she is a landmine

she is a landmine that i haven’t yet learnt to defuse. weeks may pass, sometimes months where i tread my terrain with ease, i dance a complicated choreography over, under and around those hidden munitions with precision-like timing. i’m the artful dodger, dodging artfully. as artfully as a dodger can dodge. on those days when i tell our story and sing the songs that were ours i do so with a melodious intonation. i’m a rockstar rocking in my rockstar car.

until i’m not. step and stumble and click. the radio torpedoes a song i’m not prepared for. i’m reminded again why i only listen to my playlists. playlists are predictable. i know what’s coming next. there are no latent surprises on spotify. i’d stopped listening to the radio the day i fell apart doing a hundred on the freeway, the freeway that didn’t exist when she did, because when she existed life here was small and there were no roads taking us away to other places. doing a hundred through the sting and blur of tears is chancy at best, an invitation to dance with death himself at worst and who’s to say that’s a bad thing.

my car was once a cocoon of cigarette smoke and fast food trash. she sat beside me, making waves on the warm breeze with the passenger window down. the scent of her, stale tobacco and impulse – the purple one – a blanket to tuck around and under me when the world threatened to unravel us both.

sometimes i spy her in my peripheral vision, but if i turn my head to ask her why, she dissipates into the upholstery and i figure it’s because she can’t really give me an answer that would readily satisfy me.

there are streets i can’t drive down. familiar streets where she waits for me in her long black coat and sad red-lipstick smile by the kerb i once collected her from on her way home from somewhere that belonged to another part of her life, a secret part that she kept from me because she had her reasons and it’s too late for me to ask her what those reasons were.

i can conjure so many things about her. the way she squinted when she smoked. the way she fell on me when we were both wrecked on the tequila with the tiny sombrero cap and told me that she loved me, that i was the sister she wished she’d always had and she smiled her sister-smile just for me. the way her hairspray smelled and made her hair crunchy and i could feel its coarse springiness on my skin when we bent our heads close in cahoots with one another, when we’d pass a pen and old notebook back and forth over cappuccinos paid for with the loose change we scrounged together, and tell our story to each other even though we both already knew it by heart.

i can conjure so many things, but her voice? her voice is nothing more than a whisper deep in the soft marrow of my bones that i can’t quite hear, saying, goodbye i’m going don’t try to stop me i won’t take you down with me your place is here.

I Wish
i wish we’d found art earlier. it might have saved you too.
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raw with more

i have stashes of old paintings in various parts of my studio. some are tucked away on a bookshelf, others sequestered in plastic display folders and then hidden in a drawer.

some are in journals that are then stacked precariously upon one another, never to see the light of day.

little pieces of me, quietly gathering dust and waiting to be rediscovered.

i forget what i have. sometimes that causes me to believe i haven’t been very productive at all. that i don’t have enough to stock an etsy store.

last week i decided to start collating, scanning and photographing my finished paintings. it’s a tedious task, but a necessary one if i ever want to be a working artist, and i’m easily distracted from it.

it’s the equivalent of having your mum ask you to tidy your room as a kid. you end up finding stuff you’ve forgotten about, or thought you’d lost, then playing with it and making more mess than you started with.

i was that kid.

i’m still that kid.

in april of 2014 (don’t you love that everything is time stamped now so we don’t have to remember dates?) i took one of mindy lacefield’s primitive portraits classes and produced a couple of quick, raw studies on 5×7″ canvas boards. i had the opportunity to sell them at the time, but i felt they were worthless practice pieces and i couldn’t bring myself to put a price on them.

fear? probably. i’m sure at the time i beat myself up for being a big chicken.

but now i’m really glad i didn’t let them go, because when i found them a few days ago, even though i still couldn’t see worth in them as they were, i realised there was the potential to take them further. earlier in the week i’d been playing in my journal with a redheaded, slightly punk/goth girl and decided to give these two old paintings a similar makeover.

they’re such simple creatures, right? they were painted very quickly with big brushes and a limited palette and i loved how raw they were. i wanted to preserve some of that crude technique but give them a little more depth.

i had just two rules.

no expectations and no overthinking allowed, just intuitively grabbing supplies and distressing the hell out of them with a scraping tool whenever they looked too polished.

i used stark reds and lots of black, colours i tend to shy away from for their boldness. i’ve avoided black because other, more experienced artists told me to it has a tendency to flatten a painting, and the only reason i used it here is because i blindly picked up the wrong bottle (right next to the payne’s grey) during my not-thinking practice.

hurrah for happy accidents as i really like the end results.

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i’ve since found three more primitive paintings in a similar vein.

sweet.

 

working with ease.

i’ve been working a lot on letting go lately.

letting go of the past, of control, of outcomes. in both life and art.

i’m happier than i was. there’s more peace and love and connection. i rail less against the things that have happened, that can’t be changed. it’s time to set aside hurt, anger and blame, and create space for those other qualities that i’ve always coveted instead.

grace.

flow.

forgiveness.

ease.

this push and pull of old habits vs new has been evident in my art during the last few weeks. very much so in my most recent painting, the deer girl that some of you may have seen on my instagram and facebook accounts. i shared in-progress photos of her as she emerged on the canvas. the end result was this serene, ethereal, gentle creature, in a style that i believe might actually be my own (oh happy day!)

what i didn’t show you, was the before.

the before was messy and clumsy, forced and frustrating.

she started well, the october project in suzi blu’s ongoing patreon subscription.

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we were grooving, these fluid, flowing inks and i. but then, ugh, something went so very wrong for us.

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she sat upon my easel and taunted me. i refused to trash her. instead i forced myself to make eye contact with her every day. knowing that something was off, i would take photos with my phone and study the painting from this new vantage point.

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time and again i went back to her with my mantra “trust the process” and changed something. i made the neck slimmer, longer, shorter, wider, i dropped the shoulders, raised the shoulders, gave her boobs (then even bigger boobs – wtf?) and still i couldn’t make her work.

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the other problem? i was trying too hard to paint suzi’s girl. suzi’s, not mine.

i rarely take the step-by-step approach in classes anymore but i was working on a larger scale than i’m used to, with unfamiliar media, in a new way and somewhere along the way i lost my confidence and began to feel vulnerable – “i can’t show this shit on social media, people will think i’m rubbish and unworthy and…” oh shut up. i went into damage control – and in this case that looked like me pausing the lesson videos every few minutes and trying to replicate what was before me.

brene brown calls this ‘making the uncertain certain.’

and i should know by now that it doesn’t work for me.

i finally admitted to myself that the problem was the face. the face that i’d lovingly crafted for an hour or more with coloured pencil, the foundation of the whole piece, was too big for the canvas and i needed to admit the obvious and let it go.

when the realisation hit me that it was time to give my girl a facelift, i felt a tangible shift.

i grabbed my sander and went to town on the canvas before i could change my mind. i wish i’d taken a photo of that moment when i brutally erased hours of work with a power tool, because it felt like a pivotal moment for me and you guys would have been a little horrified 😉

the second face was small and sweet. i took out my journal and got to know my inks between its pages and realised they made terrific organic dreadlocks and antlers. and as i flicked through instagram, an image popped up on my explore feed of a woman wearing antlers and doe-ish makeup.

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this was serendipitous.

and the process of painting this time was a completely different experience. i had a sense that if i allowed space for grace and ease, i would find the way through.

it sounds a little bit ‘woo’ when i write that now but i’m ok with that.

i’m softening.

i’m letting go.

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fractured portraits. beginning.

i feel as though i’ve turned a corner in my art practice this past week.

for the longest time i’ve been going through the motions. doing the work. getting better. working on technique. but i was flip-flopping between the art I want to do and the art I had settled into, like a comfortable pair of trackie daks (tracksuit pants for non-aussie speakers), and the indecision led to a breakdown in my desire to motivate myself.

seriously, i began to wonder if i wanted it enough.

what was wrong with me? why was i not skipping gleefully to the studio every day or challenging myself to try something new? why was i only doing class assignments and not picking up my paintbrush in between lessons?

yeah, i think too much.

my heart had moved on from where i’d started out, but my head was having a little trouble keeping up.

stay.

paint the safe thing even if it no longer fires you up.

in painting whimsy, i’ve had several commission queries and offers to illustrate books. people like the cute little soulful girls in my journals and as much as i enjoy sharing them with everyone, they were always about my own personal healing and never about selling my art. don’t get me wrong, i’m grateful for every offer of support i’ve had from the people who want to buy my art.

of course i want to sell my art.

one day.

but not this day.

right now i just want to keep growing toward having the ability to paint the art that i enjoy. the aesthetic i’m drawn to. and that involves changing the way i select the online classes i enrol in, or the artists i study and try to emulate. it means not signing up to every class even though i know the teacher is a rock star, or buying every shiny damn art supply that a teacher demonstrates in class, but learning to master the ones i enjoy and are used by the artists i want to be like when i grow up. charcoal, acrylics, oils, plaster and digital mediums.

i’m learning to assess honestly. does this fit with the aesthetic i want for my art?

that doesn’t mean that there’s no place for soulful little girls in my journal. there is always healing to be done. but they do need to budge over a little bit to make room for the other stuff.

the first step in the right direction for me was taking Kate Thompson’s new Fractured Portraits class. kate has long been one of my favourite teachers and her aesthetic always resonates with me, no matter which direction she takes it in.

we’re learning to sketch the planes of the head with charcoal and then sculpt them using paint.

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and to loosen up by drawing from a photographic reference with two pencils taped together.

Two Pencil Drawing

gelli plate printing and plastering on ledger paper to make backgrounds for the next painting project.

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i’m feeling a little guilty about this one because the ledger paper i’m using is 116 years old! obviously not guilty enough to use something else though 😉

the feature image on this post is ledger paper with drywall tape, venetian plaster, cheesecloth and stencils and it’s all so textured and yum.

and i can’t wait to see what happens on it next.

isn’t that how it should be?

changing places

i’m starting to take over the whole house with my arty endeavours. a few weeks ago I realised we weren’t really using one of the rooms in our house – a front lounge room that we’d overhauled a couple of times, but because there’s no tv aerial in there it was largely ignored. we solved the tv issue by signing in to Netflix on the smarter-than-me tv.

oh glorious Netflix. what did we do before your existence?

so having the use of the front lounge freed up our family room. and the brain-cogs began a-whirring.  i was finding my current studio to be claustrophobic. it used to be a spare room, and little by little, the spare room junk was starting to creep in again. plus, one corner of the room housed a giant coat rack treadmill and my gym equipment, leaving little room to swing either of the cats. not that I would of course. unless I want to have my face ripped off. which I don’t.

i made puppy dog eyes at my long-suffering, beardy husband and he agreed to help me switch rooms. most of it was done in one day. except for that bastard coat rack treadmill. that took us a lot longer to move, and neither of us escaped without injury.

my old studio is now ‘the crib’, where the children go to watch tv, play the Wii, eat crap and leave the wrappers everywhere. in theory, hubby plays his guitar in there too, but I don’t think he gets much of a look in. the grainy, rubbish picture above is my new space. i kept one of the couches so i have a sketching nook (when the dog isn’t hogging it), my floor and table easels have a home again, and everything is within reach.

Who am I kidding? This is the dog's couch. She sometimes lets me sit on it.
who am I kidding? this is the dog’s couch. she sometimes lets me sit on it.
Current work.
current work.

which means i have no excuses not to paint every day, right?