New Art! 2 Down 2 To Go!

Struck by both some luckily timed inspiration and ever looming deadlines, I have buckled down on my series and completed 2 more pieces, which means only 2 more to go! I actually think these 2 new ones are among my favorites so far. Series-explanation-blurb time for those new readers! “Unlimited” is composed of 12 mixed media portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. Women of all ages, races, and time periods are depicted, each communicating a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. 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. Pieces are primarily drawing and painting, accented with mixed media elements and metallic details.

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For the above, titled “October: She Is Full of Curiosity”, I incorporated a lot more mixed media elements which I felt meshed well with the “vintage study” atmosphere of the background. I used quilting fabric for the wallpaper, leather upholstery samples for the book cover, decoupaged book pages for the inside pages and title, an art book clipping for the picture on the wall, ink for the woodwork, watercolor for the outdoor scene, lace overlay for the girl’s collar, metallic acrylic for her hair, and prismacolor pencil for most of the figure and clothing.

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In this next piece, titled “July: She Is Free In Mind and Spirit”, I took almost the opposite approach, not using any fabric or found object materials and sticking solely to the traditional art materials of prismacolor pencil, watercolor, and acrylic paint. I’d had all the pieces for my series pre-planned as far as composition and subject matter since late 2015. However, this one took flight (haha, bad pun) on its own quite recently after I realized that I had a variety of ages and races represented in my planned artworks, but not a variety of abilities. Given that I work with an art program that serves individuals with disabilities, this oversight stopped me in my tracks. I’m always harping on inclusion and the lack of representation of people with disabilities in the public and entertainment sphere to anyone who will listen (and even those who don’t want to sometimes), and yet I realized they were not included in my project that was all about inclusion, unity, and representation. I was thus tasked with coming up with a visible disability that could be seen in just a head and shoulders portrait rather than a full body rendering. This lively young woman with down syndrome who exudes confidence, energy, and life evolved over the incredibly short course of two interrupted days with no pre-planning or sketching beforehand which is very uncommon for me. I don’t know that anyone else will see it, but this piece definitely holds the most emotional connection for me.

For more deeply personal and unconventional portraits, check out self-taught contemporary artist Stephen Martyn Welch’s “Everyone Deserves A Portrait” series inspired by his son who was born with Kabuki Syndrome. Keep checking for the last two! I’m on a roll ;)!

Artists To Know: My Personal Influences

People are constantly asking and being asked the question, Who are your influences? Who do you consider your hero? Who are your role models? giphyI never know how to answer and end up feeling like I’m having some sort of Mindy Lahiri moment. It sounds totally pompous and terrible to be like … Hm, well I’d say myself probably? but that is how I feel sometimes! I love art, and have seen many pieces that have spoken to me in some way, but I’ve never had that “master artist” whom I felt informed my whole artistic style and way of doing things. I’ve always had this strong aversion to even remotely copying or being influenced by anything at all. I remember growing up in school, my parents would ask me what I was working on in class at the dinner table. I’d go on about some paper I had to write, and one of my parents (usually my dad) would pipe up with, “Oh, I know! You can write about _________!”. I’d get so mad and exclaim, “Great, now I can’t write about that even if I was going to because you said it first so it’s not my idea anymore!”A lot of times it truly was the idea I’d had in my head already, which was super problematic.

I am a very visually based person, and images have always stuck with me more than individual people anyway. As a way to maybe untangle some of my artistic influences, I have shared individual images that have struck me in my artistic journey, inspired me to create, and made me excited about being an artist. You may see similarities between some of these images and the work I aim to create, and some may be as different from my own work as night and day. You will not see any flowers or landscapes. Enjoy!

One of the first pieces of art that really impacted me once I was in high school and actually started developing an artistic style of my own wasn’t actually traditional art, but a fashion editorial from Elle Girl magazine. Elle Girl was infinitely better than it’s preppy, air-headed sister Cosmo Girl, or so I believed at the time – Elle Girl had Emma Watson on the cover (in a marching band themed shoot of all things), and also first introduced me to the band Tegan and Sara via a short article featuring lots of photos of them leaning against walls in cool clothes and an answer to the all important question, what IS that weird sauce that Canadians put on their french fries? Its slogan was “Dare to be Different”, and it did tend to feature more unique, out-of-the-box photo shoots than other magazines geared towards teens. I was super into photography at the time as well as drawing, and though I had never thought of myself as a super confident person, I loved dressing up in fun outfits and makeup and crazy jewelry with my friends and taking photos. I loved doing this because it allowed me to be far more bold and outgoing than my social anxiousness normally allowed me to be. All the outlandish clothes and hair and bright makeup is like a protective mask where you feel more like you are playing a character than anything else, and you don’t have to feel awkward or embarrassed about anything.

I came across these H.R. Geiger pieces at Barnes and Noble of all places, while looking at calendars for my new dorm my first year away at college. I was most struck by his more figurative work. His pieces are super creepy but they tell a story, and I was so impressed by the striking monochromatic contrast and seamless, almost obsessive detail. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I didn’t end up buying the calendar because I had many more purchases to make and it was like 25 bucks. However, I took down his name to look up more of his work, and have been a fan ever since. Funny enough, I wouldn’t watch Alien, for which he did a significant amount of visuals, until about 3 years ago.

I discovered these works from CC Askew and Camille Rose Garcia respectively in the art magazines I started to devour in late high and school early college. I hadn’t seen a lot of art from current working artists at that time, because art classes in school tend to be overly focused on the past. I understand the whole learn your foundations thing, and appreciating the history of art is important, but I remember being somewhat surprised to discover that there were actually well known artists that existed past the 19th century ;). These solidified my affinity towards pop surrealism, and I fell in love with their heavy use of twisted-storybook-esque illustration, a mix of imagery that can be both childlike and nostalgic yet also deeply dark.

Two works I also discovered in glorious outsider art, street art, and pop surrealism magazines are these by Lori Earley and Sylvia Ji. Both were artists who focus heavily on portraiture, as do I in my work. They used contrasting, unusual colors and their pieces were delicate and feminine but not without a dark, surreal edge.

These pieces by Ray Caesar and Ruben Ireland were the first digital art that ever peaked my interest. For the longest time, I had harbored such a grudge against digital artists (those bunch of cheaters!), mainly because the only digital art I’d seen was poorly executed fan art or digital manipulations that could be done in about 5 minutes with the right mouse clicks on Photoshop.  These artists, however, utilize the medium to do things that you can’t do traditionally. For example, Caesar actually creates entire 3D worlds which he then rotates the camera view within and crops to create his final pieces.  I have recently done some experimenting with digital art myself, and it is challenging, let me tell you!

Another one of my inspirations is always, always my students! One of my students who comes to Express Yourself Artshop from an area assisted living home just taught me last week how to make crochet necklaces!

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Fellow creatives out there, be it artists, designers, musicians, writers, actors, any part of the spectrum: who (or what works) inspire(s) you to create?

 

 

Art Inspired By The Women’s Marches

A good friend and I recently talked about the series of Women’s Marches that happened in the US the day after Trump’s inauguration, she saying she supported the right to protest, but didn’t really understand how Trump’s election caused all of the things the women organizers seemed to be fighting against. I explained that to me, these weren’t “anti-Trump” rallies but a public outcry over a variety of issues affecting many different groups that make up our country, groups that wanted to remind the current leaders, “Hey, I’m here! I’m one of your citizens!” After we’d finished talking, she said that with all those issues at play, ‘I guess it seems to me why now? These marches should probably have happened a lot sooner’. And she’s right, Donald Trump didn’t cause many of the disturbing attitudes we are seeing all of a sudden pushed to the forefront of our culture. As another friend posted on facebook the other day, “Hey everyone, the world was messed up before Trump took office. Thank you and goodbye.” The comment made me mad at first, but in all honestly the statement is true. What cannot be trivialized, however, is the fact that many of our leader’s words and attitudes have given a lot of messed up people the green light to say and do things they may not have before. He has lifted the yoke of social acceptability. He is in the position to make our messed up culture worse depending on his choices. Though the marches were most definitely a reaction to Trump’s Inauguration, they were not “just an anti-Trump rally”. They were less against anything in fact, and more FOR … Gender Equality Disability Advocacy Affordable Healthcare Affordable Family Planning Options Women’s Health Racial Equality Prison Reform A Fair Living Wage Immigration Amnesty 

The original event that inspired multitudes of sister marches is known as the “Women’s March On Washington” because it was organized by women. However, the issues at stake effect everyone. Little known fact ignored by most of the media who want to paint these protesters as a bunch of crazies wearing giant vagina costumes (Seriously, the aftermath of such a positive, hopeful event has been so hateful and brutal. I know we should come to expect it, but still …), this event bridged barriers between gender, race, pro-life and pro-choice, and even between party lines!

As all historical events often do, it also inspired a lot of fantastic art. By now almost everyone has seen the more well known poster collections, but I wanted to highlight some perhaps lesser known illustrations that embodied the spirit of this important time. Apathy has all but disintegrated. Time to grow.

Penelope Dullaghan designed an awesome pin showing the ASL sign for love, the hand depicted in bold rainbow hues. The graphic is simple and eye catching, the message being immediately clear at first glance. These pins are sold through Pincause, an organization started by Kate and Nate of Ann Arbor, MI (Props to some fellow Michiganders!). For each pin purchased, a donation is made to ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Pincause is non-partisan, because, and I quote “No party has the market cornered on love.” ❤

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Lois Keller ‘s Colorful Manifest For The Women’s March On Washington is literally a portrait of the event itself and the spirit it embodied. The colorful watercolor effect is just gorgeous as well.

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Jillian Adel ‘s poster designs for the Women’s March are so bold and youthful, and capture such a riotous spirit. They have a throwback vibe, and remind me of something I would have hung on the back of my bedroom door in high school which I absolutely love. You can see the whole collection of posters in Jillian’s Behance portfolio.

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Giulia Zoavo ‘s work revolves for the most part around character design. This United We Stand illustration was made for an article on the US’s marches in Italian Women’s Magazine Cosebelle. It’s amazing how much personality is in each figure though their designs are so simple. You can even get a free download of this image as a cool banner for the top of your facebook page! Thanks, Giulia ;).

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Tamar Moshkovitz is a freelance artist and designer sending support from Berlin. This illustration certainly wins for most adorable. Who hasn’t wanted to share one body with their best gal pals? Obviously, not I – see Halloween 2007.

I think we would all do well to start listening better to other’s concerns, stop treating far right or far left leaning media as the be-all-end-all as far as perception formation, and start asking others questions rather than assuming their character. I vow to try and do the same.

 

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Art Discussion: New Year’s Resolutions

I have to admit, I never make New Year’s resolutions; partly because if you are truly dissatisfied with something, it seems silly to arbitrarily wait until the turning of the calendar to fix it. In part also because we all tend to set the same goals, those goals that we know everyone else is setting so we can easier relate to those around us as we share that we want to find our soulmate, get a promotion, or lose weight, and we can all laugh together about how we probably won’t actually do anything to work towards most of those things. But, what would happen if we committed to doing one thing that we were truly passionate about in this new year, one thing that we didn’t over analyze to death, asking ourselves, Should I want this? Is it too silly? Too shallow? Too lofty? Too weird? No one would understand anyway … 

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During my senior year of college 7 years ago (Whoa! 7 is a big number.), I entered an art book into the Annual Student Exhibition at Central Michigan University. I asked a sampling of the people I encountered in a day, some I knew well and some I did not, to think of a couple of experiences they would like to have before their life was over, and pick the most obscure one to share with me. I chose 35 different submissions to illustrate, and Underneath was  born. This was my first experiment with creating art based on collected personal stories, something I would use to create many more projects in the future. I also ended up winning the Grand Award for this piece, which was the first time I’d ever won anything for my art aside from a coloring contest in 4th grade, and not a bad way to exit my college career ;).


As annoying as it may be that the first thing anyone asks when meeting someone for the first time after “What’s your name?” is, “So what do you do?”, we kind of are what we do. This doesn’t have to mean our day jobs, or even be workplace related at all. What we do with each day is a choice, and it is these choices that reflect what we value and shape who we will become. True goals can give immense insight into each individual’s unique personality, drive, and psyche. That is why I so enjoyed sifting through the responses I received for this project.

I was reminded of Underneath recently for an unfortunate reason. The young woman who 7 years ago submitted the far right response above took her own life in a murder-suicide earlier this month. She attended my high school, but our school was so large growing up there were tons of people who walked in graduation with me that I felt like I’d never laid eyes on my whole four years there. I never knew her well, but our paths did cross and I remembered her submission deeply affecting me back then, as the news of what occurred deeply saddened me now. A couple of my good friends had had classes and clubs with her, some even keeping up over the years at least through texting and facebook, and the news hit them even harder.

This may not be a typical resolution, but something to be mindful of in the new year is this: we do not know everyone else’s story. We have no clue about everything the people we run into in our day to day life may be going through. People learn to adapt, and to act, and to portray themselves in person, at work, and in social media as how they want others to see them. I know I do it; I think we all do to a point. I have always been fascinated with the dichotomy between individual’s alone personas versus their public personas. It is a concept that is interesting to explore. It can also be a concept that is dangerous, because it can prevent people from reaching out who need help. If you make one resolution (aside from foregoing all convention and chasing your oddest dream / within reason and lawfulness, of course), resolve to be transparent and authentic, and resolve to be someone who is willing to make that reach when someone needs support either in the form of just a listening ear or otherwise. Christmas falling on a Sunday, I attended the Christmas morning church service at MFMC with my family this year. We spoke about how there is the whole Christmas story which most of us, churchgoers or not, have known since childhood. But, we all have stories, and our story, how we live and interact, can change someone else’s story for the better if we allow it to happen. We have nothing to lose for trying.

To see the rest of my art book in order, visit the album on my website.

New Work! (In Which I Present Probably The Cheeriest Art I’ve Ever Done)

Hey all! I recently finished the 4th piece I’ve added to my current 12 part series. Each piece represents a month of the calendar, and this one is June so it would actually be installment 6 but I’ve skipped around a bit. To catch up new comers, I am working on a series of 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’s collective experiences beyond their differences. I give you, June: She Is Constantly Evolving.

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I think this is quite literally the happiest piece I’ve ever completed – There’s even a puppy … that is unreal. I mean, a couple years ago I actually was told by the manager of a local restaurant that I had to remove a couple of pieces from a show I’d hung there because they were afraid it might send patrons spiraling into depression. You’re not a real artist if your art has never been ousted from anywhere, or so I’m told. Not that everything I make is gloom and doom, but to have butterflies, puppies, flowers, smiling with teeth, and cotton candy clouds all together in one piece is not usually my jam. All of my work centers around people’s inner worlds, and sometimes confronts difficult or uncomfortable emotions. Even my pieces that convey overt happiness usually have some sort of edge or oddity to them.

I remember meeting my blindly assigned roommate in college for the first time. Once she found out I was an artist, she wanted me to do some large paintings for the common room, but “They have to be cute! Not scary!” Apparently she thought I was some sort of dark , twisted soul, which is quite funny as I had Sanrio posters all over my bedroom and Bart Simpson print pj’s for god’s sake. (I was to find out later that until we became friends she was afraid to put out any of her Hello Kitty themed toiletries in our shared bathroom, and also only watched America’s Next Top Model in secret when I wasn’t home for fear of my scorn.) To fulfill the cute requirement, I made a painting of a girl holding her kitten surrounded by retro, colorful power flowers. But … I gave the kitten purple dragon wings.

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This is so Museum Of Bad Art worthy in the most hilarious way, that I’m actually saddened I tossed it. It’s one of those compositions that is so bad it goes right past bad and back to good again.

All this to say, this is a rare piece to be one that conveys nothing but pure, unadulterated joy and exhilaration. It’s ironic that I created this at a time when joy and exhilaration were about the two farthest things from my mind. As seems to be the general consensus, 2016 has been more than a little trying, and it sure decided to go out with a bang in November and December.

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This piece is about transformation, as symbolized by the presence of butterflies, and maybe it was the idea that change is certainly most appealing during the most wearing of times, mixed with a bit of my love of holidays that makes it impossible for me to stay cranky around Christmastime. Either way, this piece speaks not to who we are right now but who we wish to be, and reminds us that nothing is permanent, and that sometimes that isn’t a bad thing.

See this design and more in my Redbubble Shop.

 

Art and Advocacy

I’m sure even non-American readers are aware of the contentious election America just experienced. We as a people are more divided than ever, individuals from every side of the culture wars are feeling more wounded and misunderstood than ever whether they have reason to or no, and no one seems to be experiencing any degree of peace – even the side who “won”. Basically, everyone is super freaking pissed right now for one reason or another.

Our two 2016 candidates were the least liked and least trusted candidates in all of history. However, one in particular seemed to have a larger issue with flat out verbal diarrhea, managing to isolate women, minorities, individuals with disabilities, and non-heterosexuals all in one fell swoop. His win caused a lot of fear and resentment among those who fall under any of the aforementioned demographics, leaving them feeling like their concerns and even their very existences literally don’t matter in this country. I’ll admit I was very angry after the election; angry for women who have been assaulted or sexually harassed and been told to get over it, angry for my non-white friends, for my gay friends, for my students who all have varying disabilities and health issues and depend on affordable health care.  At the same time, those Trump supporters who may despise the things that mindlessly fly out of his mouth, but voted on policy only are fearing being lumped in with his supporters who actually are sexist and racist simply because of who they voted for. Families aren’t speaking to each other and friendships and marriages are dissolving due to voting differences. However, as Jon Stewart so eloquently puts it in the interview below, “I don’t believe we are a fundamentally different country today than we were two weeks ago. The same country – with all its grace, and flaws, and volatility, and insecurity, and strength and resilience – exists today as existed two weeks ago. The same country that elected Donald Trump elected Barack Obama.”

Compassion and grace can still exist and thrive. Check out these artists who are using their visual voice to combat ableism, sexism, racism, and homophobia.

Ableism.

Chinese artist Jody Xiong developed a project, called “Mind Art”, through which individuals with disabilities could send electronic signals through their brain to activate detonators which would release bursts of paint, resulting in expressive abstract creations. Art, creativity, and innovation are not limited to those with traditional abilities.

Sexism.

I’ve written about Carol Rossetti before in a previous “Artists To Know” post. She tackles sexism, gender stereotyping, and societal expectations of women through her illustrations that tell real personal stories.“Everyone is entitled to self respect”.

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Racism.

I remember Mary Engelbreit being the illustrator in the 90s. I would always buy my mom one of her calendars for Christmas as a kid, and loved her colorful patterns and cheerful, whimsical style. Her children’s book style art always communicated kindness and positivity, but in more recent years she decided to use her art to communicate a more overt social statement. She illustrated the image on the right as a tribute to Michael Brown after his death, and received a lot of backlash for it. She responded to haters via the second illustration on the left, only saying, “The artwork speaks for itself,” and refusing to comment any further. It shows class to not take the bait when being insulted or criticized for your message.

Homophobia.

Akira the Hustler’s charming sculptures are inspired by the Chinese “Red String” belief that the gods tie an invisible red cord between two people who are destined to marry. What is revolutionary about his project is that he does not portray same sex couples as revolutionary at all. Viewers are not being hammered over the head with any heavy-handed political message. The sculptures are simply happy and whimsical depictions of love, each with their own unique story, each story given equal weight.

I illustrated the watercolor and ink piece below, titled “Adjoining”, a little over 5 years ago having no idea that it would actually resonate with me more today with everything going on than at its original inception. We have to break down our internal, self-imposed barriers and actually talk to people, actually hear them when they talk back. It’s hard, and it’s messy, but it is necessary.

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No one has lost their voice. No matter who you voted for, if you can’t see any good in the world right now then be that good. If someone around you makes bigoted comments, let them know you don’t appreciate that sort of talk and politely ask them to can it. If someone is being mistreated because of their religious beliefs, ethnicity, gender, ability, or orientation then stand up for them – be their friend. Our president is not responsible for how we behave. We are.

 

 

 

 

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?