The #artexchange Project

Earlier this year, as I was driving to school, I listened to an interview with artist/writer/designer Sondra Talbert Primeaux on the Since Right Now recovery network podcast.  As she spoke in her sweet Texas accent, I found myself nodding and thinking oh my god, she's telling my story.

Fast-forward a few months and we were communicating through an online sobriety support group.  I reached out to her to join a small gratitude circle I was putting together and she said yes.  I read every inch of her blog, The Unruffled.  I quickly started absorbing valuable lessons from her gratitude lists that pinged in my email inbox once a day and I would stop whatever it was I was doing at the time and hurry to open and read.  I guess you could say I had a huge girl crush on Sondra.  Go ahead.  Read her eloquent, wise words, listen to her sweet Texas drawl during her interview.  I bet you will have one, too, by the time you're done.

After our initial courtship, we started texting and worked our way up to proper phone dates.  We started dreaming out loud about creative ideas and working together.  She generously offered for me to write a piece for her blog (you can click here to read it), and I immediately accepted and was giddy at the notion of being one of the featured Unruffled.  We get to meet in person in November when I fly to Austin for, get this, an AA convention.  Yeah, I know.  Who would have thought?

Our shared love of Pat Benatar, Duran Duran AND Conway Twitty sealed the deal for me.  Sondra's sobriety was attractive to me.  In the rooms of 12-step meetings, you often hear advice about looking for a Sponsor that has what you want and even though Sondra was not going to be my Sponsor in the traditional sense, she definitely had what I wanted in terms of sobriety, a creative life and recovering out loud.  I was smitten.

We texted about possibly having our middle-school aged sons exchanging art this summer and then that idea blossomed into another idea for a full-on art exchange that would include other sober, creative female bloggers and/or instagrammers.

We shared our idea on our respective social media feeds and found a dozen women in recovery from alcohol willing to create a piece of art relating to the theme which, for this go-around, was going to be REFLECTION.  We picked the autumnal + spring equinoxes, as well as the winter + summer solstices, as the perfect time to share publicly on our blogs and/or other social media forums what exactly we created, as well as writing about how it related to the theme and sobriety in general.

I immediately combed through the images on my art exchange partners' Facebook page and asked for permission to use it in my project.  I asked her what her favorite colors were and started gathering up supplies.

The image I chose was from when she lived in San Francisco in the 1980's and it was taken in a photo booth.  I loved the idea of her looking back at her younger self.  Reflecting back on the past and how she got to where she is now.  I know reflection has been a valuable tool for me in maintaining my sobriety, along with a healthy dose of accountability.

I've been working on a multi-media concept that I've been calling The Ray of Light Series wherein I paint or draw rays of color on images of women who are in recovery from alcohol.  The rays are meant to symbolize the sunlight of the spirit and how light can permeate your life once you remove alcohol from your life.  I choose black and white images and use a colorful medium to form the rays radiating from the image.

I've run into trouble using paint lately and the matte medium lifting once I pull up the painter's tape I use to keep my lines straight.  It's been super frustrating, so I switched to colored pencil for this art exchange project.

I didn't love the colored pencil effects at first, but it grew on me after I adhered the image to a 5" x 5" wood panel using a multi-purpose spray adhesive.

When I sprayed two coats of this acrylic coating on top of the image, it immediately starting bubbling up.  I may have uttered a few F-words to punctuate my frustration.


I had to remind myself of my very own belief that art is imperfect and that's what makes it beautiful to me.  I mean, I still want it to look nice and reflect the effort that went into it, but I have to remember that imperfection is part of my process.  Learning to accept uneven lines or a few air bubbles teaches me that nothing is perfect.  The theme of reflection was teaching me to go back and remind myself of why I started making art to begin with - to get in touch with my own humanness.

I packaged up Susan's portrait and wrapped it up in an old AAA map I found of downtown San Francisco, which was just perfect since this image was taken in downtown San Francisco a few decades ago.  I loved the symbolism and meaning of this map.

This project brought me a lot of joy and I hope Susan likes looking at herself through my creative interpretation of the word reflection.  The season is turning and I feel a shift happening in the studio and in my life.  I loved this project.

If you're interested in participating in the next art exchange (and you are sober!), please reach out to me by leaving a comment on this blog post, email me directly at or follow along on my Instagram feed @tammisalas.  You can also reach out to Sondra by clicking here or following her Instagram feed @sondra_unruffled.  The next art exchange is scheduled for the Winter Solstice, Wednesday, December 21, 2016.