"When did you start painting?

 

Back when I had just started painting, I was still taller than my kids, my neck still hurt all the time, and I was momming so hard at Halloween.

 

This is a question I am often asked. Buckle up...

I started painting about 12 years ago, after I told a group of friends that all I wanted for my birthday was more art supplies. As a professional graphic designer who had taken the requisite Painting I and Painting II classes in college, I longed to create non digital art and found myself often dreaming of becoming a painter. My nice friends obliged and I happily used the gift card they gave me at an art supplies store in my then home of Los Angeles. I had high hopes for those supplies...and then a whole lotta life happened.

It was actually just before I went shopping for those art supplies that life reared up in a giant, overwhelming way. The day before my husband's birthday in 2004, I felt weirdly and intensely sick. But, our three-month-old still needed to eat, so I sat down on the couch to nurse him while our toddler and one of his little friends played and watched cartoons. I felt so bad.

After my cute baby was done eating, I went to stand up and immediately began falling to my left. I sat back down on the couch and tried to get my bearings. I slowly stood up again but couldn't notfall left. I felt bad in a way that is hard to describe and I was completely freaked out but I also had three tiny beings in my care. All I could think about was that I needed to make sure the kiddos we're safe. So, I army crawled my baby to some manner of baby holder (I can't remember if it was his crib, bouncy seat or what) and then I crawled back to the couch. The toddlers were amazingly, blessedly, content. My head hurt beyond description and I couldn't exactly function, but I was totally conscious. I started calling people (my husband was mountain biking out of range) and ended up being taken to the ER by a friend.

The next few hours of my life were noteworthy. The pain was so bad and other-worldly that I thought I might die right there in that ER exam room. The part of my brain that landed on this possibility was, shall we say, bummed out. To start with, I had two tiny kids, one of whom I was keeping alive with my person. In truth, I kept both my kids alive every single day, so the thought that I might not be long for this world was alarming. Between episodes of pain the likes of which I won't go into here, my brain churned over the shock of possible death and all that meant. It was intense. My mom got the news of where and how I was and walked right out of a conference she was at in the midwest and got on a plane and flew to California. Other family members flew in. As it turns out, one of my vertebral arteries had spontaneously (ish) torn which triggered a shower of tiny strokes. Dang. Ouch. We were told that these strokes were the kind of strokes young healthy people have (?!) and if I didn't die from the torn artery (chances were good that I wouldn't) I would likely be 100% fine. They said VAD (Vertebral Artery Dissection) is a rare thing and most people fully recover with zero long-lasting effects. Huh. Who knew?

Here's the difference between art supplies and real estate sales: art supplies can wait; real estate sales move forward regardless of circumstances. Just before I stood up and couldn't not go left, we had sold our house in L.A. and had bought a fixer in Norcal. The deals were done, the papers were signed, there was no canceling plans. So with massive help from friends, we packed up all our stuff, including my bags of untouched art supplies, and less than three weeks after I had been released from the ICU, we moved into our heap of a house in beautiful, Tahoe-like Northern California surrounds. My neck hurt like a %$#@! every day, my psyche was a hot mess, we had a baby, a toddler, and a fixer to live in whilewe fixed it, and as newcomers to the area, no community.

You know how sometimes life is so hard, so unbelievably overwhelming that everything in you wants to press rewindor pauseor perhaps most of all, eject? That's how I felt. I couldn't believe what had happened to me and I was in so much pain and so much mental anguish and fear about what might still happen to me...and I had to focus on potty-training and picking out doorknobs we could afford. Life felt surreal. I was meeting and making new friends and felt like I was watching it all happen from outside myself. I vacillated between fear, frustration, and rage, and my immune system was shot. Every day felt like a long, torturous slog full of hard-to-achieve demands lived in a barely livable house with tiny, exceedingly needy people. It was not fun. But ultimately, I was glad to still be alive; I was glad to be my kids' mom. Amidst the suckfest that life was at this point, the undeniable beauty of the setting we lived in would daily carve its way into my hurting self. Beauty helped.

In retrospect, I surely should've sought therapy. Instead, I started drinking buckets of coffee and using some colorful language—two things I never did in my per torn artery days. My husband and I held ourselves together with determination and duct tape (we had to take an argument outside only once in order to spare the children our shot nerves and loud voices.) We got our fixer fixed and his studio built. (He is a full-time composer.) I was still a train wreck on the inside and it still felt like I had a knife stuck in the back of my neck almost every day, but with floors in, walls up, and windows replaced, I decided I had something like time to paint and dug out the bags of art supplies I hadn't touched for about two years. I squeezed some paint onto a canvas and just...started.

I made some paintings for our home...I made some for friend's homes...I heard of a local art walk and joined in.  I painted in our laundry room, which was a nightmare (wet paint + laundry + small kids) and then I painted in our spare bedroom until it was filled by some extended family members who needed a place to be. Then, I didn't paint for awhile. Eventually, my husband built me a great little outdoor gazebo which I painted in until I became consumed with what school was and wasn't for one of our children. After doing private school, public school, and homeschooling, we landed on a cooperative charter school. I was very, very cooperative. Which is to say, I volunteered at that school like my everything depended on it. This was all good, but left precious little time for painting. My cute little gazebo studio became a storage space. Ugh.

As you my have noticed, life never stays the same. To sum up: our kids grew, my body healed, we moved, we remodeled again (AGH!) and I bought a lot more paint. The upswing to my arty story is this: My neck doesn't hurt any more! Yay! My kids are big ish, as is my current studio! Yay! I paint more than ever (which still never feels like enough because I love doing it!) and while there is always a lot going on in life, I am making being a full-time working artist my reality, bit by bit. My artistic style has and will evolve and amidst the various nightmarish chapters of my time on the planet, there has always been beauty. Sharing the experience of beauty, amidst the pain, chaos, and process of self-discovery we all go through in life is at the heart of my art-making. I often quote Dorothy Sayers as she wrote how I feel about the beauty which inspires me to create:"Look here! Look what I've found! Come and have a bit of it—it's grand, you'll love it—I can't keep it to myself, and anyhow, I want to know what you think of it!"