I recently started a creative project. I have a room in my house with empty walls, begging for artwork. After thoughtful consideration of a variety of ideas I decided to dedicate the walls of this room to scenic memorable places. I began sorting through photos of all of my favorite trips and places I have visited, making note of my top contenders. Then I decided to take this project one step further with my plan to now paint each of these places. Painting is very cathartic for me and has provided opportunities for expression in a way words cannot always capture. (See how artistic expression has been a part of my ongoing healing journey on my Art page).
This painting took me away to Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. This lake was truly breathtaking with the surrounding mountain peaks and glaciers that serve as a backdrop beyond the beautiful blue/green water. On this trip we took years ago, my husband and I enjoyed a morning boat tour on this lake and then spent the rest of the day hiking nearby. My favorite memories of this day include watching a deer swim beside the boat as we toured the lake. After the boat ride we hiked a trail called Moose Lake Loop with the hope of catching some moose sightings along the way. We didn’t see a single moose and instead renamed that hike Mosquito loop as we were eaten alive the entire way. In spite of the mosquito bites I have wonderfully fond memories of our day at Maligne Lake.
I enjoyed revisiting the memories of this trip to Banff and Jasper National Parks as I worked on this painting as well as my previous painting of Bow Lake. I look forward to being swept away to another memorable trip when I venture into my next painting.
Take a look at this drawing. What do you see? A child reaching and stretching to take a lollipop from a man’s coat pocket. Perhaps this man is the child’s father and her sneaky attempt to swipe the candy can be viewed as innocent or even cute. But what if I told you that the artist of this drawing was a child herself who was in the midst of silently suffering regular sexual abuse by a trusted man in her life. Does that make you view this drawing any differently?
For years I have overlooked this drawing as an insignificant part of my collection of adolescent art. For years I saw it as nothing more than what it depicts at first glance – a child stealing candy from an adult.
In recent years I have focused my attention to the artwork I created in my youth and the messages they can tell me about the injured girl that created them (see my Art page for more information). I have copies of many of those pieces and an old sketchbook as a part of this collection. These are the only possessions I still have from a period in my life I have often wished to forget. Recently this particular drawing caught my attention and after years of casting it aside it now demands more contemplation from me. This drawing that at first glance appears very simple and innocent is now uncovering something much deeper for me.
When I completed this drawing I was in high school in the midst of enduring regular sexual abuse by my trusted coach. His careful grooming followed by ongoing manipulative control kept me both silently compliant and simultaneously responsible for all of the pain and shame that he inflicted upon me. He had a careful way of crafting each encounter to make me feel as though I was making choices when in fact he was merely spinning and tangling me deeper and more fully under his control. It was so confusing for my adolescent brain to make sense of. I believed everything he trained me to believe about him, about others, and even myself. I was so driven to reach my fullest potential, and I looked up to him as the teacher/role model/coach to help me get there that I wasn’t able to see the situation he placed me into in any other way than how he presented it to me. How could I?
The last conversation I had with him when I was finally able to break free from his abusive grip occurred when I was in college. The words he said to me on that phone call I can still deeply feel. “You simply used me to get yourself a college scholarship.” When I hung up my phone that day I felt two distinct feelings. The first was an immense weight off of my shoulders – a sense of relief to finally be free from him. The second feeling was much different from the first and was the exact response I had been conditioned to feel – full of shame and an overwhelming weight of responsibility. This was a glaring sign of the wake of damage he left inside of me. His words sunk deep into the parts of me that believed I was to blame for what he did to me. I carried those words that he laid onto me that day – that I used him – and they became my deeply silent and shameful reminder that I was a dangerous and defective person.
Now as I look at this drawing decades after creating it I question what my child self was expressing. Is this merely an expression of childlike innocence and seizing a moment of candy temptation and opportunity? Or was she perhaps expressing something that was being deeply ingrained in her mind – that she is the dangerous thief – she is taking from an unsuspecting adult. Could this be an expression of shame, guilt, or wrongdoing? The entire drawing was completed in pencil, a grey scale image, with the exception of both the child’s shirt and the lollipop which are both a deep rich red. Does this red represent danger? Does she feel that she is the danger to others, or does she recognize that she is in danger? Perhaps her red shirt comes from a undying and alarming need to be seen – noticed – cared for. What if there is something significant in the matching reds? Perhaps the red candy that perfectly matches her red shirt represents part of her that was taken away. Maybe she is reaching to try to regain that part of herself. Maybe she was expressing a sense of confusion and overwhelm as the child in the drawing is so young and so small compared to the man towering before her. She strains to reach up onto her tip toes just to barely grab hold of this enticing object. Maybe she was expressing how small and defenseless she felt in the face of his dominance, control, and deception.
Perhaps I am overthinking and over analyzing this drawing. Maybe it is in fact nothing more than a mindless sketch of innocence. I don’t know what prompted the wounded girl inside of me to draw this years ago. But I suspect she is telling us more than what we see at first glance.
I recently started a creative project. I have a room in my house with empty walls, begging for artwork. After thoughtful consideration of a variety of ideas, I decided to dedicate the walls of this room to scenic memorable places. I began sorting through photos of all of my favorite trips and places I have visited, making note of my top contenders. Then I decided to take this project one step further with my plan to now paint each of these places.
Painting is very cathartic for me and has provided opportunities for expression in a way words cannot always capture. (See how artistic expression has been a part of my ongoing healing journey on my Art page). This current art project of mine did not intentionally begin as a healing mental health exercise. Instead it came from a simple desire to decorate the walls of this room in my house. Yet after careful reflection it began to evolve into something much more.
My role has changed during this pandemic. My pre-Covid part time coaching job, combined with volunteer work, as well as my ever present and important role as a mom has been dramatically redefined with full time remote learning support and household management duties for my two children. I have come to realize very quickly since school began last week that I am both an essential and intermittently needed part of this remote learning equation. This is a role I want to take on for my kids, but I am noticing that I need to find ways to take care of myself and remain full of the drive and purpose that keep me upright – even though the majority of my days are now spent in the confines of my home. I think this painting project was calling on me to satisfy this very important need.
This week I ventured into my first painting of this new series. It’s from one of my favorite trips that my husband and I took shortly after we got married. We traveled to Banff National Park and Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada and enjoyed days filled with hiking, exploring, kayaking, and white water rafting. This painting depicts one of the many picturesque lakes we encountered on this trip.
This is Bow Lake. It is situated along the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper National Park. The vibrant blue water that we sat beside among the array of wildflowers was truly stunning. I recall sitting beside this lake and waiting for clouds to disappear and allow the sun to reveal the incredible clarity of the crystal blue water. Painting this picture this week allowed me to recapture the moments of that trip – the peaceful serenity of being surrounded by so much natural beauty. It also allowed me to reflect on that precious time with my husband and how much we enjoyed adventuring together and getting to know each other more deeply as newlyweds.
This painting took me away to that amazing trip and all of the memories I treasure in my heart. Now that it’s complete I look forward to diving into my next painting to see where my mind takes me.
Sometimes feelings come to me in images – images that I can draw or paint to express emotions that I cannot yet find words for. Through art I can bring emotions out from the depths inside of me and shine a light on them in whatever I have created. It is often in the midst of the process of drawing that the words slowly reveal themselves to me. It feels like my pencil becomes this tiny release valve that slowly lets my feelings escape with each stroke across the page.
I sketched this piece a few years ago while intensively engaged in therapeutic healing work. I remember what I was expressing. I remember feeling incredibly overwhelmed with all of the ways that my past abuse was impacting my current life. I remember feeling how painful that part of my healing process was – like trying to rip out the damaged parts of myself in a frantic fury. I remember pushing myself so hard towards healing that the healing process itself felt as though it was hurting me. It felt like the harder I fought to release myself from the tangled web of confusion, pain, and shame of my past, the tighter its growing grip entrapped me.
During this week I have felt a deep struggle rising up inside of me, stirring and awakening the hurt. This struggle has not yet inspired me to draw or to write. Instead it has urged me to dig up this drawing and just sit and look into it. Each day this week I find myself looking at this drawing, connecting more and more to it. It’s a different connection than how it felt several years ago, and yet it feels just as heavy. I feel myself looking into this drawing for direction. Maybe if I stare at it long enough I will find the answers I need to free myself. Maybe looking deeply into this piece will help me to shine a light on the parts of me that still beg for healing.