When I was working for a small Hartford computer graphic design shop in the late 80s, I worked a 12-14 hour day as the sole designer on a computer graphic design station. We were busy with a new client with a ton of signage they wanted for an upcoming convention, as well as a handful of very demanding (but fun to work with) design groups. My day started out with an hour-long commute north to Hartford - if I was lucky - and ended with the same commute going home in the dark. We had just moved to southern CT and barely knew our neighbors. I often left for work in the dark and returned in the dark. Our weekends were filled with fixer-upper jobs on an old home. Our real estate agent - a nice, motherly woman of about 50 - warned us against a fixer-upper, but our budget didn't allow for some of the updated homes in that area they called the "platinum coast" of Fairfield County. Dave's commute was easily longer than mine, even though in miles it was shorter. I-95 or the Merritt Parkway during commuting hours always posed a traffic nightmare if you didn't have a reverse commute. We had little time to engage in our community in that first year.
Almost as soon as we moved to CT and I started my new job, I found I was pregnant. I worked for 7 months with the hours mentioned above until a day in my last trimester my pregnancy went sideways a bit and I needed to take the final 2 months off. A nightmare for the little design shop I worked for, but a bit of unexpected heaven for me. I finally started to acquaint myself with our little town. I also spent quite a bit of my time seeking inspiration along the coast for art projects. I had it in my head that I would reacquaint myself with my watercolors and use my maternity leave to cultivate an art environment at home that would include my new role as a mother.
I often tell this story in workshops I conduct and talks on my art that I give: I fully believed in that month and a half before my son was born that I'd be able to paint plein air during my maternity leave by taking my newborn on-site in his little carrying bed, and paint while he slept peacefully beside me under a sunbrella. I am not kidding. I pictured hours of blissful painting and a body of work to showcase after my maternity leave of 'downtime'. (The audience always gets a kick out of that bit of naïveté.)
When my son came into this world, he was such a gift! There's no denying the many tremendous wonders of having a child. No way to fully describe the profound love. Having said that, there is also no way to know just how much your world does change in that moment. Justin was born in one of the hottest summers on record (my record, anyway) and we had air conditioning in only one room of the house. Plein air painting in that kind of heat was alone a joke, imagine thinking of bringing a newborn along to swelter with me. We existed those first few weeks in that lone room with an air conditioner, rocking chair, television, books and my art supplies. My son didn't sleep much, or at least not for long periods before waking up and screaming his little mighty lungs out for various needs. Mornings were cooler, and we could sit in the living room and watch the sun slant over the woodwork and knick knacks I had decorated the house with. I would rock him to sleep, well-fed, clean and cool, and peacefully muse over my world, small at the time as it was. It was in those quiet, peaceful moments that a seed of an idea started to take root. Since I couldn't take my son and my art supplies off-site to paint, what stopped me from finding inspiration in my home, where we were never more than a few steps from our world? The sun streaming in over glassware on shelves and silver pieces, flowers, and even glass tumblers used for coffee became my muses. Light play through glassware made patterns on the surface they sat on that are still so mesmerizing to me. This is the kind of thing that inspired me when I had my first - and only - class in watercolor back in college. Close up studies of how light interacts with reflective and refractive elements. Thus began my foray into the world of still life. Over a quarter century later and it's still my second love, born almost from the moment my first love came into this world.
And so it began there, 28 years ago. Housebound and feeling creative juices overflow for a traditional medium as the computer graphic world started to grow a bit mundane. For years I'd been captivated by computer graphics as a visual tool to express myself creatively. Staying after hours to create artwork above and beyond visual support for the job. All my side artwork was used to promote the equipment and the employer, but I loved the challenge of pushing the system to it's creative limits. Only, at some point it became a tool for deadlines two days ago and hair-on-fire revisions requiring hours of extra work and stress off-the-charts, and less a means to a creative outlet. I longed for a way to create meaningful art that fulfilled and sustained me, and, most importantly, fit beautifully with my new role as mom. I found that with watercolor - a challenge of another sort, but equally as fulfilling, if more so, than that provided by computer program.
I think of this time as I sit here in the shade of our sunbrella on the patio, with my leg elevated to ensure the swelling from surgery is properly attended to. It's been nearly three weeks since my total knee replacement surgery, and I can't help but remember back to the same kind of naive expectations I once had when I became a mother. That belief, before taking the plunge of surgery in this case, that a few weeks out I'll be doing quite a bit more than what in reality is on the plate. It's no wonder that in the class they offer at the hospital on what to expect with knee and hip replacement surgery they bring in a veteran of surgery whose replacement was over 6 years ago. Like natural childbirth, knee replacement surgery seems a lot less traumatic from a point 1 year or 2....or 6...out.
There's much to consider in recovery from TKR. Like childbirth, the rewards are long and simply wonderful. A new knee that allows me to once again hike and enjoy physical activities I've long been limited by arthritis from participating in is the great focus right now. But there is a window of time that the miracle of life and rebirth of a knee can take it's bit of a toll. Half-step backwards is a daily occurrence for every full or two steps forward. Pain, and the side-effects of pain management don't end after the first initial week or two. Months of physical therapy to get the knee fully flexible around the inevitable swelling and realignment issues of back, hips and feet require a hit of pain-blocking in the form of a trusty pain med. Can't get that holy grail of 120 degree bend in the knee without it! And that's just in the first weeks out from surgery. The full flex is necessary to win over the scar tissue that will hamper forever the inner workings of the knee if the flexibility isn't fully addressed. Want to hike Mt. Chochorua (or even the Marginal Way) with ease again? Get that knee fully flexed as soon as possible. I'm at 105 nearly three weeks out, with almost full straight inversion (back of knee on the flat of the bed), which is good. I was 110 a week ago, but got set back by over-confidence. That's all it took to lose ground. Icing and elevation is key, and there is no way to get around avoiding it without facing set-backs in recovery. I have my studio set up now with an ottoman to rest my leg on as I paint. Not perfectly comfortable, but it works. For at least 6 weeks, this will be the drill - rest, elevate, ice, exercise, and repeat. Patience and finding a way to fit the creative into the therapy and recovery.
Finally, what this recovery time of ice/elevate and rebirth (of knee, if not me) has offered a time to recoup, and reconnect to what matters most. My life in art is growing still - I have much I want to do in the years to come. Moving to Portsmouth created new challenges to my work as an artist, a world I'd become so comfortable in took a left turn to a different setting. Beautiful and bucolic this setting may be, it's one that didn't automatically fit on the same artistic stage I'd set for myself for nearly three decades. Southern CT and the NYC arts world was and is still (even after the economic blowout of 2008) different than coastal New England. I am not a painter of water scenes, boats and the surroundings of the quaint community we now live in. Initially, I saw that as a deficit of my own making.
For a few years after we moved here, I believed I needed to change my genre and evolve from the inspiration I found so many years ago as a new mom. In 2011, the economic climate had just begun it's slow turn back towards healing and the art world I moved from took on a new kind of sideways from a course I never once considered straying from in 25 years. I know I'm evolving in my painting process, my subject matter, my relationship with other artists and galleries. The rejections and rewards still come in interesting, subjective and damnable patterns. One minute the world is my oyster, the next it's filled with doubt. But always, always, I can take comfort in seeing marvel and joy in the eyes of people - normal, every day people - when they discover the depths of detail and beauty in a painting, and find inspiration, amazement, thrill and peace in just taking in a work of art that touches their heart. Sales are good, but the sheer appreciation of skill and craft are equal parts rewarding and justifying the effort.
I've added animal portraits to my repertoire, initially as a means to give back in the form of silent auction donations to the efforts of animal rescue. But the portraits admittedly give me a kick to create. They are a quick diversion from my still life work and provide a nice - and thoroughly charming - means to connect with more people. I work on commission as well with my portraits, and donate a percentage of the proceeds to a shelter or rescue of the client's choice. I think it helps....both the rescued animals and my soul.
I love what I do. Looking forward to getting back to it full time again and hiking, kayaking, SUP boarding - you name it. The world is out there!