Mortality

Self-portrait Hollifield

The Crone- self-portrait by Suzanne Hollifield

Last night I participated in a Facebook live session with my Moonshine class and teacher Effy Wild. One of the topics was grief and how we as a culture tend to shove it into a nice, neat little compartment.

I totally agree with this, and I could write pages on grief from the death of friends and family, grief from divorce or other loss of relationship, grief from loss of home, grief over the loss of a pet (I’ve cried more over the death of my dogs than over breaking up with my fiancés. And yes, that’s plural), even empty-nest syndrome, which is a bittersweet kind of loss.

However, the grief I want to explore is one I think that is especially taboo. It is the grief we experience as we grow older and realize we are mortal, that we can no longer do the things we used to do, and that we are in danger of losing our independence because of illness, frailty, or finances.

I imagine that different people confront these feelings at different ages. No one really talks much about it, and there really isn’t a lot written about it that I’ve found. Even seniors themselves avoid talking about it in a deep way, but I am convinced we all have to deal with it at some time.

Some people deal with it at retirement, and others when they get a serious illness or when a spouse or significant other dies. For me, it was right around the time I turned sixty-five, which was the age my father died. It was then I realized I had outlived my entire immediate family–my parents and my siblings. Not a long-lived family, I realized I could die of a heart-attack any day. I began to get very jealous of my time.

There were other signs of my aging that were creeping in as well, and I am sure they added to my feelings of mortality. I am not sure if I went through the stages of grief in the traditional order, but I think the journey was very like the stages and gradually led me to acceptance. By the way, I was not really afraid of death. I was afraid of dying. There is a difference.

It seems to me society tries to make getting older some wonderful, happy place, and it is. But so is young adulthood and so is middle-age. We don’t deny the problems that go with being a twenty-something or a middle-aged person. We need to acknowledge both the advantages and problems of elderhood as well.

I am happier now than I’ve ever been in my life. I wish I could still walk three miles without feeling like my psoas muscle is going to lock up, and I’d like to have my thirty-year old body and still be able to eat pizza or burgers and drink beer every night. But my understanding of who I am and what I want is closer to being spot-on than it ever has been. That’s not a bad trade-off.

I just turned sixty-eight. I’m in a much better place than three years ago, but it was a hard pull up the road. Now, I am enjoying being a crone, and I’ve even resolved to enjoy my eccentricities openly. I realize that my senior friends who are dealing with aging with the most wisdom most often do it a bit tongue-in-cheek, and we appreciate those who can smile at the absurdity of life. We value the time we have left, and realize that life is precious.

Now, I don’t do things unless I really want to do them. I don’t have time to do otherwise. I spend more time in stillness and in just enjoying the present moment than I used to. I paint nearly every day. I suffer fools a little less gladly, but I do worry it is because they are mirroring the parts of myself that I haven’t worked on, so I had better get busy with that. The recognition of others that I used to crave seems sort of silly now and too much work. I do like giving people massages. I still love rock-n-roll and sing in the car.

I’ve found that helping people with grief, no matter where it comes from, is about listening. It is not about offering advice. Listening to someone talk about fears of their own mortality may be uncomfortable, but if someone shares with you, just listening is the best thing you can do to help the other person to move on.

Product Review: Prima Complexions Palette and Jane Davenport Pastel Palettes

Yesterday I posted photos of two mixed media paintings I did in Andrea Gomoll’s Faceinating Girls Around the World class. It was a great class, and I took it for several reasons.

First, I like Andrea’s style of teaching. She’s perky and explains what and how she is doing what she is doing with detail and enthusiasm. You can tell she loves what she does.

Irish girl watercolor Hollifield

Irish mixed media girl by Suzanne Hollifield created in class Faceinating Girls Around the World

Second, I wanted to practice using watercolor on portraits, and this class focused on skin tones for different races. I’ve done a class like this in acrylic, but watercolor seemed really interesting. Andrea was using Prima Watercolor Confections, of which I have several as well as all of the Jane Davenport watercolors. I printed the pigment sheets for both brands and substituted or mixed for the complexion colors if I needed to. I ended up ordering the Prima Complexions palette as it was easier to have it than to keep mixing.

It turned out that I was really glad I made the purchase. While more experienced watercolorists can create flesh tones by mixing primaries and/or complimentary colors, I enjoyed having the premixed palette. Of course, these watercolors are not Daniel Smith quality. Neither are they Daniel Smith prices. They are around $24 for the palette of twelve half-pans. I thought they were good quality at a reasonable price. They had enough pigment to cover smoothly and were not overly grainy for portraits. They both blended and layered easily.

Third, Andrea is really a mixed media artist. Although watercolor is her primary medium, she uses other media, too. She’s fond of stamping and has her own line of clear stamps that feature her signature cute girls. She uses stencils with both acrylic paint and modeling paste or gesso in her backgrounds. She is fond of bling in the form of glitter and sparkle gel. She always adds pen in the end. In this class, she used Pan Pastels to enhance the complexions of the girls.

Light skinned African American girl by Hollifield

Light-skinned African-American girls by Suzanne Hollifield created for Faceinating Girls Around the World

I didn’t want to shell out the bucks for Pan Pastels. I’ve lusted for them, but I don’t do enough pastel work to justify the expense. Fortunately, Jane Davenport has just introduced a Pastel Palette line, and I was lucky enough to find them on sale at Michaels for 60% off. Needless to say, I bought all four palettes, and since each has eighteen colors, I ended up with fifty-four pans of color.

The JD Pastel Palette worked great. I don’t know how it compares to Pan Pastels, but for my purposes, I was quite pleased. They didn’t seem a creamy as Andrea’s Pan Pastels, but after I got the “new” off the top, they spread well. On the page, they added the color lightly enough that I could layer and not worry about ruining the piece with a streak of color that was too intense. Once I applied fixative, they stayed put.

If you are on a budget like I am, I recommend you check the JD Pastel Palettes out. Michaels has frequent sales on them. You might get a deal like I did. You might want to go the Jane’s website as well. She has some great videos on how to use these and other of her products.

Chinese girl by Hollifield

Chinese girls by Suzanne Hollifield created for Faceinating Girls Around the World

Finally, I took the class because I wanted to work on my own style of faces. Andrea paints girls you recognize when you see them. I could name a hundred other artists whose portraits are immediately identifiable as their work. Some are whimsical; some are realistic; some are illustrative.

I think I’m more illustrative, or at least that’s what I aspire to be. I don’t have the patience for purely realistic works, and I like cute girls. Real people are rarely cute. I love those old forties and fifties posters and ads when artists drew the models and actresses instead of photographing them. I wish I could paint like that. The books I go back to over and over are by Andrew Loomis and Jack Hamm. The hair is wrong, but I love their faces. I have real trouble with wonky-ness though. One side is always a bit off.

Nevertheless, using the Prima Watercolor Confections Complexions palette and the Jane Davenport Pastel Palettes have helped me achieve my goal of creating my own style a little more I think. I recommend both products to you.

Claiming the Name “Artist”

Yesterday I wrote about getting ready for my first art exhibition and thinking about how to price my pieces. Our group, Uni4Artists, can submit thirty pieces, which means each of the members can submit two or perhaps three, depending on how many of us submit. This is an annual event at the Morganton Jailhouse Gallery and includes a reception and citywide art crawl. Last year, I was impressed by the turnout and by the art submitted by our members. In fact, I was humbled.

As I’ve mentioned before, I started painting in 2016, after I moved my massage practice and needed something to put on the walls. My point is that I am a less experienced artist than many of the others in the Uni4Artists. While I know it is death to artistic expression to compare myself to others, I’m also aware that I need to be careful to neither overprice nor underprice myself. Likewise, I have very few pieces that are truly original. I am sure I suffer at least a little from being overly attached to the pieces I think are worth submitting, and I’m trying to be mindful that I may not able to evaluate their value accurately. To my credit, I’ve asked for help.

The show last year got me thinking about originality and the point at which you stop feeling like a student and start feeling like an artist. All my classes have been online, and except for a few dud teachers in some collaboratives, I’ve learned a great deal from all of them. In the beginning especially, I did a lot of copying, which is an excellent way to learn, but you can’t sell paintings you’ve copied from a teacher, no matter how good they are. While I was copying for the most part, I felt like a student, and I resisted venturing out on my own. Some of my excuses were valid; some were born of fear of failure.

Portraits from watercolor class

Dark-skinned African-American girl and Native American girl for Faceinating Girls Around the World, a class taught by Andrea Gomoll. I copied her techniques for skin colors and layering of watercolors and some of her mark making and background design techniques. I tried to make the look of the girls my own. However. I would not feel comfortable selling either of these pieces, but I do feel like I got good practice.

For the last year, I’ve been trying, more and more, to do my own thing. That means I’ve got more than a few pieces that just aren’t very good and lots and lots of practice pages and canvases that are just meant to be practice and were never intended to be sold. I’m okay with that. Somewhere along the line, I decided I had to let myself make a mess. “It’s only paint and paper” someone said. I still copy, by the way, but I do it when I’m intent on learning a technique or on imitating a style before adapting it and making it my own. The best of both worlds occurs when I can learn the techniques but put my own spin on the lesson, like in the portraits above. I think anyone who sees them would recognize those as my girls and not mistake them for Andrea’s. (The teacher was Andrea Gomoll.)

Toward the end of last year, I decided not to sign up for so many classes and to really work on developing my own skills and style. This year, I’ve spent a lot of time with watercolors, a medium that until now I haven’t really enjoyed. I’ve also spent more time painting flowers and animals. I learned last year that I like story art, and I like combining nature and people. Although I miss some of the teachers and fellow students with whom I’ve traveled these last few years, setting my intention to develop myself as an independent artist and working toward that end feels right. I’m dreaming of the day when I will have trouble deciding which of my many originals I might want to submit for exhibition. I already feel like an artist.

A Blog a Day

I started this blog because of a challenge in 2017 from one of my online art teachers, Effy Wild, who is a master of art journaling. Twice a year, in April and September, she challenges her students to blog along with her every day for a month. It is truly a challenge for me because although I used to write all the time, I am finding that as I grow older, my right brain is becoming more and more dominant, and my left brain doesn’t really want to form logical paragraphs.

I’ve been thinking I should start writing in this blog if for no other reason than my art has improved. I was actually shocked to see how long its been since I’ve written anything- shocked and a little embarrassed. I can do better that this.

Suzanne Hollifield original watercolor for a class taught by Ildiko Karsay called Nature Art, Spring 2019.

Indeed, my art has improved. I’ve become independent, and I’m using more mediums regularly. If I copy now, it is so that I can learn instead of because I can’t produce anything of worth on my own. That’s been both liberating and satisfying. I’m learning to use Photoshop to combine elements of reference photos, and I am using collage in the same way. I’m painting flowers and animals as well as faces. I’m happy.

Sometimes I will hear teachers talk about how art helps with getting the pain out on the paper. This is true. I have certainly worked through depression and anger by arting it out. However, more often painting is pure joy for me. I don’t really care if others like it although I’m happy when they do. It’s just that when I paint an apple and it actually looks like an apple, or I do a pastel owl that is delightfully quirky and fun, I feel joy. I have lots of my paintings in my home. They make me smile. Undneath some of them, especially the art journals, are some writings where I poured out my soul, but always by the time the last of the paint dried, I felt happy.

I encourage you to try to draw even if you think you can’t. Start with stick people or cartoon people. Lots of folk art looks fairly simple in style. It is the joy in the painting that make it worth something. Do it for fun. If you can’t do that, buy a coloring book. Give up that idea that you aren’t artistic. It just isn’t so. You might find joy is as nearby as your pencil.

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.

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.