The Warmup

“Pre-game Warmup”, © Patricia Steele Raible, Mixed Media on Board, 36″ x 12″

Baseball is still on the brain as well as the color purple. You see we are moving. What’s the connection you may wonder. Well, renovation, and buying and selling houses has gotten to be too much. So, of course, I turn to art to soothe my mind and purple because it’s a diversion. And baseball comes in because  I am warming up for the big game—the move—and I want to be sure I’m ready.

Are We Ever Ready

Warming up is very important to both baseball and moving because you use muscles and joints in forward-backward movements. You may be jumping, twisting, or making forward lateral movements (hopefully), and according to the experts, it is important that your body be prepared.

Experts also advise arriving early, familiarizing yourself with the field and the equipment. Then they suggest stretching since your muscles will really get a workout. A few sprints (can I skip this one) they say will increase blood flow in the muscles. Okay, okay I’ll do a few.

It’s Always the Hip Flexors

Then there are the knee lifts which loosen the legs and hip flexors for better motion and movement. Squats (please no) they tell us will loosen up your ham strings, quads, and glutes. They even want you to add a few arm crosses. Finally, they suggest playing catch and fielding. Now they say you are ready for the game. I’m ready for a nap.

Soon But Not Yet

Luckily the move is not yet, but they keep telling me it’s just a few weeks away. I’ve had to pack up the brushes and paint (a bummer.) I am telling myself that collage in my journal will be perfect—just what I need, planning time.

“Pre-Game Warmup” is the last one on the easel for now, a companion to “Home Run.” When I first stood back and looked at it hard, I couldn’t tell if the game had started. Perhaps the bases were all loaded, and we desperately needed a hit. Or, did we need the third out?

Oh, well. You decide. You’re playing too aren’t you?

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Home Run, 36″ x 12″ x 2.75″, Mixed media collage on deep wood panel

Having spent my recent Saturday night at a minor league baseball game, I have begun thinking that as an artist I am no different than one of those players dressed in a striped uniform. I too must warm up, size up the opposition, determine how to play the game, learn from and correct my mistakes, and still pull off a win before the 9th inning.

Play Ball

Last Saturday we got there a few minutes early and everyone seemed to be frantically throwing balls to each other. But I could tell something else was also happening. I knew that with every throw they were also checking out the opposing players as well. It’s what I do every morning in my studio. I look at what’s on the easel or table and hope I’ve left myself a note as to my thinking the day before. If not, I miss the ball and have to chase the grounder. Do I start by reviewing new art by artists I love? Do I write about the art I am working on? Do I sketch? Do I start with a collage or just random painting? Sometimes it feels pretty frantic, so I imagine it looks that way as well. And yes, at some point during the day, I will definitely check to see what other artists are up to, though they are not opponents since no one is keeping score. Are they?

Right Off the Bat

It is always important to determine direction—to know what to do next. Am I working on a new painting or finishing one that is not yet complete? If I have made mistakes (never…), can I correct them easily or will it stretch into overtime. Every once in a while, a painting will come together quickly. It is probably because I have carried the image around in my head subconsciously for days or weeks. You would think that such a painting would be my home run.

Out of the Ballpark

But my home runs are different. It not a hit the first time I come up to bat. It’s the third or fourth time with 3 balls and 2 strikes. It’s the painting that I struggle with the most and that finally comes together. The others are just base hits, a double or a triple. When you put hours and hours into a piece and it finally feels right—when you know it’s good, that is the home run. Then you really feel as if you’re floating around the bases to home.

Sometimes I do strike out. And every once and while, I give up on a particular piece. It seems overworked and tired. But I immediately start again, sometimes on the same piece with a different twist. You see just like baseball, art gets into your blood. It becomes essential to your everyday life. There is no season; it’s a year-round pursuit. You are always in training, always playing the game.

So when do I get the striped uniform?

The Color Purple

Leap of Faith, 30″ x 30″, 2014; Riverview II, 15.75″ x 15.75″, 2018; and Fight Song, 36″ x 24″,2017,©Patricia Steele Raible.

One of my favorite books in the 1980s was Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” and I was even more impressed by the movie. In this particular case though I am literally talking about Golden’s liquid violet dark. It isn’t a color I use very often, but I think perhaps I should.

Why Purple

What else can I say about say about the color purple? If it is dark, it is the color of eggplant. If it is pale it is the last wisp of sunlight on a summer evening. Besides the violet dark, you find both a light violet, a medium violet, and a pale (which I quite like). But as you know, it is just as easy to mix it.

So purple is a color that many believe is feminine. But I would counter that purple is also the color of bruises—bruises perhaps gained from athletic endeavors (and yes, plenty of women are athletes).  I would also counter that using purple requires a lot of imagination. 

The Advantages of Purple

Purple is becoming a color I turn to when I am not satisfied with what I see on my easel. When a painting’s too humdrum (For now, humdrum is still in the dictionary, still a word.) I also try to use purple when a painting starts to look too realistic. I am not criticizing realistic, I just don’t do it well. This is pushing me into a new habit: using purple in place of colors on what I call a “messed up painting.” If there is a dark brown or dark blue, I use dark violet. If it’s a neutral gray I mix an amethyst and if it is a light green or gray a light or pale violet.

Purple Has An Attitude

I believe it really helps to change to colors that you aren’t as comfortable using. After all, painting is about experimenting. For me, changing colors can mean that instead of an abstract landscape that leans toward realism (and not good realism), suddenly I will have a completely different painting, one that has a bit of an edge, a slight attitude. It’s smiling, wearing sunglasses, and also has a definite smirk.

Ah, the color purple.

Elevator Speeches for Introverts…Like Me

“Seeking Warmth,” 20″ x 16″ x 2.75″, Mixed media on Deep Wood Panel,
©Patricia Steele Raible 2019

I really don’t like elevators with or without speeches. They make me nervous, and no matter how hard I try to relax I always feel like I’ve left my legs on the floor where I got on. So I tend to smile nervously, face the door, and think there is no way I can turn and talk to another passenger.

No Infomercials

Having read advice in books and blogs from quite a few marketing gurus, I’m always thinking about what I should say when someone asks what I do. If I say, “I’m an artist,” I am usually asked a follow-up question about what kind of artist. If I say mixed media and leave it there, I know I’ve missed out big time. I have learned that this is an opportunity to share myself and to get to know someone if only for a very short time.

If you listen to the experts, they would have you prepare a two-minute statement that tells someone “why you create.” Unfortunately, I have found that doesn’t work for me. As an introvert, I come across as stilted, pompous, or stuffy. What I’m learning to do instead is tell them something about my current work. Chances are I’m excited about it and that comes through in my body language. It doesn’t come across as prepared or memorized.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

I’ve got less than a couple minutes, so I have to keep it really short. Second, if I want this to lead to a look at my website, a visit to my studio, or a possible friendship, then I need to know at least one thing about this person. So after describing my most recent work, I ask a question. “Are you involved in art, who is your favorite artist, what kind of art do you like?” Then I have a real conversation that I can continue briefly when the door opens or I can exchange information for a later date.

In my excitement talking about what I am working on, I have to remember not to overwhelm them. They don’t need an artist statement or a curriculum vitae. I try to connect with them by using descriptive language they can understand. If they seem sincerely interested, I invite them to a show or just to my studio.

Being Real

While I believe in being as prepared as possible, a canned elevator speech just doesn’t work for me. I can’t make it sound authentic. I have found it is far more important for me to be genuine—to be myself and talk about something that I am passionate about. That makes me sound…well, like me.

When Technology Goes Bonkers

An abstract collage painting called "Earthshine" shows line, texture and some color though not perfect taken with my smart phone.
I took this photograph of “Earthshine” with my telephone (not an iphone). It’s not what I would use for a juried show, but it’s fine for sharing. It shows texture and line—though the color is bit off. I love the ability to see what it’s going to look like when it’s finished.

How do we respond as artists when the technology we have been depending on goes a bit…well haywire? While most of my artwork is done by hand, the old-fashioned way, I do depend on my computers, various programs, and my printer.

When You Least Expect It

This morning I watched my husband as he dealt with the Bluetooth in our car. He said he was riding along when suddenly the Bluetooth announced that it was changing the language to French. He swears he pushed no buttons and even tried to fix it by calmly asking the “French woman” to change the language back to English. Instead, he got a terse, “Pardon?”

It was not quickly resolved. Even with manuals, the internet, two telephone calls to different car dealers, and a plea to a daughter fluent in French, no one could offer much help (though the daughter offered a few choice words he could say in French when it didn’t work). So like any good American he went out punching buttons. The first punch got him another language, but it was Spanish. No problem, our other daughter is fluent in Spanish!) All he had to do was figure out which buttons he had pushed in which sequence. Finally, on the third try he was able to get the car to talk to him in English again. And incidentally, the only car dealers that called him back wanted to know if he would like to trade the car in for another one.

Obviously, the younger artists are most comfortable with technology, but I have seen a few of them get frustrated when something didn’t work “as advertised.” I guess the reality is that when it works, it makes our life easier and probably more creative even if we produce primarily with our hands. I know being able use technology to view and discuss the work of other artists influences my work. Videos teach me about new techniques, and the simple means of communicating allows me to share my own work with thousands of people even in other countries.

Our Art and Soul

In some ways adaptation to different circumstances is the heart and soul of art. I recently discovered that Matisse began his “cut-out” series after cancer forced him to use a wheelchair. While the work was a departure from his large paintings, critics often refer to them as among the best works of his entire career. 

While I would miss technology, I believe artists are among the most adaptable people in our society. Perhaps it would be a good idea for all artists to develop their “other left or right hand.” By this I mean develop more than one method of creating, challenging ourselves to go beyond our daily borders.

Stepping beyond what has worked for us in the past might open the door to even better work in the future.

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.

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

detailcrosstobear
Detail, “Cross to Bear,” ©Patricia Steele Raible, 2018, Mixed Media on Deep Wood Panel

 

No matter how hard you try, you may not always get it right. Two years ago my mother who has dementia with Lewy Bodies (LBD) was at a relatively steady point. I forgot about how the disease tends to “ebb and flow.” So I readily agreed when her doctor suggested changing the medication that helped prevent hallucinations. At the time I was her Power of Attorney (POA) and her Healthcare Power of Attorney. I managed her money and usually just provided input on her healthcare. The hope was that if she was unable to make decisions, I would be in place to do so.

Results May Vary

In order to change her medication, my mother had to come off the current medication for at least a week or 10 days. But once she was off the medication, my mother declared she was “cured.” She refused to take any substitutes. This resulted in increasing paranoia and inappropriate, almost aggressive behavior. As HCPOA I did not have the power to correct this, and she became increasing agitated even with the staff at the assisted living facility. She even became convinced I was stealing her money.

To calm her fears, I (along with other family and professionals) tried many things. We brought out copies of her “papers.” She was showed bank statements and financial records. Everyone assured her that all was in order. I’d like to tell you that all was well in the end, that she began taking medication that helped control the paranoia, that she started trusting me again. But there was much more to come.

It May Be A Bumpy Ride

Someone with LBD will not get better. Their decision-making and ability to understand complex problems will only decrease over time, even if their memory remains mostly intact. And without the correct medication for them, they are more likely to be paranoid and have hallucinations. It is important that that family take legal action early and find the right person to be guardian. While the process varies from state to state and county to county, it is not easy. In some jurisdictions family is rarely appointed.

Often the person with dementia strikes out at those closest, accusing them of acts they have not committed (Of course, this must be verified because unfortunately it does happen). But for the innocent caregiver, this is frustrating, embarrassing, and time-consuming. And yes, it’s like a “slap in the face.” The person with dementia may even seek legal counsel. They may call social services. They may also call the police. Each time the response must be immediate, careful, and blameless. Careful documentation and thoughtful observation are the key here, as well as much patience with the process.

Once You Gain Altitude…

Art is very similar. Every encounter, every challenge connects you more closely. You may work diligently on a piece, sometimes painting over portions, other times sanding the entire board down and starting again. But every once in a while, even as tenacious as I am, I have admit my efforts will not work—at least not in this way on this particular piece. It especially hard to start on the same painting again when you feel you have just failed. Some times I wait and give myself space to figure how I might compose the piece differently—what I liked about the piece, what needed to be changed.

In the case of my mother, I ran to my studio and shut the door. I applied quinacridone gold (my favorite) to a canvas and hired an attorney. I tore pieces of old drawings and outdated books and hired a geriatric care manager. I applied layer after layer to numerous pieces of art and went to court along with my mother, her aide, and her guardian ad litem. Luckily, after almost three months and a postponement, all agreed on the need for a guardian.

Sometime even when creating art, or maybe especially when creating art, we have to do things we aren’t comfortable doing—because deep down we know we must. It may mean many wrong pathways, but in the end, there is nothing else we could do.