Recovery Gals Art Exchange. Summer Solstice Theme. Pink Cloud.

Three years ago, Sondra and I founded the Recovery Gals Art Exchange. If you don’t know what that is, you can read more about how it all began here. To see over 200 of the exchanges, we have a hashtag for the exchange and you can click here to see more at #recoverygalsartexchange.

Painting has been on the back-burner for me since May of 2018. I stopped painting after I had my first, debilitating panic attack. I just stopped. This was on the heels of my first gallery show for The Geographic called The Art of Recovery. I ended up delivering what I had completed to be hung, showed up for the opening and closing and promptly said - I’m never doing that again. I was operating in fear-mode. I was tapped out emotionally. I felt depleted. I had zero desire to paint again.

But something shifted in me during the evening of the full moon last month. I had this overwhelming desire to get an idea out of my head and onto a blank canvas. It felt like an emergency, as my friend Amanda Grace likes to say. Yes, a freaking art emergency.

A few months back, my exchange partner and I had a phone date and we got to know each other a little better. During our conversation, she shared with me about what lit her up - nature, photography, her journey to sobriety and her love of hiking. She shared that she had attempted to summit Mt. Whitney (tallest mountain in the contiguous United States!) four times, but her plans being thwarted due to her body being overtaken by altitude sickness each and every time she made the climb. She also shared that she was okay with the fact that the summit had eluded her. The training, planning and journey was part of what she loved about the goal and guiding other women to the summit was what made it all worth it. Plus, the mountain was still going to be there and when the time was right - it would happen.

Her confidence and ease talking about the elusive Mt. Whitney summit reminded me about the journey to sobriety for so many. A lot of starts and stops can happen. Research, attempts, false starts, turning back around and starting at ground zero is all part of the road to recovery.

Upon reflecting back on my notes from our call, I knew what I needed to make and set about doing it.


Since the theme this time around was PINK CLOUD, I decided to use a hardwood panel to symbolize the sturdy mountain and slathered on my favorite hot pink acrylic paint as a base. I then used black and green as the foundation for the mountain and added a bit of gold because, well, I love gold and it seemed fitting. It would end up being sanded down and just peeking through, but I thought it would be like a secret gold star underneath all of the future layers.


I added a thin layer of white over the majority of the painting. I lightly sanded down the mountain to create texture. I vigorously sanded down the areas where the pink was underneath on both sides of the montain to reveal a PINK CLOUD-like sky.


Next up was adding a triangles. This geometric shape packs a punch of meaning for me. First, it is the strongest geometric shape. I made them wonky and different to represent how many of us feel in early sobriety. I used India ink and a calligraphy pen.


As the mountain began to take shape, it was clear to me that the triangles would also represent the many different paths we take to attain a life we no longer want to escape from - some short and some much longer. The goal (sobriety) never changing, but knowing that the summit of sobriety is not always achieved in a straight line or on our first attempt. Quite often it’s done in fits and starts until it finally clicks and we find our way.


The PINK CLOUD is often characterized as a short period of elation or euphoria in early sobriety. Some think this can be dangerous because newcomers might come to believe that this magical, i-can-do-anything attitude is going to last throughout sobriety, when, in reality, the PINK CLOUD feeling is often short-lived. Some think that when the PINK CLOUD wears off that many will return to drinking because sobriety no longer feels good.


I can see where people might worry about those dangers, but I have always felt that the pink cloud moments of euphoria that I have experienced sporadically throughout my recovery were absolutely essential in giving me hope. As I climbed the metaphorical mountains of living life without my favorite numbing agents, it was a steep and careful climb up and out of my addiction. Sometimes I had a good long stretch of days and then things would go sideways. I’d regain my footing and either pick a different route or double down on the tried and true things that were working for me.

I came to believe that I needed those pockets of magical thinking so that I could push off from there and get back to the business of trying to reach the summit of my sobriety, which is a daily trek of me just doing the best that I can for the next 24 hours.

For me, the summit is no longer the goal. It’s in the byproduct of my day-to-day living, my rituals and routines. It’s in the lessons I’m learning from teachers. It’s in the way I’ve cultivated a life I no longer want to escape from. It’s my path, my mis-steps and my miscalculations that I learn my greatest lessons. It’s not all darkness, but traversing those dark times fortifies me and gives me strength to go out into the world and continue the climb.


The PINK CLOUD concept has helped me to better know and understand that when I’m in a funk or down at the base of my metaphorical mountain that my feelings of defeat or discomfort are only temporary. I understand the beauty of my darkness now and how it delivered me to exactly where I am today. I’m grateful for it. I no longer fear it.

Knowing there is a PINK CLOUD somewhere in my future actually gives me a tremendous amount of hope and the desire to move onward and upward.

4 Years.

My last sip of alcohol was on Groundhog Day 2015. I wouldn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last time I would shake up an ice cold double Manhattan.

It would be the last time I would use alcohol to escape myself.
It would be the last time I would use alcohol to quell my anxieties.
It would be the last time I would use alcohol to numb out my existence.

For those of you have followed me for awhile, you might remember that I have posted about my sobriety milestones from the get-go. If you’re new to my website and blog, I used to post monthly essays on my sobriety milestone on the third day of every month. As time went by, I decided that I would write a blog post update bi-yearly and on my yearly sobriety birthday, too. You can read more about my one year, two year, three year and the monthly sobriety milestones by clicking on the links or perusing this listing of blog posts.

Reflecting back on the past six months, I land in two different camps with my feelings.

Camp 1. I’ve done so much work in addressing my anxiety and confronting concepts of willingness, acceptance and the art of letting go. Where do I even begin?


Camp 2. What could I possibly have to say that I haven’t already said?

Over the past six months, I feel like I opened the door to new teachers and tended to my health and well being like it was my job. I also hit a big wall on my actual sobriety date - February 3, 2018. This post will help to explain.

On a flight home from Phoenix last May, I experienced my first-ever panic attack. A swirling of energy that originated in my lower extremities and traveled up to my solar plexus. I wanted to rip all of my clothes off. I couldn’t breathe. The thought crossed my mind that I might be having a heart attack. I wanted to open the door on the aircraft and jump out of the plane. I was out of my mind and filled with panic and fear. I thought I was going to die.

After being removed from the plane and put on a stretcher and rushed by ambulance to the ER in San Francisco, I was discharged and left to figure out how to get home. I ended up taking the most expensive Uber ride of my life. I rode in the backseat of a tricked out Honda Civic while the driver blared misogynistic hip hop music the entire 75 mile ride towards home.

Over the several months that followed…

  • I started taking Chinese herbs and receiving acupuncture (up until I had a panic attack during one of the treatments).

  • I worked with a licensed therapist.

  • I saw my OB/GYN and had my IUD removed.

  • Talked with my general practitioner and had all my lab work updated.

  • I would work with an astrologer and have my natal chart read.

  • I temporarily stopped drinking decaffeinated coffee and black tea.

  • I meditated daily.

  • I listened to Elena Brower’s Ritual of Recovery for 40 days in a row to start my days over the summer months.

  • I started writing morning pages.

  • I upped my attendance at 12-step meetings.

  • I lowered my attendance at 12-step meetings.

  • I clung to the prayers in Pixie Lighthorse’s Prayers of Honoring book series.

  • I started listening to theta binaural beats before falling to sleep at night over the summer and more recently.

  • I tried theta floatation therapy.

  • I used essential oils and found comfort in rubbing a black obsidian stone whenever I felt anxious.

  • I created a rock solid morning routine.

  • I read books on anxiety, which actually helped for a little while and then actually started revving up my anxiety, so I stopped.

  • I did research on the fight or flight response + learned about additional tools I could use.

  • I put my legs up the wall more times than I can count.

  • I would reach out to Jolene Park, functional nutritionist and founder of Healthy Discoveries to discuss a few strategies to deal with my panic.

  • I started taking prescription non-addictive beta-blockers before I jumped on a plane or did any public speaking.

  • I took daily 20 minute naps.

  • I stopped working with a licensed therapist because I was so tired of working on myself or trying to fix myself. I felt burnt out.

I tried EVERYTHING under the sun to counteract my anxiety. I had six more panic attacks after the initial one in May. Each time one occurred, I got better at remembering to ask for help and assembled a physical anxiety toolbox to carry in my purse.

Over a four week period stretching from mid-December to mid-January, I would take seven separate plane flights. Zero panic attacks occurred. I used all of my tools and then some. I feel like this was and is tremendous progress.

Knock on wood.

Last Fall semester, I ended up dropping my entire course load and enrolled in one studio art class: beginning ceramics.

I let go of the rush to graduate and took ceramics as one would take medicine. I let it start to heal me.

It intimidated me.
It frustrated me.
It taught me.
It humbled me.
It was generous with me.


I very quickly started absorbing lessons about patience, getting centered and how to let go of desired outcomes and lofty expectations. My professor was a very wise man and he dished out sobering comments about the desire to control the clay. Every single one of these quotes could serve as a metaphor for my sobriety.

Clay not listen to you. YOU must listen to clay.

You need confidence, not pride. You must lose the ego. The clay is the boss.

Your personality comes through by how you approach the wheel. No patience? You must have patience, otherwise the wheel will not serve you. It does not care what YOU want.

The wheel does a perfect job. YOU are creating problem, NOT the wheel.

Acceptance is the philosophy and mantra when working with ceramics.

If you seek perfection, then ceramics is probably not for you.

Creating pottery is like a meditation.

The gift of the fire can elevate a piece. The beauty is made in the fire.
— Professor Hiroshi Fuchigami
Raku firing process used for this bowl

Raku firing process used for this bowl

There was something freeing about not knowing what I was doing. I fought it hard at first, but slowly I started to loosen up and quit trying to control the clay, which helped me to see that maybe I needed to work on not controlling the universe and surrender myself simply to what is. I started enjoying the process with no attachment to the outcome. This was a completely new way of being for me. The final phase of any ceramic piece is made in the fire - completely out of my control. The fire is where the beauty happens and I could totally relate to that. I loved using my time in ceramics as a metaphor for learning how to deal with my anxiety and loosen up my grip on controlling the universe.

When I was drinking, I was not centered.

When I finally quit, I was nothing more than a simple lump of clay. I feel like I’v bee molding myself ever since.

My beauty has been made in the fire, too, and on the last day of the semester I realized that my desire to control outcomes had to stop. I have to surrender and cease future-tripping or else it will cost me my sanity, my health.

As always, I am a work in progress in this regard.

I’ve been a student quite a bit over these last six months. I know I mentioned the ceramics above, but I also took the RAW creative journaling workshop from my friend and fellow artist, Amanda Grace. She flew over here all the way from Ireland and hosted a lovely 2-day retreat in Oakland. She’s helping me loosen up and let go of desired outcomes with my journals, as well. She’s also become a really dear friend to me and I’m so grateful for technology to keep us connected, even though we first met through her one-of-a-kind letter PODS a couple of years ago.

I just finished up Pixie Lighthorse’s offering of 7 Journeys. It was a week-long course that guided me through portals back into my past and unlocked deep knowings about trauma that occurred when I was just seven years old. I had no idea what would unfold and was very open to the process. Vivid dreaming occurred. I would wake up and feel called to collage my dreams on paper. It was super transformative and a beautiful way to begin the year knowing that there was still much work to do and I was grateful I had been preparing for it, in a sense, ever since the day I stopped drinking. I cannot recommend her work enough. She has been one of my greatest teachers in my own journey to finding and meeting my highest self.

Sober Sisters
Last September 2018, I attended the She Recovers LA Conference and was a guest teacher, along with Shelley Richenbach, and we taught about creating gratitude for your body to about 100 women. I’d never done anything like this and it took me outside of my comfort zone, but I did it anyway. This lit a small fire under me and I realized I want to dig into teaching and sharing more of what I know for sure.

I hosted a Women’s Circle along with Natalie Fairbrook and Sasha Korellis of Satcha Malas in January 2018. I focused on sharing how to create a morning ritual routine and shared the tools and teachers that have helped me to galvanize a pretty solid practice. I loved teaching and sharing this work and would love to do more of this during 2019.

The Unruffled Podcast
We are approaching our 100th episode and so close to 500,000 downloads. It feels surreal. The support of our listeners through our Patreon account has been super important to us . Our goal is to earn some income to help pay for the cost of the show and pay us for our time. We’d love to be 100% listener-funded. If you feel called to support this work, please click here and donate. The podcasts are free and we have continuously shown up every single week for almost two whole years. We are so proud of that fact.

What my 4 Year Sober Birthday Actually Looked Like Today
I woke up and hit a 12-step meeting.
I met a friend at that meeting and went to breakfast afterwards.
I heard from my sponsor.
My kid told me how proud he was of me during our car ride home from town.
I got the most beautiful necklace and hand-made stones from sweet friends.
I did laundry, meal planned + made a grocery list.
I spent the day creating art and sitting at my desk during Super Bowl Sunday.
I was on Facebook quite a bit, communicating with other women in recovery.
I collaged a gratitude list celebrating my four year journey to sobriety.
I ended the day by asking my husband why he didn’t acknowledge my four year sober birthday?
We got into one of the biggest fights of our 21-year relationship.
I cried my eyes out and was incredibly hurt AND pissed off.
I went to bed deflated and confused.
I plotted a retaliation and then fell into a fitful sleep.

What the week after my 4 Year Sobriety Birthday Looked Like
I met my sponsor for lunch the very next day.
I unloaded what had happened between my husband and myself.
We talked about Al-Anon and alcoholism in general.
My sponsor suggested I write a ‘Fuck You’ letter to my husband, but not give it to him.
She had one caveat.
I couldn’t write the ‘Fuck You’ letter until I wrote a gratitude list listing all the things I loved about my husband.
I came home and told my husband I wanted to sleep in separate rooms - indefinitely.
I spent a lot of time in my head during this week.
I went to a lot of 12-step meetings.
I took a lot of scalding hot showers which served as an emotional reset button.
Eventually, I would write the gratitude list about my husband.
After that, the desire to write the ‘Fuck You’ letter subsided.
After seven days and nights, we called a truce.

There’s a lot more to this story, but I’m only at liberty to share this much at this time.

My sobriety journey has not been all rainbows and unicorns. It’s hard fucking work and I’m so grateful to show up and have the wherewithal to do it.

I’m not sure what is going to happen with my relationship because, like I learned in ceramics, I cannot control outcomes and I’m trying not to future-trip, but I do know one thing: I’m going to be fully present and not leave myself, even when it gets uncomfortable or hard or miserable. Because recovery has taught me how NOT to leave myself. So I’m staying.

And like my sponsor always likes to remind me, more will be revealed.

That’s all I know for sure. More will be revealed.

Winter Solstice :: Recovery Gals Art Exchange (Renewal)

My little studio used to be my son’s little studio. Over the years, I’ve commandeered the place and slowly took it over as my very own. His interests in creating art have waned considerably upon entering high school and as hard as it’s been to accept that he is his own person (no one every old me this would happen!), I didn’t want to become the kind of mom that made her kid do art. God. That would be awful, wouldn’t it? But I miss those days where we used to spend hours and hours on end creating things he dreamed up in his mind. So as much as it kills me to watch him be a normal teenager and reject something that I love so much, I released him from pleasing me in this way because it cannot be about me. I know that.


The theme this time around for the Recovery Gals Art Exchange is RENEWAL. That word got me thinking about my relationship with my son and how he and I are constantly renewing what it means to be at this place we’re currently at - adolescence (an 11-letter word!). What once was, is now vastly different. Our relationship ebbs and flows and I get my feelings hurt quite a bit. In recovery, I’ve heard that we’re not supposed to regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it, but I gotta be honest - sometimes I wish I could.


I was hungover daily for almost a decade of my son’s life. I was short-tempered and bitchy upon waking. In my home, my tone of voice set the tone for the day. In recovery, I’ve had the chance to right some of the wrongs from my drinking days. As luck would have it, I’m a morning person now. i’m actually writing this at 4:30 in the morning! I can hardly believe it. But that’s the thing about recovery that I’ve come to appreciate, the ways in which we have the opportunity to be reborn every 24 hours. I can choose to start again, hit the reset button and rehabilitate old patterns with intention and dogged determination It’s now the work of my life and I love it.


For this exchange, I wanted to use a humble material as my base to symbolize how raw and bland I felt when I first quit drinking. I dug through the shelves in my studio and stumbled upon my random cardboard/chipboard collection. I save these to use when reinforcing something flimsy when shipping, like a drawing or painting. The symbolism that it was useful and sturdy was intentional, too.


Over the past few months, I used this simple piece of chipboard to wipe excess paint off of my brushes. Over time, it has become it’s own work of art. The layers symbolic of my recovery, too. No pre-meditation, just a simple, rhythmic exercise that I would do before cleaning my brush or library card off in water to remove the final bit of paint from those simple tools.


The simple practice of using the chipboard as a place to receive excess from my paintbrush made me think of my simple morning routine. By starting my day like a blank canvas, so to speak, I can start layering the basic things that help me create a fresh start and attitude for what is to come. The idea that there is not a pre-determined outcome to my routine is helping me to see the beauty in just what is. No bells and whistles go off when I’m done. It’s a quiet union I make with my higher power and it transforms my way of being as I venture into the next 24 hours.


So while some could perceive this painting as a messy or chaotic, I like to think of it as a revitalization of what it once was - a simple, beige-colored, one dimensional, functional piece made hard from the build up of layers. An item that could have been easily discarded as not worthy of being seen or framed. What I did was choose to see it, revive it and give it life by adding broad strokes of random colors, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, until it became fresh and reinvigorated. This is EXACTLY what I did when I got sober. I was that sad little piece of bland chipboard. So flat and emotionally wrung out of all color in my life and slowly (very slowly), over time, I started adding color back into my life. Layer by layer. One awkward brush stroke at a time. I didn’t know how I was going to turn out, but I knew I could no longer remain beige and blend into the background of my life.

2018: renewal acrylic on chipboard

2018: renewal
acrylic on chipboard

I also enclosed a copy of Pixie Lighthorse’s Prayers of Honoring book for my exchange partner because she has been one of my biggest teachers this year when it comes to my morning routine and feeling renewed after I absorb her words. She has been helping to restore my spirit by starting the day reading her one-page prayers. This is something I never thought I would do, but I’ve learned that I quite surprise myself when I remain open and willing to learn new things. Her words are a salve that I apply to my soul every single morning. I am restored when I finish reading them. They baptize me with their beauty and, in a way, I am born again.


I love how these art exchanges help me to think about what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now.

Renewal is an action for me. It is something I take every morning upon waking, moving through my rituals and routines and I’m grateful that when I set the tone now in my home, it is one with far more softness and grace than I once possessed.

I just opened a package containing art from my partner in this exchange and it literally took my breath away.

IMG_5389 2.jpg

My exchange partner shared that this was her first attempt with working with stained glass as a medium. I’d say she has a future with this art form, right?

Here is a little bit about the meaning and power behind her creation.


Thank you for such a thoughtful + creative gift, Amy. I will treasure this for years to come and feel deeply honored that you would make this one-of-a-kind creation and then gift it to me. I am humbled by your generosity and talent.

If you are interested in seeing more #recoverygalartexchange work, click on the hashtag and you’ll be taken to Instagram and you can peruse past exchanges. We have close to 200 images showing work made over the past two years and exchanged between women in recovery from alcohol.

If you’re interested in participating, send me a DM on Facebook at Tammi Salas and I can add you into the secret Facebook group for the next exchange (spring equinox), which will be announced in early January 2019.

Recovery Gals Art Exchange :: Vernal/Autumnal Equinox :: Awake(N)


The theme for this round of the recovery gals art exchange was Awake(N). i met my exchange partner, Anna, at the She Recovers LA event that took place last weekend at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It was a total bonus to be able to exchange in person and get to know her over the weekend. She was totally alive and excited by the event, too.

My co-host on the unruffled podcast, sondra primeaux, anna + myself

My co-host on the unruffled podcast, sondra primeaux, anna + myself

One August morning, I woke up and was, like, EYEBALLS. Yep. EYEBALLS. And, that had me walking out to the studio to grab a stack of magazines and start cutting out eyes that spoke to me.


Last weekend, during a guided meditation by Biet Simkin, I took part in an exercise that involved left eye gazing and it was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had in meditation. You can read more about it here. Biet’s story, as well as her original music and guided meditation, became one of the highlights of the weekend for me.


Collage has never been my medium, but I enjoy those who do it and do it well, like artists Danielle Krysa, Hollie Chastain and Christa David.


I applied rubber cement to the square panel and the backs of the images and let them both dry. Then I started placing them on the small wood panel foundation in an overlapping manner. I had to commit to placement because the paper was thin and couldn’t be removed and placed in a different spot. It looks like it bubbled up, and it did, but it calmed down and smoothed out once it was totally dry. After a few hours, I turned it over and used an X-acto knife to remove the overage on the edges.


Connecting with Anna in LA was the best. Her vibe was infectious and helped me to remember how amazing it is to be AWAKE in my life, in sobriety.


She gifted me this beautiful hand-carved crystal grid kit. Here is how she explained the materials used:

It was made with curly (quilted) maple wood. It was kiln dried at the mill where my husband carves at. The wood came from a tree in the Pacific Northwest near where I live. It’s important to me to use locally sourced materials, like I’m offering a piece of my home to the recipient.
— Anna B.

She also shared in her letter that crystal grids are all about intention and sacred geometry and the power of the stones. The stones she bestowed on me were clear quartz, citrine, and amethyst.

Anna’s verve and zest for life showed me, in real time, how awake she is in her sobriety and recovery. She brought a smile to my face every time I ran into her during the conference or saw her posts on Instagram. She soaked up every bit of the LA-experience and was a shining example of how good sobriety can look on someone. She exuded confidence, wide-eyed curiosity and joy. I feel so fortunate to have crossed paths with her on social media and then in real life.

Thank you for such a thoughtful and generous creation, Anna. It’s gonna live in my studio with me.

The view from our room at the beverly hilton hotel on the morning of 9/15/18

The view from our room at the beverly hilton hotel on the morning of 9/15/18

I feel like I definitely woke up to my life on February 3, 2015, when I decided to tell my doctor at my annual physical just how much I drank in a week.

I woke up to the chance to live my life by being 100% alcohol-free.
I woke up to the gift that my addiction had given me.
I woke up to going deep within myself to unearth what I had buried for so long.
I woke up to stepping out of my comfort zone in an attempt to grow into myself.
I woke up feeling all my feelings and choosing not to numb them out with booze.
I woke up to a new version of myself that felt familiar, but had been dormant for so long.
I woke up to my own recovery and eventually began embracing it as my superpower.
I woke up to not caring what other people think and embracing the woo.
I woke up to my life.

When I could no longer stand the person I was, I chose to do things differently so that I could feel different.

I chose to stop drinking for 8 weeks as part of an elimination diet.
I chose to stay the course when those 8 weeks were over because I loved waking up without a hangover.
I chose to greet as many sunrises as humanly possible and nurse myself back to health.
I chose to do things that took me WAY outside my comfort zone.
I chose to eventually go to 12-step meetings and suspend my judgment.
I chose to listen more than talk.
I chose to surround myself with others who shared my common problem.
I chose to seek a spiritual solution.
I chose to go back to school in order to fulfill a lifelong dream and reclaim my lost self.
I chose all of this so that I could live a life I no longer wanted to escape from.

I’m grateful I no longer abandon myself to fit in or please others or soothe my anxieties.
I’m grateful my darkness helped me identify the dimmer switch in my life and showed me how to turn it up, instead of down.
By removing just one thing (alcohol), I finally woke up to the possibilities of a brighter, bigger life.

Alcohol actually delivered me into this amazing world of introspection, inquiry work, the 12-steps and a recovery community I adore.
Alcohol allowed me to find a way out and into a more conscious way of living.
Alcohol has shown me what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now.


I am wide awake to my life today and feel like I am the luckiest.

My True North


In early sobriety, I would roll out of bed before the sun came up and root around in the dark for whatever outfit was leftover from the night before. I'd eventually find an all black ensemble crumpled up in the corner of my bedroom floor, covered with a bit of dog hair. I'd throw it on while shuffling to our one and only bathroom. I'd do the basics and then quietly leave the comfort of my home and head towards a church in town, 20 minutes away, knowing I would drink bad coffee and hear strangers tell the truth for the next 55  minutes. Nothing could keep me away from the siren call of these early morning meetings. 

Not even my anxiety.

Even though I felt called to attend, it still took everything I had to stay in my seat at these 12-step meetings. Armed with my Moleskine notebook and my favorite pen, I would channel Ally Sheedy's character from The Breakfast Club, purposely keeping my eyes focused on the linoleum floor, chin pointed towards my chest, hair hanging down and obscuring my face. When my anxiety would flare-up, I would feverishly scribble hundreds of tick marks onto the blank pages of my notebook to help quiet the tsunami of emotions building up inside of me.

When you cannot speak your truth, the symptom is the way your body tells the truth.
— Peter Rollins, The Holy Shift Tour 2018
Tammi kid w: necklace color.jpg

The way my body tells the truth is through my anxiety. 

When I was five years old, I would ask my mom if I could go next door and clean my friend's bedroom and walk-in closet. I would continue to do this for my friends over the next decade. Putting order to chaos helped me to feel "good" and bring a sense of calm over me. It brought me loads of praise from adults and made me feel special. Praise would become my first drug of choice.

When I was almost seven years old, I was sexually molested. After that incident, I took to hiding under my bed for long periods of time. I liked knowing people were looking for me, concerned and focused on my whereabouts. It felt like retribution for the awful way I felt after that fateful sleepover, the one I didn't even want to attend, where half a dozen young boys poked and prodded me, terrifying me so much that I couldn't even make a sound. Hiding under my bed helped me to feel like I was in charge of the situation. Shortly thereafter, control would become my next drug of choice.

I figured out pretty early on that getting good grades in school would be my one-way ticket to feeling worthy. I would chase the A+, the 4.0 GPA and tally up as many gold stars as humanly possible, all in a concerted effort to be the best, to be enough, to be perfect. Perfection has been my drug of choice ever since.

All the while, anxiety fueling each quest for praise, fake power and perfection.

Listen to the prophet of your anxiety.
— Peter Rollins, The Holy Shift Tour 2018

I started counting 11-letter words in my early twenties and never told anyone about it. Counting was something I'd done for years. It was part of me. It felt personal. It felt soothing. It felt necessary. One day, as my boyfriend (now husband) and I were driving north on the 101 just south of San Francisco, I spotted an exit sign that read "Embarcadero - next exit" and I casually mentioned that the word Embarcadero really bugged me. When he asked me why, I responded very matter of factly, because it has 11 letters in it and 11-letter words really bother me. I'll never forget the look on his face. He ended up finding this quirk of mine to be very charming and, of course, being the praise-seeker I had always been, I started telling him about all the 11-letter words that really bugged me, like promulgated, fascinating and prerogative, to name a few. The more I shared, the more interested he became. Revealing (out loud) my 11-letter word preoccupation would scratch the itch I sought in the Praise Department. It made me feel special.

It would take me another 20 years to finally understand that I counted letters in words when I felt anxious. 

It would take me getting sober to realize that I drank to excess to try and quell my overwhelming desire to constantly seek praise and give up the illusion that I had any type of control over people, places and things. It would take me getting sober to realize that perfect is totally fucking overrated. It would also take me getting sober to realize that alcohol was the medicine I used to treat my adult anxiety and it worked, until it didn't.


After having five panic attacks in the short span of three months earlier this summer, I have done nothing but try to listen as hard as I can to the prophet of my anxiety. I've slowed things way down in an effort to figure out why my body is revolting against me. I've tried acupuncture, a sensory deprivation float tank and meditation. I've changed my diet, taken daily afternoon naps and decided to forego all travel this summer. I've done yoga, taken scenic drives up Highway One and had my blood drawn to check my hormone levels.

A holy shift is when you stop.
— Peter Rollins, The Holy Shift Tour 2018

On August 11, 2018, I removed the Instagram app from my phone. I removed myself from 16 Facebook groups. I started reading How to Break Up With Your Phone and took inspiration from a few friends who were also detoxing from social media. And you know what? Something amazing happened. My anxiety started to quiet down. It felt like my mind was on vacation. My days felt like they consisted of 36 hours instead of 24. I read three books in one week. I started a spreadsheet to catalog memories from my childhood and it felt good to deposit them there instead of warehousing them in my mind. I took my email inbox down to zero. My to-do lists shrunk. I was getting more done, with less stress. I felt better than I had in years.

Grace can be found when you stop the frenetic pursuit.
— Peter Rollins, The Holy Shift Tour 2018

Hitting the pause button on social media has helped me to pause the frenetic pursuit. I haven't had a panic attack in over three weeks. I think that's Grace. I feel expansive and well rested. I know there is a correlation between how I've been feeling and my phone.

On Saturday, I turned 48. I received over 100 messages from loved ones, friends and internet friends. It felt a bit overwhelming to receive these nice notes and birthday wishes. Why? I'm not exactly sure. I guess my soul somehow felt conflicted by the outpouring of kindness and, if I'm being honest, it's hard to receive. Yesterday, I re-installed Instagram and have started to slowly dip my toes back into my online communities. My throat has been constricted ever since. My nervous system is wound up tight.

I'm not sure how this is going to go, but I do know that I'll listen to what my physical body is telling me and then respond accordingly. It's all I can do.

Anxiety is necessary. You are creative, it comes with the territory. Anxiety is one of those things which plagues every creative you know. It’s one of those pars-for-the-course, showing up in physical and debilitating ways, threatening to derail our serenity and stop us in our tracks. It makes my head throb and my neck feel like it’s on the chopping block. Breathe. Get some oxygen to your brain. Allow the flow of what’s happening to happen without fighting.
— Pixie Lighthorse, Prayers of Honoring Voice

I really need to start embracing my anxiety as something that points me to the parts of my life that need attention and deep, loving care. I think my anxiety can be likened to a compass. A compass that demands that I listen to the prophets of my anxiety and do something about them, rather than operating out of fear or choosing to self-medicate. A compass that puts me on the path to look inward at my patterns and behaviors as if my life depends on it, because I finally believe it really does. 

The depth of our anxiety measures the distance we are from our higher power.
— Heard in the rooms

A compass that helps me measure the distance I am from myself, so that I can return when I stray too far and tend to my inner wants and needs and knowings and callings without guilt or shame. And to do this without reservation because I have nothing to be afraid of and I finally believe I am enough.

Instead of silencing my anxiety by cleaning out a closet, hiding under a bed or self-medicating with an ice cold vodka martini, I now have the unique opportunity to partner with it and see what it has to say. I believe my anxiety has always been my compass, I just didn't know how to decipher it or trust myself enough to know what I already knew. I got lost along the way from time-to-time and disoriented. My intuition was discounted, ignored and neglected...until now. Since I quit drinking, I can clearly see that my anxiety has been pointing me in the direction of home, back to myself, my entire life.

It turns out that I am my true north.

I just didn't know how to read my own compass and now, I do.

3.5 Years

Two years ago, right around the time I was approaching my 18th month of continuous sobriety, I reached out to a local photographer I'd met a creative retreat earlier in the year and asked if she would document this personally significant passage of time for me. I'm friends with several talented professional photographers, but it was her, specifically, that I wanted to do the job.

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

If I'm being honest (and I am), part of my reason for asking her was that I didn't really know her. I knew of her work and got a good vibe from her when we initially met, but I think the clincher for me was that she didn't really know me. That was important at the time because I was just getting to know myself and I didn't want anyone from my old life to take such intimate portraits, if that makes sense. I think I didn't want to be seen by them in this new way - at least not yet. It felt way too uncomfortable to even ask someone I knew to do this, including my husband. 

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

It felt incredibly vulnerable and almost silly that I wanted these pictures taken.

It felt completely self-indulgent.

It felt risky to ask for what I wanted.

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

And while I believed in my steadfastness and earnestness to stay sober, I had yet to cultivate true acceptance for the person I was becoming. It felt almost as if I was play-acting, if that makes sense. I hadn't really settled into myself yet. And, I wasn't quite ready to receive photographic proof of my existence and the taking up of space I was occupying in this world as a newly sober woman. In many ways, I felt like a fraud or a faker. I thought I had to have it all figured out, which I've come to learn is simply not an attainable or sustainable goal for me.

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

When Laura suggested a metaphorical twist on our photo shoot of using a chain to symbolize the bondage alcohol had over my life and how I'd systematically broken that chain of addiction, I creatively countered that suggestion by making paper chains for us to use. Laura, on the other hand, held the creative vision and showed up with a real, heavy duty metal chain she picked up from a local farm that literally felt as HEAVY as the feelings I held about the photo shoot. She honored my hesitation by taking a few shots with me and my son (to loosen me up) and the paper chains sat at my feet. 

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

And then...we got down to business.

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

Giving up alcohol gave me my life back.

Subtracting that one thing has given me hundreds of other tiny, beautiful, ordinary things.

Most of all, I can wake up in the morning without hating myself or regretting the decisions I made the night before.

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

I could be reborn every single day just by not picking up a drink.

I could break the chains of addiction that run long and deep in my family tree.

I could celebrate myself and sing my songs because, well, I earned it.

Last year, around my 2.5 year sobriety milestone, I contacted Laura again and asked if we could do another photo shoot. I needed headshots for a few outlets I was writing for online and I was also growing out my grey hair. I wanted to document the transition.

2.5 years: photo by  laura schneider

2.5 years: photo by laura schneider

The whole shoot felt different.

Hell, I felt different.

She warmed me up with tea and we kept it simple.

2.5 years: photo by  laura schneider

2.5 years: photo by laura schneider

I felt about a thousand percent more comfortable in my skin than I had the year prior.

I think it shows.

2.5 years: photo by  laura schneider

2.5 years: photo by laura schneider

I'm so grateful to have met Laura and had the opportunity to work with her. 

Laura + 'surrender'

Laura + 'surrender'

Laura recently moved to Nashville with her boyfriend and purchased one of my paintings from the Full Circle series. Surrender now graces a wall in her home and I can't help feeling connected to this woman now and forever and how we have come full circle in this journey through our art, as well.

So this long-winded post now brings me to my 3.5 year sobriety milestone that just so happens to be TODAY. This is gonna be long, so maybe grab a cup of tea or La Croix and settle in.

I was tempted to go back and re-read my old sobriety milestone posts, but I didn't want to get influenced by nostalgia or what I previously wrote. Writing does not come easily to me and it usually takes me seven or eight hours to craft a post, which is way too fucking long. Why does it take that long? Well, here are a few reasons:

I over-analyze.
I start to doubt my command of the English language.
My inner critic gets really loud.
I think, "What could I possibly have to say that anyone would find important enough to read?"

After a few hours of that nonsense, I've decided to just write from the hip and not over-edit or worry about making mistakes. Here goes.

The last six months feel kind of like a blur to me. After my best friend, Kacy, lost her battle with cancer and left this world, I kind of kicked into hyper-overdrive in my life: school, art, 12-step meetings, travel and putting out a weekly podcast. I think I kept super busy so that I didn't have to deal with my grief. Five months after Kacy left this world, my 49 year old brother-in-law died unexpectedly due to complications from alcohol. His death completely sucker-punched our family. July 15th marked one year since we received that nightmarish phone call in the middle of the night telling us of his passing. Grief has enveloped our household for a solid year and a half. 

I had my first panic attack on a plane home from Phoenix on May 10th.
I had my second one on a plane home from Austin on June 3rd.
I had my third one the day after my art show opening, while I was receiving acupuncture on June 9th.
I had my fourth one while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to attend a friend's memorial on June 24th.
I had my last panic attack while I was sitting on the couch watching Netflix on July 24th.

So while I feel sturdy in my sobriety from alcohol at this point in time, it's my body and mind that currently feels unhinged. I'm likening these panic attacks to ocean swells, gaining power and strength in my body over time. The more I try to suppress the feelings, the more powerful and intense they get and eventually take over. It's like my body has turned against me and I am rendered completely fucking powerless in the moment. Once I realize what's going on, I panic more - like it's never going to end. I very quickly lose my ability to breathe like a normal person and I feel like I'm going to die.

Part of me wants nothing to do with accepting Kacy and David's deaths.
I want to hang on as tight as I can. For me. For my husband. For my family. 
I want to erase cancer and alcoholism as diseases or at least tell them to fuck off.
I want to control the universe.
And, yes, I know this is a major part of the problem.

I'm working hard on acceptance. It's gonna take more than a minute for me to get down with it though, so I'm trying to give myself a little grace in this department.

Acceptance is the answer to ALL of my problems today.

When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation- some fact of my life- unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment...
— Big Book of AA, page 417

I'm trying hard to slow down long enough to feel the loss of my loved ones. I thank my higher power every single day that I found sobriety when I did because I know for a fact that I would have used the excuse of their deaths to drink my face off and that would not have been helpful to anyone. I also am trying to loosen my grip in the control department of my life, but this is not an easy fix. This will be my life's work, but I am aware of it and working on it. It's all I can do. I know the need to control is inextricably linked to my feelings of grief. I just don't know how to parse them out and untangle them right now. I'm trying.

Me + AA 
I've slowed down my AA meeting attendance since I hit my three year sobriety milestone. I've gone from four meetings a week to maybe two, if I'm lucky. I took on the Sunday morning secretary commitment at my AA home group meeting the first six months of this year and when that term of service expired, I was volunteered for another at my all women's meeting (which I accepted). I have two sponsees and one temporary at the moment. The desire to drink has left me, for the most part, and emotional sobriety is what I work on at this current stage in my recovery and probably forever, actually. I recently told my Sponsor I don't want to delve into the AA 12 Traditions and that I'd like to hit pause on AA literature. She was totally fine with that and we decided to meet once a month for a general check-in either in person or by phone. I was nervous to tell her I wasn't into working in the books, but wanted to continue being honest with her because if she's taught me anything, it's to tell the truth no matter what. I've been spreading myself thin with all of my AA involvement and I have a desire to reclaim more of my time and energy at this stage of my recovery.

I'm completely embracing the woo and magical thinking in this phase of my recovery. Thanks to many of my sober sisters, I am learning about a great many things and I can't believe I used to reject them. I'll name a few here:

  • Astrology - I had my natal chart read by Natha Perkins Campanella and it confirmed so much of what I already knew about myself. I just needed to listen to my intuition and embrace what I've pushed down for so many years. I am an empath. I am a teacher. I am a pleaser.
  • Tarot - I pull a card almost every day from The Wild Unknown tarot deck and read about its meaning. It's a little nugget to ponder or guide me throughout the day and I enjoy the ritual, as well as the beautiful artwork and meanings behind the cards.
  • Crystals - I'm enjoying researching and learning about crystals right now. I'm totally new to this, but love holding these well worn little nuggets in my hand or running my fingers over them when I'm stressed or anxious. Total newbie. And, I don't care if it seems weird to anyone. It makes me feel good.
  • Essential oils - I can only use the roller ball oils or aroma sticks. Putting essential oils in the palms of my hands is a sensory no-no for me. I apply them when I'm about to go to a meeting or in any large crowd. It seems to ground me and allows me to step into situations that used to unnerve me.
  • Malas - my friend Sasha Korellis, owner + designer of Satcha Malas, designs the most beautiful, one-of-a-kind, magical malas. She once told me that sacred adornment is a way in which we, as women, can crown ourselves every day and remind ourselves that we are indeed queens. I loved her words so much that barely a day has gone by that I haven't worn a mala around my wrist or neck in order to signify my own royalty.
  • Moon - I'm still learning about the moon's energy, but it makes sense to me on a very basic level. The moon affects the tides, the ebb and flow state. Energy in, energy out. It's energy, pure and simple. That makes sense to me.

I put myself out there in a big way recently and had a dozen paintings featured as part of an exhibition at a local gallery. I shared the show with another sober sister. I poured my heart and soul into a painting series called The Geographic, wherein I examined the landscape of my drinking over the past decade while living in Valley Ford and it completely wrung me out emotionally. I wrote about the project as it developed and you can read more about it here. I ended up selling two paintings from the show. I don't think I want to do another gallery show anytime in the near future. It was too much pressure for me. I'm proud I did what I set out to do, but it was way outside my comfort zone. I need time to see where I want to go next with this body of work. For right now, we're on a time out.

The Unruffled Podcast
Sondra Primeaux and I co-host a podcast that focuses on creativity and recovery from alcohol. We recently hit approximately 300K downloads and love the interviews and connections we are making with other sober women who are recovering out loud. I feel very strongly that this is 12th step work and know we are trying to carry the message in the work we do.

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to
alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
— Step Twelve, 12 Steps + 12 Traditions, page 106

Sober Lady Tribe
Over the past six months, my sober lady tribe has grown and relationships have deepened. Sober women are my lifeline in recovery. I email, talk on the phone, meet gals for tea, Skype, Whatsapp, attend women's 12-step meetings and text with women from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep. These women keep me sane and have been crucial to my emotional sobriety, especially over the last year and a half since Kacy's death. In real life meet-ups are happening more often and collaborating with sober creatives is really lighting me up. Stay tuned for more offerings of women's circles. We're hoping to take those on the road soon.

3.5 YEARS OF SOBRIETY: Mega Mala gifted to me by sasha korellis of  satcha malas

3.5 YEARS OF SOBRIETY: Mega Mala gifted to me by sasha korellis of satcha malas

This got really loooooooooooong.

So I'll end with this:

I do not regret the fact that I gave up alcohol 3.5 years ago.
My life has gotten exponentially better since removing it.
I keep my word - to others and, more importantly, myself.
I'm doing things I never allowed myself to even dream of.
I'm healthier.
I like who I see looking back at me in the mirror.
I'm okay being the only sober one at a party these days.
I'm finally settling into myself and feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin.
I feel anchored in my home and family life.
I'm a way better mom than I used to be.
I work hard on responding, rather than reacting.
I read prayers now and mean them.
I'm trying to honor the grief.
Some days I feel weighted down by it.
Other days, I make friends with it.
I feel like I need a good long cry, but it just hasn't come yet.
I still write a gratitude list every single day. 
No matter what.
I love my life.

#recoverygalsartexchange :: Summer Solstice (WONDER)

During the last week of school, all of a sudden, I was inspired to work on my recovery gals art exchange. I had previously been worried I wouldn't be able to find the time or fit it because of my busy end-of-the-year schedule and my impending art show. 

It all worked out.

Just like it always does.


It started here. I wasn't ready to dig into homework yet and, if I'm being honest, I wasn't ready to wrap up the last few paintings in The Geographic series.

A fellow classmate had done an in-classroom demo demonstrating how to apply gold leaf and I was immediately intrigued. I drove myself directly to the art supply store and picked up a gold leafing kit. If you're interested in learning more about how to gold leaf, you can watch the Youtube video I watched before I jumped into the process here.


After applying black gesso to the hardwood panels, I scraped color across the panels using an old plastic credit card. Ultimately, I knew I wanted these pieces to be white with just a hint of color peeking through. Layers are an important part of my creative process.


Next up: I pulled out my childhood dictionary and looked up the word WONDER. I ripped of a piece of glassine paper from a roll I had shoved in a corner of my studio. I tucked it into my vintage electric typewriter and tapped out the definition.


I ripped off the excess negative space and placed it directly in the center of the prepped panel.


Then I used matte medium to adhere it and a Speedball roller to push out the air bubbles.


Next up: I applied the gold leaf, following the directions on the box.


And the final product was more than I could have hoped for.

I absolutely love how it turned out.


I removed the tape, sanded the edges and applied a layer of matte medium to seal it.

The month of May was a challenging stretch of days for this gal. I'm so grateful this art exchange gave me the opportunity to step back from my drama, my story, my challenges, and spend some time with myself in the studio, creating something from nothing for a woman I don't really even know in a bid for connection with someone who shares my common problem with alcohol.

The layers.
The darkness I experienced this month with my health.
And how I listened to my gut and knew that making art would lift me up and out of myself.
Stumbling upon my old childhood dictionary.
Looking at my name inscribed on the inside cover in my loopy handwriting from 1977.
Feelings of nostalgia bubbling up and enveloping me.
Having the time and space to let my mind wander...

Wondering why I didn't allow little Tammi to follow her childhood passions.
Wondering why I sloughed off the things that brought me the most joy.
Wondering why I conformed to other's expectations of me.
Wondering why I started faking it in my daily life.
Wondering why removing just one thing from my life gave me the opportunity for a bigger one.
Wondering why it took me finding my bottom to figure out I was my own worst enemy.
Wondering why I left myself so often; and
Wondering why I felt like an imposter in my own life.

Wondering why it took me so long to return to myself.
Wondering why I still feel awkward at times.
Wondering why I doubt my intuition when I know that it should be listened to and honored.
Wondering when I'll stop questioning myself.
Wondering when acceptance and surrender and willingness and open-mindedness will become second nature to me.

Wondering when curiosity and pleasure will be my guiding principles.
Wondering when I'll fully shed the shame of my drinking past.
Wondering why, in sobriety, each new day feels like a baptism.

And, deciding I don't need to spend my days wondering about any of this.
I know full well now that I have everything I need and,
I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.


I am a WONDER.

And so are YOU.

The Geographic :: Week 15

I hit an emotional wall this week. I have experienced moments of getting stuck throughout this project, but all of a sudden the enormity of the emotions that have been building up over these past 15 weeks has finally gotten to a point of eruption. I need to step away from documenting the project and just get back into the work without the distraction of documenting my progress.

This will be my last post about all of my works-in-progress until the show opens. To that end, I have added an event link on my website sharing the details about the opening reception on June 8th at Lawson Galleries in Guerneville, California. You can read more about it here.

I have also created a central place on my website where you can find all of my blog posts relating to The Geographic project. Click here to be taken directly to that page.

Last weekend, I returned to Bodega Bay and spent the weekend with dear friends at a vacation rental home in the community of Bodega Harbour. The bulk of my drinking career happened in Bodega Bay during the years I owned and operated my wine bar business in town. This township, this place, is the beginning of the end for me and holds a lot of painful memories related to my drinking and self-destruction.

It was a good thing my girlfriends were here to help keep me distracted from any feelings of melancholy. Instead, we walked on the beach, made art, watched Beyonce's Lemonade album, soaked in the hot tub, cooked, cared for one another and drank a boatload of La Croix.


It was exactly what I needed.

The historic pink + white taffy building, which resides next door to my former wine bar.

The historic pink + white taffy building, which resides next door to my former wine bar.

They hit the spot.

I returned home feeling filled up and re-entry was a piece of cake on Monday.

Possible new painting for the Bodega Bay series

Possible new painting for the Bodega Bay series

Tuesday, however, was an entirely different story. Real life obligations and deadlines slapped me i the face and I had a major anxiety attack on the way to my therapist's office. Life is funny this way, you know? Just when I think I'm all blissed out...BAM! Out of the blue, anxiety shows me who's boss.

No. 15 :: Buzzed

No. 15 :: Buzzed

I'm retreating for the next few weeks and digging into the remaining paintings that need to be reconciled. I finished one large format painting (above) and think it's DONE.

I'm close to calling it a day on this one (below). Just sharing a small section of it here with you. It gave me trouble this week, but my professor helped me find a way back in by using oil sticks. I loved using them. Very freeing. Great advice from her, as always.


Ten more paintings need my attention before I can wrap up the Valley Ford Series. It sounds like a lot, but they are in various stages of completion so they should come together over the next few weeks without too much trouble...unless I overthink them...which I have been known to do...


I have completed 12 out of the 25 small works on paper needed to finalize the studies I'm creating on paper as part of the Bodega Bay body of work.


I'm working hard to wrap up all of the above-mentioned paintings and studies before the last day of school on May 23rd. Wish me luck.

Thanks for following along. I'm going to be quiet for a little while and paint with my whole self - my heart, body + mind - and see what is born from my efforts.

The Geographic :: Week 14

Riding the wave of change from last week, I continued to quickly move out of the grey area with my large format paintings and found comfort in using oils again. I approached the works in progress with a new vigor and excitement. I felt like I knew what to do next and set about working with intention during my class studio time.

View of my neighbors fields from my home studio

View of my neighbors fields from my home studio

Adding in black oil pastel marks to delineate the color blocks felt like a natural next move. I use black lines quite a bit in my sketchbook drawings and I'm trying to incorporate some of those marks into the work. The circles I once loved about the piece have started to take on a too perfect quality and I think they might need to be painted over. I'm pausing, but will have to make a decision next week about them.


Working with purple has been a game-changer for me. The ability to mix different color values and incorporate them into the paintings has given them a different feeling.


Adding oil paints over the acrylics and blending of few of those initial black lines helped the painting take shape. Next week, I'll continue adding oils and blending and hopefully liven up the painting. I think the circles either have to go or get drawn over with an oil pastel pen to create a less perfect look.

No. 14 :: Cutoff before the flip

No. 14 :: Cutoff before the flip

The above painting was at the end of the day on Monday. I added in a few purple color blocks and then needed to wait a few days for them to dry. Oils do take a while to properly dry before you can paint on top of them. The sky felt good to me and the painting was starting to come together and not feel like two separate paintings. I had felt like the sky and the fields were not communicating with each other, but now I feel like they are at least talking.

No. 14 :: Cutoff

No. 14 :: Cutoff

By the end of my studio time on Wednesday, a lot more blending and color was added to the fields . I flipped the painting while working on it and had an epiphany - the sky should be the blur of the roadside as seen from the driver's seat on my seven mile drive home from the wine bar. I had been trying to create a blurred effect and thought it had to be in the sky, but that doesn't really make sense. The blur you see while driving is usually lower to the ground. I love the flip and the fields. I'm not loving one of the purple blocks of color on the left, but will fix that when I get back into the studio next week. For now, the new perspective has me delighted!


Adopting a new way of thinking about my work and choosing the opposite of my gut reaction has really served me this week. I'm still listening to my gut on whether or not it feels good or right, but making room for a new way to approach the canvases has changed my mood and confidence around the work. I feel like I've tapped into something these last few weeks and I'm totally digging the results..

I have less than four weeks to finish 11 paintings for this Valley Ford series. I'm not freaking out.

I'm currently in Bodega Bay for a girls' weekend and plan on creating a batch of watercolor studies that will serve as the Bodega Bay portion of this body of work. I'm not sure how they will turn out or how many I'm gong to make. I'm just going to let it flow.


I'll let intuition be my guide.

I've added a tab on my website where all of The Geographic weekly blog posts are listed. You can click here to access same. 

The Geographic :: Week 13

Last Friday, I drove into Bodega Bay to pick up my son from a volunteering commitment. Over the last ten years, since we sold our wine bar business, I seldom travel the seven miles west needed to take me back there physically, but often travel there in my thoughts.

My old wine bar reincarnated as the Sonoma Coast Visitor Center.

My old wine bar reincarnated as the Sonoma Coast Visitor Center.

This is a deliberate choice on my part. Too many memories, too many fractured relationships, too many reminders of what it used to be like when I was in my addiction and fooling myself as a high functioning alcoholic. I don't mind that word now - alcoholic. It used to bug me, but I quickly figured out that by resisting the word, I was only resisting the cure. I look at myself as an alcoholic with a lower case 'a' and not a capital 'A' - the word doesn't define me, but is a quick way to identify that I am a person who can no longer fuck with alcohol. 

I didn't stay in town long, but it was long enough for me to have a flood of old memories come rushing back as I pointed my car towards home on Highway One driving through the big canyon just outside of town and underneath the canopy of eucalyptus trees hugging the asphalt as I approached the town of Bodega; by the spot where I used to have to watch for the highway patrolman who camped out behind a large bush at the mid-way point between work and home; and as I took the last big hill that would drop me down into the valley of dairy farmers and ranchers where I've lived with my family for the last 12 years.

Once I returned home, I immediately walked into my studio and started painting.


I shared some thoughts about collecting seaglass with my son while I was hungover back in the day over on Instagram. Click here to read the post.

Something clicked within me about the body of work I need to do for the Bodega Bay series for this part of the project. I have a direction and will work on paper and hopefully create a small grid of  watercolor studies. We shall see how it goes.


I'm adding geometric shapes to the larger Valley Ford paintings this week. Wonky circles and  triangular shapes with heavy and thin line work.

The triangles represent my family of three - my husband, my son and myself. Did you know triangles are the strongest geometric shape? The triangular symbol is also found on my AA sobriety milestone chips, along with the words unity, service and recovery. I'm also taking geometry right now, so it's all coming together and making sense. 



I'm smitten with the top three bands of color and the bottom four bands of color, but the green and hot pink color blocks in the middle are not working for me at all.


After talking to my professor, she suggested using a color I didn't like over the top of the hot pink. Sounds weird, right? I never paint with purple, so purple was what I ended up mixing. I still don't love how the band of color looks, but at least now I can go over it with another value of hot pink and see if it sits back any better in the composition. The problem wasn't the hot pink itself (because I love it), but my professor and I agreed that it was too transparent and lacked any depth of field. It was also way too large of a shape to just plop in there without any texture or any way to create the illusion of depth or having that section recede into the landscape. I needed to use a color I didn't like (the purple) in order to practice doing the opposite of what felt good or "right." 

This is EXACTLY what I did in early sobriety. EXACTLY.



The narratives that accompany these paintings have been at the forefront of my mind these past 13 weeks. I cry almost every single time I paint. The layers I'm building up are telling a story about what was underneath all of my drinking. Growing up with the expectation of being perfect or "the good girl." My lifelong search for spirituality, community and connectedness. My feelings of self-consciousness at never having completed college. Living with anxiety and being mocked or made fun of by my family for my "quirks." The 17 year estrangement from my father. The shame I felt around not wanting to be a mother once I had my son and then suffering in silence from post-partum depression. All of these feelings are wrapped up in these paintings. It's a lot.


With paintbrushes and old credit cards I'm applying layers and scraping them back, applying more paint and scraping it back. I settle into a rhythm with the work and it my body feels like it knows what to do. This week I worked inside the painting studio on campus because I didn't want to isolate and be alone with my thoughts. I wanted to create near other creatives and riff off of their energy and conversations. I wanted to be near my professor and eavesdrop on her conversations with other students and glean the lessons she so freely gives away during each class. I wanted to soak up the environment and feed my own work with this energy.

— overhead in the rooms

Nothing changes if nothing changes is a phrase I hear a lot in the rooms of my 12-step program and this week I heard it in a lot of other places, too, reinforcing it's message. This week found me reacting to people, places and things and I did a lot of this when I was drinking - reacting, that is. Living in reaction is how I used to live my life, so when I found myself going there in response to a few high drama situations, I reminded myself to take a step back and do the opposite of what I would normally do. It was mostly uncomfortable, but turned out to be the best thing I could have done in all of the different circumstances.

The creative lessons I'm learning from my professor and my creative coaches have easily been applied to my recovery and sobriety this week. It was a hard week, made easier by in real life connections and the tools in my ever-expanding sobriety toolbox.


As I sit here today, I feel most grateful for the thread of women who are stitched through my life right now. I feel a beautiful return to myself and I'm quietly acknowledging that I don't live there anymore. 

The Geographic :: Week 12

What I'm learning, over and over again, about this project and about myself, is that I am continually granting myself permission to tell the story of what it used to be like when I was out there drinking. My mind revisits what it was like and sometimes I get stuck in a moment, and other times I just keep circling the confines of my mind looking for the kernel of truth hiding just underneath the surface of my memories. Walking this labyrinth in Los Osos last weekend reminded me about the meandering path I've been on since the day I chose to quit drinking. All of my little choices and shifts keep returning me to the center of myself and for that, I'm grateful.

A labyrinth is a patterned path, often circular in form, used as a walking meditation or spiritual practice. A labyrinth’s walkway is arranged in such a way that the participant moves back and forth across the circular form through a series of curves, ending at the labyrinths’s heart or center.
The Los Osos Labyrinth  Photo credit:  David Silpa

The Los Osos Labyrinth
Photo credit: David Silpa

The personal and creative work I do feels like a constant returning to my heart, my center. And in choosing to live my life in this way, I feel like I am allowing myself to listen to the knowings about my true self and to gain a deeper understanding about the meaning of life and my place in it. Sounds heavy, right? It can be.

This morning, in a room full of people who share my common problem with alcohol, there was talk about the concept of turning it over. This is shorthand for the full expression of turning it over to God, a phrase I once recoiled from but now can hear without rolling my eyes.

I turn shit over like nobody's business. I mull over my past relationships, former and current grievances with others and take a daily inventory as part of my Step 10 work. I'm in a constant state of trying to reconcile my past with my present and what that means and even what it looks like. Sometimes it can be self-indulgent, but more often that not I'm acting as a historian of my own life. I need to understand how my choices landed me here, today, right now and taking inventory of my past (and present) is the easiest way I know how to do this.

What I heard in the room this morning resonated with me and I agree that it is indeed necessary to turn things over in our lives but this action alone doesn't cure what ails me. No, there is another action that must piggy-back the decision to turn things over and that, my friends, is to let it go. Those three little words are loaded, but I firmly believe they are the solution.

I've been turning and churning so many memories in my mind lately. My anxiety attacks have re-emerged. Feelings of overwhelm and spiritual suffocation are happening on the daily. I was reminded that all I need to do is turn it over to my higher power and then let that shit go. That's it. If I can do this with great honesty and intention, I know I will find relief. This is my emotional and spiritual work today, this week, this month, and forever, really.

The Los Osos Labyrinth Photo credit:  David Silpa

The Los Osos Labyrinth
Photo credit: David Silpa

A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.

Being a 47 year old returning college student has been both liberating and intimidating, all at the same time. Walking into my geometry class this week, I felt prepared and ready to ace the test - only it didn't go down that way. I ran out of time. I took too long. I was too careful. I checked and re-checked each problem as I went through the test. In the end, I overworked every problem and didn't allow myself enough time to finish.

I did the same thing with a simple art poster I was asked to create this week, too. I overthink and overwork almost everything. I've been told I over-function and, as much as I hate to admit it, I know it's true.


How does this relate to my painting project? Well, I think I'm doing the same damn thing with all of my works in progress with The Geographic. I'm dissecting the layers of paint, as well as the layers of story, and getting stuck in the big feelings. I'm simmering in the muck, really. I'm also letting fear of the unknown or, god forbid, fear of success with this project get in my head. I'm having trouble getting out of my own way, so I stopped making art associated with this project over the seven days. I hit pause.

The (holy) shift is the pause.
— Rob Bell

And, you know what? It helped. Giving myself permission to slow the fuck down, enjoy my family, connect with new friends and spend hours talking to old, dear ones and staying off of my phone was exactly what I needed.


Upon returning to painting class this week, I had a great chat with my professor about where I'm at with my progress on this project. My professor is my mentor. I deeply value her opinions and suggestions. We chatted about the pressure I'm imposing on myself with this show.

A visit to The Shell Shop in Morro Bay

A visit to The Shell Shop in Morro Bay

She matter-of-factly posed the question - If your show was tomorrow, could you put together enough paintings for a show? I responded immediately with a big fat NO. No, nothing is DONE. I could not have a show just yet. And then she asked - Who would know that these aren't done? And I had to think about that for a minute. Well, no one would know they aren't done. I guess I get to say when they're done. I get to decide, along with the painting, when it's really done, right? Riiiiiiiiiiiight.

Her words made me pause and think about what was really going on.

I've been turning things over in my head for months and creating a lot of expectations for myself when it comes to this future art show. I want to be taken seriously as an artist, but no one is putting additional pressures on me about it. No, that job has been all mine. I've been my worst enemy and that feels all too familiar, it reminds me of how I used to feel when I was drinking. I never felt seen or heard in my life, like, not the real me, the one who was underneath the outgoing gal who had a lot of friends and volunteered for everything. The one who judged everyone because fear was her biggest emotion. The one who tried to go back to college three times and never followed through (until I finally did).


Underneath all of that was this young woman who wanted to talk about her anxiety out loud, but instead just went to the OB/GYN a lot in her twenties and thirties to talk about debilitating headaches and the best forms of birth control to insure she would NEVER get pregnant. The woman who would go to therapy with her husband for seven years before ripping off the emotional bandaid and finally admit she had a problem with alcohol. It took my whole life to finally tell the truth about who I was and once I did, I didn't want to stop. And that's what this project started meaning to me. I was creating a way to tell my story without verbally vomiting it onto people.


The paintings could be my voice.

And just like that, I told my professor I knew what I needed to do and I set to work adding anxiety tick marks and circular forms representing my journey to wholeness to my largest painting. 

No. 14 "Cutoff"

No. 14 "Cutoff"

I have got to start trusting myself.
I need to paint how I feel and quit thinking so goddamned much.
The feelings I carry around about who I used to be are heavy and I know I need to lighten the load.

Photo credit:  David Silpa

Photo credit: David Silpa

I have to start turning things over AND then...start letting them go.

The Geographic :: Week 11

I’ve hit a wall with painting. I’m not feeling it. I feel like I’m spinning my wheels with the Valley Ford works in progress. I’ve set them aside.


Going into the week, I had thoughts of just priming canvases and playing around with liquid acrylics. I brought Heather Day’s catalog with me to school and found a lot of inspiration within those pages.


I had imagined big pools of color representing the waters surrounding the little fishing village of Bodega Bay, where I worked and owned a wine bar, and called home for six years. There is a bumper sticker sold in town that says:


Words started popping into my head that connected me to place [Bodega Bay]:

San Andreas fault line
my faults
crossing over the line
low tide
high tide
seaglass smoothed by the ocean
memories smoothed by time
found objects
raw beauty
beach as church
wine dealer
wine pusher
spilling my guts
spilling my secrets
burying my head in the sand
self-esteem like tiny grains of sand
bodega bay was the epicenter of my drinking
the beginning of my end
small town
anonymity not possible in a small town
drink to quell my anxieties
socialize to a fault
barely afloat
drowning in my existence
no anchor

Four canvases ended up getting gessoed while I pondered the next step with this body of work. 


In chatting with my professor, she threw an idea out there about working on paper and she shared a little bit about her process when doing so. I jotted down a few notes and felt energized. Approaching the blank page is still very much the same feeling as approaching a blank canvas, only smaller. I felt like this was a perfect next step for this series.

I gessoed some toned tan paper, as well as a bunch of thick black paper found in the studio at school. I dropped some black india ink on a few of them, let them dry and packed them up to work on at home over the next few days.


I also took myself to the local art supply store and gathered up a few new supplies (watercolor papers in varying dimensions and a few liquid acrylics) for the project. There is nothing like new art supplies. Nothing. I’m imagining that I will produce a grouping of 25 or so works on paper and then display them in a grid-like fashion.


So that’s where I’m at. Not a lot of physical progress lately and I know that will have to change if I want to get all of these done by the end of May, but I’ve given myself some grace with this project. I was suffering from anxiety attacks and one was still lingering at the beginning of this last week while I was in class. I took Wednesday off. I’m typing this while my husband drives us down the coast to Morro Bay to spend the weekend with our friends from Paris, France.


I’ve packed minimal supplies, but hope that is a good thing and will allow me to focus on keeping it simple. My five year old little french friend is my early morning art partner. He reminds me what it used to be like when I made art alongside my son at the kitchen table in the wee hours of the morning.

Thinking about my son  just brought up a memory from my time living in Bodega Bay…

When my son was in preschool, he would wake up so early. I was usually hungover, but pretending not to be, so I would get up with him. There was a period of time that I would get him dressed, put on our rain boots and trek down to the beach to look for seaglass. I used to live and die by my tide chart and when low tide hit, especially negative low tides, you could always find me out there combing the beach for glass made soft by the ocean. Those salty seas would smooth the rough edges of the broken shards of glass. In 2006, they were like finding diamonds in the sand.


My hangovers never stopped me when the low tides would hit. If I’m being honest, i usually liked to do this beach-combing by myself. It gave me time to mull over what exactly happened the night prior and I could sort out my feelings about it, about myself, about life. But when I was on morning duty with my three year old son, he would tag along. His little body was closer to the ground and he had laser sharp vision for finding seaglass. It became our thing. I would spend hours walking the beach with him, walking off the hangover, walking off my shame and restlessness (or at least trying to).

I felt so empty back then. It was like I was going through the motions of being a wife, a business owner, a mother and a woman in this world. I had no idea who I really was. It felt like I was playing house and I wondered when is a grown-up going to come in and tell me how this is really done? 

I felt like a faker.
I felt like a total fraud.
I felt like I would be found out. Hell, I even sort of wished for that.
I felt trapped.

I felt landlocked in my soul, even though I was surrounded by water and beautiful people in my life - my husband, my son, my community, my friends.

I felt unmoored in my own life.
I felt like I was drifting.
I felt like I was lost at sea.

I felt like a raw nerve.
I felt like I was crawling out of my skin.
I felt all of it. Everything. All the time.

My thoughts are interrupted by my husband, who is driving, when he asks me what I’m doing on my computer. I pause and tell him about the memory of my compulsive beach trips and I ask if he remembers that time in our lives. He raises both eyebrows and says, Um, yeah. I was obsessed for a period of time with collecting these broken pieces of glass. Thinking back on it, it was my first knowing that I wasn’t living right. I didn’t know how to name it at the time or even know exactly what was wrong, but I think deep down some part of me knew that drinking wasn’t serving me or my family very well. It would take another nine years for me to finally quit.

Whew. I gotta stop here. This is all I can write about these memories for right now.

My husband is driving through thick fog and heavy rain, listening to Panic by The Smiths on the radio, my son is plugged into his device listening to who knows what in the backseat, and I’m sitting in the passenger seat tearing up over the past and acknowledging where I am in the present moment of my life.

Today, I feel like a piece of seaglass, smoothed by time and hard fought battles. My edges made softer by the rough experiences in my life and laid bare on a beach to be picked up and treasured.

There is only one me. 
I am unique.
I am my own found treasure.

The Geographic :: Week 10

In less than nine weeks, I'll be delivering my work to the tiny gallery in Guerneville for my first art show. My work will grace the walls there, along with work by my friend and fellow artist, Gayle Cooper.


While the week of spring break didn't yield a lot of physical work, a lot of emotional work was done relating to this project. After a few discussions with different creatives, I realized I wasn't showing up in the work at all. 

I mean, sure, the colors were the colors I normally painted with - shocking pinks, inky blacks and horizontal bands of colors stood in for the lines I usually draw - but anybody could have painted those. Where was I in this story I was trying to tell about the landscape of my former drinking days? Where was the underbelly? Where was the emotion? Why was everything so smooth and cohesive? Was I painting the present day? or the past? What was going on underneath? Where was the nitty gritty? Where is the chaos and unmanageability? Where is the blur and the buzz I used to feel when I was drinking and numbing out to my life, my marriage, my family and motherhood? The layers needed to tell more of the story. I needed to keep working and building them up.


Last Sunday, I forced myself into the garage (the makeshift studio space I created to paint while i was home) and turned on a podcast and just mixed paint and rhythmically applied it onto the canvases and then scraped it back, revealing a little of what was underneath. I did this over and over again. It was so soothing. I finally found a groove and became at peace with the work. I didn't need to stay stuck in the past in order to tell it. I needed to progress, move on.


Art critiques were happening for my classmates on when I returned to the studio earlier this week. I decided to sit in on the critiques and I'm so glad I did. Hearing about other people's processes is really my most favorite thing. I love hearing about the tools people used to get certain effects, as well as the story behind the painting. 

Narrative is really important to me as a painter, especially because I write so much and this is the first step in processing my feelings about what I'm going to make. Being allowed to witness another person's work and the reason behind why they made the work is like hitting a proverbial jackpot. So much gold and goodness wrapped up in their shares. I heard a lot of what I needed to hear and absorbed the comments and suggestions like they were meant for me.


When the critiques were done, I quickly went to my canvases and started drawing freehand, with a calligraphy pen, circular forms with india and acrylic inks. They were misshapen, wonky and absolutely what was asking to be inserted into the work. I wanted to add more of what I like to draw into the paintings and have them represent how I felt when I was still drinking and how i feel a lot of the time now in sobriety - imperfect, displaced, funky and unique.

I also added tick marks across one of the horizontal bands of color and it ended up giving it so much more texture and depth. These tiny little marks were what I used to draw in my notebook and how I used to calm down in early sobriety. I would carry around my black moleskine and make marks when I was uncomfortable or felt out of place. It helped me stay in my seat when I first started attending AA meetings. These marks also symbolize the counting of sober days once i quit drinking, almost like counting time for a prisoner locked up in jail. Although my jail cell was only in my mind, in early sobriety it was a cacophony of noise and negative self-talk going on in there. Drawing saved me.


There is still much work to be done, but I feel like something shifted this week. The darkness has left me and I'm ready to start painting again without self-doubt creeping in too much. I'm thinking a lot about memory and rewriting history; reconciling the old me with the new me; and remembering those who loved me until I could love myself and become whole again - not unlike the full, misshapen circles appearing on the canvas.


While the Valley Ford paintings aren't done yet, they're getting there. I do feel ready to explore the Bodega Bay landscapes over the next week. I'll prime a few canvases and see what happens next.


On Friday, I spent an hour working with artist and creator of the Get Gallery Ready workshopKaylan Buteyn, on my artist statement. What a talent this woman is! She's helping me break down, edit and rewrite the shitty first draft of my artist statement. She's a whiz at editing and helping to make it more succinct. Editors are my new favorite people and have an incredible skill set. Makes me wish I had a personal editor for everything I write.


After hearing about our community college art scholarship deadline from my professor, I decided to go home and fill out the application, pull together a small portfolio, write a statement of intent for my schooling, as well as my "career goals" and submit it to the college art department for consideration. I literally did this hours before the official deadline. I'm most interested in the sketchbook scholarship and dropped off a year's worth of daily gratitude lists for 2017. It felt like I left a little bit of my heart on the table and I guess I did. Those journals contain a year's worth of lists cataloging my days, my successes, my struggles, my growth and my grief.

No pressure.
No expectations.
No stress.

I signed in my work at 1:11 p.m. 
I was given booth 22 to display my work.
Kacy is watching over me. I can feel it.

The Geographic :: Week Nine


It felt really good to cart all of my panels and supplies home last week from the painting studio at school. Having all of my things nearby would enable me to paint from home. 


I had romantic ideas about setting them out on my front deck and painting for several hours every day during spring break.

No. 14 Cutoff and No 15. Buzzed

No. 14 Cutoff and No 15. Buzzed

And that did happen - for exactly one day and during that time it rained AND hailed. The photo above is my progress from that day, but don't let those billowy white clouds and blue skies fool you - it was a pain in the ass to even get this done because grey skies were looming directly overhead. I called it a day after applying the base coats and naming the paintings.


I'm up to 15 paintings for the Valley Ford Series and I feel a hard stop needs to happen here.

No. 1 - Dry (18 x 24 x 1 inch canvas)
No. 2 - Underneath (11 x 14 inch cotton canvas panel) - the panel I clean my brush on
No. 3 - Blackout (18 x 24 x 1.5 inch hardwood panel)
No. 4 - Remote (8 x 10 x 3/4 inch hardwood panel)
No. 5 - Escape (8 x 10 x 3/4 inch hardwood panel)

No. 6 - Barren (8 x 8 x 1.5 inch hardwood panel)
No. 7 - Sparse (8 x 8 x 1.5 inch hardwood panel)
No. 8 - Empty (8 x 8 x 1.5 inch hardwood panel)

No. 9 - Breathe (6 x 12 x 1.5 inch hardwood panel)
No. 10 - Shift (6 x 12 x 1.5 inch hardwood panel)
No. 11 - Pause (6 x 12 x 1.5 inch hardwood panel)

No. 12 - Lush (36 x 48 x 1.5 inch hardwood panel)
No. 13 - Parched (48 x 48 x 1.5 inch hardwood panel)
No. 14 - Cutoff (48 x 48 x 1.5 inch hardwood panel)
No. 15 - Buzzed (48 x 48 x 1.5 inch hardwood panel)


I kept waiting for a break in the weather, but it rained pretty consistently the first part of the week, even flooding the roads into and out of Valley Ford mid-week. When it did stop raining, the winds picked up. I finally had to just set up a makeshift painting space in my husband's garage, which was less than ideal for me. 

It was cold and dark in there. The lighting cast shadows and there was a thick layer of dust and sawdust on most of the surfaces, but I pushed through and just go to it. My lofty goal of painting everyday was going to slip away if I didn't just start. So I did.


Because I was so agitated and uncomfortable in this new set-up, it really tapped into how I used to feel when I was drinking. I never could find my happy place and I would often let my mood spill onto others. This week, I was conscious of this fact and compartmentalized this agitation and just channeled it into the work.


I'm struggling with color mixing. It's never been my strong suit and yet it is so freaking important in order to make an interesting, in depth painting full of range and color values. I'm working on this and have a new idea to help me in this regard.

After talking with a fellow painter, she encouraged me to try doing a landscape with one color and change the values within that painting. I liked the idea and will try to do a landscape only using the color pink. 


Pink has a significant meaning within my paintings. My mom is one of six girls. I grew up in a house that had a living room filled with pink + white striped furniture, which I rejected at the time as too girly. I vowed never to have pink in my house when I grew up (careful about the never statements, right?). There is a phrase in recovery called The Pink Cloud and I'm pulling from that phrase to symbolize the emotional high that you can be on in the early days of sobriety. I also started wearing hot pink once I got sober and using it in my artwork. When I first wore it or used it in my art, It felt like I finally wanted to be seen. Now it's just become a part of my visual vocabulary and identity. It's an important color to me and my work.


I'm working with a fellow abstract artist, Kaylan Buteyn, to help me create an artist statement for my upcoming show. We had our first online meeting on Friday and a lot of what she said resonated with me. A lot of what she said resonated because it was also the very things my professor has been saying to me, too. I went back and found my professor's notes and put them together with Kaylan's comments and realized I needed to start taking their advice or prompts and ask myself harder questions about my choices having to do with this body of work.

My work is appearing a bit flat and kind of boring. I don't really show up in the paintings, meaning my style or my perspective isn't in them at all. I've been so careful with this series of paintings because they are so freaking large and I don't want to mess them up. I need to really show up for myself in the work and say what it is I'm trying to say using whatever tools necessary.

After my call with Kaylan, I grabbed two small paintings that I already knew i wanted to draw on, and dipped my calligraphy pen and nib into black india ink and just drew what I love to draw - circles. My sleeve caught the last circle and smeared it. I was bummed. Oh, well. it's messy. My sleeve forced me to get messy and I think that's what needed to happen.

I'm tackling the rest of the work with a renewed mindset and returning to the question(s):

What Am I Holding Back? And, Why?

I'm not giving myself over to these paintings yet and I know it. I can literally see that I'm not and, therefore, I can also feel that I'm not giving them my all. It could be fear of failure or that I'm having second thoughts about being so tell-all about my story. It could also be that this is a vulnerable place for me in regards to my sobriety and splashing it across these four feet by four feet canvases is laying me bare, so to speak. I need to insert my true self in here with the work, but I have a little trepidation about doing so.


I think my foray into adding the concentric circe motif to a few of the paintings is a great first step, especially since I have such affinity for the shape of a circle. For me, it symbolizes me returning to myself and becoming whole again once I put down the booze. A full circle represents the coming back together after I broke the circle of trust with my husband and family, too. The circle has always been a thing I've drawn my entire adult life, but tucked it away or hid it because I thought it was too pedestrian or simple to be "real" art. I need to dig into my feelings around this shape and why I return to it again and again. 


I think I need to be able to paint how I feel and not how I think I "should" paint. I'm sure this was the work all along, but I can only see it right now.

April 2017 - Painting how I draw exercise to release my inner perfectionist.

April 2017 - Painting how I draw exercise to release my inner perfectionist.

My professor once asked me why I don't paint like I draw in my journals and I didn't have a good  answer for her. I don't have one right now, but I'm going to think long and hard about this question and circle back to the work and see if I can use my visual vocabulary found in my journals and sketchbooks to help me with the next phase of my project.

I want my work to look like I've made it.
I want my style to shine through.
I want to paint out of intuition and quit overthinking everything. 

I know I need to bolster my confidence in this aspect of my creative life.

This is the work on top of the actual painting work right now.

The Geographic :: Week Eight

In an effort to stretch out my newly adopted slower pace from last week, I started off this week by meeting a friend for coffee first thing Monday morning after my son's carpool drop off. The week unfolded with a string of commitments for me and my family, which is nothing new right? We all lead busy lives and there is not one woman I know that isn't juggling her calendar, her lists or the management of her home on a daily basis to make it all magically happen.


The work for this painting project has me digging deep into emotional terrain that I haven't visited for quite some time. I feel a spiritual connection to the old me and I'm kinder to her during this process of recollection. While unearthing some of these memories has been hard, I feel like it's been made so much easier because I am sober and have the presence of mind that won't let me wander too far down the path and into pity party territory. I'm vigilant about sticking to the truth, with as many facts as I can remember. But when you drink to excess, like I often did, things do get murky.

However, when I go to bed at night, my mind has had a different plan. My poor decision making has quietly been haunting me while I sleep. It's been quite an emotional week. In dissecting the landscape of my drinking habits over the course of many years, I'm revisiting my reckless behavior in my dreams. The excavation of my past has me vividly recreating certain painful and sketchy situations, often ending in a dire consequence. It's been a pretty fucked up way to wake up.

One of my wet gessoed panels fell on me today

One of my wet gessoed panels fell on me today

In an effort to quell my (almost daily) anxiety attacks over the last two weeks, I met with my sponsor to talk about what I could take off of my plate in order to help even out my emotions.

What we discussed was whether or not I should push forward with the additional 4th step work having to do with sex conduct and harms done (yes, it's a real thing) with my sponsor that we had just started a few weeks back. Actually, my anxiety attacks started right around that time, too. Hmmm. She suggested that we hit pause with that work and pick it back up once my work is complete for the art show in June. At first, I balked at this suggestion. I told her it felt like more procrastination on my part and that I think I needed to push through. She gently offered (as she does) that I reframe my thinking about the old story that Tammi is a Procrastinator with a capital P and, instead, look at hitting pause on my step-work as a version of self-care.

Gold star-seeking Tammi Image taken 2016 by  Laura Schneider Photo

Gold star-seeking Tammi
Image taken 2016 by Laura Schneider Photo

I resisted.
I told her I was hearing her, but I wasn't fully signing on for the delay.
I didn't want to quit.
I wanted to finish the work that I set out to do.
I wanted to get a gold star for doing the work. 
I told her I'd think about it and get back to her.

And, I went home and thought about it and came to the conclusion that she was right. Dammit.

I hit pause on my step-work and the world didn't end. The anxiety attacks haven't stopped, but I have a feeling they might.

The panels I ordered from the local art supply store didn't come in until late Monday afternoon, so I didn't go into the studio on Monday. Instead, I did some research on painting techniques, listened to podcasts, made notes on The Geographic project and took myself to lunch. Remember, self-care must be part of my process with this body of work!

48 x 48 x 1.5 inch hard wood panels (BEFORE)

48 x 48 x 1.5 inch hard wood panels (BEFORE)

On Wednesday, I showed up ready to get busy.

I needed to gesso the two 48 x 48 inch panels and I had to be pretty efficient about it. I didn't have a lot of time to waste because I needed to bring these two panels home, so that I could paint on them over spring break.

The two freshly gessoed panels will need to communicate and start a dialogue with these two larger format paintings (below) over the next 10 days (while I work from home instead of the school studio).

WIP: No. 12 - Lush

WIP: No. 12 - Lush

WIP: No. 13- Parched

WIP: No. 13- Parched

I popped by the hardware store tonight and purchased a large canvas drop cloth, so that I can paint on my front deck.

View from our front deck in Valley Ford, CA - March 15, 2018 Photo credit: Steve Hecht

View from our front deck in Valley Ford, CA - March 15, 2018
Photo credit: Steve Hecht

This photo is not enhanced. The late afternoon sunset was bathing the fields in this golden, glorious light. Look at all of the value changes in the color green and the monochromatic grey sky. 

I'm completely inspired by my surroundings this week. 

On my drive home from town, words kept popping into my head that related to the landscape, as well as my thoughts on the past and my drinking days.

Not Sustainable
Mowed Down

This is what it looks like when lightning strikes a cow. The cow did not survive the strike. Photo credit: Anna Erickson, Hands Full Farm, Valley Ford

This is what it looks like when lightning strikes a cow. The cow did not survive the strike.
Photo credit: Anna Erickson, Hands Full Farm, Valley Ford

We had a big thunderstorm here late Wednesday morning before I left for school. The thunder shook my house with picture frames shifting, glasses rattling on the open shelving in my kitchen, and my dog hid under my desk. Lightning struck a cow on my friend's ranch just two miles away.

The extreme beauty and fragility of this place is never lost on me. I'm so grateful that we moved here when we did back in 2006, even though I didn't know why I was choosing to move here at that time. 

I loaded up all of the Valley Ford paintings that are in progress to work on over spring break.

I loaded up all of the Valley Ford paintings that are in progress to work on over spring break.

The phrase geographic cure is one I read in the Big Book of AA. It references a desire to relocate in the hopes of reframing one's drinking - a fresh start in a new place. Escapism, really. When I moved here it was under the pretenses of buying a home and settling down, but if I'm being super honest - I liked the fact that I would living at the top of the lane on a dead end dirt and gravel road. I could isolate and be alone with myself. My drinking would escalate here.

Living in the valley of Valley Ford felt like what I deserved. I felt a loneliness that even today I can't fully describe why I felt that way. I was surrounded by good friends, a wonderful husband and the best kid. But the feeling of incomprehensible demoralization was always with me near the end of my drinking. All I wanted to do was to drink and be left alone. I felt hidden and tucked away from the community that used to keep such a close eye on me when I owned my wine bar in Bodega Bay. I felt liberated, too. I felt like I deserved to drink the way I did because, hey, everyone else I know drinks this way, too. Which was a story I told myself for years.

But I no longer feel like I need to shed this town or the memories I made here, even the bad ones. Actually, I feel quite the opposite. I feel a need to embrace it, re-inhabit it, make it mine again.

Laying claim to my art cubbies at school 

Laying claim to my art cubbies at school 

Memory is always reinventing history. Memory is how we see history in the present day.
— Clément Cheroux, Senior Curator of Photography, SF MOMA

This quote made me pause and wonder if my memories are, in fact, reinventing history. I'm trying to paint and summarize how it was, but maybe that can never be a fully accurate portrayal. If memory is how we see history in the present day, then these paintings will illustrate my own history but with the added benefit of my current history, too. It doesn't have to be all doom and gloom with this project. My transformation can be factored into the landscape, too.

So many layers.

This is what I love about this project. I get to channel my feelings into the work and turn these thoughts over and over in my mind, like rocks in a rock tumbler. They seem to be coming out softer, smoother and with less of an edge. A softening of my memories is happening in real time. 

Blank slates. Fresh starts. Do-overs.

Blank slates.
Fresh starts.

I'm accepting the ways things were and acknowledging where it led me.
I'm letting a lot of these feelings go, as they no longer serve me.
I'm forgiving myself in the process, too.
I'm finding greater peace and clarity about those years I drank the most.
I'm acknowledging that's who I was then and that's not who I am now.
I'm extending myself some grace.

I feel like I'm finally coming home to myself through this work.

The Geographic :: Week Seven

Last night I spent the evening in San Francisco with a few members of my sober lady tribe to listen to writer, philosopher, theologian and storyteller, Peter Rollins and former Pastor Rob Bell talk about the concept of being human, connecting with those things in life that are holy and how to step back and make a shift in your life. A Holy Shift.

Listen to the prophet of your anxiety.
— Pete Rollins

I've been suffering from anxiety attacks again. Also, vivid nightmares about relapsing, as well as dreaming about fully actualized paintings for this project. I'm not surprised. I'm delving into new work with my sponsor and it's bringing up a lot for me. Anxiety used to play like background music in my day-to-day life and after I quit drinking alcohol (and later coffee), the volume was turned down considerably. Over the past seven weeks, the proverbial knob on the stereo has been turned up and these attacks are physically and emotionally draining me. I'm trying to listen to the prophet of my anxiety, but I can't quite tell what in the fuck it's actually saying.

No. 3 Blackout in progress

No. 3 Blackout in progress

When you cannot speak your truth, the symptom is the way your body tells the truth.
— Pete Rollins

Part of the anxiety could be related to the pressure I've added to this project by committing to the June show at Lawson Galleries in Guerneville. When I wrote out my proposal and commitment for this semester's work, an art show was a possible end-of-semester goal, but now it's a hardcore reality. I know this falls in to the good-problem-to-have category, truly I do.

A feeling of overwhelm has enveloped me lately and the fact that my throat was closing up on me was my body's way of telling me the truth of the situation. I needed to listen up. The symptom manifesting in my body was the anxiety. I used to drink at these types of symptoms and that remedy, that medicine is no longer available to me..

No. 3 Blackout in progress

No. 3 Blackout in progress

In order to drop back into the work, I shared my feelings with my professor at the beginning of the week. She listened and offered up some sage advice about what it means to be an artist. And that's the thing, I have started calling myself an artist but a small part of me still feels like an imposter. I'm not being self-deprecating here, I'm just being honest.

To be human is to be who you are and who you’d like to be.
— Pete Rollins
No. 3 Blackout

No. 3 Blackout

My word for the year is GRACE. I have been struggling with its meaning, but when I heard Peter Rollins utter this sentence last night, what I've been feeling lately all started to make sense.

Grace can be found when you stop the frenetic pursuit.
— Pete Rollins
No. 13 Parched

No. 13 Parched

I love everything that comes out of Pete Rollins's mouth. He has a way with words. That man has a gift.

I've been engaged in the frenetic pursuit of something ever since I quit drinking. It's almost like I'm playing beat the clock when it comes to my own creative pursuits. The feeling that I'm making up for lost time is always with me from the moment I wake up until I lay my head down on the pillow at night. Some might call it drive or ambition, but it feels clunky this week and completely lacking of any kind of grace.

No. 13 Parched

No. 13 Parched

When I left the studio this week, I felt unburdened, excited even, about the idea that I am going to paint like I want to without any preconceived notion about what these paintings should end up looking like for the show in June.

A holy shift is when you stop.
— Pete Rollins

I am going to do a hard stop this week and shrug off my future-tripping ways. I need to recalibrate my own expectations for this body of work and take a long pause from my overactive, alcoholic-thinking and hope the anxiety subsides.

Acknowledge the whole and then step back and make a shift. Then draw a circle around it and make it holy.
— Rob Bell

I'm searching for grace this weekend. 

I'm stopping the frenetic pursuit.

I'm inviting a shift to occur.

And I'm definitely going to draw a circle around it and make it holy and allow myself to move on.

The Geographic :: Week Six

This week started off wonky. I messed up my kid's carpool schedule and, as a consequence, that prevented me from being able to get into the studio on Monday. Instead of stressing about it and future-tripping, I gave myself a little grace. I figured out that I had plenty to do for this project that didn't involve actual painting, but included writing, photographing landscapes around Valley Ford and writing in my art journal.

It also included firming up the dates with my friend, artist and fellow recovery badass, Gayle Cooper, for our upcoming gallery show which we are calling The Art of Recovery. To give you a little background, Gayle and I met in the rooms. She is out about her recovery and I've always connected with her over art and our mutual love and adoration of all things France. In early January, she approached me and asked if I would be interested in participating in a show with her at a gallery where she had done solo shows before. I was immediately flattered and then nervous, but knew that I had to step up and say YES. Her offer appeared at exactly the right time, as I was about to embark on my own self-assigned project, The Geographic.

Show dates will be June 5th - July 9th at Lawson Galleries in Guerneville, California.

The opening reception will be held on June 5th from 5 - 8 pm.

The artist salon will be held on Sunday, June 17th from 2 - 4 pm.

The First Friday Art Walk in Guerneville will be held on July 6th from 5 - 8 pm (all galleries open in town that night). A great way to see lots of art + take in the town.

This will be my first gallery show.


Over the weekend, I attended a print workshop in San Francisco hosted by self-taught designer + style icon, Lotta Jansdotter. I have long admired Lotta's designs, lifestyle books and business acumen. It was a thrill to meet her in person + learn from her in real time.


We made prints using small potatoes, simple carving tools + screen printing ink. We focused on creating simple patterns and designs. Repetition, positive + negative spaces were key to creating a cohesive + attractive design.


We also did a little block printing using our carving tools, a stamp pad + textile ink.


The stationary turned out really well.


Why am I telling you about my print workshop when this is supposed to be a blog post about my painting project The Geographic, you ask? Well, I'm gonna tell you.


You see, everything I make informs everything else when it comes to the work I produce. I like it when one medium spills over into another and I love learning more about my own process - what works and what doesn't. I like to co-mingle my interests and see what gels or just becomes.

For example, I took my gratitude journal along with me to the workshop in the hopes that I could create a page for that day using one of the prints or techniques I would learn. And, that's exactly what I ended up doing (see above). Now when I look at the page, I will have the workshop + the day imprinted in my mind, too.

Circles are my spirit animal and then color, especially hot pink. It's funny because I grew up in a household where my mom loved pink and I vowed NEVER to have it in mine. Fast forward 35 years and I freaking love it. Go figure. Never say never, right?


I didn't stress too much about painting this week. I needed the extra time and space to think about what was going to be my next move with all of the paintings I currently have going. I also needed to hit the art supply store and buy new wood panels and supplies for the project. Making art is not just about making the actual art. I'm learning that finding inspiration, going to museums, and taking workshops are all part of my creative process, too.

No. 12 - Lush

No. 12 - Lush

My loose plan is to focus on finishing up the under-paintings for all of the Valley Ford works-in-progress by the end of next week. Once those under-paintings are done, I think I'll switch to oils. I I plan to apply horizontal bands of color over the existing acrylics or use washes and see how the colors underneath shift or change when the washes are applied. I hope they wow me.


This week I started a small tryptic using the leftover paint from painting No. 12 (above). This is an experiment to see if I can come up with something a little less controlled and try to harness that blurry or buzzed feeling I'm wanting to achieve through my work on a few of the canvases. 


I'm trying not to be overly precious with the canvases and making marks that feel intentional + haphazard at the same time, if that makes any sense! These paintings feel like play to me + are really enjoyable to make.


At the end of my painting day on Wednesday I had completed the under-painting on my 36 x 48" canvas (No. 12) and had a good head-start on this tryptic (above).


I quickly taped and gessoed two 20 x 20" wood panels that I think I'll use for the Bodega Bay paintings, which I have yet to start. That will be a completely different process and feel than the Valley Ford landscapes I'm currently working on.


These are sample canvases that I started using fluid acrylics. I'm not ready to jump all in with these paintings yet and think I'll wait until after Spring break to start working on the Bodega Bay series in earnest.


For now, I'm simmering in the Valley Ford work and really digging how it feels and where they are headed. I'll spend more time with the smaller canvases this weekend and wrap up the under-paintings and bring them to school next week to see how they all look together. 

I think seeing them all together will tell me what to do and where to go next with them. They'll talk to me and I'll be intently listening to what they have to say.

The Geographic :: Week Five

Coming home from San Francisco on Monday, I recorded a few videos of the rolling hillsides as we were approaching the hamlet of Valley Ford, also known as home. I was trying to capture the beauty and the blur, so that I could try to paint it later on.

In case you're wondering what we're listening to it's Slow Burn: A Podcast About Watergate because we're wild and crazy like that. Also, I'm not driving.

Using new tool to gesso larger canvases. My screen printing squeegee.

Using new tool to gesso larger canvases. My screen printing squeegee.

Last weekend, it felt like my studio was closing in on me. I decided to make good on my idea to move the large 16-cubby bookshelf in my studio to the east side of the 8' x 6' space.


Moving this bookshelf opened up two walls that will allow me to hang multiple canvases and paint from home more often. As you can see, I do not have a lot of room in my studio, so I had to make good use of this precious wall space the moving of the bookshelf would provide.


Rearranging the furniture and spaces in my home always has the ability to change my mood and infuse me with a boost of creative energy. When I was done, I felt totally energized after everything was sorted out.

Last week, my professor suggested perhaps going dark on social media in order to further explore this body of work I'm creating. Because I'm such a literal person, I thought I had to completely go dark on social media and that felt uncomfortable. But later on she encouraged me to go dark during my time in class - to just focus on the work and not multi-task with documenting the project at the same time. 


Now that idea felt more comfortable. It didn't have to be all or nothing as I explore this work in my mind and through my paintings. It could be both, as long as I didn't overthink my way into an emotional tizzy. I still want to share here on the blog and have a record of this journey I'm on this semester. I just need to make good use of my studio time and paint my ass off, so to speak, when I'm there. Wednesday, I did just that.


I seldom paint at night, but after rearranging the studio, I felt inspired to get out there and spend some time with the seven smaller Valley Ford-inspired paintings that were in progress.

Color samples + Mark Rothko's White Center circa 1950

Color samples + Mark Rothko's White Center circa 1950

This week was emotionally charged for me, as it was the one year anniversary of Kacy leaving this world on 2/22/17. Last year, when I returned from Las Vegas, I threw myself back into school with a quiet vengeance. In beginning painting, I selected Mark Rothko's White Center and tried my best to copy it.

It was a lot harder than you might think.

It was also meditative and soothing.

It was therapy.


I ended up making a smaller version on a 11 x 14 inch panel and gifting it to my friend, Caitlin, for the Spring Equinox #recoverygalsartexchange last spring when the theme was EMERGE. You can read more about it and revelations I had during that making process here.

Caitlin reached out this week and mentioned that my current work reminded her of the Rothko-inspired painting I had sent her last year. So I pulled the painting off the wall and set it in the living room. I also went and grabbed the Diebenkorn-influenced landscape I painted last year of the view just outside my studio because I had also wanted to bring it to class for reference.

When I set them side-by-side, I had a BIG revelation.


If these two paintings had a baby, it would be exactly what I'm trying to create with The Geographic paintings. It would be their LOVE CHILD.

WIP: No. 1 Dry

WIP: No. 1 Dry

I'm trying to chase a dream with this project. Like, literally. I had a dream late last year wherein I visualized the kind of painting I wanted to paint. Now I know I'm never going to get that exact painting, but it's driving me forward to work hard to figure out how to get there and what methods I need to learn to make it so. I know the color palette. That's one thing I know for sure. I know I want horizontal bands of color. And, that's about all I know for sure, but I think that's enough to start.

The rest will need to unfold.


In layers.

In the call + response the paintings will elicit from me + from each other.

The LOVE CHILD in progress: No. 13 Parched + the two older works on the floor that it was born from

The LOVE CHILD in progress: No. 13 Parched + the two older works on the floor that it was born from

In the metamorphosis of the painting process.


I have two 11 x 14 inch panels going (pictured above) that are made up completely from my leftover paint at the end of the day. One was blank (white) when I started and one was a gradation of color exercise I did last spring as part of the aforementioned #recoverygalsartexchange. 

WIP: No. 13 Parched + No. 12 Lush

WIP: No. 13 Parched + No. 12 Lush

I tackled the two larger paintings mid-week and my goal was to not overthink it; not document it while I was in process; and to paint with my feelings and not with my head. At the end of the day Wednesday, I felt like I had accomplished all of those goals.

Here's where I'm at the end of this week.

  • No. 13 (left) and No. 12 (right) have several coats of gesso + acrylic.
  • I've penciled in wonky lines to mark off space for the bands of color to go.
  • My professor and I discussed getting a few more large panels so that the paintings can start dialogue-ing with one another.
  • I need to work on my color values for the final top coats and decide if I will keep working in acrylics or switch to oils. To that end, I will be mixing up some greys at home and bringing them to class so that I can jump in a little quicker to the painting process.
  • I'm giving thought to the bands of color. Do I want a high contrast? Or not? Do I want them to be more controlled? Or not? And, why?

I've been thinking about how to create a fuzziness or fogginess with the paintings to help give off the feelings I used to feel when I was drinking. After discussing this with Professor McCain, I think my excess paint panel experiments might be something I need to further explore for this project.

The panels I'm using to wipe off excess paint from my brushes at the end of the day.

The panels I'm using to wipe off excess paint from my brushes at the end of the day.

They make me really uncomfortable and I don't exactly know why. I do think they are beautiful, in their own way, but they feel so haphazard and messy to me. It feels like cheating somehow. Like I've been careless while painting and not given them much thought at all so they shouldn't be considered for the project. They seem like an accident. This style of painting could definitely tap into the mood and feelings I had while driving home buzzed or drunk over the years. I had an immediate reaction to her suggesting I think about these paintings and what's going on with them. I felt like I wanted to shut down and change the conversation. The feelings our conversation evoked is enough for me to know that I need to examine this further. As usual, she knows her stuff. She's asking so many good questions or me and I'm enjoying the pondering. I know she's onto something with this observation and I can feel it in my bones that it's definitely worth exploring.

I just need time to process and catch up with my feelings. 

And then, I'm sure I'll just need to give myself permission to let go a little (or a lot).