A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Goodbye Letter

I've moved my quit day up to tomorrow. It will be Halloween and therefore a memorable date. I bought my last pack of cigarettes today and will try to finish them off by bedtime. If not, I will destroy them. I've been getting some excellent advice and guidance from a couple of people on Woofmang.com, especially someone named Deb. Thanks Deb!! She's so on target and very, very supportive. I'll probably be leaning on her for the next week.

I saw my therapist today. I've been seeing her every other week for a while now and that seems to be working out. She's a very understanding person, very supportive of me. I've known her for eight out of the last ten years. She's seen me at my most psychotic and also at my most sane. I'm very fortunate to have found her at the very beginning of my psychosis. Her office is right in town which makes going to see her stress free. She's also a psychology professor at the university. There are definite boundaries she keeps in our relationship, but that also helps me to know where I stand. I don't pry into her personal life and she's very careful not to discuss me with her husband and friends, not that I'd really care too much. If she weren't my therapist, she could be my friend. She gives practical advice, she's non judgmental and she's kind. She's someone I can trust. So I told her about my quit date tomorrow and why I moved it up (to stop teasing myself with smoking). I also told her about Bev getting in touch with me. I'm going to see Bev tomorrow for lunch to catch up and hopefully create a real honest to God offline friendship. That would be wonderful and Bev is the perfect person. She's smart, responsible, very honest about herself and to others and she's funny. I also like her children. So I'm looking forward to tomorrow when I see her. She quit smoking February 14th (Valentine's Day) 2005. Being with her will help me with my quit. I've also been advised to write a Goodbye Letter to my cigarettes. So here it goes....

Dear(?) Cigarettes,

Before I met you personally, you were good friends with my mother. You became her best friend when she was 16 and stayed close to her till she was 34. That was the year she learned how harmful you have been to so many people and that was the year I was born. So she quit you. Once a year she would meet with you again at a party, but that was it. She basically left you flat. Unfortunately my mother didn't warn me about you when I was a little girl and when I saw you hanging out with a boy I really liked, I decided to become friends with you too. I guess I thought he looked "cool" and I wanted to be "cool" too. I had another friend and she also wanted to be "cool" and she liked the same boy, so we would all spend time together on the top floor of my parents' house in my room (my parents rarely came upstairs). We were 12 years old, not even teenagers. A few years later we began drinking wine, getting drunk and spending time together. I guess we thought it was fun to break the rules and pretend to be grown up when we weren't. I didn't spend all my time with you, but enough that you left a lasting impression on me.

Then I got involved with my first boyfriend and he did not like you at all. You were close friends with his mother and he knew you were bad news. So I stayed away from you for nearly five years. Then I left my boyfriend. Soon afterwards I began hearing voices that didn't feel like me and I returned to you. I hid you from my family and didn't spend all my time with you, but enough that I was under your spell.

Then I moved away from my hometown, far away into the country. I had been feeling badly about myself for many years and I wound up choosing to be with another boyfriend, but this boyfriend was also very close to you. He kept you by his side all the time. You were close to nearly everyone in his family and I got closer to you too. I began spending all my time with you and my boyfriend. I couldn't get away from either of you and both of you hurt me badly. You polluted my air and made me cough and stink and even after I left my boyfriend for some reason I still held on to you, even though you hurt me. I was chained to you. I was an addict. I tried to break it off with you when I went back to school, but went right back to you five months later.

A few months after that I became paranoid and delusional. The voices in my head turned on me and attacked me. They said smoking was evil and that I had to quit and I tried so hard to leave you, but the stress was too much and I fell into a rut with you. Oh, I admit, at times you comforted me when I was at my lowest. I was so alone. You were my most faithful companion. But soon, I became so tired of always turning to you. I couldn't go a waking hour without turning to you. And last year I left you. I thought it was for good. I remained without you for over six months and then I spent a few moments with you and left again. Four months later I spent a week with you and left again. I've been seeing you and breaking up with you ever since and now I know this has got to stop.

The truth is you killed my grandfather. You also killed my grandmother's sister. The truth is you could kill me. The truth is I don't like you and I never really did. Right now my head hurts because of you and my house stinks and my poor cats are being hurt by you. You may think that I need you, but I don't. I spent over 10 months without you and I can spend the rest of my life without you. You have no redemptive quality. You are bad to the bone. This long and painful affair is over. I'm leaving you for good this time. I may see you around, but I will never join your company again. It's over between us.



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Passing Blue Mood

I've been feeling down the last couple of days. The weather has been grey, cold, a bit snowy and miserable for three days now. I'm moving into my winter hibernation mode. I have not smoked in three days, but the temptation to smoke one more pack before I quit on Monday is still with me. I feel isolated, even lonely and the voices are shouting in the distance. I can't hear what they say, I can only tell that they are agitated. It's the nature of life to go in and out of good and bad moods. I will come out of this poor mood and get productive again.

I did hear from a friend today. I met her at Al-Anon, but we fell out of touch over four years ago. She managed to find my blog and from there she emailed me. I'm looking forward to seeing her again. She is loving life right now and I am happy for her. She deserves it.

My brother is back online after being offline for about 10 months. He joined Facebook and is getting in touch with a lot of friends. I decided to join too. I tentatively began looking for old friends, but didn't have much luck. I'm going to ask Jen (Beautiful Mind) and Bev (the friend who emailed me today) if I can add them to my friend list because I found them on Facebook. J.P. are you still on Facebook? I forgot to check you out. Facebook is a closed system. You can only get into people's space if you are invited or ask. That's probably a good idea, but right now I only know my brother (and I just asked him to be on my friend list tonight) so I can't visit people's pages yet. It should be fun once I do have access to a few people.

Last night I was feeling too isolated, so I went to the NAMI message boards and posted about my smoking relapse, asking the people there if they smoke or have tried to quit. I used to follow those message boards a lot, but have drifted away from them, so I felt somewhat self-conscious posting. I'd like to try and keep in touch with the people there; they are a good bunch. They support each other and I'd like to help out, too. It's the best message board I've found for schizophrenia.

I haven't painted much because of my down mood. If I don't go shopping tomorrow with my brother, I will paint. I'm working on an acrylic painting of Avery Rose and Jack Michael hugging. I hope it comes out well.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More On Painting (And Smoking)

I painted the first image of Jack Michael, Avery Rose's brother, yesterday in watercolor. I think it came out well, except the photo is imperfect (too dark on the left hand side) due to my using a not great camera and not having the proper light set up for taking photos of artwork. The second image is not a duplicate. I had the artist who commissioned the work look at the painting in my Artid photo gallery and she said I had painted the face too wide, so I narrowed the face by painting more hair. I decided not to rework the colors of the face because I would have to create a whole new palette as the one I was using was all dried up. That's the advantage and drawback of using acrylic, it dries quickly. I think the second version does look more like Avery, but I feel as if I'm not quite capturing her essence. I decided today to try and paint a watercolor of the same photograph of Avery to see if I could get a better likeness, but no luck. I also worked on another watercolor of Jack, but that didn't come out either. And I started a new acrylic painting of Avery and Jack hugging each other. That one has some promise, but I have to be patient. I struggled to get an accurate skin tone today. Sometimes (too often) it is hard for me to identify what color I'm looking at when it comes to skin, so I don't know what colors to choose from my palette. The skin is made up of many subtly combined colors, the trick is to not either use just one color or use too many colors. Today I was using too many colors and left the painting unresolved. So, all in all, a frustrating day of painting compared to the success of the day before.

I smoked yesterday and drank too much coffee and stayed up all night painting. After I got up this afternoon, I returned to painting. I didn't smoke, but wanted to. I didn't take my own advice--I didn't read my addiction book or go online for support. Several people at Woofmang.com suggested that I quit now instead of waiting another week, but I didn't respond to them because I felt ashamed of choosing to smoke. I didn't continue with the Freedom From Smoking program today either. Instead I painted and felt frustrated with it and a little lonely. I did say out loud, "I can quit smoking." but my heart wasn't in it. When I smoke and don't do the prep work to quit I get pulled into the addiction and I start to worry that I won't be able to stop. But enough, I must be patient with myself and keep trying.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Avery Rose

I've been commissioned to paint two portraits for an artist on Artid and this is one of them. I worked on it for several hours. It's done in acrylic on stretched canvas and I am basically pleased with it, though I might fiddle with the color a bit tomorrow. I just got a bunch of photographs to work from today. I am so pleased to be working for someone other than myself and Avery Rose is such a beautiful girl, so it was a pleasure to paint her portrait. It's the first acrylic portrait I've done in quite a while. The truth is I will be painting more than just the two portraits. I'm going to paint as many as possible because I love the photos and I need the practice. I will be working not only in acrylic, but in watercolor as well. I enjoy painting children so much, probably because I don't have any of my own. I got a painting tip from About.com-painting about how to approach skin tone which I applied in this painting. I took three primary colors--ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow medium and alizarin (which is red)--and mixed them all together then added various amounts of titanium white to get different skin tones. Avery Rose has lovely pale skin, but I might have made her too pale. The colors in this photograph are not exact. I worked hard and quickly, as I often do when I'm into a painting. Tomorrow I will try painting her brother, Jack Michael. I've already started a watercolor of him, but didn't get too far as I got immersed in this acrylic painting. And there are several photographs of them together which will be a treat to draw and paint. I'm so grateful to the Artid artist for asking me to paint her niece and nephew. I'm starting to really feel like a committed artist which is a wonderful feeling. This assignment might spur me to start posting my business cards locally. I love doing this.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Smoking: Obsession And Compulsion

I haven't smoked for three days and I haven't felt particularly uncomfortable, at least not physically, but I decided to buy a pack of cigarettes tomorrow. It's not logical. I feel better and less stressed out when I don't smoke, so where does this "decision" come from?

My quit date is in eleven days and I haven't learned something I need to learn. I'm not facing the fact that I am an addict. I know my thinking is distorted and that I'm fooling myself, but I haven't dug deep enough. Tonight I picked up a book I bought a few years back; it's really two books in one. The first book is called ADDICTIVE THINKING and the second book is called THE ADDICTIVE PERSONALITY--Understanding the Addictive Process, Compulsive Behavior, and Self-Deception. The author of the first book writes, "I cannot stress enough the importance of realizing that addicts are taken in by their own distorted thinking and that they are its victims." Part of my distorted thinking is that I won't fully acknowledge myself as addict. Being an addict is not just having a physical dependence on a drug; it's also a psycho-spiritual illness, an obsession, a compulsion. That's why I think it's very important to be mentally/emotionally prepared to quit.

I've decided that I'm not physically addicted to nicotine yet because I don't go into withdrawal after I stop. This doesn't mean that I don't have a physical reaction to the nicotine when I inhale it because I certainly do, but I can detach from it. I don't crave it. I don't get irritable. This is very good news. I probably won't need either a nicotine replacement patch or a drug like Chantix to finally stop. This fact highlights to me that my real problem is in my mind. If I'm going to quit for good, I have to look into my thoughts and behavior. One person on a message board told me that quitting smoking is a process of self-discovery. I've learned already that I am not a bad person. In fact, I've found that I have the ability to be direct and honest and that in being direct and honest I find relief from my compulsion. That's why the support groups online (and I'm sure off line as well) are so valuable.

In the Freedom From Smoking program early on they say that you should say to yourself OUT LOUD--"I can quit smoking." You should say it often. You should discuss how it feels to say it on the message boards. Then you should also write it down on several index cards and post it in places in your house or apartment where you will see it often. I have one on the wall in front of my computer and one on the cork board in front of my drawing table. I should post even more of them--maybe one on the refrigerator and on the bathroom mirror. It may seem silly, but it is not. It's a very important tool and it shows your willingness to move in the direction of quitting.

In effect, when you say "I can quit smoking", when you write it and post it, when you read it, you are reprogramming your compulsion and replacing it with positive reinforcement. When you go to your support groups and get honest and give support, you are reprogramming your internal message, replacing "I must smoke" with "I can quit smoking". The more you do these things, the greater your chance of success. There's a 12 step saying: "It works if you work it." I've found this to be true. But if you don't work it or work it sporadically, you leave yourself vulnerable to your primary compulsion.

My brother is critical of 12 step programs. He sees it as just more obsessive/compulsiveness and in some ways he may be right, but I can't really see a better alternative. In one of the Freedom From Smoking lessons they have you calculate how often you've reinforced your smoking behavior over the years. Here's the example: On average you smoke ten inhalations per cigarette. That's 10 times you practice smoking (which is a learned behavior). If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, that's 200 times you've practiced in one day, times that by 365 days (I think that's a year) and then by the number of years you've smoked. In my lifetime I've smoked over 20 years. For me I've practiced smoking over a million and a half times. What this means is that you have to practice quitting thoughts and behaviors to combat years of smoking practice. You have to unlearn your smoking behavior and replace it with something positive.

I've included tonight in the favorite links part of my blog 5 online sites that will help those who want to practice quitting smoking. J.P. check them out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

City And Country

Thanks J.P., Nancy and Jen for posting comments on my blog. I really appreciate it.

I didn't smoke today. Didn't even want to, despite the fact that it was a cold, windy, even snowy! day. I did treat my brother to lunch and then I went and got my first 40 lb bag of sunflower seeds this season for the birds. When I got home I put out seed along with some plain peanuts. The birds love the peanuts. The only birds I've seen so far around the house are the blue jays and a couple of chickadees, but I'm sure more will come now that I'm putting out food. In fact, I think the blue jays are scouts for the other birds.

I feel a great sympathy for the birds and the deer in the late fall and through winter. They are part of what gets me through the season. Deer hunting season is coming up and I hate it, but can't do anything about it. Some people (mainly men) get drunk and go hunting--drunk men with guns is a frightening thought and not just for the deer. Someone always gets accidentally killed each year. But to be fair, some people hunt to feed their families during the winter. I live in a poor county of New York and this year money is going to be even tighter; I know there are quite a few people who hunt more out of necessity than for the sport of it. The other thing is that because there are not many predators killing the deer (except humans) there is overpopulation and the deer starve to death. Nature can be so brutal. Me, I just put out some birdseed, peanuts and apples to feed the birds and treat the deer and hope for the best for them and for me.

I used to be a city girl till I was 27, but now I've become a country woman. Next June will mark my 20th year here. I can barely recall what it was like living in the City. I've visited so infrequently over the last two decades, mainly because it is too far away and I lost touch with the people I used to know there (though Nancy has very graciously said I could come and visit her sometime). When I have visited the City, I've realized why I still love it. The people, the buildings, the museums, there's just so much to like about New York City. It's got a lot of character. It's also fast paced, often noisy, a bit dirty, somewhat dangerous in certain places, at certain times. You need to be somewhat tough to live there. I used to be tougher, more city savvy. It used to be my home. I never let myself miss it, but when I visit I know I left a part of myself behind with it. My family says I can't move back there because it's too expensive, but sometimes I wonder.

Right now, I'm staying put where I am, in a small college town in the country, but I don't always want to stay here. I want to move someplace with public transportation, medical care, culture--at least to a small city. Ideally I would live an hour and a half from the City in upstate New York--still too expensive. There's another place that I'm considering that is closer to where I live now, but I don't know. The economy is bad and will most likely get worse before it gets better. I'll just have to wait and see. Except for the driving, living in the country feels more restful to me. Being able to look outside and see the deer grazing is a little blessing along with the hills and trees and all the other animals and birds. But I really don't take advantage of it because I mostly stay inside my house. I'm hoping next spring I will get outside and paint the landscape. The only time I've done that is when I took a watercolor class just before I went back to school. That was quite a while ago.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Watercolor Demonstration--Part B

Okay this is kind of backwards, but I'm hoping that you'll piece it together and figure it out. Below, in Part A, I show the photograph I'm working from. It's a reference photograph I got online. I do not know this girl, but I love her face and expression. The next photograph is of the drawing I made of her face. The following photograph shows me beginning the painting. Basically, you get a flesh tone by mixing the three primary colors: blue, red and yellow. This will give you a brownish color which you dilute with water. You have to experiment to find the right color and tone. I'm just a relative beginner at this, so I approximated and put down a wash of the color over all of the subject's face except for part of the whites of her eyes. In my opinion I didn't do a great job of this because the wash is kind of blotchy, but it will serve my purpose for now. In the next image I deepen the shadows with more of the brown mixture as well as creating some hair color. (I don't have the images in front of me, so I'm doing this from memory. Hopefully I'll get it right.) In the last image of Part A I begin to add color to the eyes and mouth and skin.

In Part B I continue the process, gradually deepening the darks and the color of her eyes and mouth. The process is called going "light to dark". I often have the temptation to darken the eyes and lips with color too soon, sometimes even before I've put on the base color. Not a good idea. Painting is about relationships, as you can see in this demonstration. The face changes dramatically during the process of adding color a bit at a time. If you jump in and paint the eyes and lips first, they will probably wind up too dark and without the subtlety of various layers of colors. All this I'm still trying to learn and during the process I often removed or lightened the colors by dabbing the paper with a paper towel. If you've made a mistake as long as you remove the color quickly, there is no harm done and sometimes you can create some good effects by playing around with the process. My weakness is, I think, that I don't estimate the skin tones properly and don't lay the base color down dark enough, so the final image tends to look a bit washed out, not colorful enough. Not sure if this painting really works. In my braver moments I'm more experimental with color, but I couldn't do that for this demonstration.

Watercolor is transparent and that's why you go from light to dark. Acrylics and oils and gouache are opaque which is why you go from dark to light. So every time I go from one medium to another, I switch my process. Opaque paint is technically easier because you can just paint over mistakes you make and try again. Watercolor is pretty challenging because you can't always just go over mistakes. Different artists use different techniques for correcting mistakes in watercolor. Some use blotting paper as I did, some wait till their mistake is dry, take a small wet brush and lift off color gradually, some use special illustration board to paint on and actually scrub paint off and still others even use a razor blade to get rid of mistakes. But the best mistakes are the ones that redirect your painting and teach you new things. And, of course, there are mistakes that are just mistakes and can't be gotten rid of, in which case you should soak your imperfect painting in water to get rid of the colors, dry it and try again or at least use the paper for color testing while working on another painting.

Watercolor Demonstration--Part A

Sunday, October 19, 2008

And Life Goes On

It's been almost two years since I started this blog and I only just now figured out how to have a full comment page where you can see the whole post that you're responding to, if you want to. I wish I were more computer savvy. I should really take an online class. Not knowing anyone really limits my ability to learn new things about the computer. Now, there's a whole generation of kids and young adults who have grown up with it, have learned it and taught it to each other (and probably to their parents, too). I should spend more time learning, instead of just using.

I spent a full two hours trying to resist the temptation to buy a pack of cigarettes and wound up going out and buying it. Ironically, after I came home, I went online to the Freedom From Smoking message boards and began working the program. I left several comments and started to feel more positive about my ability to quit again. Part of it is just saying aloud repeatedly--"I can quit smoking." That sounds sort of silly, but it's not. In fact, it's a relief to say it and a prayer at the same time. I must just keep trying each day, each night to prepare for my quit date in about two weeks. I also find going online and supporting others in their quit really helps too. J.P. if you are serious about quitting, definitely find several online groups to join. There are quite a few of them out there now that there's an international push to help people stop smoking. Just remember, the more times you try to quit, the closer you'll come to actually quitting. I'm starting to believe this again.

While I was trying to distract myself from buying cigarettes, I started a drawing of a young girl's face close up which I will turn into a watercolor painting. I'm thinking of doing a demonstration on this blog of the basic stages I go through when making a painting by taking a photograph at each stage and then posting them here. I saw another artist do that in her blog a little while back and thought it was cool. It all depends on whether I can pull it off though. Not all my watercolors come out. I have a pile of unsuccessful watercolor paintings. I've read that you shouldn't throw them out, but instead should soak them in water to wash out the paint, let the paper completely dry and then start a new painting.

Meant to clean the house or at least start on it this week-end, but didn't do a thing. It's long since gotten way out of hand. I learned tonight that Nancy is going to hire a cleaning woman to help her. Nancy works full time and needs more time to dedicate to her art. I don't work, except at painting, but the combination of the schizophrenia and recurring depression really hampers me. I've gotten a bit better about washing my body and cleaning my teeth, but that's about it. I used to enjoy bouts of cleaning. No more. Now I let things get dirtier and dirtier and I allow no one, except occasionally my brother, into my house. And that's a problem because sometimes people need to come into my house to fix things. Right now I have no satellite television reception and I haven't for months. I need someone to fix it and I've been putting off calling to have it fixed even though I'm paying for it each month. Really, I should have someone come and clean my house once or twice a month, but I don't have the money and I'm mortified by the state of my house. I keep hoping I'll change and get better.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Quiet Day

This is J.P.'s cat Rosie. Sorry J.P. I tried painting the photo of her outside in the foliage, but it didn't come out, so I chose one of the other photos to work from. If you think it looks like her, I'll send you the painting.

Quiet day today and I didn't buy cigarettes. I thought about it, but I didn't do it. I'm trying to drink more water when I get anxious about it. I painted Rosie, then shot some photographs of myself and the landscape outside my house. I'm thinking of doing a self-portrait using more naturalistic colors and I'd also like to paint one of the landscape photos I took today. I'm still using watercolors and acrylic because they are water based and easy to clean up, but sometimes I miss working in oils. I discovered on About.com-painting that there are water-based oils. I have never heard of that. I would like to try them out, but no funds right now. Maybe after Christmas I can get a beginner set.

I was looking and reading through a book by a teacher of mine, Mary Beth McKenzie. The book is called A Painterly Approach and it came out in 1987 when I was taking her class at the National Academy Of Design in New York City. It's filled with beautiful photographs of her work with several demonstrations and a review of her process in pastels, oils and monotype printing. She writes well and I think I will re-read the book for guidance and even inspiration. I've returned to the images in this book repeatedly over the years because I'm drawn to her style which is sort of an abstracted realism with a focus on color. She an excellent draftsman and an excellent painter. She taught me several things, one being that the background is just as important as the foreground subject. Most beginning artists focus on the face in a portrait and neglect the background until the very end of the painting. I sometimes do this too. But the color you choose for the background will affect all the colors in the portrait. Also it's important to bring some of the background color into the foreground and visa-versa. If you don't the painting will lack a certain harmoniousness. One of the hardest things Ms. McKenzie tried to teach was not treating your oil painting as if it were precious. Instead she encouraged doing reconstructive surgery, so to speak, on the forms that weren't working. I did this yesterday in one of my acrylic paintings.

You can do these things with acrylic or oil painting because the paint is opaque and you can just paint over mistakes. Not so easily done with watercolors where colors are transparent and mistakes show through or colors get muddy when you paint over them too much. Watercolor is a different headset, many say more difficult. Even so, I enjoy switching from watercolor to acrylic and back again to vary my process and challenge myself.

It was partly cloudy today and cold and I turned up the heat for the first time this year. Snow will be coming soon. I hope I'm ready for another winter season. Last year I stayed home a lot to avoid driving because I was feeling some anxiety about driving after I skidded of the road one fall.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Two Choices

In the Freedom From Smoking program I've been asked to write about my two choices: to smoke or not to smoke.

I saw my therapist yesterday and told her that I had smoked several times in the last two weeks. I told her I had joined The American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking program. At the end of the meeting I asked her to wish me luck, which she did. I then walked to a store a bought a pack of cigarettes. I chose to smoke. But why? The lame logic was that if my quit date is Novemeber 3rd, that means that I can smoke until that time. Addictive thinking. I haven't been posting on the message boards and I know I have to. The choice to smoke means that I will be chained to a cigarette again and I hated that feeling. If I choose to smoke, I choose to put my health in jeopardy. I make my family unhappy. I make myself unhappy. If I choose to not smoke, I will initially be uncomfortable, but in the long run I will be happier.

I'm in a strange situation, hanging between smoking and not smoking, and I find it stressful. If I were committed to quitting I would be more comfortable, more motivated, but right now I am not committed to it. I could get a pack tomorrow. I have to remember that I quit for 10 months and that that is something to be proud of. I have to remember that it often takes several serious tries before it quitting for good takes hold and that the more I open the door to quitting, the more likely I will. I have to encourage myself and not scold myself.

The choice to not smoke gives me the freedom I want and the choice to smoke takes away that freedom. Well, I'm still not committed, but I have to keep trying a little each day, writing, going to the message boards, talking into my tape recorder. I can quit smoking. I am saying it out loud.


Nancy called me tonight and I actually picked up the phone. These photographs are for her because she likes industrial sites. I shot them with my digital camera (that is now defunct) in Galway, Ireland in the spring of 2004. They're not the normal pictures of Ireland, but I still like them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Three Self Portraits Done At Age 16

I thought it would be interesting for you to look at these self-portraits I did in high school many years ago. The first two are expressionistic while the third sort of looks like me then, but is still moody (I look like I have a black eye). The one I've always been drawn to is the second portrait, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it foreshadowed my descent into madness. It's intense and strange. The technique was to take a piece of paper, lay down a wash of neutral color and maybe add another color, then take ink to outline the portrait and then, if you want, use pastels to further define the portrait. I should try to do that again. A teacher of mine in the late 1980s, Mary Beth McKenzie, used a similar technique using gouache first to make the general composition and then working over it with a variety of subtle pastel colors.

I'm very happy to have found About.Com-Painting because it keeps me in touch with other artists through the message boards, gives me instruction in various articles and allows me the chance to give feedback and get feedback on artwork. I especially like going to other artists' websites. It's a good learning tool. I found one website by an artist who paints animal portraits, which is something I've thought of doing too. I printed out his order form to get some ideas about how I should approach the business side of painting portraits of/for people.

I included a link to my website on two posts last night and the more I post, the more I will be promoting my work to others if they click the link. I would also like to promote Artid to the people there because I think it's an excellent and inexpensive way to share one's artwork and possibly make a sale. It's also an art community which I think is a plus and makes the experience more satisfying through the use of art blogs and commenting in guestbooks. A lot of artists have good websites, but they are out there in isolation. I prefer a group setting, which is ironic considering in my offline life I am quite a recluse. But, in truth, when it comes to making art, I wouldn't mind going to a regular class and being around others, I just don't have access to that right now.

Self promotion is hard and I've done practically none of it since last spring when I joined Artid. I should be posting my business cards locally, but I feel shy about it. Maybe, if I get more positive feedback online about my art and I get used to promoting myself, I will become ready to venture into my own community.

Monday, October 13, 2008

New Quit Date

This is a watercolor I painted of a B&W photograph of my brother's first cat, Squeaky. He was supposed to be my cat (I named him I'm afraid), but I abused the privilege by dressing him up in doll clothes one day when he was a kitten. Hey, I was a kid... Thanks J.P. for sending me three photos of your cat Rosie. I might try painting one of them to send to you.

Well, I've been smoking. Twice this week and I see all the warning signs. If I don't take steps to stop it now, I'll be back to a pack a day in no time, so I joined The American Lung Association--Freedom From Smoking program today. The sad fact is that most people need to make several attempts to quit before they can quit for good. Last September when I quit was my first attempt in about nine years and I stayed free of it for over ten months. I'm proud of doing that, but now I slid into making excuses. I think one of the mistakes I made was in not keeping up with the online support. I found a really good site called Woofmang.com and I think I will go back there too. I'm impressed with the people who've quit who stay in touch with the boards and offer support long after they've quit. I hope I'll turn into one of those people.

Right now I'm not physically addicted to the nicotene, but I'm right on the edge of it. I hated being tied to a cigarette day in and day out. It was like being a prisoner to it. It took me a long time to get sick and tired of it. The first year I became psychotic, the voices attacked me for smoking and forced me to try and quit, but I couldn't and I don't recommend trying to quit when you are very stressed out. It's best to wait till you're more stable. You have to be ready to quit. I'm getting ready by writing about it now. The Freedom From Smoking program suggests you set a quit date three weeks from starting the program. Three weeks from today I'm going to try to quit for good again--November 3rd, 2008.

I started smoking when I was twelve, but not a lot. A boy I liked smoked and I thought he looked "cool", so I decided to try it with another friend. I was too young at the time to realize that I was toying with something that would eventually hook me. My first boyfriend didn't smoke (his mother did and he hated it) and so I didn't smoke during the five years we were together. After we broke up, I gradually returned to it. I smoked maybe half a pack, but not every day. It was soon after I moved away from the city and got involved with an abusive alcoholic that I jumped up to a pack a day. Then I smoked because I was stressed out in the relationship, but afterwards I continued to smoke a pack a day. That's when I tried to quit.

That lasted five months and then I went right back to smoking a pack a day again. Then I became psychotic and tried to quit in the midst of the worst of it. That was pretty traumatic and kept me smoking till last year.

The thing is I know what I should do, but a lot of times I don't do it. I sabotage my well-being by making unhealthy choices. All I can do, all anyone can do, is get back on the wagon and keep trying. So that's what I intend to do.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Checking In

Here's a funny picture of one of my cats, Ozzie.

Okay, I'm going to try again to write every day or at least every other day, even if it's a really short entry.

I was looking for online art classes to see if I could get some feedback on my artwork and ran into multiple art communities. The one I just joined is called About.Com-Painting (you can find it with my favorite links if you're curious). It's got extensive active message boards and a ton of articles; it's even got some video tutorials on painting techniques. (I still don't have video on my computer unfortunately...I have to work on that). And many of the people who post on the message boards have websites to visit which is fun. Last night I went to the message board for open critiques and feedback and gave my two cents on two paintings. Today I uploaded my "The Looking Glass" painting in hopes of getting some feedback for myself.

The issue I brought up was that some of my better work is of paintings based on other established artists' work, in this case Jock Sturges' and that I was realizing that I can't sell those works without getting permission from the artist. (I went to Artid and made the paintings based on other people's photographs not for sale.) So far I've gotten three replies, all positive about my watercolor, but firm in saying that I would need to get permission to sell the image. I got several suggestions to use my own photographs or work from a live model. I could also use some reference photos that are listed for free online. If my house weren't such a mess and I were braver, I would try to get a model to pose for me from the university. I still have to check out whether the university has an open sketch class this semester. I've thought before of setting up in some out of the way spot in town or in a park and sketching/painting. That would be a challenge and it would be good for me.

There are other alternatives, such as setting up a still life to draw and paint from or doing more self-portraits. I can continue with abstract paintings. I can also continue copying from great artists for study, though I still don't know if it's okay to paint a copy of say a Cezanne to sell. I noticed someone on Artid selling reproductions of great art and so I thought it was okay. I'll have to do more research on that.

I spent so much time on the computer today, I didn't paint much. I worked a bit on a self-portrait in watercolor, but got lost in the shifting skin tones. I made some areas too red and other areas too orange. I still don't have a strong grasp on creating skin tone and making shadows. So I live and learn. That's the point, to keep learning.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fainting, Politics and Painting

This is a photograph of my ying and yang poster that I have in my living room with early morning shadows framing it. I keep it as a subliminal reminder that there are greater forces at work even in my life.

I want to write a blog entry, but I'm having trouble deciding what to write about. I'm somewhat envious of those bloggers who actually post once a day. I haven't been able to do it. How do you sum up a day in a couple of paragraphs? I keep feeling like I should have something important to say, but most of my life is quiet.

Yesterday I brought my brother to the hospital to get some blood taken for tests. He sees his doctor next week to monitor his diabetes. I waited for him in the car thinking it would take no more than half an hour. An hour went by and I got restless, so I went into the hospital to check on him. A nurse took me aside and said that my brother had fainted after his blood was drawn. She took me to his room. It was a small room, brightly lit, with a bed in the center. On that bed was my brother in a hospital gown talking with some friendly animation about English soccer to his doctor who was standing by the bed. As the doctor began talking I noticed he had an English accent. I could see that he was torn between giving medical advice and talking soccer. This reassured me that my brother's condition wasn't serious.

Soon after that he was discharged with the strong recommendation that he take it easy for the rest of the day. I drove him home and then went and got us lunch to eat at his house. I worried a little about him fainting again and what would he do if he fainted when he was alone. I've had similar worries about myself getting incapacitated when alone at night. Not that I think I'm particularly likely to. Mostly I felt detached, not wanting to engage in worrying, but the truth is my brother and I are getting older and we are no longer feeling the invulnerability of youth.

I feel protective of my brother, especially since he doesn't drive. I also just love him. He has his share of character defects, just as I do, but he's smart, honest and funny. He talks straight and he doesn't try to be anything but himself. He's the person I'm closest to in the whole world. I don't want anything bad to happen to him and I want to be there if he needs me. My family is so small, just my mother and father and uncle and my brother and me. That's it. If Rob and I are fortunate enough to live to an older age, I know we will be involved in each other's lives. We might have to live together. I'm hoping we move within ten years to a small city with adequate transportation and medical services and some culture. We shall have to see in which direction the country's economy turns in the next few years.

Speaking of the economy, wow, are we in trouble. I am an absolute boob when it comes to the economy, but I know that the whole world is struggling with this right now. I'm praying those in charge will make wise decisions and pull us through this. Being a Democrat I'm also praying that Obama wins the election in November. I don't trust McCain to be wise and I certainly don't trust Palin to possibly assume the office of the President of this country, let alone be the Vice President. My feeling is that the Republicans had their turn for two terms and now it is time for a change with new and different leadership. Whoever wins will have a tough job ahead of them trying to repair the mess of the previous administration. I hope the young people come out in droves and vote for the Democratic ticket. It's their future that's at stake and they should participate. I'm just amazed at the number of people who don't vote. There are countries aching to be democratic and some of the people who live in the US take the democratic process for granted. This election may be different. The internet has changed the game and made participation more natural. I wonder, if at some point any one of us could vote from a personal computer, would more people do it? My brother is registering voters today, the last day to do it, at least in New York.

Otherwise, I've been painting. I've done a series from Jock Sturges' photographs in watercolor and am struggling with one in acrylic. I don't know, is it okay to base my paintings on the works of another artist? I remember asking my teacher this when I was painting my Bluegirl painting and he said why not? I feel like I'm taking something that's not mine, when what I'm doing is more like transforming or translating something from one medium to another. Really, I'd rather work with color photographs. It's quite hard to make up color combinations than to follow them. Following the color of a person's body or of an object is an art form in itself unless you are painting colors expressionistically and intuitively (which can be a lot of fun). I'm sorely tempted to buy a book of Sturges' color photographs. Then again, working from a black and white photograph forces me to think about color. In the watercolor paintings I tried to be more naturalistic, but in the acrylic painting I am painting skin tones in blues as I did before, kind of following the Bluegirl painting.

The fun thing about painting in acrylic, as opposed to watercolor, is I get to exaggerate the forms and then go back over them and refine them. I started this recent painting by laying out the composition in ultramarine blue, which is a relatively dark blue. In the beginning outlining is fine because the paint being opaque means you can paint over or close to the outline in lighter shades of color. This allows for lots of layering possibilities. I feel a sense of power when I go over certain areas and remodel. Or change an entire color scheme. It took me a while to learn that lesson: that you don't have to keep what you initially start out with, that you can rework it like a sculptor with moist clay. That's not as true, I'm finding, with watercolor which requires more delicacy and precision. Truth is, I like both mediums for different reasons. I let go with acrylics and rein in with watercolor, so there's a kind of a push me, pull me thing going on when I work back and forth between them.