There continue to be a lot of curve balls this year. A couple weeks ago we learned that my guinea pig Ivy had an abdominal mass, and we ended up needing to do an emergency spay. This is normally pretty routine with dogs and cats, but for small pets it's extremely risky and depending on what they find for emergency spays, they may not recover. As we saw with Archie last year.
Thankfully, she came out of surgery and bounced back quickly! It felt like the best news we've had all year (although I would've taken her not having a tumor in the first place too). She's a small creature, but she's tough. She even had babies when she was only 6 months old, before she was abandoned with them in a box outside. She's a trooper!
Meanwhile, since starting my new medications, I've been having trouble with my eyes. My right eye gets bloodshot almost every day and I regularly have tension headaches and light sensitivity, so much that I can't even look at a TV from across the room without wearing sunglasses. I've never really gotten headaches in my life, so the sudden onset seems to indicate that it's a side effect. There was one day where it was so bloodshot at night that I couldn’t fall asleep for hours. Eye drops didn’t help, and eye mask didn’t help, and I just kept thinking about how I could feel my swollen eyeball under my eyelids whenever I closed my eyes. I ended up taking a sick day because I got so little sleep and the idea of staring at a screen seemed awful. Later in the afternoon I tried drawing with an eye patch, but that really takes the wind out of my sails. Depth perception is way trickier with one eye, as you might imagine.
I spoke with my rheumatologist who recommended I make an urgent appointment with a rheumatology specializing ophthalmologist, but the appointment isn't until a month from now. He said that if that happens, I should just go to the Mass Eye & Ear ER and have an ophthalmologist look at my eyes day-of. There are many causes of a bloodshot eye and it's not worth taking any risks just because of scheduling. So yesterday my eye was again acting up and we made the trek downtown in the car. I was there for four hours and had a complete eye exam, which I've never had in my life. They asked when my last eye exam was and I said, "Uhm... never? I have 20/20 vision..." Really I had a few eye exams as a kid while on the same meds (which can cause longterm vision damage so they regularly monitor to stay ahead of it), but I think they were just basic look-in-the-machine exams. I was only 5 at the time though so I really don't remember.
During intake, they asked if I have had any falls, which reminded me to address that I have vasovagal syncope and it can show up for random reasons. Typical causes like blood tests and low blood sugar, but also more curious causes, like crowds, cold temperatures, smoke, hot temperatures, reading something grotesque, and not being able to sit down. They asked if it's triggered by people touching my eye and I said that I guess I wouldn't know until I tried it.
You can guess what happened next. The doctor gave me eye numbing drops to do a pressure test, and the instant I felt my eyes go numb and heard her say, "Now I'm just going to gently press on your eye", I started getting tunnel vision. After the 30 seconds that the test lasted, I told her I was starting to feel vasovagal and she reclined my chair, and a nurse and attending came in with cold wet towels to put on my forehead and neck. My blood pressure dropped down to 80/50 and they had to get me to actively breathe in and out because my heart rate was so low. I think I lost consciousness for a few seconds and came to while the attending shined a light in my eyes and asked if I knew where I was and if I could state my birthday. It took me about 10 minutes to feel better and they gave me some cold cranberry juice in the meantime. Certainly nothing that I haven’t experienced before, but always a little traumatizing.
Of course it wasn't over though. After that, I still had the majority of the full eye exam to go, so next had dilating drops. Again, this is all stuff I've never experienced before and without any eye problems in the past, getting drops feels really foreign, not to mention the added sensation of the specific drops in question. I started getting tunnel vision again, but luckily, after a brief machine exam, they needed to let me sit for a half hour while the drops went into effect, so I just sat in the dark room, reclined again, and tried to rest.
The rest of the exam went fine, and it was really interesting to see the different tools used to look into the back of the eye and examine the nerves and fundus. It was so peculiar seeing a bizarre but crystal clear refracted image of the fundus; I thought I was seeing things when I realized I was seeing my own eye blood vessels! This is all very novel to me but I'm sure everyone else has experienced this multiple times. Not being able to see from my face to 5 feet in front of me was troubling though; I figured out how to do talk-to-text to let Chris know when I was done.
The results were encouraging; my eyes are structurally perfect, vision still 20/20 so headaches aren't a sign of needing glasses. Though the next step may be neurological diagnostics, perhaps including an MRI. I've had a couple at age 5 and age 12, because the disease originally changed the shape of my skull. The attending explained that when headaches and eye problems are not caused by the eye itself, the eye is attached to the brain so that's the next place to look. And while that might be a big jump in general (ie could it just be dry eye or side effects?), given my type of scleroderma, it's better to make that jump early and rule anything serious out. Which I appreciate.
On the brighter side, Chris is slowly feeling better. He still gets bouts of chest tightness and shortness of breath, but since it's now been going on for 3 months, he feels he has identified a trend that it comes every couple weeks or so, but the severity decreases each time. He's working on building his strength with chest exercises and hopes to start going back to work once a week in August.
As for art-related topics, which I haven't posted about in ages, I've officially completed 12 pages of the chapter. I had hoped to complete the first 18 pages by August (since the first 18 in this chapter are the most tedious, at 16 panels/page), but I hadn't accounted for all of the recent crises so I'd say I'm doing alright considering. I was going at a pace of a page a week, but now it's a page every 2 or 3.
Above are two panels that I like a lot; the first taking place at night so a lot more shading. You'll see that the first shot is violet instead of blue-violet. This is because caran d'ache doesn't make the exact shade of blue violet that I was looking for, so each time I have one of these darker panels, I draw in violet first, and then go over with Prussian blue (one of my favorite pigments in oils!) I really like the split complementary color palette of goldenrod, green, and blue-violet, and violet just looked too juicy for the subdued tone I'm looking for.
I made a time lapse of a few recent panels on Saturday. I think I was subconsciously remembering techniques from my ninth grade drawing class. I don't remember doing tracing in that class, but do recall using graphite paper (kind of like carbon paper) at some point in that class so we must have. I think we may have used similar techniques in my sophomore printmaking class in college too, when doing etchings? For this, I traced a setting I needed to draw two more times by using a tracing paper, and then made my own graphite paper by shading the back with a 2B graphite pencil. It worked really well! Hard to see on camera but just enough to go right over it with colored pencil and not need to go back with an eraser that much. Before this, whenever I had a repeat background I was using a ridiculous system of measuring and transferring and it simply wasn't going to be scalable. Maybe I'll invest in some actual graphite sheets next.
It has been such a wonderful week at my parents' house. As you can see from all the photos below, the main attraction was my niece and goddaughter, who is the sweetest baby ever. She's always so happy and only cries when she is uncomfortable and needs to change positions, take a nap, or eat.
I arrived last Friday afternoon after a rainy, misty drive, and Juliette arrived with my brother and sister-in-law the following evening. JJ had some dinner, took some time to bang a wooden spoon on the table (provided by grandma), and then prepared for her nightly routine. This included a bath in the kitchen sink, pajamas and a fresh diaper, and bed. They have this big suit they put her in that makes her look like a marshmallow, but it prevents her from rolling in her sleep so she stays on her back.
The next day we mostly hung out with the baby and I (clearly) took as many photos as possible. I also took quite a few videos, particularly of her testing out a a goofy blubbery noise with her lips that was quite amusing. At one point we went back and forth making the sound and I was laughing so hard I could barely make the sound back.
On Christmas Eve, mom handled the cooking, and Juliette was passed around from lap to lap. My parents call this a "pass-around pack". We did a couple of small photo shoots, including one with the guinea pigs to compare to a similar pose of my brother with my parents' guinea pigs Jemima and Manfred. We took another of Juliette in my dad's old cap from when he was a baby, and another with a HESS truck (my brother was fond of those as a kid).
We opened Juliette's presents on Christmas Eve afternoon, before dinner, and at that point she was a little tuckered out and had just woken up from a nap. Then we had a traditional Ukrainian dinner of fish, pierogies, and mushroom soup while Juliette sat patiently on Andy's lap. From there, it was time for the Christmas Eve service at church; she got a kick out of the carols, and eventually fell right asleep, even as candles were passed around for the final hymns. My dad's congregation got a big kick out of her and it sounded like they had heard a lot about her and seen photos over the last six months.
On Christmas morning, the baby and family needed to head out to Buffalo where my sister-in-law's family lives, so we had a quick breakfast of French Toast Casserole (prepared to perfection by grandma), and then we packed up the car, the baby, and the dogs, and they were on their way. My parents and I stayed behind and exchanged the remaining gifts.
Since Christmas, I've been very sleepy and have been doing a lot of napping. It may not have been the most productive week of my life in terms of art, and I had been pinning a lot of high expectations to this week in terms of progress on my comic, but I think given that it was Christmas and I'm so rarely near my family, I made an exception and softened the pressure I was putting on myself. Next week it will be back to work again, but at least it will only be a three-day week.
This afternoon the Buffalo crowd swung through once more to pick up some remaining items and break up the trip back down to Long Island. Luckily, we'll be seeing everyone again in February for Juliette's baptism, so it wasn't as hard to say goodbye as it was the week she was born, or the weekend we babysat and weren't sure the next time we would see her. I'm just amazed by how quickly she is growing! Would it be selfish to extend a "free babysitter" offer every other month so I can spend some quality time with her?
Anyway, vacation is quickly coming to a close. Tomorrow we're going out to Friendly's for breakfast, then I'll make the drive to Boston. We are having a New Years Eve Eve party to celebrate our roommate Hardik who is moving to San Francisco in a couple weeks. But it will be nice to have a mellow New Years Eve and New Years Day to settle back into the groove. Happy 2019!
Check out this adorable Christmas gift from my sister-in-law and Juliette! A Christmas tree finger painted by Juliette and embellished by mom. Plus these post-crafting photos. It sounds like she enjoyed the painting, but not mom preventing her from putting her hands in her mouth, or being dirty afterward. I sense an artist in the making!
Deidre and Sam's wedding was on Sunday, out in Western Mass on a beautiful farm. On Sunday morning, I drove an hour north and met up with Chris, who was getting ready to take photos with the other groomsmen. We chatted and determined that the wedding party would be hungry after the reception and the party would likely continue in one of the farm houses on the grounds, so we ordered 20 pizzas from Domino's and stuck them in various fridges for later. I think the people at Domino's thought I was a bit crazy when I carried them all out to the car.
The wedding was beautiful. The centerpiece of the grounds is a giant old tree out on the far end of a field, which made the walk of the wedding party and eventually Deidre very summery. Sam's grandfather officiated the wedding, and got a lot of laughs when he combined their named by accident and made it a catchphrase.
Cocktail our took place in a covered area with lots of cheese, charcuterie plates, hors d'oevres, and drinks, then we headed into the barn for the reception. The highlight was definitely their first dance, to a touchingly peaceful acoustic version of Andrew Bird's "Night Sky" (5:15 in the video below). There were also a couple of lovely/joke-packed speeches by Deidre's sister and Sam's best friend.
It has been such a pleasure to be part of all of these weddings the last couple of weeks and to see how uniquely each couple has chosen to celebrate. Excited for the next one, in October, for Nick and Rachel!
I spent the holidays in my childhood home. While my mom was baking and my dad was weighing down paper bags with kitty litter to use as luminaries in the evening, the snow started up. Seeing the storm outside our front door reminded me of all the times we spent out in the front yard after a blizzard, building snow forts and snow thrones and snowmen. It's always nice to be home this time of year.
The kick off was a huge success! We had tons of people come through to tour the artwork in the space, meet the artists, and hang out. We also went through several giant platters of sushi and trays of macarons within the first hour.
Tuesday's Open Open Mic Night was amazing (as usual) and the Story Slam on Wednesday was full of all kinds of tales revolving around the theme of "risk". On Thursday, I did some demos of how to make paint from raw materials and chatted with some very interesting folks about painting approaches at the Venture Cafe: Creative Industries Night. The following evening, we all teamed up to give tours of the artwork at 50 Milk Street during the launch of the Fab Cafe on the ground floor. Overall, it was a fantastic week! Now, time for sleep.
Congrats to everyone who collaborated on Art Week! Can't wait for next year!
I remixed some of my older paints today and made a short video of the process. Because I only use a tiny dollop of each color every day, I make just enough paint to fill canisters that are about the diameter of a quarter. There's no need to make more than I'll use in a couple month's time, and that way I continually make myself freshly mixed batches of color.
I find that with certain colors it's better to add a little extra linseed oil or the paint develops a crust after a few weeks, rendering it unusable and a waste. The extra oil just means that I need to stir the paint every so often to prevent it from settling and congealing. The texture is like commercial oil paint diluted with linseed oil to make it creamier and less pasty.
Every color mixes differently. Titanium white pigment sinks into the oil almost immediately, so it is very easy to overdo it and make it too milky. It can still be usable like this, but it's a slippery slope. Colors that you've mixed with a highly diluted white may seem the right hue when you apply the paint, but it can dry much darker and you may waste time having to go back and fine tune the luminosity. On the other hand, yellow ochre takes longer to absorb the oil, so you have to be patient and allow the pigment to catch up while mixing. You can see that I added oil to the white only a few times and quite sparingly, while with the yellow I added it incrementally and over a longer period of time. The white ends up being light and whippable, while only toward the end does the yellow reveal all the oil I've added, shifting to a heavy, soupy consistency.
Although I can control the outcome to an extent, the consistencies are largely inherent in each pigment's properties. So for instance, cadmium red tends to be very easy to mix and turns out almost the consistency of soft butter. Ultramarine blue is the opposite. It is definitely the hardest to mix and the most difficult to keep. The pigment tends to dissolve and float in the oil almost instantly, but as soon as it goes in the canister it separates and hardens at the bottom like a cake of cement. It requires a lot of upkeep and constant remixing, though luckily it is very potent and it doesn't take much to do the job when mixing with other colors.
Here's the shorter version with white.
A little more painting nerd talk, for the last two years I've been using pigments from Sinopia Pigments, a company based out of San Francisco. They have a great selection of high quality pigments and binders. I invested roughly $100 in my current palette of 13 colors and cold-pressed linseed oil from Sinopia back in 2011, and I've only recently run out of yellow ochre and white. Using pigments is a very cost effective way to be a painter because you typically get more colors to choose from, the pigments are pure and higher quality, and you can hold onto a jar or bag for years at a time. You can also make watercolor with the same pigments and gum arabic diluted in water. Even egg tempera, wax, or acrylic paint if that's your bag. Of course, my paintings are pretty small, so I can get by on a 75g jar ($20.00) of cadmium red medium for years, whereas larger-scale painters might need a 500g bag ($85.00) for it to last as long. Cadmium red is my priciest color though, so don't let that scare you. A 75g jar of yellow ochre can start as low as $8.00 and 500g at $17.00.
I'd look into Kremer Pigments as well, which is based out of New York City (and was featured in the Radiolab about color!) I once ordered some Cellulose glue and Damar gum from them and received both only a couple days later. Their prices run about the same as Sinopia, and because they are on my side of the country, I can probably expect them to arrive a little sooner than Sinopia if I'm in a pinch. I did cave and pick up a cheap jar of titanium white at Utrecht recently, though I wouldn't recommend Utrecht for all your pigments. The stores don't generally carry any pigments beyond your basic rainbow.
Anyway, the above paint will be going on the below painting. The foreground is very wintery but the background will be springy. Stay tuned.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Mansfield, MA.