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In my latest practice at portraiture, I thought I would try to paint my sister-in-law.

She won’t thank me for the end result; something of a caricature and an image that is probably of a version of her twenty years older than she actually is!  That said, I rather like the end result because, for me, it captures her sense of fun.  Anyway, it’s in the eye of the beholder so we will each see different things.

As practice, this is far more about the process (this is what an artist says to rescue his/herself when the art is perhaps a little….erm…well, ‘interesting’).  For me, as a person who has Parkinson’s, which makes having a steady hand rather difficult, and prosopagnosia, which means that I have face-blindness, the fact that I can cobble together anything of an image is something that I am happy enough with!

I started out by building the head in blue acrylic:

I then started to explore the face and I identified certain shapes that helped me build the next layers:

From there, I continued the process but gradually introduced a little white acrylic and a little crimson; to varying degrees depending on the shade I was seeking.  In effect, the portrait is made of blue, white and crimson acrylic.

I then added in some black fine tip pen and, to finish, I went over the face in a chestnut brown coloured pencil; just to even the tones a little and made a few shading additions in ordinary grey pencil. As it was almost 4am by the time I was finishing, I decided to change the clothing a little, just for my own ease. This practice is all about the face.

Here is the final result:

It’s not quite my sister-in-law, but I can see hints of her.  Nonetheless, the image is one that makes me smile for, to me, this character is filled with her humour and sense of fun.

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.

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Nerves and Bananas

     The event had been planned for a few months.  Having travelled for around four or five hours to what was a very heavily flooded part of England, we had all finally settled into our hotel on the previous night.  The hotel was comfortable.  As a team of people who had also the bonds of family and/or friendship between us, we had enjoyed a lovely meal, a few drinks, a lot of banter and chuckling.

     Two of us; Debbie and Tracy, had not met in person, before, and so it was just a beautiful moment when those two met.  I had absolutely no doubt that they would get on well and I have no doubt that they will become great friends over time; a process that was already well under way, online.  When we went to meet another one of our team, Brendan, in the restaurant beside the hotel, it was also the first time that Kevin, Debbie and I would be meeting Brendan in-person.  Again, somehow strange for I feel very much that I already know Brendan and I consider him a very dear friend.

     As a complete surprise to us all, my wonderful cousin, Debbie, arrived a couple of minutes after we had all arrived and were starting our first drinks of the night.  From the corner of my eye, I saw a yellow blur whizz by the window, outside.  I thought nothing much of it until, suddenly, a big yellow banana ran into the restaurant and threw her arms around Brendan and Tracy!  Yes, it was Debbie and she was dressed as a banana! It was so funny and this is another reason why I adore my cousin, for she is just a crazy, vibrant and joyful human being.

Here are a few photos of these wonderful moments:

     This is what made our feelings, the following morning, seem somehow out of place.  To be anxious seemed somehow ridiculous and yet, we were!  The corridor from our rooms suddenly appeared to stretch out before us, in the way one might expect to see in a horror movie.  I was struck by the emptiness of the corridor.  The deep mauve colour scheme of the carpet and lower walls seemed somehow sinister.

     “I actually feel sick.” Tracy said.  “I know it’s crazy, but I feel pretty anxious about doing this.”
“Well, that’s not good; especially since this was your idea!  Is it too late to cancel?” I quipped, in reply; knowing full well that neither of us would have cancelled and knowing that my comment would set her chuckling.  Laughter always helps.
“Well, we’ll be alright.” she mused.  “This is just nervousness and that makes sense, given that we are meeting people for the very first time.
“Absolutely.” I responded with gusto.  “We can do this.  It’s going to be fun but, just so you know, I have stage fright, too, and I’m starting to feel a bit sick, myself!”  Tracy and I laughed and pushed the door open, walking into the reception area  and off into an adventure.

     We made our way round to the restaurant.  There are five of us in the United Kingdom branch of our global team of volunteers.  One, Brendan, would be joining us a little later.  The other two are my husband Kevin and my cousin Debbie and they would be along within around fifteen minutes.  For now, it would be Tracy, our Team Leader and dear friend, and I who would be walking in to meet the members of Parkinson’s Road support group.  Parkinson’s Road is a support community, worldwide, that is formed of four specialist groups on Facebook.  This event was about offering members the opportunity to meet with us, the volunteer team; known as the Admin Team.  Here is a caricature I made of the UK Admin Team and which I have since turned into a postcard that holds our Facebook group details on the reverse, for publicity:

     I am a somewhat socially anxious person, though people usually respond with surprise when I reveal this.  I am often told that I come across as confident and self-assured.  Being at the event at all was already a step out of my comfort zone, but something that I felt was incredibly important and so I would not have remained at home.  We approached the entrance doors, to the restaurant building.

     Years ago, I worked at an incredibly posh hotel in London.  Royalty were regular patrons of the venue.  On the door of the staff office, facing in, was a wonderful poster that a member of staff had written.  It read “Smile, you’re about to walk onto stage.”  That little saying helped me back then and it helped me now; I smiled, took a deep breath and remembered my childhood training for acting  in film, television and stage.  I inhaled a deep breath, smiled to myself and relaxed my shoulders, as I stepped in through the doors and turned to greet the members.

     The stage fright disappeared within seconds.  I don’t know why, but it simply felt as though we were meeting with family.  These were people, some of whom I had not even communicated with, before, and yet there was a safety, a trust and a sort of understanding between us.  In my prior work as a psychotherapist, I would call this dynamic between us all ‘unconditional positive regard’, or simply ‘acceptance’.  We were all accepting of each other and nothing was a barrier to that.  It just felt peaceful, natural and like the coming together of friends.

     Through the course of the day, we enjoyed a meal and this was followed by a beautiful cake that had been baked by the baker at Cafe Amelia in the nearby town of Arnold.  Brendan owns the cafe and he had invited his baker to make the cake for the event.  The beautiful design was actually the cover photo image from the group page on Facebook.  Beneath the sumptuous and delicious icing was a decadent chocolate sponge and chocolate paste filling.  It was just perfect.

     If ever you head over to Nottingham, do head to Arnold and look out for Cafe Amelia which, by the way, serves the most wonderful English Breakfast and the service is so fast and efficient. Our morning, prior to meeting the group members, was spent there and it was impressive.

     The purpose of this article is simply to encourage anyone who may be living with a chronic illness or disease, to join an online community.  It is also to suggest that you seek to meet up with people either from an online community that you join or to join a support group in-person in your local area.  The value of this day had meaning to all of us and we all came away with a strengthened sense of belonging, commonality and new/closer friendships.

     Throughout the day, I spent time chatting with these members of Parkinson’s Road and learning about them.  It was not all a discussion about Parkinson’s.  We all just talked about life and we laughed, there were a few tears here and there as people shared aspects of their illness but above all there was chuckling and laughter as we all just got to know each other, shared anecdotes, messed around and had fun.

    I think many of us came away with renewed insight and understanding about how there are different approaches to life and to living with Parkinson’s.  We all learnt from each other and we all came from different places, different walks of life and faced different challenges and struggles in life.  We learnt that there truly is a postcode lottery in terms of the type of care the NHS provides; with some geographical areas so desperately in need of funding.  We had different life experiences and came from different parts of the country and yet not a single thing divided us.  We were in complete union and acceptance of each other due to the one simple value that I hold dear and which, I suspect, the others hold dear too; kindness.

     For the occasion, I had been to a crafting shop and I’d bought some little wooden hearts.  I asked everyone to fill in messages on the hearts.  These would be messages from those of us at this gathering, to all of the members of Parkinson’s Road around the world and I would create one or two artworks to display them.  With a few funny comments and a couple of drawings thrown in, here are the heartfelt comments from us to all of our members, wherever they are in our beautiful world:

     After our meal, a few people had to start making their journey home.  Some of us were staying in the hotel while others had to trek back to their home areas to pick life up again.  I was deeply touched that some people had travelled on public transport for hours just to attend.  That meant so much to me, especially given the extraordinary weather conditions which had led to road and rail closures.

     For those of us who remained, we set up in the bar and we sat around for several hours playing games, chatting, laughing, enjoying a few more drinks and just building on getting to know each other.

     When, eventually, there were just the Admin Team and one group member left, I finally had to go and lay down for a while.  My symptoms were kicking off and I just had to get some rest.

     That said, the others carried on, with occasional rest breaks and I rejoined them later in the evening for a nightcap or three and we shared that lovely sense of the achievement of the event and, amid the ongoing banter, there was the reflection over a day that was truly a lovely experience and one that I will always treasure.   It was not solely about that one day, but this was about acknowledging just what had been achieved by the small group of people that we are.  We had created an online community that stretches across the world and which now has over 2,200 members.

     The Admin Team is made of the five of us in the UK; the place where Parkinson’s Road started, as well as our dear friends and colleagues in the team who are in Canada, of which there are two, the USA, of which there are three and newly, Australia, where we now have one newly joined Admin Team member.

     If you, or someone close to you is affected by Parkinson’s, come and visit us at Parkinson’s Road, on Facebook.  We are more than a support group.  We are a support community, worldwide.

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.

Managing Anxiety

Taken from my You Tube channel. In this vlog, I discuss anxiety and how to respond to it.

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.

Treasure in my Cupboard

     I am sitting at my desk and looking with delight at the glass window of the book case part of this old bureau that I write at.  Through the glass, on the shelves within, are colours and designs, on the spines of books, so familiar to me.  There are names that brought me great joy in my childhood.  I recognise familiar titles that bring a huge smile to my face, as I recall the adventures behind them. Images that were not actually in these childhood books, but that my imagination created, while I was reading them.

    Authors, such as Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis and Willard Price who fired my imagination and made me dream not only of the adventures about which they wrote, but of becoming a writer, myself.  This year, I have published both digital short story e-books and a paperback autobiographical work and I must admit that achieving the ambition of becoming a writer is completely and utterly fulfilling.  I am looking forward to adding to my portfolio of published works next year and, alongside this, I have written two short plays which I have submitted to an online competition.

    I have been working on de-cluttering, at home, over the past week or two.  I have delved into cupboards and pulled out boxes that I usually think ‘I’ll sort through those very soon’, when I see or think of them.  It was through doing this that I discovered a box filled with my childhood favourite books and it was a most wonderful feeling to reconnect with them.  Just seeing these once adored books; their familiar book covers and the titles of the books has taken me not only back to the memory of these vivid and fantastical stories, but the experience has also brought back some delightful memories of childhood that would otherwise remain ‘in a file’, within the filing cabinet that is my brain.  These are the things we do not think about unless we are triggered into accessing one of those ‘files’.  It is a joy to be reminded.

    My parents were very keen for me to learn to read and write, as early as possible.  In fact, my reading level was very good when I started infants school and I was already writing with ‘joined-up letters’ (that once seemed so important!) when I started infants school.  Unfortunately, I was then discouraged to write in that way and was made to regress so that I was in line with my classmates, the minute I started school.  I suppose this was the way things were done in the mid 1970’s and my first teacher was an elderly woman; incredibly nice but she would have been passing on much to me that would be of another era.  Indeed, she was the person who discouraged my left-handedness and taught me to write with my right hand, instead.  I doubt that still happens, today.

    Given how much I have enjoyed seeing my cherished childhood books, here are some photos of some of them.

Perhaps you will see some much loved favourites here?  Maybe you will be reminded of the adventures these books, and others, took you on as you read in your childhood?  Perhaps some of your own treasured memories will come to the surface and will bring a smile to your face?  If so, please do let me know, by posting a comment below.  It would be a joy to share this experience with you.

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.

Suffolk Floods

Taken from my You Tube channel. My adventures to work in my Bongo, in the floods!

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.

Getting a Diagnosis

Taken from my You Tube channel.  In this vlog, I discuss my journey toward reaching a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease and I recite some poetry from my book ‘A Look Inside’, which is available at Amazon, worldwide.

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.

From my You Tube channel.  I have a neurological, genetically inherited condition called Prosopagnosia.  Have you heard of it?  Take a look at my vlog to learn more.

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.

Parkinson’s and Benefits

From my You Tube channel.  In this vlog, having had to give up my career due to ill health caused by Parkinson’s Disease, I discuss the issue of duplication in applying for Government benefits.

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.

Losing My Grip

Taken from my You Tube channel.  In this vlog, I talk about my frustration at having dropped yet another glass, which smashed across the kitchen floor.  One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s is the loss of manual dexterity.

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.

Simple Scrapbooks

     A simple, and yet delightfully personal, way to make a gift for someone is to make a scrap book for them.  For example, I am making a gift which is of a small scrap book that will be filled with a selection of themed photos that will, I know, have a lovely meaning for the person I am gifting them to.

     All you need are the following items, which can easily be sourced from a craft store either online or in a nearby town:

  • A scrapbook.
  • A glue stick.
  • Some patterned paper to form a background on each page.
  • Photo quality printing paper, to fit the scrap book.
  • Some simple items to personalise the pages; in this case I have bought some thin wooden ‘Scrabble’-style letters.  I will form some words with these, on each page.
  • You may want to have either pens, pencils or paints to decorate around the edges of some of the pages?

Here is the scrapbook that I have chosen for the person concerned:

Here is an example of some of the patterned papers that I have used for the page backgrounds:

Here are the ‘Scrabble’-style wooden letters that I will be using to add significant or funny wording onto each page:

     The patterned paper sheets that will form the backdrop to each photo, are all from a pad of these papers.  These pads come in many sizes and styles, as do the scrapbooks, themselves.  You can easily find the ideal patterns to suit the photos that you will then add on top of them.

      In this case, I will be printing 6″ x 4″ photos directly from albums on my computer, onto photographic paper.  I am choosing a theme for the photos that I select, so that they have a specific meaning for the person that I will be giving this gift to.

     To complete this craft:

  • Open your scrapbook and take one sheet of the patterned paper from it’s pad.
  • Using the glue stick, carefully glue around the edges of the reverse of the patterned paper and perhaps a cross going across the page so that the glue is not only around the edges.
  • Carefully position the sheet of patterned paper over the scrapbook page and then gently stick it in; making sure not to allow bubbles to form. 

  • It doesn’t matter if the sheet of patterned paper is not perfectly alligned to the edge of the scrapbook page.  It looks more authentically hand made, in fact, when there are small imperfections.  You may even want to make specific effort to paste your patterned paper into position at varying angles, throughout the scrapbook.  Simply do whatever you like the most.

  • Print off your photo and then, once the ink has dried, glue the reverse of the photo paper and stick the photo in position, on top of the patterned paper.  Be sure to position the photo at any type of angle that will leave a good amount of the patterned background paper on display,  There is no value in covering the patterned background paper; it is part of the artwork.
  • Using any materials you wish, decorate the page further.  You may want to draw or paint around the edges of the page, you may want to stick on stickers or, like me, you may want to use stick on letters of stick on words to add a personal message onto each page.  The beauty is that you are completely free to personalise the page in  any way that you enjoy.
  • Once done, you will have a beautiful hand made, themed and personalised photo album to give as a gift for a special occasion or simply to brighten someone’s day.

I’m afraid I won’t be showing a photo of these parts of the process, for that mist remain private to the person receiving this gift.

I believe that creativity is great therapy and, if like me you have Parkinson’s, the act of using your hands helps to maintain dexterity. Don’t be afraid to make crafts even if you tremor. That simply will make your art unique and even more personal.

     If you have experience of scrapbooks; whether you have made them for someone else or whether you have received one as a gift, I would love to hear from you about that.  Please fell free to share your story in the comments, below.

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.