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.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thoughts On Aging & Two New Drawings

These are two drawing I did in the last couple of days. The top one is just pure fantasy and the bottom one is in honor of the bear I saw a couple of weeks ago. Sorry about the photographs not being just right. I'm not very skilled with the photo editing and my program is not that good anyway, so that compounds the problem. I'm hoping my new camera will rectify some of that. It's frustrating to take a bunch of shots of one piece of artwork in different lighting situations and still get an out of focus, slightly off image. I'll just have to keep working on the problem until I find a solution.

I haven't been painting as much as I've wanted to this past week partly due to some unexpectedly hot weather and partly due to depression. So I've been sleeping too much. I also smoked 2 and a quarter packs of cigarettes in the last 2 weeks. Yuk. I do not want to get hooked into that again. It's a drag and it gets me feeling more depressed. I didn't smoke today, instead I bought a pizza which is a rare treat for me. I know pizza is a very common place food, but I don't eat it. I stick to my diet. I bought it as a birthday present to myself, even though my birthday is tomorrow. I'm proud to say that I've eaten half of it and I don't feel guilty about it. In fact, it's a pat on my own back for sticking to the diet and losing 17 pounds so far.

Around mid-day tomorrow I will turn 47 years old. I moved away from New York City 20 years ago. I am no longer the Brooklyn girl that I once was. It's ironic because when I went to high school in Manhattan the kids used to joke about me living in Brooklyn with the cows, as if Brooklyn was deep in the country for them. Now I really do live in the country with the cows (and bears...). Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I hadn't left The City. I still call it that, The City, as if there is no other city but that one. For a while that's the way it felt. Last night I was chatting on facebook with Nancy who lives in The City. She's invited me to visit her for a couple of days in the summer and I'm thinking I might just take her up on that. I live 6 hours away from Manhattan, but I rarely go and visit because I've lost touch with old friends and it's too expensive to stay in a hotel. Still I feel shy.

For the most part I acknowledge that I'm a middle aged woman now. My neck has fallen and I'm still obese, though 17 pounds lighter than I was 3 months ago. It's an odd comfort to no longer seek to present myself as attractive anymore because I can just be who I am, though sometimes I get wistful for youth again. I didn't enter into middle age gently. I entered into it in the midst of severe psychosis. I often thought, what a horrible way to be initiated into getting visibly older. But then modern culture is pretty terrified of aging. Everyone is supposed to stay frozen between 25 and 30. I thought it was pretty sad when I read Brooke Shields was unhappy about starting to look like an older woman. And I feel sorry for those women (and men) who obsess about appearing to look young and who actually go under the knife to preserve what's left of their youth. It must be hard for some to be aging in the public eye and I'm grateful that I am not.

Oh, I'm not being completely truthful here because I would like to be slimmer, healthier and more presentable. I just know that I can't turn back the clock. In three years I will be 50. I want to grow into that age as gracefully as I can. Right now, I dye my hair brown because I have a lot of gray in my hair. I've had gray in my hair for 20 years, since around the time I left NYC. I wasn't ready then to go gray, but now I'm getting closer to wanting to really be natural. Maybe, once I lose the excess weight I've put on, I will. My hair is also long (which my mother doesn't approve of) and I might go short as I did in my youth. I've just felt unattractive for a while mainly because of the weight, but now I am hopeful that I will lose the weight within 12 months. The kind of attractive I may become will not be of a youthful kind, but it will be good enough for me.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Red Wheel Joy Ride

I had a successful day painting today mainly because I got some new 24"x30" canvas boards to paint on. This is my fourth acrylic, abstract, expressionist painting. I plan to do eight more so that I can use the images to make up a calendar on the Zazzle site.

After I've finished a painting, I sit and just stare at it, looking for identifiable images within the painting. In this painting I found a blue figure (blue head and torso) with outspread arms riding on a mountain bike or motorcycle with a red wheel in the countryside, hence the title to this blog entry. Don't worry if you don't see it because it's not that obvious and you may see other images within this painting if you look at it closely. But I do find that my more successful abstract paintings have images or scenes within them.

So far in this series I'm sticking with starting a painting with Mars black acrylic paint to get a base design/drawing down. Once I get past the initial stage of facing down the white canvas with the black paint and spreading the design across the entire canvas, paying attention to the corners, then I begin laying down bold colors, filling in or covering over the black marks. Much of the process is intuitive. I choose colors quickly when I paint and then step back and study the color relationships using my imagination to fill in a new color in a new position to test out what I will paint next.

I like working on the canvas boards, though I find myself wishing that I could afford to frame them, so that I could hang them on the walls. Right now I live with about two of them at a time, one on my easel and one propped up on a chair. I'm not sure why, but I am fond of three out of the four abstract acrylic paintings. There's courage in the choice of colors and a commitment to the painting process that I find refreshing. I let myself be impulsive and trust that my instincts will guide me. I look at the whole canvas and don't get hung up on one part, don't get overly precious. In fact, I find it a sign that the painting is going well when I can take one color and go over broad areas, covering up marks that I was becoming too attached to. I have to push myself a little to do that, take the chance of going in a weaker direction. I learned this technique from a painting teacher, Mary Beth McKenzie. She would come to each student's canvas individually, take her paint brush, dab it in black or dark blue and proceed to correct the proportions of a portrait with decisive strokes and life would spring into the image. Some people would get disturbed by her approach, but I looked forward to it. Courage, repetition, decisiveness and close study of color. She was the best teacher I ever had.

A couple of days ago I picked up a few more quarts of colored enamel house paint, now I have enough to paint on the floor on primed, but unstretched canvas. I did this about four years ago in art school. I was inspired by both Jackson Pollack and Joan MItchell (though I believe Mitchell painted on large sheets of primed canvas tacked to the wall). It's been a while, but it's a whole different feel to paint flat on the floor with large paint brushes. There's such a feeling of energy in it.

I also began working on a new song today. I even added harmony to the two stanzas I came up with and recorded it on my portastudio, which I haven't done in a long time. I am cautiously returning to songwriting and singing, a little bit here, a little bit there. So far, the voices have not been attacking me for it and I'm able to sing with some feeling. That's a relief.


These two drawings were done with Faber Castell PITT artist pens. I just got them yesterday and am testing them out to see what they can do. The pens are meant for calligraphy and cartooning. I want to use them for design work. I haven't played around with markers for a while. I used to to ink drawing in high school. Maybe I'll photograph some of them and show you what I was doing when I was seventeen.

I'm enjoying doing abstract art in different mediums. These two drawings combine the methodical quality of the gouache abstracts with the freedom of the acrylic abstract expressionist paintings. But I would like to do some graphically designed animal studies as well. I saw some beautiful animal designs by an artist named Mike Kershnar on the Zazzle site and he's inspired me to try some to put on cards and t-shirts.

Last week I asked my father for some financial support to get more art supplies because on my own I can't afford them. He said for now it would be okay because of the Obama administration's stimulus plan. On top of that he said that I could get a better camera for my birthday present. The camera I've chosen will allow me to take better pictures of my artwork, but also will allow my to return to photography as an art form. I can also base paintings on the photographs I take. The camera is a Canon SX10 IS and it has both a super macro lens and a super telephoto lens, so I can get up close whether the object I'm photographing is near by or far away.

I used to be a pretty good black and white film photographer with my own darkroom. I wasn't a people photographer, too shy to do that, so I concentrated on landscapes and cityscapes and still lives. I had a good instinct for it, but technically I wasn't very good and that got worse after I developed schizophrenia, so I switched over to painting, which seemed to come more easily. But even there when I was in school I struggled. Now all the work I'm doing is a boon. I'm just grateful that I can get the art supplies so that I can keep working and exploring.

I'd like to welcome a new follower of this blog, Valerie Wangnet. She pointed out in a comment that the yin/yang symbol surrounded by trigrams is called a Ba Gua which I didn't know. And she asked if i were a Taoist. I chose the Ba Gua for this blog because I intermittently follow the Chinese divination practice called the I Ching, that and I have an affinity for the yin/yang symbol. To me the balance represented by the yin/yang symbol is the closest representation of God that I can find. Because I know what it is like to be mentally and emotionally unbalanced, I revere balance. It is my goal in life. Am I a Taoist? Only in part. I would say I'm more of a Buddhist by nature, but then I also have elements of Christianity in my makeup. And as a child I had Jewish friends and joined in some of their holiday celebrations. Is my art Taoist? Only in the sense that I seek a certain harmony and, yes, balance, in the art that I create. A cohesiveness. But, really, I am very ignorant about Taoist philosophy, despite calling my blog Yin And Yang and displaying the Ba Gua. Still balance is the key to my happiness and survival and I believe in it deeply. But I do welcome instruction. There are some T-shirts on the Zazzle site with the word Co-Exist and all the symbols of religion surrounding it. That's where I'm at. Take what you need and leave the rest.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Sisters" and Another Acrylic Painting

It's too late to write much, but I just wanted to post my two latest paintings, both of which I did today. On thursday I bought 5 one quart cans of acrylic enamel housepaint (indoor/outdoor paint) in 5 different colors, but they didn't have yellow which is an essential primary color, so tomorrow I'm going to try another place. Once I have the three primary colors--yellow, blue and red, I can mix orange, purple and green, but I also got a pre-mixed green and a gray and a black, though brown would be good too. I will use primer for the white. Then I will set up on the floor with primed, but unstretched canvas. Much cheaper to paint this way, though I think I will spend some money getting more non warping canvas boards which are as cheap as you can get, that is around $6 for a 24" x 30" board. That's not bad. A stretched canvas that size could cost $15-$25-$35 depending on how thick the wood is. Ideally, I should use my garage to build stretchers and make frames. I've never made a frame, but I have stretched canvas at school on some very nice, thick wood. Right now, I can't do it, but maybe within a year or two.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bear Figurine And Latest Abstract In Gouache

No bear last night, I left the outside light on all night.

Here's my latest painting. I worked on it for a couple of days because I had trouble choosing the colors. The photograph doesn't quite do it justice, but you get the idea. This is the third painting in the gouache abstract series and I hope to do nine more so that I can make up a calendar of them. I'd also like to keep up with the abstract expressionist acrylic paintings and make up ten more of those. I like alternating from abstraction to portraiture. I got my watercolor easel the other day so I can begin to set up outside and paint. I have to see if I have enough energy and courage to do that. It will be a switch from painting from photographs or making up abstractions.

I've lost 14 pounds in just under 3 months because I've been sticking to the diet, but I haven't been exercising much lately and I really have to get back to it. Still the weight is coming off and I'm determined to lose the rest of it so that by Christmas I'll be approaching a healthy weight. The key so far to losing the weight has been to keep a food log of what I eat and to keep it within 1500 a day. I find I can do that and I don't feel deprived. I did return to the Anne Collins site, but I have to make a point of stopping by several times a week. She's a great motivational coach. All I want to say is that yes, you can lose the weight even if you are taking anti-psychotic medications. Just don't give up on it, allow for set backs and keep trying and know that you have to change your lifestyle and be patient. Slow and steady is that best way to lose it and keep it off. And set mini goals that you can reach, that has helped me to see that I am making progress. Also I've found that some weeks I'll lose 2-3 pounds and other weeks just a 1/2 a pound or nothing, so it's not generally a steady 1 pound a week thing, but in the long run the weight does come off.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Visit From The Wild

Thank you Nancy, Jeni and Bev for the comments to my last post.

Last night I woke up around 3:30 am to the sound of some animal making a bit of noise near my front door (I sleep on the couch in the living room) and I thought that it must be a deer going for the left over sunflower seeds that I spread out on the steps for the birds and squirrels. I've been putting out birdseed and peanuts all during the winter, but lately I've been cutting back because I want the wild creatures to go back to fending for themselves now that spring is sort of here. Well, I looked out the window to see if I could see the deer, but what I saw instead was the silhouette of a bear. The bear must have seen me because it quickly left the stairs and moved over towards my car and the road, but then it turned around and headed back for the stairs. Then I stopped looking. It didn't stay much longer. And I thought, of course, just out of hibernation and starving and drawn to the food I had put out.

I felt a mixture of things--fear, awe, respect. Just from the body language of the bear, I could tell that it was intelligent, sensitive, agile and cautious. I was also very aware that there was not much standing between me and the cats and that bear and that I didn't want to disturb the bear; but I was nervous, so I slid into the kitchen and turned on the light and prepared some hot tea. For the next hour I was restless, though I knew the bear had long gone away. I knew that the next afternoon I would sweep off the last of the seeds and leave the outside light on by my front door all night, to let the bear know that I know it is around and hopefully to ward it off.

The last time I saw a bear was two and a half years ago just outside my house crossing the road in late afternoon/early evening sometime in fall. So this new incident makes me believe that I'm living in a bear's territory, though I have no idea where the bear(s) hibernate around here. I'm the perfect house to approach because I rarely go out and I leave out food and I don't usually leave on outside door lights or flood lights. But I don't leave my garbage outside and I don't have a compost heap. As human houses go, I'm pretty non threatening to a bear I guess.

For all I know that bear may have come to my front door many times and be quite familiar with the outside of my house. The other night I had a dream that two lions and a bear were outside a house I used to live in with my family. What a shock to see some beings so wild and yet so majestic, so close to me. There's the threat of danger and the absolute necessity to be extra cautious, but there's also a feeling like if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone and to a certain extent we can co-exist. Respect boundaries, don't act foolishly and there can be peace.

I have a small stone sculpture of a bear, a Native American sculpture that I got out West quite a while ago. Unfortunately, I don't know which tribe, but I do know that it was part of that tribe's ritual to take a small statue and try and draw the breath out of it and into your soul, to take on the particular animal spirit. I chose the statue because I liked what I read the bear represented, something very strong and positive. That, and I liked the beauty and simplicity of the sculpture and design. The bear fits nicely, smoothly into the palm of one of my hands.

Though I am scared of bears, I am also so glad that there is still some free country for them to live in. Humans are greedy with resources. Animals deserve some of those resources.

For some reason I think the bear was female because it was neither so big, nor so small in size. What's a good respectful name for my neighbor? Ursula means "She-bear" in Scandinavian. I wish her well. May she stay safe and healthy and may I stay out of her way.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Death On Good Friday

Around the time that I was writing the last entry, a 17 year old girl had died or was dying from an auto collision that took place relatively near to my house, though I had no clue about it at the time. I found out about it on Saturday afternoon from my brother. The boy driving the car was her boyfriend and he didn't get seriously hurt. He misjudged, thinking that the truck was going to stop when it didn't. I vaguely know him because he played on our friend Rich's high school soccer team. My brother said that I talked to his grandmother once at a game, but I don't really remember. It is so sad about the girl, but my heart really goes out to that boy who will have to live with the fact of this for the rest of his life. On top of all that, he and the girl were next door neighbors, maybe they'd known each other since early childhood. I wish I could do something for him to ease his pain. It's incidents like this that scar a young person and put him or her on the wrong track. And I do believe there is a wrong track because I went on the wrong track myself when I was a younger woman. Young people don't have low self-esteem problems for no reason and this boy now has such a huge reason for tearing himself down. God, I hope that his family and friends stay close to him and keep telling him over and over "It wasn't your fault." Any one of us could have made the same simple mistake.

It makes me wonder about the existence of fate. Was this teenage girl destined to die young? And are there other people who are destined to live to old age? Because it seems as if the higher power could have prevented that fatal mistake with just a whisper in the ear saying STOP. But what good does such a death do? Was there an example that needed to be set for the other adolescents about careful driving. Would this one death save several others in the long run? It's just so senseless and horrible otherwise. And, of course, it was Good Friday, which I think is kind of creepy to call the crucifixion a good day, but so many people believe that Jesus died for their/our sins, thereby making the death "good". It seems to me that deaths vary, some die well, others die horribly. Jesus died horribly and this girl was not dead on impact. I heard her heart stopped a couple of times before she died. Cruel world! I mourn this girl and I mourn the little death to the boy's spirit that he will carry with him from now on.

I know there is goodness in the world and a lot of it, but there is also so much conflict and suffering. I still feel the echoes of some of the torture I've been through. Torture is such a strong word, but it is accurate and so many people, near and far, go through it whether it be domestic violence, mental illness or a war torn city. Sometimes I just get tired of the ups and downs each day, but at least I've lived a life. The young woman who died didn't get the chances that I got and am still getting and that seems very unfair. But then, obviously, life is not always fair because death shadows every one of us. I know I don't sound it, but I am grateful to be alive. So if you believe, send a prayer out to all the families that lose their children way too young. It's us survivors who need the help to keep on keeping on.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Another Acrylic Abstract

I painted this yesterday. Today I didn't paint, mostly slept and tomorrow I go shopping with my brother. I'm tempted to get some small cans of enamel house paint so that I can paint on primed, but unstretched, canvas on the floor as I did a few years ago in art school. There's something really nice about the enamel paint, makes me think of the printing paints I got to use when I took my one and only printing class. The paints I was using for on the floor were so colorful, meant mainly to paint kids' bedrooms. And then painting on the floor is an experience in itself. But if I remember correctly, my best work was done on smallish pieces of canvas. I can't afford to buy large stretchers anyway. I was looking at a Blick art supply catalogue because I just got some more watercolor paper and, boy, it's easy to find stuff to spend money on, a lot of it very useful stuff, not frivolous. It's not just the painting of something, it's the storing and then displaying that is important, too. I store my watercolor/gouache paintings in Itoya portfolio books, that's the economical alternative to having large, flat storage furniture. I will be so excited the first time I matt one of my pieces well, but then I will have to store the matted work...oh, I'll figure it out. I know I have a lot to be grateful for--some talent and some supplies and a supportive family and people (you) enjoying my work.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Abstract Landscape And Daylight Shot of Acrylic Abstract

Hi there, the bottom landscape I spent today doing in gouache. I'd like to do a series to turn into cards or posters or even a calendar. The top painting I reshot in daylight just to show how dramatically different lighting can make a piece of artwork. I prefer this photograph because the colors are truer. I've decided that I like it as is and I'm not going to re-work it, but move on to a new acrylic abstract. I think it's amazing what a change of medium and style can make. I'm not sure if you could identify both these paintings as from the same artist. That's one of the things I like about art is you can go in so many different directions.

I have not been singing and writing songs at all for the last week. I didn't like having a return of symptoms, so I figured I would cool it for a while and try again some other time. But if I hadn't had those symptoms, I might not have returned so strongly to painting, so good came out of it. The voices do not disturb me when I draw and paint, at least not much. I love being so creative. It suits me and I hope I can keep it up.

I have been making a habit of uploading photographs of my artwork not just here, but on Artid and on Facebook. Generally I put the work up for sale on Artid. Everytime you upload an image on Artid is gets shown in a key position for a day or two, possibly drawing the attention of an art collector or other Artid artists who happen to be uploading their images at the same time. That's what happened to me recently, a new Artid artist saw my work and left me a comment in my Guestbook. And today, after seeing my latest acrylic abstract, she sent me an email, which makes me feel great. I will write back to her to thank her and maybe to begin a friendship with her.

I put my work up on Facebook so my brother can see it and some of my friends who may not have visited my blog. He's said some nice things about some of my work to my mother. I am going to try to learn how to matt my work and when I do, I'm going to send a few gouache/watercolor pieces to members of my family. I just have to get to the point where I can have the confidence to do that. Working nearly every day is moving me in that direction.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Abstract In Acrylic

This painting may not be finished yet, I'm not sure. The problem for me is that I'm on a limited budget and I can't yet afford to get a decent lighting system. Many of my artworks have been photographed poorly due to that and using a cheap camera. I have to make do for now. I am planning on getting a matt cutter, so that I can learn how to matt my gouache/watercolor paintings. Doing it myself should save me a lot of money IF I can master it and I'm not sure that I can at this point. I'm getting a beginners book on it soon.

I haven't worked in acrylic for several months, so this was a good temporary break from painting in gouache. Doing the abstract in gouache, which I enjoyed, requires more precision than working in the acrylic, at least for this painting. So this painting is more passionate/expressionistic I think. I think it's great that I can go from one medium and one style to another. It keeps the work challenging. Part of why I decided to do this painting was because I got a nice comment from another artist on Artid saying she really responded to my abstract paintings and thought I should do more of them. I loosely followed a painting style from several years ago when I was in college to give me some guidelines to work with. The main thing is to get something down and not be critical and then rework it. Gouache is more delicate and can't be reworked at much, but acrylic you can put layer after layer and keep changing it quickly. What I've been doing is taking my camera and photographing the work as it progresses. It helps to give me some perspective on it, helps me to see better.

This painting is very busy, maybe too busy and yet I respond to it. Anyway, I wanted to post it here to see if 1) it is in focus (because I've been having problems with that) and 2) to just see it and get yet another perspective on it. I also like just sharing it with the good people who follow some of this blog. I'm pleased to hear back from a couple of new voices out there. Thank you.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

More Artwork

Up real late tonight. I'm like a dog with a bone sometimes when I want to get something done. In this case, I wanted to get good photographs and upload them here. I spent a chunk of today getting more photographs, a couple of cats and the rest of children. Collecting these photographs cheers me up. The animals and the children are so beautiful and so expressive. I think, for me, trying to specialize in pet and child portraits is a good avenue to take. But I do want to vary my approach, try different mediums and styles. The more I draw and paint, the more I want to kind of do everything. I have a lot to learn. My skill level is pretty tentative. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. This painting of the girl didn't quite work out, so I cropped the image. I won't sell the painting, but I might be able to put this image on Zazzle products, so it doesn't go to waste. But really, I have to start being more daring. All the great artists experiment and then experiment some more, risking what they've accomplished in an individual painting in order to discover new things. I'd like to be more like that.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pensive Dog

I love animals, so I decided to begin doing some animal portraits. This is my first attempt at drawing and then painting a dog. I've set up an online gallery space at Artid just for animals. I'm hoping that I can earn some income painting children and pet portraits because I have an affinity for them, but I need more practice.

I've actually gone out two days in a row, which is unusual for me. Yesterday I saw my therapist. I can't afford to see her every week, so I see her every other week. I brought in the paintings I've done recently for her to look at and she really liked them. She said, though I might not be able to practice music all the time, I should definitely continue with the painting. It has been a real pleasure painting nearly every day for the past week. I hope I can keep it up. I tried looking for photographs of landscapes to paint, but didn't find any that suited me though I looked for a couple of hours. It's very tiring looking through so many photographs, but choosing very carefully is important. I think what I choose to paint says a lot about me as an artist. When I look at a photograph I reflect on whether I could transform it into a good painting. Some photographs are very beautiful or well conceived, but would not make good paintings and some are too sophisticated for me to paint. For instance, water is hard to paint but very compelling to look at. At some point I will tackle that problem. Right now, I'm looking for images that I have the skill to paint. It will give me confidence in the long run to paint more challenging paintings.

Today I took my brother out to lunch. While we were eating a woman came in with her two children. I couldn't help but admire them and want to paint them. I thought, if only I had the courage to give the mother my business card, but I'm just not at that stage yet where I can promote myself locally. I'm hoping that will change within the next 6 months, maybe sooner, after I've gotten a lot of practice in. I might try doing an arts and crafts show in the fall. That would be a good opportunity to hand out my business cards, even if I don't sell any paintings. It's easier to sell online, but frankly, I haven't been getting buyers, though I'm hoping to get into designing through Zazzle. One thing I need to do is to price how much it would cost to start having my paintings matted. Matting my work would be a sign that I'm finally taking myself seriously as an artist.