Artist Bio

Living Without Limits, & Learning To Love Surprises

My new year began with some disappointments and being laid out with a wretched cold, so rather than sulk I thought it was a good time to pen this entry I’d been thinking about for awhile. Hopeful messages are good medicine for the brain at least ;). The first week of January is a time that seems to be made for reflecting, as a new season begins and things are still slow after the rush of the holidays. As I made some professional changes this year that will allow me to put my whole focus into not only my own art business but teaching, something I’ve discovered I love doing no matter the age or ability level I am working with, I feel compelled to share something about myself that many may not know.

Though I now talk all day as my vocation, this is not something I originally would have thought possible. I had a speech delay which I went to therapy for as a young child. It was discovered I knew and understood words, but just wasn’t saying them. I’ve been told even as a baby I was quiet, no babbling or anything, just silence and the occasional prolonged grunt that sounded like a lawnmower motor. I can only imagine what my parents must have been thinking! Though I was soon able to communicate fluently at home, around people I wasn’t as familiar with it was still a struggle. No one that heard me playing in the backyard at home would ever think of me as being “reserved”. Still at school, which I found for the most part enjoyable, I just didn’t know how to communicate with others. I remember one of my most embarrassing 5-year-old moments was when I got called out while playing in a group for participating in the imaginative play by just repeating whatever my best friend made her dinosaur say over and over (We were all playing with plastic dinosaurs at the indoor sandbox station, THE best station in the entire kindergarten). “Why do you just keep saying what she’s saying?” I was asked, followed by the dreaded “You’re weird!” Sigh … my camouflage had failed. When playing by myself I could think up all sorts of great lines and fantastical stories – I was never short on creativity – I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get my brain to “work” around other people.

Even up to high school I experienced a degree of what I now know is called “selective mutism” in public spaces, though public speaking or giving formal presentations in front of a group never bothered me a bit. In college, I ended up choosing to study interior design and had also thought about web design, because I figured there would be a little bit of back and forth interface with clients since I did enjoy people and hated being entirely alone, but then I could go back into my little office space and be creative without constant social pressures – the perfect balance. What do they say about the best laid plans?

I had an English teacher in high school once tell the class “Who you are at 10 years old is your truest self, and you will always come back to that”. I think about that often. As an 8-10 year old kid, I thought I wanted to be a teacher and loved “playing school” with my dolls so much that my parents even got me special little stamps and grade books from the local teacher supply store to enhance the realism of my playacting. I volunteered as a helper for kids programs in the summer, and even job shadowed at my old elementary school when it was required in my first year of middle school. However, I found it stressful not knowing how a real person was going to act and react, whereas with my dolls I was writing the script. I never did like surprises.

I pretty much wrote off that future life plan as I became a teenager, realizing I just didn’t have the skills for it. After graduating from college and experiencing a parade of poorly fitting jobs and pretty toxic work environments which is its own story for another day, I got an email from some mailing list I was on advertising that a local gallery was looking for instructors for a new day program. At this point in my life my confidence in my ability to be a functional human was at an all time low, so I decided what the hell, at least I know I can do art. Let’s give this a go. The rest is history.

I personally have a faith, and I believe receiving that email (and the fact that I actually opened and read it at just the right time!) was quite literally divine intervention. I teach at a variety of locations now outside of my main “hub” where I started, but I truly believe if I hadn’t began my foray into art instruction with the Artshop prograrm at Creative 360 in an environment of radical acceptance that embraces people’s quirks and operates like its own odd little family, I probably wouldn’t have kept at it. The main point of all this personal storytelling is, don’t limit yourself.

What you can do at the moment is not all you’ll be able to do forever. Sometimes, it isn’t that there is something wrong with you, it’s that you aren’t in the right environment.

I am in no way doing what I thought I’d be doing when I was 18, but my 10 year old self may not be that surprised. Guess what? I still am terrible at socializing with new people and making friends. But, I’ve been told I’m a wonderful teacher and that I make people feel valued, and help them believe they can do things they never thought they could do. I’m good with that.

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Artist Bio

1 Mantra Has Saved My Sanity In The 2nd Half Of This Year

So, this isn’t really an art related post, but is living life not an art itself? I love to pass on anything I come across that has helped me, be it creative techniques or like today, otherwise techniques because why needlessly struggle?

People are complicated, we know this. They often don’t say what they mean, or when they do say what they mean they don’t direct it at the person who really needs to hear it. As someone who is not only one of those “highly sensitive people” but also tends to take others’ words at literal face value – it’s just the way my brain works – this leads to a lot of unnecessary anxiety, hurt feelings, and me scrambling around trying to fix things I was never meant to fix. I really like to fix and bring order, at least I think I do until it causes a total internal meltdown or burnout. Perhaps that is why I loved the Sims games so much in high school and college … Hm…

I unfortunately can’t be a Sims overlord and control people’s interactions and behaviors in real life, so I had to change my own mindset. One day, in the midst of a heated conversation, this sentence just popped into my head and out of my mouth, “I’m not really the one you’re mad at right now“… and everything changed.

Now, this doesn’t mean we abdicate all responsibility for how others are feeling. There are times we will accidentally hurt someone and need to accept what we’ve done and make amends. I’m talking about the times when we are taking the heat just because we are there, and the other person is struggling through things we may know nothing about. Especially those of us who come across as a “safe presence” can catch a lot of explosions. It may be because the other person doesn’t know why they are feeling the way they do, and needs to get back a sense of control so being able to point at someone nearby and say “This is the cause of why I feel this way right now” or “This is the reason why instance x went wrong today” makes them feel like they are making headway in figuring out why things are the way they are. It could be that the other person knows that if they blew up at the person in their life who actually upset them, this other person wouldn’t take it sitting down and would throw it right back, or gaslight them, or react violently and so it’s just easier to unload on someone they know won’t fight back as much. It could be that they are really upset with themselves, but aren’t ready to take the weight of that responsibility, it’s just too painful right now. Then of course, some people just aren’t rational and we may never know the reason. It took me a long time to learn that the reason doesn’t matter as much as our response. Because in the end, does knowing the reason why someone just tore us a new one when all we did was ask them how their day is going really help us feel any better?

A test that helps me is responding to accusing statements with questions. For example, if a loved one, coworker, whatever says, “You’re always holding me back!” (I did a whole other post on this one) or “All you ever do is discourage me!” I would respond with, “That’s not what I want to do, as your friend I truly want you to be successful and have your best life. Can you tell me how I’m standing in your way so I don’t continue to be unhelpful?” or “I’m sorry, that was definitely not my intent. What did I say that made you feel that way so I can be more mindful of my words in the future?” Sometimes, they will have an answer and guess what? That means I get to learn and do better next time. Oftentimes, however, they will have no idea and cannot even come up with a specific example of why they have said what they just said. This runs along the same lines of filtering out constructive criticism versus not so much. If someone at work or home says, “I’m so frustrated, you really made a mess of x!” and you respond with, “I’m sorry, I truly felt I was doing my best. What could I have done differently?” and they do not have an answer … I’m not the one you’re mad at.

The last thing to keep in mind is that this simple statement is for you. Sometimes when you speak it out loud it may make a lightbulb go off in the other person, but there’s also a chance it may not. You’re not saying it to correct someone else, you’re saying it to correct your mindset so you don’t continue going through life a stressed out mess because you are blaming yourself for things that were never in your control to begin with. Sometimes it won’t even be constructive or appropriate in the moment to speak those words to the other person – say it to yourself in your head anyway. I’m not the one they’re really mad at.

It seems simple, but the weight it lifts is immense.

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Exhibitions and Other News

Now Showing : Breaking The Stigma

I have not been making as regular and in-depth posts as usual over the last year as I’ve gotten busier and have been devoting more time to youtube, but I wanted to share about a very special show I am a part of this month running through February 20 called “Breaking The Stigma“.

I was beyond thrilled with both the priviledge and responsibility of being invited to be part of a show centering around using art as both a personal therapy and a way to communicate inner experiences in a way that makes them accessible and understandable to people from all walks of life. I’ve written often on this site on what an important communication tool art always was to me as someone with anxiety, especially social anxiety. In a recent Throwback Thursday post (Yes, I promise I will be getting back to those!), I talked about how even as a young kid I was prone to using art to tackle darker themes or difficult emotions. Art allows for a method of transparency and vulnerability that can often be easier for others to understand and embrace than by using words alone. Aside from the end result, the process itself of art making has the power to manifest a sense of purpose and peace no matter what else may be going on around the creator.¬† Creativity allows people to unlock their untapped potential. I see this firsthand in the classes I teach where many of my students are beginning artists or artists with disabilities

You can read the article announcing the show opening which introduces the other artists involved in this show and shows photos of some of their work. I wanted to also share some of my personal thoughts about their art.

David Feingold’s art was exciting for me to see because a lot of it I would consider surreal portraiture which is the subject I myself enjoy creating most, but it was digital rather than traditional. His narratives were very personal, and spoke directly to the title of the show as they addressed the idea of mental health stigma head on. I found myself inspired to once and for all fully explore creating art digitally this year.

2 of Rebecca Allen’s pieces have been familiar to me since before I knew they belonged to her, as they take up residence in our elevator lobby display where I also maintain a showcase for my students with their work for sale. I loved the surreal nature of her figures. They are raw and honest, and the pain they feel is visually represented in the sharp, rough textures of her sculpture. They invite you to step into another’s shoes and imagine yourself in their situation and struggles.

Cynthia Keefe’s art dolls were very … approachable and trustworthy to me, though that may seem odd to say. They felt alive. Many of them have serious or even near faceless expressions and some in contrast are reaching outward, with mouths contorted in anguish or extreme emotion. Still, they seem like beings I would come to for reassurance or counsel in the important act of seeking the perspective of an older and wiser female. They have seen and experienced much, their story woven into their skin and intricate clothing.

For those in the area, we will be having a discussion panel on February 3. Follow the Creative 360 website and get on the mailing list for regular updates :).

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Artist Bio

The Gift Of Anxiety

On My Mind

I have struggled with anxiety since I was a kid, and would usually be the first person to scoff if anyone ever called this trait a “gift”. I have begun managing it as an adult through counseling and learning new coping/rerouting skills, some go the medication path, different things work for different people. What I do know, however, is that those of us with anxiety tend to agree that it is not a positive thing. When uncontrolled, it can be exhausting and cause heightened emotional responses and added stress to situations that aren’t at all threatening. It can cause us to consider all the dire “what ifs” but none of the possible happy surprises. It can introduce a lot of doubts in both ourselves and in our relationships with the people around us. Lately though, I’ve been challenging myself to think about the positives of certain attributes within myself that I don’t always like. I’m a big proponent of neurodiversity and try to always see the positive attributes of others’ brains that sometimes work differently, so it would go to follow that I owe myself the same courtesy. Fellow anxiety peeps, though you have probably been told that your affliction is this horrible burden, I’d ask you to come with me and think through the ways your tendency towards anxiety has actually helped you.

I was looking for a notebook with some blank pages left recently so I could jot something down, and started reading an old journal I’d abandoned. In it was a set of columns listing positives and negatives about my life at the time. I noted as a positive that I was in a long term relationship with “no doubts or issues” and had “no bouts of anxiety, panic attacks, or mood regulation issues like I used to get”. Now, while not having panic attacks is all well and good, I am no longer in this relationship and looking back there were plenty of issues, and plenty of reasons I should have been doubting the long term success of our partnership based on some pretty significant differences and toxic behaviors. At the time I was also not getting the support I needed or deserved at work and was quite frankly being taken advantage of, albeit probably not intentionally. I came to the conclusion that when I thought I was “overcoming” or “doing better”, what I really was doing was turning my brain off and giving over control of my life just to feel more “normal”. Maintaining Zen and not letting life rattle you is one thing, but no one needs to smile and talk about how great it feels to have a bird flying overtop shitting on your head all the while not moving from the spot you are rooted in below.

I definitely deal with a hell of a lot more anxiety today than I did when I wrote that entry, but I also love my life infinitely more. I let situational anxiety take its course, because though my emotional responses may be more amplified than the average person, it acts sort of like the check engine light in a vehicle, letting me know that something isn’t working and I need to evaluate and figure out what needs to change for my mind and body to start running at their best again.

What other positive attributes does my anxiety bring out?

A drive to regularly set personal and professional goals, show up and work hard until they are achieved.

Dependability – I can’t comprehend of making promises not intending to see them through, and if I agree to assist I am going to be on time and prepared.

On that note, I have a planning oriented nature, and don’t leave important matters to the last minute (um, or unimportant ones … ūüėČ )

I am able to empathize more with others who are struggling emotionally, and I know the experience has made me better at my job leading a program whose participants have various disabilities, mental health issues, and general quirks.

Something I’ve been learning is though we can all grow and change and should be committed to continuous growth every day, certain parts of us aren’t going anywhere. We can deal with these parts of ourselves more beneficially and make them work for us and not against us, but they likely aren’t going completely away. So, rather than engaging in self hate let’s work through the parts that are toxic or causing us unhappiness, but appreciate the parts that help us be better humans … including our anxiety.

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Music and Film

Dir En Grey 2019 Tour: Music And The Power Of Vulnerability

I recently had the opportunity to get out of town and see one of my favorite bands, Dir En Grey, live in concert. I do not possess any musical talent or skill myself, but am a huge music appreciator. What I look for in bands is the ability to be diverse and work in a variety of styles while still staying true to their own unique creative expression, and Dir En Grey is one of the best examples of this I can think of. Each of their albums has its own distinct sound and story, and they can move between beautiful, melodic, and soothing and intense, hard, and aggressive seamlessly within the same song. I went into this experience with no expectations, just excited to hear a band I have enjoyed since late high school live. I never dreamed I would be so emotionally moved by an experimental metal band, or that I would leave with such a much-needed refill of artistic inspiration, a spark lit that caused me to reflect on my own life as both an artist and as simply a human being. The key to this connection was vulnerability.

The name of the tour was “This Way To Self Destruction“, and throughout the performance singer Kyo was playing a character that you could see slowly self destructing until their brand new, epic 10 minute song “World of Mercy” played at the end. The movements and miming, dance, and entrancing images played on the screen behind the band were so emotive that though the lyrics were in Japanese I could still understand exactly what each song was conveying.

Many of the band’s lyrics deal with depression, suicidal ideation, isolation, hopelessness, and anxiety, their art revolving around a lot of darker themes and imagery. However, the approach they use doesn’t glorify or romanticize negative emotions, but instead lays bare the things we all experience to some degree and asks us why there is so much greed, hatred, struggle, betrayal, and immorality in our society. Why is our world so hard to survive in? This raw honesty and straightforward, no-bullshit communication through their music is what makes them stand out, especially coming from a culture like that of their home country of Japan where transparency and public displays of emotion and opinion are more repressed and often considered inappropriate.

My friend Joannah, whom I attended with and who actually is a musician herself, posted this favorite quote of hers from 2007 before the show. For context, Kyo was asked in an interview ‘Is the purpose of Dir en Grey to disturb and unsettle your audience rather than simply to entertain?’

Maybe neither. I hate entertainment, but I‚Äôm not trying to disturb either: what I‚Äôm trying to do onstage is express the pain and frustration we all feel in life but also to look beyond it at a different world without that. If you‚Äôve always lived in the light, then you won‚Äôt know what darkness is, and if you‚Äôve only experienced happiness, then you can‚Äôt recognize real sorrow. You have to experience all of life to be truly alive.‚ÄĚ

Just as their music moves back and forth from intense screams to melodic vocals and instrumentals, their ruminations on the burden of life are not without hope.

As a creator myself, I believe vulnerability is an inseparable entity from the creative process. Connecting with your viewers, watchers, or listeners requires honesty. One of my favorite TED Speakers, PHD Research Professor and Author Brene Brown, talks a lot about the power of vulnerability. I’d encourage you to take some time to watch her talk; it’s life changing.

I will leave you with another quote from Kyo,

“I think everyone has bad experiences and things they don’t want to say and I think there is meaning in letting it out.”

I’m definitely going to do a painting based on one of these photos. Any recommendations readers???

 

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Artist Bio

My Experience With High Functioning Anxiety

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2019 has been rough. In an earlier post I commiserated that at least living in constant fight-or-flight mode¬†birthed some awesome artwork, and I kind of kept doing that thing where I would joke about how terrible I was feeling, brush it off, tell myself it was just a “bout” that would pass. Then the months went on and I was still dealing with ramped up anxiety, waves of depression, moments of intense anger and irritability and an overall difficulty to control my emotions. I recognized what was happening because I’d been there before. As of this week, this time I am doing something about it.

I’ve dealt with anxiety since childhood, and always thought about counseling but then it would get better for a little bit, so I’d put it off. I had bouts of being pretty miserable and losing hope in nearly everything but at the same time, not to be funny, I wasn’t failing at life. I was maintaining a reasonable amount of friendships, I was handling a high stress job, I was churning out personal art projects that I was happy with at a pretty amazing speed … I’d had fleeting thoughts of suicidal ideation from high school going forward but they were isolated incidents, few and far between, and I always viewed them as some pesky creature that had invaded my brain like ‘hey, get out of here, you don’t belong!’ not something I seriously wanted to happen. After all, I’m the girl that goes to lengths to do everything possible now to guarantee I make it to 100 years old (constant worrying over mortality is probably another anxiety symptom, but hey)! I felt I didn’t really have a¬†right to seek counseling because in the back of my mind I thought they might laugh in my face when I showed up for the first meeting and say, “Why are you even here?” So many people struggle so much worse.

One thing I’ve learned through my job working with adults with all forms of disability including psychological, is that all mental illness is wildly misunderstood by the population at large. I feel like with my struggles being mostly unseen, when shit finally hit the fan and started to get worse throughout the last 6 months or so I ended up feeling more isolated actually then when I’d been keeping silent and “passing”, and I don’t think I was prepared for that. My anxiety and depression didn’t fit the mold, and some days I wondered if I should just start laying around in bed just so people would take it seriously but the thing is, I was filled with energy and the last place I wanted to be was in bed. High functioning anxiety is real and it is tough, though it may not look as dire on the outside. I can never speak for everyone, but here is what this girl with high functioning anxiety wants you to know:

Don’t analyse us.¬†(Unless you are our counselor and it’s your job ūüėČ ) We are already constantly questioning our every move, every word, every facial expression as we move through the world. People are allowed to not be at 100% 24/7. Saying “Why do you sound tense, why are you so turned up, calm down!” (I’ve literally had people say these things to me when I’m not even raising my voice, just have a serious expression on my face!) over and over again even if it is asked out of concern does not help, it just makes the anxiety worse. There are constructive ways to check in, but policing facial expressions and body language are not it.

When we talk about how we feel, don’t respond with, “You just need a drink”. I do drink socially, but usually try to not drink when I am feeling particularly low because it tends to make it worse. I am lucky to not struggle with this right now, but many people with anxiety and other either situational or permanent mental health issues self medicate with substances, so this could actually be really unhealthy and dangerous advice. I did struggle for a period of about a year in college with self medicating social anxiety in large gatherings with alcohol, and although we are very casual in the US about binge drinking being a “normal” part of transitioning through young adulthood, it really shouldn’t be as normal as it is.

Similarly, please don’t keep telling us we need to drink more tea, eat 10 almonds every day, or just eat a freaking banana. Full disclosure, I love all 3 of those things and do consume them quite regularly and guess what, I still have anxiety. Yes, a healthy diet certainly does impact one’s mental health and quality of life, but it isn’t always a magical panacea. I myself make a habit of eating healthy and tend to just think fresh, healthy food tastes better anyway. Yet again, I still deal with anxiety. Assuming someone’s mental health issues are occurring because they aren’t taking care of themselves is just that, assuming, and is just going to compound their feelings of guilt, shame, blame, and guess what – anxiety!

We aren’t “faking it” to get out of things we don’t want to do. I’m an adult. When I have to dial back on some things and allow for more margin in my life to recharge, I’m not “playing sick” to get to stay home from school and watch cartoons. I am a person that hates sitting around being inactive or being unreliable, and often joke that I’m allergic to relaxation. So, if I say I’m having a hard time and just can’t do a, b, or c, I mean it and usually no one is more frustrated about it than me. If I am experiencing a particularly rough time, there can also be a fear of potential embarrassment; What if I start having a panic attack and can’t get to a private place quick enough?

We don’t always need a solution from our support system. We don’t need a team of cheerleaders shouting at us, “You can do it! Pull it together!” We don’t need “tough love” and to be forced into going through the motions as if nothing is wrong in hopes by sheer force of willpower the cycle will be broken. We need to be¬†heard. We need our support system to listen to understand, not listen to “fix” us or listen to reassure us “it’s not that bad”.

At the same time, no one else is responsible for our mental health but us.¬†Anxiety is not a license to lash out at people with no consequences. No one is obligated to play therapist when we should be seeing a professional counselor. No one should feel the pressure of being the “one thing” keeping us going, and it is ok to respectfully call us out if you feel we are doing any of these things.

Know that there is no required severity level to getting help. You don’t have to wait until things reach a breaking point. Here are some other excellent articles with insight into a less often talked about dimension of anxiety:

What Are The Signs Of ‘High Functioning’ Anxiety?

What It’s Like To Have ‘High Functioning’ Anxiety

The Characteristics of High Functioning Anxiety

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Art Discussion, New Work

New Work – September: She Is An Atlas

This was¬†one of the most challenging pieces in my series thus far, because I was working with multiple layers of meaning and thoughts. It also is the most “mixed media” of all my series installments, utilizing not just mixed fine art mediums but fabric, metal chain, tiny rhinestones, and torn book pages. I have been so into metallic accents since the¬†collaboration with my friend and student, Heather. I also blame her for the inclusion of rhinestones – she encourages me to be sparkly.

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I’ve mentioned in previous posts that when I feel, I feel BIG or not at all. There is no other way. The sketch that inspired this piece started as a way for me to process the weight of my own emotions and feelings of powerlessness. As ¬†I began further conceptualizing this current series, I realized the idea could fit as one of the 12 pieces.¬†For new readers, here’s my blurb briefly explaining the series (If you are already in the know, feel free to skip ahead ūüėČ ):¬†I am¬†creating¬†12¬†mixed media, surreal, conceptual portraits in which¬†the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. They will depict women of all ages, races, and time periods, and each will communicate a different theme. I aim for the pieces to¬†speak to women‚Äôs collective experiences beyond their differences. Each of the 12 will represent a month of the year. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. The title of each piece starts with the month it represents, followed by “She Is _______”.¬†The figure in this piece quite literally has “the world on her shoulders” through the pattern on her clothing, much like the mythic Atlas. Atlas the physical object is also defined as a book of maps or charts, and can signify one feeling that¬†they alone must have all the directions and answers to all of the world’s problems, a grand and impossible responsibility.

The exposed heart necklace represents empathy, an open heart waiting to be wounded , left unprotected and raw. She leans against a bulls-eye wall, surrounded by an outline of thrown knives, a target girl like in the well known circus act. With each act of injustice and malice directed at others, she feels as if she is standing in their place, each offense a knife thrown at her, just missing. Though fearful, her face is strong and even. I’ve written before about how compassion and empathy does not equal weakness. To stick one’s head in the sand and be ignorant of the world’s ills is weakness; foolish, avoidant, and selfish.

Another way the subject can be viewed is not as the empathizer but as the victim. Some people are born into situations that are so difficult, living day to day is much like standing against a target with knives being thrown at them. It can be their geographic location, their income, the people that surround them or lack thereof, and the list goes on. Though yes, our personal choices certainly can influence outcomes, isn’t so much of life like a gigantic, living lottery when you think about it? Yet we shake our heads and wag our fingers when we see people who are struggling both around us and abroad, because certainly they must have done something wrong or things would look different? This way of thinking frees us of the responsibility to help others, and gives us a false sense of power that by doing certain things we can be 100% sure we attain the exact sort of life that we want. It all goes back to empathy and control.

One of the things I love about art is the way people can discern completely different meanings from a piece based on their own thoughts and experiences. Did something different strike you as you looked at this piece, did it remind you of something? Please share, don’t be shy!

 

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Art Discussion

Art Discussion : Deliverance

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I have always thought of doing an art discussion post on this particular piece.¬†Whenever I show it, everyone wants to know the story behind it as the fact that¬†there is a symbolic visual narrative is clearer in this piece than¬†in many of my others. Still, I have been putting it off for quite some time because explaining the concept behind this piece is very personal and would involve being really freaking transparent, so hold onto your hats. (I’m actually a big fan of transparency, but it usually manifests itself in the form of out-bursting deeply personal information in a sort of accidental social vomit, not neatly typing my feelings out for the world to see.)

This painting is a prayer.


When I started this piece, I was newly graduated from college and had been back to living in my childhood home for awhile afterward, which was super uncomfortable. I’m sorry, no matter how much you love your family it just is, unless said family adopts a sort of chill, ¬†we are mutual adults living together almost like roommates sort of attitude, which nearly never happens.

I’d just finished training for a new job in sales that I already knew I was going to hate. Approaching tons of random people I don’t know all day and having to make forced conversation until they buy something? I might as well just get into the fetal position now for efficiency’s sake. The month long training involved driving 3 hours away and staying in a hotel with all the other trainees, and everyone was either horrifyingly mean and offensive or overtly sexually creepy. On more than one occasion, I finished a bottle of wine by myself sitting alone in my hotel room and I’m not a huge drinker. Not by any means advisable, but I honestly could not conceive of getting through this sordid affair without self medicating no matter how physically and mentally unhealthy. I’d had anxiety so bad 2 years before during my junior year of college that I had actually experienced¬†brief hallucinations brought on by stress. I was not looking to have that be a repeat experience.

Even before I had embarked on my ill-fated new job, my emotions had been cycling out of control. I felt like my body was constantly sending off fight or flight signals, releasing chemicals that triggered the feeling that I was about to be chased by a tiger, except nothing was actually wrong. I would be elated and laughing and feeling creative and motivated one minute, and then suddenly this deep sense of dread¬†like the sky was filled with pianos tied up on ropes that were about to all drop down on my head like I was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon would shake me to my core. I’d always been someone who felt BIG. When I feel joy, it’s intense and when I feel despair, it’s intense. I like to think it’s worth it for the times of joy, where the littlest thing can make me jump up and down like a little kid. A lot of people use that sense of celebration in the smallest details of life as they get older.

The first time I heard this song by one of my favorite artists, these lyrics really resonated with me because I think one of my biggest fears is people who never express their emotions. It’s just so foreign to me.

…But I would kill to make you feel
I’d kill to move your face an inch
I see you staring into space
I wanna stick my fist into your mouth
And twist your Arctic heart

The rapid up and down thing¬†I was going through was something different, however. I’d always been in control of my mind and I felt like I wasn’t anymore. For someone who really likes to be in control of absolutely everything at all times, it was terrifying (I make itineraries for day trips even if I’m only traveling 20 minutes out of town. Excel spreadsheet lists are my best friends. Change plans on me at the last minute? Not unless you have a death wish. Just to give you a bit of insight…) It was also exhausting because the thing is, when your mind keeps sliding into that fight or flight state you actually¬†feel as if you’ve just been in an extremely stressful and dangerous situation whether anything has happened or not. The fatigue is the same.

Another thing you may or may not know about me is that I am a Christian, albeit a Christian who has never felt very at home in the ofttimes bizarre sort of bubble of Christian culture (I swear people must have been able to sense it, because youth group was terrible. Maybe they could smell it like dogs smell fear.). This is mainly because it has always felt very exclusive, and also because being a female¬†puts me in a sort of precarious situation with religion in general. It’s why the subject of “Women and Religion” actually has an entire college course of study devoted¬†to it. Organized religion of any belief system tends to not be too kind to the ladies. (If I actually behaved how those super conservative “complementarian” advice articles advised that I do to be a “Godly woman”, never expressing a damn thought without asking “What do you think honey?” first, my current boyfriend would toss me off of our balcony. Or have me committed, one or the other. I found a keeper ;).) Basically, they just don’t seem to leave a lot of room for people actually being created with variation, people’s brains, hearts, and minds each working a little differently from the other. Luckily, Jesus doesn’t need you to be a robot that copies what everyone else in his bandwagon thinks, and He doesn’t need you to join any super special cool kids club. Also, despite how people like to twist religious truths to allow them to control others, he actually validated and lifted women up in contrast to society at the time. Don’t believe me? Some discussions on this issue can be found on God’s Word to Women, Sojourners, and a great interview on Christianity Today with one of my favorite christian writers, Sarah Bessey.

This is the first overtly faith based piece I’ve ever created, though my faith, my beliefs, and my passions inadvertently end up in all of my work in bits and pieces. I was obviously at a breaking point, and I was reluctantly praying about my struggle. I really didn’t even want to, because to be honest, I was frustrated, and I was pissed off. This was not what adult life was supposed to be like. I wasn’t supposed to still be dealing with this crap; I wasn’t supposed to still feel anxious and lost and overwhelmed; I wasn’t supposed to still feel like an outsider no matter where I put myself. Since drawing helps me focus and communicate my thoughts, I decided to draw my prayer.

Dealing with intense anxiety cages you. You aren’t able to function as your normal self, or even interact with others in the same way because every ounce of your energy goes into self care and basically trying to not feel like garbage all the time. This painting is a right to left narrative. A death version of the theatrical comedy/tragedy masks are embedded into this girl’s torso near the location of where her heart would normally rest. Hands are coming up from behind her and touching her shoulder in an act of comfort, you are not alone. The hands represent God, but they are not passive like a pat on the back or a “there there, everything will be ok”. They are active and forceful, saying “No, I will not let you continue to suffer.” A suffocating darkness creeps up from below. In the next part of the narrative, those same hands are breaking the mask in two, and out of the center, though still tangled, falls the girl; her true inner self, out of the cage. She is holding a watering can. In the final part on the far right, she is fully escaped from the prison inside the mask and water flows from the watering can she is holding, while silhouettes of human figures with flowers at their hearts stand in it’s spray. She is “watering” their souls, symbolized by the flowers.

When we go through tough things, we can use our experiences to better connect with and support others. No, that doesn’t mean the trials we go through are “good” (Seriously, “everything happens for a reason” has to be my least favorite platitude, and I really,¬†really hate platitudes), but it means we can use something that was bad for good later on. Because of the struggles with anxiety I have experienced, I am able to better relate to a lot of my Artshop students and their mental health struggles which are oftentimes far more severe than what I have dealt with. I am better able to help them when they are going through a panic attack situation, better able to understand why on some days it bothers them to have a lot of noise during class when they are already on edge, better able to understand and empathize with the fact that they were fine an hour ago, and now are very upset even though nothing tangible has changed. I am able to be someone who says, “I hear you. Your feelings are legitimate. And you are not alone”.

A week or so passed afterward, and I ceased experiencing the out of the ordinary, rapid ups and downs.

No, my anxiety has not magically “poof!” disappeared, but over time ¬†I have become far better at managing it and breaking out of its cage using a variety of learned techniques. For some, engaging in their faith and educating themselves on emotional management techniques isn’t enough and they may need to additionally seek counseling or medication. Everyone is different, and there should be no judgement.

Also, everyone should read this post about high functioning anxiety. I have never been able to articulate an experience so well, and it is a must read for all in my opinion, because I do not think this experience is uncommon. I think people just are apprehensive, like I was, to talk about it. I guarantee someone in your life right now needs you to know this.

What are some things you do to recenter yourself when everything around you feels out of control?

 

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Art Discussion

Art As A Tool For Expression

I had the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in awhile last night, so I thought it was a good time to reconnect with everyone. My lack of continuous rest can usually be attributed to one of three things:

A. Keeping myself awake having imaginary conversations with people in my day to day existence that will never happen in real life.

B. Making lists on various topics that I will never remember in the morning anyway.

C. Being kept awake by the sound of air molecules gently bumping into each other, even through my earplugs. Seriously, I am the auditory equivalent of “The Princess And The Pea”.

It was also the first week of a new semester at Express Yourself Artshop, which brings a lot to do and think about, so item B in particular was happening a lot ;).

It will be my first full semester as program coordinator after being involved as an instructor for a little over 2 years, and the fascinating idea of art as a tool for self expression is something that one is immediately confronted with the moment they enter the classroom.

kurt-vonnegut-arts

Many great thinkers and creators of all types have spoken on the importance of creatively expressing oneself, but rather than posting a list of 20 quotes or articles, I’d rather share with you through personal experience.¬†Yes, I am an artist, but no, you don’t have to be to use something musical or visual or written to release whatever¬†you are holding back. Often times, through written words or sketches is the only time anyone is afforded the opportunity to see our true selves, the selves we know we are on the inside that look so much different from others’ perceptions of us. It is why I panic whenever anyone I don’t know too well asks if they can look at my sketchbook. It’s not some temperamental artist thing where I am like “No, but it’s not¬†beautiful yet! I can’t possibly reveal my rough beginnings!” It is because it reveals a 100% transparent view of my every thought and emotion, and that can be a bit embarrassing.

transparency  bright

Transparency, 2012, Watercolor and Ink

I had a lot of¬†social anxiety growing up. Even through early high school, I would often go through an entire day without speaking a single word. I’d go home after school¬†and my mouth would have that yucky stale, dry feeling like when you wake up in the morning, because I had literally not used my vocal chords for¬†around 7+ hours. Then of course, lovely acquaintances¬†would ask the oh-so-helpful question,”Why are you quiet all the time? Is there something wrong with you?” which made me want to clam up even more. If people already thought I was odd, God forbid I should open my mouth! Then they’d really have something to talk about. I knew that the person I was presenting to the world wasn’t the real me. I was actually pretty damn opinionated and strong-willed from a young age (I think in one of our garage sales I saw that my mom actually had a parenting book called something like “The Strong Willed Child”, meant to advise parents in coping with this particular sort of, ahem, “gift”). I had ideas and interests and things to say, and I hated the fact that others may see me as dull or demure, but I couldn’t break through this seemingly invisible force that held me captive. That is where I turned to art, my sketches being anything but safe, quiet, or boring.

When I look back, my frustration with the self imposed isolation that I didn’t know how to navigate around¬†is encapsulated in these visual expressions. Figures are often shown bound, missing one of their senses with eyes hidden or mouths literally sewn shut, or rendered immobile in an isolated environment.

blogexpressionwithopenedeyes

With Opened Eyes, Prismacolor Pencil, 2005

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Patches, Tears, and Loud Noises ; Prismacolor Pencil, 2005

blogexpressionofthesea

Of The Sea, Prismacolor Pencil, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

blogexpressiontimebound

Timebound, Prismacolor Pencil, 2006

blogexpressionsburied

Frozen, Prismacolor Pencil, 2006

 

Though emotionally painful at the time, I luckily connected with a few good friends junior and senior year who struggled similarly and could understand what I was going through, something that I couldn’t explain since it was all internal. This, coupled with going off to college and being forced into uncomfortable and unknown situations in which I would have to communicate out of necessity, helped me adapt and change, growing away from this extreme anxiety. Did it completely disappear? No, but it greatly lessened. Within the last couple of years I have also found that when I have a purpose to my communication and am passionate about what I am sharing, such as with art instruction, no matter how large the group of strangers may be my fears disintegrate (Ask me to talk about menial conversation fillers like the weather or how my day is going, and we may have a problem. I always say I prefer “big talk” ūüėČ ). Not all are so lucky. Some individuals are permanently nonverbal due to developmental disorders or injury. For them, finding alternate means of communication is not just therapeutic but necessary.

I am going to close with another Kurt¬†Vonnegut quote that I’ve probably shared before, because it’s that good:

many_people_need-95908

By expressing ourselves creatively whether the result is a masterpiece or not, we are not only helping ourselves, but are¬†touching others positively as well. Through making oneself vulnerable, we “give permission” to¬†others to do the same. We all think we’re the only one; the only one who thinks _________, the only one who feels _______, the only one who has experienced ________, when the truth is most likely we are not, everyone else is just too scared to say how they really feel.¬†I can’t count how many people have looked at the piece below and simply said, “Yeah, I know the feeling …”

The Rush Hour

The Rush Hour, Prismacolor Pencil, 2014

Of this next piece, viewers have commented that looking at the work was actually uncomfortable because they could¬†feel her claustrophobia. They understood¬†the feeling of being confined and held back, of feeling like you have outgrown your current life or situation, of wanting to move and change while everything and everyone around you is staying the same.¬†Everyone experiences feelings like this, there is just this unspoken rule that you don’t¬†talk about it.

actually it is this world thats too small

Actually, It Is This World That’s Too Small; Mixed Media, 2014

You don’t always have to be expressing negative emotions, either. A student in Express Yourself Artshop’s Painting Exploration class this week wanted to tell a story about¬†bright colors, music, and dance with¬†her piece, and made a modern art version of a dancer playing the¬†flute, referenced from an old painting from an art history book that she had found and connected with right away. Another tried painting for the first time, and chose to celebrate her favorite colors and the things that make her happy, like gardens. Besides aiding in dealing with difficult emotions, de-stressing¬†and joy are two other side effects of self expression through art.

colleendancer

Artist : Colleen D.

michelle3

Artist : Michelle D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just pick up a pencil and play … you may be surprised what comes out, or whom you connect with and inspire along the way.

 

 

 

 

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Exhibitions and Other News

Womens Perspective At Studio 23

Thursday night was the opening for the show I was included in at Studio 23, their yearly “Women’s Perspective” exhibition. It was a great night, and I even successfully mingled and talked about my work with a gaggle of guests without my face turning green or passing out – yay! My boyfriend, who accompanied me, was literally poking me in the back with his finger saying “Get up there, go stand over by your work and talk to people!” After much hissing back and forth, I cautiously made my way over and ended up having a fantastic time once I got into the swing of talking to a ton of random people I had never met all at once. It’s funny because being an instructor, I talk all day, but it’s all very planned and orderly and I know what I need to say. It’s the spontaneous small talk I fear, but I’ve found that despite the gigantic nerves, once I get going it’s easy to talk about my work with others and answer questions because honestly what on this earth can I possibly know more about, or love sharing with people more? I think most creatives be they artists, writers, musicians, tow a line between crippling self consciousness and an almost nauseating level of confidence ;).

Ready to go! I'd been dying for an outfit to wear that Betsey Johnson purse with - half off baby! (Which is literally the only way I'd ever bother with a designer purse) The retro barbie look got me.

Ready to go! I’d been dying for an outfit to wear that Betsey Johnson purse with – half off baby! (Which is the only way I’d ever bother with a designer purse – The retro barbie look got me.)

It's the little things ... I was over the moon excited when I saw the cool graphic detail they added to my display wall - just amazing, thanks Studio 23!

It’s the little things … I was over the moon excited when I saw the cool graphic detail they added to my display wall – just amazing, thanks Studio 23!

Standing like a proud parent next to my creations :).

Standing like a proud parent next to my creations :).

They included information about myself and my two pieces next to the work, which I’ve included below for some additional insight:

Much of my work involves making the internal external. I enjoy visually exposing the unique mental environment of the subject in each work, and I believe art should let us see something we cannot in real life. Rather than using exaggerated facial expressions or gestures, I tend to let the external surroundings of a subject speak to the content of their mind and soul. This tendency most likely stems from my interior design background, and the idea that the external environment should reflect the internal person who inhabits it. I am currently an instructor in a variety of art programs, including a program at Creative 360 in Midland for adults with disabilities. I see every day how creation sparks joy in the creator and those around them. Everyone is an artist. Each person on earth has the ability to do something creative that can touch another person, and it is never too late to begin.

The Peacock

The Peacock

On My Mind

On My Mind

‚ÄúThe Peacock‚ÄĚ is part of a series of conceptual portraits I did in which pattern and color are used to convey the subject‚Äôs personality, thoughts and emotions. This piece has a vintage feel with the hat and veil and peacock print dress. The dark stylized trees and floral pattern covering her hair merge seamlessly into the peacocks on her hat, and allow her mysterious and stoic face to become the focus. The subject is proud and dominant, similar to the animal covering her personage.

‚ÄúOn My Mind‚ÄĚ is a mixed media conceptual portrait created using colored pencil, ink, metallic watercolor and acrylic, embroidery thread, and fabric. I was inspired by art nouveau design, vintage fashion, antique photographs, and the vastness of deep space. I used metallic acrylic and metallic watercolors for the background, acrylic for the space scene, colored pencil for the portrait, fabric for her dress, and embroidery. I was first inspired by an odd antique photo I found depicting a young woman holding her head as if weary or in pain, but with a hint of smile on her lips. I was drawn to the strong emotion it showed. From there, I developed what her inner psychology may look like if depicted as a physical environment. I think we can all relate at one time or another to the feeling that we have the weight and breadth of an entire universe trapped inside our head.

If you are in the area around Bay City Michigan, I’d love it if you’d check out the show! It’s running through October 23. If the travel is not feasible, at the very least you got your own (VERY)miniature “virtual tour” here. But truly, there is much more fascinating work besides just my own that I have shared, if you can it is worth a visit.

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