Cancer will stop you dead in your tracks and causes chaos that is different from anything you may have experienced before. I tried to keep the brave face on as I went through treatment and my classes at school. That was until I had the assignment to sculpt a self-portrait that had a descriptive symbol on it somewhere. I grew up with my mother sculpting dolls from apples, cloth, and clay so I had a lot I thought I needed to live up to with this assignment. I have always been scared to draw faces much less sculpt them and what the heck is my symbol? I decided I wanted to create my head without hair because I was having difficulty processing losing my hair with my stem cell transplant. I chose the lotus flower on my shoulder to be a good symbol of health and rebirth as I prepared for my hospital stay. I carved faerie ruins into the petals to help with my spiritual, emotional, and physical journey. I will say it was a very pretty sculpture (which had the essence of what I look like). After it was graded, I put it in the laundry room until I needed to photograph it for my senior presentation. I got her out and was uncomfortable with it so I sat with her and contemplated why I wasn’t satisfied with the project. At this point I had a successful stem cell transplant and my hair had grown back. Then I started to get mad because I realized that this wasn’t what I was feeling during my treatment. I wasn’t this “pretty” sculpture with only a scarf being the way others could tell I was sick. I became angrier until I admitted to myself that I felt betrayed by my body and I was really pissed off. How and why did I have to have another crazy difficult situation in my life? I didn’t look like that self-portrait – I had felt burnt, cracked, and torn apart. On that day I let myself reveal my true face and I reworked the paint on the sculpture. I used crackle paste and brown paint on one side of the face to show what was going on inside me. I left the side with the lotus flower on it alone because that was one side of my reality – health and rebirth. The other side was scared. As I was clicking through the slides of my senior presentation, there was a gasp from the audience as this, now finished, piece popped up. It was really satisfying to show the ugly side of my path and what my true experience was. Here is your chance to step gingerly into your private side and the public face you show. As you do all these exercises, if your emotions are too much for you, reach out for help from those around you.
You can use the MASK template to identify the different sides you have. You can do a collage or use colors to symbolize the person you show to the public on one side. On the other side, use the other technique to show who you are when you’re alone. Feel comfortable with having a dialog with your mask while you are choosing the images from magazines that represent either your public side or private side. You may not understand why you are interested in an image or color, put it in anyway, you can always spend time later getting to know your piece. Ask it why and you may be surprised that a voice inside you will answer. If there isn’t an answer, that’s ok, it may come later.
This is a time in your life to practice being gentle with yourself so when you’re doing any of these projects, leave your expectations behind. One of the big obstacles for us to let our creative side shine is comparing what we do with what others do or what we “think” we should be doing. Think of art as your safe place or playground. There are no rules and it’s all a big experiment that we may never get “right”. You will be surprised how much you like what you do. As you practice, it will be more infused with your style so let it flow and be easy. I have been practicing creating with my own style for many years and I love what I do because I know that I like certain colors, a lot of texture, and a black outline.