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.

Just Begin

I wanted to begin this blog with a really attention-grabbing story about how I have grown as a student artist over the last year. Then I realized if I wait for the perfect, entertaining beginning, the blog will never get started. The best way to tell my story is just to start telling it.

Before about a year ago, I had never painted anything beyond some cutouts for bulletin boards. (I taught public school for thirty years, and then went to massage school and became a massage therapist.) I started painting on my own last summer to make some things to decorate my massage room after changing locations, and I found a new passion.

I’ve had other passions in my life, and over time, I’ve either lost interest or reached a level of proficiency that seemed to mean I’d never get better without committing more time than I wanted or that I was as good as I needed to be to accomplish what I wanted to do.

Painting is different. I think this is in part because of the online classes I’m taking. I’ve never taken a face-to-face class; I don’t know if that would be markedly different. The first online class I took was Kelly Rae Roberts’ Spirit Wings. I discovered Kelly’s work in a shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee while on vacation, and after doing an Internet search, found this six-month class in painting angels for a special price. I signed up immediately.

One of the things that impresses me about Kelly Rae Roberts’ work is her personal story and philosophy. She calls herself a Possibilitarian, and much of what she believes and includes on her art reflects ideas that can also be found in the research of Brené Brown. It came as no surprise to me to learn that they were friends. Those ideas include believing that vulnerability is the only way to be truly strong, that we have permission to ask for what we need (and to say not to what we don’t), that it’s important to have people around us who can share our successes and our failures without making us feel that we are loved for what we do rather that for what we are. You get the idea. Kelly’s class was for me.

WhispersMy first angel was the Angel of Whispers. We started with journaling what it is our hearts most want and really listening for the answers. Then, after the preparation, we began to work on the mixed media canvas and to paint about the second week. There was a Facebook closed group where we could share with each other, and we could ask Kelly questions in the online classroom.

I was amazed at the support the other students gave each other. Really. I could not believe how freely everyone shared and how everyone encouraged each other and nobody shared hurtful criticisms. It blew me away! I’ve been in a classroom all my life, and I’ve never been in classrooms like these online groups. People help each other. Don’t tell me that there’s something bad about not being face to face in a live classroom. If you think that, you’ve just not experienced what I have. I got as personal interaction with the teacher as I have in many college courses, and I certainly interacted with my classmates more and felt more validated.

So I’m going to stop for now and post my Angel of Whispers. I look at her now and want to change her eyes and work on the proportion of her face, but then I go back to Kelly’s classroom and see the first paintings she did. I think I’ll keep this angel. In a way, she is a muse for me.

By the way, the header for the blog is the second Angel of Whispers I did. Like the first, I see mistakes in her, but she reminds me everyday to be grateful for all the many blessings I have.

I’ve since taken a number of other online classes. I’ll be writing about those as time goes on. I really encourage you to risk it and take one. You won’t be sorry, even if you think you can’t draw a stick woman.