The Story of Art vs Gloom and Doom

And so what is so great about the holidays???
Decembers suck! More accurately, Decembers over the last ten plus years have tried to suck me down into a pit as gripping as cold molasses. Every December 1st, the tug has begun, a mixture of joyous love and creeping dread.

It is understandable. My son Robin died Dec 31st, 2011. My first husband Bruce was gravely ill in the ER on December 25, 2004. He died four months later. December of 2016 was gloomy too. In the U.S. a sloshing bucketload of political conflict splattered all of our lives, no matter our political bent. Some friendships and family relationships even now are dampened and fractured.

Then there was “Covid December” of 2020 with masks and no hugs and family angst over who could safely visit whom. That was an achingly poignant December with air hugs, waves from a distance and zoom calls.

I realize there always will be contrasts between the perfect holiday seen in commercials and the reality of life. My friends and I have talked about it over the years. Yet in recent years those contrasts have seemed starker. School shootings, covid, cancers, wildfires and hurricanes had made holidays “the first without” for many friends, family and community members. Decembers seem to highlight our collective grief.

The walls are just another canvas for me to paint.
This year I was determined December’s gloom and doom would not grab ahold of me and so . . . I drew and drew and drew. That might not surprise some of you. I have confessed on other occasions to painting pictures on my kitchen counters and living room floor. . . and walls and stairs.

This December’s art explosion, however, was just a tad bit . . .hmmmm . . . excessive? exciting? entertaining? That I resisted the pit with such an art flurry was directly the result of three special ladies – Fran, Geri and Lisia.

Art group Shaun Brink
Fran and Geri and I have great times .
Fran and Geri are two delightful, goofy, intelligent, complex and creative women who have enriched my covid cloistered life. We formed an impromptu art group last spring. We call it “Anything Goes.”

Lisia Farley is a stunningly talented artist who also conducts Art and Art Journaling classes. She is inspiring!

Fran, Geri and I had met last spring though one of her online classes. We met monthly after the class was over, painting and laughing and celebrating being able to meet in person as we were all vaccinated. Oh my gosh we laughed.

I knew I was sinking into gloom
Then in late November I fell into an art funk, uninspired and colorless. Doing art was no longer spontaneous and fulfilling. I was producing art rather than playing with art. I was trying for public perfection rather than personal exploration. My creativity sank, submerged by the rising tide of loss and worry as December and the “new variant” were approaching.

Geri and Fran came to the rescue. “Let’s take the online class with Lisia in December,” Geri suggested.

“We can do it together,” Fran added, as we all thought about our monthly gatherings with food and laughter.

Their suggestion was inspired. Lisia’s class in December turned out to be the exact opposite of creating perfect pictures and producing public art. She took us back to playing with lines and shapes and color.

You want us to only draw a line?
The first lesson centered on LINES: “Draw lines to represent thoughts and feelings about the season,” Lisia suggested. What? Make a line represent Harvest or Connection or Gratitude? Just a line? No words or shapes?

We grumbled a bit but started drawing lines, using shading, colors and line width variations to suggestion concepts. By the end of the class, I still was iffy about drawing just lines, but I could feel my art spirit stirring.

I was lost in a blurry, undefined world.
I drove home from the meetup at dusk as fog rolled in, blurring the world. All I could see were lines, no street signs or shapes of buildings. I laughingly cursed Lisia . “Ok, Ok, I will focus on lines.”

I stopped in a parking lot and looked at the lines in the fog – a drooping tree limb, a tilted fence, white lines on the road, the curve of a can lid. I marveled at the lines I often ignored.

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The next day, when the fog had lifted, I continued to deliberately see the world as lines not shapes. I thought about the lines and what they meant to me. I took out the line drawings I had done in class and added more lines and more color.

The lines led me, inspiring me to focus on inner peace.
The more lines that I drew, the more the lines “spoke” to me. I thought about my yearning to create tranquility in December. I thought about embracing solitude and “going with the flows” of change, not resisting them. I wrote my thoughts on the pages and smiled at how doing simple lines could inspire me.

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That weekend I spent hours drawing more lines. I pasted, cut “peepholes” through pages, added more color and laughed and giggle. I was creating joy and energetic tranquility. For a few hours my thoughts about loss and grief and covid subsided. I was in the present, glorious, artistic moment.

My first “shape” drawing was in black and white .
Lisia’s next lesson was about SHAPES: She challenged us to create a visual language by drawing shapes rather than writing words. We began drawing shapes for things such as beautiful sounds, places we can rest, things we celebrate, things we sip from, things that create joy. and so on. Later we put the shapes on one page, varying the sizes, overlapping shapes and letting them morph into new shapes.

I sighed, thinking “I can’t draw” or “Her picture looks better than mine.” I kept at it and that evening I made photocopies of the original drawing using watercolor paper. I added different colored washes and added or removed shapes with white paint. Occasionally I heard my inner critic judging “perfection.” I would laugh and do more copies with more color until I stilled my inner critic.

The more I played with the shapes and colors, the quieter the December bleak thoughts became. It was as if I was drawing out the sorrow and replacing it with art and color and morphing shapes.

One evening I experimented with cutout shapes and paste ups, sometimes cutting up old drawings I thought were boring. I sat on the living room floor with paste pots and scissors and scraps of paper all around me. I giggled, feeling like I was in kindergarten. I was glee in motion!

I drew random shapes and lines, exploring the light and dark
LIGHT AND DARK, WHITE ON BLACK: Fran adapted some of the lessons Lisia was teaching us, drawing on black paper with a white pen. I was intrigued by the contrasts of light on dark for they mirrored my desire to bring light into the grief that was resting at the edges of my spirit. I wanted to transform that grief, use it as the seeds of beauty.

The lines seemed to evolve on their own into patterns.
After our art meetup I went home and began drawing. I drew picture after picture of light on dark. The closer the anniversary of Robin’s death was and the more covid was spreading, the more I sought light and connection and beauty. The drawings became more brilliant and intricate day by day.

I started with lines and shapes, not attempting to create a picture.
Deliberately I did not try to create a pretty, perfect picture. Instead, I drew lines and shapes and let them lead me. They morphed and evolved and became light in the darkness.

Every night for hours I would draw light on dark. Each piece created peace, tranquility, delight AND gentle sorrow. I allowed myself to feel loss AND celebrate the life. I honored the dark AND the light and did not resist the days passing.

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It is now the first of January. I look back on the art that carried me through another December. It did not stop the sorrow. I never intended doing art as a way to avoid feeling loss. I believe when you close off grief, you close off your ability to feel intense joy.

Creating art – or music or gardening or writing or a hundred other creative endeavors- acknowledges the sorrow and the losses we all have faced these last years. In doing so we are honoring and transforming our losses into timeless beauty and light.

I cherish this picture of my son holding his son. It is a picture of love.
This post is dedicated to my son Robin whose inner light became timeless and eternal December 31, 2011. His light and love live on through all of us.

A SPECIAL THANK YOU to Geri, Fran, Lisia and the Art Spirit.

To learn more about Lisia’s art and classes follow this link LISIA FARLEY