Owl-Eyed Athena

I finished my portrait of Penny Nickels.

It took a long time.  I had a mostly finished portrait for a while, but I just wasn’t happy with it.  I couldn’t get the phrase Owl-Eyed Athena out of my head when I was working on it.  Since so much of Penny’s work is about mythology, I thought of her as a warrior/genius with big, creepy, owly eyes. 

I’m confused about this portrait.  I hate it because I’m shaking with self doubt all day every day lately.  I feel like a fraud artistically.  I also love this.  Honestly I think this is the most beautiful portrait I’ve ever made. 

Whatever.  It is what it is.  Now I need to make peace with my life and art and move on.

Submersed in the culture.

The best way to learn a foreign language is to be submersed in the culture.  You need to order your breakfast, ask where the toilets are, and pay for movie tickets in the native tongue.  Medicine is the same thing.  You can’t dip a toe.  You have to dive in.

closeup

If you’ve never been to nursing school, it’s nothing like college.  This is hard.  You study (yes, even the really smart people who never have to study have to study) like a maniac, then get up at 5 in the morning for rounds.  You take care of actual live human beings and try really hard not to fuck up and hurt them.  You work until you want to cry some days.  You run every time there is a bedpan to empty or a bed to change because you have to prove yourself.  You have to want to succeed and you have to prove it to your instructors and the hospital nursing staff.  You clean up puke without gagging, you do procedures that hurt the patient and you don’t cry.  You suck it up and keep going.  Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.  Then I remember that drama isn’t going to help me, so I get out my books. 

This piece is called “Waiting Room.”  It is hand embroidery with cotton and linen floss on a scrub smock from the Army hospital where I was born.  This shirt used to be a deep burgundy, but it has seen countless surgeries, lives and death.  This shirt has seen blood and vomit and tears.  It’s been washed too many times to count.  Now I see the blood and the scrubbing and I watch to see how it will change my colors. 

I’m just plain grateful to be a part of medicine.

5 foot 2, eyes of molded plastic

I’ve been a little busy.  I’m in clinicals 3 days a week and working my butt off studying for two tests a week.  I mean I’ve literally been working my butt off.  I’ve lost 48 pounds.  I average over 10,000 steps per shift at the hospital.  My pedometer doesn’t measure moving patients, making beds, and generally shaking in my boots as I try new skills on actual human beings.  Then I come home and run (okay I jog) a few miles. 

I’ve managed to finish these two pieces.  I’ve always wanted to do portraits of Pez Dispensers.  They have a personality all their own.  I was playing with the concept of hero worship when I decided to use repuposed USAF uniforms as backgrounds.  They turned out okay!  I really can’t believe that I found the time to finish them.  They are headed for a show in Chicago this November.  I’ll post more details when I get them. 

In other news, I found out that I have Addison’s Disease.  I’ve probably had it for over 15 years as my body slowly attacked my adrenal glands.  It’s rare and incurable, but very managable.  My body quit making cortisol, the “stress hormone.”  You can’t live without it.    The symptoms are:  fatigue, weakness, dizziness, hyperpigmentation (my armpits turned coppery brown), low blood pressure, hypoglycemia and…depression.  I was weak and sick and exhausted.  Now that I’m taking steroids to replace what my body wasn’t making, I feel so much better.  The medication makes me hungry, but I am exercising so hard that it doesn’t matter.  I’ve also started taking some thyroid hormone.  I’m finally on a level playing field and it’s amazing what I can get done in a day with a functioning endocrine system. 

Life is good.  I wasn’t lazy and dwelling on my depression.  I was really fucking tired.

That said, I had issues.  I still have issues.  I can’t just give up on exploring my emotions because I found a physical reason for my overwhelming fatigue.  I know that a lot of you still have depression that won’t have a “quick fix.”  (It only took 15 years!)  For years and years doctors treated me like my exhaustion was my fault for not going to counseling enough, exercising enough, for eating too much sugar, because I didn’t drink enough water, because I didn’t forgive people fully, because I lived in the past, for feeling sorry for myself, for being too negative, for not wanting to get better, because I’m such a hypochondriac, etc.

I don’t think that anybody should suffer for years because medical staff act like the illness is the patient’s fault.  I was tired of hearing how my fatigue was due to my noncompliance and piss-poor attitude.  I follow doctors’ orders.  I blamed myself.  I struggled.  I sincerely hope that you don’t put up with it, whether your problem is physical or emotional.  Nobody deserves to suffer.  Keep trying.

Giggly Mama

Free form

Shannon has long been a friend of this blog.  I’ve written about her before, but she deserves a little more praise than I’ve been giving her.  Shannon is an amazing person.  She kind and smart and creative.  She’s sweet and it’s not saccharine.  She’s just plain adorable.  I’m really lucky to have her as a friend.

Free- form embroidery for Mama Sass

Art therapy doesn’t have to be literal, though that’s how I do it.  When Shannon feels bad, she makes these abstract designs to self-soothe and release.  You don’t have to use special images.  This isn’t voodoo.  The act of moving one’s hands to create something is an act of beauty and self-care.

Swirly Whirly

She has tons of other exciting things to look at on her blog.  She has fabulous portraits of cult classic heroes, art deco pieces, 70’s funky owls and birds, etc.  You can see them all together on her Flickr stream.  Stop by and say something nice to her.  She deserves it.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Here is my self portrait. Some yarns are hand spun and dyed. The rest are commercial crewel wool. It also contains hand spun buffalo down in the hair. (I collected it from tree trunks while camping in Montana, Wyoming, and Utah.) The bottom half is covered in English paper pieced hexagons of repurposed ABU pixelated camo. They were scraps from my husband’s USAF uniforms. (The insides of pockets are sometimes cut out and sewn flat to give a neater, more professional appearance.) This measures 11″ by 14″.

The juror in a local fiber show gave me a stinging comment about my bad design. I know the formula for a perfect composition. I’m pretty sure that most high school freshman art students know it, too.   Edit:  My point is that I choose not to follow rules and formulas.  I make what I want to make. 

I hope that you can see a sharp disconnect between the head and the “body.” That disconnect represents the friction of being a military spouse. The heart and the head aren’t together. The head must soldier on in real life while the heart must stay flat. I hope this is making sense.

Soldier on, friends.

Kate E. Burke

White Button Embroidery Pendant
Double Layer Embroidery Pendant

I found Kate E. Burke on Flickr a while ago.  I admire her embroidery skills and the wonderful textures in her work.  She is the owner and curator of  The Honeytree Gallery in KC, MO.  I grabbed a little blurb from her webpage about her themes and motivation:

Kate E. Burke is a textile and graphic artist that explores themes of juxtaposition: the private with the public, individual with community, internal against the external. She captures fleeting emotions and thoughts into permanent reflections of daily life using drawing, watercolor, beads, sequins, fabric and embroidery.
Racing Mind

I love her aesthetic.  Some of her work reminds me of my 1980s childhood.  I’m not sure why, but I get that achy longing feeling.  The narrative of her embroidery is very adult, though–stress, racing thoughts, the unending “game” of grownup life.
Racing Mind Detail
Pressures

This is one of my favorites.  I love the texture of the sequins and tears.   I hope you go look at Kate’s stuff.  You’ve got to see the larger photos to appreciate it.

Anybody want to see my impression of Richard Saja?

If you aren’t familiar with Richard Saja, he is a fine artist who often works with textiles and embroidery.  He is often known for his altered toile scenes–French livery with mohawks and punk clothing, pastoral barns on fire, etc.  He’s actually quite a bit more interesting than that, so I recommend that you visit his blog and search the internet articles about him.

This bit of embroidery is a Father’s Day gift for my dad.  We don’t always see eye to eye, but that’s only because we are equally stubborn.  We have the same birthday, the same crappy skin, the same sense of humor, and the same horrible neck problems.  I decided to sew a neck pillow for him because I know how helpful mine is.  I hope he likes it. 

The fabric came from Hobby Lobby.  It’s nothing big, but the man is getting an Alexandra Walters embroidery piece for the low, low price of being my dad for 36 years. 

Before you start thinking that I’m a good daughter, let me tell you that I still haven’t mailed it.  I’ve been very sick for a few weeks and just found out that my thyroid quit working.  My doctor can’t see me to prescribe anything until after July 13, so I am functioning of 12-14 hours of sleep a day.  I manage to get nothing done except feed the kids and keep the house from becoming a health hazard.

Sandra E. Finan

This lovely lady was my husband’s commander the day we got married.  I met her that morning at an orientation for new military spouses and liked her quite a bit.  She’s loud and had a huge presence.  She’s a part of my history now, not just David’s.  She’s like a great Aunt I barely remember.  She’s a part of my extended family.

I added a tiny bit of khamak embroidery to her uniform.  This type of embroidery originates in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  I was struck by how much their embroidery style reminds me of quilting blocks.  I added it, not to insult Ms. Finan, but to better understand the women of Afghanistan.  I want to know the women of the Middle East, who are as powerless to stop the war of their husbands as I am to stop the war of mine.   This touch of embroidery put Sandra Finan in context.   She was responsible for many troops during this war.  She ran the missile fields in Montana, Wyoming, and California.  I’m not attaching blame or glory.  I’m just saying…

I made a new Kindle cozy.  I use my Kindle for a medical dictionary quite a lot.  My old cozy had a pocket that covered the buttons.  The new cover keeps all of the buttons handy and doesn’t need to be taken off to charge the reader.  Plus it was a good excuse to use an old embroidery of mine, circa 2008.  I lined it with 2 layers of Timtex to make it sturdy. 

I really love my Kindle.  I know that you can get apps for other devices to read Kindle books, but it isn’t the same.  Kindle feels like a book, doesn’t hurt my eyes, it’s light to carry, I could go on for days.  I love this little thing.

Mini 'Zac

 I’m also making a mini Prozac.  My large work sold last year and I want a little mini buddy for myself.  I bought a kit to make a miniature pin cushion and promptly threw away the floral pattern suggested by the manufacturer.

Watercolor Eye Embroidery by Corrine B

wip: eye embroidery, originally uploaded by Corrine B..

I started a new Flickr Pool for artists who would like to be considered for writeup on my blog.
Please don’t be shy. Feel free to join the pool. Feel free to add me as a Facebook friend. I’m not a snob. Really.

One of the first contributions is this eye from artist Corrine B, a WIP titled Leadbelly. It’s based on a watercolor sketch from when her son was shot in the eye with a bb gun. See the post here.  I love the dreamy, washy look of this piece. There is a lot of emotion. She really has the look of tears and watercolor come through in an amazing way. 

Believe me, achieving a painterly look with embroidery isn’t easy. Go check out her Flickr Stream here.

By the way…I still hate my current WIP and I’m going to abandon it for now. I don’t feel like I’m losing or giving up. I feel like I’m free to walk away from situations I can’t win. It feels good.

Mission Accomplished

I’m done with Norman.  I really like how he turned out.  I’ve been worried lately that I’m all technique and no substance.  Doing a bunch of portraits doesn’t exactly help. 

I’m especially proud of how thick and tactile my stitches are.  They actually cast little shadows.  The reason I don’t use glass in my frames is that I’m inviting people to touch my work. 

I used woven stitch on his clothing.  It was fun.  I know it’s very literal, but I think it identifies my work as stitched rather than painted. 

I think the portraits say a lot more as a group than they do alone.  Thanks for sharing this experience with me.

Waiting for Norman to Dry



Bathtime, originally uploaded by alexcateye.

The entire time I’ve been working on these military portraits, I’ve had the lyrics to “Uncle Alvarez” stuck in my head. You can buy the album here: http://www.amazon.com/Uncle-Alvarez-Explicit/dp/B000TEC0LO

Uncle Alvarez
Liz Phair from whitechocolatespaceegg 1998

There’s a portrait of Uncle Alvarez
Hangin’ in the hall
Nobody wants to look at it
But Uncle Alvarez sees us all

Oh, oh, oh, imaginary accomplishments
Hey, hey, hey, you visionary guy
You might even shake the hands of Presidents
Better send a postcard and keep the family quiet

He’s not really a part Cherokee Indian
He didn’t fight in the Civil War
He’s just Eugene Isaac Alvarez
We feel sorry for the wall

Oh, oh, oh, imaginary accomplishments
Hey, hey, hey, you visionary guy
You might even shake the hands of Presidents
You’re gonna make ’em sorry when you die

And it’s a long way down
You’re hoping for a heart attack
Runnin’ around
Investing in this and that
And your beautiful wife keeps your life on a shelf for you
Safe in the bedroom
Where there’s no dust or mildew
And it’s hard to believe you were once a beautiful dancer

Better just to shake it off
As you write your resume
Don’t think of Uncle Alvarez
And the price he had to pay

Oh, oh, oh, imaginary accomplishments
Hey, hey, hey, you visionary guy
You might even shake the hands of Presidents
You’re gonna make ’em sorry when you die

Oh, oh, oh, imaginary accomplishments
Hey, hey, hey, you visionary guy
You might even shake the hands of Presidents
Better send some money to the alma mater

I went shopping for openbacked frames today and I can’t wait to take a picture of all three gentlemen together. I’m just waiting for Norman to dry.

Stormin Norman 50%



Stormin Norman 50%, originally uploaded by alexcateye.

He still needs clothes, but I have the likeness I wanted. I’m not going for realism. I want my stitchy interpretation.

I’ve been trying to bring more evidence of my medium to my work. I know that a lot of people think I’m showing paintings when they see thumbnails. While stitching the clothing for this portrait, I’ll be doing more of the fancy schmancy needle tricks that set embroidery apart from other art forms. I’m really excited about this.

Anybody have a favorite fill stitch you’d like to share? Please tell me about it in the comments.

Another One

Stormin' Norman

I hate this part.  I hate looking at what I’ve made and feeling like a failure.  I hate feeling like I’ve made a mess that I should hide from everyone.  I hate looking at that brown clump on the right side and wondering if David is right, that it looks wrong, that it’s too much brown, that it won’t look right, that it won’t look like a face.

When I was in grade school, I was the type of kid who tried so very hard to get things right, that I’d tear up my paper for the slightest error.   I watch my 7-year-old daughter struggle with pencil and paper the way I did at her age.  I could never make the pretty cursive that pretty girls made, so I didn’t want to try at all.   The leap from child to artist means that I have to live with uncertainty and imperfection–hoping for something more meaningful in the end.

My hand makes imperfect letters and imperfect stitches.  But I know my handwriting from anyone else’s and I love it–just like I love the exact color of my eyes–because it’s mine.  My artwork is marked with my hands, too.  It’s as personal to me as my fingerprints.  My heavy, clumsy hands have been all over it and it’s mine.   It means so much to me, it’s so beautiful, because it’s mine.  A thousand stitchers with a thousand embroidery kits couldn’t make what I made because it’s mine.  It comes from my very personal hands. 

It’s an Alexandra Walters.  I will work on it doggedly.  I will fuss and worry.  I will stare and regret and worry more.  When it is done, it will be fine.  It will be mine and it will be beautiful.

AK47

Mikhail Kalashnikov invented the AK47.   His butterfly wings flapped on the other side of the planet and the ripples affected my life.  (And yours.)

There are so many men in uniforms around the world who have influenced my life.   I’m really enjoying embroidering these military portraits.  I’m doing Norman Schwarzkopf next, followed by my friend Josh.

I’ve had some questions about what the military means to me and why it’s such an influence in my art.  My best answer is on the DonkeyWolf Blog.  Penny interviewed me last week.  Another answer is that so much of my life is left in the hands of patriarchs that I’ll never meet.  They decide where I live, when I see my husband, which doctor I see, how many bedrooms I can have in my home, when to cut the grass, etc.  A lot of people don’t realize how much of a life commitment it is to be a military spouse.  When was the last time you were locked down in the local grocery store?  Have you ever had to show ID to get on the road to your house?  It’s a huge part of my life and I didn’t directly sign up for it.  It’s still a strange concept to me.