Monday, May 16, 2022

Excavating memories of school days


"Early Morning Sunshine", 10x10" mixed media on wood cradle panel. 

My memories of my early school years are forever tied to one kid I befriended right at the beginning. She was a tiny, little girl, while I was.... not. I didn't fit in... I had red hair and freckles, my mom made my clothes, and I was big. One of the tallest kids in my class until middle school, I towered in the back row of every class photo from grades 1 to 5, while my tiny friend was always in the front row, dead centre. 

Kids can be cruel. They don't seem to have much of a filter, and will point out and make fun of anything that makes someone stand out. I had the misfortune of having a small accident the day before school started... I was out with my mom and our new dog (not a puppy, an adopted, older dog), and she had me hold the leash while she dug something out of her purse. The dog took off, and not wanting to let her get away, i held on to that leash, getting dragged a couple blocks on the concrete as a result. My face looked a little worse for wear. My earliest memory of school is being approached by a boy in my class and being told "I don't like you, you're ugly". Yikes.

So, I took it upon myself to make sure my little buddy didn't get bullied. Or as much as I could anyway. I got bullied a bit myself, but because of my size it was usually older kids in the neighbourhood (my older siblings played their part, of course) and not the kids in my class. I was a pretty weird kid. I suppose it was unavoidable. 


The two of us were always in the same class. I don't really know how kids got assigned their classes in the 70/80s, but I suspect the school administrators realized I had taken on this role and it was one way to make sure this kid didn't get hurt. Her house was in the same direction as mine so we walked together every day, and sometimes I had lunch at her place because she was much closer. It worked out well for everyone, and to this day, we are still friends. 

In primary school we had recess twice a day... the bell would ring and the entire school would pour into the school yard and run around like maniacs for 15 minutes. The two of us would usually sit along the fence or walk around picking "flowers" (weeds) or play some silly game with a couple of the other kids. Queen Ann's Lace (Wild Carrot) was the flower of choice, and finding a patch made for a great day. When I see them now I still think of my friend "Hedgeheight" (original nickname, right? She was, quite literally, the height of the hedge around her yard when I christened her with that one. I don't think she's gotten much taller). It reminds me of a sunny spring day in the school yard, talking about our favourite things and picking flowers.

We don't talk all that often these days, but we check in on each other from time to time, and she will sometimes make the long trek from the other side of the city to come to an opening. It's nice to have someone around who has known me for the majority of my life, and shared many of the same experiences. Thank goodness for email and the internet, because it's a lot easier to keep track of each other now than it was in the 80s. 

Friday, April 8, 2022

Recovering From Burnout

A Walk in the Park, 10x10" mixed media on wood cradle panel. 

For the past few months, I have stepped back from many of my usual activities. I'm hardly online these days, I'm not doing any shows this year, I'm not painting nearly as much or as often, and I'm certainly not doing as much work to drive traffic to my website. 

It's been a few months now... I think I started to feel this crushing overwhelm around November or December last year, and just chalked it up to my usual Winter Blues. This time it was different though. I'd spend my visits with my mom obsessively cleaning her apartment instead of visiting (it needed it, so I wasn't wasting time, but maybe avoiding the reality that she wasn't managing well). I'd not answer my phone when my friends called. I was spending my work days with my headphones on so I wouldn't have to talk to people (ok, I'm still doing that, but in my defence, there are a few people in my space who spout utter nonsense that I just don't want to hear). I decided to cut myself from slack and just let myself be a slug for a few months. It's been a stressful few years, and the last thing I wanted was for my body to give out on me because I was pushing too hard. 

My day job is in what's called a "deadline driven" environment. Basically, when I get handed a job, some invisible timer starts ticking... the amount of time I have varies depending on the client and the contract, and doesn't change no matter how many changes the client makes. For instance, last week I spent the better part of a day adding labels to a large number of product images only to be told to remove them all the next day. And the following day I added revised labels. The deadline didn't change. I changed jobs a few years ago because I had gotten to the point of having panic attacks when I had to deal with particular people. Realizing that wasn't a sustainable state, I left a job I'd been at for close to 20 years to something related but considerably less stressful. And the covid hit. FML.

I'm in the office a few days a week, because some tasks require me to use these large photographic printers. Since I was there anyway, I got loaded up with tasks that were usually done by other people so that they could work from home. Add in a few people (also coming in to the office) who believe every bit of right-wing propaganda going around and feel it is their responsibility to convince me its truth, a couple sales people who believe my time is best spent running around the building hunting for something their client may or may not have sent, and a couple coworkers who believe the best way to make what they want a priority is to call me on Teams and harass me until I do it, and you've got my current circumstance. Hardly the low-key, no stress job I though I was getting. 

Add in the general stress of a parent with declining mobility, a child trying to launch a career in the worst economy since the depression, on top of a GOLBAL PANDEMIC, and that sense of crushing overwhelm became my life. 

So... I've spent the last few months watching way too much TV and trying to reframe my circumstances. There's not much I can do about my job, but the volume of work has slowed down enough that I can take breaks and maybe not work quite as hard as I have been. I have a co-worker who has been loaded up with the work of another who has moved on, so I've decided that I will no longer be trying to do the work of two people so that she can focus on her 2nd job. If she moves into that position they can hire someone to replace her, if she doesn't she can decide for herself how to handle the expectations. My tin-foil hat wearing co-worker can talk about whatever he likes, but I've made it pretty clear what I think of his opinions. One 15 minute conversation (some would call screaming match, but whatever), and the onslaught of emailed links from fox news "stories" to Tfucker Carlson videos have stopped. We're civil now, but controversial topics of conversation are now off the table. 

I've also gotten back into my studio. I've decided low pressure is best for right now, so I'm slowing working through a series of 10 small collage pieces, and finishing up a sketchbook project I started last fall. This work helps, because when I'm trying to solve a visual problem, I am so focused on what I'm doing that time just slips away. It's frustrating that its taken me a month to complete one small painting, but I'm trying to focus on the process and how it makes me feel, rather than the finished result.

And I've even started being more social. I spent an evening last week with a small group of artist friends... actually in person, talking about art/life/covid and how we're coping. I discovered I missed that sense of community. I will be going back online, though perhaps a bit less often than I was. I won't be doing the mindless doom-scrolling and getting into comment wars with my extended family, but focusing on art, friends and mental health. I'm sure I'll be making good use of the "mute" function. 

I'm feeling better, and I don't want to get dragged back into the mud. 

Monday, March 21, 2022

I'm going to try to do better...

Postcards made from unsuccessful abstract painting exercises

Hello there!

Where the hell have I been, you ask? Well, I've kind of retreated from society for a while, because I had unwisely chosen to be informed of what's going on in the world every waking minute of my days. Take that generally unpleasant baggage and add to it an aging parent with declining mobility, a child whose launch into the world has been indefinitely stalled, and acquaintances who have jumped whole-heartedly into the wellness-to-nutjob pipeline, and you may understand why my coping mechanisms have been stretched to the breaking point. I am part of the "Sandwich generation" I suppose... though I feel more like a panini. 

I know in the world of daily social media posting that very few people are going to read this blog. It's just the way it is, and I'm ok with that. I think I use this more as a way document the evolution of my work as opposed to some kind of marketing tool anyway. I like to write, and while I try to keep my (almost) weekly emails short and sweet, usually showing off my latest painting, I think this format can be longer and a bit more in depth for people who have the attention span to read longer form writing. I've been posting here since 2012 and my initial foray into the art world, and a LOT has happened since then. I am truly a different person. Ignoring this outlet has been to my detriment, I think... I no longer have a record of the why of my work, and the pandemic and world events have changed my thinking. I've become more opinionated... less tolerant to a degree. I will tell you what I think, and I no longer care about what other people think of me. That has rubbed some people the wrong way. C'est la vie. Not everyone has to like me. I think that has helped my work though, since now my entire focus is on what I need to get out of painting, not what will sell. 

I had a lot of failed experiments to use...
So... back to art stuff. I've really got into plants and botanical stuff lately, mainly since I started walking my neighbourhood on a daily basis. The walking itself is good for a lot of reasons... it got me outside when there was really nowhere else to go and nothing to do, and was good to get moving after sitting in front of a computer all day. On the weekends my husband would join me, but during the week, being outside on my own acted like meditation. I could think through the problems I was trying to solve, and started to really notice my environment. I started taking photos of the plants that caught my attention. I have a nearby park (that I didn't know was there until 2020. I've lived in this area for 8 YEARS... how did I miss it?) that is a wonder in spring... there are rhododendrons and azalea bushes that seem to be in continual bloom for months (different varieties that bloom in succession. It's quite a sight to behold). One of my neighbours has a trillium tree (I didn't even know such a thing existed), and there's a black locust tree along a pathway I often take that smells amazing when it blooms. And of course, there are magnolias lining the local streets, that when they are in flower make it worth the effort to put on real pants. 

Of course this interest has creeped into my sketchbook, but only in the last few months have I attempted to add this element into my work. It took a lot of time to figure out how it was going to work, and while I was mucking about I developed in interest in collage, so that because one more thing to use. I feel like this work is so much more me... I know that may be kind of a weird thing to say, but it encompasses so many more of my interests than my previous series. I use old book pages (I'm an avid reader), I create interesting collage papers from patterns I've collected over years of museum visits looking at ancient cultures, I'm using my handmade stamps, I've got my plant drawings in there, and I'm using the techniques I figured out while working through my musician series, along with all I've learned through the abstract painting I've done over the years. This is definitely not something I could have done a decade ago... I hadn't yet collected all the pieces. 

So these little images are postcards, made from a pile of unsuccessful exercises I've done over the last year. The ones that worked have been glued into a sketchbook with my notes, and the ones that didn't got tossed into a pile until I figured out what to do with them. I plan to send them off in the mail to people in my life who may need a little boost. I'm sure I'm not the only panini out there. 

I like the orange/green combo that shows up here.
Going to use that one again.