Time is on my side

To quote the Rolling Stones, time is on my side…

I realised today that I’ve more time for myself than I’ve had in 25+ years. Between 1997 and 2000 we took on publishing the newspaper, Aunt J started needing a lot more of my time (we were close, and I had EPOA) and we moved in with Mum to be her caregivers. I was working full time and studying as well.

Today I didn’t get out of bed until mid morning, and have spent the day playing with paint and paper. Time for my art isn’t unusual because I always make it a priority, but I’m usually conscious of other things I need to do, especially for the paper.

It’s going to be interesting to see what life feels like as I get used to having time for my own priorities and what changes I make.

Life is made up of…

Since I posted in January life has mainly consisted of work and art. I’ve been Acting Group Manager Community Services for the last few months; it’s been interesting, and I’ve learned a lot. It’s also been time consuming – the way I use my time changed a lot. It helped me finally make a decision that’s been on the horizon for some time.

Tony and I took over publishing the Patea & Waverley Press in 1998. We had both worked in the printing industry in Auckland and it suited us. Over time it became more digital, so Tony’s training in Hand Typography wasn’t useful any longer. His health deteriorated and, for the last 4 years or so, the paper has rested solidly on my shoulders. Something I had always loved began to feel like a burden. The paper has a new publisher, and I am enjoying not organising my life around deadlines.

I’ve done a lot of art journaling lately. Some of it is downloading my head onto paper, pouring out the thoughts, and some of it is just about moving my hands – playing with paint, paper and colour. Today I finished a small Dylusions journal which meant decorating the cover before it goes on the bookcase. It’s a mix of paint, ink, magazine collage, Dylusions dycuts and quotes.

It’s an arty sign

About 4 years ago I did a few sessions of counselling to get my head around some stuff. We also worked on me sleeping better, without huge success. We identified three things I wanted to achieve in the counselling; she said 3 is about the max you can do at any one time. One of the words we settled on was content; not content as in “no growth needed” but content to let the process work and accept life as it happens. There were a lot of very good reasons why that was needed.

And, full circle, the same thing applies now. There’s a lot of change happening in my life, and I can’t control much of it. It’s important I feel content with life regardless.

I’m inspired by Claire Stead‘s art and have just got her new release from Funky Fossil through Natalie May Scrapbooking in Australia. I got some clear text stamps and her collage paper. I was working in my 6×6 Dina Wakley kraft journal, one of my favs, this morning and flicked through the collage paper book and there it was — “I am content”. The universe wants me to know it will be ok!

Storing all my paper

I’ve just started the 2023 #100daysofcollage with Froyle Art. Last year I ended up doing 163 collages. This year? Who knows, but I’m excited to get started.

I have a lot of paper, and storing it so it’s manageable & findable is a mission. I have a large drawer of full,page sized gelli prints. I have manila folders of images cut out of old books and magazines, sorted into religious icons, people, architecture and other.

My paper scraps are sorted by colour into plastic envelopes and file boxes. As soon as I cut or tear into a full size gelli print, the remains go into the paper files. The colour sorting is ‘best guess’ based on the main colour of the print. It’s a loose system, but it works well enough for me.

Manila folders of cut out images, maps, book pages etc
Plastic folders with paper sorted by colour
Plastic folders of cut out images

As 2022 ends …

Once again, it’s been a couple of months since I blogged. It’s hard to know what to say much of the time, and there’s a lot I don’t share. Here are some highlights from the year:

  • Penny Kirk and I created a lot of art together and had a well supported exhibition at Left Bank Art Gallery in Greymouth. We’re working on our next exhibition already.
  • My nephew Rowan turned 50, which makes me feel old!
  • I got a bright pink bicycle and love it. Turns out I have terrible balance, but never mind.
  • I had a few visits to Alan on the West Coast. It’s a chance to relax, pat farm animals and make art.
  • I visited my sister Ailsa and family in Auckland, after a few false starts thanks to Covid. It was great to finally see their new home.
  • Speaking of Covid, we finally succumbed. I’m grateful for being vaxxed, which means I didn’t get particularly sick. I’m also grateful Sandra’s ridiculously overactive immune system looked after her.
  • I spent a few days in Hamner Springs & loved it. I want to go back when it’s not school holidays, because that was a bit of a mistake.
  • I love having two new knees. Life is just so much better when you can move without pain.

On a much less positive note, Tony’s not doing well and will be moving to Trinity Resthome in Hawera in mid-January. Trinity has hospital, palliative and dementia care, so can provide anything he needs. It means I can visit him in my lunch breaks, so he may be less sleepy.

Finally, here’s a few photos that sum up the year that’s been:

Time flies when you’re…

Time flies when you’re having fun? Sometimes, and sometimes not. I think the best way to update is bullet points and some photos. Here goes:

  • The house looks great for new vinyl and carpet.
  • My renovated art room/office is a pleasure to be in and I haven’t spilled anything on the desk or carpet. Yet.
  • We got through Covid ok with no apparent ongoing impacts.
  • Tony’s health has deteriorated a lot. He sleeps most of the time now and is very weak.
  • His friend and ex colleague Doris came to visit him recently, which was great.
  • In September he had almost 2 weeks in HDU and Ward 3.
  • I had a much needed short break in Hamner Springs. Loved it, and want to go back.
  • I regularly walk 6000-7000 steps a day now , and managed just over 10,000 on holiday, and am so grateful.

I’m still here

It’s almost 2 months since I blogged, for various reasons. Nothing bad, life’s just been … different.

I’m finally getting the very worn out & holey carpet replaced, and the vinyl redone because I had the toilet replaced so now there’s a gap round the loo. Sandra and I have been preparing for it all being laid in just over a week’s time.

I decided to redo my home office and art room. It’s where I spend most of my time and it’s a hot mess of old creaky desks and “it’ll do” furniture. So I’ve got two new desks for once the floors are done, and some new storage. I’ve done a serious declutter so I only have the things I really use.

Work has been busy too. The second wave of covid combined with flu season has meant it’s been a juggle keeping all our libraries and museum open. My staff have been amazing. amongst it all, we had Rainbow Storytime which was amazing!

Of course I’ve been doing my art too. There’s always time for my art. I tested positive for Covid yesterday so don’t have the energy at the moment though. Tony tested positive on Tuesday, three days before me, so is isolating in his room at the rest home, but sounds like he is doing ok.

And it’s done

Today Penny Kirk and I gave an artist’s talk at Left Bank Art Gallery in Greymouth to mark the end of our joint exhibition. I’m so proud of Penny for putting herself and her art out there.

Here’s my talk: Good afternoon, my name is Cath Sheard, and I come from Patea in South Taranaki. In 2008 I graduated with an Advanced Diploma in Creativity (Honours) from the Learning Connexion. At the time my mentor, Pete Adsett, said “your art surface has relentlessly been attacked by a single mark to deface it. It’s a form of violence where the viewer can see the speed in which you work”.

Peter queried my process when I painted large cream lines on a black wall as part of the final exhibition, asking if I stood back regularly to check the work. He recorded my response in his final letter to me … I had said at the time “I feel the mark, not see it. I feel when it is right”.

14 years on I think Peter would be surprised to see the works Penny and I have created. To explain why, I need to go back to 2016 and the start of this journey.

In 2016 I had weight loss surgery and, in the aftermath, I met Penny in an online support community. We quickly discovered we had a lot of common – fat, weight loss surgery, jobs in local or central government, and art. Oh, and we live in different islands! I come from Patea, a rural town of around 800, on the west coast of the North Island, 90 minutes from Mount Taranaki. That distance became a crucial part of our art journey.

Penny was nearer the start of her art journey than me, but quickly found a fearlessness that has created room for formidable growth in her art practice. She’s also been fearless in exploring the why of her weight issues, a journey I’m on. It’s a truism that most obese people eat their feelings. Art provides a way to process feelings we can no longer eat and may not be able to express in words.

For me, the spoken word is a tricky thing when it comes to emotions. As a library manager I can look you in the eye and talk about books on any topic at all, but ask me to talk about my own emotions and I have no words. I art journal daily, and my journals are a safe place to download my head and say the things I can’t verbalise.

As part of her Learning Connexion studies Penny needed to do a collaborative project and asked if I’d be interested. Absolutely. We weren’t sure exactly where it would go, but I don’t think either of us could have imagined this!

We sent work back and forth across the Straight, working on the same pieces over and over. I can remember my excitement the first time I got a huge parcel from Penny with her for me to work on. Working ON someone else’s work – wow! I can also remember how tentative those first explorations were. What if she didn’t like what I did? What if I changed a piece she really liked? What if she hated it?

I did some careful, safe work and sent it back to Penny. NZPost loves us, by the way. Each time we received work from each other we talked about what we thought, used Messenger to look at and discuss tiny sections of individual works, and talked about the processes we used.

Over time we got braver, less concerned with the response of the other creator. It wasn’t long before I was comfortably gluing collage materials over Penny’s work or running huge drips of paint down her carefully articulated linework. At the same time, I got used to opening a parcel from Penny and discovering orange gauze stitched on, swathes of oil pastel and miles of delicately traced pencil work connecting the work to the edges.

As the collaboration developed it became more and more firmly embedded in the body, in our experience as obese women working to save our own lives from the costs of being fat, and the physical and emotional scars that journey holds. As we covered paper with paint, ink, pencil, and collage materials we were also covering the paper with our emotions, the feelings we were learning to identify, and the remnants of the lives we were leaving behind.

Part way though the collaboration we started to develop an interest in words – adding words into the works, writing poetry, cutting text from books as collage material. My art, and my art journals, tell stories I don’t have the words for. Yet it turns out I do have the words if I write poetry. If you’ve been through the exhibition, you’ve seen some of our writing, and heard me reading the poetry. I would like to read a piece for you that I wrote for this closing talk, knowing that standing here would make me feel exposed.

My scars are a record
Of all the times I’ve been broken
Of all the ways my body has been fixed
My scars are
Thin thick
Short long
Flat raised
Red white silver
Ugly beautiful
My scars are a book a surgeon can read
A map for a lover’s fingers to trace
A litany written on my soul
My scars are
Ugly beautiful

The more Penny and I talked, created, talked, created and then talked some more, the more we learned, and the less we knew with any certainty. Some things we were sure of. Losing a huge amount of weight means being seen for the first time in, well, forever. Being seen is deeply uncomfortable. I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this, but Penny and I have both put some of the weight back on from our lowest point, which admittedly was too low. Part of that is about health, sure, but part of it is also about the discomfort we felt it being SEEN.

The ’fat positivity’ movement might be popular on social media and with fans of Lizzo, but obesity is still seen as lazy and disgusting. For most women, and presumably men, being fat equates to being invisible in Western culture. Lose the weight and people start to look at you and, bizarrely, feel free to comment on your body. These artworks, and the accompanying words, speak to the journey we’ve been on, from fat and invisible, to slimmer and seen.

Which brings me fill circle, back to the works themselves. What did the collaboration do for my art practice? The lazy answer would be “it reinvigorated it”. That’s true but misses the richness of the experience. I learned to let go out the outcome, to trust Penny’s vision, to focus more on process in the early stages of a work, and not to get too attached to anything. It’s incredibly freeing to know that what you’re doing might stay, might get covered up, or even ripped out.

I’m incredibly grateful to Penny for the opportunity to share my life journey, and my art practice, with her. I’d like to thank Alan Fowlie for welcoming me into his home whenever I come down to work with Penny. Thanks also to Cassandra for her support, and Left Bank Art Gallery for being a wonderful venue. Thank you all for your interest in our work, and for being here this afternoon.

I learned to be more fearless in the early stages of a work, then slower and more thoughtful as works felt like they were nearing completion. Sometimes Penny would send a work with a post it note saying “I think this is nearly done” and I’d add one line, one small mark and know the work was complete.

What we reveal

Next weekend Penny and I are holding an artist talk for the closing of our joint art exhibition at Left Bank Art Gallery in Greymouth. I’m flying down on Thursday to stay with Alan for a few days and do arty stuff with Penny.

Last night Penny and I were talking about our prep for the event. She will have some bullet notes, and go from there. I’ll have every single word written out and won’t deviate from it much. It’s the same with our art, we have two very different processes and styles.

Where we don’t differ is we’re not very good at talking about our emotions, and this collaboration has been a huge emotional journey for both of us. I need to talk about that as part of the closing of the exhibition.

Does what I’ve written tell the whole truth? No, not really.

I met with someone this morning who had weight loss surgery a couple of years after me. She’s doing well. We talked about what we eat, when we eat, why we eat. Sitting here though, thinking back to our coffee meeting, I know I edited my truths. Sorry SK; it’s that old weight monster – shame.

Sandra has been grandkid and puppy sitting today, and the puppy fell asleep n me. I asked her to take a photo for me. I look at that photo and see the puppy, but also the weight I’ve put on in the last year and there it is – shame. I’m working on it – both the food choices and the emotions. In the meantime, I’ll keep editing what I reveal, protecting myself.

Working it

I’m pretty open about the fact I have some physical problems, because it’s obvious if you spend much time with me anyway. I’m significantly weak in both arms and legs. Not “oh you need to get fit” weak, but what the neurosurgeon called “abnormally weak, spinal mumble blah blah blah”. I’ve also got remarkably poor balance. An MRI of my spine shows a decent sized lesion but we don’t think it’s doing anything. We decided not to investigate further unless things get worse etc.

My new helmet matches my bright pink bike

Recently I got approved for a Green Prescription, and a physical therapist is working with me. Our goal is to improve my balance. I recently bought a push bike and love it, but my balance is so bad I can’t let go to do a hand signal, which is a bit of a worry!

We also want to improve my strength. I can’t climb on a chair for instance – my legs won’t push me up, and my arms won’t drag me up. So I’ve got strength and balance exercises (for older people) and I’ve bought a balance board as well.

My balance has improved already, which is great. This weekend I’ll get out on my bike and see if it translates to real change. The strength exercises are more difficult and I suspect progress will be slower, but that’s ok. Any improvement is worth the effort.