Wednesday, June 30, 2010

This and That

The last couple of days I've had the opportunity to do some demos in two art classes I'm teaching.  In the morning class, my student asked if I would teach her how to draw a beach scene which looks kind of like an abstract color study.  She wanted to learn about layering color and making the scene look realistic.  I found an appropriate picture on my computer then started to show her how I do it.  She drew along while I drew.  It's a little bit hard to tell from this photograph, but there are crazy colors underneath the blue - my student was taken aback when I put vermillion red down, but she said she decided to be a good student and do it despite her misgivings!  The effect it has is to make the colors more interesting and complex.  There's dark green and blue and red and some orange under there.  In the sky, there's red and pink and mint green under the pale blue.  I didn't blend any colors, rather I just applied the marks overtop of the other colors.  When I use very good pastels (i.e. ones with lots of pigment) on sanded paper, it's very easy to cover whatever is on the paper already.  The earlier layers will show through a bit, creating a more interesting final picture.

After we were done with the sea scene, I used the same colors and did a quick color study.  I often like to do that to get away from the tidiness and carefulness with which I created the scene from the photo.  I've become familiar with the colors and how they interact and just want to play with that at random.  This image will give you more information about the colors which are underneath the previous picture!

In my evening class yesterday, the students were learning about composition and value and color and creating form - there's a lot to keep in mind when drawing with pastels!  I had them draw a piece of fruit.  I insisted that it be a SIMPLE piece of fruit so they didn't have to struggle with complexities of shape along with everything else.  To the right is the demo I did to show them how to apply the strokes - in the direction an ant would walk if he were to traverse the curves, both from top to bottom and around the entire circumference.  To create a shadow, apply the primary color of the fruit (red, in this case), then put in its complementary color (green), then put the background color over it so the shadow appears to be on the surface.  It is a very good way to get a decent shadow that looks fairly realistic.  I wouldn't say that this shadow is one of my best, but it gives you an idea of how it can work.  I was very excited by the work the students did in both classes.  They ended up with some very nice pieces! 

Next week we'll do self-portraits!  A great challenge!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

extended artist's date - Washington DC for the weekend

Yesterday I wrote a little bit about the affect The Artist's Way has had on my life.  One of the recommendations Julia Cameron makes in the book is to take yourself on an artist's date each and every week.  An artist's date is something the kid or the artist in you wants to do.  You get to do it all by yourself, and you get to do what you want to do, and it doesn't have to cost much of anything - you can go to a greenhouse and look at flowers, for example.  Or you can go to the art museum.  The effect it could have is to awaken parts of you which are curious and excited by the world around you.

This past weekend Chris and I went on an extended artist's date, though that wasn't necessarily our intention.  He suggested that we go to Washington, DC, to belatedly celebrate our 6th anniversary.  It was a fantastic idea.  Our anniversary was the 19th, but we were very busy that day throwing a graduation party for Dylan and barely even remembered our own celebration.  It is so important to me to for us to take the time to remember how sacred and wonderful our marriage is.  Going away for the weekend was perfect.

We decided to stay outside of DC in Crystal City then take the metro into the city.  We chose the Marriott there because Arena Theater is in its basement, and we wanted to see a play there Saturday night.  It was a terrific plan.  We checked in at noon Saturday then found a place to eat nearby.  We found the perfect place, Jaleo, where they serve spanish tapas.  I'd never had them before.  The food was expensive, but, oh my gosh!  It was a delight!  We ordered four different tapas and were thrilled by each one.  I'm not really a foodie, but I experienced sheer delight with each bite.  It's amazing what well-prepared food can do for the soul.  We had an endive lettuce leaf with an orange section, goat's cheese, and slivered almonds - it sounds weird, but it tasted amazing!  Our other most favorite was a thin piece of salmon cooked to perfection, slighted toasty on top, with a puree of potato, cauliflower and cream to the side along with raspberries.  Such unique combinations, and so finely prepared!  Wow!  it was worth every penny.

After our delicious lunch, we took the metro in to DC where we went to the Museum of the American Indian.  I loved the building.  It made me feel good to be in it.  I don't recall any right angles except for the doorways.  All was curves and circles.  Quite wonderful.  What I didn't like about it though, was all the stimulation.  It was noisy - lots of family groups, tons of kids - which in and of itself is great - it's wonderful for a museum to be used!  But the exhibits were distracting as could be.  It was difficult for me to get the overview of what they were showing, then, in each pod, one for each of 16 or so tribes, there was just too much to see.  There was a diarama-type exhibit with lots of artifacts.  There was also usually a video with spoken dialogue as part of it.  There were also many things to read and digest.  Often there was also a computer touch screen where you could interact to learn more.  I found it like trying to watch CNN with the streaming news on the top of the screen and the bottom while watching the reporter at the same time, if not a split screen.  My brain is simply not equipped to absorb so much information at once.  Chris and I both left completely exhausted after just 2-3 hours.  We went back to the hotel and took a nap.  Done in!  (Oh, one delight there was an exhibity by Brian Jungen which was quite fantastic.  He takes all sorts of regular stuff, like golf bags, and makes copies of cultural artifacts out of them.  An example is totem poles made out of golf bags.  They're wonderfully inventive and interesting and weird and a great comment about today's society.  We loved that!  This picture is of a skull made of softballs and baseballs.)

More next time about the play Saturday and Sunday...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Following my leadings

One of my creative bibles is Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way.  She outlines a 12 week program for accessing your creativity and becoming the artist you're meant to be.  The first time I worked through the book, I made a major life decision - I'd been substituting at a wonderful private school and had been offered a full time job there for the following year.  I also was beginning to play with polymer clay and was loving it!  It was a great way to express my creativity, and I was planning to try to join a local cooperative gallery soon if I were accepted.  When I was offered the full time job, I prayed a lot about whether to accept it or not - it was a great job with a great school, awesome people - everything about it was terrific - except that I wasn't sure I wanted to be tied down to a full time job.  I asked God to let me know if I should accept it or not.  That very day, right before I went to work to let them know "yes" or "no", I got a phone call from a tutoring student who asked me to homeschool her the next year - it would actually provide me with enough income from part time work that I could afford to do it and my art and support myself and the kids sufficiently.  I decided right then and there that God had just come knocking, and it was my very clear sign to NOT take the full time position.  That was in 1998.

This year I was again facing the possibility of a full time teaching job.  Again, it would be a wonderful job, wonderful school, wonderful people - a dream job, really.  I actually went through the process of putting in my resume for it.  The weeks ticked by.  I didn't hear from the school.  I kept thinking about whether I should continue the process or pull my application out.  I was excited about the possibility of teaching art - it's one of my very favorite things to do - and I figured I could probably teach it full time and still do my own art since teaching art isn't quite as grueling as teaching English, for example, and having to grade 50 pages in an evening.  I spoke with a friend who teaches art.  She disabused me of my fantasy.  She said she has been unable to do her own art and teach, and it's really hurting her emotionally and personally.  She loves teaching and is outstanding at it, but it's really painful for her to have given up so much to help kids find their creativity when she is not able to use her own as she wants to.  That was sobering.  Again I asked God to give me a very clear sign about the right step to take.  I again got a most delightful response - this was a few months ago - I sold 5 pieces in 5 days!  I'd never had that sort of run of sales before.  One sold online; three sold at a local gallery; the other sold from my studio - one was a color study, one a nude, and three were fruits.  It was miraculous!  I decided that was the sign I'd been asking for, so I withdrew my application and felt I'd done the right thing.  It's clear to me that God has plans for me and my artwork, and my job is to just keep showing up and doing the next thing that occurs to me (when I'm centered) and following that divine inner guidance - it hasn't led me astray yet.

A wonderful book, The Artist's Way, and a great way to live life following ones leadings...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

articles about body image from the web

This is a nice link I found to a statement about body image. I like what she/he says about bodies and how to help yourself feel better about your own:

And this article is fascinating: link. What the author says is that scientists are positing that our BRAINS may actually distort our perception of our bodies - so people who are slender can't see how slender they are! They perceive themselves as wider than they are. They are thinking that might be tied to anorexia and other body image diseases.

There's lots to read about body image on the net, lots of books on the shelves, lots of articles in the news. So why does it continue to be so darned difficult to feel good about how we look???

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bodies and Souls, The Century Project

For any of you who've read my blog for any time, you probably know I'm working on putting a book together of my paintings (and perhaps photographs) along with writings about/by my models about their experiences, their feelings about their bodies, or anything else they choose to write about.  A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that a man named Frank Cordelle has done a project which is somewhat similar - and done it beautifully!  His book is named Bodies and Souls: The Century Project (this link will take you to the author's website where you can see samples from the book). It is full of photographs he took of women from 9 months to 93 years old, all sizes, many different races, many with scars and mastectomies, etc.  The photographs are beautiful, and the writings by the women (and/or sometimes by him) are quite moving. 

Many of the women, sadly, were abused as children or raped as adults.  Many have had cancer.  It seemed like most of them had fairly gripping tales to tell.  Here's an example of what a woman named Leslie wrote:
I hope that my image and words will bring optimism to anyone facing a difficult challenge.  This diesease, which has confronted me with mortality unlike any experience I've had so far, has also heightened my sense of how precious each day is.

Recognizing myself in this photograph has helped me accept the changes in my body and absorb the knowledge that it won't ever be the same.  In some way, I've been able to regain a sense of control in my life as well.  I will walk forward from this image, call it the past, respect it, and learn from it.  But for now, it is a gift to know that I have the present, and the hope for a future, with all its possibilities and uncertainties. 


The author wrote a note afterwards:
Leslie had breast cancer and has had a mastectomy on her left side.  She also had a saline implant so as to be able to wear a bathing suit without attracting a lot of attention.  While surgeons are quite capable of reconstructing her nipple, she was undecided as to whether or not it was worth the effort.  She was clearly tired of surgery at that point.

The day after the photo session, she went for her last chemotherapy.

That's a good example of the quality of the text in the book.  The photographs are equally powerful.  I highly recommend this book!

When I told Chris about it, he asked how I felt since it seemed like Frank Cordelle had done the same thing I am wanting to do.  At one level, I feel a little bit disappointed since it is similar to my idea.  On the other hand, I'm thrilled that it's out there!  It's helping heal people by its existence - that's my goal with my work as well - it doesn't matter who does it - it just needs to be done!  I also feel like there's enough room for more than one book!  And the paintings I'm doing are significantly different than the photos he has taken, and the women have different bodies, different stories, different things to tell the world about themselves.  It makes me happy to know this project and this book exist and that people are interested in both.  I believe that will give me more of an opening to get my work into the world!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

American Beauty and Dora

Today I had an appointment in the morning then afterwards went STRAIGHT to the studio (wisely leaving my computer IN THE HOUSE!) and went to work.  I've been having some issues getting to work these days, despite the large swaths of time I have to paint.  I think depression/anxiety had me somewhat paralyzed for a few days, thinking about Dylan's surgery, but now I'm feeling better, and I'm glad to be painting/drawing again.

Often a good way for me to get back into doing art is to draw with pastels.  They are very direct and simple and forgiving, and I have a lot of skill with them since I've been doing them for a long time now.  Oil painting is more difficult for me since I haven't been doing it for so long so can't use the materials in as many ways.  There's ease to drawing with pastels which I really appreciate.

A couple of days ago I began "Dora".  Today I worked on her again and made some refinements I like.  I don't know if they're visible online, but I definitely see the difference when looking at it in person.  I'm happy with how this turned out.  It's the first pastel I've done on canvas - that's what gives the body so much texture.  I've used all the fixative I have to make it so the pastels won't rub off.  Frankly, I don't think it's fully effective, but it does seem to help somewhat.  I'll get some more fixative in the next few days and coat it more to protect it as well as possible.  If that isn't sufficient, I'll frame it under glass.

After finishing "Dora", I began a new piece which I'm entitling "American Beauty".  The model for this piece was 57 years old when I photographed her.  She is in phenomenal shape.  She exercises daily and is quite fit.  I don't feel finished withthis piece.  It needs some correction and refinements.  That's a good thing - when I leave the studio with a piece unfinished, it gives me a lot of excitement about getting back in there the next day!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

List of Opaque, Semi-Transparent, and Transparent Pigments

When I'm painting, I try to think about whether a color is transparent, semi-transparent, or opaque.  Each pigment has different qualities which I become familiar with as I work with them, but then there's the broader concept of transparency to consider as well.  Opaque paints will cover another layer completely.  Transparent paints can be used as a glaze, sort of like putting colored glass over something solid - it changes the color some, but the other color still shows through it, thus making a more complex, interesting color.  It's a powerful skill to have to understand how to use glazes to build up pure complex color or when to use opaques.  I do not claim to have that skill to any extent yet, but I'm looking forward to increasing my skill in that area.

To help me, I've made a chart of which pigments are opaque, semi-transparent, or transparent to help me know what to use when.  It was challenging to find all the info, but I got some of it from Gamblin's website (they're a wonderful company which makes great paints from great materials.  I trust their stuff implicitly and count on them for good information) and from a classic guide to all things painterly, The Painter's Craft, by Ralph Mayer.  He describes the pigments in detail and explains what they are best used for, where they are derived from, etc.

What I learned about materials is that all paints and pastels and oil sticks, etc. start from the same thing: pigment.  Pigments come from the earth - literally - some of them are made from rocks or stones or dirt, from bugs, from cows' urine, from plants, or are manufactured by man more recently.  Some are organic.  Others are inorganic.  I can buy yellow ochre, for instance, in powered form and use it to make any number of media.  For example, if I add some binder in the form of liquid methyl cellulose (library paste, sort of), and some water, and perhaps a little bit of calcium carbonate (chalk), to pigment, I can then mash all that up, then roll it, and - voila! - magic! - I have a pastel after a day of drying time.  Or I can add linseed oil and grind it with a muller on a piece of marble (think Girl with a Pearl Earring) and, after a while, I have oil paint.  Each medium has it's own vehicle - chalk, oil, etc - which makes it and its properties unique, but all start from pigments.  That's why it's helpful to understand the temperments of each pigment.

I tried to paste the table of pigments into this blog, but the formatting wasn't possible. Instead I've put it on my website,  While you're there, take a look around if you're interested!  I have lots of paintings and other cool stuff there!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Painting with Pastel on Canvas

Ahhhhhhhhh!  Today I finally got back into drawing!  I taught a pastel class at the studio today, and, since I only have 2 students in the class, I gave myself permission to draw while they were working - it just isn't helpful, I don't believe, to stand over their shoulders the whole time they're working.  I didn't want to do something persnickety, so I decided to do a fairly simple figure study of the model I photographed most recently.  She was terrific to work with - open and comfortable in her body and terrific about sharing of herself.  I got some wonderful pictures of her but hadn't had a chance to work from them yet, so I could feel a little bit of excitement today as I glanced through the shots to figure out which to work from. 

I found one I liked then cropped it.  I had a 24" square canvas which I'd painted then painted over with glop from the bottom of my turpenoid jar so it was textured and slightly mauvey-pink.  Perfect!  I didn't want to feel pressure to do anything perfectly.  I decided to use pastels on the canvas - a very unusual thing to do, as far as I know, because pastels don't stick to canvas so well, but I decided I'd use fixative like crazy and see what happened.  I NEVER use fixative - just ask my students - it changes the texture and color of the pastels in ways I don't like - but I figured I'd try something new.  Why not?  I'm on vacation - I have all summer to experiment - I may as well try something new.  If it doesn't work, I can always paint over it again and do something new.

Fortunately for me, I like how it turned out.  (For all I can write what I wrote about "who cares?", I'm actually quite a perfectionist and get very disappointed if something doesn't turn out well!  But pretending I don't care gives me permission to do things I would otherwise be too anal to try.  It's a good way to trick myself.

I can see some things I need to work on- her finger is too light, for example, but mostly I'm very pleased with it.  I like the texture a lot - I think it fits her stance and her body shape well.

I haven't come up with a title yet.  I want to name it after the model, but usually refrain from doing that in case the model isn't too excited about that possibility!  Any suggestions?

Monday, June 21, 2010

It's been a helluva week! Scoliosis, graduation, surgery, wisdom teeth, all at once.

Dear Readers,
So sorry I haven't been posting for a while...  it's been VERY busy around here!  I haven't painted or drawn or even considered doing it for over a week.  Today I'm starting to feel the itch again, but not quite enough to want to scratch it.  So here's the deal...

I tutored intensively for 2 weeks leading up to exams, very little time off, very much brain power needed.  I drove myself pretty mercilessly as is my wont at this time of year.


Return from retreat into more stress.  My 18-year-old, Dylan, needs to have spinal surgery for pretty severe scoliosis which has just been diagnosed recently.  We've spent the last month gathering information, going to appointments for yet another test, talking to very wonderful doctors, then getting together to try to make the best decision possible about when to have the surgery.  Dylan had been making very exciting plans to go to China this summer with a friend - he had gotten so much figured out - where to stay, how to get there, what to do while there (teach at two different schools as well as learn Chinese, then travel whenever possible), how to pay for it, etc., etc.  Then this stupid operation began to seem necessary sooner than later.  The recovery time is at least a month of fairly strong pain, more of discomfort and not being able to carry more than 8-10 pounds at one time.  His spine is tilted at about 70 degrees and looks somewhat like a question mark.  Unfortunately it hasn't stopped descending, nor will it until it is stopped.

So Dylan's dad and I had to make some tough choices - deny Dylan the trip to China or let him go?  Have him get the surgery as soon as possible or delay it until Christmas vacation when he might not have sufficient time to recover completely before school starts again and during which time he might get worse?  We spoke with the orthopedic surgeon, a geneticist to see if he has any genetic issues, the neurologist who's operated on him before, and a cardiologist.  He's had an MRI, a CT scan, an echocardiogram, x-rays, not sure what else, and he still has to have an MRA, a meeting with the anaesthesiologist and the surgeon again.  In the midst of it all, he lost a weekend when he got his wisdom teeth pulled - all 4 at once.  AND he was a senior in high school, so he was taking his AP exams and doing final projects and going to the prom, then having final exams, and finally, this past weekend, graduating with honors!  My darlin' boy!  He has dealt with it beautifully.  He is so aware and conscious and clear-headed.

We finally made the choice that he needs the surgery this summer - no China.  It's just too hard to wait and not know if it's getting worse every day, and we want him  to regain full mobility as much as possible.  The surgery will be complicated due to surgery he had on his spine when he was 10, but we're praying for great results.

So why would I write about this on my blog?  Well, it's about body image, isn't it?  And having issues like scoliosis affects body image, for sure.  Dylan said he didn't even really notice that he had scoliosis until he found out that he did, and now he's aware of it all the time.  My daughter read fashion magazines as a young and maturing teen, fully aware of the marketing job they were doing, and is more sensitive than not to wanting to look a certain way to fit the "look."  We're all affected by what we know.

When I was growing up, I was hardly aware of my body, except for the period of time when my siblings taunted me with, "Fatty, fatty, two by four, can't get through the bathroom door" (though I actually wasn't fat - I just wasn't in the 3rd percentile for body weight like they were). As an adult, I hated my stomach, but otherwise didn't think about my body.  I was thin enough - actually, I was underweight and didn't know it.  I had so little awareness of my body.  It wasn't until I gained weight to the point where I was beginning to enter the "normal" weight range, that I started having any body issues to speak of.  Now, as I enter my 50's and my metabolism is slowing down, I'm exercising more and slowly but surely putting on pounds.  I feel bad about it most of the day when it enters my consciousness.  It really sucks.  I can hardly bear to think what women who are overweight must think of themselves.  So much pain around our bodies.  Is is possible to just love them unconditionally?  To accept them as they are?  To get them repaired when needed (as my son will do), and love them just as they are all the time?  I don't know how to achieve that.  I have so many expectations of how I should look and such distortions about how I actually look.  I probably wouldn't recognize my own body in a line-up of bodies without heads - I'd probably figure myself for 30-40 pounds heavier.

Where on earth does that come from????  Why are we so wretched to ourselves?  Such searing searching....

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cherries galore

While walking along the paths at Dayspring and looking down at the ground, I began to see some preternaturally red bits and pieces which looked like someone had spit out a gummi worm.  They definitely looked artificial.  Because the visitors at the center tend to be environmentalists at heart (and older than people who normally consume such fare), I looked for a different explanation.  Looking up, my query was answered - a bright beautiful cherry tree full of tiny cherries!  I don't know why the tree was so full, why the birds hadn't devoured each and every one, and why I shouldn't eat them - but I chose not to, concerned I might get ill from intestinal troubles.  They were so beautiful and tempting in the dew and the rain.We were given our own store-bought cherries during the retreat.  I couldn't help but try to paint them, luscious and juicy and rich as they were. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More photos from the Silent Retreat

More pictures from my stay at Dayspring Retreat Center in Frederick, MD.

Three stages of a flower, and its visitor

Bugs humping on milkweed

This flower was 6 inches in diameter but otherwise looked just like a dandelion.  There were only two of them in a several acre field.  For a moment the seed on top was dancing in the breeze, almost ready to release into the world, then gracefully settled back into the head and stayed a while longer.
Red bugs on a weed

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

This picture is from the Silent Retreat this weekend.  It's of these weeds I see every summer there but don't know what they are.  They fascinate me completely. I love them!  They're so funky.  The heads looks a bit like raspberries with those crazy green things sticking out of them.  Here's a photo of one.  I just love how bizarre they are.  If you know what they're called or anything about them, please tell me!  I'm so curious!
I also love the quotes, especially the one by Kandinsky - that if the artist is good and true, she can put her vibrations  in the artwork, and in turn, the vibrations of the artwork will be felt by the viewer.  I believe that and definitely try to accomplish that in my paintings.

Another of my favorite weed in the meadows at Dayspring Silent Retreat Center in Frederick, Maryland, is milkweed.  It's astonishing to me how it morphs from what I've painted here into the next picture of dried pods with wispy dandelion-like seeds wafty through the air.  I'd love to watch that transformation over the course of the seasons, but I've only ever seen the two seasons.
 The quote by William Martin is wonderful too.  It gave me some peace when thinking about my son's surgery.  I especially love the line, "We have more questions than answers, and this is a great delight to us."  I am not a person who revels in ambiguity.  Gray is my least favorite color. I am a fan of black and white.  So I rolled my eyes quite a bit when I read that line.  And breathed deeply to take it in with the intention of making that response part of my being...

Part of the excellent food we had at Dayspring was cherries.  They are so beautiful I wanted to paint them.  I don't think I was all that successful, but I enjoyed trying!  And I enjoyed the quotes I found, especially the one about Henri Matisse - he wanted to make paintings so beautiful that, when a person saw them, all problems would suddenly subside.  I'm right there with him.

During the 50's, it seemed like beauty was an abstraction to be avoided in art, as if it were too simpering and wimpy, not important enough.  I disagree.  If I can make the world a more beautiful place by bringing a work of beautiful art into it, then I have accomplished something quite fine and worthwhile.  What's wrong with creating and expressing beauty?  There is so much of it in the world, I think it's a wonderful thing to help others perceive it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Silent Retreat at Dayspring

When I tell people I'm going on a Silent Retreat, I often get responses like the one I got on Facebook from a friend who said she could never deal with being quiet for so long because she's such an introvert.  I felt the same way before I went on one.  I made my then-boyfriend completely miserable with my pre-worrying.  He spent the retreat worrying about me while I was blissed out enjoying the natural world around me and loving the experience!  It was intensely freeing to not have to interact with anyone.  I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, in community (a nice plus), and not have to think about the daily niceties of making sure everyone else was OK (something I had to think about  a lot as a mom and teacher). 

Getting silent got me atuned to my inner soul.  I found her to be a very lovely Being.  I fell in love with her.  At the end of the retreat, I was experiencing joy like I'd never felt before.  Joy at simply being alive and conscious.  I had gone out into the field and explored a dying milkweed pod.  While there I saw a cricket and sat with it for unending moments as I watched it live its life.  I was reminded of Mary Oliver's poem called Song of the Builders in which she finds a cricket as she's thinking about God.

Song of the Builders

On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God -

a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope

it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.

from Why I Wake Early (2004)
I went to the retreat this weekend feeling anxious about my son's surgery and all the unknowns we were facing.  I thought I would probably spend the weekend thinking about it and letting myself have all my feelings about it - glad for the time to do it, but not looking forward to the pain particularly.  Within hours of arriving, I got the very strong message, "All is well."  It stayed with me the whole time, and didn't leave, especially when I began to get anxious.  My anxiety melted away as I instead spent time journalling, reading, painting, and wandering the fields, oh, and meditating.  We had time each day for Silent Worship when we all gathered to sit in silence companionably.  It was a good time to imagine my son bathed in white Light, surrounded by healing energy.  The retreat overall was wonderful and left me feeling refreshed and rested and ready for the journey ahead. 

Tomorrow I'll post pictures I painted while I was there.

Friday, June 11, 2010

When the body betrays us...

As I wrote about a month ago, I've started running.  I had to give it up completely for a few weeks because I had some kind of crud -a cough, exhaustion, congestion, etc. - that hung on and hung on.  I couldn't run because I could barely breathe and could barely get through the day.  It was very frustrating because I'm used to having all the energy I need to do whatever I need to do.

A couple of  days ago I finally ran again.  I managed to run a full mile and a bit without stopping - the longest I've gone so far.  I felt great about it!  I went 2.3 miles that day altogether.  I was feeling great.

Then yesterday I went to the park to walk with a friend.  I didn't see her there so I decided I'd run a bit.  I started to jog and was feeling good, actually enjoying it - a new thing- when, splat! - I tripped on a root and fell head long on the path.  I lay there a moment gathering myself, then got on my hands and knees, then finally stood up and assessed the damage.  I landed and skidded more on my left side.  My elbow was grazed badly, and my left thigh was abraded somewhat and would bruise badly.  I started walking and fortunately saw my friend ahead of me on the path.  We walked for a while before I realized I was seeing more white than trees and that I needed to stop and let my blood begin to flow more regularly again.  I was OK after that, though I still felt a tad bit shakey.

All day yesterday I was reminded of the fall because my elbow hurt a lot.  This morning it still hurts.  And the bruise is pretty impressive - about 6" x 4" and football-shaped.

I haven't gotten hurt in a long time, mostly because I don't do stuff that would have me getting hurt, but I have had a lot of aches and pains - arthritis in my hands, bone spur in my foot, very sore back - things which actually restrict what I can do in my life.  I've exercised, done PT, rested, etc., but I continue to have these things happen.  It's very frustrating for me.  I'm not ready to accept that this is how it'll be from now on.  I'm 50.  I don't feel ready to accept that my body will just hurt from now on and I have to accept it.  But I don't know what to do about it.  Exercise to get in shape?  That's what made my back hurt.  Not exercise?  That makes me gain weight and feel uncomfortable in my body.  I am not so sure I like this aging process.  It's out of control and unpleasant physically.

Then there's my youngest son - he's 18.  He had spinal surgery when he was 10 because he had a bleed in his spine which was causing nerve damage.  The surgery gave him back the ability to walk.  Talk about losing control of your body!  He has had to work very hard to re-gain his physicality.  He was very coordinated when he was a young kid, then the nerve damage resulted in his having a limp, and now he has scoliosis. We've spent the last couple of weeks having him get test after test to see exactly what's going on and trying to figure out the best time for him to have surgery.  The question is not IF he has to have surgery - it's WHEN - and how complex it'll be and how successful it can be, given the complexity of it because of his previous surgery.

It's even more difficult for me to accept the reality of his body than it is of my body.  I was thinking last night I'd rather have the surgery and be the one to suffer.  I hate it that my child has to go through so much.  I want to protect him and keep him safe, and I am completely unable to in this instance.  It pisses me off big-time. 

I read two quotes today which I really like:

"Be good to yourself. If you don't take care of your body, where will you live?" ~Kobi Yamada

"It's good to do uncomfortable things. It's weight training for life." ~ Anne Lamott

My precious son is certainly getting amazing weight training for his life.  I send him all my blessings.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Today I had a good stretch of time to work in the studio and get a decent start on my new piece.  I had much more time than I used - that seems to be the way it goes sometimes, but eventually I got to it.

During the course of the day, the name of the piece changed from Shelia x 4 to Shelia x3.  I had originally designed the piece for 3 figures, but found that four fit better on the canvas I already had, so I put in the figure on the far right.  What I think I'll do is paint the three figures then take the canvas off the stretcher, build the right size stretcher, and re-stretch the finished piece.  Hopefully that'll work OK.  I haven't done it before, but as long as I wait long enough so it's completely dry, it shouldn't be an issue.

Today I painted in the darks, the shadows.  It's always amazing to me how much that already reveals about the look of things to come.  Well-placed, well-defined darks are what make a piece to a great extent (in my humble opinion, at least!)

The strong light coming in from the left is from my window - this time of day I get the last beams of sun coming in as the day draws to a close.  That's how I know to turn on my lights or begin thinking about dinner.

Tonight my choice is dinner.  I wish you all a good evening.  I'll be on a Silent Retreat this weekend so won't be blogging again until after the weekend.  Fare thee well.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The different sizes and shapes of breasts

I had the enormous pleasure of photographing a new model today, someone I haven't known for long and don't know very well yet.  She was awesome and brought some great props - a fake fur zebra coat and an impressive turquoise necklace.  It was fun figuring out how to use those.  I think they made for some terrific shots.  Look for them in the coming months!

As I was photographing her, she asked me a question I hadn't considered before:  What have you learned from this process?

I was stymied.  When I photograph people, I consider myself to be a conduit, there for them, to be present and available to them so they can have the most wonderful experience possible.  I don't really bring myself into it.  So when she asked what I've learned, I had to process the information I've gathered completely differently.

I've learned so much more about how women's bodies look, particularly about the similarities and differences.  I realize that before I began taking these photographs, I was really quite unaware of the specifics of a woman's body. 

Of course I knew what a woman's body looks like - face, neck, breasts, belly, butt, legs, feet.  But as for the variation!  I've learned how obese women look, or very thin women, or big boned, or average build...  It's been fascinating to see how all the parts come together given those variations. 

Breasts can be tiny little protrusions, or "perky" (I hate that word for breasts!  It sounds like that's the only acceptable way for them to be.), or stand alone, or droop to the waist, or big and fleshy, or small, petite little mounds.  Areoles are small, large, pink, dark brown, different colored or the same.  Nipples range from tiny to thumb-size (not in length - in diameter!)  This photo-montage can give you a sense of the amazing differences.  When a man says he loves breasts, I wonder if he's thinking of a particular size or shape?  I wonder if there are "ideal" breasts?  Which of these would a fashion magazine editor consider "perfect"?  Which would a partner love?  Which would a baby be blessed to suckle from? 

Then there are the bellies!  What a range!  Some women have a flat expanse from breasts to groin with nothing interrupting the plane other than their belly buttons.  The heaviest woman I have photographed has an amazing landscape between her breasts and her groin.  She has lost and gained weight several times so has stretch marks and dimples, mounds and curves.  I painted a picture of her belly just so I could explore it in detail.  I loved capturing the folds and bumps and fleshiness of it all, so different from my own, such an exquisite landscape.

I find it awe-inspiring to discover many of the different possible sizes and shapes the female form can take on.  Each time I have the honor of photographing a new woman, I am captivated by her  precious form, the unique beauty of her shape, the gorgeousness she brings to the world.  I feel so blessed in this endeavor.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Working on a new piece

I had a wonderful experience working with a new (to me) model a couple of weeks ago.  Shelia has been a professional artist's model for about 15 years now, so she is very skilled at what she does. 

It was very interesting to notice the differences between working with her and photographing women who haven't gone in front of the camera before.  Shelia wasn't the least bit shy about disrobing.  She brought her robe with her.  She knew when she needed a break.  She was comfortable suggesting poses that might work well.  For friends who are modeling for the first time, it's a bit harder to disrobe, and they don't always know what they need, though they often have a pretty good sense of how they want to feel in the process.  I love the process of helping them discern what they need, what they want, and how to achieve it - that's often one of the richest parts of the process - and it was also lovely that Shelia already had that clarity.  I love both opportunities!

Because this session was about Shelia (as it is for all of my models), she had come with an idea of what she wanted to do which was to dance improvisationally as I photographed her.  For the first part, I played a very meditative CD by Robert Reich.  It was perfect.  I'd been in a rather hard spot that day, having just heard my son will need spinal surgery for scoliosis, so I needed something to bring me into the present moment.  The music was ideal.  And watching Shelia was perfect.  She is very graceful and beautiful in her movements.  I felt like she was a gift from God, watching her comfort in her body and the ease with which she moved.  She appeared to be directly connected to her core.  She closed her eyes and let her body lead the way.  I could hardly take pictures quickly enough, there were so many good ones! 

After a while, I asked her to pause for a moment so I could use a dark background - I have some new red velvet curtains I'm using for a backdrop now.  They are especially nice for women who are very pale who tend to blend into the almost white wall.  Shelia asked for different music, specifically Sinead O'Conner.  What a contrast!  It was loud and aggressive and almost harsh.  I have to be in a certain mood to want to hear it.  It was interesting seeing how different it felt to photograph her as it played.  I didn't feel as atuned to the experience, and I don't think those pictures turned out as well.  I still got some good ones, but I found myself having to block out the music so I could concentrate on the aesthetics of her movements.

That night when I went to bed, I started thinking about the pictures I'd taken and got an idea for a painting.  About a year ago, Chris had made me an 8'x2.5' canvas.  I had planned to make 24 paintings of women standing straight and tall, larger than life, looking straight at the camera.  I wanted the viewer to go into the room full of these powerful Amazonian women.  After thinking it through, however, I decided I wasn't quite interested enough in the concept to spend a year or more painting such huge canvases which I'd then have to find a place to exhibit and store.  I still think they'd be quite powerful, but I let go of the idea.  But still had the canvas...

What came to me was the idea to use the canvas horizontally and to have her in 3 or 4 different positions on it.  I remembered several pictures I'd taken of her squatting which I thought would be perfect.  I couldn't wait to get to the computer to play with the composition!  Here's what I came up with:

A couple of days later I was able to find the time to grid it onto the canvas.  This picture shows it with the background painted in.  I realized with chagrin (the next day!) that I had left out the second figure's arm which is going towards the floor.  That'll be my next step - to put it back in!  Silly me!

This picture will give you a sense of the scale of the pieces as well.  I'm having to use two easels to support it and have taken down my drawing table to make room for it.  It's LONG!!
I'll be done my big push at work (tutoring for exams) Tuesday, so I'll have some significant time to work on it after that.  I'm very much looking forward to the time!  I think this will be a fun piece to work on - though complex - look at all those hands!  And feet!  And faces! 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A different kind of piece

In addition to re-working Composition the last few days, I also created a new piece as a gift for one of my tutoring students.  This is a young woman I've worked with the last 2-3 years 3 times a week.  We have gotten to know each other quite well.  Her major love is animals.  She is determined to be a vet and is headed to college next year to major in pre-vet.  I have no doubt that she will achieve her goal. She's quite amazing!

During our sessions, she frequently talked about her dogs and how much they mean to her.  She has pictures of them on all her notebooks.  Thinking ahead, I asked her to email me copies of the pictures of them (telling her I just wanted to have them). 

It's been fun drawing something completely different.  I love drawing hair anyway, so this was just a great opportunity to do LOTS of that!

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a dog person, so I didn't feel a huge affinity for these stately creatures, but it was fun to draw them.  I basically just paid attention to the different shades of copper in their fur and went around and around the picture again and again increasing the complexity of the color and improving the accuracy of the drawing.  It was actually surprising when I stepped back from the picture and saw that they looked like dogs!  Drawing is so analytical for me.  I pay attention to color and value and shape and form.  If I do that accurately enough, the picture ends up looking like it should.

One of my art students told a mutual acquaintance that learning to draw with me is a very analytical process and not all that hard at all.  That is certainly the way I do it.  I'd enjoy having the skill to draw more freely and to understand form at a deeper level, but this is the way I was created.  I'm grateful for the skills I have - and am aware that there are others as well!