Lefties and Landscapes

Dear Liza,

As I have gotten more into drawing and painting this past year, I have realized that there has been a whole long list in my head of “things I can’t do”. I’ll bet most people have this sort of list, and it makes decisions for them even when they don’t realize it

“I can’t write an essay every single day!” I wailed to myself, thinking about starting this blog in 2017. I have proven myself wrong 943 times so far.

My latest lefty drawing…

“I can’t draw with my left hand,” I have said since…. well, since I could draw at all. Recently, with practice and an adjustment of expectations, I have proven myself wrong again.

And now, I am tackling “I can’t do landscapes.” I am watching YouTube videos, finding the artists who go slowly enough for me, like Alan Owen, a Scotsman who is lovely to listen to. I am staring at landscape photos and watercolors, looking for the magic so I can reproduce it. And I am practicing. A lot.
With very mixed results.

On my own……

In “All That Jazz”, choreographer Joe Gideon tells one of troupe, “I don’t know if I can make you a great dancer. I don’t even know if I can make you a good dancer. But if you keep trying and don’t give up, I know I can make you a better dancer.”

With Alan Owen’s guidance.

And better is all I’m looking for right now.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Finally, A Product

Dear Liza,

Yesterday was busy! I walked down to Auntie Katie’s to deliver some cookies, made art with stencils, and got a bunch of essays edited. It felt good to be accomplishing things.

I also finished a non-dominant (lefty) piece that I started last week. . It was the most difficult so far, and it took days of on and off work. My left hand isn’t very strong and working with it is hard, so I only do about an hour at a time.

I decided to copy my photo of a bridge at Cambridge, England. The reflections and delicate windows are just beautiful.

So lovely!

I knew it was going to be hard, but easy stuff doesn’t make me smarter, and if it was horrible, I could always tear it out of the journal. I started, wiggly lines and all, feeling worse and worse about it as I went on.

Not so much…..

I was so discouraged I put it away. But after a few days I remembered Picasso’s statement that if, at some point, you don’t hate a piece, you will never make anything worthwhile. I decided to give it another chance.

Better!

I got the watercolors out and, still left handed, started adding color. Watercolor always needs layers and layers to look right, so my lazy left got a workout. That took another long afternoon of painting and drying, and painting some more. It was better! I got out the colored pencils to give some stronger edges on the bridge and bricks, and eventually was satisfied. It could stay in the journal, though I think it still needs some shading.

I used to think that if you weren’t “good enough” at art, or music, or whatever, you were ‘wasting your time’. I now know that it isn’t being good at art that is the point, it is simply the doing. What you can learn about yourself as you peer closely at things and try and make sense of them with pencil and paper are all part of understanding who you can be.

It’s a worthwhile project, I promise.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Happy Brain

Dear Liza,

This has been a good week for figuring stuff out. Whether that is because of the new brain exercises I have been doing or not, I think I will keep up with them. A happy brain makes a happy Grandma Judy.

Left- handed portrait of a neighbor

Drawing pictures with my non-dominant hand has made my whole body work harder. My left hand is figuring out how to hold a pencil, my right hand makes a fist, thinking she should be doing something, and my brain works overtime, making sense of the whole situation. It just seems to wake everything up!

Grandpa Nelson, enjoying the sunshine

This week I have gone on more walks. The sudden sunshine after weeks of rain is part of the reason, of course. Blinding sunshine through winter trees is just good for the soul.

Mapping out the day

But there’s more! For the Art Journal, I have made art I really like. Mapping my day as a board game and planning my ‘dream houses’ (yes, there are more than one!) have kept me happily introspective.

One dream house by the sea…

I have also figured out how to re-write my blogs so they can be printed. I sigh big sighs as I hunt up photos from years ago and cuddle up close to the feelings that they conjure.

…and one in Paris!

All of these are good things. Art, writing, figuring things out, and sunshine. I am enjoying them, but also very aware that I am using them as emotional armor against what seems like an approaching storm in our country. In the coming weeks, I am going to need all the joy I can get.

Defensive happiness. It works.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Brain Work

Dear Liza,

I have known for months that the art I have been doing during the lockdown is making me happier. I have a fun project to do everyday, connect with friends and family over ZOOM, and I get to learn new things.

Now, it turns out it maybe making me healthier and smarter, too. One of the challenges last week had us drawing something with our non-dominant hand. For me, that’s my left, which is usually pretty useless. It was hard!

First non-dominant hand drawing

Just figuring out how to hold the pencil, how much pressure to apply, then making the lines go where I wanted…. it wasn’t pretty, I tell you. Because my notebook has a large spiral binding, I needed to turn the whole thing upside down so it didn’t get in the way of my left hand.

Second….

But I kept at it and finished a drawing of our French press coffee maker that was not terrible. I did some reading about this sort of exercise. “Using your opposite hand will strengthen neural connections in your brain, and even grow new ones”, says Jeff Rose, who began using his left hand because of an injury. “It’s similar to how physical exercise improves your body’s functioning and grows muscles.”

Third….

Well, I thought, I could use some of that! Maybe in addition to my daily routine of doing a French lesson, eating lots of veggies and getting some exercise, I should draw with my left hand, like a set of Frontal Cortex crunches.

So I did. The drawings got better, and I got braver. I did some left-handed watercolors with the drawing, which made them prettier, if not actually better. Because my view is limited, I started copying photos of our cat and of poppies in our old back yard.

Fourth.

And last night, when you and I were drawing together on ZOOM, I realized that by using my left hand everyday, my right hand has gotten smarter! I was able to draw my stuffed dog Sammy much better than I could before. Maybe the fault isn’t in our hands, but in our brains. Maybe I have been forming new pathways in my old brain!

So, go do some non-dominant hand drawing. You will feel clumsy for a while, but it will pay off.

Love,

Grandma Judy