Books, Music and Film

5 Favorite Movies About Disability

It’s Disability Pride Month! Especially in smaller US cities, this celebration often gets overlooked. For this year’s reminder, I wanted to share my top favorite films centering around disability.

Benny and Joon

Though I was just a tiny pipsqueak when this movie came out, from what I know this film was pretty progressive for its time. It presents an honest snapshot of the strain and sacrifice caring for a family member with a disability or mental illness can often entail without turning the cared-for into a burden or someone to be pitied, which is a delicate but important balance. It also ultimately advocates for independence and autonomy. These two misfits, both with brains that work differently than what is considered “normal”, end up crossing paths in a pretty comedic way that involves a lost poker game. Benny is calm, easy-going, kind hearted, and incredibly knowledgeable on antiquated and obscure film history. He can recall a plethora of dates and trivia about his area of interest, yet he can’t read or write. June is impulsive and intense, and can experience pretty severe psychosis if unmedicated but is verbose and well spoken, an intuitive painter with a genius level vocabulary. As the Benny and Joon grow together along with the other colorful characters in their community, this film shows how we all have strengths and struggles. No one is meant to do things alone. We need all kinds and we need each other.

Mr. Blue Sky

Another film that is a sort of love story centering on disability, this one is low budget and lesser known. I’ll be upfront, the intro credits look like they were done in Microsoft Power Point, and the acting is a bit after school special. It’s definitely independent. Still, it has over a 7 rating on IMDB, I believe because of the unique view of interabled relationships.  The premise involves a love triangle between a group of old friends that grew up together as kids. Very Hallmark, except for one detail … one of the two ladies involved has down syndrome. I don’t want to give too much away, but as the plot unfolded and the male character admitted his unconventional crush, even I had trouble wrapping my mind around it. I was challenged to ask myself why I found this confusing when they are two consenting adults who both have an understanding of their feelings. Challenging is exactly how I’d describe this film, and why I’ve thought of it often since first watching it last month despite the fact that it arguably isn’t the best made film in the world. Some stories just need to be told.

Best And Most Beautiful Things

Be prepared to be challenged again by this documentary. Michelle, our leading lady, is so vibrant and interesting you will wish you could hang out with her for a day. She is legally blind and autistic, and has struggled to fit in throughout her life only to finally find her place within the kink/s&m community. This documentary is not about sex. It’s about discovering your identity(ies) (we are all so much more of an “and” than an “or”), it’s about breaking barriers and assumptions, it’s about how people with disabilities are expected to live in a perpetual state of childhood and treated like they are all the same (For more on how people with disabilities can and do participate in alternative subcultures, see the fabulous Drag Syndrome). Seeing someone who loves who they are and just shines (I was an unconfident, self-deprecating mess at 20!) is a message we can all receive and apply to our own lives.

Special

Ok not a movie, but this show is just plain fun and has all the trappings of a hip, witty sitcom but the main character happens to be a gay man with Cerebral Palsy. What makes it so different is the genuineness of the situations and dialog, I’m sure because the starring actor is also the writer. Ryan O’Connell based the show on his own experiences. His mother is another major player in the story who had her own arc around caregiver burnout, yet still having a difficult time letting go when her son wants independence and privacy. There are plenty of deep, sometimes very uncomfortable situations explored, always with humor, grace, and dignity.

Margarita With A Straw

Hailing from India, this coming of age story follows a college student who travels to America to attend school in New York.  I’m going to get my one gripe out of the way early: I wish they would have cast an actress who actually had Cerebral Palsy. For insight into why this matters when “isn’t the point of acting to pretend to be someone else?”, see this short Ted Talk by Maysoon Zayid. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing skip to minute 7.

Like many at this age, the main character is finding who she is, discovering her sexuality and what she wants in life. She grapples with finding someone who finally ‘sees’ her, but still having romantic feelings towards someone else. It’s messy, she makes mistakes, she hurts people … You know, just like we all do sometimes. That’s kind of the point. Disability activism is also touched on which I think is great, as I wasn’t introduced to that world until I met some very cool people through my work … more about that at the end!

Eagle Vs. Shark

Ok, I had to add an extra one to the list because this movie is so under watched and just one of my beloved favorites. This movie was Taika Waititi’s directorial debut back in 2007, before he was a big old deal after working with Marvel. When people have seen it, they inevitably compare it to Napoleon Dynamite due to the purposeful awkwardness and quirky wardrobe, and this honestly annoys me to no end. This movie is so much more than eccentricity for the sake of eccentricity. Though disability is never mentioned, it’s pretty obvious the two main characters lie somewhere on the ASD spectrum. Amongst the quirk and whimsy serious themes such as grief, isolation, broken family relationships, isolation, trauma, bullying, and betraying yourself to be loved and accepted are all integrated into the more lighthearted moments.

Edit … One more! I was just about to hit post and I thought of another film that I just had add to the list last minute.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly

This film is a true story about Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke and became almost completely paralyzed at 43 except for his left eye. It is based entirely on a memoir he wrote after the accident. How could he do this when he has what is called “locked in syndrome” (the mind still works as it always did but the individual is “locked in” to a body that can no longer move or communicate) and can’t speak? He and his speech therapist devise a system of spelling out words using a blinking system to indicate certain letters with his eye that can still move. I can’t fathom experiencing something like this. Beyond my astonishment at Bauby’s determination I don’t think I ever realized that speech therapists quite literally save lives. Throughout the film are also Bauby’s personal reflections on how different he became after the accident not just physically but spiritually and emotionally. Leading up to what happened he was … well, a bit of a jerk. He reflects, “Does it take the harsh light of disaster to show a person’s true nature?” It’s a tough watch, but always a creative soul, Bauby in his own way triumphs through what I can only imagine is unbelievable psychic pain, “My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly”.

I had the most wonderful experience of hosting a disability pride party this year at my workplace. Our art students with disabilities shared stories and performances, and I could tell from the whispers and reactions of guests that people went home a bit changed, with a new perspective on people with disabilities in our community.

If you’d like to see more of what we do at Creative 360, please visit our online gallery. You can watch some of the performance footage in the Acting Gallery. My favorite thing about art is its power to unlock untapped potential, and its ability to bring vastly different people together.

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Techniques and Tutorials

Mixed Media Movie Stills – The Wizard Of Oz

I’ve started making a series of “mini” 5×7 mixed media works on canvas board that recreate stills from my favorite movies using a variety of materials. This is purely a “for fun” project and a way for me to do some whimsical, low-pressure creating in between my larger projects. I will likely have them available for sale in my Facebook Shop so if you use that platform, give me a like. I’m starting with childhood favorites, and the first one I have for you is Wizard of Oz. Using a printout as inspiration, I am able to do a simple graphite transfer onto the art paper of my choice. In this case, I used watercolor paper. Finding printed fabric or paper for the background that is already similar to the pattern you are seeking adds ease to the art making process.

In each of these videos, I will be using completely different materials, and I hope you will be inspired to try your own mixed media projects at home. Don’t draw or paint and the idea of trying stresses you out? You could do this same thing all collage style and just cut and paste the figure from the photo! There is always a solution, just have fun with it and as always I’m just a message or comment away with questions :). Materials used for this project are: Viviva Colorsheets Watercolors (love the portability and zero cleanup!), watercolor paper, detail paint brushes, cotton printed fabric, a 5×7 canvas board, and Weldbond glue (used because it is a strong hold for all materials since we are using thicker paper and also fabric). Let me know what you think!

What are some of the prettiest movies you remember?

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Artist Bio

Who’s In Your Way? /Or/ I Guess I’ve Grown Up Now.

I came across a post from an old friend on facebook a couple weeks ago that read “The phrase I hear most from weak people is ‘You’re holding me back’.” It’s one of those things you read that stops you in your tracks mentally for a moment. Being me, my first thought was “Ouch! That’s kind of mean … and can’t that be true sometimes?”

I’ve been through this scenario in a workplace situation. Far back yonder, I put someone in charge of a project they wanted to lead, and spent copious amounts of my time and energy making sure they had what they needed to be supported and thrive. I was alongside the whole way, being sure to ask probing questions to get them thinking and planning while still empowering them to take the lead. I made myself available for any and all help needed, even for troubleshooting and brainstorming outside of work that I would not be compensated for. Long story short, even with all this they continued to sit on their hands until after much pleading and prompting, I was forced to take over because others were depending on the end result of this undertaking by a certain due date. The other helped about 20%, and a lot of what they did I had to improve upon or fix because full effort wasn’t put in. Afterwards, both our names ended up on the project and they were PISSED. The attitude was that they had done most of the work, and I was just in the way but everyone always wants to give me all the credit and attention because of favoritism. Not to get into my life and/or work history, but the idea of me ever getting superfluous credit or “favoritism” is laughable. Oftentimes it’s honestly been almost the polar opposite. I never had asked for my name to be on the project or even told anyone I’d done most of the work because I hadn’t wanted to make the other look bad, and I had actually been planning to let them take the credit which was why their reaction especially upset me. Yes, that’s dumb and unhealthy but as I said this was years and years ago. The truth has a way of being noticed regardless, and so someone had deemed fit to add my name in the final credits. At the end of their rant was when I was treated to the above statement, when I was told all I do is stand in the way of their success, and I was rendered quite speechless. They are lucky I was speechless, because I had entered full volcano mode at this point.

I’ve also run into this accusation in my social life outside of work, usually when I won’t drop everything to completely manage the events of someone else’s life.

However, I certainly can’t sit here and point the finger as if I’ve never had a similar attitude during some struggle points in my own existence. I remember countless frustrated, tearful conversations with family as a teen and young adult asserting that I would never find my success because of where I lived, and it was their fault I’d never find a job in my field because they didn’t pay for me to go to college out of state, and wouldn’t drive me across the country and get me an apartment in California, and how I would never have any real friends because they chose to start a family in such a boring place where no one likes me … Yikes, I’m super embarrassed now at how rotten that sounds but it’s the truth.

I have struggled to find my place in this world, and at times still do. Only now, I’m not convinced location has a ton to do with it. Maybe a small percentage, but I also think I may just always be that way and that’s ok, we all have things.

Not quite what she had in mind…

It’s always easier to point at someone else as the reason you’re floundering. It takes strength to look at yourself and say hey, I’ve got to step it up and make some changes. The moment I stopped being so narrowly focused and started being open to doing things with my art career outside of a very specific, internally special to me, niche subject I started reaching people, which in turn drew them into all that special interest stuff too. In the past, I never would have created a mixed media landscape because, “Allise only does a, b, and c” (Freshman year of college, a friend asked me to paint a girl holding a cat for her dorm bedroom and I did but put dragon wings on the cat because I was on a dragon kick! – This reminds me now of something some of my Artshop students would do. Ok, maybe I have found one place I feel at home most of the time 😉 ). I expanded my scope to add a broad letter d, I also do art that may not be my special subject of interest but helps improve others’ lives and makes people happy, especially those groups that may not have access to fine art on a daily basis.

Sorry for the language, but it’s funny. Oscar Wilde once said, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you”.

The moment I stopped thinking I deserved more than where I was and cut the entitlement, I saw doors where before I’d thought there was only a brick wall. Am I rich and famous now – hell no. But am I pretty happy most of the time, and do I generally like my life? I’d say, sure, I think so.

No one can stop you unless you let them, and no one is obligated to prop you up. Show gratitude to those who do anyway, and do your own work.

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Exhibitions and Other News, New Work

New Art Series : Peace

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a series … since Unlimited from way back in 2017 to be exact. This new one is going to be on 22×28″ canvases and will be completely multimedia. I love mixed media because it allows the artist to use the best tool for each component of their composition. I draw people better than I paint them still at this point, so figures will be in colored pencil. Interesting silhouettes or clothing … fabric it is! Skies and birds? Acrylics of course, and why not palette knife paint the birds ;).

This series is going to be a way different theme than I’ve explored before. I always like to include deeper messages in my work, but have never done an explicitly spiritual message because it is important to me that my art is able to speak to viewers coming from all different places. Each work in this series will represent one of the fruit of the spirit, and though this idea comes from the Christian tradition, these principles are positive to cultivate in everyone’s life.

I started with Peace, maybe because this is something I have been desperately needing to grow in my own life over the last couple of years.

Peace is active. Peace is a verb, it is not simply the absence of noise. Peace takes work, and it involves risk and often involves stepping out and becoming uncomfortable. Making the changes necessary to grow peace are often painful. To truly be at peace our view of life’s value cannot be determined solely by circumstance, because external circumstances will undulate up and down completely out of our control, leaving us to be in emotional chaos, completely sucked beneath the waves.

Being a bringer of peace in others’ lives and in society as a whole is equally difficult. It means listening when we would rather shout over someone, it means sticking your neck out to protect or defend someone else even at personal risk of how others may view you or treat you afterwards, it means setting strong boundaries.

In this image, a woman is guarding a crowd of people that are behind her, blocking them from the shadows of chaos. These shadows have tried to grab her and drag her down, her arm is marked. However, the shadows cannot penetrate. Doves circle around her head which symbolize an inner strength and calm within her spirit, and can also symbolize her halo of protection that shields her just as she is protecting others.

The source from which we draw our peace protects us. The source can be sturdy and formidable, or … not so much. I am reminded of a speech one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace (who was actually an atheist), gave that really had an impact on me when I was floundering in the waves. “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship”. I’d encourage you to check out the entire speech discussed here. Another author that probably has about as opposite a personality from me as you can get but has really made me think, Mark Manson, writes in his self help book perfect for people who hate self help books, “True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving”. Much of life is composed of struggle, which is why if we wait for the perfect external circumstances to be at peace, we will never have it. Similarly, he discusses the importance of choosing the right metrics to determine what makes us and our life “good”. Faulty metrics used to define our life’s success and value are anything we don’t have control over, such as money, social standing, etc. which DFW also cited in his speech as destructive forces to worship. He calls worshiping these forces slipping into our “default mode”. They are the things we chase after and value when we are living without reflection, consideration, or deeper evaluation. They represent our base human nature, so to speak, and we all slip into this mode from time to time especially when under considerable strain.

Where does your peace spring from? What creates your circle of protection as you brave life’s trials? Are you more often a bringer of peace or of chaos to the people whose paths you cross in your day to day life? These are all questions I considered while creating this work. I strongly believe this series is going to be true art therapy for me as I work, and that my eyes will be opened throughout the process. I truly hope I am able to impart something of value to viewers as well.

There are layers of meaning, as I am a big believer in the fact that art should make people think. I’d love to hear what others see in this image, so please share if you are so inclined!

PS … I am so honored this first installment won an Award of Excellence at the Midland Artists Guild’s Annual Juried Exhibition last night, especially amongst such a fabulous collection works! Click here to view the entire show virtually. And yes, I made my jacket and paintbrush necklace! More on the inspiration for my wearable art creating spree soon.

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New Work

An Early MerMay Surprise!

Timely as May is getting closer and closer, I recently after long last finished my mermaid painting that I started at the beginning of 2020. This poor little lady kept getting brushed aside for more urgent projects over the years. It is also the first human figure I’d ever started with acrylics when my preferred mediums are colored pencil, ink, or watercolor, so there was definitely a self education process.

I’ve described this project as really giving the proverbial finger to gatekeepers who believe certain supplies can’t be used in fine art. Working at an arts non-profit, I am a big fan of use everything, and actually one of my favorite pieces I’ve seen at a museum in awhile was a giant panther in the jungle that was composed entirely out of flatback rhinestones and pony beads!

I first sketched the basic outline of my mermaid on the canvas base. I then used gesso to apply a variety of textured materials where I wanted a 3-dimensional surface: netting from avocado bags, tissue paper, and yarn. After I acrylic painted the main imagery, I dry brushed over certain areas I wanted to have an iridescent sheen with metallic craft paints which are also perfect for highlighting the texture. I glued tiny shells to the tail and the edges of the rock, brushing over with a watered down coat of black metallic to help them fade into the rest of the design.

She certainly exceeded my expectations! This is why you see projects through to the end past that “ugly phase” in the middle.

While we are on the subject of beautiful mermaids, check out this mermaid themed merchandise created by my Artshop Students! All designs were created by artists with disabilities. Show them some support by checking out our Redbubble Shop! Happy (early) MerMay 😉 …

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Artist Bio

5 Things I’ve Learned As A Working Artist

These last two years have been tough for a lot of people, but especially tough for creators. As we are just now shifting towards some degree of normalcy, I wanted to share 5 things I’ve learned as a creative over this strange journey.

Your reason for creating and metric for success needs to be something you can control.

Reasons that depend on the public’s reaction and choices that are completely out of our control, such as money and popularity, will ultimately lead to a whole lot of frustration and angst. Making money off of what you do is valid and necessary, we all have bills. However, it is nearly impossible to be happy if this is the core reason you are creating. Many people create for self expression or therapy. Not everyone creates for themselves, and that’s ok too. For some, just the act of creating itself doesn’t do it; their work is meant to be shared, seen, and heard in order for the process to be complete. Reasons for creating along this vein can be to inspire others to look at the world in a new way, to make other think about x, to connect with and speak to x group of people, to spread joy, to educate. Everyone’s reason is going to be different. My reason is a combination of public and private, which makes sense for me as a hybrid INTROextrovert. I create for self expression and as a form of communication, but also to share the joy of art with others. When I teach, I especially like reaching those who have previously felt limited. I love releasing untapped potential and work a lot with adults with disabilities and older adults beginning artistic journeys late in life. You can control outreach and expression by actively seeking opportunities. You can’t always control fame and fortune.

Don’t include others by limiting yourself.

In other words, don’t do less to make others comfortable – take them alongside you. Creating is so personal, it can be devastating when your work is getting overlooked. Creative fields are also so niche and not as prevalent as other pursuits, so that creators often feel like they are in constant competition with over creatives. It can get weird when a fellow artist starts having a ton of success and you feel like you’ve been working just as hard. I’ve been in both places. I’ve felt like a fool for devoting my life to the hard work I am doing to see things keep falling into place for everyone else. I’ve also recently been in the place where certain things finally began to come together, and I’ve felt some pushback. At times I’ve questioned whether I should move out of the way for other emerging creators. Especially if creating is life-giving for you, do not do less because someone else is asking why not me? Take them along for the ride, collaborate, invite them to share a space with you at shows or festivals. They may end up saying nah, and that’s ok, but don’t crush your own momentum that you’ve worked so hard for. Everything is an eb and flow, up and down like much of life. If you sense a jealous vibe, reach out as a mentor because you know how it is – you’ve been there. Don’t be inclusive by holding yourself back.

There’s nothing wrong with grabbing onto trends that are fun, but follow trends because you want to not because you think it will make your art better. It won’t.

The thing with trends is, the market ends up becoming oversaturated with copies. There is no guarantee your watercolor paintings of Pokémon will take off more than the other 5000 artist on Instagram doing the same thing. (As you can see, I tend to not be so great at following trends. I’m pretty sure Pokémon is over, but I just started playing Pokémon Go last year. Late to the party as always!) If it’s fun and makes you happy, then that’s reason enough to go for it. But, don’t struggle through trying to force your work into a shape it doesn’t fit just to be trend aligned.

Doing art you aren’t good at isn’t a waste of time.

As working creatives, it’s important to set aside time for art to be play as well as work. I recently took a clay hand building class after putting it off for the longest time because my head kept telling me, “In school clay was the only time you ever got Bs in art class, it’s not like you’re ever going to go buy a kiln and start doing this professionally so what’s the point”. The point is to play. For me, it is the same thing with piano. As I plunk along on my little keyboard learning the same song I started trying to play a year ago, do I ever think I’m going to play for a crowd or write my own music? Absolutely not. But in that moment, am I feeling relaxation, joy, and a sense of growth? Certainly.

Going digital isn’t all bad.

Social media and now especially Covid has changed how artists are expected to interact with the public. It can get tedious to constantly curate online media and feel like it is taking away from important time that could be spent creating. Virtual classes can feel impersonal and lacking an important social and experiential element. Virtual exhibits can flatten work and we all know viewing a tiny jpeg on a phone screen can’t compare with standing in front of a largescale work immersed in it. Neither is the experience being at a venue hearing live music the same as watching a livestream. Valid points, but all artists should be excited about the increased accessibility technology provides. I saw an artist I love post a discussion about how harmful it is to consider digital art to be just as valid as traditional art, because an important element of emotional connection with art is the artist physically touching the materials, moving their hands to create. As an advocate for creators with disabilities, the first thought that popped into my head is, what if an artist can’t move their hands the same way as everyone else? Why is art invalid because it uses a different process? What if a person doesn’t have access to transportation but would like to take an art class? What if a person gets anxiety in crowds but wants to experience a live concert or theatrical performance? What if a person can’t afford to travel to a big name art museum but wants to become inspired by some of the world’s most famous masterworks? I get it, change is hard for me too and I truly don’t enjoy creating digitally as much as I do traditionally. Creating video content doesn’t come naturally to me, and it’s not perfect. Inspiring others to create who live on the opposite side of the country and will never attend one of my in-person art classes? That’s amazing regardless.

Other creatives – what is something you’ve learned recently?

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