The #artexchange Project :: Emerge

Today is the Spring equinox and it also happens to be the day that the Recovery Gals Art Exchange (#recoverygalsartexchange) projects go live and get shared through the mail and on social media. You can see all of the prior exchanges by clicking through the #recoverygalsartexchange hashtag on Instagram. This is the third exchange and you can read more about our previous exchanges here and here.

Emerge was the theme we landed on for this artistic go-round and seemed like the perfect way to go, especially after the previous themes of Reflection and Surrender


verb (used without object), emerged, emerging.

1. to come forth into view or notice, as from concealment or obscurity: a ghost emerging from the grave; a ship emerging from the fog.

2. to rise or come forth from or as if from water or other liquid.

3. to come up or arise, as a question or difficulty.

4. to come into existence; develop.

5. to rise, as from an inferior or unfortunate state or condition.

Plan A

Plan A

I had a little bit of trouble executing my original concept for this project. My initial thought was to make an oil painting showing gradation from black to white, to symbolize the light and the dark sides of ourselves in recovery. Thematically, it made sense - light emerging from the dark place many in recovery have been in the past due to our excessive drinking, and I felt like I could make that work. I should have left it at that, but once the painting was done I wasn't really satisfied. It looks dull and boring. I couldn't leave well enough alone and Plan A morphed into Plan B.

Plan B in progress

Plan B in progress

I didn't end up liking how the white-grey-black gradation turned out. I then got the not-so-brilliant idea that maybe I would paint a pink cloud glaze in the middle of the painting and that would symbolize the pink cloud we often get in early sobriety or sporadically throughout recovery. The pink cloud emerges and then subsides or recedes over time. When I went to add the pink cloud glaze, it ended up looking more like a dusty mauve glaze and, for the record, I am not a fan of dusty mauve. It reminds me of an old formal gown I wore to a school dance in the 1980's, with matching lipstick, eyeshadow and satin shoes. Yuck. So, I was off to Plan C now, in case you're keeping track.

A short-lived Plan C

A short-lived Plan C

A few weeks ago, I unearthed an old embroidery project I had worked on back in 2014. I thought about finishing it and sending it to my art exchange partner, but the truth of the matter is I absolutely hate doing embroidery. That's why the piece is only half-finished in the first place. Plan C was short-lived. I couldn't make myself finish it and, truthfully, I thought my art exchange partner deserved a more thoughtful piece of artwork than that. That leads us to Plan D.

Plan D: Mixing a color chart + starting the under-paintings for two paintings of rothko's white center

Plan D: Mixing a color chart + starting the under-paintings for two paintings of rothko's white center

When I returned home from Las Vegas after the death of my best friend, Kacy, I started a master painting for my art class. This is where you copy a master to the best of your ability. My master painting would be of Mark Rothko's 1950 oil painting White Center. This painting would be therapeutic for me in many ways, as I had just watched my best friend leave this world after her hard fought battle with cancer. I needed painting as a meditation. I needed to make something beautiful and imperfect; colorful and full of life; layered, like my feelings. I needed to emerge from the painful situation I had just been in, even if only a little bit.

Grief has surprised me with its wayward emergence - striking when I'm least expecting it, leaving me confused and sad at the most inopportune times. I've never lost anyone this close to me before.

It felt reassuring to use bold colors and make big, sweeping gestures with my paintbrush. It felt refreshing to paint a layer and then wipe it all back and see what remained. Finding beauty in the imperfections. This painting would require many, many layers and the process spoke to me - the adding and subtracting of it all.

my color chart

my color chart

The more time that passes, the more I see myself as an emerging artist, too - a phrase I would have never called myself before taking this beginning oil painting class. Somehow, after losing Kacy, I feel like I need to claim what's mine. Artist is just a word and I want to be one, so I'm going to quit apologizing for it and own it. I need to believe it now more than ever because it is through art that I find my most peaceful place, my sense of belonging to this world.

From the heaviness that February bestowed on me, I'm noticing that the world keeps going on. When I returned home after Kacy's death, I noticed the calla lilies were in bloom next to where I park my car. Everything is Sonoma County seemed like it was on the verge of bursting wide open. I feel like I'm on the verge of bursting wide open, too. 

Across the highway, massive yellow swaths of color are blanketing the alfalfa farmer's fields beckoning him to mow before April Fool's Day. Life is continuing to happen all around me, emerging from winter and opening up to greet spring. 

I guess I have to do that, too. 

I worry that if I emerge from this immense grief and sadness that I will start to forget things about my friend. I'm kind of pissed off that the world keeps on keepin' on. I mean, how dare that apple tree blossom? Doesn't it know my friend just died? Why is everyone going on with their lives and not stopping what they are doing to honor Kacy or her memory every second of every single day? Why aren't I? Why am I worried about my goddamned taxes? Or, how dare I rejoice in a gifted hot tub from my husband's client? What's wrong with me? I shouldn't be moving on just yet. I feel guilty for taking pleasure in a good loaf of warm bread or for taking a selfie of my new haircut. I feel guilty when I'm enjoying life right now, but I know deep down that's exactly what I'm supposed to do. I know that's what she would want me to do, but I'm not fully convinced it's okay to do that just yet. I keep chastising myself for laughing too loudly or taking silly pictures and sharing pretty things that bring me joy on Instagram. Am I grieving correctly? Is this how it goes?

I don't know.

All I know is that every day that I'm alive, I'm learning.

I'm growing.

I'm seeking.

I'm taking pleasure in my path.

I'm emerging into a person that knows a little bit more than she did the day before.

And, I think that's all I really know for sure.

In the end, two paintings emerged from my initial idea. The larger one (18" x 24" on the floor) will be for me and will remind me of my closest friend, Kacy. Her white center, her multiple layers of color and depth. The glow of her own underpainting, her spirit. The small dark line to remind me that life is short and to quit being so fucking afraid all the time.

The smaller one (11" x 14" above) is on its way to Berlin, Germany to a new friend of mine, Caitlin. Our friendship is emerging and growing, too.

And, I want to be wide open and ready to receive it.

As I was at the post office mailing out my painting to Caitlin, a package from Germany had just arrived for me. Here is what my #recoverygalsartexchange partner painted for me. 

Isn't she exquisite?

The light and the dark. The woman rising up and coming forth. She is emerging from it all. She is beautiful.

Absolutely stunning and timely, Caitlin.