Skip to main content

Painting from bed

[Image Description: A photograph of Rebecca’s painting cart. It is white with white wire mesh drawers.]
This experience of becoming seriously ill and disabled has really pushed me to figure out what’s important to me – and maybe more importantly, what isn’t. I’m trying to find ways to adapt and hold on to things that matter, and finding a way to keep painting is another exercise in creativity.

I posted a little story on Instagram showing what’s in my painting cart right now. This is part of the big experiment in figuring out how to paint in bed.  Head on over and take a look.

Painting and Bodies and Frida Kahlo

A black and white photograph of Frida Kahlo lying in bed on her stomach, her head turned to look at the viewer.

Source: Exploring Frida Kahlo’s Relationship With Her Body – Google Arts & Culture

I’ve often thought about the physicality of painting, and how I suspect that aspect of the work may be invisible to non–painters. For much of my life I have preferred to paint on fairly large surfaces – 4’x5′ or larger was often a sweet spot. This requires a lot of the body, especially as someone who’s not even 5’4″. Standing, crouching, reaching. Arms up. Bent sideways. Sweeping arm gestures. Logistics of whether you paint flat on the floor and what does that do to your back. Whether you use an easel, and whether you’re reaching too high or too low. Where are your materials laid out and what you can reach easily.

And then there is a matter of the materials themselves. How easily the do or don’t apply. The viscosity and flow and whether they need to be applied flat or vertical for the effects you want. I love creating little pools, circles and marks with high flow paint, but it must be flat (check the tilt in your floors!).

All of these factors play into any work space set up. And what do you do when the body fails you?

I mentioned in my last post that I’m struggling to figure out how to work in my bedroom instead of my studio, and what it might look like to paint from bed. I’ve looked around for ideas from other artists with physical limitations, and there isn’t a lot of information that’s readily available. I’ve stared at some of these pictures of Frida Kahlo over and over, looking to see how she managed to paint with a body that failed her over and over.

I appreciated this profile of her relationship to her body and how it showed up in her work. I resonate with the sense of introspection that comes with the isolation of being confined, the way she so often turned the focus on herself in her work. And I have yet to figure out an easel setup from bed that lets me with with high flow paint.

Painting in progress

Painting Again – at least for now

Painting in progress
[Image Description: A photograph of a painting in progress on top of a white table, with pens and a bottle of paint. The painting is abstract on a wood panel, with a blue background, pencil, ink and paint marks in green, magenta, great and black.]
I don’t normally post the same things here that I do on Instagram, but today’s post feels important. It feels important, because it’s the first time in quite a while that I’m making progress on actually painting. Perhaps I’ll tell the story here more in another post, but suffice it to say I’ve been too ill to paint, and am starting a new experiment in adaptation.

A thing is happening with my little studio on wheels. The experiment of painting in bed is off and running, and I’m making adjustments. So far, I haven’t gone looking for any tools or materials that I hadn’t already identified and collected from my studio. Not true. I realized that I had to figure something out about lighting, and I brought one of my studio lamps in.

What I am trying to figure out next is how to make postural adaptations. I was able to do pencil, pen, and paint marker work partially recumbent. They nature of my work with paint, however, needs to be worked flat. Or at least, I’m habituated to working that way with the kinds of gesture and mark-making I’ve been developing over the last few years. Maybe I’ll keep doing it. Maybe something else will evolve.

For now, what matters is that there is making.

In Search of Sleep, with Bob Ross

Sleep stories, which are a cross between Books on Tape and bedtime stories, are the ideal vehicle for Ross’s style of meditative art instruction.

I too listened to the Bob Ross sleep story on Calm (which I use daily to support my meditation practice). It was sort of lovely. But honestly, I’d never really thought that much about his voice, and it has been amusing to me to hear how many people were taken with it.

This is more of what fascinated me about Bob Ross:

“The magic of Ross’s show was that he essentially skipped over the really hard part of realistic painting: translating the actual world into a flat image on a canvas. That process can be incredibly frustrating and nearly impossible. The fun of painting by formula is that it turns painting into a project requiring only persistence and a steady hand, offering the reward of an expected final product rather than an adventure that may come to naught.”


Source: In Search of Sleep, with Bob Ross