Thursday, June 30, 2011

Some Assembly Required: Gearing up for the Carnival in Bath, Maine

Friday, June 24, 2011

Husks of History: Seneca Stone Cutting Mill & One Dead Turtle

The red stone for the Smithsonian Castle was cut at the Seneca Stone Cutting Mill, off Riley's Lock of the C&O Canal. Ruins of the mill are still open to the public.

I'd forgotten about the ruins, but when I turned left at the turtle resting in peace on the path, I stumbled into them, one historical remnant leading to another.

Thanks, Mr. Turtle.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Evolution of a Painting

For the first time in a long time, I attempted to paint people -- and it became an absorbing exercise.
Our models!
I started with a photograph (which I like to think of as models that don't move). I selected one with which I've actually always had a somewhat awkward relationship; I find something unsettling about their expressions. But that was exactly the draw in terms of painting: strong emotional content and body language.    
Edited photo

Then I edited the photography down to the composition I wanted, one highlighting their faces, and which also mirrored the scale of the canvas I would be using. I ended up moving them closer together so they fit better, hence the noticeable line at their shoulders.

Next, I printed out the photo on my black and white printer. Given that I was fairly sure I wouldn't be using the same color scheme, I was more interested in seeing the light and dark of shadows. And, well, I don't have a color printer. 

I folded that paper in quarters and drew the same guidelines on the canvas, with the hope that I wouldn't get so hopefully off that way. I used pencil -- bad idea, as I had to paint over it.  I'll use charcoal in the future, since that will smudge away when I no longer need it. I heard recently that some people now use projectors, but that seems a little bit like cheating to me.  And while I am trying to plan more, I like the unexpected that produces new directions, the discovery in the process of painting.   

The first completed draft of the painting looked like this:

First complete draft
This was after I'd redone her mouth twice and his nose once (with somewhat limited success, but hey, it's better than it was), but before I re-did both their eyes (so that, for instance, he no longer looked like he was wearing eye shadow) The first wash of the painting was a background shade, the light gold that you see coming through the window, was almost entirely swallowed by other elements, but somehow, it was nice to have that base color, rather than straight white.  And it turned out to be a happy accident - the idea of a growing, light-filled window connecting them on a symbolic level really worked for me so I eliminated the weird curtains from the photo, making the window both more central, but also its detail more diffuse.   

The painting as it stands now looks like this:

As it stands right now
I wouldn't say it's done, but it's resting for the moment, until I can come to it with fresh eyes.  Relative to the original photo, umm, ok, not exactly an amazing copy, no.  But I am pleased that they do a) look recognizable as people and b) have emotional exchange. 

I was reading more of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain last night as part of my project to be a little less inept in the drawing department. I have not yet comfortably gotten to the point where everything is just shapes with no symbolic value.  But I am starting to get a glimmerings of how that works, of being able to make that transition to a different kind of thinking when I'm working on art.  Progress, however, slow, is satisfying. One thing that amused me is that one of the items that often harder for beginners to draw (or paint, in this case) because of the high symbolic value is a shirt collar.  We think we know what it looks like, so we don't actually see it as it is. I definitely had that with her turtleneck, which, I am aware, looks more like a priest collar.

I also completely eliminated the hood of her coat, which instead turned into a background image, that of a couch under the window (which may not be clear to anyone but me, but that's what it is). 

Yes, a long way to go.  But progress. 

Afterall, let's consider many years ago, when during a very brief spate of painting, I tried to paint a face, and it ended up looking like this:


And with no recognizable personality.

You can sort of see why I gave up on people for a while, given the inauspicious beginning.

But I'm going to keep going with the people this time. One recommedation I can make to new painters: if you have opportunity to use BIG canvases, go for it. My new painting is enormous -- 4 foot by 5 foot or so (part of the stash of old canvases with which I was gifted when I was living in in the artist's studio).  While it's a little daunting having larger than life people looking down on you, it's also much easier to put in details, as on that scale, even the details are broad strokes. 

Happy painting!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What I Learned in May

The omentum is an apron-shaped layer of fat lying over the belly. Tumors from ovarian cancer sometimes spread to the omentum. As an outdated evolutionary safety feature from pre-surgery days, the omentum sometimes curled around an unhappy appendix, controlling the spread of poison if it burst, allowing for survival.

Portland Head Light
An extra hour driving through Pennsylvania beats New Jersey Turnpike tolls and traffic.

When I'm nervous, I repeat myself, restating information gleaned from other people to verify it.

Lawyers sometimes hug clients.

On some superstitious level, I think my mother having an admission nurse named Grace who just came back from doing mission work means we have a good word in with God. The Grace of God.

Fresh asparagus tastes better.

Of the many smells permanently fixed in my brain, one of them is that of my brother's spit, which still clings to his toys stored in the basement of my mother's house.

Maine drivers are polite, but gratingly slow. Lights are badly timed in Portland.

Sitting by Back Cove
A dog that is sitting has a much harder time barking.

Low tide in a small cove looks like the plug has been pulled on a dirty sink; rather than the swaying grasses and blue water of high tide, all that's left is ring of muddy pebbles and gray, murky water.

Hospital beds have amazing hydraulics that lift them in all manner of ways, safety rails to keep patients in, and emergency CPR releases to flatten the bed down if needed.

Swelling after surgery is common. Combining swelling with the mellow tones of morphine makes for different facial expressions.

Dilaudid, a relative of morphine, can be administered via IV or in pill form.

Staples from abdominal surgery are informally referred to as a zipper. They come out two weeks after surgery.

Crescent Beach in fog
Two weeks of gray weather is a recipe for depression. The whole city slows down in drowned dismay.

Gardening is just not my thing. I like flowers, but I'm not inclined to put them in any order and I'm not crazy about dirt under my fingernails.

Postoperative ileus is common after abdominal surgery. The intestines, angry at having been moved around during surgery, are slow to wake up their nerves and do their usual work of coordinated contraction. To a point, the solution is to withhold food, hurry up and wait, hoping the nausea and vomiting settle.

Tommy's Tree
 Limerick, Maine
The memorial tree planted at the school where my brother spent over twenty years of his life still looks a little new and spindly.

In some ways, I am more grown-up and capable than I thought. In other ways, I am much, much less than I thought.

Dreams about coffins and rats nipping at your legs are not a sign of optimal mental health.

Fake trees decorating the produce department of the grocery store feel wrong.

An NG (nasogastric) tube can be inserted up the nose and down the throat into the stomach in order vacuum out food thereby ending nausea from ileus or bowel obstruction. While inserting the tube the patient is instructed to drink water through a straw as the swallowing motion moves the tube down the throat. Airplane glue is used to provide extra security when taping the tube on the nose.

Seagull, Eastern Prom
Seagulls seem bigger up north. Maybe they are bigger.

I am spacier than I realized on visual details. I did not notice that my mother's kitchen was gray until she told me. In my head, it was white.

The irony of getting a cold from a germ picked up at the hospital, and therefore not being able to go back to the hospital until I recover from said germ, does not make my fever drop any faster.

"Optimal debulking" is good news.

Petco makes a canine supplement to discourage dogs from eating their own excrement. This is good and bad if said dog is a sneaky pooper that likes to leave deposits on the dining room rug.

Maine Medical nurses are almost universally nice. Some are chattier than others.

For six months or so at Maine Med, medication charting is now handled with a hand-held device that scans the patient ID and then the medication, charting the time.

I have in me the makings of a compulsive hand washer. But not a gourmet cook or neat-nick.

Ruins of Goddard Mansion
Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Changing roles does not change history.

Squirrels really like tulip bulbs. But they leave the flowers for bouquets that liven up a hospital room.

It is impossible for me to look at tulips in a hospital room and not think about the Sylvia Plath poem “Tulips,” which begins with “The tulips are too excitable” and ends with the line “from a country as far away as health.” It is possible for me to not mention that at the hospital though.

Psychological discomfort also manifests as physical discomfort. One solution is substituting in a different discomfort – run faster, walk further, get tired.

If you cry while running in the rain, no one pays you much heed. Who really looks happy running anyway?

Conversely, physical pain inspires psychological discomfort. How do I fix this? What is wrong? Am I all alone here?

Spaghetti squash spaghetti tastes like pasta spaghetti.

Physical contact is comforting. Hold hands. Hug.

Lobster trap washed ashore
Crescent Beach
A parking ticket because you got lost walking for an hour because you forgot to note where you parked your car somehow seems unfair.

If your mother has cancer, you may be able break the rules of a Boys Only Weekend and spend some time drinking with festive, fraternal men who will buy you a mustard colored t-shirt that says “Get Lucky at Ri-Ra!”

Heparin, used to prevent clots, is injected in the upper thigh. Shots sometimes burn.

I will watch five hours of detective shows given access to cable tv and a desire for escape. I should never have cable TV on a permanent basis.

Fog rolling in scares me on some unspoken, primal level, the cold approach of oblivion, even while I consciously marvel at the beauty and power of nature.

Toes at Fort Williams
Anger unexpressed curls the body into odd shapes, closes in on itself, shoulders covering necks, arms across chest, muscles tensed.

Potassium levels must be in the normal range before being released from the hospital. Potassium administered via IV can burn. Liquid medication tastes foul. Pills are large. 

Throughout many years, my cats have seen me through a myriad of events across the country and still come over and purr next to me. And yak up hairballs under the bed at 4am.

To discourage clots in the leg after surgery, patients are encouraged to sit up and stand the same day as surgery. The more movement, the better after surgery, as it inspires the body to wake up and get busy healing. Medical personnel tend to leave out details on just how painful this will be. 

Also to discourage clots, patients often have motorized compression pumps velcroed around their legs, expanding and deflating in rhythmic rounds. Some nurses call them Electric Socks.

Dock, Eastern Promenade,
Portland, Maine
Anger, fear, sadness and love mix up, move around, run away, hit you in the face when you're not looking.

Being the youngest person in the room by ten or twenty years still makes you the baby even if you're 42. This is good and bad.

Taxol is a favored chemical for ovarian cancer chemotherapy.

You can know people all your life and still not really know them.