My mother prays for me pretty regularly. Prayer is something I learned in church, and in great detail when I attended CCD on Sundays or after school once a week for most of my childhood. I remember very little of it, but I will never forget why I was told to pray. I was told that God was always listening and that He loved me. Pretty nice, right? Some believe that we are God. I am God. I am. Heresy to some, right? Scientists have studied prayer, absent of the role of God, and have concluded that it really works. And I believe it. Crazy, right? Somehow, I hold many seemingly contradictory viewpoints on the subject as all being beautiful and true. In fact, this is one of my superpowers. I can see many sides and possible outcomes in life. It can make me feel lost at times, but that’s OK. I think getting lost is good when it’s intentional.
Now, if I think of prayer as a pause for reflection, then life becomes much easier. I feel not so lost. In fact, it feels purposeful. I find it purposeful to pray, or in my case meditate and seek peace with all of my faults. I find the flaws in humanity to be deeply meaningful and beautiful. I think that the process of prayer or reflection is largely a process of transformation when it is done purposefully. Transformation is magical, I find, and it’s that transformative process that manifests in a lot of what I create. Additionally, it may be this feeling that compels me to create.
My maternal grandmother, Kathryn, was devoted to prayer and considered becoming a nun. Born into a large family, she finished school only through the ninth grade when she instead found herself working steadily at her father’s mercantile shop in Glen Ullin, ND. Working there, my grandmother usually had outfits in the latest style, had the latest short haircut, smoked cigarettes, loved parties, and danced the charleston. She must have felt lost in perhaps many ways to have prayed so seriously on whether to marry someday or join such a radical cloister of nuns. In fact, my grandmother had been attending business classes in Wisconsin when she heard about and was intrigued by the new contemplative order of nuns called The Poor Clares of the Primative Observance. It was her idea that she might join them and be head cook there, seeking union with God through a life of prayer and sacrifice in the spirit of St. Clare.
St. Clare, to whom St. Francis was mentor and guide, was an interesting character as are the nuns of this order. They are not like the Benedictine, Dominican, Visitation or Carmelite nun. A Poor Clare nun brings gifts of prayer, simplicity, community and joy. Each Poor Clare community is as individual and unique as is each sister in them. The Poor Clare Sisters number over 20,000 sisters throughout the world in 16 federations and in over 70 countries. Most monasteries have from four to thirteen members. St. Clare (1194-1253) is the patron saint of eye disease, gold smiths, laundry, and television. Television? She founded the order under the close guidance of St. Francis of Assisi and was radically committed to corporate poverty and rejected any attempts by any pope to impose rule on her order.
Deciding not to join the cloister, my grandmother found herself corresponding with the nuns regularly and would do so the rest of her days. She lived to be almost 97. This was a comforting act for her. It made her feel like she had all her bases covered in the prayer department. She also made regular donations to the nuns and always heard back with a hand written letter from the head nun along with prayer cards and special intentions. I remember on the nights I stayed with my grandmother that she would read from her bible before going to bed, and now I wonder if some of the cards and slips of paper sticking out of the bible were from those nuns. She really believed in the power of prayer and was devoted to the practice.
Later, my mother, the youngest of Kathryn’s five children, prayed on whether to marry or become a nun herself and began her practice of writing to the same cloister at the age of 20. She was engaged to my father at the time. My mom said writing to the nuns kind of felt like sending a message in a bottle. The only difference being that you got a letter back. She still continues to write to them, and, out of respect, I won’t make any assumptions about how and when my mother has felt lost. We all, I’m sure, feel lost sometimes.
St. Clare was designated as the patron saint of television in 1958 by Pope Pius XII, because when St. Clare was very ill, she could not attend mass and was reportedly able to see and hear it on the wall in her room.
Half of my art supplies are pristine. Fresh. I almost hate to spoil them.
I think my studio space had been neglected in the same way that my kitchen space had been up until about a year ago when I seriously began struggling with my health. Food was making me feel awful. I won’t go into the details, but I went through a series of most unfortunate events that led to issues that I am trying to heal now.
In my kitchen, I felt unsure about what foods to cook with, what was healthy for me, wondering if it was just my getting older that was causing problems, and trying to figure out what might make me feel good. I couldn’t eat anything packaged and restaurants were out of the questions, so I was left to cooking four, small meals a day using only a limited set of whole foods. I needed to expand my cooking skills ASAP.
It was an ayurveda cookbook by Katie Silcox that changed my whole outlook on food and how to live life with the rhythms of nature. In the book, the author described her kitchen as a place that was well loved and there was evidence of this all the way down to the beet and spice stains on her cutting boards. It sounded like a beautiful mess to me. I wanted that.
I can’t say that I’ve learned to love cooking. I don’t. And I would rather go to a restaurant most nights and be waited on. Getting dressed up and going out is fun! Besides, I miss Greek food and guacamole fiercely. What I have learned is that I can be imperfect in a space, make a mess of it, and come out the other side being healthier and more joyful. Cooking simply brings me joy now. It’s a whole other way to be creative. I come from a family of great cooks and bakers. I know a lot of people say that, but here’s some evidence of my own:
I think I’ve been blessed with this formidable health issue - IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC - to be able to apply this growth, wisdom, awakening…whatever it is…to other parts of my life including being an artist. In fact, mostly being an artist. Being a graphic designer was a safe space for me. I could hide my perfectionism. On a computer, it’s hard for others to see what you’re working on while you’re doing it, changes are easy to make, there is an UNDO function for literally everything, and deleting failed concepts is instantaneous. The studio space is trickier. Vulnerable, if you’re sharing it with others, and doubly hard if you’re a perfectionist.
Perfectionism. That’s nothing to brag about or an excuse to abandon ambition. It just doesn’t work for me anymore. Actually, perfectionism has been working against me my whole life because it injects anxiety into every task where there could be peace. Perfection is a peace breaker based on unrealistic expectations. It’s also a lie because it’s unachievable. I asked an acquaintance and fellow artist once what he thought of a drawing I did. He was handing out advice to a group of artists that had gotten together as an informal critique group. He said to me, “it’s too perfect”. The other ladies in the group gave him some serious side-eye, but I knew he was right. My drawing was lacking spirit.
I grew up in an environment where high achievement earned me approval, praise, and attention. “Good Girl-ism”. Then, perfectionism further sustained a path to safety, survival, and independence. My path is now steering me toward inner peace and not chasing what Buddhism refers to as “Hungry Ghosts”.
Now, my supplies are being loved in my studio nearly everyday. I collect what I need in order to create nourishing, spirit-filled art.
My supplies are pretty typical. A few are old school. My chosen water container is perhaps unconventional: too short to leave a brush in, too odd to mistake as my drinking glass, and too small to let the water sit too long without being changed several times during a project so that the water stays relatively clean. Most of my brushes are Simmons, Black Gold, or Daniel Smith. My watercolor paints are also Daniel Smith. Daniel Smith is a local company, so I like to support them. I have a good number of watercolor paint colors, but not an overwhelming amount - about 40 colors. Only a few of those are brown, because I prefer to mix my own browns. Basically, I choose colors that have excellent lightfastness and no granulation. I like texture in my art, but from the brushwork rather than from paint sediments. My electric sharpener is invaluable to me as is the extra soft clean-up brush that I still have from high school. Here is a link to my Pinterest Boards for pictures and descriptions of many of the supplies I use including drawing supplies, painting supplies, and papers: https://www.pinterest.com/karenjimenezartist/boards/
I want to end this with a note about paper in general. I think paper is an amazing invention. I love the varieties in weight, color, feel, texture, size, tooth, and even the smell. I am in love with papers’ ability to absorb water and the way it holds materials in line and form. I could go on and on, but it’s papers’ flawed, fragile, and unforgiving nature that make it most special to me. It is the opposite of perfection. It is whole and real and timeless.
I’ll be honest. It’s a challenge to be working creatively in a small, shared space. I’m usually home by myself several hours a day and have been ever since my daughter started school, but until recently I just didn’t feel up to making any art. That’s mainly because I haven’t been feeling well. I didn’t know why and I may never know the root cause or how it started, but at least I have part of the puzzle now.
Have you heard about the gut-brain connection? Well, that’s actually a thing and I’m still learning about it. Good doctors are helping me get better. The fog is lifting and I can finally start making art that resonates with who I know I am. While not feeling right, the art I tried to make didn’t feel right either: too personal, melancholy, flat, and just hack. I could have accepted it and pushed it out anyway, but I didn’t want to birth that kind of stuff into the world. My attempts looked like a veritable selection of horrors from Pandora’s box. Except for one piece, they were sold cheap or went into the compost.
Now, this is my space. I’ve been fixing it up the past few months as I’ve been feeling better and better. Stockpiling art paper (not toilet paper), collecting supplies, hanging photos, arranging flowers, devising an art storage system, and so on.
This is where I can “dance like nobody’s watching”. Not literally. It’s just a metaphor for how I feel when I’m creating. When I was in the fifth grade, like most kids, we had a classroom talent show. I wasn’t really participating in anything structured at the time. No music lessons, no dance lessons, wasn’t a singer, not a great joke teller, nothing. But, as I mentioned before, I loved to dance. So I danced for the talent show in front of my class. It was me in a too-small black leotard, wide red belt, and white church tights dancing to “Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler. It was also the theme song to one of my favorite TV shows “Cover Up”. A show about a female “fashion photographer and a veteran special forces soldier posing as her model to go on intelligence missions around the world” - pretty much my ideal fantasy at the time. Anyway, back to the dancing. I danced to that song the way any preteen might dance to their favorite song in their bedroom when no one is looking. It felt powerful. I’m sure I looked like a fool, but a fool with great self-esteem and a lot of creative passion.
It may sound a bit cliché, but I’ve discovered a hero inside myself. Check out the Jungian archetypes of a hero’s journey. I’m speaking along those lines. It certainly hasn’t been an isolated journey. There are a lot of special people in my life to thank for the help I’ve received over the past year when it’s been the most difficult. Namely, my husband. Also, my parents and siblings. My big sister brought me groceries when I couldn’t make it to the store myself. A whole lot of ists (nutritionIST, acupuncturIST, etc.) And last, but not least, my loving daughter.
Once this Corona Virus thing blows over, I’m looking forward to having many visitors to my home studio ; the space where I’m getting better and expressing my talents freely. Namaste, bitches.