Back in the Mix: Return to Art Making After Professional Detours

It’s been a few years; to my readers, some going back to 2009, welcome back! There are photos at the bottom of this post featuring my new work!

Why the absence? A few big losses that took years to assimilate and the sad reality of economic survival–death and a series of bad jobs, to make it short.   The death of my father suddenly from a glioblastoma, the sudden death by heart attack of my best friend/astrology teacher of 20 years, the death of my dog Bearbear (more here)…sounds like a verse in a Hank Williams song.

Death is nothing I could plan for; but the jobs, those were my own doing.  One serious detour away from making art was working as a psychotherapist–I long had these crazy ideals about getting a license to be a therapist, and after you get an MSW the only way to do this is to work several years and accumulate enough supervised hours–100–to apply, and the only jobs that meet the state’s onerous requirements are  in community mental health or at the VA–these are the places that have a chronic shortage of psychotherapists, probably because they are so toxic and dysfunctional no one with any heart or soul can work there, you have to check those at the door.

This took me a few years to figure out;  I was not fully aware of what was going on in my environment as I was coping with settling my dad’s estate, which was really a non-estate if you know what I mean: a lot of time and effort settling nothing just to break even. And then my mom broke her ankle in a car crash 9 months after my dad’s death.  Anyone who has been through any grief/loss event knows that about which I speak: it’s a long fog and you just don’t catch all the details. Long story short: I had all kinds of ideals about getting a social work therapy license and then using my art-making skills–described in this blog since 2009–to help people creatively solve painful, intractable life problems. Artists solve problems all the time. In my mind’s eye I had an ideal I was working towards. Just needed, I thought, the 2 years work experience and the supervisor to sign off on the hours–then apply to the state licensing board. I had at this point been working for 10 years straight as an MSW for state government and as a medical social worker in a Nursery ICU. I felt confident, given my track record.

Was I wrong. I failed to imagine, with all of my future thoughts of rainbows and unicorns, the predatory, sociopathic social workers/psychologists who would also be there–they were the gatekeepers–the supervisors, the ones who signed the forms during the process of acquiring the 100 supervised work hours I needed. And I had made some enemies among the gatekeepers. I am not one to pick every hill to die on, quite the contrary. I usually see the hills and walk around them. Unfortunately in these environments there are some very lazy and very powerful predator type gatekeepers who have nothing to do but scout out prey and then sit and wait. I simply was not paying attention; or perhaps I’m blaming the victim–me. I did not see how I was being set up.  One  I was sitting in my social work supervisor’s office, getting what I thought was hour 97 of 100 and about ready  to submit my request to the state licensing board. Instead, I was told that I was administratively not quite measuring up; my work with individuals and families was not being questioned, it was in fact very good—-but my ability to complete every keystroke in the VA computer system was being questioned, and until that was resolved to my supervisor’s satisfaction–through some arbitrary metric– there would be no recommendation for licensure.

I was finally able to see what was going on. I quit immediately. And I am now a life coach; for the past 1 1/2years I’ve been working in this capacity, and I’ve had some success! It’s such a relief, after so much negativity. I use all my training as a [psychotherapist….but I use my powers for light. Defense against the dark arts folks. I feel much more effective in my new capacity.

Now for the art: here is a photo of me and my mom at our recent art show in Benson, Arizona at the local community college. We had a mother daughter show. My mom cuts paper; I rip it. Behind us you can see her lovely paper cuts.

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This is a close up of an unfinished paper cut that design-wise just didn’t make the cut, just to give you an idea:

 

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Meanwhile I rip paper, in this case, photocopies of my own photographs:
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Then through an elaborate process I transfer the paper collage on to silk organza; that’s been described elsewhere in this blog:
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Here are 2 of my finished pieces for the show: the first is 40″x30″; the next one is 18″x24″: both are silk/paper collages mounted on wood panels and framed.
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And here is a shot of these pieces from a distance–it’s just a community college, but a lovely venue with a big lobby and lots of natural light:

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So that is a lengthy update; but on the bright side, I’m now making art. One thing I learned in my training with the Veterans as a psychotherapist, our brains can make habits up way too easily. In 2 months we can have a habit down and it can be hard to change. Not making art has been a habit. Such a relief to have that changing.

Diaspora: A New Art Quilt Project

SAQA is the Studio Art Quilt Associates, a membership organization devoted to promoting and advancing the cause of the art quilt. I’ve been a member for about 3 years. They do a great job of sponsoring art quilt shows around the world.  There’s an October 31 deadline for a show in Washington, D.C, and the theme is diaspora. I’m thinking of entering a piece.

Diaspora is not the most uplifting theme, admittedly, but if you’ve read any of my recent posts and noticed the dearth of posts due to my dad’s death, well, you wouldn’t have to be the sharpest tool in the shed to figure I haven’t been in the most upbeat of moods lately. Add prolonged unemployment to the list of woes and perhaps it’s understandable how the theme might be attractive to me at this time.

When I think of Diaspora I think of the excellent and moving eponymous recording by Natacha Atlas. I’ve been listening to that recording while looking through images  I can use in an art quilt that expresses the themes of displacement and loss that inevitably occur to people who are forced or stolen from their homes, because without a home you are vulnerable to, among other things, violence, brutality, exploitation and death: as you can imagine, this is not an upbeat topic!

I have a photo of the end of the rail line at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which I took 20 years ago during a trip to Poland.  And I have a photo with a similar perspective line of the Lincoln memorial as seen from Arlington National Cemetery. I figure taking on both the Jewish diaspora and the African diaspora is a bold place to start. I mapped out an enlarged version of the Birkenau photo on paper to see how it looks:

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I started filling in the outline with torn up pieces of photocopies of the photo:

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Here’s a closer photo:

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Once I get to the Lincoln Memorial I’ll post more. But in the meantime, I have a lot of paper to rip up into tiny pieces. And once the collage is done, it will be transferred to silk.

New Paper and Silk Lamination Project: Wild Cotton

Last year, the year I didn’t blog, was hell.  But I did manage to take photos then with the idea I’d do art again one day. I took this photo at Sabino Canyon last October, during an unusual fall wildflower bloom. This is wild cotton, and for more info on the plant check out this helpful blog:

wild cotton photo for blog

I’ve blogged before about a very cool technique to make fabric, using color photocopies and transferring the pigment from the copy to fabric. It’s been ages since I’ve done any art, and the time finally is right, so since getting back from Santa Fe I’ve been working on this project. I took the above photo, along with a few others, and made photocopies which I then turned into a collage. Here is the roughly 18″ x 24″ collage outside ready to be laminated to silk. I like to work outside for this part of the process as it can be messy.

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I then pinned silk organza over the collage, and used some tape as well.

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I then screen-printed acrylic gel medium over silk-covered collage; and then I quickly rinsed off my screen and squeegee, as acrylic gel medium dries super fast. The collage dried in about 10 minutes in our hot summer sun. The next step is to remove all the paper, so that all is left is a lovely piece of silk—with a collage transferred on to it. I start the paper removal process manually; this is the piece looking at it from the back. You can see all the bits of masking tape used to adhere all the little pieces of photocopy paper together in the collage:

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Once I’ve pulled all the paper off I can by hand, the piece is soaked in cool water for about 10 minutes, and then I use a scrubber to gently remove the paper. Gently. I’ve scraped a hole in silk before so….be…..careful….when….scrubbing! And note the sieve. Personally, few things drive me nuttier than wet paper. It’s gummy and sticky. After a little bit of scrubbing, the fabric goes back in a tub of cool water for a rinse, and then is returned to the scrubbing table for more scrubbing. I pour all the used water through a sieve to strain out the paper and dispose of it properly. Never be tempted to dump any of this stuff down your sink. It will clog in a way you likely can’t imagine so don’t do it!

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This is the finished piece:

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I am inspired by how translucent this piece is, and it’s an impetus for me to use this technique for a piece I hope to finish in time to enter in a nationally juried show. More on that next time!