Chronic Illness, Adversity, And Life As An Artist

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen my recent post addressing my relative absence from social media lately due to illness. I wanted to follow that up with this blog post talking about being an artist who struggles with chronic illness and pain because I know that there are many of us out there.

A long time ago during an emotionally challenging time I was reading a lot of Buddhist writings and saw the teaching that “Everything is suffering”.  At the time I took this to mean that while you are alive you have pain and there’s no escaping it, so just strap in and hold on. But now I think of it like this:

Everything living has its own personal challenges and suffering, and your personal suffering is not precious. You should not define yourself by it, or allow yourself to be isolated by the idea that no one can understand what’s happening inside of you. Suffering is a something we all have in common.

I have no way of knowing what your struggles are, whether they’re chronic pain and illness like mine or if they’re something completely different. But I feel sure that somewhere in life you’ve faced an obstacle that stood between you and what you wanted to do or who you wanted to be. This can make you feel alienated from yourself and others. If you happen to be an artist or creative, it can look like missed opportunities, art that doesn’t get made, connections that are lost, financial stress, and the feeling of being completely untethered from reality.

I’ve found that for me personally, one of the hardest things about facing my personal adversity is how completely invisible my illness is to the outside world. It feels like people can see me flailing and failing, but they can’t see why. It concerns me that they’ll mistake me (the real me) for the person I am when my symptoms and challenges are running the show. That’s part of why I want to write this blog post, and it’s a big part of why I’m teaching myself to speak out, share, and be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is crazy hard and doesn’t come naturally to me (just ask my therapist), but its a weapon I can use in the war against invisibility and complete detachment so here it is.

An advantage of making visual art is that it inherently creates the opportunity to make what is invisible (like illness) take a literally visible form. I’ve realized that until now I have been largely ignoring this potential and I think now that I’ve done myself a disservice in that. Acknowledging your resources is a way of acknowledging your potential, and I know I’m at the point where I need to use everything I have to be okay.

I used to question why I’d ever want to spend one of my “good days” painting a dark art piece about the pain I’ve been in for the past few weeks, or why I’d want to present the world with the part of myself that I like the least. When I feel like illness has taken my voice, why should I give it more chances to speak? So instead I’ve focused my art on traveling as far away from my bedroom as I can on the days I can’t actually go anywhere. I’ve used art as a vehicle to imagine living the life I want to have, rather than reflecting on the life I actually live. And maybe that’s a perfectly valid option. I can say for myself though it hasn’t been helping, and in fact I think it’s made things more painful some fundamental ways.

I’ve recognized that I spend a lot of energy (a preciously finite resource in my case)  on aversion, grief, and anger over what I perceive myself to have lost due to my lack of physical wellbeing. I haven’t worked with my limitations because I’ve hated that they exist so much. But because I don’t have enough energy to just throw half of it out the window being pissed off at no one, I’ve come around to trying to cultivate acceptance of myself, gratitude for the things I can do when I’m able, and thankfulness to the people and resources in my life that support me during the hardest times.

I know that I need to process what’s happening for me in the here and now because I can’t outrun it (trust me I’ve tried), and I want to use my art as a way to do that processing. I am an artist and a creative person, and whether I’m able to make a painting on any given day doesn’t change that. It’s something that illness can’t take away and its how I choose to be known. It often seems like everything is so much harder for me to do than it is for other people, and that never feels fair. But I remind myself that fairness is a construct of language that doesn’t exist in nature. I may not be able to keep up with others, but I can decide to keep going anyway.

Pain, illness, and adversity can be incredibly isolating and its been so important for me to feel connection to others through their creative works. I know I want to be a part of that global outreach. I want to make things that help people who really need help and I want to learn how to help heal myself while I do it. I want to keep talking about this as I learn from myself and others what living a good life alongside adversity looks like.

What do you struggle with and how do you push through it? Are you a creative, and if so does your art relate to your struggles? How do you heal yourself? I want to hear anything you feel comfortable sharing, and I’m sure a lot of other people do too. We don’t have to do this all alone, so let’s do what we can together.

Wishing you much love, support, and wellness in your life.


Setting Up A Watercolor (or Gouache) Palette

 Hey my peeps, just a quick spotlight on your palette today. How do you know what colors to buy, how do you save money trying new kinds of paints, how can you store the paints you have so they’re accessible? I’m combining tips for watercolor and gouache palettes here because they go so swimmingly well together they’re often used in conjunction.



If you’re new to painting, or just trying a new medium like gouache instead of your usual acrylic, buy the highest quality paint you can afford but only the primary colors and an opaque white (if not using watercolor). If you want a dark you don’t have to mix from scratch every time I’d recommend a Paynes Gray rather than a black.  Paynes Gray leans towards the cool side but maintains a lot more vibrancy than any regular black will when used straight or in mixes. Alternately you can skip the dark, and mix the three primary colors together to make your own dark and save some money. The color wheel is your best friend and you can mix literally everything you need from the three primaries.



When you decide to expand your color range with new paints, try to avoid buying paints that are made from more than 1 pigment unless you know you are madly in love with the color and will use it all the freaking time. Paints can be made with 1 pigment or more, and multi-pigment paints can be really beautiful. The problem is that they tend not to mix as well and get muddy when combined with other colors much more easily than a single pigment paint would. If you combine two multi-pigment paints it’s the same as having combined four or more single pigment paints, so you can imagine that could get wonky looking real quickly when mixing stuff together.   On artist quality paint tubes, the pigments used will be listed so you can tell what it’s made from. They’ll usually also tell you how lightfast (fade-proof) and opaque or transparent they are. With watercolors they’ll also say if they granulate or not which is something you should keep in mind if you don’t like texture in your paintings.



This one is specifically for my gouache squad out there. I adore painting with gouache, but having to keep tubes of it out to use can be really limiting if you want to paint outside or are just lazy like me. If you’re lazy like me you may have already tried leaving gouache out to dry on a palette and tried to re-wet it, and may have already discovered that most gouache brands don’t take to this well. Gouache cracks and crumbles as it dries and can be hard to impossible to re-wet to its former glorious consistency and opacity. Here’s a hack for that if you want to have it all, like I do.  Mix a tiny amount of honey into your gouache thoroughly before putting it in a pan to dry (you can also use liquid glycerin for this though I haven’t gotten to try that personally yet). This little bit of honey will stop the cracking and drying out that usually happens, and leave your gouache incredibly smooth and re-wetable on your palette.

*Note: Some brands of gouache like M. Graham already have honey in them because they use it as the binder for the pigment. I personally really dislike the sheen and sticky texture this leaves behind. So I use non-honey based brands of gouache and put WAY less honey in mine to get the best of both worlds - my colors still dry matte and aren’t sticky but are super palette friendly. 



Another gouachey tip is for those of you who already have some watercolors but want to try gouache out too. To start only buy a white tube of gouache and mix your watercolor pigments into the white paint. It pretty much instantly transforms your watercolors into gouache and you can get a feel for the qualities gouache has, like the opacity, fairly intense shift in color as it dries, layering capacity, and the consistency of the paint you need to mix to get the coverage that you want in any given situation. 



For watercolorists, I suggest you experiment to see whether you prefer working from tubes or from dried pans. I know some people are tubers for life and feel they get the most vibrant colors that way. For me personally I NEED my pans - they save so much money in wasted paint over time and are incredibly convenient. I wouldn’t trade them for all the tubes in the world.  So I buy my paint in tubes, but squeeze it out to dry in pans and I’ve never felt like I’ve lost any color vibrancy doing things this way.



It’s up to you whether you buy a pre-made palette or buy individual colors and make your own, but my personal recommendation would be to get your own colors. If you stick with the primaries and a white you should be able to afford higher quality paints for the same amount as a pre-made palette with other colors you may not want in the long run, or the crappy paint brush with hairs sticking out everywhere that every pre-made palette inevitably comes with. And as for the actual palette you start with, seriously to this day I use a plate to mix my paints on - you just really don’t need to buy a palette if you don’t want to. And if you do want a palette to store many colors in but don’t want to spend much money on one you can make your own palette really easily. A great video for this is from the YouTube channel In Liquid Color and you can find it here - I HIGHLY recommend this channel for learning more about pigments, binders, color mixing, palettes, brands of paint, etc...especially for watercolor artists, but not exclusively as much of the information crosses over to other mediums.



I hope these tips help give you some direction to start a new palette or start with a new medium without breaking the bank. These are all things I had to learn the hard way (I’m talking to you, huge collection of expensive Arcyla-Gouache I have and hate to paint with), so hopefully you can learn from some of my mistakes. 

Coloring Books & Event Prep

Being an illustrator isn't always about making illustrations - a lot of time gets spent running the business side too! And that can make for the occasional week where there aren't a lot of finished new paintings to share with the interwebs. So even though I don't have any masterpieces to show you today, I thought I'd take you along with me as I begin to create my first coloring book, and continue to prepare for my booth at Crafty Wonderland this May 5th.



I'm a tad obsessed with it actually. I've never been there and it's a major bucket-lister for me. So I had an idea that I could imagine that I've already gone to the reef, and that I kept a sketchbook while I was there. I'd write down notes of things that were memorable, sketch the animals that live in the reefs, and draw scenes from my dives that I could keep with me forever. Hence my the idea for the coloring book was born! I've already done the rough drawings for about 9 pages of it, so here are some pics of the (really) rough sketches.

I'm honestly stoked about how it's been coming along, and I dare to hope it will be ready and available in time for Crafty Wonderland. But even if it's not ready by then, it's definitely coming soon and I'm really enjoying working on it. Any excuse to look at pictures of the Great Barrier Reef is a good enough one for me! More updates and behind the scene shots are surely to come so stay tuned for it if you like that kind of thing.



Last thing I'll share today is that some of my merch for the fair has finally arrived and I think everyone is going to be very happy with the way it all came out. I'm delighted with the quality of it all and can't wait to unleash it upon the world as phase one of my plan for world domination. Just kidding about that last part, but the excitement is real. Here's a sneak peak of some of the stuff I've gotten this week.


A couple of prints, a couple sticker packs, some individual stickers, and a bundle of notebooks that I'm pretty sure are adorbs. I'm anxiously awaiting the delivery of some more very cool stuff, including two enamel pins I can't wait to get my hands on. All this and more will be coming with me to Crafty Wonderland at the Convention Center this May 5th, so be sure to stop by and say hi if you're coming to the fair! I really would love to meet you. Until next time, stay crazy wild.