Damaged brains

One month ago, during a freak out-of-the-blue April snow storm, I slipped and fell in the middle of downtown Toronto. I fell really, really hard. I didn’t hit my head, but I felt very much in shock. Of course my first thought was, “I really have to get to that meeting” and staggered my way up the street.

It wasn’t until three days later, after colleagues kept saying, “Are you ok? You’re acting really weirdly” that I went to see doctor. I had a concussion.

I was advised to have complete physical and cognitive rest. No screens, no reading, no crossword puzzles, no light, only light music.

“Can I draw?” was the first question I asked.

The answer was yes. WHY that activity is allowable and others are not, I don’t know. Personally I think drawing deeply engages your brain.

So, I’ve been:

  • Sleeping
  • Meditating
  • Listening to podcasts and audiobooks
  • Drawing

I’ve been continuing to draw on the labels that I had started before (you know, the ones that my autistic daughter ripped up during an overload meltdown).

I’ve been drawing anything and everything: the bottle of Advil, my coffee cup, cells, how to use chopsticks diagrams, sweet and sour chicken balls, neurons, bugs.

IMG_4467

I’m thinking about (and therefore drawing) brains–concussions, depression, autism, learning disabilities, giftedness, left and right sides.

And while I am drawing I am ever aware of how happy I am while doing it. I don’t care about the final product or what will happen to these drawings. I am just making.

After three hellish years of an intense job while taking care of a special needs little girl, this concussion has forced me to stop and slow down and value what really is worthwhile.

 

 

 

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Labels

My time is extremely divided and limited. I try to steal moments to fit in making my artwork.   I started to make little drawings with watercolour on these paper labels. They only take a moment and I consider them mini-meditations.

Recently, my beautiful, creative, intelligent daughter with hearing aids was diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum. Like the hearing loss diagnosis, it was a shock but it explained many things: her hypersensitivity to the way socks feel, her inability to transition from one thing to another, her unique way of speaking.

Then I realized that we are all labelled and have many of them. I’m working on making hundreds of these little label drawings, of random things that catch my interest. On a recent weekend at a friend’s cottage, my seven year old wanted to paint on some of these labels too.  I would love to see them integrated with the ones that I paint in a large installation–perhaps pinned on the wall, or hanging from threads, or in drawers and envelopes.

These labels may be part of us but don’t necessarily define us.

Sign Language

M. assessing her work.M. assessing her work.

The collaborative work that my five year old hard of hearing daughter and I are doing is the most interesting and challenging work I have done in a long time. I’ve decided to title the exhibit “Sign Language“, as it refers not only to the ASL we are learning, but more about how people can communicate non-verbally. This give-and-take (okay, more “take” in my kid’s case) relationship is a different way of working for me. I want to respect and keep a lot of her mark making and imagery, but at the same time often I have to alter or remove them for the sake of the whole piece. There is a part of my heart that is crushed every time I make a decision like this, to “erase” a precious part of her childhood. To her, she doesn’t really care. It’s just another drawing.

We are using all sorts of materials, such as acrylic, tempera, crayon, watercolour pencils, gouache. Our latest addition to our media vocabulary is pink and purple sparkly paint! M. doesn’t like the way it’s translucent; she prefers her colours bold and punchy. And sparkly.

I am finding that our use of bird imagery is especially pertinent, because before she was aided at almost four, she couldn’t hear birds at all.

 

Collaboration.

Image

Sometimes I get “stuck”. When I’m teaching a lot, grading, taking my daughter to appointments and not in my studio, I get stuck. I stare at a blank canvas (well, actually I don’t use a lot of canvas, but you know what I mean). But I have to practice what I preach: “It’s just a canvas”, I tell my students. “You are making the painting, the painting is not making you.” How much power that empty canvas can have over an artist is pretty incredible. It’s because it represents a multitude of possibilities that you don’t know where it’s going to lead. Yes. Terrifying.

I love drawing. Drawing is so immediate and almost primal. I love watching kids draw because they are so engaged in watching the mark take place on the paper. They are not thinking if critics and curators are going to see it. To them, it’s almost magical that this line is coming out of the crayon. It really is a collaboration between the mind, the crayon, the eyes and the brain.

So. To unstick myself and get back to what I love, I bought a huge sheet of heavy drawing paper. Four feet by eight feet. I put it up on my studio wall. And I let my kid draw on it. And then I draw in response to her marks. It takes all of my being not to say, “Oh don’t mix those complementary colours together, sweetie. You’ll make mud.” Or, “Um, I wouldn’t put a line there, it kinda ruins the composition.”

We are collaborating on this large scale drawing –her lines upon my scribbles, wide arches of muddy paint colours over my washes. I realize that because my kid is so much part of my life, and much of my life in the last year has been about dealing with her hearing issues, that I should involve her–really involve her, in my art and in a visual way.