Traveling and Adapting for the Disabled Artist

Me193Last week I bought a few things to get ready for a camping trip in August. I’m going to spend some time with my father’s side of the family in Wyoming again.

The last time I went wasn’t ideal for sketching in the field because I didn’t have the right supplies with me and I didn’t have the right way to pack those supplies. I needed something a little bit larger than my regular pencil bag that I use here at home and I also needed something with a little more security to keep my things from breaking. Airlines can be really rough on luggage. Wood pencils in particular will come out of a flight with the leads shattered all the way up the barrel if they’re not secure, so you won’t have anything to use at your destination.

I looked around Jerry’s Artarama first but I didn’t see anything that was going to work for me. Most pencil bags still look like the one pouch things we had when we were little kids in school, which is not going to help when we’re traveling. When I went to Amazon, I found something with pencil slots, pockets, sturdy construction, etc. It’s listed as the BTSKY High Capacity Zipper Pens Pencil Case-Multi-functional Stationary Pencil Pouch 72 Slots (it’s linked to the direct item). It comes in black, blue, pink, and purple, and it costs $12.99 USD.

Let’s see what it looks like (photos belong to Amazon).

So many things about this pencil bag appealed to me. Primarily it was the compact size while still holding 72 pencils plus other pockets that drew my attention but I also liked the fact that it had a fabric handle and two zippers that meet on the ends or in the middle depending on your needs. You can remove two of the pencil slots if you don’t need all 72 spaces and they’re held in the bag by really strong Velcro.

Things like this really matter when it comes to my disability. I have trouble with zippers but it helps to have two instead of wrestling all the way around those corners with one. I can open one side, turn it around, and open the other side. The fabric handle allows me to attach it to my wheelchair if I’m taking my things out somewhere too. A hard handle wouldn’t work because if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. There’s at least some flexibility with a fabric handle (also hard handles always hurt my hand). And if I want to remove pencil slots, I won’t need help because they’re in there with Velcro instead of snaps or zippers.

The most important thing that made me choose this pencil bag was the fact that I won’t have to dig for my pencils anymore. They’re all lined up and I know exactly what I have now, which means I won’t waste them and I won’t use the wrong ones. Also, I can pull them out and put them back in without help.

Here’s a video of me flipping through my new bag after I loaded it with my most-used drawing stuff. It’s just a quick iPhone video – nothing professional to go on my YouTube channel or anything. Yup, that’s Madonna in the background.

So what you’re seeing there is me flipping through the pencil bag with a regular Paper Mate pen. I buy those things by the huge box because I use them as pointers for typing, moving things, turning pages in books or magazines, etc. These plain old plastic pens are a great length for helping me do things that I would ordinarily need fingers to do.

One thing I noticed when I saved this video was that people are going to see odd looking tools in the back portion of my new pencil bag. It occurred to me that I ought to tell everybody about the tools because I made them out of necessity. There are plenty of blending methods involving paper stumps, q-tips, toilet paper, etc., but I learned very early on that I can’t put soft things in my mouth. They tend to melt and fall apart due to the combination of my body heat and saliva no matter how well I control it.

Here are some of my most used tools.

IMG_9100

From left to right, there is a retractable eraser, a homemade blending stump, and a homemade toilet paper blender. Since the biggest problem with most art tools when you draw with your mouth is soft things falling apart, it goes without saying that rigging new tools is most importantly about keeping those soft things out of my mouth. Stability is the second most important factor in designing adaptable tools because a lot of art techniques will eventually require heavy pressure applied to the paper. The third factor is the bonding agent remaining resistant to moisture and body heat for a long time. I’ve learned these three factors after years of trial and error.

The first item is straightforward. It’s a Pentel Clic Retractable Eraser with Grip sold for $3.97 USD on Amazon. There are a few other kinds out there too. These are great for people with limited fine motor skills because there is more to grab onto than a tiny square piece of rubber. The plastic outer casing also prevents artists who draw with their mouths from biting through the eraser itself. I find the slider very ease to push when I need more eraser too.

The second item builds upon the first. My main problem with blenders is they’re so short. If I used it on it’s own, aside from the problem of being soft material, I’ll end up going cross-eyed and rubbing my nose all over the paper. Not fun. So what we do is get a retractable eraser that I don’t use anymore and I attach the blender to it with electrical tape. The type of tape is really important because it needs to be as strong as possible and as waterproof as possible. I do not recommend masking, Scotch, or pretty planner tape because will fall apart within the first hour. When you need clean blender, just rub it on sandpaper or change it out with a new one by cutting open the tape and rigging a whole new piece. I only have to change my blender once every three months or so.

The third tool is a very similar concept. I used an old mechanical pencil instead because that was what I had available at the time. It could just as easily have been another retractable eraser. For toilet paper blending, it’s a little more difficult. The best way is to wad up a tight ball about the size of a marble and then wrap a few smooth layers around it, leaving enough to wrap around the pencil or eraser. Use the electrical tape to secure it tightly. You will have to change the toilet paper ball more often than the blending stump but it is great for blending skin and sky.

I hope this gives you a glimpse into how and why I choose my art supplies. If there are any other artists with mobility limitations, maybe these ideas will help you too.

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Learning Landscapes

Jessica Jewett, artI have been a portrait artist for so long that I almost got to a point of never imagining myself doing anything else. That’s not necessarily a good thing, however. Artists, in my opinion, should definitely develop a style but not at the expense of challenging themselves. There comes a point when you’re doing the same thing again and again that your creativity goes flat, so it’s incredibly important to find ways to stretch your style into new subjects.

A few years ago, I did this colored pencil piece when I was visiting family in Wyoming. This was where we were camping on the North Platte River a bit upriver from the Alcova Reservoir. I sketched it out in person, took a photo, and then added the color when I got home. It’s fairly obvious to me that I was hesitant and uncertain about how to work with earthy colors as opposed to flesh tones. It’s not terrible but I wanted it to be better. This piece now belongs to my father.

Wyoming Mountains Landscape

I’ve attempted painting landscapes with water elements before. This one turned out very well, much better than I expected at the time. It wasn’t any place in particular but more like a reflection of my thoughts on death and crossing into the afterlife. All in all, not a bad effort but I took it as a fluke because I did this under the guidance of a more experienced painter.

Night scene with a boat dock and the moon.

A trend has been developing, it seems, of me doing better with pencil scenes. It’s not that much of a surprise considering I’ve always done stronger work in charcoal or graphite. But I don’t think landscapes are meant for black and white unless you’re trying to create a darker mood with cemeteries or dilapidated houses. Nature is filled with beautiful colors that express every kind of mood or emotion in the universe and that is the real challenge for an artist to master.

But then I decided to at least work in black and white for a while to master (or at least get better) the technical parts of creating nature-based art. It’s totally different than portraits of people. I cannot approach those things the same way, otherwise I’ll fail at what I’m trying to accomplish. It could be said that people and nature have completely different souls that can’t be interchangeable on paper or canvas.

Recently I attempted doing a drawing of the coast of Scotland in color after such a long time of trying to understand things in black and white. My Scotland drawing was done in Copic markers, which has the benefit of mixing and blending the way I want to do with oil paint but I’m not quite ready to be that advanced yet. Oils are my ultimate goal but it’s been so long since I used them that I think I’m back down to the beginner stage again. That’s fine, though. I can play with color using Copic markers until I’m used to deciphering nature’s palettes and then I can go back to paint.

I’m definitely more energized and ready to try doing more landscapes and seascapes again. Seeing my marked improvement from the Wyoming piece to the Scotland piece tells me that practice really does make perfect, as much as I hate those little sayings. I wanted you all to see the improvement too because some of you might be struggling to master something in your artistic goals. Keep your old stuff because you will see your development over time. And seeing your skills grow will do a lot for your self-confidence as an artist. I certainly haven’t mastered landscapes or seascapes but I can see the evidence that I’m getting better. That’s enough for me.

Take a look at Scotland.

Scotland, Jessica Jewett

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Struggling With the Witch Cottage Series

I had the bright idea in the autumn to start a series of highly detailed, realistic pencil drawings of domestic scenes based around my concept of how a witch lived during colonial America. It’s sort of fantasy, sort of ancestral reality, and altogether original. My goal was to complete one in time for each of the four seasons. Loosely, they would be themed around Samhain, the winter solstice (Yule to some), Imbolc into Ostara, and Beltane into Lughnasadh.

I have completed Samhain and Yule so far. I think Samhain was fairly easy because I hadn’t yet decided to make it a full series, so I wasn’t feeling any pressure. Samhain is my favorite period of the year too. I can whip out art along the themes in that season with my eyes closed. Take a look at the one that started my bright idea.

The Witch's Cottage, Jessica Jewett

Witch Cottage No. 1:

5×7 print on Etsy for $10.00
11×17 print on Etsy for $20.00
ORIGINAL PIECE SOLD

I’m really proud of that one. People often send me messages asking if I intentionally hid images in the fire or in the shelf. I didn’t, of course, but I adore the idea of people seeing things in my art that speak to them. It means I somehow tapped into some amazing creative energy.

Then I decided I would do it again. A story began to form in my mind because I spent so much time with the first piece and everybody loved it so much. I had to restock it three times, which has never happened in my little shop with another piece of art. The story took shape for a more formal room designed around the winter solstice, which doesn’t look very different from Christmas. The trouble was I tried to finish a major piece of art during the real holidays. I ran out of time! It was tough to balance home life with my artistic ambitions and I had to learn a tough lesson about best laid plans. Witch Cottage No. 2 wasn’t finished until after the solstice.

Witch Cottage No. 2, Jessica Jewett

Witch Cottage No. 2:

5×7 print on Etsy for $10.00
11×17 print on Etsy for $20.00
ORIGINAL PIECE on Etsy for $180.00

But I finished it and I think the challenge was good for me. I changed up my usual way of setting up a composition for domestic scenes. Everything was done to historical specifications regarding colonial America while adding subtle hints that a witch lives in that home. I had trouble though. It was tough to keep my perspective points straight and I still think I couldn’t get those points exactly right. One point perspective I’ve mastered pretty well but two point perspective or more still wreaks havoc on my dyslexia.

Still I’m pressing onward to new challenges. At the moment, I’m working on the third piece in my Witch Cottage series centered around the rebirth and renewed light during the period of Imbolc into Ostara. I had the fabulous idea of a greenhouse scene to show where the witch in this artistic story grows her plants, flowers, and herbs.

Again, I’ve run into delays and the sacred days have already come and gone. This time it was my health. Chronic pain is a companion to my disability and I had to have an invasive procedure this spring. I might even be looking at surgery this year too. So I’m doing my best to be kinder to myself about missing my self-imposed deadline because this is not something that could have been avoided.

Let’s take a look at my work-in-progress of Witch Cottage No. 3, shall we?

Witch Cottage No. 3, WIP, Jessica Jewett

I’m not sure how much you can decipher about what’s going on in this piece but you’re looking at the interior of a greenhouse. There are drying herbs strung across the top. A table and chairs are in the middle with a bench on the right. Through the open door will be a glimpse of the outside as well. I’m planning to set up an Imbolc altar on the table and maybe hide an ewe outside somewhere. We’ll see where things take me as I go. This one has been daunting because I rarely draw plants, but I’ve been practicing in other sketchbooks.

Of course, since I’ve made it this far, I can’t stop now. I don’t really want to stop either. I did not, however, believe I was going to be so challenged by this project. Once I’m done with Witch Cottage No. 4 in a few months (I haven’t yet decided how to depict summertime), I’ll be able to sit back and enjoy the fact that I succeeded at a challenge I set before myself almost six months ago.

Don’t get stagnate in your art. If you’re not feeling challenged, or you’re not slightly nervous about your work, then you’re not developing your skills. An artist needs constant growth in order to experience life at its fullest. Sometimes being nervous is a good thing because it makes your accomplishments all the more potent and special.

Donation

Please consider making a donation to help me keep up with the cost of art supplies, living expenses, equipment related to my disability, and so forth. The minimum is set at $10.00. Thank you for your generosity.

$10.00


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