Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Depressed" (self-portrait)

Mixed media on watercolor paper - 8" x 10"

"Depression is my lover.....

I've known it intimately since I was a child.
It whispers damaging words that linger in my head.
It holds me down hard and at times won't let me up."

I've suffered with depression for most of my life, with suicidal thoughts as early as 7th grade, if not sooner.

Sometimes I regret not acting on those thoughts back then because things would've been much simpler if I had died as a child. I would've saved myself a lot of fear and pain and despair.

The depression has been with me for so long, literally decades, that it now feels least normal for me. Or maybe I lowered my standard of living and just accepted that I'll always feel this way.

Close-up detail

"Depression is my lover.....

It's persistent and waits for me patiently.
It takes me in its open arms and kisses me and smiles when I cry.
It forces me to dance with it at any given time, day or night."

It's like death came long ago and I've just been existing ever since. No purpose. No meaning. No direction. A shell of a man crumbling away piece by piece.

How can I think long-term anymore when at times I barely make it through the week, let alone the day?

Am I prolonging the agony for nothing? What's the incentive to keep going if I'm always feeling like this? At this point will things get much better?

Close-up detail

"Depression is my lover.....

It is of a jealous nature and quick to drive away joy.
It rips me apart and slowly kills me from the inside out.
It loves to separate me from my dreams and goals."

Feeling lifeless, lost, numb, and stuck. A lack of desire and a fatigue so great I sometimes struggle just getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, or making something to eat. All I can really do is sit with the deep sadness and wait for it to lessen in severity.

And then a glimmer of happiness comes along. I start feeling better, having a good day. Thinking maybe things are finally picking up when suddenly the depression comes back with a vengeance. And once again....all hope is lost.

The same damn cycle for years and years and years.

I can't seem to escape it and fear I never will. Depression is my lover and it won't let me be.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Is it worth it?

"Maybe dying is the answer," I overheard my uncle tell my aunt. "I don't want to live the rest of my life like this."

Ever since
my uncle came home from the hospital last week he was clearly despondent. He's worried he won't be able to handle the chemo. Worried that he'll always be dependent on others to complete everyday tasks.

I've spent the past two weeks with him and my aunt helping out as best I could and had a restless craving to draw something....
anything! Here is a sketch of their backyard fence.

It had so much character and just begged to be drawn!

The buckled planks. Random stones underneath in the dirt. Stray grass protruding every which way. It provided a little escape for me. My time is limited right now and I squeeze in my art when I can....which isn't often.

I've agreed to stay at my aunt and uncle's house until he gets his strength back. But for how long? A couple more weeks? A few months? Once he starts chemotherapy I'm sure he'll be weak again. Will I have to stay off and on with them indefinitely?

I'm emotionally and physically drained. Feeling worried, frustrated, trapped, and helpless. Maybe I'm being an ungrateful nephew and focusing too much on my own troubles. After all, I'm not the one battling cancer.

The two of them helped raise me when I was younger and were always there for my immediate family. And I can't give up a month or two in return? Maybe I'm just being selfish at this point.

But how much help can I be? When my uncle has his bad days and appears to give up so easily, I wonder where is the fight in him. And then I ask myself....
where is the fight in me?

Who am I to encourage anyone to keep going when I often don't feel like living myself?

"I don't even know if it's worth it," my uncle weakly said.
Sometimes I tell myself the exact same thing.....

Friday, September 18, 2009

W.I.P. Self-Portrait - Step 3 - Salvage

I almost lost all hope. But with a little perseverance and tweaking I managed to rescue this latest self-portrait from certain doom!

In step 2, I mentioned the blue watercolor wash muddied up the skin tone, turning it a moldy color. Well, I went over the face and hands with a yellowish-peach gouache which helped neutralize all of that green....much like concealer! Its opaque qualities helped cover a multitude of sins.

Thank God for gouache!!

Determined to have cool tones on the skin as originally planned, I went ahead and added blueish-purple gouache for the cast shadows.

I still would love for there to be more blue on the face but at this point I'm not touching it any further. Too much changing around could be catastrophic!

Lastly, the excess green on the hair was carefully removed with a damp tissue and replaced with yellows and browns to make it appear like a natural color again.

It may look strange to you now but once I add all of the blacks on the face everything will make sense. Now all that's left is to ink the head and hands and lay down the finishing details.

The next time you see this self-portrait it WILL be the completed painting!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"You have six months....maybe a year if on chemo."

It's not what we expected to hear from the surgeon. Apparently the tumor was so large and too close to the bladder to be taken out.

The oncologist was much more optimistic. He thought the chemotherapy would not only shrink my uncle's tumor enough to be removed but any remaining spots on the liver would be wiped out completely as well.

"He's my everything," my aunt said as her voice broke into a cry.

It's been an emotional roller coaster this week and that's putting it mildly. You're up then you're down, then down some more. Good news, bad news, and something in between.

A get well card from one of my aunt's 3rd grade students

When my uncle wasn't allowed solids for several days, he joked to the nurse, "I'll give you $1,000 for a big mac!"

I spend most of the day with him at the hospital and the nights with my aunt. They're the oldest relatives I have and also my godparents. The ones I look up lead the way and be strong.

When suddenly they're both struggling to keep it together, who will lead the way now?

A few people have mentioned it's a good thing I've been laid off because I'm the only real family member that's free to stay with both of them during this difficult time. That's somewhat comforting. I've also been told several times that I'd make an excellent nurse!

It's been over a week since I've really drawn or painted anything. I really haven't had the time and my mind is preoccupied with other things. And as you all gets in the way sometimes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Keep the faith.....

I hadn't seen my cousin in nearly 15 years and almost didn't recognize her. She was near the hospital entrance when I arrived. We hugged and smiled our hellos.

"I have good, great news," she said in a raised voice. "It's cancer but it's totally treatable."

At that moment, all I could think was, how is cancer good news?

My grandmother's rosary

Last week my uncle complained of stomach troubles and was taken to the hospital. Doctors found a cancerous tumor in his colon. He'll be having surgery today to remove the growth and reconstruct the damaged area. Once his body heals he'll receive chemotherapy to wipe out any last traces of the cancer.

When I visited at the hospital on Sunday he seemed optimistic yet scared. His family and close friends were there, determined to keep my uncle's spirits up. They were on a mission!

You could feel the love and support and hope in that hospital room! It was faith made tangible! I sat there like a quiet observer just soaking it all in.

My aunt and cousin have been amazing, staying with him at the hospital from 8am to 8pm every day since last week. The three of them worked together in complete harmony. Whatever my uncle needed, my aunt and cousin were right there to help. Literally functioning in tandem as a family unit.

Never having experienced that growing up at home, I was in awe, witnessing it for the first time through extended relatives. The way the three of them treated one another put my immediate family to shame.

The whole experience left me feeling anxious, sad, worried, withdrawn, and out-of-place.

There's a great sense of uncertainty and powerlessness because everything is out of our hands at this point.

In the end, all we can do is pray and hope for the best. To deal with it one day at a time and maybe most importantly....keep the faith.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

W.I.P. Self-Portrait - Step 2 - Painting and Panic!!

I cannot believe it but I messed this up sooooo badly!!

Everything started out looking really good. I built up the peaches on the skin and the golden browns in the hair. Wanting the entire painting to have a bluish tint, I went ahead and laid down a light blue wash over the face and hair.

The problem?

That blue wash turned the skin a moldy color and made the hair a green tone! That WASN'T the look I was trying to achieve! Ughh!!

All of the cast shadows I blocked in got washed out as well.

And to make matters worse, it appears that the irises are too big and the face is slightly too short and round. Now it kind of looks a bit like Justin Timberlake instead of me!

Fuckity-fuck and super shit!!!!!

Oooooh, I swear to God, I will NOT be starting over and redrawing this again. If I can't fix it I guess this self-portrait just wasn't meant to be!

What a mess, what a mess, what a mess.....

Do any artists have suggestions on how to correct this? The skin now has both cool and warm tones in it. Should I make the cast shadows on the face and hand darker blues or darker peaches? I'm afraid either way is going to look wrong.

*heavy sigh*

I guess you all know what I'll be doing this Labor Day weekend. Trying to salvage this painting or send it to self-portrait heaven and say, "Bye, bye, bye.....bye bye!"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

W.I.P. Self-Portrait - Step 1 - Drawing

I put this off for the longest time. Resisted, procrastinated, and just plain stopped. It's probably due to the subject matter.

This latest self-portrait deals with depression. A necessary piece for me to complete so that I can give those deep-rooted feelings a voice and finally express them in a visual way.

All of the previous elements from "Ugly" (self-portrait) are here. The star on the forehead, the plants, the tears. Butterflies were added because lately they've come to represent freedom for me.      A beautiful kind of freedom.

I would've preferred to show this self-portrait only as a finished piece but I liked the way the drawing turned out so much I thought it would be neat to share as a work-in-progress.

When I created my "Ugly" self-portrait I used just a mirror. It was meant to be a warped image so I wasn't concerned with being 100% accurate. This time around I used a photo reference.

I admit to still cringing when drawing myself. Having to stare and study my photograph makes me notice all the irregularities and uneven angles in my face. But I'm determined for this newest piece NOT to be "Ugly" Part 2!

The goal wasn't to create a spitting image but a recognizable likeness instead. I think I came close enough.

Next I'll lay down the paint and bring this painting to life!