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How to rehab…an artist’s story

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You may have noticed I’ve been “absent”. It is now mid-September 2021 and my last email to you was back in January! I’m happy to report that I’m “back” from where I’ve been and want to tell you all about it. Last week was my final week of Physical Therapy and I’m more or less back to work.  Not exactly 100% back but…let’s call it 80%.

May 26th I had my right knee replaced.  Knee replacement is not a fun experience but I felt like I needed to get it done. I gotta tell you, the first three weeks were rough but I was able to stop taking most of the pain meds after that and was hoping to return to a more normal life. But by the end of the first month, I had lost 25 pounds and my blood pressure meds were working against me.  I was tired, depressed and basically dragging along from day to day. My family and my doctor helped me get back on track.

Somewhere around 3 to 4 weeks out from surgery, I felt the need to draw…to do some art. Living without art was just not like me. Since I was mostly bedridden, I tried propping myself up and drawing. I had been rereading some of my favorite comic artists so I tried drawing some of their work. It was a disaster; I felt as if I had lost my coordination and could no longer draw.  I had to resort to more or less scribbling to get anything done. I was doing a crude form of gesture drawing with little control over the lines.    

It was a month and a half after surgery before I could sit in my studio and draw. It was hard to get my right leg under my desk/table in my studio but I could finally draw for brief periods of time, and things improved.  I had a few successful sessions scribbling in a sketchbook but nothing to brag about…certainly nothing to feel good about.  In retrospect though, the “scribbling” was just what I needed.  I literally had to go back to the beginning of the drawing process…starting with scribbling…and start over. It was illuminating to discover that in a few short weeks away from my studio, I could lose that which I had spent a lifetime learning.  It was a  rude awakening but a lesson worth learning.  Things fell into place as my stamina came back,slowly. Yes there is stamina involved in drawing and/or painting.  My coordination has slowly returned and, most importantly, my attitude perked up.  Emphasis on the word SLOWLY here.  

So, it has been 3 months and 2 weeks since my knee was replaced and for a period of time about halfway through this, I wondered if I was going to fully regain my ability to draw. I was fearful I might not get it back which is something I had never thought about before. During that time I would not work on my painting commissions because I thought I might cause actual damage to the paintings.  But each day and whatever drawing I was working on kept encouraging me.  I could see old skills coming back and as I entered the eighth week post surgery I felt more optimistic.  I could actually do serious art again.

One technique I have used to dig myself out of my doldrums is a little project I started back last winter.  It is a small booklet sized sketchbook in which I work out various designs using felt tipped markers…b/w or color.  I try to come up with variations of what I call “line designs”…repeated lines that may be straight or curved.  Lines can be of varying lengths; you can fill the page or stop when the spirit moves.  Sometimes I plan what I want to do and other times it is literally as the spirit moves me.  Take a peek at a few of these drawings from my sketchbook, starting from back in July and running up through early September. You can almost see the lines getting a bit straighter and the designs gaining complexity over time.
The most important thing that relates to my “lost ability” is the importance of repetition. Repetition is really important if you are trying to regain control of your coordination while using a pen or marker.  And it really was a “life saver” for me. If you have any questions about how I used these sketchbooks in my recovery, please contact me here!
all images copyright Daniel Coston 2021

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