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.

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.

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.

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 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.