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.

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.

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 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 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).

The Geographic :: Week Four

My plane touched down in Santa Rosa last Sunday and immediately my phone started pinging with emails and text messages. One message was from afriend letting me know that she loved watching this project unfold and asked if I'd be interested in a possible feature in our local paper for the show come June.


It was just an idea. Not a sure thing. I told her it made me a little nervous, but that probably meant I should say yes, please and thank you. So that's what I did.

Then I drove immediately to the local art supply store and bought the biggest canvases that I could fit in my car, riding the wave of confidence her texts provoked in me.

I got busy taping and gesso-ing the hardwood panels.


No. 12 - Lush 48 x 36 inch

No. 13 - Parched 48 x 48 inch


Something about having started thirteen paintings in the last few weeks and the prospect of having my work be the focus of a feature in our local paper had me freaking out by the end of my painting session on Monday afternoon.

I started this project with a lot of bravado and a big narrative to back up the work.

But what I really needed to do was get down to work and paint, not just talk or write about it.

On Wednesday, I hit my 7 am 12-step meeting and the topic was all about expectations - inner and outer, expectations of others being pre-resentments and how expectations keep us from finding a solution.

I came to the conclusion that expectations can really be very disappointing, especially if the other person doesn't even know you have expectations of them. And what's even worse? Having expectations of yourself when you really, really don't need to add that kind of pressure.

Walking into the painting studio at school, I started to chat with my professor and she pulled me into her office when my eyes started welling up with tears. When I told her I was feeling enormous pressure to produce this giant body of work, she talked me off the ledge by talking about inner and outer expectations for the show. We chatted about how much I share online and if that was adding unneeded pressure on me or if it was aiding to my creative process.

She also reminded me that the feature article about this body of work would most likely focus on me and the story behind The Geographic and that I very easily know how to talk about that. After our conversation, I knew immediately what I needed to do. I needed to paint what was in my head and get it down on a canvas.

I quickly left her office, went outside and started painting over the foundation of painting No. 1 - Dry. I wasted no time.


I had started to hate this painting (above), so without overthinking it, I just plowed ahead and drew horizontal lines with a no. 2 pencil over the top of the underpainting and began applying the colors I had been seeing in my dreams over the last month.


The horizontal bands of color were excactly what I had been hoping to do with this project. This is just the second coast of the underpainting, but now I know what to do and I can build upon it from here.

This is the direction of the abstract landscapes I want to paint of  Valley Ford and by putting paint on the canvas, it felt like I answered my own problem. The other painting didn't feel like me. It didn't look like my work. It had elements of me (the circles, the half-dome, the color pink) but it was definitely NOT me.


I stopped to take this picture on the way home from school on Valentine's Day, the same day I worked on the above painting. I saw what I needed to see - a dark band of color, the orange-pinky-yellow glow of the sunset and the ombre blue sky. This was what I was trying to capture. This was part of the story I am trying to tell.

No. 3 - Blackout WIP

No. 3 - Blackout WIP

Only my paintings are steeped in memories of driving home buzzed or drunk from work; of creating fake celebratory days of the week, like rosé Wednesdays; and the fuzziness that accompanies one too many glasses of bubbly with friends on my front deck overlooking the pastures and fields surrounding my home.


No 3 - Blackout 18 x 24 x 1.5 inch hardwood panel in process

Something was shaking loose inside of me. I found my groove and my vision for the next few paintings. I packed them up and brought them home to work on over the weekend.

Leaving class that afternoon, I knew I had a lot to think about in terms of process and this project. Part of my process is sharing my process on social media. I'm mildly concerned that in continuing to do so, I might be stressing myself out about the work that lies ahead with this project. It feels really vulnerable to share a painting while it is in process. But the thing is, I like reading about other people's process. I like seeing how they worked through things or how it all transforms and takes shape. In this way, it reminds me of my own recovery. The messiness, the raw emotions, the imperfectness of it all.

Rearranged my 8' x 6' home studio so I could paint at home on the weekends

Rearranged my 8' x 6' home studio so I could paint at home on the weekends

But if I want to create enough work to support this show I'm working towards in June, the truth of the matter is that I might have to go dark for a little while and just paint my ass off and keep it all to myself.

Now that feels uncomfortable.

The being quiet thing.

The staying in my head thing.

No feedback or comments.

But maybe that's exactly what I need to do in order to connect more deeply with this project. Channel those feelings of isolation and allow the mood to go from my head and my heart straight onto the canvas.

I'm on the fence about it, but think pushing myself outside of my comfort zone has never been a bad thing. I learn so much about myself and my process when I do.

I'm gonna think about this and see how I feel next week. 


Until then, I'll just sit here and take in the view and think about how lucky I am so be sober and using my creativity to fuel this leg of my recovery.

The Geographic is bringing up all kinds of memories and feelings lately and I suppose that's what I want or else I wouldn't have decided to do this work. It'll serve me, I just need to sift through it.

Time takes time, right? I just need to let it.

Ray of Light Interview No. 20 :: Sarah Doran

Ray of Light Interview No. 20 :: Sarah Doran

"Also one night in the midst of deciding which way to go with “the drinking thing” I remember being at a concert (sober) and seeing two versions of my future laid out before me.  The version without alcohol was lit up by a flashlight that I was holding and went on into the distance forever, wherever I wanted it to go in any direction." - Sarah Doran

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