Creating art helped me survive the train wreck of my life. My hot glue gun was in full throttle at all times. I have no gifted art teachers in my past, but both my parents were admired and popular watercolor artists in New Orleans. Their DNA must have become diluted by the time I was fully formed and they didn’t have the energy to put me on their laps to nurture any latent talent. So my art is not watercolor portraits or fine oil still lifes. My art, like my life, is full of color and intuition, dark humor and hot glue!
Art most definitely reduces trauma and stress, and best of all, it involves no verbal language. When creating anything, you are in your own head focusing on your piece. It’s not about what you create; you could build a house with toothpicks, or splatter paint on your walls or roll your driveway with metallic paint. All y’all, it’s about relaxing until you slowly oscillate into the meditative process. It’s not the destination, as they say, it’s the journey.
My road to art began in 2015, following serious surgery and diagnosis of cancer. I loved my job but forced to be home for many, many months. It put me in a panic, and regardless of the post-surgery pain, I felt useless when I did “nothing.”
Clearly, as I was seriously unable to draw a straight line, I had to find a way to express myself that was less technical. I wanted to capture my eccentric life in NOLA. Telling my unique story was motivating. Since everything had to be done bedside, I couldn’t exactly build a sculpture, but I could embellish one! To combat lingering post-surgery pain, I wanted to create humor –the darker the humor, the better. My escape needed to turn my innards inside out; I needed to show what was buried inside. Born in NOLA, shrines and altars were my interest. For me, it really wasn’t about honoring someone, rather using relics and found objects from the streets of NOLA made it a personal tribute to my heritage. I treasured using skeletons, elixir bottles, fragments of Mardi Gras décor, and bizarre photos of NOLA characters, known for roaming the streets. Add in a few Patron Saints and when done, the ravages of cancer raging inside me looked hysterical. The juxtaposition of a T-Rex with a mani-pedi, felt like me trying to wrap my bald head in a fabulous Batik turban: preposterous but persistent! Of course, my ideas may seem grisly or even sacrilegious to some, so take into account you can cut and paste a serene travel collage from Conde Nast, or just draw meditative patterns on paper. Art as relaxation is for you personally to de-stress: fill your space with images you love. I just happen to love Krewe floats and drag queens.
Remaining indoors with lots of time on my hands, a coloring book or puzzle was not for me. As a writer, it was difficult not to verbalize the physical anxiety and pain I experienced. I looked inwardly appreciating my prior, unconventional periods of living in New Orleans. Ideas came crashing in. This pajama-clad gal learned to relax via making art. My brain on art was healthier than any pain pill management.
My happiest moments were times spent with eccentric artists in the French Quarter of NOLA, where sequins and hot glue had been my tools of the trade. I wanted to recreate those funny and original costumes and parade favors to forget my cancer. My favorite pieces are my handmade skeleton sculptures named “Kitchen Bitches.” I had more Mardi Gras beads than the law allowed and the skeleton figure became my canvas. I spray-painted them in the bathroom gold or silver (don’t ask if fumes are carcinogenic!) and I used costume remnants for each one’s custom couture. I painted on their bony arms and legs – very “YA-YA” (in NOLA lingo, that means using a child’s paintbrush producing shapes and colors on an object). The more color the better! My trademark is huge red lips and a flaming red mani-pedi followed by glass beads for eyes and bright masks. Influenced by my many drag queen friends, I had to slap on a bustier and build huge turbans on their heads. These turbans are actual remnants from turbans I wore while bald. Each Kitchen Bitch is totally different and upon her, I bestowed her a drag name. After all, they became my children!
I began to sell my beloved Bitches on my Etsy site. The adventure of finding boxes with my collected treasures from NOLA made me excited. Channeling my inner thoughts and memories through art therapy made me shut out the world and relax. It kept me busy and made me happy. I loved the more outrageous and amusing pieces but also wanted everything I made to produce a vibe of good juju. Every piece had a part of me included, and I loved sharing these talismans of hope with other patients I knew who was going through treatment.
You are never a terrible artist when you are heading to the relaxation station. Crafting and making art is far better than eating caramel and chocolate Haagen-Dazs all day or staring at reality shows on TV. For safety, order inexpensive supplies online, you don’t need Blick stretched canvases and Winsor & Newton brushes, because hunny, you’re not painting the Mona Lisa. Deconstruct your old clothing, scarves, and jewelry. Thrift shops and estate sales offer dozens of discarded treasures to practice on! Use old mementos and meditate on the joy of the moments you experienced when you collected them. Bring them out of the drawer and into a new life, surrounding you with hope and love. I promise this process of discovery will re-center you and give your brain a stress intermission.
And, then, give it away! Perhaps the biggest joy is sharing your creations with others. Consider cutting and pasting from magazines, making small “thank-you” cards to those you care about in life. Artistic expression forces us to chill and forget the world. Different portions of your brain are on heavy meds right now – allow yourself to be surprised when something totally unexpected can comes out of you. Your brain will be totally focused and you will find “flow” and you deserve it. At this time, the real world cannot allow us to have a spa day, so get your groove on and your self-confidence will thank you. Your state of mind is about to take a deep dive into the unknown. How refreshing is that?
Editor’s note: To see Cindy Small’s art, please visit her Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/KREWEOFODDITIES