Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Dear Kahlil Gibran

"Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love." - Kahlil Gibran

Dear Kahlil Gibran,

By the time I became familiar with your writing, the Universe had already marked your words upon my heart. Life, it seems, is an exercise in loving and letting go. How appropriate, then, that your book The Prophet was given to me as a wedding gift by a woman I admired so much for her loving mentorship. I knew that the wedding gift - not china, or silver, or money - would be one of the most treasured things I would ever own. Your words crystallized the concept of Love for me, inextricably linking my mind and heart, giving me an understanding and bravery regarding Love that to this day enriches my life and the lives of those around me. Loving, you taught me, is enough.

"When you love you should not say 'God is in my heart,' but rather, 'I am in the heart of God.'
"And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course."
-Kahlil Gibran

You showed me that Love is not something that we possess, but rather something by which we are engulfed. In a life truly lived, we become the willing agents of Love. We live our lives in service of Love. We don't fear it, we don't shut it out, for fear of hurt; we listen carefully for its directions and follow them, if we want to know it. Protecting our hearts by eschewing connection keeps us from learning the lessons Love wants us to know, to effectively propagate itself through the hearts and even the minds of humankind. These lessons, yes, they hurt, but if we listen to each one, set us up to Love better next time. It is Love evolving within us.

"Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night."
-Kahlil Gibran

As a human being, it is all too easy to get caught up in a scarcity mentality, to think that Love is finite, rather than infinite. I believe one way this mindset manifests is from the finite nature of our relationship with Life. In this way, I have been blessed with the experience of near death, not once, but twice. So, my understanding of Death is one of absolute Peace and Love. I know that in the end, I will become part of the Love that engulfs us all - that it is an absolute certainty - and that I need not feel possession of any one experience of Love, because in the end it is limitless, like an endless river flowing through the cosmos. Therefore, I can in faith follow Love's whispering in my ear, and its meandering and timeless lessons, during my finite Life.

"To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully."
-Kahlil Gibran

Even before I became a mother, before the tired toddler I would feed from my breast would bite or scratch me, Love would teach me that it is most gratifying when given without condition. One of my best experiences of Love was a gentle young man in high school who was my closest friend. We spent many days together, before and after school, and over time my Love for him grew. Intoxicated by teenage hormones (the most powerful sort), I tried and tried to get him to Love me back, the way I loved him. "Why can't I get just one kiss? Why can't I get just one kiss?" I would sing along to the Violent Femmes while driving down Colfax in my Chevy S10. (How appropriate). At the time, I was consumed with angst, expecting Love to look a certain way. I was reminded of this passage in my life recently when I found my old diaries, and specifically in one an entry detailing the heartbreak I felt due to his inability to Love me back in the way I envisioned. He had told me he cared deeply about me, and that he even kept a diary where he wrote about me. "Why can't I get just one kiss, then?!?" I thought.

Finally, before leaving for college, I would write him a letter telling him how much I was hurting, and that I needed to move on, because I wasn't getting what I desired from the relationship, but that I would always Love him. This was after my first near Death experience at 14 years of age, when I had a bicycle accident, but before the second one during childbirth at age 29. Although I was wise enough to understand that Love is infinite, I wasn't wise enough yet to understand that I also could not control the way Love was shared with me, which is a newer lesson, learned through motherhood and marriage. I really didn't think he Loved me at the time, because I never got that kiss. But less than two years later, he met my fiance and the aggression he displayed told me otherwise. Later, I would find out, he was gay. We had two entirely different Love lessons which would inform our understanding of the nature of Love in its various permutations, for the rest of our lives. I still Love who he is at his very core, even though I have not seen him in 24 years.

Before that, I had another painful lesson. I had lots of crushes leading up to my deep friendship with the gay guy. I had a huge crush on a quirky guy friend from another high school, who felt deeply for my very good friend who was tall and thin. She was not interested in him, and it pained me to see how much he hurt. I wished he could see me the way he saw her. Even though he did not feel that way about me, the feelings I had for him both buoyed me and made me bleed. To feel this is to feel Alive. It is to feel the Eternal. Without it, requited or not, we are just bodies without Spirit.

Eventually everyone graduated from high school and went on to their respective colleges, where I met my eventual husband. Of course, I still always cared for this other friend, and I was pained to find out that he committed suicide a few years later, but also understood that he was released from the sorrow he felt and was finally engulfed in eternal Love. I was reminded of him earlier this year when a doppleganger showed up at school, seemingly everywhere. Love sometimes teaches its lessons through cruel tricks.

I was deeply enthralled with the work of Carl Jung at the time, and was carrying a copy of The Undiscovered Self in my school bag. I had shared with a new friend at school, just days before, how freaked out I was that this kid, who looked just like my old friend, seemed to be everywhere on campus. She told me, "Well, you HAVE TO talk to him." As Love would have it, he and I ended up in the 3D printing lab alone, waiting for our first assignments to finish printing. I asked him what he was printing, and he explained that it was a key FOB with an image from his favorite video game series - Persona. A young man, he explained that it was a Japanese manga series based on Jun-Gee-an psychology. "Jun-Gee-an?" I thought... "Could he mean "Jungian?" Then he went on to explain that his favorite edition of the game required shadow integration through an act of suicide. At the end of the semester, I gave him a copy of Jung's The Undiscovered Self, which covers the subject of shadow integration, specifically learning to Love those parts of ourselves considered embarrassing or undesirable by society.

Over the semester I ran into this young man quite a bit, and I learned that he shared a lot of commonalities with my old friend, not just in looks, but mannerisms, likes and dislikes. While trained as a scientist, I very much believe the old adage that "we don't know what we don't know" which enables me to embrace a Universe of possibilities. Is it possible, I have thought, that this young man has the Loving spirit of my old friend, or maybe they share a lot of the same stardust. As it turns out, this young doppleganger came into being around the same time my old friend died.

A few months into the semester, my diary would give me another blessing. My old friend, before he fell in love with my tall thin friend, had shared a secret with me. He Loved me, and I told him I did not feel the same way. I had broken his heart.

"To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips."
-Kahlil Gibran 

Mister Gibran, upon my marriage, I was given your words, which rang true because I already knew how fearless acceptance of Love enables both ecstasy and gratitude, which cannot help but ooze out of our pores into the lives of those around us. Reading them in your simple language opened my eyes to a purpose of Love in my life, and always guided me throughout my marriage and parenting journey, on some level. The deadness of heart which weaves its way through the machinery of society, measured by the ticking of the clock, punch cards, tanks of gas, discussions of mathematics curriculum, and the checkbook ledger was a constant challenge, and nearly took my soul. This deadness of heart reinforces the human belief in the finite nature of Love.

I still Love everyone, because I see it as my purpose here, unless they give me eight reasons not to; and even then, the reasons are usually due to an inability they have to Love themselves in such a way as to prevent hurting others. And so I still wish them Love. I know it is time to let go when the hurt I feel is so tremendous that it is impacting my ability to walk through my life and Love without condition. When work, obligation or toxic relationship impedes my ability to wake each morning with the purpose of Love, I know it is time to let go of that thing. Still, I continue to Love.

I worry for the world; its purpose now seems to be the manufacture of Wealth as a surrogate for Love. It does this by manufacturing the illusions of both scarcity and choice, which keep our minds working at mundane problems at odds with Love. At the end of the day, families return to each other from their roles in the industrial machinery of Wealth generation, wounded, needing Love, and unable to provide it for each other. How are our children going to learn unconditional Love when their performance, an outward manifestation of the Self, is constantly under scrutiny? How do we remind ourselves of the importance of Loving our children when our own performance and selves are constantly under scrutiny? Rather than follow our true Loving nature, society shames it. Children and parents dread waking, and gratitude is something that ends up forced rather than felt. Sleep, for many, is elusive. Ecstasy is usually felt through selfish means, and often at the expense of someone else.

Mister Gibran, I worry that since most people only know conditional Love, that it will take the experience of near Death for society to learn the Ecstasy of Love as you describe it. I hope, for the sake of our children, who were born out of and for Love, that more people read your book.

With Love, Gratitude, and Ecstasy,


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Dear Mister Rogers

“The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”
Fred Rogers 

Dear Mister Rogers,

Thank you for being you. I also like you just the way you are. No, I love you just the way you are. I think people have screwed up the word "love." I think they confuse it with a feeling of desperation and possession. I think they confuse it with lust. Sadly, many people also equate money and love. Thank you for showing me how to love unconditionally, to meet people where they are at, and let them go while still loving them. It hasn't always been easy, in fact sometimes it has been so hard I was sure I wanted to give up entirely, but what you taught me has come in handy almost every day of my life.

“Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

I watched you regularly as a child, and you filled some holes where my teachers would have been, if they weren't getting to know thirty new students each year. You filled holes where my grandparents might have been, had they been alive. You filled holes where my aunts and uncles might have been, if they had lived closer. You filled holes where my parents might have been, had they not had so many struggles with their adult relationships and careers. You helped me feel wanted in the big, cold universe. You, and others like you, who stepped outside of the grownup world to be with me, helped me see how important love is in the world.

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ”
Fred Rogers

Some people say that your message of unconditional love, that we are all "special," led us all to believe we are entitled to things, and to special treatment. I know you didn't really mean that, because you lived a fairly humble life yourself, content with yourself for your ability to love your neighbor. You simply believed that everyone deserves to feel worthy of their life here. Sometimes it is hard to feel worthy of the life we are given, when so much value is placed on aesthetics and wealth. Many people suffer because our society values image and money over kindness. People who choose to value kindness over status end up struggling because they chose caregiving professions which require them to work long hours for little pay. Some of them give up because they cannot afford housing and go into a profession which makes better money, but leaves them feeling lonely at the end of each day.

“The thing I remember best about successful people I've met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they're doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they're doing, and they love it in front of others.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

It was very challenging at times, especially due to the isolation which I had to fight constantly, but I was able to take your message with me into my adult life - nearly half over, now - so that I could do my best to raise two children into secure adults. I chose to give up my career as a scientist so that my kids would know without a doubt that they are wanted and loved in this world. Sometimes I feel guilty for bringing people into this world because I feel like most people have given up on the idea that being a kind person is enough. It seems that some people feel like kind people are faking it, or are just boring. Often I feel that people only like me for what I can do for them, and so I try very hard to please people. I worry all the time that I have failed at helping my kids feel loved, because I know it will be difficult for them to feel like they are "enough" just being kind people. Many times when I meet people and tell them I chose to educate my children at home, I get the feeling they think I thought I could do it "better." It wasn't like that at all. I received an excellent public education and got a graduate degree in a difficult field. I have no doubts about the educational system's ability to make economy-supporting individuals. Doors to many occupations are open to me because of my education. I chose to educate my children at home because I wanted to protect them from the stress and bullying I experienced growing up. I didn't want them to feel badly about their bodies, their interests, who they love, their haves or have nots. These are the worries that I have that keep me from succeeding in the "real world." They are worries I did not want my children to have. Learning at home is easy in the context of following our hearts and intuition, spending time with others who made the same choice for the same reason we did - they want to raise children who feel loved, who feel excited about learning at their own pace, whose confidence hasn't been stripped away by the trickle-down economics of narcissism that prevails in this country.

“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”
Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers, I know that you were deeply saddened by the events of September 11, 2001. I was, too. I was alone that morning, nursing my 4 month old baby boy down for his morning nap. I had no deep friendships in California where I was living, and our families were so far away. I had brought another person into this cold, lonely world. We had made the decision to move back to Colorado to be near family, near where we thought we would find love again to support our little family - where we could be more than an employee in a company, a house in a planned urban development. But Colorado had its problems, too. A few years earlier, I watched, horrified and alone in California, packing my suitcase to go defend my thesis in Ohio, as helicopter footage of the Columbine High School massacre streamed across my television. In that moment, I had felt that the bloodbath was the result of children who did not feel love for themselves or other people. Very disturbed youth took vengeance on the community they felt had failed them. In the years since your death, entire industries have arisen to protect us from the wrath of the unloved, and people are becoming more and more distrustful of each other. Our elected officials are increasingly people who value money over kindness, and display these values in their business, career, and lifestyle choices. Political alliances end up being more about career advantages than helping constituents or communities. Me, me, me, the world cries, as everyone wonders why even though they got that bonus, they still feel empty inside.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say "It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem." Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
Fred Rogers

I can tell that people are scared. I am scared, too. But I do think that what we're dealing with is nothing new. It used to be that the common man had no choice in his life, and so this question of wealth and power over people was largely left to aristocracy alone. But in this democratic state, now everyone has the chance to "make it big." To live the "American Dream." To prioritize status. As more and more people have chosen paychecks over people since the 1970's, the basic things we need - shelter and food - have gotten more expensive. And it takes more time to earn the money needed for these basics, so there is less time to love one another, and that empty feeling seems to be growing.

“Often when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of something else.”
Fred Rogers

This is, I think, a huge opportunity for change. If, instead of frantically trying to fill that empty feeling, each person were to take the time to notice it, to become really aware of it, to really feel it, and then fill it with acts of kindness to others, rather than material acquisitions, the world would change. I really believe that if we were put here for anything, it is to love each other. A friend once asked me, when I proclaimed that I was certain that the reason I am here is to love other people, to help them feel less lonely, "But how do you deal with never getting love back?" Well, I thought in that moment two things (which I did not say), 1) that finally I had met someone who tried and understood how challenging it can be to love, and 2) how sad I was that this person had not felt love. This is, I feel, a casualty of people conflating love with possession and lust. If love of the variety that you practiced were everywhere, maybe we wouldn't be so afraid to really love one another. Love wouldn't be so much about loving and losing, as abundant love.

“When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers, I am afraid that people will read this and think it is a bunch of malarkey. I do hope they will take the time to see the movies made in your memory - the recently released Won't You Be My Neighbor? as well as Mister Rogers and Me, which is currently available on Amazon Prime. I can't imagine what the world would have been like without you. You were the only one giving an unadulterated message of love to many of the children of my generation. You made it okay to feel anger, sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, joy, hope, love... all of the feelings. Yes, I was a huge fan of yours. I know you met many, many people during your career. Do you remember spending 20 minutes with a little brown-haired brown-eyed dimpled girl in the narthex of your seminary colleague's church in Denver, sometime in the 1980's? Do you remember that the little girl gave you a snake scarf she knitted herself with a rick-rack tongue and button eyes? You were that girl's hero, and you were exactly the beautiful loving person she hoped you would be in real life. You are the reason that every time her heart breaks, she tries even harder to love more deeply next time, even though it's becoming so rare that people think she is weird and often hurt her.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
Fred Rogers

Please, I ask you, help me to not give up on the world. It's so hard, and I hurt so much. I'm so tired, and I am having trouble being optimistic as my kids become young adults. People keep telling me this is a good way to be, but I just don't know if I can do it anymore. But I'll try, just for you. For humanity.

With all the pieces of my broken heart,


Monday, April 20, 2015

Abstract Monday #5

I had to take a little break from Abstract Monday last week because although I had started this piece, it just didn't have the depth I was hoping to get by the time midnight rolled around.

I chose the palette from a scene I see pretty regularly -- the busy street near my house -- the gray of the street, the new greens of early Spring, the red of a stoplight, the mauve color of the median, and the yellow stripe in the road.

I did a bunch of macro photography that week, inspired by the new spring buds and blossoms in various places, and so I decided to apply the palette to one of the photographs I took. I am enjoying doing this exercise on my tablet as I can take it with me and work on it without having to drag a bunch of supplies with me. The last two weeks were pretty busy and so the tablet came in very handy. I used the pen and watercolor tools in ArtRage for Android this time.

Abstract #5, Digital Art by Amy Lewark
Can you tell what gave me the inspiration for the line and shape?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sketchuary: Making Sketch Art on the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

Before I started drawing and painting again, my childhood art instructor Sally Bartalot published a book on her teaching methodology called Art Alive: A Fresh Approach to the Basics. She had contacted me to get my permission to share some of my work in the book, and at the same time, she encouraged me to get back into art. At the very least, she wanted me to throw a sketchbook in my purse and sketch during my kiddie chauffeuring gig. I did part of it -- I made a bag with some sketching supplies and carried it around with me for a year, never once putting pen or pencil to the paper therein.

I think one of the hurdles I had in even starting to make art again is that my hands were just plain out of shape. Nearly all language communication I had done was either by speaking or typing for quite a few years. If I wrote anything at all, it was just signing my name on a credit card receipt or writing the occasional check. I couldn't imagine using my hands to create images. But sketching could be the start of the "Couch Potato to 5k" for my hands.

Sketching isn't how I got started again, though it would have been an effective approach. A few years after Sally's book was published, I saw a group called "Sketchuary" on Facebook which is active every February. A friend on Facebook participated for a few years, and I immediately recognized how useful it would be to make a daily sketch. It wasn't until this February that I was courageous enough to try it. For every day of February, participants post a sketch to the group.

On the first day, I sketched a glass bottle with a stem of orchids sitting on a magazine on a piece of sketch paper using a 2B pencil. It took quite a while. I was interested in some of the digital work some of the other participants had uploaded, so I decided to revisit trying to make art on my Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 Digital Tablet.

On the second day, I opened up my tablet and was immediately reminded that the last time I had attempted to create art, I was using Sketchbook Express, and had made it pretty far into an airbrushed Columbine flower when the program crashed. I wasn't even able to open the art in anything except a preview pane to save it or edit it, so I took a screen shot of the preview pane and then decided to go back to the Google Play store to see if there were any other programs to try.

I saw in the Google Play store that one of the better rated programs was still Infinite Painter, which I had also tried in 2014, and which also had the same problem of locking up and losing the artwork. I actually paid for that app, so when I saw that others were still experiencing problems like that, I decided to keep looking.

For my first digital sketch for Sketchuary, I settled on Autodesk Sketchbook. For the first sixteen days of February I used either traditional media or Autodesk Sketchbook to satisfy my sketch challenge for the day. In the beginning, it was really hard to get used to the slipperiness of the pen on the screen of the tablet, but after a few days, I really enjoyed it. I found it helpful to not choke down on the stylus, but use a light loose touch, which is something I had to relearn with traditional media, as well. My favorite sketch from the first part of Sketchuary is the one I did of my dog Ollie, snoozing at the end of the sofa, illuminated in lamplight.

Dog on Sofa, Digital Sketch by Amy Lewark

On the sixteenth, I decided to try another program, ArtFlow (Free Version). I can't accurately remember why I decided to switch, but I think it was something to do with the controls. I indicated on Facebook that I liked ArtFlow a lot better than Autodesk Sketchbook, even though I was only using the free version.

The next day, I decided to try ArtRage. I had tried it before on my daughter's desktop computer, and found it to be quite enjoyable. I knew ArtRage would enable the use of digital versions of many media, including oil. I figured a good challenge might be to try to reproduce the work of a master, so I chose the first one who popped in my head -- Toulouse Lautrec -- and his Portrait of Helen.

Digital Study of Toulouse-Lautrec's Portrait of Helen by Amy Lewark

For a few days I played around with the line smoothing tools and "pen and ink" on ArtRage, producing some very quick sketches of my dog sleeping, a rooster, some lillies I had on my kitchen table, and a reproduction of William Bouguereau's Baigneuse (1864). What I had to learn very quickly is to kind of anticipate what the line-smoothing algorithm would do to the path of my line. I was hitting "undo" quite a bit until I was satisfied with the result of each line.

Sleeping Dog, Digital Sketch by Amy Lewark

Lilies, Digital Sketch by Amy Lewark

Rooster, Digital Sketch by Amy Lewark

Digital Study of William Bouguereau's "Baigneuse" by Amy Lewark

After getting comfortable with the interface, over the next few days I decided to try some different tools within ArtRage. First I tried the watercolor brush on an otter. It ended up being more of a sketch (in line with the theme of Sketchuary) than a painting, but it made me want to investigate how to achieve results more in line with traditional watercolor (no line smoothing).

Digital Watercolor Sketch of an Otter by Amy Lewark
I had not tried pencil sketching yet, so I tried that the next day on a cat.

Digital Pencil Sketch of a Cat by Amy Lewark

And, finally, I decided I wanted to draw something that would really capitalize on lots of line movement, so I sketched this owl. Toward the end I changed the color of the pen to white to get some marks in there that would be difficult to get with traditional media such as ink.

Digital Sketch of an Owl by Amy Lewark
Working on my Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 tablet was a lot of fun. During the month of February, I really was just getting comfortable with the different tools and media available, and also learning how to control my stylus on the slippery screen. I enjoyed experimenting each day and learning the different effects I could get through a traditional drawing methodology using an unconventional approach. It sure did make me want to explore some more, which I have done extensively over the last few months.

Artist and Blogger Ellie Taylor has posted about using Android Tablets to make digital art, and has also reviewed her experiences with several of the apps available for Android.

Regarding the new title of my blog -- It used to be called "Fat 4 Thought" which served a few purposes for me -- it was, due to my background in Neurobiology, an homage to the idea that brains are made of fatty acids and that the idea that we should avoid dietary fat (particularly the saturated type) at all costs was nonsensical. Then, even though I felt less and less attached to dietary dogma, I still felt it important to note that brains are made of fat (because even among those who have embraced dietary fat, the idea that some fat might be a normal component of a healthy body still seems terrible). Well, whatever. Whether I'm studying science or art, what I feel passionate about is the idea that learning should not be owned by anyone but the learner, no matter the subject.

I realize "Nonproprietary Learning" is a mouthful, but things like "Always Learning" and even "Learning Unleashed" were generally taken and I really did want to give a nod to the idea that each of us owns our own learning.

I'll try to share my learning process here to do the new name justice.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Abstract Monday #4

This week, I wanted to make a more sincere effort at abstraction. A few weeks ago, I had selected a palette while sitting in a physical therapy waiting room. Perhaps had I applied that palette to the begonia leaves I painted last week, I would have ended up with an abstraction.

This week's color palette

We were lucky enough to have some time to explore one of the many natural areas in Northern Colorado this Wednesday, just before a cold front moved in. I actually painted at this natural area last summer during the Paint the Poudre Plein Air event, but didn't explore very much as we were under the time crunch of very warm weather. The area has a very diverse landscapes consisting of quite a few ponds and wetlands. Initially upon arriving, I was attracted to the dried rabbit brush and grasses. The water there is quite still and reflected the sky and the surrounding plant life almost perfectly. There was a downed tree with a beautiful swirling pattern in its trunk. There were also the first spring flower blossoms and various dried seed pods. Remnants of last year's flooding and patterns in the sand along the river were also intriguing. Ultimately, when I came home and examined my photographs, I settled on some river rocks I captured right on the banks of the Cache La Poudre River.

Cache La Poudre River Rocks

What attracted me to the rocks while at the river were the interesting colors and shapes, but when I started the work on the abstraction exercise on my tablet (again using ArtRage 4), I decided just to create a line drawing and then disregard the original photo reference entirely. I gave myself a head start with the palette by choosing a harmonizing color for the background. I thought maybe if I wasn't painting on a white background, I would have some sort of direction or that instinct would take over.

Once I had the line drawing on the turquoise background, I had to start getting some color down. I think maybe I was trying to avoid the topic of the stones all together and so I concentrated on the negative space between them, with the warmest colors in the palette to ground the cool turquoise with which I had begun.

Then, I kind of just kept painting until I couldn't find anymore to do with it. I tried to channel my inner child, not thinking too much about meaning or anything like that, just making the shapes, color and texture pleasing to me.

Abstract #4

Monday, March 30, 2015

Abstract Monday #3

As promised last week, I have completed the abstract work I began for Abstract Monday #2.

I had picked out a palette inspired by some art in the waiting room at the physical therapy office, but I had saved that palette on my tablet. In an attempt to try to make some art that would print well larger than 5"x7" or 8"x10" I decided to make this piece on my laptop. I didn't transfer the palette over.

So, I've already broken rules 1-3 (which were just guidelines anyway).

I sat in the gallery a few days in March, and in the gallery is this enormous begonia plant. I found the colors on the stems and leaves really entrancing, and so I snapped some reference photos of it, thinking it might make a fun abstraction sometime down the road.

But, as the busy weekend progressed, I hadn't been lured by other shapes. I'm sure they were there, it's just that I was too busy to notice. So when Monday rolled around, I was playing catch-up on a number of fronts, leaving my abstraction exercise for the late hours of the day. And that begonia was still on my mind.

I found the version of ArtRage that was on my Samsung tablet to be very intuitive. Most of the settings carry over to the laptop version, so I didn't have to learn too much to get started. However, I found that the palette knife was kind of difficult to control on the laptop version. Palette knives, in real life, have an edge, and on the laptop version of ArtRage, using my Wacom Intuos Tablet, I found it difficult to control the directionality of the knife edge starting out with every stroke. Ultimately, I discovered that it mattered a lot less if I used a smaller palette knife. Using smaller tools, of course, on a larger canvas, means that getting to the end takes a lot more time.

Generally when I am painting in either oil or watercolor, I like to start with a big brush and work to a smaller brush. So, that's how I started Begonia. What I posted last week was essentially a small view of blocking in the large shapes of color with a big brush and big palette knife. So, this weekend I shrank down my tools and got to work on the details.

Here is the result I got using ArtRage 4 on my laptop. The final dimensions of the work are 4800x3047 pixels, so at 300 dpi that would print 16x10". My art reproduction guy likes to print from 200-300 dpi, so depending on the art, it might print up to 24x15" decently.

Begonia, Digital Art by Amy Lewark
One of my artist friends has proposed that we do a weekly digital art challenge, as he would also like to increase his skills in the digital realm. I have a lot of art in the hopper right now, so I told him it's likely mine will either be abstract or figurative (I have been taking my tablet to Tuesday night figure sessions). Each week I am doing this abstract challenge, I go to a figure study session, I work on a studio oil painting (I have two in the works right now), and I try to paint with a local plein air group on Fridays. That's usually the one that takes the hit, depending on the location they have selected, the weather, if I am scheduled to sit in the gallery, or how busy I have been earlier in the week. But I think I can commit to making one piece of art each week on the computer. So far, I'm ahead on the digital front, and behind on everything else.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

My Digital Tablet Journey

Back in April 2014, our clients had given an iPad mini to the husband, and when he went on a trip to Malaysia to visit them, he brought it with him and did not haul along a heavy laptop. I was a little nervous that we would have no way to communicate for the two weeks he was gone, but while he was over there, he found that he used it for everything. One night, about halfway through his trip, he admitted he loved the iPad mini, except for its size. He had always said he wanted a tablet computer, but was not really into the whole iCraze. This is a fellow who has always built his own computers, and was frustrated by the proprietary connectors Apple used and the inability to expand memory easily (in the case of the iPad, one has to purchase an entirely new device to get more memory). So, imagine my surprise when he said, "Get me a new iPad. I'd like it to be there when I return home. Oh, and get yourself a new one, too."

I had an iPad 2. It was the first honest-to-goodness tablet computer we had in our house, and I rationalized the purchase by thinking we could use it to view iTunes University. Somehow, having that tablet in my house was going to make all of my Nonproprietary Learning dreams come true. After all, Nicholas Negroponte and Sugata Mitra were surreptitiously placing iPads, laptops and like devices in the hands of children all over the world, and they were learning first world skills without a curriculum.

In reality, what the kids did with the laptop was make art using various drawing programs and play various games like Minecraft Pocket Edition, Cut the Rope, and Angry Birds. I used it to keep up with various blogs, read things on Pubmed, and apparently a lot of different things, as the 16GB version I had was, by 2014, nearly crippled by the number of apps and other things I had saved on the device. I was having difficulty cleaning off enough space just to be able to install the newest OS update. It was definitely time to upgrade. My father had just gotten a new iPad for my mother at Christmas and assigned me the task of getting it ready for her use, so I knew what I was missing.

Dog, Digital Art, graphicotter
I went over to our local consumer electronics store to procure said iPad, but while I was there, I decided to revisit the idea of moving away from the iPad. After all, our phones were Samsung products and we were quite happy with them. I had hacked a Barnes and Noble Nook and added an Android Operating system to it before I even got my iPad2.

I asked the salesperson what Android tablets were available, and while he was talking to me, I noticed a great big one on a display about 10 feet away. "What is that?!" I inquired. He explained it was the brand new Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. At the time, it was just about the same price as the latest iPad Air (for the same amount of memory), except it had the ability to expand the memory, AND, it had a pressure-sensitive stylus. Pressure. Sensitive. Stylus! I had been trying to make art with finger on the iPad and was fairly frustrated, and so these words were music to my ears.

That was all I needed to know. I walked out of the store with the one iPad whatever for the husband, and a black Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 for me. The kids would get the iPad hand-me-downs and my conscience would be assuaged by knowing they would have unlimited access to MIT and Stanford's free courses via iTunes (which are now here and here on YouTube, anyway).

I got home and made friends with my new toy. I made it do all sorts of things like open by voice command and play pretty songs to wake me up, and display my artwork in the background. It wouldn't be until a few months later when winter set in that I would try to use it for sketching, and at that time, it would be a horrible disappointment. I tried several apps, including one provided with the tablet, and each one of them would have the same bug -- after getting not very far into a drawing, the program would seize up and lose the artwork. So, I gave up trying to make art on my tablet for the interim.

Oh, and the husband had me return the iPad Whatever and get him a Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 as well.

It wouldn't be until February 2015 that I would finally get to a place where I could make progress with art on my computer tablet. Stay tuned.