Tag Archives: Art by Asphyxia

I love going to the beach

A hidden aspect of the chronic illness that has many names (SEID, CFS, ME and more) is the not so charming symptom of post-exertional-malaise. We get get up, go out, look fine, feel fine, but afterwards… OMG, it’s like being in a coma. The coma can just go on and on, debilitating and painful. You see us for a chat and we’re bright and bubbly, but know that we will pay for it afterwards, when you can no longer see us. ‘You look so well!’ people say. And we do. Until we’re not and we can’t move and wish to god that we had never set foot on that beach. I did this painting using a line drawing by Jane Devonport as a starting point – the drawing pulled at me because it epitomised all that I wished I could do, without the suffering afterwards.

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.

Love and laugh a little

Love, connection, and laughing with a person we adore is what makes it all ok. Time out from the weirdness of the world and our lives and trying to fit in and accepting that we don’t. This is a beautiful, rich bubble to dive into and treasure when we can. Nothing is more precious than love and connection.

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.

Social Constructs Girl

Why is it that in many cases we cannot see the social constructs that are around us? They seem to simply be the natural way of things. And yet, once shown, they are glaringly obvious as strange and even inappropriate/unhealthy. And why is it that some indivuals seem to be born unbrainwashable, questioning everything and often driving those around them insane? Yet these are usually the people who can herald meaningful change. We need to support them, not suppress them.

60 x 40 cm stretched canvas.
Digitally created in Procreate.
Limited edition of 100 prints.

Homemade Candles

Homemade Candles

I made these candles on our rocket stove. I’m so pleased with them. I love the soft lumpy forms, and every time I burn one I remember sitting out by the fire, feeding it with sticks, and the lovely calm feeling I had while I was dipping them into the wax.

I found on the nature strip, ages ago, a humungous fat candle – the kind that is impossible to burn down because it’s just too damned large. Obviously someone had give up. I’ve been melting it down in a frypan I got from the op shop, and using it to make my candles. When it runs out I’ll try and collect candles and bits of wax from op shops to keep up my supply.

Here’s how I make them:

I do it on a day when we’re cooking on the rocket stove, using twigs from around our garden, making use of bits of heat that would otherwise be wasted.

I melt wax in the fry pan, and then pour it into a tin. I’ve got a nice tall tin that used to have pineapple juice in it, but you can make candles from a regular tin too – they’ll just be short little things.

I take string I got from the 2 dollar shop – white cotton twine or whatever it is – and dip it repeatedly into the wax. Gradually it becomes fatter, and I stop when the candles are the right thickness for our candleholders.

Every now and then I need to put the tin on the rocket stove to re-melt the wax, and I need to melt a bit more in the frypan to top up the tin.

That’s it. It’s meditative and fun.

Here’s my candlemaking box, with all the “tools” I use – pretty simple really:

Homemade Candles 2

Reflections may be Distorted

From the day we are born, girls and women are taught to obsess about how we look. It starts with constant comments on our hair, shoes and dress as young girls, evolves into pressure to spend hours removing body hair, applying make up, shopping for the latest fashions, and fixating on food and diets. In adulthood, we are rejected from many jobs if we don’t fit the ideals imposed upon us, and internalise a sense of failure if we don’t have the ‘right’ look. Contrast this with boys and men, who receive little attention to their looks, wear a boring uniform that barely changes with the years, and are considered attractive despite making minimal effort. 

60 x 40 cm stretched canvas.
Digitally created in Procreate.
Limited edition of 100 prints.

Journal Flip Through – Pink hair girl

When I painted the cover for this journal, I hated it! I was so disappointed that the girl didn’t come out exactly as I imagined her. I shoved the painting into a folder and forgot about it. Later, when I made this journal, I hunted through my paintings and was astonished to find this one. I totally fell in love with it. It’s now one of my favourite faces ever. Go figure. I think I just had to let go of my initial vision so I could see her for who she really is.

One of the things I love about having a face on the front of my journal, is that it really feels like the book is my best friend – a particularly lovely, glamorous, pink-haired friend. Very cool.

When I made this book I was doing a clean out of all my old papers. I had so many things I didn’t want to get rid of – newspaper clippings, photos of me as a child, pretty patterned paper that was too pretty to discard. I couldn’t throw them out. But they were just gathering dust in a folder. The great thing about journaling with this method I use, is that I prepare the pages ahead of time by collaging in found papers, and it was the perfect way to use up all those lovely pieces from my past. The book is full of happy memories from long ago as a result.

Have a look through it in this video if you like. And if you want to learn to make and use a book like this, check out my e-course, Make The Book Of Your Dreams.

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

3 Replies

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

1 Reply

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.

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.

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.