Below the Comfort Layers

Where painting, childbirth and God came together. 

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“Why? Why in the world would you choose natural childbirth?” That’s what people say when you tell them your plan to deliver a baby old school style, like prairie life old school. No epidural and no induction. No medication. And, no unnecessary interference…please. That’s the way my third baby came into this world, and yes, it was a very intentional choice.

You can call me hard-headed or nuts or just one of those crazy free-spirited-artist types. It’s ok. It doesn’t really bother me, but I call it ‘a deep desire to experience and understand things my own way’. That’s still just a wordy way to say ‘stubborn’.… That sentence makes me picture my parents smirking… they know this about me too well. It’s hard for someone to tell me how to do things. This may at once be a short coming and a gift. When it comes to an issue, I find myself wanting to get down to the most basic level before I can move forward. For example, that’s part of why I write this blog. There’s more to my art than just painting pretty colors. I grow more and more inquisitive with age, and I keep finding myself asking for more truth and purpose and needing to search for answers to “why?”.

I want to compare this quest for truth to unearthing something that’s buried. When I am painting, that’s the analogy I get. As I paint, I create layers of marks and colors by repeatedly going against the grain and drawing over a seemingly finished painting only to remove part of that layer yet again and repeat the process. This is my painting method and also happens to be the method with which I live by. I am continually searching for a deep layer that has been established but forgotten about. However, I am not aware of this while I’m painting. Later, I’ll ask myself “why did I paint that way” and then I understand it.

It is my opinion that we deny ourselves meaningful experiences in order to stay comfortable. Shave off the top layer of fluff and padding, and we see what we are actually working with. We may have forgotten that we can choose to experience the real deal…probably because we fear pain and challenge. This approach might not be for you, and it does not always apply, but when I do choose the real deal over the fluffy stuff, I’ve found myself experiencing and learning more. When I didn’t add the layers to dull the pain, I get the full experience with all the feels. What if in our modern ways we are covering up something we were intended to be exposed to? 

I lean heavily on my heart where I feel God leaves His words for me. Two blog posts ago (Painting Parenthood) I wrote about the power and relief I’ve found in having the faith to trust what my heart wants and asks of me. I consider myself uniquely faithful. I have come to find a truly personal and sincere connection to God through painting.  While I paint, I listen to the matters of my heart where I believe God speaks to me.

Yesterday I was sitting in church uncomfortably holding Josephine who was restfully sleeping and giving me this crick in my neck. I managed to focus on the sermon long enough to grasp the message. For the second time in a matter of weeks I heard a reference to a specific Bible verse. The words struck me. This verse helped me pull all these thoughts together to form an explanation of why I felt so compelled to make a certain choice this year. 

“Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?”

Jesus answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment.

    Matthew 22:36-38

It is so simple and so obvious alone, but within the entire Bible and all of the teachings about God’s word, maybe that simple message gets buried. Simply love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

This year I experienced something that will change me forever because for the first time I did something seemingly drastic by boldly and blindly following what my heart was telling me. I have been hesitant to write about it because it is so deeply personal, yet I feel, on that same heartfelt level, compelled to share.

Natural childbirth; it became one of those things I never imagined myself doing but did. With my first two babies, I was induced and delivered with an epidural. I thought people were insane to choose that level of pain when it wasn’t necessary. In general, we mamas love to tell our birth stories because it’s one of the most amazing events you’ll ever experience and likely a day which you cherish, no matter how horrible the details. You’re proud because it’s no easy feat no matter how the process goes…and there are so many ways that process can go. This is not a birth story, though. This is the story of how I boldly listened to what my heart asked of me despite my fear.

Last year I had come to recognize a looming interest in natural childbirth. Over medicating in general had become a concern of mine. I’ve had some bad experiences with medication side effects, and I had come to determine that medicine often causes more harm than good. This led me to the idea of an unmedicated birth. I struggled with the notion…I didn’t want to want it. But, this idea became more and more instilled in my heart. It was in there weighing on me like a heavy stone, and once I was pregnant again, I determined I could no longer ignore it. The idea terrified me, though. Knowing my stubborn ways, I knew once I committed to it, I was going to do it. I was not naive to the pain of childbirth. I had experienced enough of it to know the extreme level of pain that was involved. But, once again, I felt it was in my heart to know the real deal. After all, in the history of childbirth, many more woman have birthed babies without an epidural than with one. What were we modern women missing out on?  

I had been left partly unsatisfied with the way I delivered my first two babies. I did not like the way the epidural, among other drugs, made me feel or the idea of inducing labor, but I did it anyway out of impatience. Plus, everyone else was doing it. During those deliveries, I felt weak and useless. I felt that I couldn’t feel or know what to do. I felt that I wasn’t experiencing or participating in what my body was essentially designed to do. Those reasons alone could not have compelled me to experience the pain of natural childbirth, though. This contributed to my decision, but it truly came down to that tug in my heart that said “You need to know.”. I had to experience it without the top layers.

The first question remains: Why???!!!! Most people add that punctuation. I know my people think I’m crazy…most people for that matter… I had been someone who couldn’t understand why you’d put yourself through it. I knew leading up to my due date that few would understand because I could hardly find the words to describe the answer for myself. I didn’t expect anyone to understand, and I didn’t feel compelled to make them understand, nor do I now. All that mattered was that Robert supported me and understood. He was all for it and was along side me as I educated myself for months, all the while keeping my plans mostly between us, not expecting anyone else to relate. The more we learned about giving birth unmedicated, the more it made sense and the less scary it became. I taught myself a lot about being mindful of pain and how to accept the pain as useful unlike the pain of an unfortunate accident. It was good productive pain. And that mindful understanding got me through two days of labor. I never shed a single tear this time around, unlike my first two deliveries which had me panicking and bawling crying over pain. Mindfulness is a powerful thing. 

God was on my side throughout the entire experience. That’s how I know with certain that He intended this to happen. I went into labor eleven days early before anyone had a chance to lose patience and induce labor. I had a very supportive and encouraging doctor (You're the BEST, Quin!) who is also a great friend. I had the company of my lifelong friend, Shelby, who has recently delivered two babies naturally and sees eye to eye with me on so many things. During those two days of labor, my contractions stopped cold at night both nights, and I went to sleep and slept hard. During the days I worked and painted and prepared my kids’ school lunches for the next couple days.  I got more walking milage in than during my whole pregnancy and did more squats than I have done in five years. For real…because I don’t do squats. I spent hours with Shelby while we walked hospital halls. I did lunges, squats, yoga ball bouncing…(I don’t do yoga either)… anything to move that baby. She timed contractions while we talked and laughed. Shelby even went to my house to get me my (brand new) yoga ball and carried it fully inflated to me in the hospital. I mean… there’s a friend. How awkward.

During the third day and final hour, I was screaming my head off like a 3 year old throwing a tantrum. I mean top of my lungs, high pitched screeching like I probably haven’t done since I was a 3 year old. They say you come out with some instinctual primal sounds…but it sounded more like a Halloween movie in my hospital room, and I had zero control over it. During this highly intense moment my mom and doctor had the wits to remind me of what was to come of the experience….other than a baby, obviously. Mom kept telling me I was going to be writing about this on my blog, and Quin said something to me like, “I can’t wait to see the paintings you create out of this experience.” To both I replied something ridiculously rude and sarcastic and uncharacteristically dumbed down. I think it was, “Well it’s going to be f’ing stupid and…ahhhhuuuhh…… ugly.”. It was wildly painful during that last hour, and there was some rather unlady-like language going on. During that final stretch, I forgot why I was doing this. Then suddenly, it was stunningly beautiful, an awe inspiring moment and achievement. There is a lot to look back on and smile at and even laugh about, too…Like, Robert keeps reminding me that I was trying to bite down on my thumbs through contractions, and he held my hands like a child because he worried I was going to chew my own thumbs off. What?!? So, yeah, shit got weird. 

I know what you’re think. (“Oh hell no.”)  I know that last paragraph isn’t selling it too well, but that’s not what I’m writing this for. If you ask my husband he says it was at the same time like a scene from The Exorcist and a really amazing and inspiring moment that shook him to the core. It is not for everyone, and I didn’t think it was for me. With it all said and done, I’d do it again. I am not sharing this experience to tell you to choose unmedicated childbirth, and I didn’t want to incorporate all this in my writing because I don’t want to sound self-righteous. But, the whole experience has left me with so much to learn and know and say and paint and write. I use this blog to explore my own understandings and how they relate to and surface in my art. I also write this to share with you what I’ve learned so that in some way you may also find the confidence to trust something scary you feel inexplicably compelled to do. Prior to that experience, I could have found some major reassurance in reading something like this on someone else’s blog, and that’s what determined me to expose this personal story.

It’s been 12 weeks since that life changing day. As for the “why”, I have found answers in moments of clarity during peaceful times like painting or walking and while I sat in church yesterday hearing that verse from Matthew.… “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.”.  While I couldn’t fully put into words why I needed to do this, I knew to faithfully trust what God had placed in my heart, and I chose to blindly follow it with all of my heart, soul and mind. Robert knew to help me follow this inclination, too. Even towards the end, I wanted to second guess my ability and questioned what I had committed myself to, and to my surprise, he wasn’t opening the exit door for me. I told him this kind of thing was for people who run marathons and stuff, but he didn’t buy it. He pushed me to stay on track and continued to build me up until the moment we met Josephine face to face. The journey, the whole journey, was purposeful. 

Next question: What? What was it all for? Maybe I don’t have the full answer yet, but here’s what I’ve gotten from it so far. I experienced pain that I didn’t know existed, yet my instinct did not tell me to give up and get an epidural. It just wasn’t even in my bag of options that day…. until it felt like I could not possibly go on and just then, just like they said it would happen, she was born. I found a strength I didn’t know I had. I found a connection and support from my husband that had never been needed prior to that moment. We both agree that that day our marriage grew roots like the thickest oak trees in our deep south back yard. God had plans for me to experience the emotions I came to know that day. He has plans for my family and me that I faithfully trust and lovingly concede to. There is a verified peace within me. I followed what I couldn’t even understand or explain and gained a deep seated feeling of safety. He designed and equipped us with all the tools we need. The way everything unfolded, from the progression of labor to the way my baby nursed effortlessly right away, showed me that we have to trust the design and lean on that trust boldly and blindly with all our heart, soul and mind.

I had so much support that day from the people I am closest to who all let me make this choice without asking me “Why?”. After my mother, Robert and I witnessed this, I think we all knew why, but the words weren’t there yet. It was only a heart feeling.

It’s easy to let the layers of comfort blankets build because the looming truth that’s beneath them is intimidating. I am sharing this to remind you (and myself) to dig deep into your soul and unearth what’s below the surface. Have the faith and courage to trust what’s waiting for you. Boldly rely on what God’s placed in your heart. First trust and later you can ask “why?”. 

“Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?”

Jesus answered:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment.

    Matthew 22:36-38







The pretty Price of a Rich Life

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A life that’s rich with love and joyful experience comes at a pretty price and not in a ribbon tied perfect package.

I’m being totally straight forward here; life with a newborn is raw and unhinged. It just is. I don’t care who you are and how pulled together your life is, behind your front door is a very tired woman just trying to make sure, at the very least, her children (baby) eat and sleep. As far as I’m concerned, all else is optional for the first few weeks. I don’t think my daughter brushed her hair for at least a week or three after the baby came home. Honestly, if they brushed their teeth once a day, that would have been acceptable. The newborn time is short and oh so sweet, but boy is it ugly and messy…. the mother alone is a sleep deprived, milk leaking, hungry…no starving, diaper explosion and spit up stained, sour smelling mess. At any given time of day she could use a shower. It’s raw and at times down right ugly, and somehow, still my favorite time ever. I love the simplicity. I love the free pass to spend the entire day in pajamas getting to know my brand new person. And, this past time around, I soaked those days in even more than before. I am one of those people who covets the newborn stage (not everyone’s favorite age), but at a point I still found myself having an emotional breakdown; a good ole ugly cry. I was in much need of the talking-to I got from my best friend. Even with a love for these fleeting days, I needed help from the sinking baby blues. She pulled me from the hole I dug myself into from weeks of sleep deprivation, unfinished everything, the milk production “scaries” and that damn post baby inner tube still hanging on to my waist. She put me into this perspective that I am writing this from, and she reminded me that all that was regular will come back in time, but this little baby won’t be a baby for long (💔). She gave me the welcomed advice to relax and focus on nursing and Netflix for the time being. Music to my ears. All else will come in time.

It seems like every time I turn around lately I am reminded that it truly takes a village, and you’d be crazy to think that you are an exception. Even if your village helper is a phone call with a friend who’s been there, it will help more than you may realize.

 Now, at 7 weeks out, I am trying to focus on the world outside of my pajamas and baby laundry covered bedroom. When I make it to my studio to paint, I find myself thinking a lot about the ruggedness that is my new life with 3 children. It’s at once so ugly and so beautiful. It’s frantic and stressful at times and other times super slow paced and relaxing and completely blissful. In reflexion, I can understand that this combination is alright for now and makes for a nice balance. Stepping away to do something that makes me me helps with perspective. Things won’t always be this way, and that’s what makes it ok to enjoy it versus forcing the regularity to return before due time. I love this saying, but never before has it been more relevant: You can do anything, but you cannot do everything. You can have the things you truly want, but you better get ready to make some choices and learn the importance of saying “no”.

Consequently, my paintings are looking more like this current life of mine. The paintings are a little ragged and somewhat edgy; explorative and limit pushing; less tidy and perfected; more wild lines and loose ends yet created with intention and care. No apologies. I’m working with limited color palettes and finding a simplicity there that balances the static energy in the markings. 

The terms natural selection and survival of the fittest are appearing in my sketchbook notes….

natural selection | ˈnaCH(ə)rəl səˈlekSHən |noun Biology

the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. (or more art in my case)

-survival of the fittest

Survival is a heavy term, but it’s the right one. I could totally stay in my pajamas, and let everything fall to shit around me….very tempting some days. I could ignore the pressure to get back to painting, and send the kids to school everyday with a lunch-able and disgusting hygiene. I could just chill in a messy toy cluttered house nursing on demand all day….unmade beds and piled up laundry… That would be easy and that works for some people, but not me. That’s not me surviving because that’s not me. I am someone who ordinarily requires order and routine, organization and a relatively tidy house. But, surviving this new and challenging time is for me to choose painting, healthy and well-fed children, and a breastfed baby on a schedule. Those are my choices and that’s my way of surviving to the fittest. I have to adapt with all that’s going on, and it’s why selection is required on my part…no apologies just necessary choices. Because I cannot do everything…for now my beds aren’t always made and there are toys under my feet as I write this. I fit in a walk when I can, but it doesn’t happen everyday. What’s working is to allow life to unfold the way it needs to right now, adapting along the way. This is how I am surviving (not thriving) and what’s spurring my desire and ability to paint right now. It won’t last forever this way because, as they say, “babies don’t keep”.  Life is not perfect, and that’s perfectly fine. I’ve said it before, but what’s perfect is not real. A rich life is an imperfect one. A rich life is full of emotions and experiences that you wouldn’t want to miss. I couldn’t trade the mess I’m in now for something prettier. The price is too high.

Painting Parenthood

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 While painting has given me a stronger sense of self-awareness, motherhood has given me more to be aware of. In a pressure filled society that pushes me in one direction, the act of painting is what pulls me back to center. The mental clarity I get from painting has shown me that sometimes what I choose has nothing to do with what I truly want and need. It’s easy to forget that it’s not about what others are doing, but rather, it’s about choosing a life for ourselves, for our own reasons. With so much noise in the distractions surrounding us, we often can’t even hear what our own hearts are asking for. The truth is, what we want and need can easily be different than what we have and do. Why is it so hard to choose what is truly best for us? Painting from parenthood has taught me to trust my instincts and shown me the value in finding my own path.

Motherhood, with all of its timeless wonderment, comes with a great deal of pressure. At this time when women have a role outside of the home, we still, by nature, have the gift of giving life to another and nurturing that life to its greatest fulfillment. However motherly the woman, the modern mother in all her maternal glory is eventually injected into our fast paced, high energy and high preforming society. There are great expectations around every corner which have the ability of stripping away the simplistic joys of parenthood. When you are focused on keeping up the same pace as those around you, it is hard to recognize and trust your own needs and set your own pace. Considering what a natural and time tested role motherhood is, it turns out that being a modern mother requires a great deal of self-awareness, confidence, and most of all, a profound sense of trust and faith.

Throughout my years as an art student and a professional artist, nothing ever brought my art more substance than being a mother. Each of my children have changed my art for the better. With so much discussion out there about the hardships of coupling a career and motherhood, I would like to say that without my children my career would be far behind where it is now. I have found that I need this balancing act to keep my moral muscles strong, and not making time for my work as an artist leaves me morally unbalanced; over focused on the wrong things. Likewise, not making time for my family leaves me uninspired. Thanks to the social stigmas attached to the working mother, I fully anticipated motherhood to negatively impact my creative momentum, but it did not happen that way. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Is it ironic that the very thing that many fear will threaten their professional life, has brought mine more balance, structure and satisfaction? This awareness made me feel out of place and naive, even.  

Everyone says that becoming a mother “changes everything”, and for me, that didn’t just mean my sleep schedule and social life. Maybe it was the sudden weight of another human’s life in my hands or that I could better understand how I want to spend my now precious time or that I realized what a gracious blessing it is to be a mother which many are sadly denied. No matter why, I know that the day my first child was born I immediately felt like the person I was meant to be. Parenthood lifted from my head and heart a fog that kept me from seeing the full picture.

I read an article last year that I can’t seem to forget. It was about creativity and motherhood. The article addresses the stigma among creative working professionals implying that you cannot be taken seriously in your work if you choose to have children. Established artists and writers are choosing their career over a growing family in order to avoid the distractions they expect children will bring to their work. The author uses the experiences of artists, writers and even lab rats to reveal how a mother’s brain actually becomes more creative, rather than less, and more efficient than it was prior to parenthood. The mother learns to use her time more wisely and effectively and sacrifices as needed to support her children/rat babies (ew) all while getting work done with sharper focus, speed and creativity. My eyes swelled with tears as I read this article because the theories and facts were so relatable and something I had genuinely felt but not discussed out loud. It was eye opening, and it factually confirmed what I already knew was true.

So, it’s not just me. There it is in writing; society’s negative spin on something I knew deep down to be good and right.

I had my first child with zero intention of turning my back on my art. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me. To my surprise, for years, I was continually asked, “So, are you still painting?”.  Of course I was. The question confused me. Not only is my art my job, it is just a part of who I am and what I do. I need to make art like I need to feel the sun or get a good night’s sleep. Sure, I can go without it, but it feels bad. I’ve gone through periods of not painting, and those close to me know that I am a less pleasant person (a.k.a. a bitch) without this creative outlet. We all need an outlet, but I am making a career out of mine, so I get to call it “work”.

I have been writing and talking about painting from the heart since 2011 because that was the year I became a mother. That year, I began to change from the inside, and my art reflected the transformation. It was that year that my paintings seemed to burrow down under the surface and find a depth that was both visible and conceptual. My work now had a more sincere source, a source that I can’t describe with any other word than “heart”. And so the thriving cycle within me began; a never-ending loop where motherhood sustains the artist and the artist sustains the mother.

With all of the positivity I’m giving motherhood, I am not denying that it has tested me in significant ways and forced me to make sacrifices and question God's reasons, but, without a doubt, parenthood has taught me much more than it has taken. Every day for six and a half years, Robert and I have struggled to parent our very strong willed, highly energetic child who has been pushing back since she was born. I have been brought to tears and even to my knees in total desperation. But, listening to my heart rather than comparing her to other children has let me trust that this child was put on the earth with a driving force to do something remarkable. The job of parenting her fierce heart is a tough one and one I take seriously and will continue to work hard at, but I will not put anything in front of God’s plan for her, even if that means making my job harder. We had a frightening experience with our daughter’s health that put me in the same desperate need for answered prayers and guidance, and it was then that I learned of the intensity of a mother’s intuition. With my son, God gave us a child with a very different set of parental needs than our daughter giving our family a certain sense of symmetry and joy that made us decide to let our family grow. And, from this side of a total of four miscarriages, I can say that I now have a stronger awareness of His plan. The plan doesn’t involve my ideas or my understanding or my earthly explanations. Even the experiences that hurt the most have been placed in my path for purpose. Those painful and challenging times gave me a sturdy realization that there is value in experiencing loss and fear, and experiences like these are teaching me to be patient with time. These are among the moments that have built within my chest a heart with more substance and trust giving me the means to make art that reflects the same. It was the act of making art that let my heart speak these truths loud and clear for me to hear. The solitude of my studio with no outside noise gives my inner voice center stage, and as I paint, I explore and understand these emotions.

My children, including the one that has yet to be born, have individually developed in me a deeper and stronger sense of heart. At the end of 2017, my art immediately reflected the new life I am now growing. Even during the first trimester drag, I could visually see how my maternal heart was again bringing new life to my paintings. Being a working mother comes with it’s challenges, sure, but it may also come with some unmistakable advantages. Motherhood, with all its trials and thrills, has allowed my work as an artist to grow richer. And, painting along side parenthood has given me the clarity to better understand my role as a mother.

My maternal art-making heart has taught me to lean in, to listen and to trust what it wants. There is great relief in finding the faith to trust what your heart wants and does not want. While it takes courage, making decisions based on those heartfelt tugs and gut instincts removes a great deal of the doubt and anxiety that come with parenting in our competitive society. Even with this understanding, I struggle to block out the loud pressures that want me to keep up with a pace that’s not for me. I am not always strong enough to trust my own voice above the louder ones. The voice in my heart is soft spoken, and each time I lean in, the words remain the same, repeating: “choose by faith and trust, truth and love.”

 

 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

The Gardener 2018

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Time Traveler 48x48

The progression of time is predictable. We can predict that a new day with new challenges and experiences will follow today, but we have no way of predicting exactly what tomorrow will bring. All we know is that time will continue moving in a forward motion at a controlled pace. We can not go to the past to make changes, but rather we must embrace the future with a willingness to allow changes to unfold building on the narrative that the past has written. Change is a component of time. Few things in nature remain unchanged from the movement of time. We are in the midst of some form of evolvement right now, and there is more to come. While some will accept change and grow because of it, others will try to resist this force of nature which is much bigger and stronger than themselves.

In 2017 I began a series of abstract art entitled The Harvest. A harvest is the process of gathering the products that resulted from a period of work. Last year’s series is a cultivation of everything I had explored and learned from my past art. This body of work could not have been painted without me having created the work that came prior. That series was the result of a sequence of events that even my most unsuccessful past paintings had contributed to. Every painting I complete, successful or not, leads to the next work I produce.

The evolution of my work happens with or without my intention, however, embracing natural changes makes way for new work to emerge, work that may have been suppressed otherwise, never having had a chance to even sprout. It is more effective for me to let my art flow from my heart through my hand than it is for me to establish something logical that first formed in my head. The most ingenuous and natural work develops from an inspiration so small and obscure, that if I were to first consider it from the head, I’d most likely ignore the suggestion.

It is now a new year making it a great stopping point to round out the work of last year to make room for those mysterious tugs making me want to spread my elbow a little wider and extend my arm a little further as I paint and draw. It’s a good a time as any to explore the fleeting, inexplicable notions leading me to the next body of work.

Having considered my last series a harvest, I reflected on other comparisons relating to growing crops. A gardener is a person who allows the beauty of growth to take place naturally working along side nature’s timing. The gardener is patient yet persistent, modest but ambitious with faithful trust in the capabilities of time. She has great aspirations for a handful of tiny seeds. She is aware of the possibility that the seeds may fail to thrive but much more engaged in how the seeds could grow.

In 2018 I will work towards a body of work entitled The Gardener. I will continue down the beaten path laid from The Harvest which established a recognizable technique in markings, composition and palette. The work of the past series will visibly carry into the next. The differences will be subtle but significant. There are more fluid and visible lines and stokes suggesting the concept of following natures flow as I allow paint to do what paint does, applying it in various forms of texture, application and color, and careful, as always, not to feel the need to over manipulate and disguise the characteristics of oil paint.

Intuition is nature’s advice. Nature's timing is trustworthy and has proven its power showing us that to change is to grow. By choosing to follow intuition and embracing inevitable newness, I have discovered a different awareness of time and the peace that lies in trusting it. I choose to follow every artistic instinct. Those suppressed and quiet impulses have a mysterious allure convincing me to simply plant every tiny seed, and let it grow.

 

Talking Heads: Well, how did I get here?

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What It Takes 36"x48"

    Here I am painting portraits. How did I get here? This is not my art…. or is it? That song is about the passage of time and how it just zips by sometimes, and then we stop and ask ourselves; how did this all happen, and is this really me? When I look around my studio lately, that’s what I am asking myself. I wasn’t always aware that I was making so many decisions until I look at how much has changed within my work over this last year. In hind-sight I understand so much about each decision I was making and how those choices developed the artwork I am creating today.
    My paintings have evolved over a span of time and not overnight and not with a single decision to do so. I did not wake up one day and choose to embark on something new. In fact, I have been pushing portraits to the back of my head for years. On some level I have been selfishly preserving portrait painting…because I love painting and drawing heads and faces, and I believe I was afraid of what would become of that joy if I approached it in business. With that said, maybe you could say this year’s Closer series has been my way of dipping my toe in to test the water, but even still, not intentionally was I entering the portrait game.

   It started with an impulsive urge to render the human head….and so I followed it aimlessly. 'Act now and think later’ is my rather laid back approach to art anyway and so this was no different. And then, painting my own children was an easy decision and one I gave almost no thought at all. I just grabbed an oil stick one day and started drawing. My mind had begun to picture a loose, underdeveloped drawing in a further developed painting. The crossed face that serves as a grid for artists to proportionally place facial features was a key element, but rather than layering on the actual facial features, I allowed the cross to represent the face. This was a technique I have used before in figure drawing, but applying it to a large scale oil painting was new and experimental for me.
    So I waded into the water. I was ankle deep and still cushioned by the abstract, vague and loose depiction which to my surprise resulted in a very recognizable so called “portrait” of Lelia and Sonny. This was a comfortable place for me to take on portraits. I was confident that I wasn’t losing my recognizable painting style. The portraits remained undefined enough to render my usual markings and allowed my color palette to carry over from my non-objective abstracts.  It was a completely organic and unforced transition….the only thing I changed was the subject matter. But, I was still interested in digging deeper, and that meant finding a place for features and figuring out the challenge of how to incorporate the realism without losing myself. How can I apply facial features and remain loosely abstract and “me”?
    I have the most innate love for painting and drawing certain things and the head/shoulders is one of them. I’ll try to explain it, but there is something mysterious and intriguing about certain features, and all I want to do is recreate them with my own hands. This is about to sound strange….I’ll have to agree, but maybe it will help you to embrace something seemingly weird. You never know what great things are hiding under fear. This list describes some of the inexplicable things that I love about working with the head, shoulders and face.
-The shape of the head/skull. I love the feeling of holding an infant’s heavy head in my hand and noticing the boney curves of the skull.
-The hairline. I love cowlicks and hair parts… I love hair cuts and styles. In the simplest form these take on geometric shapes.
-Cheek bones and the apples of the cheeks. It’s like the back to basics of painting the tones and hues of the round ball in Painting 101.
-The angles and lines in the collar bone and shoulders. These linear and angular bones give me control of the composition of the painting. Like arrows pointing you where to look.
-Gentle curves like the upper line of the upper lip and the crease in the eyelid. I also love to define the white of the eye around the iris rather than vice versa. It’s like a tiny version of the way I wrap the whole subject in a white painted background.
    The decision to follow these fascinations felt uncomfortable at first. I quickly dismissed that reservation and chose to trust my heart and follow this white rabbit of an idea. Once I sat back to reflect on this unfamiliar work I began to understand my need to get this stuff on paper. Throughout my writing, I have continually referred to my hand and heart working together. In the beginning I don’t try to understand why I want to paint what I paint, I just do it and seek out the reason later. I can give credit to my mind for making certain preliminary and necessary decisions, but the creative work is done when I let go of the analysis and fear in my head. The resulting painting tells me more about myself than I was aware of, and in this case, these bowed heads were talking to me.
    There is intimacy in the zoomed-in perspective of the paintings in my Closer series. The abstracted turned down heads speak about an inner sense of discretion and self-awareness. The multiple head abstract paintings are a nod to relationships and the various ways we find connections with others. It only takes one common thread to create a bond. Whether it’s sisters, friends, a mother and daughter, a husband and wife, the abstract portraits are less about the physical traits of the subject and more about unspoken feelings and connections and the heartfelt emotions we relate upon. While the abstract feature-less paintings represent intimate characteristics and feelings, the portraits containing facial features bring attention to what’s less discreet but maybe overlooked.
    I have faith in knowing my purpose as an artist is to bring light to the magnificent things God has created in us and for us. Although so much of my work is abstract, I paint from the most honest and heartfelt emotions and observations, and later, I write about them giving total abstraction intention and purpose. In this same way, I am unapologetically intrigued by these human features and the sentiment behind them, and as long as my heart is leading me there, I’m going to follow it. My head wanted to talk me out of chasing down an uncertain direction, but I am mesmerized by the mystery of what my heart wants to show me.
There is an answer to ‘How did I get here?’. This is my art…. and it is not as far off as it seemed. All my work has been created from the same love of looking carefully at color, line, shape, value, texture, as well as, emotion. Artists are the most observant people, and that’s what’s compelling us to create. I notice the form and volume in cheek bones, and a swift line in the hair, and the unique way facial features are arranged, but I am also captivated  by traits behind those visible characteristics. Many artists have painted a beautiful heads, but I am discovering ways to paint what's in the heart.

 

Questions and Answers

While we are scrambling through some years constantly asking questions, there are other years that find answers, and many times the answers were there all along. It really depends on how clearly you can see your picture and how willing you are to make edits.

I frequently write about how my paintings go through rattling challenges right along side of me. A while back I became exhausted and bored with my painting method. Over the past two years, I searched for a painting process that was truly enjoyable. I spent a lot of time more dedicated to the process than the result, experimenting with a range of techniques, tools, materials and surfaces. It was a long period of questions, wondering what else may be up my paint covered sleeve.

I recognize that I am moving away from a question year and beginning a year that answers. I have seen my work change within the process. I can look back and see when I began to abandon a technique that had been working for me. I veered off wanting to know if I could paint without it…daring myself to be vulnerable and paint something I had never been bold enough to call a finished painting. What I left behind was the heavy impasto application I used for so long. That had been the ‘final touch’ that made my paintings complete. I got tired of it and felt like it was even a crutch. I spent two years ignoring my palette knife, and it ended up being the tool that brought my paintings into a new light. It was always there, sitting on my palette while I did back flips trying to avoid it. (some people call that stubborn. smirk)

A question year is spent disassembling, scattering and rearranging the pieces into a confusing picture. When the picture looks blurry, the obvious has a way of blending in. An answer year is when we gather the useful pieces, reassembling them into a new picture. The new picture is clear and focused. It's more dynamic and layered with substance, and the truth becomes obvious again. Every answer year gives our picture more and more strength thanks to the uprooting questions we asked ourselves.

In life, there are years that ask and years that answer, but nothing changes unless you hear the question and decide to react.

 Where I've Been 48x36

Where I've Been 48x36

 What I Know I 48x48

What I Know I 48x48

 Vital Signs (Reworked)48x48

Vital Signs (Reworked)48x48

I felt it coming

I have known that deep in my heart, being a mother and creating art were becoming innately intertwined, but God had a very intentional way of teaching me about the relationship that was building between my two biggest passions. Getting older has taught me that there is so much this life has to offer, but it starts with knowing the truth about who you are.

My daughter has been sick for 6 weeks with 11 of those days spent in the hospital. It began with salmonella (from who knows what), and in the beginning, it was a very mild case. After the first week she seemed recovered, but 3 days later she began complaining about her elbow hurting and then spiked a fever. She was in so much pain and refused to use her right arm. That's when my heart started pounding. It wasn't for another two weeks when we found out that the salmonella bacteria invaded her bloodstream, settled into her elbow and eventually became osteomyelitis (a bone infection) with a septic elbow. I can't imagine how bad she felt all over for that whole period of time. I knew throughout this slow developing infection that something was very wrong, and I was fearful of the very thing that it became, but neither the joint aspiration or repeated blood work indicated any infection. So once it finally became clear that there actually was infection, it was bad, and she was admitted to the hospital. She began IV antibiotics immediately and had two separate surgeries to clean the infected elbow.

A couple posts back, I wrote about having the sense I was approaching something pivotal with my art. Now, here I am reflecting from the other side of an experience that has left me surprisingly revitalized, artistically speaking. To make a relative comparison, I've located my artistic pulse that I've been searching for. I knew I was close and how it would make me feel, but I just couldn't put my finger on it. The work I am creating now is engaging in a way that makes me want to create more and more. The newest paintings in my studio are climbing the walls! This is fun ...like really fun. So, why is painting just now so satisfying?

If you've ever read this blog, you can tell I am a thinker, an analyzer.  Most decisions are made with deep consideration. Even when it's unrelated to art, I will explore every perspective and possibility (sometimes confusing the hell out of myself). Mainly, I think like this because I want to understand who I am and what I do and why I do it. I am not one to wing it and hope for the best. My over-analytical mind is part of what led us to discover Lelia's infection before it got terribly worse (I can't even think about it....inhale...exhale). After this experience with our daughter, I can now grasp something enlightening.

I have two strong needs; to be the best mother I can be for my children and give all I have to becoming the artist I know I have the potential to be. I have dedication to both, and that is overwhelming and conflicting at times. I admit that I get caught in between and feel like I am suppose to be good at one or the other. It is without question that I will be with my children when they need me. Not just for the ability to drop everything and spend 10 nights* in the hospital, but I want to be the one who picks them up from school and puts them to bed at night. I also want to be professionally significant and successful and give opportunities to my family.

Here is what God has revealed to me through our experience; not only did He give me those two strong desires, but He equipped me with the ability to fulfill them both. He never intended for me to choose where to place my best self. And so, after not painting or even considering painting for this many weeks, He allows me to pick up my brush with more vitality than ever. I have been given a gift which makes my days feel well-rounded and complete. Being their mother has taught me how to create paintings with my heart, and that gives me a true sense of satisfaction.  What I have come to understand is that my love of motherhood and art are so intertwined in my foundation that one simply enhances the other. With relief and gratitude, I realize that it is not necessary to decide where my focus belongs because these loves of mine work together and coexist beautifully and always will.

 

 

Also, Lelia is doing great! She has been put on oral antibiotics for another two weeks and has joyfully gone back to school this week! ...meanwhile, Sonny panics when "yah-yah" leaves for school and grins ear to ear when we pick her up!  (insert heart emoji here)

*My mother and mother-in-law deserve recognition in this post. They each spent an invaluable amount of time and effort to make this time as smooth as possible for us all. They each spent a night with Lelia while I went home to be with Robert and Sonny, take a shower and attempt some sleep. Love and thanks x100, Babs and Bet! (Another heart emoji goes here)

 Lelia (leel-yah) and Sonny

Lelia (leel-yah) and Sonny

 Essentially 72"x44"

Essentially 72"x44"

Minutes

"When I paint from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head almost nothing." -Marc Chagall

We go through the motions everyday moving between moments in time. This series of paintings, Minutes, emphasizes the weight in each minute. The lines and shapes in these paintings form a pod or capsule around portions that are particularly interesting to me. The clean lines and glossy, crisp white paint contrast powerful color to create an intensity that, for me, represent decisiveness. There is no uncertainty about where this line begins and ends.

The minimalism of these paintings is taken from a need to be more clear and intentional. Without unnecessary distractions, we are focused on the significance of only a few areas. The importance of concentrating on what really matters is heightened, and anything that doesn't bring focus or contribute to that area is whited out. Color is used meticulously, and with the knowledge that the fewer times each color is represented, the more powerful that color appears.

It is easy to find ourselves spending too many minutes on things that do not deserve our limited time and energy. It is natural to want to please and impress other people, but it is so liberating to decide not to. How can it be so easy to forget to do what makes us happy? What I am asking myself is; what do I want to put in these precious minutes?... and what needs to go?

 

  Time Capsule A  30x22 on paper

Time Capsule A 30x22 on paper

  Here We Are B  24x24

Here We Are B 24x24

High Hopes

My 2016 series, High Hopes, is a collection of paintings created out of a state of optimism. When you get the feeling that you are in the midst of a before and after episode, the future feels bright. Not that I have psychic abilities... I somehow do feel like I am in the threshold about to embark on a new journey. It may be that I am finally working in a much bigger, more professional studio or that I can see my children growing into these small people full of character. Isn't it great to know you can make anything out of your life you want to? It makes me feel content to think about being on the brink of tomorrow. 

 Lingering 40x40

Lingering 40x40

Grow and Fulfill

 Fulfill 48x48

Fulfill 48x48

 Grow 48x48

Grow 48x48

I remain in a constant desire to continue searching. I find myself looking for other possibilities, opportunities and more options. Without change, artists would sink into a hole of boredom. I know that I am someone who is continually striving for something else, and not always something better, more like an alternative. Slowing down to absorb and appreciate where I am is something I have to remind myself to do. But, my paintings always allow me to push into the next realm. I am allowed to revisit my artist self from last year if I get too far from home with my artistic trials. It is easy to get carried away....;)

GROW, any way you can, in order to FULFILL your heart.

 

 

Less selective, more acceptive

Heart Race 48x48
I am painting with more energy and enthusiasm than ever. My paintings continue to translate the hustle of my life with two children and a job that stays on my mind (and to-do list). I am finishing my paintings at a stage in which I was once still short of complete. You will see more of the raw, vulnerability and fluidity of the brush strokes left exposed. I came to a point where I felt like I was cleaning up after myself too much and selling my art short of the painterly quality that I was wanting to evoke. It is a leap and one that I am taking with confidence knowing I can always go back. If I don't push myself to do something new, I won't know what I have yet to explore. I might be missing something...

My biggest fear? Regret. The paranoia of one day saying: "I had a chance, but it's too late, and I lost it." All of my life's worries come back to fear of missing my opportunity, especially with my art.

Here is my new hashtag to go with some of the paintings I post:  #liveloosely
If you see it and wonder "what in the world?";

#liveloosely will be with the paintings that are pushing me to think, grow, overcome, learn, move on, adapt, improvise.... anything but settle with what is easy and comfortable. Because I have learned that taking a chance is more fulfilling than not. And, not being adaptive and loose is denying myself the experience of what could have been.


Marching 36x36

Proof 48x48

Pulse A 24x18

Pulse B 24x18

Vital Signs 48x48

Whole Hearted 48x48

Heart Beat 48x36

Instincts and Actions, a new series

Adding another child to my family has been quite a hiccup, but I have learned to work with the changes. Like usual, this struggle has had an influence on my conceptual approach. I have been building a new series of paintings, Instincts and Actions, chock-full of large scale abstracts loaded with layers of energetic brushstrokes, textures and carefully revealed areas of clear, powerful color.

Certainty 48x48 (Anne Irwin Fine Art)
 Instincts and Actions
Life and paint will do what it does, and we have to either go with it or against it. Forcing something to be what it is not requires a lot of energy and frustration and the outcome is never authentic. By allowing my paint to run and drip, smear and mud, I can let paint be paint, and use those natural characteristics to my advantage. Same with my family life; I cannot expect my highly energetic three year old and six month old to do exactly what I need them to so that my life can flow like I would design it to. We have adapted to a new life and routine with children. Once I understood how to loosen up and take each day as it was dealt, I became a much happier mama, wife and artist. I find the time to paint, lately at the crack of dawn, well before anyone is up and let myself be their mother later in the day without the guilt and unfinished work looming over me.
Lose control. Embrace imperfections. Live in the moment. Time is fleeting and nothing is permanent. I am adapting to the situation rather than trying to change the circumstance. Go with your instincts, and take action. Just find a way, and make it happen.


Head Above Water 48x48 (Lyons Share Gallery)

Initiative 48x36 (Anne Irwin Fine Art)

Set in Motion A 60x36 (Blue Print Store)
Set in Motion B 60x36 (Blue Print Store)









 As I continue to build on my recent series, The Big Picture, I am continuing to look at the concept from different angles. Throughout these paintings, I have been using new techniques involving oil sticks which incorporate my love for the gestural line. As I developed these paintings, I used those lines and the consequential shapes to layer over previously laid areas of the painting. I am pushing this over-lapping method even further which is giving me a new challenge for aesthetic's sake, and allowed me to reflect more on the comparisons to our lives. As we age and gather layers of experience, our character continually builds and becomes more dynamic and distinguished with each encounter and challenge, as does the painting.
Gatherer 48x48

Make Way 48x36

Mounding 48x48









Cumulate 48x48











Make a Beautiful Mess

As I was working on these two paintings, I began thinking about the way so many circumstances require us to make a big mess before something beautiful happens. I work on a painting in one direction for a while, and as soon as I get to where I was going with it, I realize it's missing dimension. At that point, sometimes against my own will, I develop almost a whole new painting on top.

That practice is something we do throughout our lives. I do it when it's time to organize a messy closet by creating a chaotic disaster so it can be put back together the right way. (My studio is the only place I can handle said unorganized messes.)

But, a more significant comparison is to the events in our lives. Without our will, sometimes things get shaken up for us. That in-between moment is scary and unfamiliar, and you are suddenly a victim in a messy spot. At that ugly point, it becomes clear what was withholding us all along and so we add, change and eliminate parts in order to pull back together again.... with more substance and strength than before.

In my paintings, that built-up second layer allows me to unearth areas to show parts of the previous painting. The layers and experiences give the final result dimension and visual strength.

Disarranged 60x48




Shake-Up 60x48

NEW SERIES! "The Big Picture"




It's a new year and I decided I was ready to explore new concepts with my paintings. The shock of being a first time parent is no longer my biggest influence. I guess I got the hang of it, after all! (not...)

I am really excited about my new series of paintings. I feel like I will be able to work long and hard with these concepts. I am always pushing myself and my work to grow and change. Taking a good hard look at what is on my heart and my mind helps me to make work that is genuine. I like to be able to explain what I am painting. The majority of the population is naive to abstract painting. I will always have an answer to that (annoying) question....
 "So what is it, anyway?" 
 And I'll say: "Oh, I'm glad you asked....but you will wish you hadn't!"  :)


Here are the first of many paintings from "The Big Picture" and my artist's statement for this series.


Unfolding A 48x48
Unfolding B 48x48
The Big Picture A 48x48
The Big Picture B 48x48
Comprehending 48x48
Grand Scheme A 48x48
Grand Scheme B 48x48
Inclusive A 40x40
Inclusive B 40x40
By and Large 48x48

Unabridged 30x24 on paper

The Big Picture, artist's statement 

   I have taught myself to view each life event as an essential chapter that leads to the next. The paintings in “The Big Picture” series illustrate the highs and lows in the story of life.  Hardships are inevitable, and the stress of an ordinary day can make it hard to remain enthusiastic. However, if we examine our past, it is easy to see that the grim moments make the greatest joys seem brighter. It even seems that we could not fully experience one without the other.
    In this series, I want to achieve a finished painting that does not look perfected or overworked. Instead, I want the painting to seem raw. There are areas that expose the process and stages that the painting has gone through. Various shapes, textures and colors are carefully layered and selectively washed or wiped away. The uncovered gestural lines provoke visual energy and vivacity. I am recognizing ways to paint with less apprehension, while honesty and confidence remain important objectives for creating fresh, distinctive work.
    When looking at a painting that represents a lifetime, there are occasional areas of dark tones, neutral colors in passive spaces, and pleasing hues in areas that draw the eye.  The result displays how the dark, dull and vibrant moments will collaborate to create a big picture worth admiring.




Reworks

I love a good make over project so I do it to my paintings all the time. Here are some examples. Sometimes they are older paintings that I want to update, and some are paintings that I feel were stopped short of becoming what they were capable of. 
*starred paintings are still available

Mist- before
*Mist* -after

Core of Motion I - before

Core of Motion I - after
Core of Motion II- before


*Core of Motion II*- after