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Are You Flexible?

Today was challenging. Wait, does every blog post lately start this way? Well, today was more challenging than other days, and that’s saying a lot.

In the morning I got to paint with my mentor, John Ross Palmer. It was a blast, as I love talking to him, and love his work, but it was hard too because I was trying to figure out what works for me in a piece and also because abstract painting is challenging and because… Well, I might have bought all sorts of fears to the table, but one of them is my fear of the unexpected, fear of situations I don’t anticipate and haven’t accounted for. I can be impulsive but not really spontaneous, if that makes any sense. Have you ever looked at a bull? It’s massive, therefore sluggish. It’s hard to turn a big animal around, and as a Taurus I feel that sometimes. I feel that I can’t move fast. Sometimes I even feel that I shouldn’t.

There was a little mishap that had already thrown me off balance in the morning: my goddesses were still not dry because I had mistakenly bought slow-drying acrylics. “What if the Universe is trying to tell me to slow down?” I asked John. No! His response was decisive. No! No! No! Please don’t ever think that.

John brought all this energy and a ton of ideas into the mix. I was excited but I felt overwhelmed. He liked the background I painted on a panel, the usual multi-tone patches of color I tend to work with. “Make six paintings like that!” he said. Just the background. Different colors. I could see his point but the logistics alone felt overwhelming. Where would a bull get six panels or canvases in a pinch? Bulls like to prepare ahead of time for errands and expenses. Bulls really hate going to the store.

My big-hearted but massively sluggish inner animal freaked out and then felt sad. I can’t really explain the sadness except that it was there weighing me down. As if being a bull that had to run an unexpected errand wasn’t bad enough. Then came the weight of what truly mattered: Why make those paintings? Are they really me? I am not an abstract painter. But who am I anyway? I contemplated a quick escape to Malaga. Changing my name, that sort of stuff. Then I drove to the store. Mistakes from the past, places where my world collided with others and universes blended in uncomfortable mixes of color, then separated again, followed me as I loaded six canvases into the car. Doubts sat with me as I poked the protective wrappers with my pallet knife. My studio was pure chaos, so crazy in fact that the bull felt a bit suffocated. She started mixing paint anyway but was disheartened by her clumsy hooves and her general morose heaviness. Then AVM came. We talked. We related. We discussed how this is challenging at times, how we occasionally feel like we’re on a game show. We also talked about letting go of ego, something one needs to learn in relationships, mentorships, and the likes. The bull has failed at this on more than one occasion. The sadness came back. I felt like crying. “Write that on a painting,” AVM said, “I feel like crying.” AVM put music on. She mopped the downstairs (yes, we have to do that too!), while the bull painted upstairs. Somewhere sadness gave in to lighter feelings. The heavy bull got over herself a little. In the end the paintings were done and I felt happy. I also felt like they are totally me. I’m not sure this does away with my fear of losing myself, but at least for right now, I’m content. The day’s experiences have taken me out of my comfort zone, and maybe that’s what really matters.

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Who Killed the Goddess?

There was a lot of International Women’s Day stuff on social media today, and most of it annoyed me. It annoyed me because any bandwagon that people jump on irritates me. I’m not a crowd animal at all. I’m an eternal black sheep. But there’s more to it than that. I guess it struck me as superficial to celebrate the many accomplishments and qualities of women the world over when, internationally speaking, three things prevail: the gender pay gap, violence against women, and iffy reproductive rights (if any). So thank you for the flowers and all that, but instead of a special day to honor women, I’d rather have 365 days of equal pay, and a world in which women feel safe and have autonomy over their bodies and choices.

I didn’t voice this stuff on social media because I didn’t want to be ugly, so I decided to pour my irritation into art instead. I decided to make some small collages of dead goddesses surrounded by flowers. They’d give me the chance to play with various mediums and layering, and also serve as commentary on how the sacred feminine has been demonized and undermined for centuries.

The background didn’t completely dry yet, so I won’t truly get to experiment until tomorrow. Disclaimer: I didn’t buy the polyurethane as I was afraid It’d cause me a full-fledged asthma attack, but I do have some other cool stuff that’s less likely to kill me. No, I won’t die for art. Not even for art with a feminist message (and collage flowers). But I did spend a lot of time in my Escapist studio today and ended up hanging out with my fellow Escapists. It helped, talking to them. I guess we’re all experiencing the same type of excitement but also of pressure. Pressure to make stuff, to keep the quality up, pressure to make the most out of this opportunity, pressure to be there as much as possible and not miss out on stuff. Today for me was a bit challenging. Even with spring break before me I felt like there’s hardly enough time. Maybe I’m still tired. I felt better than yesterday, more rested, back pain almost gone, though I was still afraid to bend in certain ways or pick stuff up. It occurs to me at times like this that the artist’s life involves a lot of physical effort. It makes me scared that maybe I’m not strong enough. Let’s add that to my list of reasons for self-doubt, shall we? Or maybe not. Maybe it’s best to chase all self-defeating thoughts away. After all, I’m probably still cranky because it’s that time of the semester and I’ve been working very hard. There’s sadness that sneaks in through the crevices on days like this, sadness and doubt, nostalgia for things and people better left unmentioned. Tomorrow will be better. The goddesses will still be dead. But they will hopefully get flowers.

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Some Mornings Are Harder Than Others

My morning wasn’t particularly hard, though I woke up still tired from yesterday, and overwhelmed by a brand of nostalgia that’s eluded me lately. Mostly, though I was overwhelmed by all the work I want to do in my Escapist studio, all the materials I wish to buy, all the materials I wish to try, and the somewhat inconvenient truth that my back hurts from lifting something heavy the other day, and sitting in the car for five hours yesterday didn’t help. Oh well, at least there’s no commute for almost two weeks because #springbreak! The back pain is bound to give way to rest and ibuprofen, and I will surely relax enough to enjoy buying polyurethane and other things and playing in my studio.

So no, the painting was not inspired by my own etat d’ame, which only dipped into sadness briefly, and only because I’m tired. The painting was inspired by the Instagram account of @salmaelwardany

There are also a few other things I worked on today. Betty and her headless groom now have some color. So do the huge scary doves. Tomorrow I will explore options for a layered sort of collage. I will do a small trial piece first, with Boston terriers and dog hearts. Hopefully it will help me unlock some of the mysteries of polyurethane.

I also think I’m ready to put gloss on the big Barcelona pieces.

And in the evening I painted an elephant for no other reason than the fact that I felt like going to the studio to work in there, at least for a little bit, in the company of my fellow Escapist AVM, who works at night. She has a wonderful energy, and so do her paintings!

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Driving Whales to the Island

Several good things happened today: My friends who recently had a baby wanted the large whale painting I’d made last summer for her room. I was thrilled to drive it to the Island!

Also, I saw the first bluebonnets. I saw them first in Memorial Park. Yesterday there were only red wildflowers, today the bluebonnets had joined them. Then I saw more on the Island. It’s official! Spring is finally here!

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Last night I had a horrible dream in which my dog died of a punctured lung. It was awful, but in the light of day I was elated to be awake. My dog, very much alive, and with lungs that appeared to be functioning, was wagging her stump of a tail asking for food, walkies, and other niceties of the canine existence. A friend who spent the night was here too, lavishing attention on the living breathing little monster. Life seemed fully and completely magical. Because it is.

I’ve carried the energy of my happy morning all through the day. And I decided to do something with it. I bought 3 large canvases, took them to my Escapist studio and decided to paint fast and colorful. Something John said yesterday stuck with me, as his insights always do. He was talking to someone about his Justice series, which is brilliant in its dynamism. He said he painted it fast, and that when one paints slowly it generally feels contrived.

So yes, today I wanted to challenge myself to paint fast. I realized while I was doing this that one of the things that’s always moved me about certain pieces of art, is the energy of the brushstrokes. I always knew I loved texture, but never realized how much the energy and movement speak to me. So yes, this was completely satisfying. Also a good workout.

When I got home the dog was alive, perky, and pointy-eared. I took her to the park. She was so happy! I almost wonder if somehow she hypnotized me in my sleep, causing me to have a nightmare that’d get me to pay attention to her today. I wouldn’t put it past her. After all, she hangs out with witches.

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Dirty Hands and Other Fun Things

Today was the unveiling of John Ross Palmer’s Justice series benefiting the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work. It was such a fun event! I had a great time visiting with people, and having work displayed in the gallery below the Escapist studios was wonderful! It gave me the opportunity to talk to many of the guests about my work and even to sell a small piece and a few books! The energy at the event was wonderful, a lot of great people I enjoyed meeting! I’m exhausted but very happy.

I started working on a series of hands, dirty artist hands with paint on them, to be exact. Also, I decided to make a new Betty collage.

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Worm Moon

Tonight it’s finally fully upon us, the full moon known as the Worm Moon. In Native American tradition this moon marks the time when the soil thaws enough for worms to crawl through it, getting it ready for seeding. And don’t be disgusted with worms! They’re very very useful!

And just like the worms prepare the soil, us Escapists got busy today hanging work in the gallery below our studios. Tomorrow, during John Palmer’s unveiling of the Justice Series (and by the way, I got a sneak peek and the paintings are fabulous!), people will come see our space and we want them to enjoy it.

I spent seven hours framing and hanging work! And it was an exciting seven hours! It’s been a whole exciting month. I feel like the soil is ready now for us to plant all kinds of wonderful seeds. Come summer the Chrysalis will bloom in a million different colors with our solo shows.

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Howl at the Moon

So the full moon is here, it’s beautiful, and I’m in a silly mood where it amuses me greatly to remember that the woman who bought my house has beagles. Beagles, in case you didn’t know it, are notorious for howling! The noisy neighbors have definitely found their match. Howl at the moon, beautiful babies! Howl to your full lung capacity and be merry! I’m sure your vocal chords can out-blast the music coming through the amplifier on the porch next door! You got this, beagles! I believe in you!

So I drew beagles today while my students took a pop-quiz. Haha! I also drove to Houston and loaded my car up with art from Hardy and Nance because we now get to hang stuff in the gallery below our Escapist studios. How awesome is that?

In the middle of all of this, one of my favorite students from 14 years ago, when I was teaching at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, reached out to me and we started to plan for her visiting Texas and us taking a road trip together! I’m so excited! She’s now a yoga teacher, has traveled the world, and lives in California. And I can’t wait to see her and catch up after all these years!

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This one goes out to cat lady for being such a good friend! Also, I managed to have a great day, even on a Wednesday in Beaumont!

It’s a full moon, and though its energy brings a certain kind of heaviness, it’s also a happy anniversary. On the last full moon us Escapists had our very first meeting with John and Ryan. Looking back now, I can’t believe it’s only been a month! Life has changed so much, I’ve learned, expanded, gained in color, boldness, but also in perspective. And I’m very excited about what lies ahead!