A new creative voice is making itself known…

3 May 2020

It’s been awhile since I posted in this public blog. I continue to write privately, and lately, while in confinent due to the Covid19 virus a new creative voice is forming and developing coming from deep inside me, or probably more accurately stated..from a stronger spiritual connection with The creator of our universe. Watercolor painting.

This story of artistic expressions goes back a ways…the earliest I can trace it is to 7th grade (circa 1973). My first ever art class taught by my friend, and softball/basketball coach Ms Fried. The assignment was to draw our hand. I had only drawn the rudimentary house, stick people etc… but after her instruction, I was surprised to see that what was developing on paper actually looked like a hand! Sadly, I didn’t take any further actions or training in drawing until many years later…

Fast forward to 1988ish and Rodney and I had been married for 5 years and I had taken a job in Dothan Alabama working for Michelin for about a year. We were living there, totally disconnected physically from our KY friends, family and network… I saw an ad in the paper (Internet did not exist for the general public at this time!) From the Parks and recreation department for a water color painting Class on Saturday..10 dollars I think it was. I thought, why not? So I went and learned some basics, and found that I could put the paint and water on paper and some interesting effects appeared! I didn’t try to draw much, just had fun with the colors. I tended to do nature scenes as they couldn’t be traced to anything that could be verified for accuracy!! Drawing confidence was zero! I painted some and actually framed one that Rodney really liked.

In early 1991, We moved to Fort Wayne, IN and I continued painting on and off, small things, mainly Christmas cards again with a nature and peaceful theme (some people have actually kept these cards made during the early 1990’s). While living in Fort Wayne, I learned about a “masters class” given by Susan Blackwood. So I took a week of vacation and took this class. Susan is a real master and professional artist and she specializes in painting people, specifically children. She has a gift of being able to teach people who are rank amateurs like me! She Taught me so much about scale and perspective in drawing and helped me realize that I could draw and paint if I trained my eyes to see what was actually there, not what My brain (left brain, engineer, logical brain) was telling me I saw. She introduced me to a book “drawing in the right side of the brain” and I got it, studied it and did many of the exercises. I finished the week with Susan and made new friends and got totally engaged in art and continued to draw and paint for a couple of years, giving framed pieces (originals, not prints..never ever thought anything was good enough for a print!!) as gifts to family. I would love to have another week with Susan Blackwood and now am actively looking for it! (Update, I found her art page on FB!)

In Dec 1996, we moved to Greenville, SC with knowledge that we would move to France early 1997. I packed up all of the art supplies and took them to France…but they never came out of the box..not even once. I had lost the desire to paint. I guess it was stress of new job, new language, almost new everything. The international career path we chose to follow for the next 25+ years became our focus and painting was not part of it, ever..until now.

In September 2018, the fabric of my world ripped open….seemingly the actual fabric, not at the seams, not easily repairable. My dear husband Rodney died the day before my 58th birthday. As I wrote in the blog of our China life (http://shenyangteammiller.blogspot.com) , when he died, I closed that chapter of my life. He will always be the love of my life, and even though love does not die with death, a different life had to go on.

Many people reached out to me and supported me during my heaviest grief periods and they still support me today..grief is a cruel companion on the journey, and I still crave the love and support when I have tough times. Too many people to mention and I’m grateful for each of them. One of these people who helped and guided me along the journey was My dear friend Glenda. She and I met in Fort Wayne (her husband was my boss and eventually became my professional mentor until he died) and we had kept in touch through the years. She had kept the Christmas cards I created and sent years ago and she encouraged me to paint again. I just didn’t have the strength. The thought of taking on one more thing was just overwhelming. When I made the decision to accept a transfer to come to France to work, as a type of “going away” gift she gave me an art kit And encouraged me again to start painting. I had doubts that I would ever open the box, but I did buy a sketch pad and a brush kit to go with it just in case.

I brought the art kit and basic supplies to France, but never opened it during the first 11 months…until Covid19 Brought confinement orders to not leave the home except with a written authorization for basic “essential”’tasks. Effective 16 March 2020, I was working from home in a crisis cell for our company. Work/life balance did not exist..it was fulltime work. I’m grateful to be able to work and still earn a living, still help people. There is a limit to this type of arrangement however! I live in a small apartment (75 sq meters or 800’Sq ft) and I have gotten to know each sq meter very well!

One day, the little pansies I had planted in my window boxes were just so pretty and spoke to me. I decided some time during the first week of April, 2020 to get that art kit out of storage and open it up and paint the pansies. For me, I had to draw them before I painted…I hadn’t drawn or painted in years, but that inner voice told me I needed this creative outlet in a world of business logic and world health crisis. I have learned that my inner voice is always right! My challenge remains to pay attention to it! Still a work in progress on that account!

I drew the pansies and liked what I saw..so then I had to paint them…whole different level of decision! As I stared at the drawing on the paper, I was intimidated. Many feelings and fears of self doubt reared their ugly heads and spoke to me in confinement. “You’re not good enough”, “you’ve forgotten any of the techniques you ever had”, “if anyone sees this, what will they think of you?”. God gave me the strength to face and stand down those fears and I prepared some paint put some water on paper and watched the colors play in the water. It was like magic! A creative door that had long been shut was reopened.

I took a big step in standing down the fears of “what will they think of you” and put some vulnerability on the line and posted this photo on Facebook. I don’t think I was looking for approval, but that is what I got!

One of my friends encouraged me to join a FB group of artists in isolation. This group had been super supportive and full of motivation. There is a theme for days. And the theme I chose started looking through some photographs on my phone and several seemed to jump out and say “paint me”

The first theme list for Artist is Isolation”. My pansies were under the theme of “yellow” day 16 (the artistic side of me
Does not adhere to the follow order rule that the logical side prefers!)

After that first painting, it has kind of been a blur..the creative artistic voice just seems to be bubbling out and I’m not attempting to shut it off! I guess 25+ years of this form of expression was pent up and has to come out! I’m rollin with it baby!

Here are some of the other paintings in what I call “the confinent series” Each one is signed with a Q indicating quarantine. Not sure why I chose Q instead of C, but now I’ve started it, I continue it, for as long as it lasts!

By this time, in April, it was nearing our anniversary in the 23rd. My heart, gut and prayers were full of emotions. When Rodney died, he was cremated and his ashes were split up into 4 containers. 3 of them were heart shaped urns, one for me and one for each son Christopher and Matthew, and one to be interred at the National Cemetery. During his memorial service, I asked my nephew Jonathan to take some photos and one of them was of me holding his ashes in my hand. This photo became the inspiration for the painting. The exercise from the 7th grade of drawing a hand came back! When I had the 2 hands and the heart drawn, it looked and felt lacking to me. I added an outstretched hand. These hands have many meanings for me..giving my heart, the love of my life to God; God giving His heart to me; being vulnérable, etc. There is really no orientation of this painting..I didn’t plan on that..in fact if you look closely there are some clouds that were planned in one orientation..I like it better in the Omni-directional version! So many emotions came out as I painted this..they seemed to flow from my heart, through the brush and onto the paper. You will always be the love of my life Rodney, always have my heart, and I will always have yours. Always.

“Joined at the heart” painted on 23 April 2020, on our wedding anniversary day, it would have been 37 years. Happy anniversary Rodney. Love of my life , always. You remain just behind my eyes.

After this gut wrenching painting, I needed something different as if to say, move on. So I painted several different ones. some structured, some very simple, all from the heart.

As I looked through photos, there was another one that just seems to bring me back over and over.. it was the butterfly. I knew I loved it, it not sure I wanted to take it on..again, the engineer side said, “I need some structure”! At the same time, I was really missing my sister Patricia who died on 29 Dec 2019. She and I had almost weekly talks since we moved to China in 2010. I just felt her presence and missed our long talks.

“Slim Pickins”
I have to admit, this one was a bugger to draw and keep the black and white separate in my mind and on the paper! When I finally had the butterfly done, i had imagined to use a technique called “negative
Space” in the leaves.
I masked out the leaves so as to protect the outline. I went to bed with the sketch and masking done.
In the morning, I awoke to decide
I needed to practice this negative space technique in a separate page before I went further..so glad I did! It was clear to me that I had not mastered this technique and even if I did, it did not belong in this painting because would take focus off of the butterfly, which I was pretty happy with! So I decided to just mix some colors in a soft background of leaves.
The greens were obvious, but the color purple just kept coming to mind. So I mixed up
Some purple and the different greens and then
Soaked the paper with water and dabbed in the colors over the masked parts and let the pigment sand water play in the leaves. I like the results! The inspiration for this is of a photograph taken at a botanical conservatory in Alabama. In summer of 2018, my niece Dawna got married and our went to her reception in Alabama. Patricia and I went to the botanical conservatory and I took this photo of a butterfly, who just seems to pose for me to take her picture. As I painted her in a filed of purple, I remembered that Patricia’s
Favorite color was purple. It all became clear..Patricia was now free from cancer and infection riddled body, she was no longer confined to this box of space and time, like the butterfly she could flit and flutter in the presence of God. So close to me, yet unreachable physically, just across the veil. This painting is for my dear sister Patricia.

So that about sums up the story of the rebirth of a creative voice. The confinement due to Covid19 has brought about some unexpected gifts. For that I am grateful. It has proved to me that I can survive, indeed thrive in my own. God will sustain me no matter what. I will be Ok whenever I decide to retire from Michelin. I will continue to develop the voices of painting, singing and writing as long as I feel it.

Thank you to all of my friends and artists on Facebook across the world who have been so supportive during my life and especially life after Rodney died. I post them publicly not for praise or confirmation..I do it to stand down my own fears and hopefully to add a bit of Color and hope to all who see what I believe to be God-given inspirations during a difficult Period in our lives with Covid19.

All is well, and thank you all for your continued outpourings of love and support in this chapter of my life.

I end this post with a Quote from Friedrich Nietzsche. “Become who you are. Do what only you can do. Be the master and the sculptor of yourself.” This is where I feel I am in my life right now. Thanks be to God.