My Lonely House

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The rebound.

Everyone knows rebounds are destined for disaster. Most of us have been through one already, or at least witnessed the fallout of a hasty new relationship after a breakup–with friends or family, on t.v. or in books, heard about it in love songs, read about it in poetry, seen art about it. The list goes on. This is no great mystery. Why do we do it anyway?

For me, pressure to begin dating as soon as final divorce documents were signed was intense, and expert dating advice abounded.

“Just have fun with it. Keep it light.”

“My sister met her doctor hubby on a dating site. You should try one.”

“Yay, we can hang out again. I’ll be your wingman like in the old days!” (Translation: Misery loves company. Everyone knows dating is a nightmare.)

The urge came from within, too. Mostly it arrived like my descicated philodendrons crawling out of their pots, across the door jambs and up the window panes, in search of lifegiving water and light. Anywhere!

Because, the divorce process was like a trek through the desert, holding scabby hands with a wounded enemy who occasionally vomited on me as my only chance of sustenance. I’ll admit I spewed on him regularly, too, and probably with more acid. Yet, the nightmare didn’t end once the judge whacked the gavel. Next came a new wasteland, with no hand to hold. Not even in friendship.

After years of clinging devotion, Mr. X moved in with another woman only a handful of weeks after he moved out of our family house.

Ex-family house.

My house.

My lonely house.

The moral superiority I felt with never having been unfaithful or not having a standby lined up blew out in the hot stinking blast of his exit. All I was left with was a hand mirror.

I needed to remember who I was, before I was mired in monogamy and sexual obligation. I needed to reclaim the artist I was, before I stopped working to be a stay at home mom. I needed to feel special and important and authentic, and have someone understand me for who I really was, instead of judge me after over a decade of actually living with me. I needed to know that true love was still possible and that great sex was available and likely, all the time.

Enter, the rebound.

Poor Mr. R. He was no match for my subconscious. Had I considered, even for a moment, what Mr. R needed? Do I really need to even answer that? Heartbroken people are so selfish.

Well, I can’t feel too sorry for Mr. R. He broke my heart again presently.

But, why? Wasn’t he the perfect replacement, the one who I had been searching for all my life? It’s laughable once I write it down. With some distance, I can now see the holes in my delusion…

I’d picture the private corner office he was sitting at (not a cubicle), while thinking of me all day long. Sure, the evidence showed that he drank like a fish while watching sports in bars most of the time, but I believed he led a rich inner life and one day I’d see it. Remember that one joke he told two years ago about attending seminary school? Of course, I knew that there was a good reason he would only communicate in texts, too. Maybe phone calls were a thing of the past. And no, he wasn’t ignoring me–it was my fault for being too pushy. I don’t need kindness, because I’m not a needy girlfriend (friend with benefits).

All of my suffering arose from my own disappointment each time he showed up–or didn’t–to be just exactly who he was. In reality. Yes, my heart was broken when he dumped me. I was in madly in love, after all. But, I was in love with my imagination. I had absolutely no patience for the real Mr. R.

Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

So, why is patience even necessary?

Because it’s the remedy for anger, and anger–or resentment, or constant disappointment, or depression–is a destructive force that places blame outside ourselves and prevents growth. Anger is not accepting what exists before us, and grasping at wishes instead.

Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which one fills up first. Stephen King

Mr. R wasn’t the problem. The problem was a mind that wouldn’t accept reality and a heart that was rushed straight past the healing process. Yeah, I was sad. I had just gotten divorced, for crying out loud. Denial of reality only brought me more pain, each time my fantasy crumbled a bit more. Each time another bandaid was ripped off.

It was a slow torture that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. So, please take my advice and run screaming from rebound relationships.

Yeah, right.

I hope yours is easier than mine…or at least quicker!

This was Mean Greeting Card #3. To see the others in this series, go HERE.

Thanks for liking, commenting, and following!  Visit my contact page HERE for social network links, or sign up for my mailing list HERE to be the first to see new work.

 

 

 

 

Candy Vale Lands Her First Global Art Show

Joss Radillo curates Candy Vale’s first global art show on Chapter 5 Books Blog! Much gratitude, because art is such an integral part of The Tramp. Not only was the book written by a painter (me), and the cover art also created by a painter (me), but art is also the thread that holds the chaotic world of Shirley County together, past and present. My main character Candy Vale paints, draws, and writes poetry. And the way that Joss lays it out on her blog tastes just like Candy to me. Check it out HERE.

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Painted Words, Wordly Paint

Yes, I just made that word up. I needed it, so it had to be. Therein lies the reason for all creation–the puppet master writing life as she trips through it. It’s so much easier to recognize the stage, after you’ve already seen the play.

My first book, The Tramp, will be released tomorrow. While I’m anxious about the reception of my story, I’m buoyed by the reaction to my art. I mined a treasure trove of discarded paintings to create the book covers for all three of my books coming out this year, and the reaction to my visual work through this new book launch experience was an unexpected thrill. Years ago, I had chalked up my soul-searching, technique-perfecting hours with a paintbrush to wasted time. Paintings collect dust in my closets like the world’s most expensive Hoover (if you’re confused by this seemingly passive state of dust collection, imagine the monthly price of a Master’s certificate from Parson’s School of Design), but it seems there is life in them yet!

See them shine, their neglect blazing with graphic design recovery and life-preseving prose!

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If you’re interested in the technical part of turning a painting into a book cover, take a look at my earlier post about making the cover for The Tramp HERE.

But how did this magical thing really happen, i.e. the need to produce a book cover was already satisfied years before said book was even written? Why was that painting so perfect for a book that didn’t even exist yet? Because the soul that found the form also found the words. One moves forward and the other moves backward, but they both arrive in the center.

Here’s the first stage of the painting that became The Tramp’s book cover:

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This is a watercolor painting on paper, made by basically dripping paint randomly onto saturated watercolor paper, then smashing that onto a dry piece of Bristol board. The result is an abstract mess. Next, I used acrylic paint to isolate areas of interest and create the beginning of foreground/background, as they made sense to me visually. Why did I see this as a landscape? Why did I need it to be that? Who knows, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the part of myself that a psychologist would have a field day with.

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Then, I started doodling with an ink pen, having fun and rocking out to my favorite painting playlist. Why did I find a crumbling brick house hung with spider webs and odd little musical instruments fit for faeries, next to a bed-like structure? Why did I attempt to beautify the strangeness with half-hearted foil leaf? Again, psychologist wet dream.

I framed this painting on velvet, with little pearly pins, inside a shadow box (often used to collect and preserve important memorabilia) and hung it in a prominent place in my living room.

Since I saw this painting every day while I was writing, did the ideas that created it leach onto my book subconsciously? It’s possible, but when I’m writing the real world fades pretty dramatically for me. No, I think the symbiosis was of a different nature.

When I first started writing The Tramp, I worked backwards. I started with the climactic scene at the end, then built Shirley County and invented it’s inhabitants to make that scene happen. Sort of like the first stage of the painting, the climactic scene was given to me randomly. I didn’t even make it up, my husband did. “Hey, what about this for a good story?”

SPOILER ALERT! Here’s the climactic scene:

John flexed his knuckles and rubbed his temples, tried to clear his head. He looked around at the countryside. It was as beautiful as Candy promised when she cajoled him into walking farther along the river. Yet, the cliffs were rising steadily higher, turning the sky into a line of unearthly blue. The sides of the cliffs squeezed against them like a vice inching closed. A harvest moon illuminated the rocky layers of sandstone and limestone, casting eerie, stark shadows. The coarse clumps of granite jutting out of the canyon walls formed bizarre faces and anthropomorphic figures that seemed to watch their passage. The gutter between the two mountain ridges was becoming so tight that John could feel cold spray from the river on the other side of the tracks, to his right, and the road to their left had become a single dirt lane. Surely, they would come to the junction, where the road climbed into the mountains and the train headed through a tunnel, where the river turned and hurtled down a waterfall. They’d be forced to turn back then. How long since we’ve even seen a car pass? It was almost ten o’clock. He groaned with irritation when he read at his cell phone’s warning, “Out Of Service Area.”

“You okay, John?” Candy called back to him.

“I think it’s time to turn back.” His voice was swallowed by the sudden blare of a train whistle, echoing out of the ravine ahead.

“What?”

“Hold on a minute…” He waved her over to shelter against the rock wall on the other side of the dirt road, as far away from the train tracks as possible. A headlight streamed around a stony corner, and John could see that the rest of their group was still walking along the tracks, heedless of the approaching train. “You guys, get out of the way,” he yelled, but they couldn’t have heard him. He sat down on an outcrop and leaned his back against the stone, aware that he’d just have to wait it out.

When he looked up, he saw his friends running alongside the train.

What?

They were intent on matching its speed.

My god, what are they thinking?

John watched helplessly as Tyler leapt, making contact with an opened boxcar. He turned to haul a female form in a slinky dress up after him.

Lindsay!

John stepped into the road. “What are you doing?”

Candy raised her hands to John in question, then clapped them over her ears in pain; the train whistle sounded again, rebounding off of stone and water all around them. Metal screeched against metal. John jabbed his finger past her, pointing towards their foolish companions a few hundred yards down the tracks. She spun around in a daze and Sam shot an arm out to steady her.

John watched in horror, as Antonio sprang for the boxcar next. His foot slipped in the gravel, and he hung on with one hand for several seconds, before he lost his grip. He spun once or twice before something large and solid made impact—the next boxcar. His body was thrown backwards, and his legs crumpled under him as he fell to the earth.

And what does that scene have to do with a crumbling shack and weird little musical instruments next to a bed? Absolutely nothing! Yet, somehow those same characters appeared within the story, not as afterthoughts but as major, guiding principals. The Shack (sometimes referred to as The Palace by a certain amorous couple) will be crime scene number one by the end of the four-book series. Music (although I can’t even strum a guitar) is also a major player, rivaling my favorite art form, painting.

And so, somehow the monster that created one found the other. Or vice versa. Painting and prose unite to be…

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Like how I sprang that on you? Oh, yes. The Tramp has a musical soundtrack, because the monster has a partner! Go and throw my heart into the fire, then sift through ashes on your knees…

Listen to the theme song for The Tramp by Her Last Boyfriend, “Bound Hearts”:

The Jack & Jill Cycle

Next, in this “3X5 Art Challenge” on Facebook, I post my favorites. See the first post in this blog series here. These were my first experiments with watercolor, and although I’ll never be a purist (I throw in whatever I need to, after the watery beginnings), working with this medium has changed the way I make art forever.

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After a long period of intense study and contemplation (grad school), my brain was buzzing with the work that never could quite surface with all the scrutiny and pressure of content critiques. After graduating, I brought all the art supplies I had gathered in my Parsons studio home. My school studio had a huge picture window, right next to Union Square in the heart of Manhattan. My tiny studio apartment was in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and had a view of the apartment across the street. I sat in my little living room/dining room with two tv trays pulled up next to the couch and grabbed whatever I needed from the moving boxes, barely even thinking about it, while watching The Skeleton Key on repeat. I don’t know why The Skeleton Key. Comfort movies surface in weird ways, and after grad school, I needed comfort.

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I brought my tools together and worked quickly and intuitively, with much angst and gusto! This series of four, inspired by the famous nursery rhyme, was the result, in graphite, charcoal, ink, marker, pastel, oil pastel, watercolor, gouache, and acrylic paint, and whatever else came to hand, on leftover paper. With a head full of art theory, I said I was exploring our legends, fables, and mysteries as a society, and examining the way we understand cultural archetypes and our personal roles, in reference.

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But really, they were just super fun to make!

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Buy a print here: http://bit.ly/1zKnnCq

The Best Thing About Creating Imaginary Worlds?

 

While you’re writing, you get to live in that world most of your day!

 

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Candy, from The Tramp, just posted the above painting (without me in it, of course) on her Tumblr page. She says, “Lately I just feel like my mind’s in a carnival, with fireworks going off overhead, so I’m calling this one, ‘Celebration.’ This is turning out to be an awesome summer after all.”

She’s so cute and dramatic–I love her. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know exactly why she’s all excited: she’s falling in love with Sam Castle.

It’s hard not to get caught up in your own story lines and characters while writing. If it doesn’t feel real for the author, how real could it feel real for the audience anyway, right? So I hang out with imaginary friends and live in a fantasy land while writing a my books. I say roll with it (just like Meg Shannon would, from Wicked Lover).

 

Results Are In…

…and my favorite wins the vote for The Tramp cover art!

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The weirdest thing about this cover winning by a landslide is that it began as an afterthought.

Since about halfway through writing the book, I had a completely different image in my mind (which became the other cover art, with the person losing balance on railroad tracks). I spent hours and hours meticulously drawing those train tracks, designing the burst of light on the horizon, and cutting out the figure with Adobe Illustrator. The diagonal lines and the colors to grab attention, and the perspective to pull a viewer into the scene–all thought out according to proper design principals. I took care to make the figure seem androgynous, because part of the storyline of The Tramp deals with various meanings of the word ‘tramp’ itself and several characters fit the bill, male and female.

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VERB: 1. to tread or walk with a firm, heavy, resounding step; 2. to go on a walking excursion or expedition, hike; 3. to go about as a vagabond

NOUN: 1. (slang), a person with loose morals, tainted reputation

But, I also figured it was best to have options and get some audience feedback. I wanted the other cover art example to be completely different, and thinking my planned design would win the vote easily, I hastily decided on using some already extant art. That seemed easy, and perfect to give contrasting perspective on what I thought was clearly the perfect cover.

I had already decided to start running a blog under the guise of my main female character from The Tramp, Candy (http://candyvale98.tumblr.com), so I chose my favorite of her posted artwork.

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I got rid of the gold foil at the bottom and added some gradients with Photoshop, to help the title stand out better. Kicked up the saturation.

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For the typography, I thought old letterpress, metal type blocks would be perfect. I made those in Photoshop from a cool tutorial (I’m sorry, I can’t find it now), then went off on my own tangent, as always.

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I was pleased that their worn appearance ended up looking great with the crumbling brick shack in the painting. Plus, so much of the book had to do with the geographical setting of the story, mountains and caves, rivers and canyons. Rock.

The more I thought about it, actually…the better that new cover was starting to feel for The Tramp…

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, since that painting had sprouted from the same deep well of creative juices that had spawned the novel, and the entire epic story behind the series, with equal measures of nurturing, investigation and passion. Candy’s painting is part of a series that I began several years ago, “40 Paintings.” It was my first foray into the art of blogging; I was attempting to create an online painting course based on understanding the potential of a white page.

I was a baby mama at the time, cooling my heals, and I became distressed at the comments I was hearing from other mothers watching their kids paint and draw and create.

“I used to do that stuff too, when I was little. But I just can’t anymore.”

“Geez, kids are so creative,” (with an astounded shake of the head).

I called the series “Making Art: A Course in Allowing Your Creativity to Flourish.” How cute is that? I was posting stuff like this…

(in paraphrase) “Let it happen, have a lot of stuff on hand and let yourself go!!!”

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All you needed were the right materials, lots of blank white space, and the desire to get it out, and get messy!

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I really wanted to dispel the mystery of how paintings were made, and make the idea of expressing oneself with art more accessible to the average person (especially the tired moms I was meeting, in sore need of expressing themselves in a healthy manner!).  I cared about the project a lot, and I still deluded myself that art meant as much to others as it did to me.

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And oh look, this last one is Candy’s painting in its infancy!

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Though I didn’t finish the online series, I probably will some day. I still believe in it. I put my heart and soul into writing a course to get others to see their creative potential and I adore the paintings I made while doing it. Candy has “made” some of them and posted them on her blog, and readers will probably see more popping up.

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Candy is actually already using the paining below for her next creation (yes, I know I’m crazy)…

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After “40 Paintings,” I moved onto something else, but similar. And later, the same soul stuff came pouring out when I decided to start writing The Tramp. So, though the second cover wasn’t as “planned” as the first, I was examining the same issues, visiting the same dark places and seeking the same light, making that painting, as I was while writing my first novel. My main character reflects myself in so many ways. Of course her art would be close to my heart. And of course her painting is perfect for the cover art of her story.

And mine.

From Artist To Author

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I just sent my very first full-length, 300-or-so-page manuscript off to my editor. Is it official? Am I a writer now? Or do I have to publish to be that?

Actually, I felt like it was the moment when I finished the first draft. Done, complete, the end, though to be continued… No one was there to tell it to. I got myself a four-pack of grocery store sparkling white wine beverages (not really champagne, but good enough) and I had a little private party with Candy and Luke and Sam. Those people are, of course, my fictitious characters. Yes, I drank their bubbly for them. Because I needed to celebrate in a way that no one in the real world could understand at that moment. My first book was completed. I had done it!

How did I get to that point? With hindsight, I see that it was a circuitous route, but what does hindsight mean when you’re living in it?

I was a painter. How antique and esoteric, right?

Nevermind how I got there, but I was in love with art and I was good at it. I got a Bachelor’s of Fine Art in Painting. Painting! Can you believe that? My school specialized in classical art making: painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking…all with devoted adherence to humanistic form and technical perfection. I also did some photography, and oh did I love self-portraiture…

 

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But I did more than that…

 

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Art was fun and wonderful…then I moved to New York. I went to grad school there because everyone said I had to (and I admit, I was curious), and I ended up with a studio overlooking Union Square. How lucky was that? Well…

New York was tough. Not just because there are a million artists there, trying to make it (whatever that is), and an inundation of art (good art, bad art, everything in between), but because I was required to think too much about making art (how? why? for whom?), and that took most of the joy out of it for me. Grad school wasn’t about learning to make art, since you are expected to already know that much by the time you get there, but about learning how to make it for the right people. Selling it. That made sense, but I found a great schism between why I wanted to make art in the first place, and how I must alter it in order to make curators like me.

Not surprisingly, I wasn’t very commercially successful in New York. But, I think I made some pretty good work there, that I’m still proud of. Plenty of angst helped out…

 

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And I was able to use Parson’s extensive printmaking labs to learn some more in my extra time. Etchings, screen prints.

 

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Not long after graduating, I was back in Florida, feeling very disillusioned. Still making art, and still not making much money doing so (or even trying to, it seems). Then, two major events happened for me.

First, I had a child and began reading a copious amount of picture books and interactive eBooks for children. If you haven’t delved into this genre, I encourage anyone with a love for eye candy. Some is good, some isn’t, but when you happen upon the marvelous specimens, it can take your breath away. And as a parent, what a golden opportunity to spread around some of your own personal and deeply held parenting beliefs. Suddenly, making art meant something to me again, and I began illustrating a children’s picture book of my own, called “Liam Learns.”

 

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Second, I got a Kindle! The first Kindle that I owned would display beautiful monochromatic etchings and drawings in sleep mode, mostly classic illustrations of famous authors or clips of illustrated works like “The Book of Kells” or cathedral blueprints. I was impressed with the clarity of the imagery and excited about the idea to bring illustration back into the hands of the everyday reader.

I decided to try my hand at illustrating an eBook by choosing a work from the public domain. My first published literary work was an illustrated edition of “The Song of Solomon.”

 

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Shortly after completing that project, I decided I wanted to try writing my own material. I had been in a bad car accident in between my undergrad and graduate school degrees, which had left me with permanent physical injuries and lasting emotional baggage. I thought that writing about the experience would help in the healing process, and so I began a short memoir. The exercise not only helped my state of mind over the tragedy, but was the catalyst for my own reinvention as a new kind of artist.

I remember clearly sitting with my husband, discussing my writing, after he told me that (in a nutshell) I made pretty good art, but my writing was ten times better than my art. When I expressed alarm at giving up a career path that I had clung to for so long (it was who I was) and admitted that, though I truly didn’t even enjoy making art any longer, I felt I had to. I had already decided to be an artist.

“Does writing make you happy?” he asked.

“Yes,” was the easy answer. I hadn’t known so much joy in painting in years.

“”Well, why don’t you decide to be a writer now?”

So, that’s what I did. I put everything I had into writing my first novel, “The Tramp,” and I loved every second of it. I learned to write while I was writing, I read book after book (even some books on writing), and I started going to writer’s club events. I found I really liked writers, too. And I was finally able to put some of my painting skills to use again, in the working cover.

 

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Towards the completion of “The Tramp,” I met with an old friend that I had known since Elementary School, and we had a conversation that brought things full circle for me. When I sheepishly admitted to being in the midst of writing a novel, joking that I knew how random that must seem after all my years being devoted to visual art, she shook her head vehemently and looked confused. She had known me since I was a child and remembered my penchant for storytelling as a part of who I was at heart, and my writing a book seemed a natural step to her. In that moment, I was reminded of my roots and experienced a sort of epiphany. Was the reason art making always seemed to fall short for me that I had actually been trying to tell stories, all along?

Taking a hard look at some of my work, it suddenly seemed obvious. For example, consider my Icons series below, in which I wrote words, overlapping and intermingling until my handwriting became illegible. Then I painted intricate patterns within the jumble, finally fixing an explanatory icon on top. I was accused of being cagey; just say it! I still don’t know why I couldn’t.

 

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Perhaps I was simply using the wrong medium. An early indication came in grad school, when my professor read part of my dissertation during one of my critiques. He picked out a particular passage to help me better explain my paintings, since I was tongue-tied as usual:

 

“Possibly, my comfort with a dissolution of the boundaries between high-brow and low-brow art stems from my first experiences with art; trips to Europe with my family that always spotlighted architectural marvels, extravagant cathedrals, spooky abbeys and castles, and famed, hushed art museums. In misty courtyards, our feet slipped on moldy cobblestones that dotted shockingly green, soggy grass with gnarled skeletons of wheezing stone soaring overhead. We listened to the echoing halls of Parliament in London, while we sat in a shadowy alcove and made crayon rubbings of medieval brass tablets; the stubby cartoon men wore archaic armor and dour expressions, drowned in carved vines and symbols and letters and shields. Incense mingled with morose Latin chanting and theatrical organs in cavernous cathedrals: a thick soup of air that flowed between proud marble effigies, crusty icons with desperate faces and golden haloes, unbelievably elaborate altarpieces and twisting cupolas made of every shade of marble. I did not experience these as relics separate from the time and place in which I found them, and my memories of the art of European cities blend with memories of the people, like an uncomfortably familiar breakfast at a tiny B&B across from a German matron wolfing down sausages, or our rental car bumping down a dirt road in Scotland in search of what locals told us along the way was “Cherry Footen Castle” (Sheriff Hutton Castle), recorded by my grandma in her diary with tears of laughter.

 

“Sarah, is this what your artwork is about?” he asked.

“Well, yes,” I shrugged to his knowing expression.

Storytelling is my artwork. Writing is my passion and painting will always be part of it. I’m not sure where the journey will take me next, but I know I won’t look back.