Being Creative


I’ve wanted to create my own artwork for RheumaBlog’s banner for a long time, now, but I just couldn’t seem to translate the vision in my mind to an image on paper.

So I used Wassily Kandinsky’s version of St. George and the Dragon for the banner instead. I adore this painting. I love its rawness, its blazing primitiveness, its perfect flow and constant movement. I love the artist’s magnificent use of contrasting and complimentary colors; combined, they pop the image right off the canvas and bring it alive. I love the dapple-gray warhorse and most especially I love the wry, knowing grin on the dragon’s face. Did Kandinsky put it there on purpose? I think he did. Everyone fights dragons of many kinds during the course of their lives, but only a very few actually slay them.

The only part of the painting I’ve never much cared for was the sacrificial maiden, set off to the right of the action as if she was an afterthought. In fact, she’s looking away from St. George and the dragon, a dreamy look on her moony face. Silly, overdressed twit.

You may have noticed that while I used Kandinsky’s wonderful art for my RheumaBlog banner, I usually cropped that brainless-looking girl right out. See, the brave knight attacking the dragon is me. And the dragon himself is my rheumatoid disease. In my ongoing battle with him, there’s simply no place for a helpless woman.

Still, as compelling as Kandinsky’s artwork is, I’ve long wished I could create some art of my own to use as RheumaBlog’s banner. And now, finally, I’ve done it! I had to crop it tightly to fit WordPress’s parameters, but I think it still works. The smirking rheuma-dragon is there–and so am I: small, chubby, but fierce and determined.

Here it is, uncropped:

I’d really like to know what you think of it. I realize it’s much less dramatic and more humorous than Kandinsky’s work (and jeez, he was an actual Famous Artist!), but I’ve used humor and whimsy as my armor against this disease from the start. Finally, my own art works best!

I’ve changed the page’s colors to match up with the new banner. I realize that some of you may have difficulty reading the type on a colored background. Please let me know if the pale yellow is a problem and I’ll be glad to change it back to white. I’m just playing around with the design elements right now, tweaking here and there for looks and readability. I want to hear from you so I can make sure it’s accessible for everyone.

I created this artwork with my imagination, my new Surface Pro tablet computer and stylus, and the wonderful illustration and manga program Clip Studio Paint.

And now, it’s late. The rheuma-dragon, that monster, is gnawing that tearing at my fingers, hands, and wrists. So I’m bugging out for the night, achy and weary, my dragon still un-slayed. But you know what? I’m also really happy.


Out of a Table-sized Box …

… comes an art-sized table.

When I started putting my new drawing table together on Saturday, I discovered that it would require screwing in about a thousand screws. My hands just aren’t up to that, unfortunately. So, after a bit of thought, I decided to head to the hardware store to buy myself (hopefully) an inexpensive electric screwdriver.

An hour or so later, I had one. Made by Black & Decker, and only $20! Yay! I headed home, opened the box my new tool was in, and came to yet another dead stop. It had to be charged for at least 16 hours before use. So, shaking my head, I plugged it in and put off building the new table until Sunday. Disappointing, really.

Sunday, mid-morning, arrived. After reading all the directions, it was clear I was going to need some help, even though I had a magic electric screwdriver. Along with screws, there were Alan wrenches involved, and of course, balancing one piece on or next to another other for joining by screws and Alan thingies. So I enlisted Mom. To my surprise, she was happy to help!

And so, two hours later, after much discussion, a little arguing, occasional grunting, much laughter, a few cries of dismay, and finally, an exhausted high-five, we were done. My drawing table was ready to use!

I cleaned up the construction mess, unboxed the task lamp, and attached it to the table. Both are “vintage” styles, and they look great together. Then I laid out my art things and a work-in-progress that I’d had to stop working on when we moved back in September, and as a final touch, put my Laughing Buddha at the top of the table, overlooking everything. Gazing at it made me smile. There were other chores to take care of Sunday, though, so no opportunity to use it all, yet. But Sunday night I went to bed a sore but happy camper.

Today, I had a writing assignment to complete, but tomorrow I’m planning to give the whole day over to art.

My hands are flaring painfully as I write this, and I’ve been alternately icing and heating a flared left shoulder. Still, I’m hoping for a restful night’s sleep tonight, and a mild-pain day tomorrow.

Here’s my already-beloved art-making place:

New Drawing Table

Revisiting an Old Passion

Vintage Drafting TableI took a big step forward this week. For some time now I’ve yearned to start drawing and painting again. The talent I was born with is still with me, but it’s been decades since I’ve created anything beyond the occasional doodle. Since moving to our new apartment back in September of last year, I’ve been slowly collecting art supplies: paper, paints, colored pencils, drawing pens in the hope that I could start exercising my art muscles again, practicing and burnishing old skills, and preparing myself to learn new ones.

But until recently, I’ve had no space to spread these things out where I could work on something off and on as time and my rheuma-hands permit. Creating art does take time, and the creative urge (at least for me) is easily squashed when I’m forced to get all my supplies out and then put them all away again an hour or two later every time I want to work on something. For me, art is a spontaneous undertaking: the muse beckons or time and inclination merge, and I need to get to work. Right then, not later, not after having to set the space up yet again. Not being able to do this was frustrating.

But now, I have a Room Of My Own (ROMO). For the first several months after Mom and I moved, we had to use the big third room in our new apartment to store all of mom’s excess stuff. But that’s all now in storage elsewhere. So, after saving my pennies for a while, and comparing prices all over the place, I finally took the plunge. OnTuesday this week I ordered and paid for a beautiful, vintage-style drawing table, a sturdy, ergonomic adjustable chair, and a good task light.

UPS is delivering them today. To say that I’m excited is an understatement. It’s been too, too many years since I’ve been able to have my art supplies out where I can work on my art whenever I have the time and the urge.

Of course, the rheuma-dragon is being particularly unkind these days. He’s taken to concentrating most of his fury on my wrists, hands, and fingers, and I sort of need those to make art. But I figure I’ll just take it slow. Do what I can, rest, pace myself. Make the whole process more contemplative, and use it as a distraction from pain and frustration.

When my new “studio” is put together, I’ll post a photo.

For me, the decision to buy these artistic tools cements my determination to be visually creative again, something I can add to my writing as a way to express myself and help me cope with life’s stresses and the particular anxieties that having rheumatoid disease causes. I’m  now a step closer to making that happen.

Dreaming …

kandinsky-stgeorge-RheumaBlog“Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?”

–George R.R. Martin

Pain and honey

I went out to lunch with my Mom yesterday. Unsure of what we wanted to eat, we ended up going to old town Folsom (yes, the same one that’s named in the famous “Folsom Prison Blues”). After considering and rejecting an American café-style meal, a heavy European meal, and spicy Mexican food, we decided upon Hop Sing’s Palace and had a delicious Chinese lunch for a price I hadn’t seen since the late 90s. Mom even had a glass of wine.

Afterwards we wandered up and down the raised, Old West-style boardwalks, browsing the gift and antique shops. The day was cloudy and cool, very pleasant. There were quite a few people out and about, which surprised me until I remembered it was Veteran’s Day, and anyone with a government job was off work for the day.

It was really nice – except that I couldn’t figure out a way to carry my handbag without making my hands cry. I ended up hanging it on my forearm (the straps aren’t long enough for my shoulder). It worked, but made me feel awkward and clumsy as I moved up and down the narrow aisles in the tiny shops, trying desperately not to knock anything over.

I was getting tired and cranky and trying not to show it.

It was in the last shop we visited that I saw a small display for a line ofbaklava_close_up hand and body creams made in Idaho. I’m not usually real interested in hand creams – most of them make my hands and fingers feel greasy, which I hate. But my hands, sore as they’ve been, have also been very dry and itchy lately. So I tried one of the samplers.

You know how those singular “moments” can sneak up and just surprise the heck out of you? Well, this was one of those for me. The cream, made with glycerin and an eclectic combination of flowers and herbs, was warm and soothing on my achy hands. As I rubbed it in, massaging them gently, it sank into my skin, so it felt silky and soft, but not greasy at all. For a brief time, the world slowed down as I took care of my hurts and the scent of the hand cream rose into my nostrils. Honey. It smelled like honey. It smelled like warm baklava tastes.

Well, that was it. I bought a tube of the stuff. I’ve rubbed it into my hands three times since yesterday, and each time it felt heavenly, though the sweet scent is a bit more overpowering here at home than it seemed in the shop. That’s all right, though. It beats the scent of Deep Heating Rub!

My hands are swollen and painful again today. I haven’t gone to the gym since last Friday. I can’t face using them to push and pull and brace myself on the exercise machines, though I have done some walking. But man, I’m just feeling flattened – I guess from not sleeping well and from the continuous, unrelenting pain, which is making me worry. I also feel guilty for letting the rheuma get me down and keep me from doing things I know I should do. This is not good.

The new meds my rheumatologist prescribed for pain and insomnia haven’t arrived in my mailbox yet. I hardly dare hope they’ll be there today when I check, but I do have a little more hope for tomorrow. And I’m hoping, too, that this awful, low-level but unrelenting flare will ease off soon. Some days I just don’t have the wherewithal to stay upbeat, hard as I try.

Yeah, I know. Stiff upper lip and all that. Nothing that a good night’s sleep won’t help! (That’s an absolutely truism, that one.) Well, I’m working on it, OK? But for the moment, I’m going to rub honey-glycerin cream into my hands and wallow. I’m sure I’ll feel better tomorrow.

Always do.

Wee beasties

As  you might have guessed, today’s post isn’t specifically about rheumatoid arthritis. It’s about my wee beasties.


"Do you have to point that thing at me?!"

This is Logan. He’s a Queensland healer/border collie mix. He’s a bit over 13 years old now and he’s always been very shy about having his photo taken. He’ll sit still for it, if he must, but he’s very anxious for the whole ordeal to be over. I took this one with my cell phone — it doesn’t even look like a camera, but Logan knew I was about to take his picture anyway.  You know those old stories about how there are some people who refuse to have their photo taken for fear that the camera will somehow steal their soul? Maybe that’s what Logan thinks, too, as I tell him to sit, and stay, and raise my camera. If so, he’s just as brave as he is anxious.

OhPIBLogan and my 14-year-old tuxedo cat, PIB (Puss in Boots) can always rustle a laugh out of me, no matter how tired or achy I am. When my fingers hurt, Logan lets me sink them into his warm fur — it’s so thick, I can lose my fingers in it up to the first knuckle. PIB is my wee shadow. Wherever I am, he’s there, somewhere close. He’s good at soothing aches, too. He’ll drape himself over my sore hip or ankle or knee, if I’m laying down, and let his furry warmth sink into my joints. And as you can see from this photo of him, he’s sort of a ham when it comes to cameras.
Although I did my workout this morning, bright and early, I’m really fatigued and sore today. My beastie buddies are helping me keep things in perspective, however, as they put up with my whims. And I love them for it.
Companion animals are good for us. Their uncomplicated acceptance and affection, their soft fur and warmth, even their purring and nuzzling touch the parts of our brains that have to do with pleasure and comfort, and cause a release of seratonin, a chemical that helps sooth pain, relaxes our tight muscles and puts a smile on our lips. Logan and PIB are a vital part of my life, my wellness.
Do you have pets? Do they help you deal with pain, fatigue and low spirits? I’d love to know. And thanks for stopping by!