“It’s Something Else Now”

After Time, © Patricia Steele Raible, triptych, 9″ x 24″ x 1.75″, mixed media on board

Space Is Limited

It’s getting crowded again, but not in a bad way. As I look around the studio, I see a lot of unfinished work, but I also see what may be politely referred to as “reworked paintings.” Does this say something about my current work habits (well perhaps) or does it also say something about many of us who just enjoy creating. Artists are finished when they are finished. But after living with a artwork for a while they may simply feel the need to change it a little, or change it significantly.

In a 2014 article in ArtNews, author Ann Landi wrote, “choosing when to stop altering a piece can be a highly individual decision, as idiosyncratic and personal as style, and there are instances in which a work is never fully done, at least in its creator’s mind.”

I lean in this direction, but I am also afraid of a painting being “overdone.”

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

In Landi’s article, she describes sculptor, Nari Ward, (http://www.artnet.com/artists/nari-ward/) who recycles pieces of one sculpture using it in another. He says “simply changing a venue for a particular work can mean it has to be re-formed to fit its site.” And he admits that sometimes the original artwork can disappear. When a gallery asks if a particular original work is available to sell, he often has to admit, “no, it’s something else now.”

Does the Art Change Or Is It the Artist

I believe that unfinished work and work that is being recreated  may actually be a sign of changes in our own lives—not just in our art, but in ourselves. We are not the same person at 30 or 40 that we were at 20 and different events change us. We don’t even stay the same when we are much older, so neither should our artwork. Our artwork would or should reflect who we are in that moment.

The artist is the real story here, that and their ability to put it on canvas, or metal, or wood, or whatever materials they converse with. And if that conversation changes over time (as surely it must), we the listeners are the richer for it.


Recycle/Reuse Applies to Art

Having started out with little or no money, I have always known how to stretch a dollar. It never occurs to me not to at least reuse something.  As a painter, mostly on deep wood panels, I do a twice a year survey, determining not just which paintings are sales worthy but which I deem of lasting quality. This means I would hang them on my museum wall if of course I had a museum.

Second Chances

I don’t do this lightly. Normally, I put the ones I have chosen or maybe it is “ not chosen” in a corner of my studio on the floor where the wall is low and they can be seen. That means I will be looking at then a lot before I actually begin my “deconstruction” so to speak. Occasionally, I take paintings out of this pile. But once the day arrives, I begin the work. It’s mostly sanding, something I do a bit of anyway since I like my sides relatively smooth. I look at this as a “second chance” for me and the painting. Many of my paintings, some of the best, are just that—a second chance.

I begin by removing any attached objects, whether a vintage yard stick or just the wire on the back. If there are really thick areas of collages, I might take a paint scraper and attempt to remove a bit of these elements as well. But then the real “fun” begins: sanding, sanding some more, brushing them off, and yeah standing again. For most jobs I use a hand sander, but this requires the belt sander and both rough and smooth surface sandpapers.

Always Take Care

The idea is to take it down almost to the natural wood, removing all the paint and mediums. On mine you may see some matte paint that I have used to seal the wood. But sanding well is the key to ensuring that the surface of your next masterpiece will adhere correctly. I should always wear a mask even though I rarely use highly toxic materials. But I do use adhesives that are labeled “known to the state of California to cause cancer.” Another artist reminded me of just this at an event recently. You just never know.

Does this work with canvas? Yes, but obviously you would not use the heavy belt sander. I haven’t “reused” but a couple of canvas paintings, and those had no collage elements only acrylic paint. Making sure the back was properly supported, I was able to sand the canvas with lightweight sandpaper. I then prepared the new surface with gesso. There are many good instructions on the internet for preparing canvas for reuse.

A Little Work Benefits Everyone

This is only a small step in helping the environment, but it is one I can do gladly knowing that it not only benefits future generations but also my own pocket since buying canvas or building cradles is not inexpensive. I always encourage students to buy the best materials they can afford. Sometimes they are already in your studio.

How I Found Time

Just playing on paper on the new easel.
Just playing on paper on the new easel.

Actually the phrase “found time” is ridiculous. As far as I know there are only 24 hours in a day. The biggest difference is how you use your time.

I Get Up Early

My husband and I get up at 5 a.m. No we are not runners or photographers who like the morning light. We are grandparents who want to make certain our grandsons are cared for until school begins at 8:15 a.m. and this particular daughter can get to her job as a health care professional by 7 a.m.

While occasionally it feels a little like a burden, that is rarely the case.  It usually feels like a gift—a gift of time we hadn’t counted on. And while we do this only four days a week, we tend to maintain the schedule most days. I get the luxury of the “extra” time every day, but my husband gets the “benefit” of an hour with his grandson. We wish this were the case for all three of them.

I Do Not Focus on Emails

On the days we linger in bed until 5:30 a.m., we both get to enjoy the quiet of the morning. This  means we can get things done without the interruption of phone calls. My husband writes music and reads, and I try to spend as much of this time as possible in my studio reading, writing, and painting. With no one else up you feel that you are hours ahead of most everyone else. I also know artists that paint at night, usually after 10 p.m. Again, it is quiet and they can focus on the brush strokes, the colors, the composition without a plea for their attention.

Of course, there are days I get to paint a lot more, but this morning time is time I can generally count on. The trick is that to accomplish this, I must not look at emails or facebook, etc. until at least 9 a.m. or at the very least be disciplined enough to limit myself to 10 minutes. It is way too easy even for me to get sucked in to the magic hole of the internet.

I Still Get 8 Hours Sleep

Trust me; I am not suggesting you get less sleep. You will find us in bed by at least 9:30 p.m. almost every night and often before that. In the end, it is a matter of choice. Finding time is about prioritizing and rescheduling. So while our choice is eliminating most television and a bunch of internet, it may not work for others.

I Focus on the Rewards

Even if it is an hour a day, for me it is worth the rearrangement of a few things. The older I get the more I hate hurrying and hassle, so anything that makes life a little calmer is worth trying. And believe me, the time I get provides pleasure, insight, and sanity. Not bad rewards.

Front Row Girl

Keeping A Promise, 18″ x 20″, mixed media

So 2019 is upon us, and it is time to make those changes, those new year resolutions. And I have decided to occasionally be a “front row girl.” Now this is a term I heard in yoga class, when I teased another woman about moving up to the front row. She replied, “I’m not a front row girl. I don’t like the attention.” (I go to the front row because I can’t see.)

Wearing A Hoodie Through Life

Now, if you look up “front row girl,” you will get blogs and stories about a Milwaukee Brewer’s fan named Amy Williams who comes to most of their home games and sits…well on the front row. That’s not the front row I’m talking about. I’m talking about a different type of “front row,” one that includes taking more risks and being more involved in the things that matter to me (or to you) whether it is art, education, affordable housing, or fighting those who insist on speeding and running red lights.

Too often I find myself not doing things because it makes me uncomfortable— even though I realize that it’s something that could make a difference in my life or someone else’s.  If it is a problem, I complain, but still take a back seat because I’m an introvert and don’t like making a fuss. And sometimes even when I believe I have a good solution to a problem, I don’t speak up for fear that it can’t really be that good or someone else would have proposed it, or even for fear of rejection. A hoodie is nice when you’re cold, but it may feel good to throw it off once in a while.

Peaking Through

But this is the year. At least once a week I will be doing something I haven’t done on a regular basis—whether it is as simple as introducing myself and talking to someone I haven’t met (but should have), or speaking in a more public forum. Already I am pushing myself to change my paintings, adding more contrast, more color. I am also pushing myself to write more, about art and about life.

While winter is just beginning, I’m going to pretend it’s spring and that I’m always a “front row girl.” Some of us are late bloomers, admittedly very late bloomers. But our flowers are just as beautiful.

Creative Source or Distraction?

The large bulletin board that occupies a wall in my studio. Today it’s a mishmash.

What I stare at each morning before I begin work is the huge bulletin board pictured here (about 4’ x 8’). It once occupied my studio at McColl Center for  Art + Innovation when I was fortunate enough to spend 11 months there as a resident several years back. Later I decided to hang it in my home studio.

Throwbacks Can Be Helpful

While the contents change from time to time, the simple structure and its flexibility does help to keep me focused—and inspired. I’m sure there is an app for doing the same thing, but I still need the quality of touch. We know writing something down helps us remember. And as a former writing instructor, I believe something happens between yours eyes and fingers and your brain.

When I look up this morning, the bulletin board contains in the center a picture of my brother who died last year and to the side photographs of my mother and me when she was less confused. There are quotes that inspire me, and awards that gratify me. Artwork by my grandsons is tacked along the bottom. It is a mishmash today. I doubt that I would focus anyway this close to Christmas, but I have noticed that it helps to constantly look at elements of my current projects.

Sometimes the Switch Is Always “On”

It is amazing to me how many artist friends say that they are ADD, that they have difficulty focusing. I’m showing my age here, but I’m not certain there was such a diagnosis when I was in elementary school or perhaps it was the small size of my school. From the comments on my early report cards I certainly had the symptoms of this “ability.” I won’t call it a disability because as current research indicates,  it is just seeing the world from a different perspective—and don’t we all do that in some manner. 

From the second grade on my report cards would say,“Patricia can not seem to sit still and focus. She will wad up clean paper just to get up and throw it in the trash.” In the third grade, there were at least three comments about talking too much. The final was “Patricia is a good student but she does entirely too much talking!” Talking continued to be a problem for me. It wasn’t until high school that I became really good student and surprised many teachers by being a member of the National Honor Society. I had figured out a few ways to focus that worked for me. Go figure.

So this large bulletin board is my saving grace for both creativity and focus. If I only want to think about color, I can fill it with color. If there is a subject that interests me, I can pin up everything about it (and I help the pushpin manufacturers).

But for right now, the bulletin board is a jumble of all sorts of ideas and so is my brain. All I want to know is how many more days until Christmas.

What Being A Caregiver Taught Me About Art (The Last One For Now)

“Reflection,” 16″ x 20″ x 2.75″, mixed media on deep wood panel, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2018

Doing What Is “Right”

Even with help and support, when you are guardian for someone like my mother who has dementia with Lewy Bodies, you never feel you have done enough or even the right thing. You feel that you should always be there, always be in control. It means I travel very rarely and usually within a few hours of home. I do not want to put this burden on my daughters who have young children. Still they occasionally get the calls. Life doesn’t work on my schedule.

Just this past week there was an “episode.” I was 15 minutes from my mother’s assisted living facility and had planned to visit after my swim at the Y. With 10 laps still to go my husband hovers over the lap lane with phone in hand.  My daughter has texted, and he has called the EMTs who are ready to transport my mother to the hospital.  The aides are concerned that my mother might have had a stroke, but she is combative and doesn’t want to go to the hospital. Since only one person can be guardian, I am the one who must make the decision. They describe her symptoms, and I make the call not to transport her.

My mother decided long ago she did not want to be bed-ridden and on a feeding tube like her own mother. So I dutifully filled out a MOST form (which indicates wishes for scope of treatment). I also know from two previous experiences there is little the hospital can do. They will run four or five hours of tests and may possibly strap my mother to the bed. Making these decisions never gets any easier.

Thirty minutes after the phone call, I am at the facility, and she is napping in a chair. When I wake her, she is angry and not rational. She points at the bouquet of flowers in my hands and yells, “no…out of here.” My mother now has language difficulties and primarily indicates displeasure, not pleasure. She complains frequently about the food, the staff not responding, etc. Today she is simply not happy at all. I spend time thanking the aides and the techs who are doing their job the best they can. They are strangers, yet most of them remain patient and kind even under difficult circumstances.

I do not know what the aides, the med techs, or the facility director thinks of my choices for my mother. Some days I think I have failed. Making decisions for someone else’s life is hard.

The Opinion That Counts Is Yours.

Making decisions about art is also difficult. You not only must choose what to paint, what colors you should use, or what tools, but also you must select what shows to enter, what pieces will grab a judge’s or a collector’s attention. Others may suggest that you should enter a particular show or art fair, but right or wrong, you are the one who must decide.

Like a lot of artists I get rejections. Enough that I could wall paper a large bathroom if the rejections did not arrive by email (Yes, I can remember when they arrived by mail.). I could tell you it doesn’t hurt, but it does. It can ruin a morning. I want to be in every show I enter. Realistically, I know other people’s opinions are only that—opinions. They matter for the moment because they are judging a show or deciding whether to buy a painting. What’s left is only the disappointment. There is a whole world of judges and buyers out there.

In the end, my art must please me. It must occupy my mind, delight and heal my soul, and communicate my feelings to the world. Truthfully, I make art for myself, and if I get to share it with others it is an additional blessing.

What Being A Caregiver Has Taught Me About Art (Part III)

“Remembered,” 10″ x 8″, mixed media collage on board

Make Mistakes—It Means You’ve Tried

There are laws in every state designed to protect the elderly, especially in situations where their judgment may be impaired. I was grateful to learn this when I began this caregiving process 9 years ago. My mother needed help, mine and also the help of many others. Unfortunately, few people, especially attorneys and court clerks, knew much about dementia with Lewy Bodies (LBD or DLB) at that time. They understood memory loss and Alzheimer’s, but not LBD, which is defined by fluctuation in cognitive functioning, impaired comprehension and lack of judgment. Even many physicians and directors of assisted living facilities lumped all dementia together.

When my mother was first diagnosed with LBD in 2010, I was urged to seek guardianship. I began that process immediately, but soon found that her appointed guardian ad litem (GAL) was focused on whether my mother knew what day it was, whether she could identify who was president, and whether she could perform most daily living tasks. The GAL was not really interested in whether my mother understood her long-term care benefits, could prepare her taxes, or make appropriate investments to secure her future.

Work Hard and Be Prepared for Change

Realizing that my mother needed some protection, I convinced her to give me Power of Attorney (POA) and Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA)—but only after she had injured her leg and could not physically get out of her apartment for several weeks. What I didn’t understand (and what is the law in my particular jurisdiction) was that POA status only gave me some control. Even though documents were filed with the court, my mother could change it without warning. Also, if my mother disagreed with a decision and could identify herself, she could reverse that decision no matter how sound the decision and how risky her own might be. Yet there was little option at this early stage.

Luckily with art there are always options. Each day I work on my paintings, filling my tables with “wet work and markings” before I begin any reading, research, or writing. I am at my best early in the morning, and unless I am working on a specific piece I make every effort just to let the paint flow and to work in the moment. When I make a mistake, I am prepared to use my tools and my skills to change it. It’s also what you do in life

Make Connections That Are Meaningful

For five years, my mother and I just kept plodding along together for the most part. Most of her days were good, though because of her medication and diagnosis, she was limited in her activities. She did not look different, but she now had some awareness that something was wrong. She rarely wanted to go out. The Parkinsonian symptoms began to be more pronounced such as a flat expression and shuffling feet when she walked. When these symptoms occurred, I began to panic a bit. While current research does not indicate LBD is hereditary, my maternal grandmother had Parkinson’s Disease. At the very least I have a higher chance.

Everything that is happening, every worry, every concern, makes me glad for my art.  I believe there is a physical connection that happens: Whatever is in my subconscious thought passes through my mind and my hands, healing me and bringing richness to the paintings themselves. Once the paintings are dry, I add another layer (perhaps something I learned reading) that may be symbolic or literal. After all, it is human nature to attempt to impose order. We want to see a pattern. We want to make sense of things even when they don’t, even when we fear our own threads are not connecting, but unraveling instead.

So I work my back and forth process, putting on a layer, taking off part of another, adding a bit of drawing or sgraffito. I am building a painting. I am constructing and describing a life.