• Amber Leilani

A year of exploration and reinvention...

Today marks the one year anniversary of my husband and I locking it down, for what, many of us thought would be "two weeks" of dealing with the novel coronavirus, covid 19.

Ah, to be so young and naive again...

As we celebrate this milestone, I find that I am turning more and more inward, asking who am I? What do I want from my life? From my art? What is it that brings ME joy? All while facing a future that still feels uncertain...art wise as much as anything else.

In addition to our one year Covidversary, I will be turning 51 this month as well, celebrating my second birthday in lockdown. 50 was supposed to be the BIG ONE! We were traveling by train to NYC, eating at Craft, and being the Bohemians our new, post PhD life has bestowed upon us. Alas, this did not come to pass.

Instead, we've been locked in our "bohemian" apartment, seeing no friends nor family for 12 months.

I am so sick of eating my own cooking, Isweartogawd.

Needless to say I have had A LOT of time to ART.

And ART I have!!! Oh boy, have I Arted!!

I was always envious of those women who had the time and money to take classes. I took some art classes in college, however, I never learned technique. It was more "what is the political and social climate of the tree?" rather that, "here is how you paint a tree". Hippies.

So, now with the interwebs offering up all manner of artistic endeavors...I was finally able to sign up for some classes....if for nothing else, simply to have something to do!

At the beginning of lockdown I took a bunch of classes on Skillshare, then with Laura Horn, Juliette Meeks, and Tracy Verdugo. And I enjoyed every single one of them! I researched and tried my hand at pattern design and at abstracts. I painted without fear of marketing or selling. I painted for ME!!!!

It was wonderful. And messy. So many ruined pairs of pants!

Then the little "Will This Sell" voice in the back of my mind started chirping at me. I hate that voice. It is the voice of unhappiness, self doubt, and failure.

I was able to lock that voice away for a bit and continue down the path of exploration - it's a meandering path, deep in the woods, surrounded by faerie lights and ferns. I can see circus tents above the tree tops in the distance. I can smell woodsmoke and feel the crunch of pine needles underfoot. It is a path I am familiar with but I don't know all the bends and curves. I know that adventure awaits on this path. Even though the darkness can be a bit daunting.

So, much like my uncertain post covid future, I feel like my art-future is uncertain too. It has felt that way for a while now. Between injuries and changing algorithms I feel like I am constantly having to reinvent myself. I've been searching for something...trying on different hats to see what fits, and although a few items have looked good on me, I haven't found that thing that makes my heart sing. Yet.

I continue to paint...and will continue to paint. It DOES make my heart sing. The only time that voice in my head that screams OH MY GOD, YOU'REFIFTYYOU'RERUNNINGOUTOFTIMEWHATHAVEYOUDONEWITHYOURLIFE?!!! ever shuts the hell up, is when I'm sitting in front of my easel putting paint to panel. So, that's what I do. Every day. Like the world isn't burning around me.

I have been experimenting with both acrylics and mixed media. I have experimented with texture and with a smooth, gouache-like look. I continue to flip-flop a bit between styles...Like much of my life, I am interested in and drawn to many things. Finding a style that is ME has been hard. But I think I'm zeroing in on it now. I am slowly coming to terms with HOW I paint while still trying to up my game and learn different techniques. I guess this will always be an ongoing process.

I also took a huge leap and bought some oils ...

That has so far been an experiment in terror. But I know I will get the feel of it eventually. I just have to re-train my watercolor brain to go from Dark to Light rather than Light to Dark. But for now I can feel another shift coming in my work. In fact, it's already here. I've had some ideas in the back of my brain (and in a bunch of old sketchbooks) for the last decade and I am finally feeling brave enough to try putting them on canvas. Well, actually wood panels. I don't much like to paint on canvas. But you get the idea.

The ideas began to fully take shape this month as I have tried to find a way to look within and find joy while remembering the good times without feeling the pang of loss. Remembering what I had in New Orleans with joy rather than sorrow. Looking at what I have now with hope and love.

So, here I am, at my one year Covidversary, staring 51 in the wrinkled face...hoping after a year of trying to keep us and those in our community safe, that there is life after quarantine; that there is a life worth living; art worth making; and ideas left to explore.

Having no one else to really interact with for 12 months has obviously made me into a very ME person...I have always lived inside my own head, often not present in my own life, but meandering down a midway somewhere in the wilds of my mind. Being in quarantine this last year has turned that dial up to 11 for sure. But maybe that's not a bad thing...It has given me the insight into the life I WANT to live. The life I can make for myself, if only out of paint and varnish.

And if you can't re-invent yourself at 51, then when can you?! So, here is to whatever the future holds...I have to hold on to the hope that it will be bright, glittery, whimsical, beautiful, and full of love and adventure. And painty-pants.



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