For various reasons, I didn’t leave the house much this weekend. I had a variety of plans, but unexpected events tabled all that and I was left to my own devices here. While I did some chores, puzzles, dog walking, etc. I figured painting was a safe way to pass the time. So, I turned to a big sheet of watercolor paper that I had toned a few weeks ago by pouring some extra paint over some Halloween spider web that is hanging around for just this purpose.
I had every intention of then ripping the paper into quarters and doing a series of abstracts. But… this bird was there. You can see where I outlined her above. I pondered this development and finally decided to go for it, but I made the radical decision to NOT use a reference photo or even pick a bird species. This left me the freedom to use any colors I felt would work with the painting.
So, this weekend, I got my courage together and combined the two images.
As you can see, it’s not finished, but I like where it’s going.
After a lot of angst, I decided to use white gouache (sometimes also marketed as titanium white watercolor) rather than fight the veridian green background. I harnessed my mini workshop with Leslie Humphrey a few months ago and decided to mimic her use of gouache to create her white horse. Using gouache (said like squash) to make white gets a bad rap in the watercolor world. Amateurs often use it to try to fix their watercolors, and it ends up looking…. well, amateurish. Instructors don’t hesitate to point out the importance of “saving” white in watercolor and can go on a bit about techniques like multiple washes or negative painting. Quickly, painters learn to hide their white qouache (and their black paint when they are told to “mix their darks”.)
But gouache has a lot going for it. It provides a creamy texture that can add a lot of warmth and body to a painting (fact: in older paintings, you will see “body color” mentioned. That means it’s ink (or some other medium) with a little gouache to bring out the white areas). It tends to dry quickly and makes for fabulous scratching and pushing texture. While it can’t be used for washes, it can be layered to create effect, though the artist should be prepared for the layer below to suffer some damage. It does lift easily and allows the artist to make changes very easily.
Creating this bird without a reference photo or even a specific species has been challenging. It’s an eagle… a hawk… a falcon… a phoenix? I don’t think it’s important to spell it out, but it does have to meet some basic parameters of “birdness” so the viewer can work through the painting without getting stuck on that point.
So, more to come on this painting adventure.
In other (non-art) news
Those of you who are here for art, you can stop here. The rest of this blog post is about personal stuff.
If you chose to go on, there may be some triggering stuff. (Seriously, consider stopping)
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been struggling with depression quite a bit lately. I made the choice to go on an additional antidepression medicine this week, and that decision has had some fairly serious consequences. From previous experience, I made an emergency plan with a good friend (L, I love you!) during which we had a frank conversation about what to do if things went sideways.
I started the new medication on Monday morning (the advice was to take it in the mornings) and I went along with my Monday and Tuesday in pretty normal fashion. Tuesday night I didn’t sleep well, but it wasn’t a huge deal. Wednesday I was a little tired, and thought I could start to feel a slight shift, but basically moved forward with life. The last thing on Wednesday I had a conversation with a co-worker that was both intense and uncomfortable and I did notice afterwards that I was pretty shaken up about it. But those kind of conversations are hard, so I put a “note in the file” and went forward. Again, I didn’t sleep well Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning I made a note on my board to remind myself that I could take time off if necessary. Then things sort of fell apart.
I “went” to work and noticed that I couldn’t seem to concentrate. I’d open an email and then “wander” off to some other task. I noticed I had a meeting later, so I read through the notes and literally did not understand what my function in the meeting was to be. I called my boss and she was impatient about my lack of understanding, but spelled out my roll. I made some notes and went to the meeting. I wish I could tell you about the meeting, but the only think I actually remember is hearing people talk, looking at the document, and feeling frustrated because something was “wrong” (no idea what, but something was.) When asked a question, I couldn’t figure out how to articulate the issue and so I ended up saying “Whatever.” I couldn’t follow the conversation, I couldn’t read the document, I couldn’t explain the problem.
After the meeting, I sat looking at my screen for a few minutes. Something was wrong. I just wanted to die. (Please note: I was not and am not suicidal, this is suicidal ideation.) I sat there trying to remember the plan my friend had talked about when my boss called. She was upset because I hadn’t “shown up” to the meeting. Fair enough, but I had bigger problems. I mumbled something about having a bad day and she impatiently told me to take the rest of the day off then. I started crying and realized I needed to activate the emergency plan.
I called my friend who insisted (as we had discussed) that I call my doctor RIGHT NOW! Now crying incoherently, I called the health provider’s mental health line and got through to a receptionist who must have exceptional deciphering skills, because she sent a note to the doctor AND send me to the mental health crisis line. There, after they checked to make sure I really wasn’t going to commit suicide worked me through the situation. In the end, it boiled down to this. This new medication works by bombarding the brain to get the neurons to start working again (the current thinking is that depression happens because the neurons stop sending certain kinds of messages (happy or comforting ones) through). While right now I was struggling, if I could get through this, prior experience indicated to health care professionals (HCP) that this drug might be quite effective for me. But we had to get through right now.
I mumbled something about the situation at work, and the HCP gave me a sick note for two weeks. I do have that kind of time available, so that was one problem (maybe) solved. We moved onto my current feelings. I had stopped crying (positive progress) and we both thought a quick walk with the dog followed by some jigsaw puzzling and TV watching would be just the thing. HCP asked me about other issues and I admitted that I felt like I couldn’t drive: my hands were shaking and I kept just drifting off to other thoughts, rather than concentrating on driving. HCP agreed that wasn’t helpful, so we worked out a plan to cancel my plans for the weekend and be a homebody. The food situation was fine, and so I was essentially safe at home. HCP gave me the crisis line and I agreed to call if I needed.
I called my friend back (love you, L) and assured her the crisis was at least five minutes old now and we came up with additional emergency plans if necessary. I didn’t sleep well again that night, so I got up at three in the morning and searched the internet for how to “tell your boss about a mental health breakdown.” It’s not the best search result ever, but there were a few good articles. In the email I didn’t say much other than I was having issues and needed to take at least a week off, accompanied by the note from the doctor. The next morning she acknowledge the email and said we’d come up with a more comprehensive plan on Monday, and I put an out of office message on my email.
Friday was a pretty bad day, but Saturday seemed marginally better. Today, Sunday… well, I slept through the night last night and there have been significantly fewer periods of existential dread. But I am going to go with the plan of taking the week off. I still keep “drifting off” and under the pressure of a work situation, I don’t know that I would be able to cope in a meaningful manner. Also, as my job is quite detailed, and the fact that I can’t concentrate might not make for the best situation. Additionally, I am discovering is that I am having a lot of trouble speaking. It’s like the words get lost between my brain and my mouth. It’s possible there are just no thoughts, but that’s never stopped me before.
As a sign of hope, I offer the following. I have been noticing beautiful things more, which is something that I am now noticing I haven’t been doing.
And the last few nights, I have had the vivid, technicolor dreams. (As an example of my lack of ability to concentrate, I typed “colors” three times in place of the word “nights” in the sentence before.)
As a final note, I am noticing that I have more connections than I think I do. A friend invited me over to dinner on Sunday, which I ended up turning down because of… well. My cousins are vacationing at the beach house, and they offered to come by and help if I needed it. A work friend (who I don’t think knew about the situation) dropped by on Saturday with knitting bowl she made. Another work friend sent a series of texts checking up on me. A different friend who I haven’t called in a few weeks called out the blue today and we chatted for a while. And of course, L is the best. As are all my FB friends who I am sure would (and will) send comfort.
So, for the next week I’m here at home. It’s not a staycation, more like inpatient treatment. I’ve developed a little schedule to follow, and a have a short list of chores I’d like to get done. More puzzles, more dog walking, and more painting ahead!
Final note: I suspect there are more than the usual numbers of typos in this article. At least I keep finding them. My apologies. I hope you understand.