Category Archives: Art by Asphyxia

The impossible feat my printers had to pull off to print my full colour illustrated novel

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Image: Two similar book covers. On the left is Future Girl (Australian edition) and on the right is The Words in my Hands (North American edition), both by Asphyxia. They show a girl with long, black, wavy hair. She wears a gray sleeveless top and holds a magenta pencil and paint brush in her fist, with a light blue paint dripping from the brush. She has large black cross over her right ear. Her eyes are green and her lips red. The background shows drawings of buildings. The left background is green, brown and teal textured paint; the right background is teal, pink and ochre textured paint. On both covers is a review by Amie Kaufman, a New York Times bestselling author, which says, ‘Brilliantly imaginative, totally immersive…’

When I first had the idea for my book, titled Future Girl (in Australia) and The Words in My Hands (in North America), I told my publishers I wanted to make a young adult novel that included full colour art on every page, because I believe that picture books should not just be for young children. I now know why this is a genre-breaking concept – it was way more complex than I could ever have imagined.

Usually picture books are printed on glossy thick paper, which makes the art look great, but when the pages add up (384 of them, in the case of my book), it can make the book prohibitively heavy. There’s a reason coffee-table books are called that – they sit more easily on a coffee table for viewing than in your hands while you lie back in a bath or in bed. We had to find a way to print it that would result in it feeling like a novel, not a coffee table book.

Using thinner paper is an option, but if you go too thin this risks ink bleeding through from one side to the other. If I have an artwork with heavy black on one page, then light colours on the next, the light page could be contaminated. My publisher selected a thinner stock than they would for a picture book, and printed special colour proofs double-sided on the actual stock (the first time they’d ever done this!) to ensure there were no problems here. The publisher also insisted we print on ‘woodfree’ stock, which is what most ‘normal’ novels are printed on, instead of glossy/shiny stock like picture books are often printed on – to ensure it still felt like a novel. This sort of paper knocks back the colours, so the designer had to ramp up colour in our files to compensate, and again, there were several test colour proofs done to check this colour before the actual book printed.

Not only that, but areas of very heavily saturated ink on a page can take a while to dry – risking the ink transferring on to page opposite it. If ink saturation gets too heavy, special measures need to be taken by the printer – such as separating out and drying pages individually, or putting a special varnish over the top of each page. These sorts of measures take a ton of extra time and cost a lot of extra money. So, the book designer also needed to knock back some of my heavier blacks to avoid this, walking that fine line of judging how much to knock them back in order to receive the best printed product possible while remaining true to the look of the artwork.

I am amazed that my publishers didn’t just tell me where to go with my idea. Instead they took a punt, consulted with highly experienced printers, and eventually came up with what we all hoped would be the perfect combination of paper, ink and techniques.

I am super-fussy about colour, and choose the precise shades of each colour in my artworks very carefully. I spent hours tweaking the colours for every page. This is further complicated by the fact that what you see on the screen doesn’t represent what will come out of the printing press. That meant I had to hand the final colour tweaks over to my publishers as they use professionally calibrated screens, special lights, and make further changes depending on the type of paper used and what they see in the proofs. Woodfree stock sucks up far more ink than shiny paper so a concern was that all the bright colours in final book would end up dulled. You will understand why I was extremely nervous when I ripped open the package containing the very first copy of the book. I didn’t know how much all the paper, ink and technologies used would mess with my vision for the art.

As I flipped through it for the very first time, my jaw dropped open. I couldn’t believe it. It’s perfect. JUST PERFECT. The colours are rich and vibrant and just as I wanted them. The paper, the texture, the size and weight of the book combine to be a sensuous feast. There’s no bleed-through, none! It’s just small and light enough to hold comfortably while still being substantial and delicious.

I cried. Eight years in the making and at last I could hold it in my hands. It struck me that if I had never seen this book before, I would be so blown away that I would have to cancel my entire life for a month in order to absorb all that beautiful art. I truly did create the book I wanted to read, look at, have and hold.

I hope you’ll love it too. It’s available here if you’re in Australia, and here if you’re in North America

Life without toxic relationships

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Image: Artwork text of black paint saying, ‘YOU ARE ALLOWED to walk away from TOXIC PEOPLE’. The background is an urban grunge textured wall in black, dripping light brown paint and a slash of a red paint.

One advantage to having my entire life wiped out and being forced to start over in almost every single aspect, is that I can rebuild it much, much more carefully. The thing I am doing differently this time is choosing the people who will be in it according to whether or not they have empathy, and whether or not they are manipulative. This article, How to never get involved with an abuser again, changed my life. It says to look at the way a person acts, not what they say, and don’t accept any excuses for hurtful behaviour.

When I read the list of signs that a person lacks empathy, I recognise people I have known. Here are some examples:

  • Inability to imagine how their words and actions may affect you;
  • Isn’t interested in finding ways to soothe your worries;
  • Becomes angry or looks at you with a blank face when you cry or get emotional;
  • Is hurtfully blunt and casually critical, and when you become upset, tells you they are ‘just being honest’. Honesty without kindness is cruelty.
  • Talks at length about a topic that clearly bores you, without noticing;
  • Brings up sensitive topics after you’ve asked them to stop;
  • Expects instant forgiveness;
  • Invalidates your thoughts, experiences, ideas and concerns;
  • Neglecting or ignoring you when you are sick;
  • Judgemental;
  • Believes they are always right;
  • Expects you to accomodate their needs and schedule, without regard for yours;
  • Doesn’t ask you how your day was or how your doctor’s appointment went;
  • Self-centredness – seems to have plenty of empathy for you but not for others. Watch out – you’re next;
  • Indifference to the suffering of others;
  • Doesn’t seem to care how their words or actions affect you.

I will add some red flags to watch for of my own:

  • Has a vision of how you are or should be, and is more interested in trying to get you to fit that vision than understand how you actually are;
  • Offers you something and when you take them up on it, acts like they never offered it;
  • Expects you to move out of their way rather than expecting to work around you;
  • ‘Forgets’ saying or doing things that upset you when you call them on their behaviour, and tells you it didn’t happen;
  • Tells you that you’re over-reacting or being too sensitive when let them know you feel upset or hurt;

According to the article, you can tell if you are being manipulated by looking at your own feelings about the relationship: 

  • You often feel guilty; your mood depends on the state of the relationship; you feel inadequate;
  • you never feel sure where you stand; you carefully control your words, actions and emotions around this person;
  • you do things that go against your values or make you feel uncomfortable;
  • expressing negative thoughts and emotions seem forbidden so you hide them;
  • the relationship feels complex and you can’t quite put your finger on what the problem is;
  • you try to figure things out but can’t get anywhere;
  • you want to please this person but keep getting it wrong;
  • you end up in no win situations where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t;
  • you feel afraid of losing the relationship;
  • you feel you are walking on eggshells.

I watch for the above in new people I spend time with, and if signs of manipulation or lack of empathy come up a few times, even in small ways, I choose not to continue the relationship. I am astonished to see that these traits can show up in the earliest encounters, often in seemingly positive ways. Some examples:

  • There was a guy who invited me on a date, telling me we’d go for a walk on the beach and that he had a puppy I was going to fall in love with. He did not ask to find out if I like walking on the beach, and he didn’t check whether I am into puppies. He assumed. Red flag: he has a vision of how I am supposed to be, not interested in finding out who I actually am.
  • I stayed with a woman who blindsided me with upsetting text messages during an important meeting. When I looked back I recalled a myriad of other small red flags. I decided to move out before things could escalate.
  • A friend showed me a series of videos on YouTube, and even after I had pointed out that I couldn’t understand them as they didn’t have subtitles, continued to insist that I would find them fantastic. She didn’t notice the bored expression on my face.

I’ve found I can tell a lot about a person by working with them in the kitchen. Say I’m washing the dishes, and the other person wants to wash their hands, what happens? Some people wait until a suitable moment for me, and then reach in quickly to wash. Others expect me to stand aside, or even stop washing the dishes altogether, because it is inconvenient for them that I am in the way. The former have empathy – they are thinking about my experience and taking care not to interrupt it. The latter are focused on their own experience and unconcerned with mine. I keep a very sharp eye on the people in the second group – usually there are other red flags which surface. By watching the small ways people interact with each other, I’ve found I can quickly pick up who has empathy and who lacks it.

Of course, some people are a mix – empathic in some ways and manipulative in others. I have noticed that if I call them on their manipulative behaviour or for crossing my boundaries, they will either respond with concern that they have upset me and a desire to understand better (and to change), or else respond defensively and maybe by pretending that the thing never happened. The people in the latter group get struck off my list. With the former, I watch carefully to see if their intention to change translates to actual change. Do they stop crossing my boundaries in the way I requested? Remember that behaviour speaks louder than words.

By pulling the brakes on these relationships before I become too invested, I have noticed a magnificent effect on my life: it is now filled with deeply empathic, caring people. I have never been so well loved as I am now.

When making new relationships, watch carefully for signs of whether the person has empathy or not, and whether they manipulate you or others. If you spot any red flags, watch carefully to see if this is a pattern of behaviour or just a one off. If it is a one-off, you could try calling the person (gently) on their behaviour and see how they respond. If their response is problematic or the pattern is strong, I encourage you to pull the brakes on the relationship if possible, and distance yourself. If that is impossible, take care to have very strong boundaries with this person and minimise day-to-day involvement.

If you recognise established relationships in your life that are clearly toxic, proceed carefully, as a person who lacks empathy or is manipulative may be quite mild while you are on their side, but become enraged and dangerous when they realise you are not. There are two key strategies to pull the breaks on toxic relationships – one is to establish boundaries and the other is to create distance. You could attempt to establish boundaries first, and go for distance if it fails. But maybe you know the person well enough to know that their behaviour is intrinsic and won’t change, in which case, distance is the only answer.

If it is a romantic relationship, imagine the worst case scenario and make preparations before you change the status quo. Hopefully it won’t come to that. But just in case, these are the kinds of ways you might prepare:

  • Ensure you have financial security, such as your own separate bank account with plenty of funds. If you share money with your partner, you could suggest a change of strategy such as having a joint account with enough money to live on monthly, and the remainder split into personal accounts belonging to each of you.
  • Place important documents such as house titles, bank statements, legal agreements etc in a folder in a safe place where they cannot suddenly ‘disappear’.
  • Talk to a friend or family member, preferably one who does not have a relationship with your partner, and make a plan to stay with them or call them if you need help.

Tried any of the ideas in this post? How did they go? Leave your comments below.

I did a talk about art journaling recently, for Woollahra Libraries. They have it on their website for the school holidays. I show my journals, answer questions, and talk about the benefits of journaling, as well as how you can make your own journal from scratch using upcycled materials. There’s plenty of fodder there for school holiday activities, so watch if you want some inspiration to try out journaling. This is good for kids and adults, and it’s presented in Auslan and English. Enjoy!

Check it out here.

Just Deaf

In the early days of a past relationship, my girlfriend accompanied me to an appointment with an audiologist. I needed new ear moulds.  Given that I’ve been deaf since the age of 3, I’ve been fitted for a great many ear moulds in my life. I know what to expect.

However, the audiologist bent over me, a bit too close to my face, saying loudly, over-enunciating his words, ‘Now, this will feel a little bit cold.’

With as much poise and dignity as I could muster, I simply nodded. I know. I was itching to grab the equipment out of his hands and squirt the stuff into my ears myself. I’ve done it countless times, back when I had an audiologist who would let me make my own moulds. But since she retired, I haven’t had that luxury. Instead, I waited as he did it for me, and then reached up to manipulate the putty so that the moulds would be just as I like them.

He slapped my hands away. ‘You mustn’t touch until they are cured,’ he scolded me, again over-enunciating every word.

I think we got half way through the appointment when my girlfriend suddenly exploded at him. ‘FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!!’ she screamed. ‘SHE HAS TWO UNIVERSITY DEGREES. STOP TREATING HER LIKE SHE’S TWO YEARS OLD!!’ I don’t know what else she said, but it was said loudly and vehemently and took some time. And she said everything I’ve wanted to say, for years and years, but have politely sucked it up in order to be gracious and poised.

What stunned me though was the transformation in the man afterwards. He didn’t apologise to me. But suddenly he treated me like a normal person. Up until then I’d been telling myself I was imagining it.

Unfortunately, the behaviour of that audiologist is very common. I go to vote, and the person handing me the voting card asks whoever I’m with, ‘Can she sign her name?’  People are astonished that I have a drivers’ licence. I remember as a child, that I had written a handful of limericks, with the correct cadenza, and the visiting teacher for the Deaf was beyond amazed, stunned even, at this feat, even though other kids in my class could write rhyming poems too.

These days, it’s a little easier to break people out of this patronising way. I drop into conversation that I have six books published and am currently working on my seventh. I show them a picture of The Grimstones. I give an author talk. THEN I get respect, and people realise that I’m not as dumb as I apparently look.

But you know what really stood out for me. I went to a new hairdresser, a couple of years ago, and I had to explain to her exactly what I wanted done with my dreadlocks. This is normally an exercise in frustration as most hairdressers don’t seem to believe I could possibly know what I want done with my hair. This woman treated me with respect. She sat me down, focussed while I explained, then checked as she went that I was happy, accepting my corrections. This was a minor incident, but all this time later it still stands out in my mind. Why? Because I was treated like an intelligent human being, without having proven myself first.

If you’d like to do your bit to help raise awareness, feel free to share this post. Thanks!

If you’d like a copy, or to give one to someone for a gift, this is available as a giclee print in my shop.

Introduction – some things to know about music

Image: A painting of a girl with long red dreadlocks and sparkly green eyes. She has a black cross over her left ear, and red lips. She wears a red T-shirt with a black stencil of a face on it. She is holding a guitar. To her right is large text: ‘GarageBand Songwriting for Deaf and HOH. In the background is a blue textured wall with grungy black dots, piano keys and music notes.

The easiest way to start making music is to adapt some music that is already out there to suit your hearing. You can then play around with it and branch out to create original pieces. It is helpful to understand what the difference is between copying music and what makes a piece of music original (composed by you), as we’ll be talking about that during the course. 

I’m going to use an art analogy. Imagine the very first cave person who carved a line drawing of a figure into the wall of a cave. Compared to the drawings we have today, it was a pretty primitive drawing. Imagine a second person comes along and is inspired by this drawing and thinks they will create their own. So they carve a similar line drawing in the same style, but of a different figure, and they decide to colour in parts of it by mixing some red clay with water to paint over the top. The second artist has built on the ideas offered by the first artist, and then added something. With great successions of artists who are inspired by the work of those who went before them, we have finally arrived at the very sophisticated artwork we have available today. I would not be the visual artist I am now without having learnt techniques from other artists, which I now use to create something original. Hopefully new artists will be inspired by my work and build on my ideas further.

With music, it’s the same. Take something that appeals by another musician and make your own version of it. Don’t pressure yourself to make it somehow better or add anything. As a beginner song-writer, your only aim is to create something that is pleasing for you to listen to.

In art, if you were to copy another person’s line drawing exactly, that is plagiarism. But if you do a drawing of a person in a different position, it’s not. You can use the same style, the same pen, and the same paper, but the actual shape of the drawing needs to be different. In music, the melody represents the shape. Your melody needs to be unique. Other parts of the song do not. This means you can copy some parts of other songs directly into your own music.

In music, it is common for artists to create a ‘cover’. A cover is a song that has already been done by another musician, and the artist copies it, perhaps changing some elements. For example, the artist might change the style, the speed, some of the words, some of the rhythms, or sing it with a higher or lower voice. They might change the structure of the song too, using only parts of the words or musical phrases or rearranging them. Even with all these changes, the melody and idea of the song are recognisable as belonging to the original artist. Some songs are so old and popular that covers have been done numerous times by numerous people. If you upload a cover to YouTube, YouTube will automatically recognise that it is a cover, put ads on your video, and use those ads to pay the original artist each time someone watches your video. That way, they get the credit as being the original creator of the song.

Creating covers is fantastic for us because we can make use of the excellent music that is already out there, and simply adapt it to make it more enjoyable for our specific range of hearing and taste. In this course we will start by making a cover.

When you are ready to write an original song, you will need to make sure both the melody and lyrics are original, and you will be able to draw on the work of other artists to construct the rest of the song.

The language of music

You’ve just learnt the word ‘cover’ – which is to create your own adaptation of a piece of music written by someone else. While working with music, there are numerous terms it is helpful to know, that will allow me to describe to you in detail how to create a song. Knowing the correct words will also allow you to search online for information that will help you develop your songs.

When I was first learning all the terms, I became a bit overwhelmed and couldn’t always remember what was what. For that reason I’ve created a glossary in the next lesson for you which you can print out. Use it to quickly remind yourself what word means what. As you work with these words, you will find you start to remember them automatically.

I also found it helpful to have references to remind me of other information I learnt along the way, as it was difficult for me to memorise everything instantly. I have compiled my favourite references in the next lesson to make it easy for you. I suggest you print these out, or save them in a folder where you can quickly refer to them while taking this course.

Music and rules

There are a lot of rules to making music. When I first discovered just how many rules there are, I was astonished, thinking that surely music can be created from any combination of sounds. As a visual artist, there is a lot of freedom to paint and draw any way you like, with any combination of colours you fancy, and all shades you can possibly mix. As a musician, this is not so. You are expected to adhere to a long list of rules for your music to be considered acceptable rather than weird and clashing. This course covers important rules.

The good thing about music is that having rules can actually make it easier to create a song. As a visual artist, when you stare at a blank page and think about what you want to paint, the possibilities are infinite and so it can be overwhelming to think about where to start. With music, it’s more like choosing from a recipe book. You pick the genre or style (think of that as like choosing breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert), then you choose the scale (think of that as choosing from a list of ingredients that are available in your local shop), then you combine them in certain ways in order to create a piece of music (a meal) that people will recognise as being suitable for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert.

When I was working on writing my book, Future Girl, my editor said to me that while the reader would find themselves immersed in the world I had created most of the time, occasionally I wrote things that would cause them to slip out of that immersed state, and remember that they are sitting in their own lounge room, reading a book. She advised me to write in such a way that allowed the reader to remain fully immersed in my made up world. With music, the same idea applies. When you create music that follows expectations, hearing people are more likely to become absorbed in the music and less likely to spend their listening time thinking about it.

This may make more sense to you if you think about food. If you go to a friend’s house for dinner, and they announce that they are bringing out dessert, you will expect something sweet. If they serve you bacon and eggs (a traditional breakfast meal), you may find yourself feeling confused. You might find yourself thinking that you are already full from the main meal, so a hearty meal like bacon and eggs is too much right now. You might wonder if your host knows what a dessert is. You might feel disappointed, as you were really looking forward to something sweet. All these thoughts can interrupt your enjoyment of eating the bacon and eggs. The same bacon and eggs, served for breakfast, would be a completely different experience. The difference is what you expect. When you say to a hearing person that you have some music for them to listen to, they instantly develop expectations, just as you do when someone says they will bring you dessert. 

If you don’t want to create expectations in your audience, it may be wise to avoid the word ‘music’. You could say that you have been experimenting with combining sounds in Garageband and wonder if they would like to hear what you have made.

Hopefully now you understand that if you create music that breaks a lot of rules, hearing people lose the feeling of immersion in the moment and instead focus on trying to understand what you have done. By following musical conventions, you avoid the moment where the listener leaves the magic of the music and starts thinking consciously about it instead. 

While musicians break the rules at chosen times, and make wonderful pieces as a result, it can be hard for us to work out when it is wise to break them and when not to. I will teach you the rules in this course, so that you can apply them to make music that doesn’t cause hearing people to cringe, but if you are creating music purely for yourself, you can of course break all the rules and make whatever sounds good to you.

Learning to make music is like learning to cook. The instruments are like the pots, pans and utensils. The music notes are your ingredients. Garageband is like the stove, the place where you combine everything together to make your meal. A good chef knows when to change the recipe and when to follow it exactly. For the purpose of this course, I’ll be teaching you how to follow the recipes. From there you can branch out.

A side note for deaf/HoH people: we become familiar with cooking because we have seen it done long before we learn to cook anything ourselves. The challenge for us is that since we cannot see music, all the components may be unfamiliar, so it may feel like there is a lot to learn. But take heart and have patience, and it won’t be long before you have something delicious to eat (or listen to)!

If your child is Deaf, you need to read this book!

Image: Two similar book covers. On the left is Future Girl (Australian edition) and on the right is The Words in my Hands (North American edition), both by Asphyxia. They show a girl with long, black, wavy hair. She wears a gray sleeveless top and holds a magenta pencil and paintbrush in her fist, with a light blue paint dripping from the brush. She has large black cross over her right ear. Her eyes are green and her lips red. The background shows drawings of buildings. The left background is green, brown and teal textured paint; the right background is teal, pink and ochre textured paint. On both covers is a review by Amie Kaufman, a New York Times bestselling author, which says, ‘Brilliantly imaginative, totally immersive…’

My book, Future Girl (in Australia) and The Words in My Hands (in North America), is a coming-of-age novel set in near future Melbourne, presented as 16-year-old Piper’s stunning visual-art journal. I have woven into the story my detailed experience of Deaf culture and what it feels like to be d/Deaf.

I made Piper d/Deaf because I realised how little most hearing people know about d/Deafness. When I first tried to write about Piper’s experience, I found myself stuck, being Deaf is something I don’t think about a lot. I found I didn’t know how to articulate it. So I started jotting down my everyday experiences – the little annoyances, the benefits, confusion, the irritating things people say and do, and the complex feelings that arose when someone has tried to provide access but missed the mark.’ I began to articulate aspects of Deafness I had never seen described before.

For example:

A Deaf dilemma: if you’re standing with a group of hearing people who are laughing, but you have no idea what they are laughing about, should you laugh along to be friendly (and if you do, are you somehow ‘lying’ about having understood?), or stand there with a stony face even though it could seem rude and unfriendly?

I had never realised I was making these difficult decisions on the fly, every day, without analysing how I wanted to approach them, My responses were automatic: I laughed along. But did I really want to do this? Perhaps it would be better to let people know that I felt left out.

You might wonder why d/Deafness is written with ‘d/D’ at the start. A lower case ‘d’ refers to deafness as a medical condition – the simple fact of being unable to hear fully. A capital ‘D’ refers to Deaf people who are members of the Deaf community – a cultural group, similar to ‘Italians’ and ‘Greeks’. In the book, Piper starts out oral (lipreading and communicating verbally) and considers herself to be ‘deaf’. By the end of the book, she has discovered Deafness and is working out to what extent she wants to embrace Deaf culture and identity, and to what extent she wishes to retain her oral deaf upbringing.

The book will inspire d/Deaf people on all parts of the spectrum from ‘deaf’ to ‘Deaf’ to make conscious choices about how they respond to life as a d/Deaf person in a hearing world. For hearing people, it raises awareness of the complex challenges d/Deaf people face in attempting to fit into a hearing world. For parents, it provides an insight into how to support their children to be their best d/Deaf selves.

Future Girl / The Words in My Hands is a must-read for Deaf people… and those who are hearing… it takes me back to my own struggle to fit in and my transformation into loving myself as I am: a signing Deaf woman with a place in both the Deaf and hearing worlds,’ says Drisana Levitzke-Gray, Young Australian of the Year 2015.

A special note to parents of d/Deaf children: It may be your goal for your child to grow up to be as normal as possible. You might not realise that this can put a huge pressure on us. While some people who are d/Deaf or have a disability do put a high value on ‘passing as normal’, many of us would rather take a different approach: that of accepting that we are different and asking for our needs to be met.

‘Everything I hoped for as a parent of a deaf child… priceless for showing the constant load I see in my son but struggled to understand. ’ — Louise Ward, Wardini Books NZ

Piper’s experience of growing up oral and then discovering and choosing to embrace aspects of Deaf experience is common. She feels guilt for breaking away from what her mother believes is best for her, resulting in a complex and tumultuous relationship with her mother. Your child may eventually undertake a similar journey. I urge parents to read Future Girl in order to understand and support this journey as early as possible, sidestepping the conflict.

While the book is packed with thought-provoking insights into d/Deafness, it also bursts with passion, resilience, optimism and joie-de-vivre – a fun and engaging read for ages 11 to adult.

Get your copy here if you’re in Australia, and here if you’re in North America.

Virginity

If you think about kissing, it’s an odd thing to do, to press our lips against those of another and move them around. And yet it’s nice, we do it, and it fosters a feeling of connection and intimacy. In our society, kissing is no big deal. We kiss strangers politely, as a demonstration of superficial intimacy. We kiss our beloveds passionately. We kiss our children with warmth and affection. To kiss or not – it’s rarely remarked upon. Sex is really an extension of kissing – body parts touching and moving, a demonstration of intimacy. And yet, it’s such a big deal. If this particular body part goes beyond this particular imagined line on another person, we have HAD SEX. And if we have had sex, great cultural symbols are created. ‘Virginity’ has been ‘lost’. A life-long partnership is ideally supposed to have been created. With the ‘wrong’ person, a terrible betrayal is supposed to have occurred. Certain other people have the ‘right’ to know if sex has taken place. Let’s just take a step back from it all, and remember that like kissing, sex is simply body parts moving, an arbitrary expression of connection and intimacy with another person. (Yes, there are ramifications of sex, such as pregnancy and STDs, but STDs can be passed on through kissing too, there can be ramifications of crossing the road too, and these ramifications don’t need to be the driving force behind the huge cultural symbols ‘created’ by sex.)

This painting is a part of my exhibition, Love, Lies and Indoctrination, which can be viewed online here.

If you’d like to buy this piece, it’s available here.

Umm… can you tell me what you’re all saying?

Image: Artwork of a girl standing side-on facing the viewer. She has rosebud lips, prominent pink blushed cheeks and dark hair tied in a side bun. She appears to be looking away to the left. She is wearing a black long-sleeved top and a light brown scarf with black polka dots. The background is stressed white with pink and yellow ‘stains’. A faint pencil text reads: ‘Umm… can you tell me what you’re all saying?’, with ‘Asphyxia 2016’ signed beneath.

This is one of my favourite paintings I’ve done. I don’t exactly know why. The words read, ‘Umm… can you tell me what you’re all saying?’ These words reverbrate inside my head so often, in so many situations. But I say them only a small percentage of the time. I feel like a broken record. And so often when I do take a breath and ask, my words are ignored. It’s not just me – lots of Deaf people find this. It’s so annoying, the extra effort needed to include us, that people around us often end up blanking it out. This includes people who love us and care deeply about us.

I’m asking you to go the extra mile. I know it’s annoying and hard, but it makes the biggest difference to me and other Deaf people. It’s even better when we don’t have to ask the question.

Feel free to share this post to raise awareness about this tricky issue. You can buy prints of this painting here.

Behind the scenes – painting a messy watercolour face

Some of my students in my art journal course have asked me to post some work in progress shots that show how I paint a face.

I use lots of different techniques and mediums when painting portraits. This one outlines just one method. I think it’s good for beginners because by starting with a simple pencil drawing you have a lot of form already and don’t need to build it all up with paint. Also you can be pretty messy in how you apply paint, and that will just make it look even better.

Below is my step by step process that shows how I go from a pencil drawing to a finished watercolour painting.

I use lots of different techniques and mediums when painting portraits. This outlines just one method. I think it’s good for beginners because by starting with a simple pencil drawing you have a lot of form already and don’t need to build it all up with paint. Also you can be pretty messy in how you apply paint, and that will just make it look even better.

I started by scribbling with graphite pencil on paper, gradually darkening the shadows to create more and more definition.

Image: An artwork of a woman done with graphite pencil. Her left hand is in open, covering almost half of her face in the starting position for the sign, ‘believe’.

I wanted to save the original drawing to enter into a competition, so I decided to photocopy it, setting the machine to darken it, and used the photocopy as the base for a painting. I glued the photocopy onto some reclaimed wood, added a layer of matte medium, and let it dry.

I used a watercolour crayon in flesh colour and added gesso to create a basic skin tone. Then I went over the darkest area with watercolour paint – I created an ochre by mixing yellow and brown.

Image: An artwork of a woman done with graphite pencil, watercolour, crayon and paint in flesh colour. Her left hand is in open, covering almost half of her face in the starting position for the sign, ‘believe’.

Next I went over the shadows again, this time with blue watercolour.

Image: An artwork of a woman done with graphite pencil, watercolour, crayon and paint in flesh colour. Blue watercolour is also used for shadows. Her left hand is in open, covering almost half of her face in the starting position for the sign, ‘believe’.

I added blue to the irises, and pink watercolour to the lips, and dotted it around her face – forehead, nose, eyes, neck, hand… I picked up the painting and let it drip down from the mouth into her neck. I usually add pink to the cheeks at this point but I forgot.

Image: An artwork of a woman done with graphite pencil, watercolour, crayon and paint in flesh colour. Blue watercolour is also used for shadows. Her eyes are light blue with some red patches around her eyes and cheeks. Her lips have layers of pink and red. Her left hand is in open, covering almost half of her face in the starting position for the sign, ‘believe’.

After that I became a bit engrossed and forgot to take photos for a while! I mixed pink with yellow to do the cheeks, added several more layers of pink and red to her lips, and added blue to her hair, letting it drip down onto her face.

I added white highlights to her nose, cheek, chin, forehead, above the lips, to the whites of her eyes, and in her hair.

I added black shadows in all the darkest areas, to intensify everything.

Finally I painted white highlights in her eyes, and dirtied everything by flicking black paint over it all.

Image: An artwork of a woman done with graphite pencil, watercolour, crayon and paint in flesh colour. Blue watercolour paint is dripping down onto her face and is used for hair colour as well. Her eyes are light blue with some red patches around her eyes and cheeks. Her lips have layers of pink and red. Her left hand is in open, covering almost half of her face in the starting position for the sign, ‘believe’.

What you see here is just part of a larger painting:

Image: An artwork of two women’s faces beside each other. The woman on the left has a black hair and wears black-framed glasses. She is looking to her left. She wears a light blue top and her slightly opened lips are tinted red. The woman on the right has teal-coloured hair and eyes. Her left hand is in open, covering almost half of her face in the starting position for the sign, ‘believe’, and her lips are tinted red. Handwritten text on her neck says, ‘I can’t believe you learnt to sign for me.’ The artwork is signed, ‘Asphyxia 2016.’

This is available as a card or print in my shop. If you know anyone who is interested in painting faces you might like to share this post with them.

My journey to become an artist

Image: Artwork of a girl with blue eyes, red lips, and dark plaited hair. She wears a red blouse and has reddish pink roses tumbling over her head and chest. A black bird is perched on her left shoulder, positioned so that the girl’s left eye looks like the bird’s left eye. The girl is positioned to the right of frame, with text on the left reading ‘My journey to become an artist’.

When I’m talking about art with people, I often realise they have an assumption that I am naturally gifted at art. While I have naturally had an intense drive to be creative since I was a little girl, I certainly wasn’t born with any innate talent. My skills with visual art have come simply from years of practise.

If you want to see the progression from my very first art journals to discovering my own style and becoming a professional artist, I’ve blogged about it here.

If you know any aspiring artists, especially those who feel a bit daunted or lack confidence in their skills, this could inspire them and also provide some ideas for how to move forward in their journey. Feel free to share this with anyone who you think might be interested.