Everything Old is New Again…

15 Minutes: Everything Old is New Again

I’m doing very different drawings from when I started “Drawriting” with 15 minutes of drawing and 15 minutes of writing on the back of the drawing. These pieces below do not have writing on the back; I’m not sure if I will write on the back or not. perhaps this post is the writing part for now.

A client of mine once explored a concept she said was summed up as : “Everything old is new again.” Her words. I’ve been thinking about that idea, as I reflect on 2018, and now, in terms of my personal art making as a visual artist, about 30 years into making drawings and paintings, collage, etc. Even last May as I started a daily drawing practice, I noticed I was reprising my 2006 – ? work and had revisited that stuff in my sketchbook last year, coming from the “Inner Landscapes” series. I have the old sketchbook journal where the images emerged that later became buildings and Inner Landscapes, which I have now embraced as “Cityscapes.” Before, when I did these, I thought of them as buildings, but as expressing some kind of inside landscape of the psyche. Recently I’ve returned to seeing that it is my relationship with New York City and how the city is part of who I am…

More recently in the past few weeks, I have been revisiting my drawings of faces and leaves. It started with my redoing my Sketchbook Project, in December 2018, drawing faces and leaves. These faces started many years ago; I can’t even remember when. Then I reused them in my Scribble Drawings Collage series in 2007 and 2008.

A while back I drew two bees in my sketchbook project. For some reason I’ve been drawn to drawing bees, no pun intended. Yesterday, I started drawing hexagon hive shapes, due to thinking about bees and because it’s a great kind of drawing connector. I’ve got faces, bees, and mushrooms, so now I have the hive shapes in and out. I haven’t gotten far with it as you can see in the pictures of these works in progress.

Drawing on smaller paper is very rewarding because I can really do a drawing in one sitting and feel like it’s done. It’s hard to be patient with doing drawing/painting on wood and canvas because it takes a lot more time and the discipline to revisit the work and continue it.

I took some of the wood drawings I did in November, which were moving towards being city scapes, and tried to sort of add in the new imagery with limited success, still using fountain pens to draw with.

For some reason it is harder to add in this imagery. I will paint over the wood with white paint and start drawing on top, like the painting in the photo below. That painting has endured a lot, like an archeological site. I don’t know what the first concept was, but there was collage I pulled off years ago, and then drawings of buildings and white again. That was March 2018. Then I went into it more. Anyway, today I turned it “upside down” so I woulnd’t see buildings in the marks underneath the white paint.

The above wood drawing with oil paint is the only one I saved. The rest I painted on top of.

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End of the Month Journal pages Post!

It’s that time of the month, where I post photos of drawings and collages from my current journal that I carry everywhere with me.

This month’s journal is new, so I included the cover and back cover. The back cover is upside down, not sure when I will fix that!

This month’s theme is “the new”. With a new journal and a new year, I’ve made one of my more familiar sketchbook drawings the one with the word “make” in it, and then a lot of new collages connected with the pieces I am currently making where I follow a line usually vertically down a long page. In the journal the lines are horizontal. Also used more magazine images and mixed media, as I was less focused on the drawings than last month.

I’m hoping next month, some of these unfinished ones will look a lot different. There is also one piece that was an example of a kind of “Make it work” moment, when I was at someone’s house playing with kids and doing “crafts”. I used the materials they had, so there’s mostly colored tape and a big square button, but I tried to go with my current basic them I’ve been calling “Lines”, not sure if it’s quite the right title but for now it is… Enjoy!

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The Birthday Self-Portrait: My Birthday Post, 2/1/2014

A long time ago, I was looking through a book of some artist’s work that I admired, it might have been Adolf Gottlieb, but I’m not sure, I’ve tried to figure out for sure which artist this was, but I never succeeded. Anyway, I read that he whoever he was, had an annual habit of making a birthday self-portrait every year for his birthday. I thought this was a really great and fun idea. I started doing it, but now I can’t remember how many years ago it was. I’m pretty sure I did a “Shoe Portrait” self-portrait the year I was making my series of Shoe Portraits. I can’t remember what shoes I picked to paint but I remember making a weird doll and sticking it in the painting. I think I cut the canvas and somehow put the doll in. Must have been about ten years ago in 2004 maybe. Anyway, every year after that I’ve done a birthday self-portrait, usually inspired by whatever kind of art I happened to be making at the time. I know last year I did a doll with a small tiny “clock” in her, from a watch ring I had. I made the doll from scratch. I will find a photo to post of it. The year before, 2012, I’m not sure what I did. I have two of them in my house from recent years, but I’m kind of annoyed at myself that I didn’t pay attention to what I did and document it better, since it was a fun kind of annual ritual and a fun creative gift for myself on my birthday. Usually I start them about a week before. This year for the first time, I made something I didn’t like and then changed the project completely. I started with a collage with a lot of cut out and ripped images, beads, an old drawing and other stuff and put it up on my studio wall. The next day or two after, I decided I didn’t want to finish it and that I didn’t think it was a real self-portrait, so I decided it would make sense to make an altered book, as I have been making them all year and very obsessed with them, as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows. I ended up cutting up that first collage and putting some of it in the book.

So I chose a book I had already worked on, a little children’s book with each page split in to two halves, originally the book was for matching the top image with the bottom, so it was fun to play with the format. I had already done a lot in the book and decided it had enough in it to build on and that it already had the feeling of a self-portrait, so I started altering it more, ripping out stuff and adding in stuff over the last week. I put s a few photos of myself in it and ended up using one on the cover as today I decided the cover didn’t seem right, so I ripped off an image of a person with a mask and put a photo of myself on it with the other images. I continued working on it today, which sometimes happens, that I end up finishing the self-portrait on my birthday, but I usually get it done by the day before. Of course as this is an altered book, I still don’t feel satisfied that it is finished, but it definitely feels right as my self-portrait for 2014 and reflects some of the past year’s experiences, both losses and rebirths.
I will post a few photos of the project…

As a blog post on my art therapy blog, this is a more personal post than usual, but I will end the verbal part by saying I recommend it as an art therapy project for doing with an adolescent or adult patient for their birthday. You can invite them to bring in a recent or old photo or several and then ask them what kind of medium they want to use. Anything can constitute a birthday self-portrait. A box with the photos incorporated into it, an altered book of course, a drawing or painting or collage on paper or canvas. Other interpretations of the self-portrait for those who only think of a painting of their own face and might feel discouraged and not interested in that, there are so many ways to make a self-portrait and it doesn’t have to have a picture or drawing of your face in it at all. Make a doll or a birthday pillow. A clay bowl to put flower petals in. A box that you can add small notes about what you want for yourself for the coming year into. Knit a birthday scarf. Buy a journal/sketchbook and decorate the cover and start your journal on your birthday. Have your patient make him or herself a birthday card. I have done this often and made a card for my patient while s/he made a card for him/herself. Making a card for yourself whether for your own birthday or for any other day is always a good art therapy activity. I usually give my patient a list of affirmations to choose to copy on the inside of the card or that could inspire you to make your own affirmations and write them inside your card to yourself. Collages with tiny mirrors are a fun twist on the self-portrait. I have one in my altered book. I encourage my patients to get themselves a special birthday present, whether an object or something like a massage, so doing a self-portrait can be an added way to feel special about marking for yourself your own arrival on this planet. It is helpful especially for depressed patients and people who claim to not like their birthday. I don’t always feel super excited for my birthday lately, so I understand when people want to forget about it or make it a day they don’t do anything special, but in art therapy this can be an opportunity to take better care of yourself and reclaim your birthday as a special day, which it is after all. Doing something special for yourself to mark the day you arrived here and that you are still here, no matter how you are feeling, can be very healing and self affirming. It’s kind of like the concept of “The Artist’s Date” from the book, “The Artist’s Way”. As a young 4 year old child once told me, “You have to love yourself of course.” and “You are your own best friend.”

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Photos: from top
First Photo: page from book showing the split page format
Second Photo: page from book top matching bottom
Third Photo:Inside front cover. QUote says: “How many are silenced because in order to get to their art they would have to scream.” -Ann Clarke
Fourth Photo: Current cover of book with photo and plastic doll in model magic
Fifth Photo: older version of front cover
Sixth Photo: Inside page of back cover
Seventh Photo: Image of doll, last year’s self-portrait

More on Creative Blocks and Trauma/Depression

I think my most recent post was about daily habits and establishing something that works for you as a daily creative thing to do, even five minutes… So, continuing on with this series of posts about creativity as a healing process…

Creative Blocks and Trauma Related Depression

I think there is a connection between having a lot of trauma in your past and/or recent past, being depressed, and also having creativity blocks. This is a kind of depression that is not necessarily that noticeable although sometimes it is very much in the forefront of your life. For some people, it is a lowgrade depression, characterized not so much by depressing thoughts or great feelings of sadness and melancholy, but more like a kind of daily feeling of a lack of excitement and pleasure in your life. A person can get used to sort of feeling “ok” and functioning at work and with others but not really looking forward to anything or being very excited by much in their life. “Going through the motions” is part of it. Also a kind of low expectation for oneself that seems to creep up on the person slowly so that they notice they are older and don’t have a lot of “big dreams” or exciting plans for the future. Sometimes this manifests in “forgetting” to plan a fun vacation, going to work but not really liking your job while at the same time not hating it or thinking of other options. It’s also as though the idea of “other options” keeps receding and the person has stopped thinking of their “Bucket List” which may have just been things they were thinking of doing in their early 20s they didn’t end up doing and have developed a block about, such that they do not even think about other possibilities, even little things like taking a class in something new or something you liked as a “hobby” but gradually just stopped doing and “forgot” about…

The “forgotten life” is a sad part of this depression. It is easy to go about your day with blinders on and come home just tired, not expecting much, watching some tv, helping your kids with their homework but not getting much joy out of anything. Sometimes a person with this kind of depression is feeling ok or happy when with their kids and family or their dog or other animal companion and has moments of joy that are connected to these relationships but can’t muster up much gusto for doing anything for themselves. Even without depression, it’s easy to forget to talk to your parnter/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/companion about anything much besides the usual talk about daily matters.

This is an insidious kind of depression because it is not very obvious. The person seems fine and does not demonstrate the usual big red flag signs of depression, no sudden weight loss or weight gain, no sleep problems, no crying, no thoughts of death or suicide. The big connections with really bad depression are “anhedonia”, which means lack of ability to feel a sense of pleasure and enjoyment of things, as well as a kind of hopelessness, but unlike dramatic major depressive disorder, the person is barely aware of their hopelessness as it manifests in this kind of “blinders” not expecting much from life kind of attitude. In my experience of working with people who suffer from this kind of thing (and if a person actually goes to therapy, they do start to notice these little signs, but sometimes the person has gone to therapy for some other reason and has no awareness that s/he is also depressed in this way until later on in the therapy process), many people who have this kind of barely noticeable depression have also suffered from traumatic events in their life, ranging from terrible childhood trauma to small kinds of trauma that the person does not even consider to be unusual but nevertheless, these “traumatic” kinds of events have left a mark on the person. Early or later loss of a parent, the earlier the loss, the more traumatic, or loss of a sibling or love partner, surviving a fire, moving many times, dropping out of school and other even less obviously traumatic types of events, such as living with a partner with a significant chronic physical or mental illness or addiction, or being the child of a parent with such an illness, as it is easy to forget while being the caretaker, that you have also suffered. Children of such parents are also used to thinking of others as being sick and not noticing their own suffering.

Silent and unaware suffering is sad in a very different way from very dramatic kinds of suffering.  This depression that I have described is not only accompanied by undetected or worked through traumas but also very importantly, a lack of creative drive and a lack of creative activity in the person’s life. 

The magic of creative arts therapy is that I have seen such people suddenly awaken to themselves by starting to make art in sessions with me. Often it occurs after I have been working with an adult for quite a long time and established a trusting relationship and suddenly the person becomes interested in trying out some kind of art making, maybe out of curiosity from being in my art studio for so long, surrounded by art and art materials, sometimes at my suggestion. Often it probably starts as a desire to please me, especially in people who are used to trying to please others in their lives and not thinking much of themselves. I welcome this because I know that a person cannot create for very long just for another person, even their therapist, without experiencing a sense of enjoyment and pleasure that belongs to them and is witnessed by me. As this person starts creating, some changes start occuring that are purely related to the creative process and how powerfully healing it is. I know there are studies of creativity and brain activity, and I’m certain that the act of creating lights up places in the brain and awakens parts of the brain that were not being used much, even though I don’t have the scientific knowledge of this. I have witnessed too many magical transformations that are directly related to the person creating more, even if it is only once a week in the session with me. 

This is the magic and beauty of the creative process. Of course it feels like one is back in kindergarten, so the cliche goes, but it is wonderfully true, as many adults have not made any art since the age of 4-6. To bring a person back to Kindergarten is to bring them back to the Source of Creative Healing, to a feeling of safety and trust and even a wonder at what they have made. (See my post of the wonderful poem “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”)

These are the moments when I truly love my vocation and feel privileged to be witnessing such deep healing. No matter how long I do this, I am consistently amazed at the shift in energy in the room, at the sense of wonder creeping back into this person’s life and also touching me. 

On a personal note, I started making art as an adult around the age of 20, while being in college and consistently pretty depressed. A simple beginning drawing class with simple ingredients: lots of students but enough attention from a great teacher, low expectation of any kind of “realistic” type drawing, even positive reinforcement from the teacher and the assistants who loved most the images made by students that were unrecognizable as anything “real”, simply “marks on paper”, a phrase of the teacher’s that I never forgot, that had a profound effect on me. I had not thought of drawing or painting since kindergarten, probably had to do some art class in high school but I mostly remember noticing that I could take photography and avoid drawing and painting while in high school.

This elective art class in college changed my life in a profound way and is one of those moments on the journey of life that one sees later as a “marker” of a change in direction. The process of doing something non verbal and so pleasurable was so surprising and wonderful that it “woke” me up out of my depressive college “angst” at least to the point where I started drawing outside of the class to express some of this angst.

I mention this just to point out that the act of beginning to use one’s creativity in a different way can really stir up and awaken a little flame of excitement and “libidinal” creative energy and then the small flame becomes a fire, maybe quickly, maybe over time, but just lighting one little flame can really stir up the brain and knock out this kind of depression in a person to the point that s/he starts to have daydreams or quiet little desires to do new things or to enjoy little things, sometimes it results in a person taking out their guitar after ten years of no playing and playing it, or journaling daily or starting to write poetry. For some, it results in buying art supplies and having fun painting or collaging at home.

These little beginnings when fed and properly witnessed by the art therapist can result in some small or big shifts in a person’s life. The depression starts to get knocked off or dusted off, and the person starts to see more around him or her and inside him or herself. Like a small pebble tossed into a pond, the ripples go outward, the water gets stirred up and energized.

Thus begins a healing process and a slow or fast disappearance of the little depressive symptoms. Excitement and enjoyment of little things and/or big changes occur.

I strongly believe that this kind of depression is most helped by creating and bringing more creativity into the person’s life. Exercising, eating better, doing more besides the usual, that all helps too, and sometimes it actually comes along with the creative awakening. Medications do little to stir up this depression in most cases in comparison to what a few art supplies and encouragement from a safe, trusted art therapist can do.

Quick Post About TOAST!

I did not post last week so this post will be for last week! I have the Tribeca Open Artists Studio Tour (TOAST) coming up this Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday, so I have been busy getting ready for a big mass of people to be coming to my studio.

I am posting a few new “Scribble Drawing Collage Self-Portraits” from my latest series of work that I will be showcasing at the open studio tour this weekend…

To view more of this series or more of my artwork, you can visit my artist website at http://www.natashart.com