Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Case Study #38 - Larry Shopping for Grapes

prep sketch for painting
Having NF as a child, had its struggles. Larry was made fun of a lot for being short and skinny. The scoliosis made him shorter than others in school so they pushed him around. Back in the 60’s, he just had to deal with it, he didn’t dare report it or his life would have been worse. He also struggled in math. He had bad memory problems and still does. He just never could understand and get it. He was so excited when he graduated and was done.

Larry's mother passed away a year after he graduated high school. She was 45 and he was 17. She was a quiet lady and never discussed NF with him. She had fibromas all over her body. Larry knew he had it too but didn’t ask her as she avoided the conversation. When he was in his early teens, his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, she waited too long for treatment and it eventually took her life. Larry lived with his sister for about a year after their mother's death, until he found a job and apartment. He is thankful that his sister does not have NF. She really helped him transition from being a young teen to living on his own at 18.

Larry didn’t start getting fibromas on the outside of his body until in his 20’s. Scoliosis had a major impact on his life so any type of sports were out of the question. He found a great Neurologist that knew all about NF and understood the problems people can have with it. He started taking x rays and MRI’s of his back and brain. He prescribed me some medications to help with the pain and a brace wrap to help with support since it appeared his ribs were supporting his scoliosis at an 80 degree curve which is why he was hurting all the time. Any corrective surgery was out of the question, it would be a high risk since he has a meningocele on his spine. I have to be really careful, the doctor said not to fall, sneeze or cough hard, not wanting the meningocele to leak spinal fluid. The brain MRI discovered UBO’s in his brain (Unidentified bright objects). They say all of us with NF have UBO’s, they just have no clue what they are. Also at the base of his brain and spinal cord there is a Posterior Fossa Arachnoid Cyst. Larry gets tired and short of breath if he stands for any length of time or walks. His ribs hurt due to the scoliosis. He uses a cane for support, helps some take the pressure off. For any distance he uses a power chair, at the store or at the park.

Larry got married at 25, and had a daughter a few years later. He was so glad she was born without NF. Sadly his marriage ended a few years thereafter. A year after his divorce his ex-wife was diagnosed with MS and she passed away 10 years later. Larry remarried and had another daughter with his second wife. She also doesn’t have NF. Sadly, his second marriage ended after 12 years. Being depressed the he would never find anyone, he found the Children’s Tumor Foundation's website. They had a link where there were others that had NF like him. He talked with others and found comfort as they all understood each other. Then there was one lady, Joan, they connected. She lived in PA and he lived in MS. They started talking on the phone, and he made a trip up north to see her. A year later she made the big move to the south and year later they were married. Larry is thankful for her. They are both involved in the "Great Steps for NF" walks put on by Neurofibromatosis Network. They have participated for four years and plan on continuing to raise NF awareness.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Case Study #37 - Cecile Playing Badminton

Prep sketch
Cecile Hernandez Pesayco from the Philippines was was born with a lot of cafe au lait spots on her skin. As a child, she was very active and loved playing and running around. Sometimes she experienced severe headaches that made her stop what she loved to do. When Cecile was 13 years old she noticed lumps starting to grow on her skin. As she got older, the lumps started to grow in large numbers. She doesn't have NF only on her skin but under her skin as well. The tumors under her skin got bigger and started pressing some nerves which makes living with NF painful. Doctors said the tumors have to be removed. She has already had 8 operations to removed those specific tumors. Some of them turned out to be malignant and needed some radiation. None of that stopped Cecile from living a normal life and from doing the things that she wants to do.

As Cecile looked for answers to what Neurofibromatosis(NF) really was, she found not just an answer, but a friend, Kcat Yarza. She also has NF and together they formed the group NF Friends Philippines which has over 100 members including parents of children with NF. They try to support each other by focusing on the blessings that they receive each day and hope to raise awareness about the disorder. Despite the nerve damage NF has caused, Cecile loves playing badminton and she plays it almost everyday!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Nichole Ringing in the New Year

prep sketch
Nichole Servos was diagnosed with NF at the age of 8 due to having a few skin tumors that required medical attention. Her parents had never heard of NF before she was diagnosed (no other family member has NF) and thus was told by the family doctor at the time it was a non-threatening/non-life changing disorder.

Nichole’s childhood years were lived as any other normal childhood, with NF never in the forefront of her mind or those of her parents. At the age of 16, Nichole’s world drastically changed when, while recovering from a severe case of pneumonia, she lost hearing in the left ear. After a battery of tests it was discovered that she had several brain tumors (acoustic neuromas which resulted in a diagnosis and confirmation of NF2), one which had already claimed its prize and would need to be removed, and another needing action to keep it from staking its own claim to the hearing on her right side. By the time Nichole reached the age of 18, NF had created a new chapter in her life, leaving her completely Deaf to sound and looking for ways to fit into both the hearing and Deaf worlds. Despite the toll NF had taken, she continued to lead a fulfilling life, graduating high school, attending college, living on her own and eventually marrying her high school sweetheart.

For 13 years, NF spared Nichole and laid “dormant” until it threw another curveball shortly after her 30th birthday. She began to have facial weakness on the left side. The cause was the brain tumor which had already been removed after it staked its claim on her hearing; it had come back for more and now claimed one side of her face along with another tumor on the opposite side waiting in the wings to take the right side of her face. Needless to say, NF brought a rash of procedures and hospitalizations, 6 brain surgeries within an 18-month time span, and left her literally expressionless. Among her many procedures, she has since received is an ABI (Auditory Brainstem Implant) which helps her “hear” sounds again, and Facial Reanimation surgery which has restored part of her facial functions. NF hasn’t stopped there. Its latest claim has been that of her spine with several tumors on/in the spinal column which have needed removal, required rehab and left her with a little hitch in her step. Despite all the roadblocks of life, Nichole keeps a positive outlook due to the outpouring of love and support from all her family and friends, as well as her strong faith.

NF has claimed the sound from her life, put a hitch in her step, and has taken the true smile from Nichole’s face, but it will never take the smile from her heart as it looks to the future in hopes that one day a cure can be found for her and others like her who live with NF. That is why Nichole has become actively involved with the national Neurofibromatosis Network. She also currently serves as the President of the NF Central Plains chapter, participates and supports the NF advocacy program, and for the last 10 years, has helped raise more than $30,000 for the NF Network. She is happily married and resides in a small town in Southeast Kansas.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Case Study #36 - Yvonne Dancing Ballet

"Yvonne Dancing Ballet" 30" x 24" Oil on Canvas
Yvonne Foong was born in the city of Petaling Jaya, Malaysia on June 5,1986. Her father was a landscaper, while her mother was a florist. I was born a healthy child except for an underdeveloped left eye. Three years later, her father suffered a brain hemorrhage. He woke up after 1 month in a coma and lived with his damaged brain for another 21 years. As Yvonne grew up, her father's mental capacity gradually and steadily declined. He tried his best to take care of her but he had poor emotional regulation ability and was very forgetful. Her mother was overwhelmed and collapsed. She also tried her best to raise Yvonne while having to care for her father. Yvonne went to school and grew up healthy. Her aunt protected her early childhood development by spending quality time with her and teaching her many things. She introduced Yvonne to: ballet, figure skating, art, music and just about anything she wanted to learn. Her mother, despite her own helplessness, also trained her to become independent using simple ways such as allowing her to go buy food in a mall by herself since she was a toddler.
Prep Sketch for Yvonne's painting

When Yvonne was 13 years old, her own health started declining. She lost her hearing within a year and started falling down for no reason when she was 14. Her mother at that time was facing a lot of challenges and emotional stress, so when Yvonne told her of her problems, she could not deal with it. This continued until she could barely walk at age 16 and was finally taken to the doctor whereupon countless tumors were found in my brain and along my spinal chord. She was diagnosed with NF2. Yvonne had her first 2 surgeries in Malaysia immediately to try saving what was left. The doctors there, could not remove the brain tumors completely and safely so, she needed to look for alternatives. Another patient she met online, introduced Yvonne to his surgeon, Dr. Rick A. Friedman in Los Angeles who volunteered to remove it for her for free. Since that surgery, Yvonne resolved to go back to him for my future surgeries to remove other tumors in the years that followed, but the hospital and the surgeons were not able to do her future surgeries for free. She could understand that as they also have other patients they need to help. Yvonne's life experience with her father's fate makes her determined to maintain her own quality of life no matter what it takes, for she has seen and knows what will happen if she deteriorates and become dependent. Yvonne decided to raise the funds needed for surgery by her own efforts. Someone helped her design a T-shirt and she sold it piece by piece, at a modest price of just RM30 a piece. When someone agrees to buy, it makes her feel very happy because she was earning the money with her own earnest efforts. She needed RM230,000.00 for surgery, back in 2006. Initially, people ignored her on the streets, but slowly more and more people supported and came forward to help her sell by consignment. Within 10 months, Yvonne managed to raise enough funds for surgery. This was back when there was no social media and no one has heard of her before.

Yvonne continued to raise funds this way for her future surgeries in the US. Fundraising got easier and easier and faster too. In the process, she also turned into a public speaker and inspiration. Many people with all kinds of life challenges also came to her for assistance throughout the years. She tries to help them physically and monetarily, including NF patients.

Yvonne realized that she needed a proper way to help people. So she decided to set up a foundation to help other patients with NF get life saving treatments in the US. Now they can have a chance to extend their lives and also empower themselves in the process. Just like what Yvonne did.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Case Study #34 - Kevin Leading the Charge

Kevin Leading the Charge. Oil on Canvas. 2017. 30" x 24"
Kevin Allison is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and for as long as he can remember, he has had NF. For some living with NF is a curse or a punishment, but Kevin doesn't necessarily see it in that way. It's more of a blessing in disguise. Kevin feels like he can't really complain since he has a mild case of it and feels very fortunate. He has café au lait spots, neurofibromas under his skin, and a stable optic nerve tumor. He used to suffer from weekly migraines.

Prep sketch
If it wasn't for having NF, Kevin wouldn't have had some of the life experiences he has thoroughly enjoyed. He attended an NF camp twice where he made a ton of friends. During that time he saw the Grand Canyon and white water rafted down the Colorado which ranks as one of his favorite life experiences. Kevin will be participating in his 4th Cupid's Undie Run. Besides being a ton of fun, he gets to join 1200 other people whom he considers family who also want to find a cure for NF. They do this by running through the streets of Pittsburgh in the freezing cold in February in their underwear. The main reason for the run is bringing awareness to NF. There is no cure but this is certainly a way to stand out. It definitely puts a smile on his face to see everyone come together for such a great cause. The best part of last year was being able to carry one of the Cupid's Undie Run flags at the beginning of the race. It was definitely a great feeling and an honor.

In Kevin's words, "It's an amazing feeling to have the love and support of friends and family. I believe I have become the person I am today because of NF. I have many experiences I wouldn't trade for anything and have met many people along this journey I can call family. I aspire to bring awareness to many and continue to raise funds with the hope that one day a cure will be found".

Friday, December 9, 2016

Case Study #35 - Elana Scooping Ice Cream

Elana Scooping Ice Cream. 30" x 24" Oil on Canvas.
Elana loves ice cream — not just eating it, but scooping it. That was her summer job before starting college.

The years leading up to that point were challenging, exciting and interesting for Elana. She was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 1 at age 3 due in large part to her cafe au lait spots. Elana grew up in Texas where she enjoyed a childhood without medical complications. During a routine MRI when Elana was 11 years old, her NF specialist discovered a brain tumor. The surgery to remove it was successful, and she was released from Children’s Hospital in St. Louis on her 12th birthday.

Prep sketch
Having brain surgery made Elana more aware of NF and empathetic toward others with the disorder. She began sending personalized care packages to children in the NF community who were undergoing surgery or treatment for their tumors. Over the next two years, Elana would send over 100 packages to children in over 25 states!

Elana’s involvement in the NF cause grew as she herself grew. She served as a counselor-in-training at Camp New Friends (a camp in West Virginia for kids with NF), helped narrate a national video to raise awareness, and did fundraising by selling duct-tape wallets that she made herself. Most importantly, she advocates for NF research dollars on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. with the NF Network, a national organization that leads the advocacy efforts to find treatments and a cure for neurofibromatosis.

Besides scooping ice cream, Elana enjoys baking, working jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She has visited all 50 states.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Midwest Artist Studio Project - Inside the Creation of an NF Portrait - Anne Noble


Anne Running the Boston Marathon - 30" x 24" Oil on Canvas. 2016.
This blog post is inspired by the Midwest Artist Studio project in which I was asked to document from start to finish one of my NF oil paintings. It was good for me to examine how I go about this project, how long it takes and just how indebted I am to the NF hero to get me photos, get me his or her biography and just be an active participant.

Example of the images sent
To start these portraits, I always ask the person to look through existing photos and if that doesn't work, then he or she needs to ask a friend or family member to take photos of them doing whatever we've decided would work well for the painting. In this case, Anne definitely wanted to be running or doing something connected with running. She had a lot of photos from her lifelong pursuit of the activity, but typically something about each one wouldn't work (for me) with them. Many of them were full body shots of her running which make for great photos, but lose too many details for me when I create the paintings. I need close up photos from only waist up and I like to have the person doing something with their hands if possible so it looks a little more active. I also do not want the person to be wearing sunglasses in the painting as the viewer doesn't get to see their eyes that way.

Initial sketch
Additionally, I don't want images of the person looking right at the viewer smiling or taking selfies. The whole painting project, in part, is inspired from Vermeer's paintings. His work is always a glimpse of someone in the middle of her work with us as onlookers. Typically the subject in his paintings are just people doing everyday chores completely unaware of our presence. In that same way, I wanted the NF portraits to just be us getting a glimpse into the lives of these NF Heroes that didn't look staged or stilted. We've all seen commissioned portraits, typically royalty or rich benefactors who gaze at us wearing suits or gowns standing in front of their stately mansions and/or possessions. Those are nice, but always have a hierarchy which suggests that they are slightly above us as a viewer. I want these NF portraits to feel more comfortable, more like this a friend you just haven't met yet.

I don't spend a lot of time trying
to make a nice even tone to the canvas.
I know I will paint over it later.

Anne and her family purchased the rights to a multitude of pictures from when she ran in the Boston marathon. Most of them, again for me, were just too far away. Some of them had people in front of her or she was smiling and looking at the camera. Finally, we found one that would work and it was really pretty good. I didn't initially like the dark shadow that her baseball hat was casting over her face, but I knew I could lighten up that shadow in the painting, eventually. When I printed out the picture for the painting, I used Photoshop to lighten all the shadow areas, so I could really see them.

Charcoal Drawing on Canvas
Before I do any painting, I always send a sketch. Sometimes I stay faithful to the photograph fairly well and other times I will completely put in a new background that fits thematically into the painting. This time, I liked the background of the photo but felt that the other runners were distracting so I got rid of them. I also liked the sign that sort of let the viewer know we were in Boston and that there was only 1 mile left to go--so a partial sign, sort of a clue that we as viewers are almost done with her on this journey too--and we, as viewers, can cheer for her to finish the race!

After I send the initial sketch to the participant, I wait to see what his or her thoughts are. This time, I lucked out and Anne really liked it with no changes or alterations. Sometimes the person will want a different background or wonder why I changed it or just have questions.
Once I get approval on the sketch, I transfer it to a toned canvas. I always tone my canvas with burnt umber. I have artist friends who will tone it in ultramarine blue, some will do burnt sienna or a combination of yellow ochre/ultramarine blue, etc. I think toning a canvas is a personal preference. I do it for two reasons primarily: 1. I like to get rid of all the white of the canvas so none of that peeks through in an annoying way while painting and 2. a toned canvas gives me a nice range to go lighter and darker. White canvases are designed to simply paint darker. I know en plein air painters who do it that way, but for me, I like toning it first.

Charcoal with Turpentine
Now it is time to transfer the drawing on the toned canvas. I know a lot of painters who will use projectors or they will grid the drawing or they will use Saral transfer paper. I have used all of those methods before depending on what I am transferring. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. I used the Saral transfer paper when I did the portrait of Loni Directing Cupids because there were so many logos in the background that I did not want to take a chance on messing one of those up. On Anne's painting, the background is so simple that I just did a loose grid. With the exception of the CTF logo everything else is negotiable and can be fudged. I do the entire transfer with a B grade charcoal pencil. B is a good grade because it isn't very dark and it can be removed with a kneaded eraser if I really need to get rid of something. I typically don't ever erase because I know that I will be painting over it soon enough anyways even if there is something wrong.

Starting to put in paint in the
areas that I know will need
several layers of paint.
After the charcoal has been applied, I go over the entire painting with a small brush and turpentine to solidify the charcoal into a watercolor-like paint sealing it to the canvas. At this point it is no longer a drawing on canvas, but is now really the basis for a painting. At this point I also know what needs to be done first and what will need coats of glaze. For this painting, the hat and blue tank top with the logo and the running sheet will need several coats. I also know that I will need to paint that white logo to get it really white. I tend to paint everything as saturated as it possibly can get, as if no light is affecting it initially knowing that I can always go back later and apply the affects of light to in the form of glazes and highlights. Sometime, the background will be very busy and I will paint those first knowing that I will be going over them multiple times (David Preparing BBQ Beef Brisket for example).

I then like to put an entire watercolor-ish thinned down layer of paint on everything just to establish a general sense of the color that will be there eventually. I know that I will do form painting later, but this is a good way of establishing a base. At any given time, there will be areas of the painting that are in the midst of thicker form painting (less painting medium and more paint) while other areas are still thinned down with oil paint and turpentine.
I usually just tape my reference picture
right onto the canvas so I can see it. I know
some painters who will work from the images
right off of their computer screens. I like to
tape the images really close so I don't have to
look too far while painting.

My palette consists of these standard colors and then I will add extra colors that are specific to the painting and cannot be mixed (like magenta, dioxazine purple or whatever if the painting needs that is unusual):

Zinc White or Soft Mixing White (I don't care for Titanium White and Flake white is toxic and really heavy)
Naples Yellow (Everyone questions that I use this and just don't mix it...we all have our quirks)
Yellow Ochre
Cadmium Yellow Pale
Cadmium Orange
Cadmium Red light
Cadmium Red Medium (Alizarin Crimson--sometimes)
Terra Rosa or Burnt Sienna
Cerulean Blue
Ultramarine Blue (Cobalt Blue sometimes)
Burnt Umber
Payne's Gray
Lamp Black (I use Ivory Black as well and sometimes Mars black)

I use Liquin as a painting medium. Again, many painters will question me about this practice because Liquin comes with Damar Varnish already mixed into it and Damar varnish will yellow after decades. This means I could mix my own painting medium or I could spend a lot more money on Maroger. However, I don't. At this point, Liquin is fine for me as are store bought heavy duty pre-stretched gallery wrapped canvases. Here is the rationale: when I was in college, I had no money so I could save money by buying and stretching my own canvas. As I got older and had children, I realized it wasn't money that was the main problem, it was time. As in I don't have any so what time I do have, I try to maximize it. I simply do not want to spend my time stretching and applying gesso to canvas if I only have two hours to paint at night after my kids go to bed. When I get a couple of hours to paint, I am ready to paint. Everyone has strong feelings about these topics: what kind of paint to use, what kind of canvas or linen to use, what kind of brushes to use, what palette of colors, etc. I used to be such a fussy painter as well and would only use Innerglow painting panels shipped to me from New York and I would only use Vasari paints, filberts, etc. Over time I have really mellowed out about all of these "rules". Honestly, I mix so many different brand of paints these days it is ridiculous. I do like to make sure I check the permanence rating on the labels, but I have lost my brand loyalty that used to be so important to me years ago.
I typically do not wait this long
to get the background painted in.

I typically have more than one of these portrait paintings happening at a time. I find that I like certain areas to dry before I continue, so I will usually jump over to a different painting and work on that one for awhile or work on a sketch, etc. Ideally, I have three of these paintings all going on at one time in some stage from initial prep to final form painting. That way there isn't a day that I can't work on something. If I am getting close to one of the paintings being finished, I will tend to send emails to a new participant asking if they have had time to get their photos taken, etc. If there is one thing I hate it is waiting which is ironic because living with NF is all about "wait and see".

I will send out multiple emails to different potential portrait candidates because not everyone has the time or family member available to be able to get photos quickly. Or they may just not be interested in the project and that is okay too. There are many people who have gone years and will send me a snapshot every once in awhile asking,"How about this?" It usually doesn't work. These paintings really need to be done from someone with a good camera who took good close up photos.

I spent a long time redoing
an impressionistic back drop
and remembered all the
American flags from other
reference photos, so I added it
at the last minute.
I've uploaded pictures of the progression to show the development of the form painting all the way to when I decided to add the American flag in the background. I thought it added a nice touch to what was a rather boring background. Plus I had seen flags in so many of the other photographs Anne had sent, so it was nice to incorporate it into her portrait. I painted the entire background very light in value, saving all the contrast and vibrant color for her. I also painted it somewhat loosely, saving all the care and careful paint handling for her as well.

During the time I am painting the subject is working on his or her biography. I will always display their biography next to the painting. There is not a lot of room on the placards, so I keep the biographies to about 300 words. This can prove to be difficult for people battling with NF as just one surgery or experience can take up that amount in a heartbeat, so they learn to edit or just consolidate all their surgeries into one paragraph. They typically include what life was like growing up with NF and any struggles they may have endured and what they are doing now to raise awareness. Each person is really different on what they want to share. Some people will not talk about any struggles and only talk about the positive impact they are doing today while others have no problem sharing stories about being bullied or a difficult operation. I think writing a biography is very personal, so I let them decide what should be shared and what they want to keep private.

My paintings are simply a way for me to introduce amazing individuals living with NF to a new demographic who, most likely, has not heard of the disorder. In that way, I am just making introductions using oil paint. If my painting is interesting enough, it is my hope the viewer will then read the biography and learn more about the person. If they are interested in the person, they might just want to learn more about Neurofibromatosis and perhaps go one step further and donate to the Children's Tumor Foundation or NF Network.

I have had people just ask why I don't take photographs or just have people send me pictures they've had taken and just use those? After all, there would be an immediacy and quickness to it and maybe even a farther reach. Besides the main issue of consistency of the image, I like the process of painting and talking via social media with these individuals while I paint their portraits. Sometimes depending on where they are from I find myself using Google Translate to try to correspond with them. There is a satisfaction for me in the idea that a collaboration can happen even when there isn't a common language between us.

Lastly, there is a fairly well established tradition of portrait painting and most people know that the paintings take time. They also know that portraits are meant to commemorate someone. It is just that with this project, I as the artist, decide whom to commemorate and that is so empowering. I enjoy getting to know each participant. I'm not looking for a quickie awareness campaign that is also forgotten within a month. I am fine with taking my time and painting a portrait that the person will enjoy and remember for quite some time. I am not in a rush. Oil painting is a slow process and I don't plan on going anywhere until a cure is found so I am not in any hurry to move onto something else. Slow and steady wins the race, and in this case, the Boston Marathon.