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.

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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.

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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. 

BEFORE 

BEFORE 

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.

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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.

AFTER

AFTER

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.

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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.

NOTHING CHANGES IF NOTHING CHANGES
— 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.

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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 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.

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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 Two

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This week, I needed to create a color study using blues and greens for The Geographic project.

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Inspiration came to me in a dream this week. I like when it visits me in this way.

The colors in my journal are the ones I'll use for the Valley Ford paintings.

The colors (below) will be used for the Bodega Bay paintings.

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I started small in an effort not to overwhelm myself.

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But small can feel limiting and harder than just going for it on a big canvas.

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It's a rough start.

The Valley Ford color palette will consist of greens, blues, golds + ochre, whites and pinks.

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Acrylics will be used for the under-paintings.

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It feels good to be back in the painting studio at school, again, and working with my professor.


This week I'm taking a closer look at artists that I admire and whose work inspires me. 

Heather Chontos has bold color choices and strong, confident brush strokes. I love everything about her work.

Rouge   22" x 30" acrylic wash, gouache and ink on paper  Heather Chontos    

Rouge

22" x 30" acrylic wash, gouache and ink on paper
Heather Chontos

 

I love Karine Leger's mark-making, the repetition and wonky geometric shapes. Also the softness of it, as well as they layering.

Tout atour - 36 x 36 - acrylique sur toile  Karine Leger    

Tout atour - 36 x 36 - acrylique sur toile
Karine Leger

 

Heather Day's use of the color blue, as well as her sketchbooks and creative process fascinate me.

Souvenir #44  7" × 5", ACRYLIC SOFT-PASTEL INK ON PAPER, 2017  Heather Day      

Souvenir #44

7" × 5", ACRYLIC SOFT-PASTEL INK ON PAPER, 2017
Heather Day
 

 

I'm a big, big fan of Meredith Bullock's work. She uses vivid colors, bold marks and weaves in her narrative about losing her mother and becoming a mother. She's my favorite.


A close friend sent me a sweet text last week and simply said she saw my new project, was looking forward to watching it unfold and that she hoped it wouldn't be too sad for me. 

It made me pause and think. Would this work make me sad?

It most likely will, but I'm okay with that.

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I'm actually looking forward to diving back into those foggy memories and tapping into how I used to feel during those drinking years. I'll use mark-making and paint to create work that epitomizes the mood that lived inside of me during those turbulent times. Processing these feelings actually helps me grow and see that they were not all bad; they are informing the woman I am today about how to continue moving through this world. I no doubt will learn a lot about myself throughout this semester.

I love when art can stir up and evoke an emotional response. That's actually one of my favorite things about making it.

I opted to work outside yesterday.

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I love the meditative process of prepping canvases, taping off edges and applying a fresh clean coat of gesso.

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Blank canvases.

New beginnings.

Infinite possibilities.

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3 - 8 x 8 inches
3 - 6 x 12 x 1.5 inches
1 - 18 x 24 inches

Hardwood panels will serve to symbolize my solid foundation in sobriety and where I'm at today. It's because of my current recovery that I can look back at my drinking in a healthy, positive way and glean what I need to off the top of those memories.

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I love the newness of a project.

All of the ideas flooding in at once.

All the notebooks. Always.

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The shapes I'll use, as well as the color palette, will directly reflect my moods and memories from those years when I drank to soothe myself and make me more comfortable in my own skin. When I drank like I used to, I was using alcohol as a way of softening the hard edges of my anxiety and as a way to bare the painful newness of motherhood.