“What Happened to Your Ankle?”

I broke my ankle on November 3, 2019.  It’s late January now, I am still unable to bear weight on it.  I wrote a blog post for my Dad’s site regarding the lessons I learned from the pain:  https://wendellbjohnson.com/painting-as-pain-control  I made the decision to publish it on his site because his spinal injury was such a major part of his story.   There are a lot of people who go to his site looking for solace and answers about pain and traumatic injury, so I thought it a more fitting place to publish the lessons I learned about pain control and limits on mobility.  I went into more detail there about his methods of working and how my own work habits changed to more closely match his.  I won’t be posting the entire article again here, but I do want to place excerpts here.  This was truly a life lesson.  I hope anyone who is in pain can be helped by distraction techniques in the same way I was helped by others who told me these truths about managing pain:


Here’s the key to managing long-term pain: the brain can only process one thing at a time with perfect clarity. It doesn’t focus on both pleasure and pain at the same time well. You can exploit this to escape from pain. The trick is to find something that requires a lot of brain function – following the plot of a book or TV show, sudoku, crosswords, puzzles, video games, guided hypnosis where your brain is absorbed in imagining relaxing and pain relieving scenarios, or best of all for me…painting!

Recently, I broke both bones in my ankle plus the malleus, and also, I tore the ligament on the back. It’s a bad injury that required surgery to set and it will take months to heal, so in the meantime, I am in a wheelchair. My situation isn’t nearly as serious or permanent as my Dad’s but I am learning a lot about the effect painting has on the control of pain, and the effect that pain and physical constraints have on painting. I want to share what I have learned firsthand so clearly now.

Wendy Roberts Kailua beautification project

Photo taken a few minutes before I broke my ankle.  The dropcloth of doom is visible, the small curb is obscuring my shoes that had no traction.  Don’t use plastic dropcloths and always wear shows with some grip! 
Photo by Jennifer Noel

The next two paragraphs are all about my injury, so you can skip it and take my word for it that my ankle has been a horrible experience, or you can delve into some specifics if you want the injury story. I will not regale you with the goriest play by play, but I was working on a mural, and I made the mistake of using a plastic dropcloth outdoors. Don’t ever do that because it turns into a slip and slide with the slightest rain! Furthermore, I had bad slippery shoes on that were worn and loved to the point of being totally smooth on the bottom – don’t wear shoes like that either! My left foot slid so fast as I stepped off the curb, that it took me a moment to figure out why my viewpoint had just dropped by 3 feet. I heard and felt the snap of my right leg which was folded under my body and I knew the ankle was broken. That was a terrible moment.  I cannot wait until the memory of it fades so that it will stop replaying in my head and in my nightmares!  I took a quick look at my leg to try to ascertain the amount of damage, and as I slightly lifted my right leg, the ankle flopped sickeningly at an unnatural angle. I had the presence of mind to not look any further at my leg. I focused on getting help. There were some unlucky witnesses that became essential to my rescue and I am so grateful for their help! I could tell the sight of my ankle really bothered a couple of the people who helped me. I am sorry for that! I don’t know everyone who helped that day, but a nurse, Cynthia Bartlett, was one of the most involved. I appreciate her calm in the storm! My husband arrived on the scene very rapidly – he beat the ambulance by what seemed to be about ten minutes, but it took a team to move me and my unmoored ankle from the cement to the gurney.  After an ambulance ride, it took about 5 – 6 grueling hours to hobble out of the ER in a splint and crutches.

In the early days of my ankle, nothing was really keeping the bones in place, so they would shift, and the pain level was the worst sustained pain I have ever experienced.  On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being uncontrollable barely conscious, and 1 being completely fine, I was constantly shifting between 5 – 9 pain in those days before surgery, usually I felt like it was around a 7. After the initial splint that lasted 3 days, I was given a walking boot for the sake of ease – not because I was ready to put any weight on my foot, but because theoretically it can be adjusted to accommodate swelling. I hated the boot.  It felt like a rock on my leg as if it had no padding at all.  Because of my impending surgery, the doctor only wanted me to take Tylenol. It isn’t very effective for me.  I had to wait 11 days for surgery. The first couple of days I couldn’t do much of anything, but after the initial devastation, I was able to fit a chair with a pillow behind my easel. I could finally prop up my leg to work on painting, and it was only for an hour or two per day, but it was the best pain control of the day. Only painting could drop my pain to a level where I almost didn’t notice it.

Painting became a refuge from the flames of pain. I have never experienced more of “the zone” than in those intense pain days. The zone is that state of mind where an artist is so fully processing the visual information and busy making choices of rendering that it almost feels directed by a creative spirit outside yourself. It’s an intense focus that makes the rest of the world outside the painting disappear. Hours can go by and feel like nothing. Every seductive detail of the paint was such a pleasure during this state of escape. I would listen to music (which I normally don’t do, but it helped me immerse into painting during this time), and I would paint the most elaborate parts of my current painting without the usual mental fatigue I get when depicting fussy details like grass or ferns….

…The lesson I have taken from this experience is the added dimension of pain control that art gives to those who spend time making it.  I love painting even more than before, and I see the passion my Dad had for it and the relief from pain it granted him.  I highly recommend painting as a pursuit during painful times. If you are facing a long recovery, finding a way to sit at an easel or table, or buying a portable sketchbook to draw or paint while reclining is a great way to take your mind off your troubles and escape the pain.

If you want to read the paragraphs I removed that deal more with my Dad’s situation, please feel free to pop on over to his blog to read the rest.  https://wendellbjohnson.com/painting-as-pain-control 




There is one more really important thing I must say here though, and it is Thank you!!!I am very grateful to be able to heal from this injury.  I hope that the lessons I have learned during this time will stay with me, especially the examples of thoughtful, practical ways to to be compassionate from my friends and family that I want to emulate. To these many loved ones, I say thank you for the shopping trips, the visits, the lunches, the dinners, the tea, the plants, the phone calls, emails, bouquets (both edible and floral), the chocolate, the texts/posts/messages to check in and say hello, help with art shows, and even the wheelchair I am borrowing.  These kind gestures have made all the difference in the world to how this recovery has been, and it is going to take me many years to pay it all forward, but I want to make an earnest effort!  You are all a good influence on me! I hope I can be more like you and take the initiative to seek out these types of clever, concrete ways to be supportive. I have been inundated with excellent ideas these past three months, and I look forward to the second chance I have to look around me and see who needs help. I will be plagarizing many of the things you all did for me while I was cooped up and unable to drive (or even go outside on my own). Thank you for all your kindness!

How to Hang an Art Show at Ho`omaluhia Botanical Garden Gallery

If you are an artist on Oahu did you know that Ho`omaluhia has a rail hanging system that uses perlon/fish line to help hang heavy work over the acoustic tile walls?   You may have noticed that if you use a single nail for a heavy piece, the piece falls off the wall, sometimes damaging the wall or the artwork in the process.  I wanted to offer a printable reference for the artists who are planning to hang art shows at Ho`omaluhia because I have noticed and been told that a couple of art pieces have been falling from virtually every show lately because it’s humid and we forgot to use the rail system or didn’t know the walls were so brittle in certain places.   I am hoping this can fill in some gaps and help bring artists who are new to the islands or new to the venue get the information they need to plan a show that will stay on the wall.  It’s trickier than you might initially think! 

Here’s the guide:

How to install an art show at Ho`omaluhia

Most artists forgot that there is a rail system and since it blends in, it stopped being useful.  We need to revive its use and help each other avoid damage to our art. 

To use the guide, I suggest printing a copy to use as a checklist for supplies and then as reference at the gallery.  Before you go, use the first page to pack your supplies and you can even cross them out as you pack them.  Skim the rest.  At take-in, you can read it in detail if you need the info.  It’s an instruction manual, so it’s hard to sit and read without doing the actual hanging steps.

Disclaimer:  This is just a project to share information that I am doing independently of any guild or venue.  No one hired me nor is it officially endorsed.  This is not legally binding and won’t guarantee that your art is undamaged, it is simply meant to help increase your odds of a successful show.  I have a lot of experience hanging art in the past decade, and better yet, have been learning how to do so from many knowledgeable artists and venue owners, so I am sharing what I have learned over the years with a lot of help and input from other artists, gallerists, and and business owners.  Particularly I want to thank the following artists who helped write this document or taught me a lot about hanging a show most effectively:  Cynthia Schubert, Marti Rounds, Dawn Yoshimura, Suzanne Barnes, Cindy Livermore, and Liz Corbin.  Without their help this guide would not exist.


Project: Enchanted Forest Mural

The “Enchanted Forest” is a bedroom mural on all wall surfaces, and the ceiling as well, featuring glow-in-the-dark painted fireflies and a plethora of flowers. The setting is intended to feel like twilight in a magical forest garden with a limited, soothing palette.

Enchanted Forest: I designed the room with the position of the bed in mind. If you are sitting on the bed, or laying down looking toward your feet, this is the main wall. It’s also got the least furniture, so it contains the most detail. 

A progress photo showing my eventual containers of color. I mixed small batches of paint that I could use as a mixing shortcut and to keep my colors consistent from wall to wall. I wanted to create harmony by using a limited color palette especially since it's a bedroom mural.

A progress photo of the left lily pond showing my paint set-up.

Because there is a huge closet on one end of the room, windows opposite, and a door in a certain configuration, there is only one way that the furniture can be arranged in the room.  That made it really easy to plan the optimal vantage points, and to know where to lavish details that were not going to be obscured by furniture.

I never did share all my photos from the Enchanted Forest Mural before this, because it is being renovated and the moulding isn’t up and new windows are pending as well, but it’s time to share it anyway. I used a lot of tips and tricks for this mural that I learned from Mural Joe, one of my favorite teachers on YouTube.  I highly recommend his videos – they are wonderful!  Recently I posted on his channel to thank him for his help and he asked to see the mural.  Even though the photos show that the home was/is in renovation (there is a lack of moulding and lightswitch panels, etc…) you can see the painting well.  I will post again in a few months when all the finishing details are in place.

Enchanted Forest Mural: A palm painted over three surfaces to soften the corner

A palm painted over three surfaces to soften the corner

This photo tour will travel clockwise, through the room.  The prior three photos display the main wall – the wall with the lily pond and waterfall.  This is the wall seen when lying in bed.  It has less furniture than any other wall, so it needed the most lavish details.

The second wall spans the door and is mostly a narrow two-foot-wide panel because the entire rest of the wall is a big closet. These photos show the transition from the lily pond and waterfall wall to wall #2, the lilac and iris garden.

Clockwise: A detail of the right end of the lily wall wrapping around to the lilac garden – there is a closet next to the lilac garden.

Enchanted Forest Mural The wall with the massive tree and and a view over a misty cloud forest

The wall with the massive tree and and a view over a misty cloud forest

The third wall is the one behind the bed. Because of this, it has the most furniture obscuring it. I kept the bottom of the wall very simple, but I still made it beautiful because the furniture might change someday if it turns into an office.

The room also needs to have visual interest that extends onto the ceiling so that there is something to look at while lying in bed staring at the ceiling. I love to relax under a tree in the summer – I do not do that very often, but I wanted to give this room that illusion of looking up at the tree canopy when the viewer is lying in bed.  There is a beautiful fan that echoes the style of the room, so I didn’t want to compete with it. The tree ends before conflicting with the fan, but allows for a lot of detail on the sweet spot of the ceiling over the bed where the sleeper will end up staring a lot.

Detail of the right edge of the massive tree, looking off of a cliff over the forest canopy

Enchanted Forest Mural: The massive tree. When the bed is in place, the viewer is lying directly under the tree. The perspective is designed to make the tree look like it is disappearing up into the sky. It is surprisingly effective in person!

The massive tree. When the bed is in place, the viewer is directly under the tree. The perspective is designed to make the tree look like it is disappearing up into the sky. It is surprisingly effective in person!

An ancient path to a mysterious door in a tree. This part of the mural is between the two windows in the room.

Enchanted Forest Mural: An ancient path to a mysterious door in a tree

The final wall is a mysterious ancient path to an archway door.  The door is set into a tree that appears to be hundreds of years old.  Hopefully it prompts an imaginative journey – where does the door in the old tree lead? To the right of the path, the edge of the lily pond begins, and the mural has fully wrapped around the room.  On every wall, there are fireflies painted with the strongest glow-in-the-dark water-based pigment money can buy.  It is really cool to turn off the lights and see the fireflies glow green.

Enchanted Forest Mural: The massive tree and the ancient path. The old windows are in the process of being replaced.

This photo is from “in progress” when the  massive tree was 70% complete (no branches on the ceiling yet) and the ancient path walls complete.  I computer-generated “moulding” to mock up how it may look someday, but I like this photo because it shows the transition of the massive tree to the ancient path.  In a few months I should be able to post an update with all the finishing touches, but it will look a lot like this.

The base color for the room was a blue I mixed up from other paint cans I had around the house. We had moved a lot, and I read that as long as the paint is all the same base (you cannot mix latex and oil) and if it hasn’t mildewed, it’s ok to take old paint and mix it with other interior house paint to make a new color, keeping in mind that I always choose eggshell paints, the  resulting gloss was going to be what I wanted for durability vs. glare. I spent some time and testing mixing up a nice mid-tone blue with a touch of green and black to muddy it up a bit and keep it from overpowering the room. From an interior design standpoint, the colors of a room make a big impact on mood and the feeling of space – does the room look large and spacious or small, or cozy – exciting or soothing? That is what color can do for the interior. I wanted the blue to be soothing and mid-toned so the space would feel meditative and spacious. I knew the mural’s illusion of depth would help make the space feel larger if I did a good job on the perspective. I chose for all the lighting to come from the direction of the windows. Everything I painted, I made sure it had the same lighting direction – I often had to change it in my head from a reference photo with the wrong lighting – Joe’s videos were very helpful in this aspect as well – knowing how the light changes as it reflects and diffuses through foliage was really a huge help for me. I imagined the light coming from  the top center of the “window wall”.

The other trickiest bit that I knew the least about before starting this particular mural was the perspective. Unlike my prior murals which were much simpler, this one was quite a complex undertaking with a lot of imagination-fueled components. Thinking about perspective was really important to make it all feel like a real setting.  I needed a true understanding of how to place and convert each element to be the right size in the right place.  I averted a couple of total disasters using Joe’s trick of “halves and doubles”, plus estimates of how tall I thought each item would be and a little simple math in order to place some of the most intricate parts of the mural in the right places at the right sizes. With a little practice, I was able to make hundreds of elements come together into a plausible world. Thanks Joe for all the great instruction! I couldn’t have done this mural without your awesome videos!

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Art Show Rejections

This post is for other artists, especially the young ones, but really anyone who faces the challenge of a juried contest as part of their job.  Anytime you drop off work to be juried, you really hope your works get juried in. It would be great to get an award too!  In the time between submission and display, your heart may be leaping, maybe you are daydreaming about how nice it would be to win…

…until you see both pieces have been juried out and are waiting for pickup.

…until you see there is no award by your label.

If you are human, you probably feel at least a flutter of disappointment, but I am going to tell you about my first time trying to pick award winners, and hopefully you will learn not to take rejection too seriously.

I was part of committee recently that awarded 12 awards to young artists.  The show had already been placed on display.  A round of jurying had already been done.  The remaining pieces were amazingly good. Inevitably, I promise you some of the best work had been juried out or overlooked already. I am always amazed at what doesn’t get on the walls at any of the shows I have entered – some of the best work gets picked up as a rejected piece before anyone gets to enjoy it.  That initial cut was done, and now we were trying to select awards for young artists we thought should get a nod of the head from our association.

It was dizzying.  There are no right answers.  There are no clear answers.  We chose the best we could with a criteria of technical skill and “wow factor”.  And this is how it is judging art.  Some people took an immediate like to a piece that others in the group didn’t understand.  We all preferred a unique set of pieces – there was some overlap, but none of the lists matched.  The amazing photographer in our group chose a lot more photographs because he could appreciate their expertise.  Another artist chose 2D art with an emphasis on technical skill.  Another artist chose mostly the mixed media pieces, valuing innovation.  Another chose based entirely on a conceptual basis – ideas-driven criteria. We then compromised to try to give each person a little bit of satisfaction.  You can’t really judge art. Each piece is made under differing criteria and in order to be even remotely fair, it feels like you would have to have 1000 categories and make the categories ridiculously narrow:

“best oil painting of people with an overall sad feeling”

“best whimsical pastel cat”

“best bas-relief carved decorative gourd”

“best documentary-style photograph depicting the theme of death and loss”

How can all these things compete with each other?  It’s like apples, oranges, a live octopus and a pair of tennis shoes! Which one is best?  Well, are you planning to eat it, put it in the ocean, or run with it on your feet?

Which one is best?

Likewise how do you compare art that really doesn’t fill the same function at all?  Are you going to put it on your wall, place it on a decorative side table, place it in a museum, wear it, use it to help make people aware of a social issue, or illustrate a children’s book with it? This would be helpful to determine the “winner”, but in many shows, there’s no answer.  It’s all competing against each other.

Which of these masterpieces is the best? Wouldn’t this be a nightmare to jury?

We chose some pieces that were innovative, or thought-provoking, or beautiful, or skillful. Many were a combo of these things.  But this small set of awards wasn’t even remotely exhaustive of all the great pieces in the room that deserved recognition.  I loved a couple of pieces I felt were rather whimsical and I would rank them as my favorites, but they lost out because they were competing with amazing hard-hitting pieces with very serious themes.  We as a society often award the depressing things even if the whimsical pieces are just as technically wonderful.  I think this might be because the whimsical pieces are more likely to be purchased for display on a wall, whereas, we still want to provide some sort of encouragement to the things that are too painful to display all the time in our living spaces.  Some of the most amazing and tragic pieces couldn’t be awarded for technical issues, or because it was similar to a piece we awarded already and we were trying to at least touch on most of the various media. The process tried to be logical, but art is not logical.

In the end, every piece we selected was lauded by at least three of our members, often all of us.  I would have made different awards if left to my own devices, and I was grateful I wasn’t left to my own devices.  The biases of each artist at least are somewhat balanced in a group. This process showed me a lot about my own biases, and about what it means to jury, and what it means to lose.

Winning means something.  It means that at least one person thought your work was the best in the room.  They really connected with it.  Generally speaking, the winning pieces are usually really genuinely good technically and/or conceptually (not always both), so when I see an artists who is winning awards, I know they have wonderful quality to their work.

Losing means NOTHING. Some of the strongest pieces are cut because of a bias (“I don’t understand pottery”, “I don’t like pieces that make me feel anxious”), a belief (“whimsical work is less worthy of awards than depressing work”, “conceptual art is more important than decorative art”), or a desire to be less biased (“I like portraits and this one is amazing, but we already selected 2 other portraits for awards, so we better try to give the award to an abstract” “we ought to spread the awards to include the 3D artists too because we haven’t awarded any sculptors yet”). All kinds considerations and justifications enter into this process, and when you are on the choosing end, you realize how arbitrary some criteria really is, but it’s part of the process that is impossible to overcome. Even with a half-dozen jurors, we still ran into some odd reasons to select one piece over another.

This is why you should feel good when you win, but you shouldn’t feel bad if you lose.  Winning means you connected with the specific group that selects work and made them feel something, but losing means nothing. There were so many great pieces!  We could not possibly do a perfect job of choosing the most deserving works.

Next time you are feeling down about rejection, you can do the following things:

  1. Don’t quit making art.
  2.  See if you can detect something missing in your technical skill that you can improve for next time. Know it is perfectly possible to be technically superb and still get rejected.
  3. Shrug it off – a loss means nothing! You can even enter the same piece in a later show and win first place in a different show.
  4. Get a good night’s sleep and enjoy yourself with an activity that takes your mind off your troubles for a while.  With time and experience, you will get thicker skin.