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.
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.
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.
This is where the magic happens. I’m lucky enough to work from a home studio. A layer can go down while breakfast is in the oven, and be dry for the next to lay down before lunch. I have big sheets of painted plywood covered over with clear plastic sheeting resting on top of my grandmother’s porcelain-top table. I have easels too, but I tend to work flat for almost everything that is 12×12″ or smaller. The paints, inks and mediums I use most often live on my table. The ones I use less frequently are tucked away in the #elfa drawers in the corner.
Working from home gives me a lot of flexibility and more time to work than I would have if commuting was part of my day. It means I can do as much or as little as works for me on any given day, and gives me a chance to be inspired while passing by. It also means more time with #marigolddog and #sadiecat .
I’m primarily an intuitive painter, so part of my work is about really showing up. I need to be present with the painting so that I can tune into the flow of color, balance, contrast, texture, movement, space, and density. Which means I have to be present with myself too. My regular meditation practice helps me clear my mind and develop focus. Writing helps me sort myself out, discover approaches and new connections between ideas. Paying attention to my body helps me manage my energy and make choices that best support my health.
I try to document my work for my own benefit, and so I can share. I take photographs as layers are laid down. And I document my choices in my art journal. And I believe it is a good thing to show your work.