art therapy

Unloading

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Haven't been in here for 3 days, (back pain, ugh) but I stepped in today and poured out what I've been carrying, because the studio is the one place that can bear the full weight of it...and me. I stepped in and to the canvas because we can't deal with what we have going on inside of us until we have the courage to face it.

Painting does that for me: gives me the boldness necessary to confront myself with grace, compassion, and honesty. It holds the burdens my arms/heart/mind/soul can't.

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Painter Selfie

I've worked really hard over the last 2 years to believe I am an artist, a painter, a woman who communicates stories, ideas, and messages about living through color and brushstrokes. 

I believe it. I own it. When people ask, I reply with "I'm an artist, I paint"-not stay at home mom, not veteran, not even writer. I am all of these things, of course...but at my core, I am an artist and I've finally gained the confidence to no longer doubt it. I might be a terrible one, or perhaps one day I'll be one who is considered "good" and widely known, but I'm much less concerned about either, and just reveling in feeling so grounded and secure in who I am. I grew up with so little self agency or autonomy so this season of being rooted firmly in knowing who I am  feels like undulating liberation. I'll take it. 

To celebrate this victory, I took a selfie. As you do. 

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Coping With Rejection and Mixed Episodes (Part One)

I've been pitching my words + art to various publications and places almost weekly since January. Some incredible opportunities have come my way over the last few months from simply sharing my work + process out there on Instagram, but I've yet to have a pitch accepted. Overall the rejections haven't impacted me too greatly. I've only had two really hit me in the gut and one of them came to my inbox yesterday. 5% of it what was mentioned about the paintings I submitted was constructive. 95% of it wasn't and that 95% crushed me unexpectedly when I read it. 

I'm also experiencing my first mixed episode in months. Cycling through slight hypomania (which for me usually manifests as agitation & anxiety) and depression simultaneously is unsettling. My thoughts form, splinter or fracture into bits, then fuse together repeatedly and trying to get anything substantial done is damn near futile. I always feel untethered and raw, like an exposed nerve ending when I experience these types of episodes. I'm assuming that's why yesterday's rejection landed like a sucker punch to my soul instead a slight but bearable sting like the others before it. 

To cope, I did two things: abandoned my To-Do list and allowed myself to get lost in painting without thinking. It got me through the day and served as my oxygen mask.

That's what painting has become for me...the oxygen I need to survive.  

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Surviving, Living and Thriving Within White (And Other Oppressive) Spaces: A Visual Study

"An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their choice, but I CHOOSE to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when everyday is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved. Young people, black and white, know this. That’s why they’re so involved in politics. We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So I don’t think you have a choice. How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist." -Nina Simone

I had a friend ask me last week why I was turning down an opportunity to write for their publication, and why I don't use this space to adamantly speak out against issues of injustice as I used to. Why am I not writing words about Trump and the impact of the GOP's racist, xenophobic rhetoric beyond a an occasional Facebook status? Why am I not sharing more of my thoughts on the near daily incidents of brutality against Black and Brown lives, or continuing to speak out on racism's impact on our daily lives? From her perspective it seemed to her that I've grown quiet, and she was curious to know why. "You seem more focused on painting, which isn't a bad thing...it just seems odd," she said. 

Well...she's right. I have gone a bit quiet here. I don't write about racism and brutality like I used to. At least not here, and aside from an occasional election related status on Facebook, I've cut back on doing so there as well. Where she's wrong is in her assumption that my going quiet means I've stopped caring or paying attention. I haven't. If anything, the swelling tide of ignorance, violence, and injustice churns and crashes into my consciousness daily. I'm still "woke", and couldn't close my eyes or heart to what's happening to our bodies and within our society if I wanted to. As a Black woman, an empath, and as an artist it's impossible, and even if it were, I would still encounter and bear the social construct of race upon my being. Short of leaving this life, it's inescapable. 

I mentioned before that I've been struggling to put words to what I'm witnessing. That's still very much true-there are days where I simply do not know what to say, and any words that do appear feel...inadequate. When this happens I make the choice to share and amplify the words and brilliance of others above the noise instead of adding my own. I also make the choice to follow my intuition and turn to paint to process my thoughts. 

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am more focused on creating a statement on paper or canvas than on a computer screen. Paint...feels more natural to me right now than words do. I'd much rather allow it to speak for me those things I can't quite verbalize or translate into something intelligible you'll understand. So that's what I've been doing. I've shifted my focus from the oppression and brutality we experience as marginalized people to the impact both have on us, challenging myself to communicate it visually. What does it do to our psyche, our spirits, our health, our bodies? What does the point of impact look like? What occurs inside of us as we encounter oppression, fight to survive it, and dare even, to thrive in its pervasive shadow? 

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Internal processes. That's been my visual focus and exploration as I take in the news each day, or experience something that reminds me I am an Other. As a result, much of my latest work has involved me using lots of white space. With each piece, I'm thinking about what it looks like to thrive and be unapologetically Other in white spaces, and questioning what those internal thought & heart processes look like. 

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Sometimes I have an idea, and an image will come and imprint itself upon my consciousness, quietly (or loudly) telling me its story. Other times I simply have no idea what's going to come out-it just becomes a matter of listening to my intuition and trusting where it's taking me as I work. 

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I'm still here and I still have much to say. Like Nina, I believe as an artist, it's my duty to continue using my voice and creative expression to speak to issues that are a matter of life and death for us. I have no choice but to reflect these times in my work, be it written or visual. I'm just consciously doing so these days in a different medium, still hoping to cause others to pause and think critically about what they think they know about themselves and Others. I believe in the power of visual art to spark and foster conversation around these issues just like words do. 

I could use words, sure...but it's just more liberating to process and study with paint. For right now, this is my activism and how I choose to be involved. I think as artists...it's less about the medium, and more about using what we have to create those things that challenge, empower, and set free. Write, paint, sculpt, sing, dance, orate, document a moment or event with a photo-whatever it takes. I think it's about yielding to wherever our creativity leads us intuitively. Our challenge is to reflect and give voice to the times we're in. Like Nina, I think anything less is a waste. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

"  It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains."- Assata Shakur

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State of Affairs: Black & Blue in America

I have words about the grand jury indictment verdict in Ferguson. I have words about their choice to not indict Darren Wilson for Mike Brown's death. But I'm not ready to share them here yet. I've shared some initial reactions on Facebook and have spent the rest of the week just oscillating between grief and rage to be quite honest. My voice hasn't settled enough yet for me to express anything in written word.

Before the decision was announced on Monday, I shared my initial reaction to the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice over on BlogHer. You can read it here.

Last week I wrote about the death of 37-year-old Tanesha Anderson over on BlogHer as well. You can read that here.

Sigh.

My heart is the heaviest it has been in a very long time. Fear and despair have been gripping my lungs so tightly in the wake of all of this that breathing is a struggle when I look at my boys.

The only way I could really cope with it all this week was to paint, so I did.

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I have words to say about all of this. But until I feel settled enough to share them here, I'm just sharing this. I started three others as well. They're a response to the terrorism and white violence being inflicted upon Black bodies and Black humanity. I've made this first one available for purchase as a print in the shop. (https://www.etsy.com/listing/213041581/state-of-affairs-black-blue-in-america) Profits from its sale will be donated to Race Forward (https://www.raceforward.org/) and BYP 100 (http://byp100.org/about/). Once I find a fund that will support Tamir Rice's family, I'll be making a print available to donate profits from as well.

It's the only thing I know to do right now that will help.

FRESH PAINT: New Horizons & A Foreboding Joy

I painted two pieces last week, and tried something new with both of them. First, instead of reaching for the 16x20 bundle packs I normally grab (and can afford) I listened to a heart whisper and went BIG, purchasing sizes I had yet to explore: 24x48 and 36x48.

(How would I fill such large spaces? What was my inner creative longing to release that required more space to tell it's message on?)

Second, instead of reaching for the brushes in my box, I found my hand landing on the rag I normally use to wipe my brushes on, and used it to distribute the paint across each canvas' surface.

The results? Left me breathless to be honest. I look at both pieces now, in my living room and am in awe of what's staring back at me. Maybe it's vain to say I absolutely love these pieces and I think the messages they convey are important ones for me...but...it's the truth-my truth anyway and it's not often I find myself in love with something I've created on canvas.

Two of my words for this year are "explore," and "pursue." In regards to painting I told myself  that I would explore my new found passion for painting and experiment with various styles and techniques to find what "fits," if that makes sense. Working with a rag and my hands instead of brush and with larger spaces exposed me to a freedom I hadn't realized my inner creative had been longing for. I'm looking forward to doing more in this fashion, and I think I have a theme that can make the pieces in this style an actual collection....we'll see.

Both pieces are up for sale in the shop along with other pieces from the last 7 months. Feel free to stop by for a look....

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This one was inspired by a lyric from the song "New Horizons," by Flyleaf: "Bring your normalcy to the edge and watch it drown in new horizons...new horizons..." It speaks to the new horizons that have been stretching themselves across my life these past months: new decade (30's!), new city & home (AUSTIN!), new marriage (details and photos in a forthcoming post) and.....one completely unexpected and unplanned that I will share in a post later this week :)

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This one took me by surprise-it started out very dark with just black and white paint blending together to create a very heavy, grayish-moody base. I didn't really think about it much as I worked, adding layers of color and I moved quickly through it, finding myself a little winded at it's end. As I sat back to wonder what the hell it was, my mind rested on a comment made by Dr. Brene Brown regarding joy: “If you ask me what’s the most terrifying, difficult emotion we feel as humans, I would say joy.” She had made the comment to Oprah, during a Super Soul Sunday discussion, and was speaking to how joy terrifies us so we never allow ourselves to experience it in it's fullest. Watch her discuss it here: http://www.yidio.com/show/super-soul-sunday/season-0/episode-0/3088395102

I realized that as overwhelmed and happy I am about all of the newness in my life, every time I've felt joy trying to take over, I've immediately pushed it away...this piece represents that tension, that fear....

So...those are my latest pieces. Thoughts?

Painting: Don't Think. Just Feel

Today I sat down, brush in hand, colors spread put around me, and just stared at the canvas in front of me. I wanted to paint but my thoughts were too scattered to focus on a concept or any kind of intentionality. I closed my eyes and just sat there. Alex came and sat in my lap, and proudly began naming the colors he recognized. I dipped a brush in red, his favorite color at the moment, and handed it to him. Without saying a word, he snatched the brush from me and got to work covering the canvas in frenzied streaks of red. When he was finished, he said "RED!" did a little hop, dropped the brush and ran to his room with a smile on his face.

I know at some point I would like to work on developing intentionality, so that I'm better at communicating what I'm trying to say through my paintings. For now though, I'm realizing that I'm content to just pick up a brush and attack the canvas much like Alex did. I might have one thought I focus on or I might have nothing but emotions, and I like that. I think some of my best pieces have come from when I've turned down the volume on my reasoning and listened instead only to the emotions that were waiting to be acknowledged & allowed to speak. I can't always articulate what they are in words but on canvas, they pour out of me with each stroke; their voices speaking through each color and layer I apply.

If you were to ask me why I painted what I did today, I'd simply shrug & say I don't know. It's just what came out. They were directed purely by emotion, with no direct thoughts or intended meanings. They're simplistic & maybe look amateurish, but I'm okay with that. I'll get better with more practice and exploration.

The first one is untitled for now. I have to study it & "hear" what it's saying before I name it.

The second one? Well, I'm not sure, but when Bertski looked at it, he said it kind of reminded him of the early 80's and the New Wave music era...I laughed because I was born in '82...and I'll be 30 on Saturday...so maybe it represents that? Not sure but I thought it was a fun interpretation, considering how much I love music and the bright fashions from that time period.

So here they are. OH-in honor of said 30th birthday, I'm having a sale in my Etsy shop-all unreserved listings are 30% off now through Saturday. Stop by & have a look :)

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Painting: My Refuge & Strength

There's a Psalm in the Bible that speaks of God "being our refuge & strength." While I am at a crossroads with my faith (more on this in another post) I'd like to believe that God is our refuge & strength by actually giving us things that bring peace & provide a shelter from the chaos & realities of life...or our minds.

I spent some time in the hospital last week. The psych ward. After being hypo manic for nearly 4-5 weeks I started to crash into depression close to 3 weeks ago and wound up having suicidal ideation & thoughts...I'll talk more about this experience later but for now, I'll just get to the intent of what I want to share with you today.

What I've learned since I started painting at the beginning of the year is that painting is my refuge and fills me with a strength I've yet to experience otherwise. Yes, at times I've found myself leaning on God & my faith to pull me through the rough seasons of my life....

BUT-through this season, this time of grappling with my illness and striving for longer periods of stability, I've come to realize that painting, brushing strokes of color across a canvas brings me a calm & peace unlike any other. When I paint, the thoughts that yell & clamor for my attention quiet down and go back sullenly to their dark corners. I choose colors & sweep them across the canvas without a single thought.

Silence. Peace. Light. Wholeness. Myself. I feel the most like myself when I paint. I paint and afterward can go and laugh with my kids, deal with the frustrations & joys of life...and the crippling pain of a mind that at times seems to want nothing more to bring about my demise & the destruction of my family.

The Bible says God is a restorer. I like to think that He's placed this, this whatever it is in my life to do just that-restore. Restore parts of me that I forget are still there. The parts that still exist among the scattered puzzle pieces that are my brain & body chemistry.

I've painted quite a bit the last few days, finding solitude & comfort after a painful & desperate couple of weeks where I clutched sanity & life with as much strength I could muster. For myself. For my boys.

(Sigh)

Well here's a look at what I've been working on...

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What do you find comfort & strength in? What restores you?

Painted: Layering

So I've spent the last two days painting. It's been awhile so my creative vibes didn't flow as much as I hoped they would. Maybe it's the new med combo I'm on. Or maybe I'm just rusty. It maybe I just feel more inspired & creative when I'm hypomanic. Who knows? Anyway, the first canvas I gave up on, but the second, I liked how it started taking shape, so I decided to try and take what I've seen other artists do on YouTube, and try my hand at layering.

I did the base colors and started some blending last night...

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and spent about an hour and a half tonight adding, blending & building upon what was there.

The result? This....

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Not sure how I feel about it. I do at the very least like the brushstroke work I utilized throughout the painting.

What do you think? And seriously be honest, criticism is welcomed as long as it's constructive. Also keep in mind I'm a newbie who knows nothing about technique.

I Miss My Paints & Artists Who Inspire Me

I haven't posted anything about painting in awhile, and I think it's mostly because I haven't painted in nearly two, almost three months. I miss it...

I'm slightly worried that my passion for it and the creativity that drove me to paint in the first place has faded away...

I've been asking myself if it was all just a fleeting fancy-just some form of manic expression that isn't really...me.

Not sure if that makes sense...I wish I could articulate what I mean a lot better, but I've had two glasses of wine so articulation is swimming in Lake Moscato at the moment.

Ahem...

What I'm trying to say is that I'm a creative person who hasn't been able to create in a few months and I'm scared this particular form of creative expression has moved on and out of my life much like dancing has....which makes me incredibly sad.

I miss my paints, and having my colorful creations adorn my walls. I gave away & sold about 15 of them, but those I have left are still locked up in a storage unit back in PA....I miss the excitement that emanates all the way from my toes to my fingertips when I sit down in front of a blank canvas to paint. I miss the adrenaline rush of the creative process and how it leaves me pregnant with possibility.

Anyway, enough lamenting...I'll save the rest of this for a time when I'm less tipsy and a little less apt to talk about being impregnated by creativity.

I'll leave you with some videos of artists I found via YouTube who are helping me keep my love and passion for painting alive....trust me when I say they are worth taking the time to watch.

Enjoy!

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Christopher Mathie...

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxncnnFEHeE]

Nicole Hoschke...

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVaQ6xvTYuk]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCDrZA5kobY]

Mel McCuddin...

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3wz9wg0Dos]

Then & Now

Over the weekend I started my new dose of Lamictal...another 50mgs to try and put the brakes on my latest (and longest) high. Last week I was reeling from it...dizzy from the frenzy.

This week I feel my mind turning around & going in the opposite direction...everything is slowing down.

My thoughts are still all over the place, but instead of shouting & screaming to be heard they mumble as they mill about...whispering their requests & anxieties from dark, shadowy corners they've been banished to.

Somewhere between the ups & downs of this disorder, there lies a middle ground called stability...a place where medication keeps everything from getting out of control. A place where the highs don't send me skyrocketing into the stratosphere and the lows don't entrench & isolate me in the darkness of depression.

I know recovery ( i.e. stability) is not a myth, some city of gold that's only been talked about but never actually seen or experienced. It's real. I've talked to people who live there, who have managed to build a healthy & stable life within the valleys of mental illness.

I hope I'm closer to residing there than I was a year ago. Last July I walked into the VA hospital crying and begging the social worker & intake psych to help me as Alex slept in my arms. Last July I wanted to die and knew I would if I didn't get help that day. I was willing to take anything, do anything, just to make the chaos stop for 10 seconds. That's all I wanted. A 10 second reprieve from a mind that was too scary and confusing. I just wanted to be able to breathe without feeling like I was suffocating. This July I no longer want to die and I can breathe at least 10 seconds longer, taking in bigger gulps of air & of life in the process. A year later I still have highs and lows but they cycle at a much slower pace than they used to. I no longer wonder how I'm going to feel from hour to hour. My focus is now on managing how I feel from day to day.

I know I still have a ways to go before I get there, to stability. But where I had no hope of it a year ago, I feel it now. I know it now. I can see it on the horizon, off in the distance, welcoming me like an old friend...waiting for me to come and make myself at home.

There are upcoming changes & transitions I'm worried about that may threaten my progress...and lots of good, exciting new things I'm looking forward to....so that's why I'm more concerned about this impending low than I'd like to admit. I hate putting pressure on myself but I can't help but feel as though everything over the next 4 weeks depends on how well I ride out this about face in mood.

I'm not really sure of where this post is going, and I feel like I've spewed enough disjointed thoughts so I'll end it here with this:

I painted today....something I wasn't doing a year ago. Crazy how much you change in a year, eh?

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Painting: Trying Something New & Falling in Love with Jackson Pollock

Painted last week. It was the perfect remedy for the migraine pounding in my head, and a much needed stress reliever from the week's frustrations & fatigue.

I painted three in a span of about 4 hours.

I find it hard to do just one....once I'm inspired I have to keep going until it runs out. It usually takes 2-4 small canvases for it to dissipate, leaving me exhausted and wanting to sleep.

The first one I painted was for a friend. She asked me months ago to paint a depiction of life before & after salvation. I honestly find it hard to paint something when it's someone else's idea-I usually just do it "in the moment," -it's not something I force-so it took me a long time and a lot of quiet reflecting to figure out how to do it. I kept waiting for inspiration or some thought to spark a sense of direction, and it didn't come until last week.

As I was laying in bed praying for my migraine to subside, a verse from 1 Peter chapter 4 came to me. It talks about love covering a multitude of sins. My mind immediately started thinking about redemption & salvation. To me, they both represent love-the love that drove Jesus to the cross to sacrifice himself for humanity. As I reflected on this, I started to see colors-I saw a strip of black being covered up with all kinds of bright colors, which I took to represent life, and red & white interspersed among them-In Christianity, red represents Jesus' blood and there's a verse in the Bible that talk's about his blood washing us "white as snow" when we receive salvation & are therefore redeemed.

Finally having my inspiration, I swallowed an excedrin, made the boys lunch, laid Alex down for a nap, and settled myself in my room with my paints and brushes spread out around me. I got to work, first painting half the canvas black. Once that was done, I sat for a few minutes wondering how I was going to take the image of the colors I had in my head and transfer it to the canvas in front of me. It was then I thought I'd try something I hadn't tried before-splattering the paint.

It's something I've seen on other paintings, but never knew how to create that look myself. Not really knowing what I was doing I just started by putting paint on the brush, dipping it in water & just flicking the brush at the canvas.

Splat. Dip. Splat. Dip. Splat.

Realizing it how fun & simple it was, I just started literally throwing paint at the canvas, covering myself & the wall in front of me in the process. I did this for about half an hour, stopping to pick different colors, watch the paint float & glide down the canvas, cover more spots, and about halfway through I stopped to take this

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Still not feeling "done" I kept going until finally I had this

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I put that one to the side and feeling inspired by what I had just done, I grabbed another canvas. No particular thought or meaning in mind, I just saw an arrangement of colors and slowly transferred what I saw in my mind to on the canvas.

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As soon as I finished, another arrangement of colors came to mind and again, I grabbed yet another canvas and produced this

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I really enjoyed painting like this. It was fun, and somehow very liberating. I posted these in Instagram, and my friend Lindsay mentioned an artist I'd never heard of before, Jackson Pollock. (my Art History game is better than it used to be thanks to 2 Lit & Art classes, but I still have a lot to learn)

Intrigued, a Google search led to about two hours of reading about him, abstract expressionism, his works, and falling in love with his "all-over" style of painting. His paintings? Gorgeous layers of colors twisting & turning in all directions. Needless to say, I'm now a fan :)

"On the floor I am more at ease, I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around in it, work from the four sides and be literally `in' the painting." -- Jackson Pollock, 1947.

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I Couldn't Write But Was Feeling Restless So Instead I Painted

My laptop crapped out on me today. I was planning on spending 45-50 minutes journaling and writing some posts, but when the screen on my craptop went black for the fifth time, I gave up on that idea and wondered what to do with all the restless creative energy I was feeling. The last couple of days I've been feeling restless, wanting to get lost in being creative. Colors are dancing before my eyes-I envision their placement on giant stretches of canvas when I sleep at night. My mind is busy writing my life experiences into chapters for my memoir (more on that later), and it seems even the simple and smallest details of my daily life are the perfect fodder for blog posts. ( Don't worry, I'll spare you from having to read 95% of them. That's what the draft folder is for.) When I hear music, my body wants to get lost in movement, and my desire to take a dance class reminds me to put it on the "Things I must do once we're settled in Austin," list. (Again-more on this later)

Paint. Write. Dance. I'm craving creativity & expression in these areas. While I'm putting concentrating on dance until after we move, I plan on directing my creative energy into writing and painting this summer.... I want to spend at least 30-60 minutes a day exercising my creative muscle....I'm intrigued and excited to see what I come up with, especially as I continue to explore the world of paint, which is a new one for me. (And yet again, more on this later. I owe you at least 3 posts-remind me)

That's why when my laptop gave up, I figured the next best thing to do was grab a piece of canvas, my brushes & paints, settle into a corner of the living room and just...paint. I did this last night as well.

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The pieces I did last night and this afternoon kind of caught me off guard. I did some experimenting with thinning out my buttery acrylics with water, and here's what emerged...

This one describes how my thoughts and thought processes are when I'm hypomanic. Everything is colorful, vibrant, I feel alive, full of energy...some of it is anxious, agitated, restless energy, some of it is productive and punctuated with lots of laughter & creative projects that range from painting to cooking. Things are fantastical, special...My thoughts run & bleed into each other blending reality with the fantasies my mind conjures up. This of course makes my concentration and focus blurry at times. I haven't settled on a name for this one yet, but it will probably be "Manic Thoughts" or something along those lines.

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This one is called "Distortion" or "A Distorted Perception of Self," I haven't decided yet which sounds better. It started off colorful and very bold, but halfway through turned into a mishmash of colors than blended together to create a muted look in terms of color. I spent about 10 minutes just throwing water at it, watching the paint leave trails on the canvas. It's ugly, it's messy, distorted, and a little chaotic...but to me, it's how I see myself sometimes through the dirty lens of mental illness.

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So, I didn't get to write today like I wanted but I guess it's just as well. I did something I enjoyed, and that has me feeling pretty grounded....even though hypomania is trying to lift my feet off the ground. I'm trying to stay level. We'll see how it goes.