The point of writing in my art journal

Journal page white on black

Journal page in tribute to my mother by Suzanne Hollifield

I used to keep a written journal every day. In fact, I’ve got boxes of them taking up space in a closet. When I taught high school English, every class started with ten to fifteen minutes of the students free writing, which I never read. The point was to develop fluency, to support thinking in words instead of images, and to develop a writing practice that just might carry over to life after school.

At some point, however, I began to write less and less. It wasn’t that I had nothing to say, it was just that after I retired from teaching and especially after I stopped dating on a regular basis, I had less drama in my life and so less need to bare my soul on paper. 

When I began painting two years ago, I began to write again more regularly. At first, I only wanted to document my learning process, and then I started taking classes that encouraged self-reflection before picking up the brush. I used the prompts supplied to me by my teachers, initially by Kelly Rae Roberts in her Spirit Wings course to create mantras for the paintings and then by Effy Wild in Book of Days, a year long course that comes with a prompt for every day. The fact that I often painted over what I had written gave me a freedom to express myself without reservation.

Journal page

Journal page by Suzanne Hollifield

Over the last year, I’ve strayed from the prompts more as world events have challenged me to think about where I stand on certain issues. I often feel the stress of my values in conflict with those of people I love or care about, and although I am aware that nothing will make me stop caring for certain people, I wonder if we might become estranged by events if push comes to shove. 

I made a commitment several months ago to read the words of great leaders like Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when I get really upset with the way things are going in the world. I have also started listening to podcasts that either explain events or that offer a positive viewpoint. They help me stay rational and positive rather than reactive and fearful.

One podcast that is just back from hiatus is #ReikiRadio, which you can find on Blog Radio or on iTunes. It is hosted by Yolanda Williams. She spoke on a recent episode about how during the last year many people have been dealing with the Shadow, and she indicated that our country might also be dealing with its Shadow. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I heard it, and I’m sure it will provide days of fodder for my art journal. 

If you are wondering how that works for me, I usually write on the paper; then I either paint over it or glue collage piece over it. I have, on occasion, torn the writing and used it as collage pieces. (I’m thinking of doing this with some of those old journals.) in this way I get my feelings out, and then make something beautiful out of the pain or anger or frustration I’ve expressed. 

Another way to art journal is simply to make the writing a part of the page itself as in the two pieces here. Sometimes, I just use a poem or a quote that is meaningful to me. Recently, I’ve been using music as a jumping off point, thanks to a class I’m taking called Mixed Tape II.

This is not to say that I never save things I write anymore, but art journaling has given me a way to express the irrational and the confusing parts of my mind and heart without judgment. It is surprising to me how often simply doing that finds a resolution that all the self-analysis of previous years did not. Besides, I get to paint. 

Adopting a dog

pet collage

“Pearl” by Suzanne Hollifield: Pet collage inspired by teacher Kittania Miller for Olga Furman’s Paint Your Heart and Soul class

The last four dogs I’ve had were adults. I haven’t had a puppy since I was only a little older than a puppy myself. When my cocker spaniel/poodle mix, Benji, died, I knew I wanted another dog, and I started looking almost immediately even though I was aware that I needed time to grieve before bringing a new dog home. Still, looking seemed to console me. I’d felt so much guilt when cancer took Toto, my dog before Benji, that I waited years before getting another dog. I didn’t want to wait that long again.

I immediately decided I wanted a rescue dog. I didn’t have the time to train a puppy, and puppies have so much energy! I knew I wanted another adult dog, preferably one who had already been housebroken. I went online and to the newspapers to find out what dogs were available at the Animal Shelter, the Humane Society and at the rescue organizations.

photo of dog

Reference photo of Pearl for collage

If you go online to www.petfinder.com, you can type in your zip code and then go from there. It will ask you what type of pet you want (cat, dog, snake, rat, etc.) Then, you can pick size, age, breed, and other relevant details. The search engine will show you all the animals within your parameters in an increasingly larger radius from your home. There are other engines, but this is the one most shelters use, and it is the most complete, in my opinion.

I also visited the Humane Society and went to Pet Smart on Saturdays when they have rescue organizations set up inside their store. Meeting and holding the dogs helped me realize I wasn’t yet ready. I still needed to grieve for Benji. When I finally met Gingersnap and held her, I knew she was the one. I had called the rescue group, SCRATCH, because I saw a Yorkie online. Gingersnap hadn’t been put online yet, but the rescuer offered to meet me and bring Gingersnap along. It was a perfect match. She was just right for me.

I kept Gingersnap for seven years. She was a sweetheart, and when she died of kidney failure, I again went to www.petfinder.com and found my next furbaby, Pearl. She was at the Catawba County Humane Society.

The Humane Society of America has question to ask yourself if you are thinking of adopting (www.hsus.org). Quoted from their site, they are:

  • Why do you want a pet? It’s amazing how many people fail to ask themselves this simple question before they get a pet. Adopting a pet just because it’s “the thing to do” or because the kids have been pining for a puppy usually ends up being a big mistake. Don’t forget that pets may be with you 10, 15, even 20 years.
  • Do you have time for a pet? Dogs, cats, and other animal companions cannot be ignored just because you’re tired or busy. They require food, water, exercise, care, and companionship every day of every year. Many animals in the shelter are there because their owners didn’t realize how much time it took to care for them.
  • Can you afford a pet? The costs of pet ownership can be quite high. Licenses, training classes, spaying and neutering, veterinary care, grooming, toys, food, kitty litter, and other expenses add up quickly.
  • Are you prepared to deal with special problems that a pet can cause? Flea infestations, scratched-up furniture, accidents from animals who aren’t yet housetrained, and unexpected medical emergencies are unfortunate but common aspects of pet ownership.
  • Can you have a pet where you live? Many rental communities don’t allow pets, and most of the rest have restrictions. Make sure you know what they are before you bring a companion animal home.
  • Is it a good time for you to adopt a pet? If you have kids under six years old, for instance, you might consider waiting a few years before you adopt a companion. Pet ownership requires children who are mature enough to be responsible. If you’re a student, in the military, or travel frequently as part of your work, waiting until you settle down is wise.
  • Are your living arrangements suitable for the animal you have in mind? Animal size is not the only variable to think about here. For example, some small dogs such as terriers are very active—they require a great deal of exercise to be calm, and they often bark at any noise. On the other hand, some big dogs are laid back and quite content to lie on a couch all day. Before adopting a pet, do some research. That way, you’ll ensure you choose an animal who will fit into your lifestyle and your living arrangements.
  • Do you know who will care for your pet while you’re away on vacation? You’ll need either reliable friends and neighbors or money to pay for a boarding kennel or pet-sitting service.
  • Will you be a responsible pet owner? Having your pet spayed or neutered, obeying community leash and licensing laws, and keeping identification tags on your pets are all part of being a responsible owner. Of course, giving your pet love, companionship, exercise, a healthy diet, and regular veterinary care are other essentials.
  • Finally, are you prepared to keep and care for the pet for his or her entire lifetime? When you adopt a pet, you are making a commitment to care for the animal for his or her lifetime.

The Humane Society acknowledges that this is a long list of questions, but it will help you decide if adopting (or buying a pet, for that matter) is right for you. Furthermore, many of the animals at shelters have already had a hard time of it. They need someone to be their person who will love them and care for them everyday for the rest of their lives, not someone for whom owning a pet was just a whim. In fact, it is because someone got tired of the responsibility that many animals are in the shelter.

For example, my Pearl is a Boston terrier/poodle mix of a Bossipoo. I know because I had her DNA done. She had so many allergies, I needed to know if they were breed specific. I feel sure that the costs of her medical care are one reason she was surrendered. Unlike, Gingersnap, she had not been abused. Indeed, she has a really sweet personality, but she has to go to the vet at least once a month for allergy treatments, or she licks her fur off and scratches her ears until they bleed.

So don’t make the mistake of adopting just because you think a pet is cute. Think about why you are adopting before you adopt. If you are ready to commit your time, money, responsibility and love to a new pet, you are going to be rewarded with joy and unconditional love. Animals are often spiritual teachers. They take you as you are and love you for what you are. They don’t care about your money, your looks, or your reputation. That is their blessing to you.

I’d rather be dreaming

This story was originally written in 1993, when I was a participant in the Appalachian Writing Project, a part of the National Writing Project, at Appalachian State University. It features my sister, Dawn, who died nine years ago this month and who was my best friend. I am happy that the story will be out here in cyberspace and not lost to the world when I die, too. It is a tribute to her and to my also deceased father.

original painting by hollifield

Original painting by Suzanne Hollifield

I despise getting up in the morning. After I get up, I’m fine. It’s the opening of the eyes, the moving away from warm comforters into chilly space, and especially the interruption of interesting dreams that I can’t stand.

My sister Dawn and I share this aversion to getting up. We’ve discussed it at length as we’ve grown older, especially since it seems to annoy our families, friends, and employers so much. We’ve decided that it was our father who made us so passionately hate waking up.

Dawn and I always slept together. I think it made us friends. Having the common enemy of our Daddy and his wake-up antics made us grow even closer. Daddy was not content to simply touch us or shake us or in some way to gently arouse us from our dreams.  No-o-o. He had already been up an hour or so, spending quiet time drinking coffee and talking to my mother. By the time Dawn and I needed to wake up, the caffeine and nicotine had kicked in, and one of his diabolical plans to scare the slumber from our sleepy heads had blossomed.

Sometimes he’d just blow in our ears or kiss our noses. Other times his idea of a good wake-up strategy was to turn on the lights and jerk the covers off us; he especially liked to do this on cold winter mornings. One of his best tricks was to get a broom straw or a feather and tickle our noses or our feet. Once, he blasted us out of bed by turning the stereo and “Purple Haze” on full volume.

Occasionally, he’d pick up one side of the mattress and dump us into the floor. It drove Dawn wild when he did that. Then there were the times he took a medicine dropper and dropped water alternately on each of our faces. Oh, yes, I can’t leave out the time he just threw two glasses of water, one each, directly into our faces. (Mama put a stop to that one.)

Dawn and I fought getting up. Every morning we hated that man and his “Wake up, Honey” or “Get up, Sweetheart”. We would hang on to each other, kick, whine, and growl. We kept our eyes shut tight. Sometimes he would leave, and we could go back to sleep a few minutes. Our peace was always short-lived. He was a terror in the morning.

I’m forty-one years old now. I haven’t lived in my father’s house in twenty years, but every morning, I fight waking up. I have a clock, a clock-radio (full-blast), and a wake-up call for which I pay fifteen dollars a month. I can sleep through all of them. When Hurricane Hugo woke me, I walked to the door, looked out, drank a glass of tea, and went back to sleep. After all, what could I do about the forces of nature?

I’d love to be one of those people who wakes up early, watches the sunrise, washes a load of clothes, is never late for work— you know, all those things early risers celebrate. But I know I’ll always have those blankets pulled tightly around me, struggling desperately to shut out the world in favor of my dreams.

I love the Arthurian legend

Mixed media painting of Celtic woman

“Ganieda” inspired by Annie Hamman, Life Book 2017, lesson 13

The prompt for day fifteen of the Artfully Wild Blog Along is to share something about myself that is not widely known. For most of my adult life, I have been captivated by the Arthurian legend. 

During my early teaching career, I was a certified exceptional children’s teacher. However, my undergraduate degree was in secondary English, so to earn extra money in the summers, I taught sophomore English in summer school, which lasted six weeks. Before NC changed the tenth grade curriculum to world literature, it was a survey literature curriculum and included selections from the Arthurian legend by Malory, Tennyson, and T. H. White and also had in the textbook the short novel by Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. 

I also showed clips from a half dozen or more films of the story, including Knights of the Round Table, The Sword and the Stone, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Excalibur, Camelot, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and an outstanding British film with very authentic costuming called The Legend Of King Arthur, which I found today on YouTube, although the quality is very poorI fell in love with this ancient story, which has been told and retold over so many centuries in so many variations.

I probably own close to two hundred books based on the legend. Most are novels, but some are history or literary criticism, and there are quite a few that relate to the story and its offshoot, the legend of the Holy Grail, as a path to enlightenment. Both stories are examples of the hero’s journey and are metaphors for the unfolding and development of the Soul as it gains knowledge/wisdom. There are even magical societies with rituals based on one or the other of the legends. The troubadours of the Middle Ages kept the stories alive throughout Europe, and even in countries far removed from Britain, there are versions. The Church might have liked to squelch the legends as too pagan or too gnostic, but it contented itself with Christianizing the primary elements.

If there was a real King Arthur, he probably was a Celtic warlord, perhaps with Roman ancestors, living on the western coast of Britain during the time the Angles and Saxons were settling the east coast. Roman influence still existed, but Roman soldiers had gone back across the channel to defend the continent against their own Germanic invasions. The best modern retellings, in my opinion, are set in this period of the late Roman/Dark Ages rather than the later Middle Ages when the stories became popular in the French court. 

I could go on and on about aspects of the legend. That I have this obsession and have read so very many books of all different types about the legend is something very few people know about me, and even fewer are interested in learning. Indeed, I miss having a classroom full of sixteen year-olds who are, so to speak, a captive audience. 

My favorite retellings of the legend are Marion Zimmerman Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Mary Stewart’s four-book Arthurian Saga, and Stephan Lawhead’s six-book Pendragon Cycle (I especially like the first book set in Atlantis). If you want a good story, give them a try or watch one of the many movies. There are several newer ones since my teaching days.

My yappy inner critic

Art journal page

Art Journal page for Book of Days with Effy Wild

I spent all this past weekend painting. I usually do some art every day although it may only be a sketch. I’ve only been painting for two years, and yet, it has become a necessary part of my life. Most of the time, I can see that I’m improving, and even when I am not as happy with a piece as I might be, it is okay because I feel like I’ve learned something about composition or combining materials or any number of other things I can practice improving when I tackle the next piece.

Several of my favorite teachers encourage introspection while art journaling or before painting a canvas so that one meets oneself on the page or canvas. On several occasions, the prompt or exercise has involved listening to one’s inner voices and facing or combating the inner critic. My teachers may describe the inner critic as the voice that often tells the artist she isn’t good enough or that she doesn’t compare with other artists. They speak of the voice that says, “Who do you think you are to think you can be an artist?”

Fold out of Book of Days Journal page

Maybe it is because I am 66 years old or maybe it is because I don’t really expect to be able to sell my paintings commercially, an least not in large enough quantities that I need to worry about other artists, that I don’t hear the voice of this specific inner critic. Instead, the voice I hear says, “Why are you spending all day painting when you need to be cleaning the house? Why are you spending money on another online art class when you haven’t done all the lessons from the ones in which you have already enrolled? Why are you buying more Golden paint when you could be using craft paint? Why aren’t you reading? Why aren’t you working on your genealogy projects or (fill in the blank)? You’re getting obsessed!!”

Close up of Book of Days Journal page

The inner critic is also called the superego. I was once in a spiritual group that did work on silencing the superego and was told that you could never really get to your True Nature as long as you listened to your superego; that is because the superego does not want your success but only wants to keep you down. Originally, some time in childhood, it may have begun as a voice that wanted to keep you safe, but it quickly turned into a voice to keep you subdued. You cannot escape the ego if the superego is constantly yapping in your ear.

Painting puts me in a place where there is no yapping. What I don’t know is a challenge, and since my classes are all online, I can learn what I want. In fact, I can go back and repeat lessons that I really liked after my skill set has grown. Next year, I may do just that. I have signed up for more classes than I easily complete this year, but fortunately, I can download them or I have lifetime access to them. I plan to go back to some that I skipped and even to redo others. Next year, I will not need to enroll in so many online classes.

Close up of Book of Days Journal page

I can live with that. I have finally come to a place where I feel like my own style is emerging. I am using Effy Wild‘s note taking strategies with the videos in my classes and doing my own paintings by synthesizing techniques I have learned whereas a year ago, I copied a great deal more.  This way, I can skip lessons that don’t really appeal and still learn the techniques.

I’ve stopped referring to myself as a student artist and started calling myself an artist. I have even made some notecards with prints of some of my work and sold a few in my massage office.

So, I am going to keep painting every day, in spite of my yapping inner critic telling me to dust the furniture. It gives me pleasure. Furthermore, I live 43 miles from Huntersville and Donna Downey Studios. I live about 80 miles from Asheville and Alena Hennessey‘s studio. As soon as that car is paid off, my bucket list has a live class in Huntersville or in Asheville on the agenda. The dusting can wait.

Painting to music

MixedTape 4

Just by way of information to my readers, I have recently upgraded my WordPress account, and I now have a new domain name. Be sure to change it if you have me bookmarked or if you have me in a blog reader. It’s https://suzyhollifield.com. Now I feel like a real blogger! I have a domain name!

My next step on my artist journey is to print some cards from the original art I have done and given away (but scanned) and try to sell them in my office. They might or might not sell, but I don’t have much to lose. I’m going to try. I may even try to do some holiday themed cards. On to feeling like a real artist!

Now to the meat of this blog. The image above relates to a class I am taking taught by Effy Wild, my mentor/teacher/blogging-instigator. The class is called Mixed Tape II, and you can still enroll. There is also a Mixed Tape I which is also open to new students. It’s older, but it’s still relevant.

Our last lesson in Mixed Tape II was about dancing with art. The basic instructions were to put our chosen song on “repeat” and make marks and fling paint on the paper in time with the music until we were happy with the results. The song I chose was “Which Side Are You On?” sung by Ani DiFranco.

Ani’s version has updated lyrics. The original lyrics were written in 1931 by Florence Reece during a coal strike in Harlan County, Kentucky. You can hear her sing it on YouTube by clicking the link. At the peak of the strike 5800 workers were unemployed and only 900 working, according to Wikipedia. The story of the strike makes pretty interesting reading.

“Which Side Are You On?” has since been sung by greats. Pete Seegar, who rerecorded the song in 1967, made it famous again. Numerous other versions have been recorded. The first I heard recently was that of Natalie Merchant, who uses the original lyrics, and there is a very different version by Arlo Guthrie with words that have a decided religious tone.

This version by Ani DiFranco is my favorite, though. She is really a great performer. I love her enthusiasm and her “tell-it-like-it-is” attitude. Her rewrite is closer to what is going on right now in our country, and the words make you think about how you are going to take a stand on things.

I chose the part about feminism although I could have chosen any of the other stanzas. It’s just that recently it seems I’ve seen so much of what I’ve spent most of my life working and fighting for get overturned and lost because people won’t stand up together and say “No, you can’t do that to us.” It makes me really sad. It makes me angry sometimes, too, especially when it comes to the public schools. That’s another story.

I tend to be a left-leaning moderate. I taught school too long not to be able to see both sides (mostly both kids in an argument have a point to make). Still, there are some things that are simply not worth fighting about. They don’t matter. On the other hand, some things are worth fighting about and fighting for. They do matter. The trick is deciding which is which and then answering the question, “Which side are you on?” And willingly accepting the consequences of your answer.

Defeating the Darkness Within

Collage of girl with flowing hair

Like my last post here, I’m behind on the prompt/daily nudge train. I read blogs written by other people in the “Blog Along with Effy” group, (which, by the way, is worth joining even if you don’t want to write, just so you can read the amazing blogs being produced in the group), and I suddenly start thinking about what I’d say to the nudge. So here I am on day six, discussing day five’s prompt: What is something you struggle with? What battles are you fighting that most people know nothing about? What’s something about your life that makes you feel weird, or different or isolated?

It was amazing to read a couple of other people say that they either often or occasionally had suicidal feelings as a regular part of their inner dialogue. They had no intention of acting on those thoughts, but the demon thoughts were there. What???? I am not alone??? I am not some totally strange (deranged) Pisces Enneagram Four INFP with suicidal thoughts who is relatively happy and has no real intention of offing myself. I just think about it a lot…especially when I get stressed and usually in the morning…I am not alone?

I never tell anyone about those thoughts. For one thing, I was a public school teacher for thirty years, and have lots of teacher friends. We were taught to take such thoughts seriously and to report them immediately when expressed. I’m not sure anyone would really understand the difference between the inner wimp who just wants to give up but is basically impotent and the real inner devil who can push one into the deepest despair and consequent action. Fortunately, I know the difference, and I know when I need to seek help.

So what pushes me to feel this way? Day four’s prompt was about stress, and I’m going to address that here, too, because usually I get those sucky thoughts when the stress gets too much to bear. Money stresses me out for one thing. I have a huge amount of debt, and I don’t seem to have the self-discipline to pull myself out of it. Some of that is hiding my lack of cash from others by charging, some of it is a certain OCD about books, art supplies, shoes, etc. You get the picture. I also have a rather weird self-defeating attitude that if I actually had money, my friends and family might only value me for what I could give them instead of for myself. I think that comes from of my earliest relationships with men, which is a whole different story.  Anyway, being short of cash can really send me into a tailspin of depression even though my finances always work out, and I actually have a very good credit rating. 

I am a codependent person. You may have deduced that. I can worry about my friends, and I can really obsess about family.  I am much better now that I used to be, thanks to Al-Anon, which I really credit with saving my sanity. I am now able to set boundaries and walk away from the most toxic people. When I don’t though, I can start feeling life isn’t worth living, especially if I start taking criticism too much to heart or thinking everything is about me. I can also do it when I start thinking I can fix other people instead of making them responsible for themselves. Those are red flags for me. It shows that I am really stressed and I’m reverting to earlier, self-defeating behavior instead of taking care of myself. It’s a message to me to step back and regroup.

I’ve got lots of ways to deal with my stress and my depression. I love reading both fiction and non-fiction. I go on spiritual retreats, and I live only about an hour away from the Blue Ridge Mountains (roadtrip to Boone or Asheville). I love watching old movies and reruns of old favorite TV shows. Painting has become more than a hobby, it’s a necessary part of every day, and I draw, art journal or paint something every day. I enjoy genealogy and have traced both sides of my family back to the 1700s when they came to America. I get a massage every two weeks and go the the acupuncturist monthly. I used to go to an energy healer monthly, but she moved, so I am looking for someone new. When all else fails, I lie in the floor with my dog and cry. Then I call a friend and cry. Then I call the doctor if I still need help. I know if I wait it out, I will be okay. I alway am. Always. And in the end, I always get up and want to live. 

So What?

Girl with andy Warhol quote

If you’re reading my blog, chances are you are participating in the September blog challenge begun by Effy Wild. I’ve read some incredible posts as a result of her prompts, and the one she posted yesterday has really challenged me: “Write about something you used to believe that you no longer believe and how that shift in belief has changed things for you.”
I used to believe that I had to have a man, or more accurately, to be in love with a man, to be happy and fulfilled. Indeed, I thought I wouldn’t be a whole woman without a man. In my teens, it was a near obsession. Girls often got married right out of high school where I lived. Not having a boyfriend felt to me like being totally rejected as a female. It created real fear and panic that I was unworthy of love.

I’m not sure where that kind of thinking came from. My parents loved me. I wasn’t abused or mistreated. I had friends. I made good grades and did things with other kids. I just thought if I didn’t have a man, I wouldn’t be worthwhile as a woman.

I was born in 1951, that generation which grew up with the Cleavers, then James Bond and Star Trek and finally The Sensuous Woman and the Equal Rights Amendment. To say we received mixed messages about a woman’s role would be an understatement. I also grew up in the South with middle class parents and in a middle class community. My generation was the first in my family to go to college. My parents and my cousins’ and girlfriends’ parents were overprotective and expected me to marry and have children. About half of my cousins and family friends did exactly that.

I did get married while I was in college to my high school boyfriend. We should have broken up instead of getting married. He was a fun boyfriend, but he was not a fun husband. Four months after we married, my mother died. Then I had to go back to college for my senior year and student teaching. It was no way to start a life together. We actually lived together a total of eight months, and that was off and on. There were lots of fights. Some were violent.

After we separated, I continued to look for love. I really thought I would find “the one” and then everything would be okay. I’d get married, be a good wife, have children, keep the perfect house, take great vacations, etc. etc.  In fact, I did fall in love again, really  in love, but I think I knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t work out because he didn’t want to get married. I was caught in a dilemma: stay with the man I loved and miss out on the life I wanted or leave him and maybe get neither. I was too afraid to take the risk to get the life I wanted. The irony is that in the end, he left me, and I still ended with neither.

After that, I had other relationships, but I began to realize that I couldn’t depend on someone else to make me happy. Some of that was because I had begun to do a great deal of inner work, and I faced some of my fears of abandonment and being less than. Some of it, maybe a great deal of it, came because I began to see myself through my own eyes and not through someone else’s.  I stopped putting up with things that drove me crazy just so I wouldn’t be alone. I set boundaries and felt good when I maintained them. I found I actually enjoyed doing my own thing on my own terms.

The really odd thing is, I think I have more love in my life now than ever before. I think about the people I love without constantly worrying they will stop loving me if I don’t live up to their standards. In fact, I wonder how I could have ever have loved someone who demanded such a thing.

I still believe all you need is love, but I don’t believe you have to have another person to make you happy. Oh, certainly, certain people can bring you indescribable joy and satisfaction, but if you aren’t able to find happiness within yourself, it is unfair to lay that burden on another person. It just won’t work. I enjoy the people in my life, but I also enjoy my solitude and independence. Even during my occasional bouts of depression, I am more apathetic than unhappy.

Let me be clear though, it isn’t that I don’t have people in my life that I love and that I need and would miss if I lost them. Likewise, there are people I’ve lost whom I miss. It’s just that my happiness is not dependent on some other person in my life. There is an inner core of strength inside me that just wasn’t as available to my conscious mind forty years ago as it is today. For that gift, I am thankful.

Feeling finished

Portrait of painting of girl in red dressI didn’t have much time to work on my painting yesterday. The mother of one of my  closest friends died after having a stroke, and I attended the funeral. In our church after the service, we have a reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres instead of preparing a meal, so I served punch and then stayed to help clean up. We boxed up the remaining food, and then I and another couple took the food and the flowers to my friend’s home where she her family had gathered after the interment.

When I got home, I worked on the painting a little while, but I really don’t enjoy sitting at the easel at night. It’s in my living room; I have a little art area in another room but would rather be in the living room in summer because it’s cooler. Anyway, sitting on the sofa, I could see mistakes or at least things that needed fixing. For example, her shoulder was too low and one of her eyebrows was too high. I didn’t have the pout in the mouth that made the reference photo so appealing, and the background was sort of boring in that flat gray.

I’ve spent most of today trying to fix those things. I made the eyelashes too long on both top and bottom and had to do those over completely. I redid the nose completely. I think the mouth definitely looks better since I widened it and added highlights and shadows. The eyes are still not perfect, but I am not sure how to fix them. I might ask one of my online teachers for suggestions. I’m prettying pleased with how the the hair turned out.

I’m not sure when I decided I was finished. Several times I got up, walked across the room, saw something, and went back to the canvas. Once I finished the background, I noticed the eyebrows needed darkening, and then she was ready to sign, I wish I could make the eyes prettier, but I don’t feel like I have to fix them. I don’t really know what they need, so I am okay with them as they are. She feels good to me; she feels finished.

This is actually my first painting that was not part of a class lesson. That is, it was done from my own reference with my own skill set. I did use Kara Bullock’s skin tone blocking method, but she isn’t the only teacher who begins her portraits that way. I learned from her, but now the technique is my own, which is what learning is .

I like this girl. I feel good about myself. I’m happy. There’s a real satisfaction in being finished.

Beginning Again

It’s been over a year since I first started this blog, and although I intended to use it to document my learning journey in painting, I never really got it off the ground. As a result, I ignored my own advice to “just begin”.

Over the last year, I have continued taking online art classses, and I’ve continued to draw or paint nearly every day. It really has become an important part of my life. I am finally at the place where I feel like I am developing my own style, and I want to do my own thing more than I want to copy my teachers.

One of my favorite and most respected teachers is Effy Wild. She recently challenged her students and her blog followers to blog every day in September. In a way, she is responsible for my being back here blogging. I need to give her credit for that; otherwise, I’d still be procrastinating. Thanks, Effy. BTW, Effy teaches some really dynamic classes on art journaling. You should check her out.

Underpainting of portraitToday begins the Labor Day weekend, and I decided to paint a canvas since I have the time. I chose a reference photo from a copyright free site named pixabay.com.  While the photographer didn’t ask to be credited, his named is Jerzy Gorecki. I used a technique I learned from online teacher Kara Bullock, in which I first placed a grid on both the photo and the canvas and then did the sketch. Afterwards, I completed the underpainting. One of the things I’ve learned from Kara is to spend time on the underpainting, and like her, I use an app called PosterShine to break down the reference photo into the darkest darks, the midtones, and the highlights. Once the grid and the values are in place, it is easier to start adding layers and details.

PreliminaryAfter I started adding other colors, I changed the skin tone to a pinker shade. I spent most of today  just doing layer upon layer of skin tone, then the eyes, lips, hair, clothing, and background, and even now, I am aware that I still don’t have the dimensional quality that makes a painting come alive. Still, it was a good day, and the painting is my own. It was as good and satisfying day, Tomorrow, I will have time to work on it some more. I am excited and looking forward to it.