Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hey, Van Gogh Had His Hang-Ups Too!

"Only the half-mad are wholly alive."
Edward Abbey

Just for fun, I thought I'd pop in today and confess some insider information about my studio habits. Every artist has his or her own superstitions, complusions, & procedures; I am no different. So here, in no particular order, are a few of my personal quirks:

1) I must create to the "sweet sounds" of a sci-fi or horror movie. Some people work to Bach or birdsong...I work to the squeals, roars, and chomping of zombies, vampires, nasty extraterrestials and the screams of the poor doomed humans in the path of such monsters. Aliens, Dawn of the Dead and The Cave are currently on the DVD loop. I don't watch just any old movie; I do prefer something of some quality, or at least something I find interesting. If the movie is lame, then I waste precious energy lamenting the stupid director and cheap special effects. If there isn't suitable creative fodder on the Sci-Fi Channel (and I am trying to resist this peculiar compulsion), I will literally wander back and forth in the studio, putz around and generally get nothing done. I'll sit and stare blankly at the current project before me, completely uninspired. I'll often complain aloud about not being able to get to work. Finally, my son will say "Oh, put in the movie already, Mom!" And so, I pop one of the flicks I've watched perhaps a hundred times, sigh, and settle in. I don't actually watch the movie...it just becomes white noise of sorts (although I will often recite the oft-heard dialogue.) I focus almost instantly. Action/adventure films sometimes will also do the trick...dramas are not allowed in the workspace because instead of art-making, I'll settle in on the couch to watch the movie...and comedies or love stories? Forget about it! Ick! Now there's something that sucks the inspiration right out of me!

2) I have an art-making "uniform." I work in flannel pants of some sort and whenever it's clean, a ratty old X-Files T-shirt. It has long since passed the point of being suitable in public and if someone comes to the door unexpectedly, I hurriedly grab a sweatshirt. But again, this ritual helps me focus. I dread the day when my beloved T-shirt falls to pieces. Whatever will I do then??

3) I swatch out every single supply in my studio...and I do mean everything. I keep a little journal just for this purpose and in it, I put a little sample of every pencil, marker, paint, rubber stamp, glitter, embossing powder, pastel, crayon and so forth. I used to swatch my papers, brads, and eyelets as well, but those collections now verge on the ridiculous and I managed to draw the line somewhere. This system allows me to see each product as it will actually appear on paper and helps me coordinate colors. Sometimes when I have creative block, I will simply sit and swatch until my brain gets moving again.

4) I love having a cup of coffee at hand when I work but I have a bad habit of leaving it in the middle of my mess and it is quite common for me to wash my brush in my coffee or drink my paint water. (Perhaps this explains the first three items on this list.)
5) Because I have had to adapt around my fickle hands, I set up "stations" around the house and work 15 to 20 minutes at a time at each station. For example, I might be painting at the main studio table but I'll also have Photoshop open for scanning artwork on the computer, canvases ready to be sprayed downstairs in my second studio space, the sewing machine set up on the kitchen table and so forth. Each station requires a different sort of hand movement or stressor and when my hands cramp up doing one thing, I can switch tasks and keep going. My son calls it "extreme multi-tasking." I still have to take breaks all throughout the day for contrast baths, finger stretching, and resting, but this system is the only way I get anything done at all.
6) Finally, I clean up my workspace completely at the end of every day, even if I'm in the middle of a project. I might leave out a set of colors I'm using but other than that, I make my work table shiny clean and completely free of clutter at the end of every day. I hate starting the morning in chaos and since I am a creature of ritual, I have to have all my tools back in place when I begin again. Otherwise, I will reach for something automatically, fuss when I can't find it, and waste hours looking for it when the desired tool is sitting right in front of me.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Three Bones Shy & Infinitely Richer

Each piece of art I produce has special meaning; it represents a small victory over adversity that resides throughout my body (i.e. chronic migraines, myofascial pain) but that most especially rears its ugly head in one of my most precious assets: my hands. It is a complicated tale and one that I have only alluded to in past posts. However, given upcoming challenges, I have decided to detail a bit of my story, not as a plea for pity but as an example of how health issues don't have to rule one's life but can, in fact, enhance it.

My tale has taken years to evolve. In 1989, I was involved in a bicycle/car encounter. I saw the car rapidly approaching and thought it best to get out of its way. Somehow, my panicked brain felt that an immediate stop was the best course of action (oh, how illogical that was!) so I "slammed on" the brakes and subsequently, executed a very ungraceful tumble over my bicycle's handlebars. Instinctually, I extended my hands outward to cushion my fall. I promptly broke a small bone in my left hand and incurred a constellation of minor scrapes and bruises. 1990 found me in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Torrejon, Spain as a radio and television broadcaster. I developed a Dupuytren's Contracture in my left palm that required two removal surgeries a year apart. In 1993, home and finished with active duty, I noticed a lump in the middle of my left wrist accompanied by annoying and gradually increasing pain. Between 1993 and 1998, I visited several hand surgeons who were perplexed and unhelpful in a variety of ways. My X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans appeared normal (at least to the untrained eye.) Beginning in 1999, my right (dominant hand) became extremely painful and on many days, almost useless. A new set of X-rays in the fall finally revealed the answer. I had Kienbock's Disease
in both wrists and the disease was twice as bad in my right wrist as my left. Diagnosed most often via heavy, boring, and comprehensive orthopedic textbooks, Kienbock's is uncommon in women, young people, and rare bilaterally. I had hit the Kienbock's trifecta. Essentially, the blood supply had been compromised for a little bone called the lunate and as a consequence, the lunate had died and collasped into about three pieces. In June of 2000, I had surgery on the right wrist to remove three bones. In December of 2000, I had my left radius (one of two arm bones) shortened and connected with a plate and 6 screws. Between 2000 and 2005, I developed De Quervain's tendonitis in the left wrist which required surgery and another contracture, this time in my right palm. (I discovered early this year that I had the foot version of contractures as well, which also required surgery.)

Whew! What a journey it has been! And in February 2008, I will be having a full fusion of my right wrist to relieve ongoing pain. The surgeon will harvest bone from my hip and use the bone, a plate, and screws to permanently fix my wrist into a neutral, unmoving position so the bones can't grind on one another. This will be my sixth hand surgery (multiple surgeries are common for Kienbock's patients.)

I know this all sounds very grim but this is truly the best thing that has ever happened to my art and my life as an artist. A mere week after I was diagnosed, I switched my college major to studio art. I knew immediately how I wished to use what my hands could offer. My passion, determination, focus, and dedication grew by leaps and bounds. I work through the pain and dysfunction with a variety of adaptations to tools and working style. Does it slow me down? Absolutely. Does it prevent me from exploring certain media? Absolutely. Does it inspire me to pour my heart and soul into every creation? Absolutely. Do I grieve for what I have lost? Never. I have gained too much to mourn. And that, as they say, is that.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Poetry Before Dawn

I crawled out from under my cozy scarlet comforter very early this morning, prompted by the nagging feeling of a migraine brewing. Before dawn is a quiet and productive time, albeit a bit chilly and dark. I popped on the coffee pot and and went back to bed to wait out the percolations. When it finally sputtered to a stop, I fixed a hot cup o' joe, toasted up an English muffin and settled in at my studio table. The night before, I had started another round of found word poetry so I would have more text available for a series of canvases I've been working on lately. The table was strewn with bits of poems-in-waiting, adjectives, nouns, phrases, conjunctions and the like, all patiently hoping to find a purpose in my compositions. Once I've discovered a hidden poem worth remembering, I write it down and stuff all the little words into a numbered pocket in a clear slide mount page. That way, I can find all the necessary clippings when finally needed. I typically work up ten poems or so in each round so I have options to choose from when deciding upon the imagery for a canvas. In the meantime, there are tiny bits of books scattered all over the table and the slightest rustling of papers or god forbid! a sneeze, and all that potential poetry flies away.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Returning & Remembering

New blog look and some new art...for a little while, I am working on a slightly diferent take on the Asian imagery series. These are mini landscapes on smaller canvases - much more detail, a different background technique & the addition of found word poetry to add text. This particular piece (acrylics and collage) is 4 inches by 12 inches high and it reads:
"In this house
there was
bit of truth
whisper it over and over:
Remember who you are.

These have turned out to be very fun to do if I can ignore the physical difficulty it incurs to work in such detail...liner brushes, quarter-inch brushes and smaller, tweezers for the words...sigh! I have always loved tiny and after working big for a tad, I guess I am returning to my roots to remind myself why I got out of working small.

Monday, December 10, 2007

New Start, New Look Coming

Now that Blogger has upgraded to a somewhat more user-friendly format, I have tranformed my old blog into a fresh, brand-spanking new template and will give this another try. I just couldn't stand all the HTML work that classic Blogger needed to create a unique template...Still working out the bugs...Blogger is seemingly infested with code bugs of all sorts (even in the new format) so after a thorough once-over on this template, tweaking this and that, I'll get back to the business of posting if I find that blogging this way is easier on the hands...
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