Thursday, August 18, 2011

Elements of Art Journaling: Fire, the Spread

For fire, we worked with the burning emotions (as opposed to water's wet emotions). A few years ago, I'd gotten to a place where I'd worked through my burning emotions and would have had to choose ambition or some such for this assignment. Not so, now. Events of the last couple of years have left me awash in physical, mental, and emotional pain.

My pattern has always been to convert pain to anger and burn it as fuel. So, I figured Fire would be easy for me. I'm angry as hell, thought I. This'll be easy.

I laid down a fire glow on the diagonal with Inktense pencils. It probably wouldn't show at the end, but at least it made the spread Not White.

The rest of the assignment was to figure out what the burning emotion (anger, in my case) was telling us to DO or LEARN and, Not to do it, but to figure out how we would need to FEEL to actually take that step. As Effy pointed out, "We're just arting here. We're not burning our houses (or lives) down." Phew! So I only had to figure out the thirty-thousand-foot view of my next step, not the actual implementation. We were then instructed to take that feeling and create an hour-long playlist.

I have to admit, I never felt like I was doing the assignment "right." I wasn't sure I'd gotten the right marching orders from my anger. The playlist was full of things I like to sing (my primary art form), but what did it have to do with my next steps....? When I sat with it, I knew it was the right bunch of songs, but still had no idea WHY it was the right bunch of songs. Oh, well.

Tuesday night, I got to bed early, turned out the light... and tossed and turned 'till after one something AM. Fine. The experts all say to get up and do something when you can't sleep, so I went to my studio and turned on the playlist.

I thought, for sure, I'd end up with an energetic spread suggesting ambition, movement, power, etc. After all, when I'm angry, I ingest that energy and use it to go DO things. I sprayed through stencils, brayered around laminated magazine images and across other stencils, finally tried Texture Magic through a brass stencil... And found myself wanting to draw a big eye with tears...

I swear it took 10 minutes to convince my brain that, even though the instructions said "abstract," drawing an eye wouldn't get us thrown out of class. Sigh.

Well... The eye needed a nose to direct the tears. And the nose needed a mouth to anchor it in space. And... Well, it's only HALF a face. That's abstract. Kinda... Sorta...

I cracked open a jar of heavy gel medium and mixed in a touch of blue airbrush ink to make the tears 3D and shimmery. Getting it to glop in the way I wanted and eliminating most of the brush strokes was quite the challenge. The result was nothing like the smooth tear-shaped globs I'd envisioned. Worse, they were opaque light blue, it was 3:30 AM, and I was fried. I went to bed.

I barely glanced at the spread on my way to work Wednesday morning. The tears had gone transparent when they dried, so that was a relief, but the two pages didn't hold together as a single spread, the silhouette was lost in its page, and the features were floating in space.

I thought about how to fix the spread as I went about my day on Wednesday. By afternoon, I'd decided watercolor spray and outlining with a gray watercolor pen was about all I could do without endangering the work already done. (An "I am not worthy" goes out to the artists I've seen on YouTube who hit this point and respond with something NOT transparent. Wow. Wow. Double wow. Oh my God. Wow.)

Wednesdays are long days for me, and I didn't get home 'till after 11. I sprayed the whole spread with magenta watercolor in a mister. Nice, but... The next round was a yummy raspberry. NOW we're talking! How I love that color, let me count the ways! The pages finally looked like a single spread, but they looked like a background waiting for a foreground to happen. I outlined the silhouette with a gray Pitt pen and used the same pen to define the outline of the face.

Ahhh... Now it feels good to look at the pages...

BUT... BUT... Oh, crap. We were supposed to represent what our burning feeling was telling us to do next. Didn't I just get stuck in frustration and puke it out on my journal spread? I wondered if the next step involved vast quantities of gesso. I stared...

And then I figured it out. While chronic pain provides a steady, even flow to the anger distillery, A-bomb trauma overflows the vats. What anger comes out of the process isn't enough to both fuel normal life And clean up the pain overflow. The pain-to-anger process I'd relied upon for decades wasn't gonna fly and has likely outlived its usefulness. It's time to open my heart. It's time to get to know anger for it's own sake, not as a dumping ground for pain. It's time to stop hiding the pain, allow the vulnerability. It's time to cry.


  1. Thank you so much, Laurie, for sharing this part of your path! Crying can do a good job! I hope, you don't get stuck in it *hugs*

  2. Fire has been so tricky for me as well, you did really well with it, I am still sitting with my anger somehow, although it has dissipated a bit.

  3. Thanx, Rita. I think the one big thing I've learned through all of this is that supressing the emotions makes them last longer. I do set them aside in order to be semi functional. The trick is remembering to take the time to sit with them and let them run their course.

    Louise, sounds like you're actually following the directions. :) I definitely wasn't done processing when I started into the pages. I'd hit a point where the sitting turned to stuck instead of processing and just said Bag it. I'm gonna start the pages. It wasn't 'till the pages were done that I realized what they meant in terms of processing.

    You can always try just jumping in. If the result doesn't end up feeling like you did all of the exercise (albeit out of order), there's always gesso.

    I think that's my new motto. "There's always gesso." LOL!