A Half-Formed Image (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I got a new phone today after cracking the screen on my old one. It took a solid hour to transfer my data from the old to the new, during which I felt an odd sensation of in-between. It was difficult to not have everything settled and set the way I like it. It made me consider other instances of neither here or there and how they affect me.

I love to travel but am happiest in the planning for rather than the doing. I like to, from the comforts of home, imagine where I could go and what I could do. I think it is a sense of all possible futures sitting before me. Once the journey begins, the possible comes a singular reality and the magic tends to fade.

As far as visual imagery is concerned, I think the moments between leaving and arriving are a half-finished drawing with the outline partially sketched. Sufficient information exists to allow me to see what it will become, but I am left without the sense of completion a final image produces.

It is actually the collapsing of the possible into the probable that feels the most constricting to me. It is helpful to consider that erasers and new sheets of paper exist. Maybe the journey has way-stops and interludes I could not anticipate and the final lines look nothing like what I’m anticipating they will. I live in both deep terror and profound craving of the unknown, the blank page, and only a fleeting sense of relief at the finalized etching, what it was. I want to grow in appreciation for what is becoming as the image comes into relief.

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?

In the Age of Entrophy (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

Today is a day in which I remind myself art is not the same thing as beauty. I tend to lean much more towards the products of creativity I find aesthetically pleasing and soothing, rather than considering the entire range of responses that could possibly be evoked. I do this, in large part, because I am much more easily disgusted than the average person.

Part of the research on disgust suggests it is an emotional response that evolved from processes we developed to keep us safe from contamination. For this post, I’m defining entrophy as disorder, chaos, destruction and death. Contamination and entrophy (in its physical sense) are connected in that death and chaos increase the risk of viruses, fungi and bacteria being spread.

For my reflection, I decided to take some time to analyze my somatosensory system (ability to feel pain, temperature, pressure, etc.) as well as my sense of smell as it relates to entrophy. I avoided my visual system because the images of things that are unpleasant can haunt me for months and are pretty much unbearable. My misophonia, as it relates to my sense of sound, is strongly tied into my disgust response as well. What, then, is the felt sense of entrophy, and what does it smell like? If you are as easily disgusted or bothered by disorder as I am, you may want to stop reading here!

Disharmonious Feelings

  • Feeling another’s warmth drift from you the moment after an embrace
  • Being bumped into in a crowded public area
  • Missing a step when walking down stairs
  • Dropping a heavy or valuable object
  • Running over a curb while driving
  • Spilling food you’ve just prepared in every direction
  • Trying to concentrate in a stuffy room
  • Opening an umbrella when it is very windy outside
  • Shaking someone’s cold, limp or clammy hand
  • Sitting in the passenger seat of a dirty car

Scents of chaos

  • Body odor combined with perfume/cologne
  • A rotting animal corpse among the flowers on the edge of the road
  • Excessive perfume/cologne in a sterile area (like a doctor’s office)
  • An unidentifiable unpleasant odor
  • The smell of an appliance motor burning out in a kitchen while cooking

This post, especially the part on smell, was extremely hard for me to write and made me feel nauseous. I had to stop after only a few ideas because I felt so grossed out. I recall (at one of my worst jobs ever) getting yelled at by a supervisor in front of coworkers because I’d told someone at the place I worked at that I found a situation to be disgusting. I am unable to do much to mask my “eww” face, even when I want to in order to not have other people feel judged or criticized. I joke with others a lot about how “weak my stomach is” and such to lessen how intensely they perceive my possible responses, but, even after all of these experiences, I am still a bit amazed to realize how visceral my reaction is to simply thinking about situations involving entrophy.

I question to what extent this way of being reflect neurodivergence on my part as I’ve had so many social interactions which indicate others are not all at the same place I am with it. My capacity for disgust clearly limits what I can handle in everyday life and has, at times, led to avoidance behaviors. Part of the reason I’ve socially withdrawn to the extent I have is that I am so sensitive to smells, physical sensations and sounds that it makes it hard for me to be around others, especially in unpredictable situations. Clean, organized, spacious, low-stimuli environments are where I function most effectively, which is why my house appeals to me.

What, for you, does entrophy represent? What situations, in terms of smells and/or your felt sense, remind you of entrophy and/or evoke a disgust response? To what extent are you affected by these types of situations?

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?

Natural Inspiration

In learning about permaculture in a class I took, a principle that I found intriguing was that of designing systems based on patterns that exist in nature. I haven’t applied these concepts to any attempts to cultivate plants, but I am finding the concept coming back to mind as I create my In an Open Hand deck card illustrations. In essence, I am experimenting with a more abstract form of art that is still rooted in nature.

I succeeded in drawing a pine branch that I found aesthetically-pleasing, but, as soon as I attempted to draw an entire tree, I found myself completely out of my depth and managed to pencil only a very abnormally-shaped and odd Christmas tree. I have plans to take a colored-pencil class next summer which will hopefully help me improve my skills, but, after my trip to the art museum, I started contemplating the idea of capturing nature on a more abstract level. What I’m currently trying out is outlining a natural shape, such as a pine tree, and then filling it in with more abstract forms such as wavy lines. What I’m making looks a bit like a cartoon but at least approaches something that isn’t repulsive to me.

PHysical Patterns

What I love about turning to nature for ideas is that there are many from which to choose. Below are a list of websites that list possibilities for designs based on nature:

A few commonalities among the website suggestions include waves, spirals and web formations. As far as I understand it, permaculture focuses on physical design to benefit both humans and the ecosystem and is not concerned with aesthetics as a core value. However, I like the idea of tapping into the components of the natural system as a source of creativity, rather than limiting myself to a literal (and highly imperfect) representation of what I take in through my senses. To the extent that you spend time outdoors and/or in nature, how do you translate what you see into your creative passions? In terms of artistic creations, where on the spectrum of literal to abstract do you find yourself falling? Why?

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!

A colored pencil drawing of a pine branch with green needles. The branch is drawn from the upper left to the bottom right of the paper.

Needle by Needle

I finally drew something I don’t hate! I created this pine branch using my Faber-Castell colored pencils on Strathmore 400 Series Colored Pencil paper. In addition to two types of green pencils, I used yellow to highlight and blue to shade. All the pencils I used are in the 12 pack starter version of the Faber-Castell (I cannot emphasize enough how helpful it was to limit how many pencils I’m trying to incorporate).

In terms of technique, I first started by looking at a pine tree and realized the needles covered the branch as well. I sketched in the brown wooden part of the branch lightly first. I used green at first to line each branch at an angle with both shades of green. Next, I drew with yellow on the ends I wanted to highlight, and blue closer to the branches on the underside and where they met. Finally, I covered the wooden part in a cross-hatch motion nearly parallel to it with both shades again.

In terms of improvements needed, my color balance is messed up because I added the smaller areas of needles after the first few branches and they got too much blue, and because I rotated the final drawing in my photograph. I have to work on where and how to photograph my drawings as the overall color is too dark as well but I was too lazy to go outside in 20 degree F weather to try there. Finally, I have to consider how to make the branch appear more 3-D–I think the needles are alright for this but the branch itself looks rather flat because of the angle I used on the parts that split off.

I started my colored pencil drawings attempting to draw an entire tree and it did not go well. I think I have to break stimuli into their components in order to be able to have any chance of creating a visual representation I find palatable. Observing what I am trying to draw in person proved very useful so that is something I will be continuing. If you like to draw, what do you find useful in drawing natural objects? To what extent do you focus on realism? What serves as your inspiration?

Creature Comforts (Daily Works of Art)

Today’s card draw invited me to make art that would represent home. In contemplating this task, I was drawn to the idea of creating an atmosphere more than a visual representation. For me, the concept of home (not my childhood home but my ideal one) captures feelings of safety, ease and connection.

In attending to my senses, my sense of smell, touch and hearing were the ones that rose to the foreground (along with images of candles burning). Bread or cookies baking are cozy smells, but my physical health won’t benefit from having them circulating on a regular basis. I decided to purchase an oil warmer to gently fill my living space with calming and soothing scents. In regards to touch, I am contemplating textures such as a soft robe that I can add to my environment. In terms of sound, I want to find a cheap way to play relaxing music at all times (rather than having to use the same speaker I use for any media as I don’t own a television).

In sum, the concepts of ideal home and spa are apparently the same thing to me! I like the idea of thinking of art not simply as a visual experience, but also as something that incorporates all of my senses. I’ve been to a few parties lately and cannot believe how much my mood and comfort level shifts when the music starts blasting versus when there is only the hum of conversation. The atmosphere sets the scene and I often attribute my reactions solely to interpersonal dynamics I’m experiencing, instead of attending to how much the place and surroundings affect me. Hopefully, in noticing to the setting and viewing it as a way to represent a concept I crave deeply–home–I can then set the stage for fuller presence. What sensory experiences represent home (in terms of what you’ve like it to be) to you? What does home look like, smell like, feel like, taste like and/or sound like? What is one action you could take today to create it?

Shopping for Hand-made Crafts (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I traveled far outside of my comfort zone today, to a craft show in a rural area at which my friend was selling her creations. It was held in a conservative Christian church, a space I have a hard time entering after my experiences in like places growing up. Now that I know myself as a trans and nonbinary person, many spots in which a mix of anger and fear used to inexplicably rise up in me are, in a way, simpler to navigate because I know why I feel the way I do. My internal level of stress tends to be higher as well, because I am more visible than I would have been in the past.

I was delighted to find that the show was bigger than I expected for such a sleepy town, and that it presented a sensory kaleidoscope in terms of colors, textures and shapes. I purchased a beautiful hand-made sign from my friend to take to a gift exchange, and found a piece of art for myself that’s very meaningful. It is made from river rocks and depicts a person and a dog walking, with writing at the bottom noting that there is a purpose in every path. I felt that Spirit was affirming the shift in my inner sense of meaning away from “healing must come through relationships” to “healing is here in this moment.”

I was misgendered only once while purchasing some cards, and the person said “she..?…” in a quizzical-enough way that I felt validated more than harmed by it. There was a merchant selling nothing but large crosses which led to fear-rage rising up momentarily, but I felt my freedom of movement come right back and moved on (my town’s Pride this past summer had a person with a life-sized cross screaming about how we were going to hell so let’s just say that symbol isn’t working for me right now). There were also homemade cookies for sale, a purchase I undoubtedly would have made and regretted in past times as a way to cope with my discomfort. In sum, I entered a space that held potential trigger after trigger, but I was present with myself through it and now have a lovely gift to give as well as a perfect, hand-made representation of my inner work. A good day! What was the last experience you had with local and hand-made merchants? How does the space in which events are held affect you?