Maybe I’ll do a little blogging (and sketching) again

A few weeks ago I turned off the blog – set it to private – because it felt like the only thing I had to talk about was chronic illness, and that gets pretty exhausting to live, let alone write about. I wonder sometimes if other chronic illness bloggers ever feel that way.

Then, a couple days ago, someone commented on a post! I heard the ding on my iPhone and thought, “Whaaaa? Didn’t I turn the blog off?” But maybe here’s where I talk about ADHD and feeling scatterbrained, because who knows, it’s possible I turned the blog back on without remembering, but there it was, not hidden and getting a comment. And it was nice, too, this note from someone about how my post about dyeing my Macabi skirts helped them out. Yay! I love that I got to be helpful.

Here’s what I’ve been doing lately: painting. Again. I have a watercolor sketchbook. Right now I’m using a Global Art Materials book sized 8.5″ by 5.5″, and it’s just the right size. The cover was an off-white linen, but in honor of my second-ever visit to the Oregon Country Fair recently, I made some adjustments to its cover:

I painted it with Dr. Ph. Martin’s watercolor ink. I love that stuff!

I decided to see if I could make daily sketching and painting a habit, specifically to help with stress, to get into flow on a regular basis, and to just get better at drawing and painting.

I had to get a good basic palette going, so I checked in with the three watercolor painters I like the most, Liz Steel, Kateri Ewing, and Jane Blundell, and I got their lists of basic starter colors. Kateri’s list is just the colors she recommends for her Bluprint class on basic watercolor technique.

I had many of these colors, but I got a few more and created my own palette:

Creating palettes is so much fun, I could do that for hours. If I could, I’d just sit in the Daniel Smith factory all day and create palettes for every purpose. Underwater palettes, forest palettes, desert palettes, sunset palettes, painting dogs palettes, on and on.

My sketchbook is slowly filling up. I have been painting every day, like I planned. I don’t know how long this streak will last and I put zero pressure on myself, because pressure or beating myself up doesn’t help me (does it help anyone?). What helps is gentle reminders, and noticing how happy I feel when I return to the book every day. I usually start in the morning with tea and painting, and end every day with a little more tea and painting. It’s calming, I highly recommend it. I always say that watercolor is like ukulele – you can be a beginner and still make beautiful things happen. No one would mistake my work for a professional’s, but that doesn’t matter. Just putting lovely colors together is a delight, and it lightens the heart and mind. Art is powerful stuff!

Inktober Day 9 – “precious”

Today’s word is “precious”, so I went from a reference photo to see if I could draw a decent image of my sweet Finn as a puppy. In the photo he’s sitting in our neighbor’s yard, under a shower of little white flowers, next to the sidewalk.

My zing factor is medium high, which is pretty good. I’ll take it. That green is special to me, I’ve got one half-pan of that stuff and I horde it – this is a mistake, I either need to mix my own or just buy more. Because that green needs to be on everything, all the time.

One of the things I’m really loving about this project is that all my Inktober pieces are in one little book. I’ll have this little book forever. I’ll always remember this month, this crazy month with all the pain and all the packing up and getting rid of things for the move.

A big clue to me that I needed to start drawing again was this: I love to look back on my old art, but I rarely look back on my diaries. For years, years, I have written like a fiend in a diary or journal. Since I was eight years old or so. And it’s rare for me to look back on them. Maybe once a year do I read them. And when I do, oh, they’re so cringe-inducing.

Looking back on drawings and watercolor sketches I did years ago is a completely different experience. I spend long minutes gazing at one piece, remembering where I was, what the day felt like, what I was thinking at the time. None of that is telegraphed to any other viewer, but I know. The effect is powerful, and moving to me. It’s stronger than with most photos, too. Just the most basic drawings will bring this heavy wave of memory. They don’t have to be “good”. Realizing this was a major reason I decided to start drawing again, even though my past experience with it had been so hard (I had very poor art self-esteem).

Drew a bike, sold a bike, bought a bike

I drew this yesterday at Liz’s middle school, while waiting for her to get done taking a math test. She’s about three weeks into her school year, and her math class is so easy she actually went to her administrators and asked if she could get placed into a higher class. She was told she’d have to take a test, so yesterday that’s just what she did. We were really impressed that a kid who will only spend a few more months at this school before moving to Eugene, Oregon where she and her brother will get to unschool, is so into math that she’s demanding she get a more challenging environment.

I saw a drawing prompt once that was, “Try drawing a bicycle from memory,” with the joke being that it’s a lot harder than it seems. It’s easy to imagine the basic geometry of a bicycle, but if you take a pencil and try to sketch what you see in your head, it’s surprisingly hard to make the bike on the page look correct. I had my little sketchbook with me, so I sat outside the school on a bench, and began sketching this bike, which was locked onto one of the racks (you’ll notice the racks don’t appear – I’m not that good yet, or that fast).

Even with the bike in front of me, I still laughed at how oddly awkward it was to draw the darn thing, but this was made more challenging when the owner came out and started unlocking things to get on her ride home. I told her what I was doing, and she laughed and said, “Well I’m about to muddle up your picture!”

She proceeded to pack up two Ortleib panniers, while we chatted about drawing and riding bicycles. I’ve been looking up Ortleib recently, since everyone around here has them. Turns out the reason for this is that they’re incredibly waterproof, and as you may know, we get a fair amount of rain in the Pacific Northwest. I was telling her about my bike bag research, when she stood up straight, pointed down at her pannier, and said, “Do you know how old this thing is?”

“No, how old?”

Eighteen years. Can you imagine? What bag lasts eighteen years? And I’m not kind to it, I drag it around, I drop it on the ground. They’re amazing.”

While the fibromyalgia doesn’t let me walk far, I used to be able to bike a few miles before the really severe pain kicked in. But that changed a couple years ago, and now I can’t manage to get far at all. But Eugene has bike trails, and the kids and I want to ride bikes around town. What to do? Get a bike with an electric assist!

So I did what I never thought I’d do: I sold my Brompton folding bike a couple weeks ago….

…and used the funds from the sale to put in an order for this!

Mine will be purple (of course) with green brake lines, and have the e-assist (not shown in this photo). This is a Haul-A-Day, made by Bike Friday in Eugene, Oregon. I’ll go to Eugene in December  to pick it up.

If you’ve seen cargo bikes around Seattle, you’ve probably seen the Xtracycle, it’s a very popular model here. The problem is, they’re very expensive and very heavy. I got to ride an e-assist version of an Xtracycle a couple years ago at the Sustainable Ballard festival, and it was fantastic fun to ride, but it weighed more than I did (and I am not a light person).

The whole purpose of an e-assist bike for me is to give me a boost so that I don’t end up getting overwhelmed with fatigue and pain, and unable to get myself home. However, in the event I do end up unable to get myself home, someone has to come pick me up, or I have to find a bus I can get home on, and an Xtracycle is too long for a bus rack (not that I could lift it anyway) and would be impossible for us to stuff into the back of our wagon.

The Haul-A-Day is considered a “mid-tail”, meaning its back deck is not quite as long as a long-tail bike like the Xtracycle. However, this is is perfect for me because it means I can get everything I want:

  • A bike that can carry both a few bags of groceries and some odd-shaped things (like mine and my daughter’s ukuleles).
  • A bike that can fit into a bus rack.
  • A bike that can fit onto a standard car rack.
  • A bike that can even fit into an Amtrak rack (for visiting Portland and Seattle from Eugene).
  • A bike that can have e-assist to help me ride.

All that for less than a third the cost of an Xtracycle.

But what really convinced me was the community of Bike Friday owners I found on Facebook (and in real life – I have friends who love their Bike Friday tandem!). What kind and friendly people! I’ve been having so much fun in this group. And wow do they travel. Bike Friday is originally known for their folding bikes (my model doesn’t fold) that work great for taking on planes, and people are toting these things all over the world for bike tours. I don’t know if my health would ever allow me to do that, but it’s fun to dream. A lot of people went on group bike tours of Japan this past year, and their photos are just beautiful. I didn’t realize how much of the world is accessible through bike tours until I joined this group. Employees from Bike Friday are in the group too, and it’s clear they love their job and really want to help their customers (thanks, Jarl and Walter!). After seeing how satisfied BF owners are, I was ready to take the plunge and get one myself.

The kids are waiting until we move to pick out their bikes. I’m trying to lean them toward a Bike Friday (“Wouldn’t a folding bike be cool?”), but Liz wants a big read classic coaster bike, she’s seen photos of a few and knows exactly what she wants. I told her, “Whatever you want, as long as you come out on the trails with me.”