Thursday, October 3, 2013

Therapy With A Friend

(Warning: long blog ahead with few photos. If you're ADD you might want to skip this post and go look at some funny kittens on youtube!!)

On The Surface

Stacked Journaling got an airing out, this week. For the first time in many months, it became the focal point to a piece much larger than the 8"x10" bits of paper it's been relegated to, lately.

I wish I had process photos, but honestly, this piece didn't inspire anything in me but mild annoyance until the very end when it suddenly and unexpectedly resolved itself. Well, half of it did, anyway. You would think I'd have learned by now that everything goes through an ugly phase. Ah, well, I'll just have to describe the process in long, overly-wordy text, instead.

I started with two deep-cradled, 24" x 36" gessobords- lovely, heavy substrates that feel almost like pieces of furniture in their bulk and quality of construction.

I'd painted them both a few weeks ago with a combination of magenta, pale blue, and aqua acrylics, intending at the time to display them side-by-side. Then they sat, unloved and irritating in their silent demand to go further. I just ran out of steam, couldn't see the way forward, and what I'd originally wanted to do with these pieces evaporated. It happens sometimes, frustratingly.

But a couple of days ago, I decided to try going back to my old friend, Stacked Journaling, in the hope of not only reviving my love of the technique- which has been quiescent for far too long- but also reviving my interest in these two panels.

I broke out my plastic sheeting and my old squeezie bottles of paint, mixed a few custom colors, and began journaling across strips of the plastic that I'd cut to size. I turned these strips upside down onto the two gessobords as they lay across my table butted up against each other end to end, and monoprinted several layers of journaling onto them. Then I stepped back and looked.


The straight lines of journaling looked like racing stripes across the surface, unconnected to the background, and floating free even of themselves, although I had overlapped them.


I allowed the pieces to dry, feeling a little desperate and a lot despondent. Stacked Journaling had always been something of a savior to me. Now it was just glaring and gaudy, refusing to work for its supper.

Gesso, I thought. I'll sand down one of the panels, gesso over it, and start again. Using my palm sander, and fashionably dressed in safety glasses, ear plugs, and a dust mask, I ground away at one of the panels, taking down all the high spots left by the painted journaling.

And then something seriously cool happened. The gaudy and too-bold lines of SJ began to distress, smooth out, and blend into each other and the background. The longer I sanded away at the piece, the better I liked it. The highly personal text (see below) became fragmented and delightfully worn, as if it had simply exhausted itself and laid down to rest across the panel.

I stepped back again, considering the next step. Was it finished? Or did it want more?

I recently purchased a couple of large bottles of pouring medium, and wondered if this was the time to break them out and experiment. Pouring medium is a clear, glossy top coat that you apply, shockingly enough, by pouring straight out of the bottle onto your substrate. It can take a long time to dry depending on how thickly you pour it, but it cures with a gorgeous, smooth, glassy appearance. It also has the interesting effect of brightening and clarifying the colors and texture beneath. It can be tricky to get it to level out without annoying ridges, dips and bubbles, though, so I had some trepidation about using it on this large (and expensive) gessobord: if I couldn't get it smooth, I could ruin the piece I had suddenly come to love, and make the gessobord underneath unusable for anything else. Pouring medium is notoriously difficult to sand away!

What the hell, I thought, and began squeezing copious puddles onto the surface. I made a mess of myself and my clothes, and I'm still peeling layers of the medium off my hands and arms, but my experiment worked- the pouring medium gave the piece a smooth, glassy finish that I'm happy with.

Ok, enough chat, here's what it looks like now.


The second panel is still awaiting... something, I don't know what, yet.

The Whole Story

As I've occasionally discussed in this blog, I was forced by his ailing health and increasing dementia to take over the care of my elderly father about two and a half years ago.

He had a lot of difficultly transitioning from being an independent adult into someone who needed others to care for him. I, too, suffered a lot of darkness, fear, and uncertainty about my own transition from an independent adult into being the caretaker of an ill person.

Stacked Journaling, a technique I had only just developed at the time, came to my rescue. I had originally developed this technique to serve only as a personalized mark-making tool to use in my work. During those initial months of caring for my father, however, Stacked Journaling became my therapy. It allowed me to channel my biggest and baddest blackness- through free-association journaling- into my work while still being able to keep those awful thoughts and fears confidential. Stacked Journaling has a way of obscuring even the most direct and glaring text, turning it into a soft, mysterious, and lyric secret language. That was important because while I want to be straightforward in my art, while I want it to be a genuine reflection of who I am, what I see, and how I feel, I needed my deepest thoughts on this matter to remain private. It was the only way I could say absolutely everything I needed to say, to get all the ugliness out of me, so I could maintain my sanity and good cheer. And it worked.

Over the long months of learning how to care for a parent who was now more like a child, I used Stacked Journaling and healed the wounds of my past and my present. Finally, when I felt like I could breathe again without a band of iron constantly tightening around my chest, Stacked Journaling and I seemed to part ways. I let it go, believing that it had served its true purpose, and that in doing so, it was ready to be released and become a part of my past.

I foolishly thought I had also healed any wounds that might come at me in the future. I somehow assumed that once I got past the worst of it, the path my father and I were traveling would even out forever, and I would just slide into my new role as a matter of habit and repetitive pattern. Of course, that's never how things work, especially when dealing with a deteriorating condition like my fathers'.

There have been a lot of ups and downs in the last two years, and in all honesty, I stopped dealing with them as if they were affecting me emotionally. A good day was welcomed, a bad day was worked through, and life went on. Simple, right?

But not easy. Things began building in me, uncomfortable feelings, burgeoning depression, frustration, even resentment. I struggle with these feelings daily and try hard to not let them take over my life, my mood, or my previously inherent positive outlook. Some days I fail. But this week I rediscovered my silver lining, my way forward and out of the blackness: Stacked Journaling. While working on the above pieces, I poured all my ugliness into the work, over and over again, until I was worn out. It helped.

It's not all gone, I need to keep working it, which will probably mean a resurgence of SJ in my work for the near future, but I finally see the path again.

Bear with me as I follow it back into the light.


Kathy said...

What a wonderful way to deal with those emotions--been there, but deal with it in a constructive way, as you have. Hang in there and I hope it keeps working for you. The art you produce with this process is absolutely gorgeous to me and it's even better to know the 'why' of the creation process. Thanks for sharing!

Eva said...

What a stunning piece. Love the way it comes close to a realistic picture of water in a bright turquoise pool.
Taking care of your Dad... We remember our parents to be our protectors, until they need protection. I admire the determination to take this challenge. And how you manage to do it.

Vicki W said...

It's sad to think of how many people are dealing with issues without having an outlet to help deal with it. I'm glad SJ works for you. I love the new piece too!

elle said...

Ah, Judi. I am upping and downing right now myself and guess what? I just bought some of this pouring medium! lol It is a nice piece. Get busy on that other one! ;)

Unknown said...

This piece is gorgeous. I'm glad that you can process your feeling at the same time as you are sharing your wonderful art.

Cathie Carroll said...

Great post. Even with the words obscured, you've shared so much in your beautiful work. Thank you.

Keep journaling and sharing. You are not alone on the journey.

Jeannie said...

Judi, this is fabulous! It is like looking into a deep pool and seeing a hidden secret. Love, love, love it! My heart is aching for you. I have been down that path and have a hint as to what you are going through. I took to journaling as well, although mine was on paper, and not as beautiful as your art. When I was "set free", one day I took those composition notebooks and burned them. I wanted to be free of all those emotions and words. It really helped. Symbolicly saying words that could never be said and letting them free from my heart. Take care and know you are not alone. xoxo

Shoshi said...

Judi, I found this post to be so helpful and uplifting. Not only is it encouraging for a beginner-artist like myself to see that an artist like yourself can make mistakes (and turn them into successes!) but also your honest sharing of your journey with a difficult elderly parent really spoke to me. We are at present dealing with my mother who has just moved in to the flat in our house and it is incredibly difficult and I am more stressed out than I can say at the moment. Maybe stacked journalling could help me, too... Your funny kitty video was also a great stress-reliever and brought a smile to my face which is always helpful!

Thank you for a wonderful post which has come at the right time for me.

Your completed art work is absolutely beautiful.