Coloring to Reflect (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I finally started a page in the “Trans Affirming Coloring Book” I purchased a while back. I do not like to engage with the human figure in any way artistically, for reasons I do not fully understand. The adult coloring book seemed like a low-risk way to explore some of my feelings and thoughts on this.

I recall having dolls as a child, and sketching human figures as a young teenager. I then went on to develop an eating disorder which may have been the start of my lack of comfort. I think it was when I came into awareness of the extent of my trauma history and my dissociation that I not only disliked looking at myself in the mirror, but also began to have substantial difficulty in connecting with any form of artwork that related to a person/the human body. I prefer visual art that is either abstract or of natural settings with no people present.

The longer I’m sitting with this topic, the more it makes me think I need to create a self-portrait so that I can approach rather than avoid this topic. I didn’t think twice about the fact that the coloring book sat unused for months on my living room table, but I now see that it represents a huge block I have inside of me in regards to how I relate to myself. I want to ease myself into the idea of sitting in front of a mirror or looking a photograph of myself to create an image, so I will start by completing more pages in it. How do you feel in regards to images of people? Have you ever created a self-portrait? What reflections have coloring books shown you?

A photograph of a small journal into which a colored pencil drawing of a sunflower-like image has been sketched.

Draw Anything (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I have been so blocked when it comes to drawing these past few months. When my perception of external threat reaches a certain level, as it has at my job, I shut off from my creative energies in a futile attempt to protect the hopeful and joyful parts of self from harm. My viewpoint of the world being bleak and lacking pleasure is no doubt related to this inner exile.

So, for today, I pulled out a small sketchbook in which I’d created several drawings last year. I was stunned to notice there were several images I had little memory of creating, which tracks with the internal separateness I experience. I decided to put as little pressure on myself as possible and to draw a sunflower. Upon making this decision, I immediately felt overwhelmed by the prospect of accuracy and the need to research how to create a sunflower. I almost gave up before deciding realism wasn’t my goal and that I could draw an image that had the essence of a sunflower even if it didn’t accurately reflect what it would look like.

The experience of drawing itself followed a familiar pattern. I spent several minutes in a blissful state, happy I had finally cracked open a sketchbook and was “being creative” at last. I felt relaxed and peaceful. Soon enough, however, once I’d made the decisions needed for how to finish my drawing and switched into filling in the petals, my mindset changed. I suspect that this was because the decision-making part of my brain, the prefrontal cortex, was no longer required as the central player, and I likely transitioned to relaying on the “muscle memory” part of the brain, my cerebellum, to complete the task at hand. Doing so meant that my thinker (prefrontal cortex) was back to having free reign to ruminated and stress out about upcoming events.

There is an obligation coming up this week where I may experience transphobia. I found myself worried that I was embedding anxiety into my drawing in that, when I look at it, all I will think about is (possible) harm. I have serious weirdness with both holding onto peaceful mental images and with creating them, and this small encounter may offer me a few insights as to why this could be happening. The moment of change today seemed to be when I lost my ability to be mindfully present with what I was doing.

Art is not always pleasant and it does not always make me feel better. I am so grateful that I am learning this lesson on my own rather than trying to go to art therapy and giving up after the first session because I think it didn’t “help.” It takes a disproportionate amount of energy and effort for me to engage in it as something in the process gives free reign for my inner torment to rise up. The threats I perceive from the outside do not fade from view when I’m being creative, if anything, they take shape and become manifest. This doesn’t mean I should avoid art, but rather, that it may be a way to confront my fears rather than to escape them.

Are you mindfully aware of yourself when you are creating visual (or other) art? What is the relationship between your emotions and your artwork? What helps you overcome blocks in your ability to create?

Beginnings (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

My attempts at creativity have been zilch in the last few weeks. I needed to start somewhere, so I decided to draw a card from my Daily Works of Art deck; I chose the beginning card. Words come more easily to me than images or sounds, so I determined the best course of action is to ponder the word and to brainstorm the visual and auditory representations of it that arise, in the hopes that a few will spark further creativity.

A beginning might be A/an…

  • Acorn buried by a squirrel
  • Eggs tucked into a nest
  • Pink and purple sky as the sun rises
  • Cloud appearing
  • First drops of rain
  • Flame flickering
  • Splash of a pebble in water
  • Footstep into the forest
  • First snowflake drifting downward
  • Perch of a water strider on the surface of a lake
  • Locked gaze of a hawk in a tree
  • Stretch of a cat’s limbs before standing
  • Soft rustle of leaves as a breeze passes by
  • Murkiness of night sky under a new moon
  • Shadow of a tree in dawnlight
  • Lap of waves on a seashore
  • Curve of woods into valley
  • Scamper of salamander onto land
  • Rise of birdsong in first light
  • Budding of flower before blossoming

I enjoyed this exercise quite a bit and didn’t feel that I’d even come close to exhausting possible images and sounds by the end of it. I found myself wanting to bring in other senses such as touch and smell, so I’ll need to work on that in the future. I kept questioning whether what I was imagining was actually the start of something, or whether I’d been influenced to view it as the start through media such as books and films I’ve seen. In the natural world, most experiences are both interrelated and cyclical, so is sunrise really the start or does sunset portend a new beginning?

I noticed a few themes in my list. I think I associate the morning and the beginning of the afternoon most strongly with beginnings. I also think of the first action in a series of movements at the beginning, although, at least in humans, a good amount of mental activity and sensory input may transpire before any physical shifts are observed. I also conceptualize the initiation of precipitation as a starting, although rain and snow are but one part of a larger weather cycle, and come after a number of other alterations in wind, temperature and moisture levels have happened. I find myself inspired as I sit with this, because it leads me to conclude everything is beginning just as much as it is middle and ending, even if the liner framing we humans tend to put on our experiences wouldn’t hold space for this.

What images and/or sounds signal beginning to you? What aspects of nature speak most directly in your mind to “something new?” How do you integrate the idea of cycles and new-from-old into your thoughts on beginning?

Visiting a Local Art Museum (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I’ve had a bit more downtime recently and have started on a series of day trips filled with coffee-shops, local eateries and art! I really enjoyed my travels today and learned a bit about my art preferences. As a result, I feel renewed inspiration to simply let myself create rather than to worry about the end product.

I started the day at a library inside which there was a small coffee nook. I purchased some tea and read a book sitting on a comfy chair in front of ceiling-high windows. With my PTSD symptoms being as extreme as they are right now, I decided to wear my Bluetooth earbuds so that I could listen to music and minimize my auditory stimuli. No one got in my space except for a small child who was trying to hide from their sibling, who soon trotted past pushing a stroller much taller than they were. This interaction made me smile and I formed a positive impression of the place as a whole.

I next went to the art museum at which, for the majority of the time, I was the only visitor. The admission cost was high compared to the size of the museum. I was at first disappointed as the regular collection held mostly modern art which was filled with awkward, pointy breasts. I know that is a weird focal point but I swear half the pieces contained this, even though they were by assorted artists. Almost every single piece focused on the human figure in a distorted form; I felt uncomfortable rather than inspired. I know the point of art is to cause an emotional reaction, but I’m in a place where feeling soothed rather than challenged is what I need.

I was delighted, however, when I entered a small gallery displaying the work of local artists. Almost all of it contained nature scenes and I had to resist the temptation to spend hundreds of dollars on a piece, as most of them were for sale. I found it so ironic that the local, lesser-known artists were the ones I enjoyed so much. There was an oil painting of water and sky that I think was my favorite.

I only noticed one piece in colored pencil in the entire place. It was in the local artist gallery section. It reminded me of a painting I’d seen before, with geometric shapes and colors. I enjoyed the symmetry, however, when I inspected it closely, it made me feel better about my own colored pencil work as the areas in primary colors weren’t even filled in so that the tooth of the paper was covered.

I felt more confident in my pull to create art after the trip. Several pieces throughout the building reinforced to me the notion that the aesthetic appeal of art is in the eye of the beholder, in that, simply by creating a piece, art is happening. I’m also contemplating for the first time the relationship between my feelings of attraction and repulsion, and how they might interplay with my artistic interests. I am someone who is disgusted and repulsed more easily than most people and who finds beauty in nature rather than in the human form. To create something that, deliberate or not, I view as grotesque, quite honestly has never occurred to me before. I want pleasure not pain from my art, but, after viewing the local collection, I’ve come to see that my goal may not be shared by everyone. What do you want from the art you encounter? What are your goals when you create? On which spectrums besides disgust-beauty might art operate?

Watercolor Pencils (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I decided to pull the “exploring a new art medium” card again for today’s simple pleasure, and to try out watercolor pencils by Faber-Castell. I’ve been enjoying their oil-based colored pencils so I thought I’d try working with both. The main lesson I learned was that paper matters.

I chose a mixed-media paper that was labeled as appropriate for watercolor, but the paper immediately wrinkles as soon as I added a small amount of water. I also tried to use the pencils on my colored-pencil paper but it also got wavy (although the colors diffused a lot less which I liked). I haven’t yet found a paper that responds well, or perhaps I’ll find that I am applying too much water.

I love how easy it is to sketch with the watercolor pencils as compared to watercolor paint. I think that, once I get a handle on the technique, it will pair well with the colored pencils so that I can achieve background coverage more easily and then layer onto it a more detailed drawing. This is what I did for the image I included in my post. If you’ve worked with this type of pencil and have any suggestions, I would love to read them!

Seasonal Foliage (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I didn’t intend to draw trees without leaves as my first colored pencil project, but my attempt to create fall colors quickly left me disheartened so I shifted my concentration to bark and limb. Below are few beginner (as in, I’m a beginner) tips I’ve gleaned so far. I’ve linked to the products I’m using but am not an affiliate with any of the companies.

  • Begin with the background. One positive about drawing a tree that will be in much darker colors than the sky is that you can first create the background layer and build on it. Once I move back to including leaves, I’ll have to leave dead space for where they will be placed. In order to layer sky colors, I paid extra attention to some brilliant autumn mornings as my inspiration.
  • Outline the tree in your mid-tone color. I’m using Faber-Castell pencils, so I outline the trunk and branches in walnut brown and add the highlights and shadows later. This choice makes it easy to adjust without creating weird lines between the branch and the trunk.
  • Consider limiting your color choices if you are just starting out. I purchased the full set of colored pencils from Faber-Castell but am only using about 15 or so to create my drawings currently. This has greatly reduced my stress and has prompted me to think about how colors blend together. I’ve most enjoyed making purples and peaches in my sky by blending two or three colors together.
  • End the branches in triangles not squares. I made a tree each way and the blunt-ended squares made it look like it was dead, whereas using a thinner, pointed end for the branches allowed it appear at rest. This is obvious if you think about trees, but didn’t register for me until I finished a layer.
  • Consider proportions before placing any strokes. I got too enthusiastic on one of my trees with the grasses underneath, and they turned into a seaweed shape. The trunk to branch proportion has also been difficult for me to get my head around. I think the width of all the main branches should probably very slightly thinner when added together as compared to the trunk, and there should only be a few main divisions (one of my trees had a super-wide trunk with many main branches off of it and it did not work for me).
  • Burnishing is where it’s at! I’ve been using Gamblin gamsol to burnish the sky colors together (lay down a layer of colors, burnish and repeat), and using my Prismacolor colorless blender pencils on the tree portion. The tree is draw over the background, so there is a great chance of smearing it if I tried to use the oil. Burnishing allows the colored pencils, especially if they are oil-based like the Faber-Castell, to appear more like paint.

My tree, if I am able to make one that I feel is good enough to include on a card for my In an Open Hand deck, will be set in winter rather than fall. I almost gave up on the whole enterprise after my first set of leaves looked ridiculous, so I’m glad I found something I am able to create that has potential.

If you are starting out and you get overwhelmed, I encourage you to break down the elements of what you were trying to draw and to see if you can perfect one component at a time. After drawing all the trees to get to one I like, I think I’ll be better prepared for that elements once I start including leaves. Please leave any colored-pencil tree drawing tips, beginner or otherwise, below!

At the Center (Daily Works of Art)

In the last half-year, there has been an internal shift unlike any I can remember experiencing. I’ve started T during this period of time, so I’m certain that coming into alignment with myself as a non-binary person has played role in this change. My image of myself has been transformed as I’ve created my present.

I’m a relationship disaster. I get close to people, building up connection and hoping that “this time” something will stick and it won’t go sideways. Every single time, though, that there is a breach of trust, when I feel betrayed, used or mistreated, my trauma surfaces to an insurmountable level and the whole thing breaks apart. My deep-rooted attachment issues win the day, no matter, it seems, how much I try to will them into the background or how hard I work in therapy to undo them. I get re-traumatized and cut more deeply after every experience. I do not heal and I do not grow in my capacity to love by failing at it. The only beings I’ve ever loved are my dog and myself. Relationships with others matter and I will continue to engage in them, but they do not complete me.

My career is equally unable to give me a sense of fulfilment or meaning, despite the fact that I know what I’m doing is valuable. Every trigger I experience there makes it harder to show up the next day. I wade through it, but I don’t derive my joy or sense of purpose from it.

I care about the human condition and the planet, but I’m not an activist. Even though topics such as human rights stir my passions and I advocate for equity, I am not enough of a True Believer ™ in any cause to dedicate my life to it. I find meaning here, but it is fraught with disappointment and despair to an intensity where it is not enough, on its own, to sustain me.

I’m left, then, with the possible sources that most people turn to for their deepest nourishment a shallow bowl of thin soup. Finally, after twenty years of suicidality and less-than-ness, knowing myself to be a loner, a Not a True Believer ™ and an unmet career potential achiever, I may have hit on why I’m here. This dish is a rich stew, with layers of flavor and body.

My core is my inner world. I know my interior to a level of detail I’ve rarely encountered in others. And yet, I scrub the corridors of my mind and sweep the reaches of my heart and still I uncover things about myself I didn’t know before. And I refuse to see the gift of self-knowledge through the lens of navel-gazing self-absorption. We die alone. Life is coming to that realization and finding a reason to keep living.

I haven’t found my inner world in order to escape there and shut myself off from reality. Instead, my physical experience is at the center of my inner world. I live embodied. No, I’ve found my core because it is the root of my spirituality and creativity. I have something to honor and something to express because, in knowing myself, I find my entryway to the universe. I do not live to romance a perfect love, to make the world a better place or to achieve a capitalist monument to money, fame or innovation. I exist to live present, sacred and as a witness to the present and the sacred.

I’m a nature photograph of only the trees and the mountain. No caption to draw attention to the threats of the future. No human figure outlined as the subject. No metaphor for the accolades I’ve garnered. Only the holy now and the lens to see it.

My way of being is not the best or the singular way through life. I fully support those whose center is the periphery of my image—the happy family camping, the environmentalist chained to the tree, the goal-setter summiting the peak. There is pain in finding my focus, because I think it is trauma more than biology that has led me to it. A life unspoiled as mine was might have a depth I cannot achieve in which everything I’ve described is blended into a harmonious entree. But my point is simply that I have something for which I exist, even if it isn’t typical, appreciated or noticed. I’ve found my purpose. Attempting to compel myself to locate it elsewhere is a distraction from my fundamental source of joy and hope. I’m in this light, of this breath, reflecting divine presence.

Exploring a New Art Medium (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

After much deliberation, I’ve finally arrived at the medium I am going to use to create my In an Open Hand intuitive deck: colored pencils! I’d spent time reflecting previously and had thought digital art was the way to go. I’d planned to purchase an expensive computer and use Adobe Illustrator to illustrate the cards.

As I sat with the decision, however, I felt more and more uncertain. Specifically, I kept imagining myself dropping a few thousand and then feeling totally overwhelmed by the process and too lazy, frankly, to move to another part of my house to spend time on my artwork. My dog and I have an evening routine of sitting on my couch and I came to see that whatever I do, at least for now, has to be easy to access as well as portable in case I want to work outdoors or in a cafe.

Because of these realizations, I settled on colored pencils. There is a class I can take next summer locally on working with the medium which excites me even more and which made the choice easier. My lack of self-control led me to purchase both the Prismacolor set (wax-based) as well as the Faber-Castell set (oil-based) and lots of accessories. (Side note: it is easy to justify spending a few hundred when you can tell yourself you are “saving” over a thousand dollars 🙂

The colored pencils are scheduled to arrive soon. I plan to start by creating gradients and practicing my technique before trying to actually draw any of the elements of my cards. Luckily, there are lots of Youtube tutorials that have given me a likely exaggerated sense of self-confidence that I can produce beautiful art with this medium. I will eventually have to at least photograph my artwork (if I make it that far) to have the deck printed, and can explore the digital art format if needed. I believe that years of exploring my spirituality and my creativity have led me to this new chapter, and I cannot wait to write it. Which art medium have you been exploring lately? What has it taught you?

Divine Light (Daily Works of Art)

I pulled the first Daily Works of Art card today which focused on creating a representation of the Divine. My mind immediately conjured images of warm sunlight and fire, glowing with softness and inviting connection. The Divine is more than a parent, but I find myself drawn most frequently to divinity in parental form, given my own lack of connection with my physical parents.

What I seek from Divinity in this space of consciousness is nurturing. I disagree passionately who think Divinity needs to be violent and harsh towards us in our failures in order to be complete; our most base instincts as humans do not need ascended representation. All this to say, a warm, inviting glowing presence, offering safety and comfort, is what I hold as Divine in my mind today.

In order to create a representation of this form of Divinity, I first started by opening some blinds and allowing light to pour into my house. I next lit several candles to cast a glow in every direction. Finally, I drew an digital image of a flame, as it allows for both light and heat to be generated.

I found myself wondering what this experience would be like through other senses, so I also listened to a video of a bonfire burning and held my hand over one of the candles to feel the warmth. I’m not sure what smells and tastes remind me of this, perhaps hot chocolate?

It fascinates me to consider my feeble artistic endeavors as perhaps the attempts of my mind to make manifest what my unconscious holds; I want to communicate my experiences with others in ways that are not solely reliant on language. I feel embarrassed by my ignorance as I think this is likely Day 1 of art theory, but for the first time in my life I’m living in this creative space, not simply being told about it by someone else. I’m still not brave enough to share what I’m making with many people, but I believe that will come with time. What is your internal representation of the Divine? Through which sense(s) do you find yourself translating your experiences?

Creating a Design (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I’ve had an art breakthrough! Well, possibly. Over the years, I have stopped and started more art projects than I can count and have shelves of paint, paper and other supplies sitting idle. I have finally come to recognize that my inertia on being visually creative has to do with form more than substance. I dislike mess and fumes, so the idea of getting out a set of paintbrushes, attempting to paint a creation beyond the scope of my fine motor skills, and, finally, having to clean everything up afterwards taxes me too much. The solution? Digital art!

As soon as I get an idea in my head, I usually want to spend as much money as I can reasonably waste (hence my unused artroom) on accumulating the tools needed to execute my vision. In this situation, however, I’ve decided to proceed more slowly in order to make sure the way of arting that I’ve landed on actually fits me. Specifically, I downloaded a free app version of Adobe Illustrator to try out on my phone with my stylus before I invest in something like a Wacom tablet. Yesterday, I created a candy-corn cartoon, and, for today’s simple pleasure, will be keeping the fall theme going by designing a pumpkin cartoon. I find it hard to follow through with being artistic when it doesn’t feel like it has any utility, but I know that I need ways to occupy my mind that are healthy and safe, so I’m going with it. What is your favorite way to art? What digital tools do you like to use?