart to move a dresser into the basement from the garage and began rigorously organizing my craft supplies.

The most recent event was after we had gone to dinner at my parent's house. My mother, a retired hairdresser, was lamenting the state of my permanent wave. It had grown out and was not looking fresh. She insisted it "just needed a trim." So unable to fall asleep, I got up, went to the bathroom just to shave a little off. And ended up with something looking layered and shoulder length... but oddly even and bouncy.

So I probably shouldn't continue taking this medication right? Wrong I do still take it. The problem doesn't really occur when I'm in bed. The problem happens if I get up and start doing random crap.... like I'm doing now. I was reading Richard Schmid's Alla Prima: Everything I know about painting. He mentions a few artists I wasn't familiar with so I figured I'd get up and look at some pictures.

No harm in that. Yet.

Look at the pictures and go back to bed kelly. Stop typing. STOP. no I mean it. now.

No rest for the neurotic

I swore to myself I would sit on the couch and rest my arms. I really did. Really.

But the silhouette of the pitcher was bothering me yesterday evening... and last night.... and this morning.... and early this afternoon... and my neurosis finally won around 4PM. After fiddling with this edge for nearly two weeks with no success, I also gave in and broke out the tracing paper. I really do love the right side. The curve seems perfect to me. I figure trace it, flip the paper over and voila! Easy peasy! But it seems that left edge is still bothering me though not enough to gnaw at the inside of my head.

The best part? I'm finding that I'm actually overjoyed that it wasn't as simple as that. For the first time since my pre-veterinary days, I'm not feeling a sense of utter failure and worthlessness that I'm having trouble figuring it out. For the first time in nearly 3 years, I'm seeing challenges to overcome and not giant holes in myself as a person.

I remember when I got my first organic chemistry exam back. The C- was sobering. This was an aluminum bat to the head that this was not the community college I'd come from. This was not some sort of romantic or nostalgic return to being 20 years old. This was Ivy League. This was the dream of a lifetime. This was serious. Heart attack serious. I worked harder. I went to the chemistry resource room study times. I'd go to professor and TA office hours. The next exam? C. Better! So I worked harder. I signed up for the free private tutoring from chemistry majors. I spent more hours in the library. I started walking back to my car well after dark. The third exam. C+. Still better!

I kept this unrelenting storm up for 3 long years until I was walking back to my car in the cold Ithaca winter when the library closed at 1AM. Always feeling, even though my grades had leveled into the B range, my hard would pay off. Only towards the end, when the rejection letters came did those B's I was working at least 100 hours a week for start to devastate me. It had finally dawned on me. Everyone had lied to me my whole life. Years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice don't always pay off. And it wasn't going to pay off for me.

As usual, life had shown me that my cold glass half empty attitude was right. Because not only is the glass half empty, someone is going to come along, drink the rest of the water and steal the empty glass. I became afraid. I became afraid of everything. I saw death and felt its presence everywhere. I didn't want to invest myself in anything again. I didn't want to chance it - working for anything again. The smallest flaw, the tiniest imperfection shined a giant spotlight on the biggest failure of my life.

Is this a ray of hope? Am I finally moving on? Could it be that my soul is finally starting to heal?

Frustrated with zero spoons

I did so much this week (although nothing compared to what a normal person would be consider a lot). The result? Thursday has arrived and I now have no spoons..

5 months this has been going on and there seems to be absolutely no rhyme or reason or consistency to what is going on. There seems to be absolutely no predicting or properly managing the exhaustion and pain. It's like I'm running a race with a blindfolded and every single day how far away the finish line is moves. Sometimes it's a foot in front of me. Sometimes it's a few miles away. And it's not like it behaves like a slide rule either. It's fluid. It's jagged and jumps around. It is frustrating because it makes it nearly impossible to plan anything in advance. Even something as simple as a dinner with a friend.

A childhood friend of mine just moved from Oklahoma to Massachusetts. My husband is going to a RC helicopter event near where she's moved to and thinks it would be a great idea if i went to visit her. Normally? It would be. These days? I have absolutely no idea how I'll feel. She's a mother of 3 with a busy job and a busy life. I remember when she lived very close to me, she had two children then and visiting her was exhausting. The kids and household life don't stop because your friend is coming over and most of the time I spent with her was tagging along during her day. Something like that would be impossible for me now.

Granted, now that I have more medications, I no longer worry about simple things like showering or using the bathroom stopping me in my tracks. But I still have absolutely no idea what, day to day, I will be able to handle beyond the basics. I don't know when I'm going to run out of spoons, all I know is that suddenly, I don't have any. And then I also have to worry about the basics like making it to the bathroom once I hit that wall. Which leaves me in a state of fear about leaving the house for fear of being stranded.

Although hitting that wall quickly is probably my own fault. When I feel well, I tend to try to move quickly and get done what I need to get done as fast as possible. If the pain, the exhaustion are indeed creeping up on me, I'm probably not noticing because I'm so engrossed in getting what I'm doing completed before I'm unable to. It's frustrating to feel fine like I did this morning, go to bake some cinnamon rolls and then the minute I set the dough aside to rise? BOOM. Pain started blossoming in my arms and legs. Exhaustion shot through my neck and shoulders and brain like a cannon. You ask yourself... what do I do now? Do I push through knowing you'll end up having to down enough vicoden to make a whale's liver curdle and end up laying on the couch for possibly days? Or do you leave your best mixing bowl outside on the deck with a bunch of yeast dough in it where it will accumulate insects until your husband gets home from work to bring it in and throw it away because it's ruined? Do you leave the flour and dough bits all over the kitchen counter and floor to attract ants?

More often than not, I end up cleaning the mess and finishing what I'm doing and popping pills.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pitcher and Cherries

Oil painting isn't one of those things that's taught to kids in school. Even back when art programs weren't in danger and you always took art in school, they didn't teach you oil painting. My school had a pretty damned great art program (consequence of growing up in a rich neighborhood with insanely high property taxes I suppose) and oil painting wasn't taught. It's messy. It takes a long time to dry. The clean-up can be horrible. It just isn't conducive to a grade school environment.

I often envy people who went to college for fine arts. And I don't think that majoring in fine art is a fluff sort of major in the slightest. Those classically trained painters always seem to have some sort of quality I really want to gain. Yes, I went to the Roslyn School of Painting for a number of years as a teenager. My parents have roughly a dozen or so paintings in their house to show for it. I wouldn't really have called it a school of painting. The classes are not instructional, they consisted of me picking a picture out of a magazine and painting it. Fine for getting started and fine for a young tween but not really when you want to take things more seriously. So for the first time, I decided to take a beginning painting course at The Art League of Long Island.

It is a five week course. The first two are with still life and the last three with figure. The teacher, Irene Vitali, is excellent. I feel like I'm really learning how to build up an oil painting from the initial washes to the final highlights. She's very good at seeing exactly what your particular painting weakness is and quickly zeroed in on the fact that mine is painting exactly what is in front of me regardless of whether or not it's good for the painting. She constantly walks around the room, praising and correcting and offering explanations for her corrections.

It was a shame that we only go two weeks with this particular still life. I really would loved to have maybe painted it from another angle (should have taken a picture, just thought of that). I think that her removing the still life and setting it back up actually was a very good thing. The cherries ended up being somewhere else and in a different configuration. Everything was just a little bit off.

After taking a number of pictures with my phone, I printed them out and have been using them as a reference. I think that it is going exceptionally well. I am working very hard to not overwork or overpaint. I really want to leave a very painterly quality. And you also can't really see it in this picture but the upper left hand corner of the background is still thin and you can see bits of toning of the canvas underneath. Trying to smooth out brush strokes and trying to blanket the whole canvas... trying to make it look too photographic are things that I really need to work on. Don't get me wrong I find that level of realism impressive, but if I want my painting to look like a photograph, why not just take a photograph? There are extremes, and I have seen some examples of both on blogs and websites. I've seen paintings so real they truly did look like photographs (Oriana Kacicek's Sunny Side Up). And I've seen paintings where I could probably count the brush strokes on both hands (Carol Marine's Cheery Cherries). These are two opposite ends of the spectrum and I'm not saying either one is wrong. I'm just really want to find my own style and my own way.

Now if I could just figure out how to figure that out.....

Manhattan Henge

The fascinating phenomenon of Manhattanhenge is something that I'd really like to see myself one of these days. It truly is amazing how many wonderful and flat out cool things exist out there that are just waiting to be discovered... by being bored and watching a random episode of CSI:NY.

I don't know about anyone else but I find this whole concept really interesting. I have never been a fan of cityscapes (painted or otherwise) but something about the juxtaposition of the darkened buildings and the pure light of a sunrise that struck me.

The first section was merely laying out shapes and making sure the perspective was correct. I know that most painters tend to snub their noses at the use of black but really sometimes there is just no way around it, in my opinion. It wasn't that straight raw umber wasn't dark enough, it was more that it wasn't devoid enough, if that makes any sense. I originally had it as straight out of the tube and it just felt like a giant mud puddle. Once I added just a little black it all started to look much better.

But I think the biggest challenge of this painting is going to be letting go of my perfectionism. The temptation to break out the ruler is going to be overwhelming. I think that the darks of the buildings are going to be difficult for me as well. In the past I always painted from pictures or from life and tried very hard to replicate exactly what I saw. In cases like that, it was easy to ignore the old technical lessons like how cool colors recede back or how the eye is drawn to harsh lines. Here I really want to try to take a concept and create my own image using pictures only as basic guidelines so it's going to be interesting to see if I can remember all that and see how it will all work out.

The one thing this painting is not turning out to be is the quick and easy project I thought it would be. It seemed so minimal and so simplistic but the more I painted the more I found out that the simplicity is just an illusion. Yeah it looks like a simple value and color grade to the sky some blobby dark grey and brown and black buildings on the sides. But when you paint it like that? It looks flat and boring and, for lack of a better word, wrong. I had to add in small scumbling of purples and pinks (which you can't really see in the photograph) and very light pinks and oranges and yellows (again which you can't really see photograph). I am expecting the buildings to be equally as challenging.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Daily painting

Recently I decided to make a foray back into oil painting. I remember as a teenager it brought me great joy (actually the parental praise brought me the most joy out of it). And if I can drop the modesty for a few minutes, I seemed to be fairly good at it without being taught. It made me feel good to know that I may have some sort of inner kind of talent for something and since my hopes and dreams of veterinary school have disintegrated I really wanted to reclaim something. Plus unlike many of my other hobbies (quilting, knitting and spinning), painting is the most stationary in terms of body movement and the easiest on whatever the hell this illness is that I seem to have now.

So I do what I usually do whenever I pick up something new or restart something. I dived in head first, pedal to the floor. I did a lot of web searches. I read a lot of artist blogs and webpages. Daily Paintworks being one of my absolute favorites for inspiration. The variety of styles is truly incredible. I could spend hours clicking around. Plus the weekly challenges are really something I would love to start doing.

But if there is one thing that reading all these blogs and websites has gotten through to me is that in order to paint better, you have to paint. So, beginning now (and oddly enough with the start of a month) I will make an effort to paint every single solitary day. Whether it's working on a larger painting or just a small little "study" or "sketch" like painting. I will post pictures along with self critique involving what I do and do not like about the painting along with what I feel I learned. And, most importantly, I will list at least 3 positive aspects of the painting and no more than 5 negatives.

August 1, 2011

1) I love the stem. It actually seems "attached" to the pear.
2) There's a good range of values in the pear. The darks seem dark enough to me and the lights are light enough.
3) I didn't overpaint the pear. I left a nice "painterly" quality to it instead of trying to make it look like a photograph.
4) The lighting is done well. There's good direction to it.

1) The background color is far too bold. I fell in love with the color of the fabric that I think I'm letting it overpower the pear itself.
2) I placed the pear far too high. I loved the shadow it was casting so much it's almost the focus of the painting. If I actually wanted to frame this it would really not work. As it is I want to slice off a good inch from the left side and bottom.

I learned a great deal about bristle pressure in this painting. A lot of the time I found myself actually removing paint from the pear because I was pressing too hard. I'm learning to not choke up so much on brush and instead hold the brush more towards the back. I also found that in the beginning when I'm just fleshing out shapes and values that I need to use far far far less paint to do it. I need to start making a pledge to myself to also stop painting after I sign the damned thing. I put my initials on the bottom corner and then I started futzing with the background and the little speckles. I'm also still working on the signature. I know that seems like a silly thing to want to work on but I really want to find something I like. I want it to always be the same thing... the same color... the same style. Right now I'm really liking the simplicity of the initials and the straight from the tube red.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Healthy destruction

Illness is a strange thing. You're always healthy... until one day you're not.

Plagued by mysterious shooting and stabbing pains through the muscles in my arms and legs, I went to a bunch of doctors who never figured anything out.

With utter humiliation, I stopped working in June.

I felt completely betrayed by my body and the universe that had stolen not only my hopes and dreams from me but now my health. Of course, I couldn't stay angry. I couldn't wallow in self pity. Don't get me wrong, I did plenty of both (and sometimes still do) but I couldn't keep going like that. When people say misery loves company, yes the straightforward answer is that miserable people like to make others around them miserable too but when it's just one person? I think that misery can multiply inside yourself.

So I started reading things online and in books and listening to guided imagery audio files.

And I actually started to settle into things.

Don't get me wrong... I don't want to sound like I'm fully at peace and that I've completely accepted the fact that I can't even go to the mailbox or take a shower more than two days in a row without blinding hot pain racing through my limbs... But at least now it's getting better.

Instead of being angry and miserable all the time, I'm only angry and miserable some of the time. And, hey, it's always the little things.