Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Adjusting Expectations: Autism, Art, and a 2023 Recap

Oh... hi there.

This is my first (and last) post of 2023, and it's a big one, so I hope you're curled up with a nice warm beverage and a comfy chair! This year got away from me, but there was a whole lot happening...

Cover of Artist's Magazine
A professional highlight of the year: winning the cover contest held by the Artist's Magazine. My work was featured on the cover of the September/October 2023 issue.

In many ways, 2023 was one of the most challenging years of my life. But it was also a year of incredible personal and professional growth, especially as I look back with some perspective on the year and realize that all the hard work and tears will eventually reap long term rewards.

Let me start by sharing something personal.

In December of 2022, my son Everett (who was 4 at the time) was medically diagnosed with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly called Asberger's). We had suspected this for a long time, especially after he was asked to leave the very expensive preschool we were sending him to from the time he was about 2 1/2. When he turned 3 and entered a larger classroom, he began to act out in ways they didn't know how to deal with. Everett started to get physically aggressive towards teachers and other kids, making him a "danger" (all 3 feet of him) in the classroom. As a mom, I was mortified by this and didn't know what to do. The preschool directed me to ChildFind, a program that is available through the state, where I had Everett go in for rigorous assessments. The result was that he was given an IEP, which would give him access to special services such as speech therapy and behavioral therapy, during the next school year. They also recommended he get on the waitlist to be assessed for an official medical diagnosis. 

With my children, Cecelia and Everett, spring 2023

I was proactive about all of this, but that meant that Everett became my full-time job.  I hired a speech therapist to come to our house and work with him once a week, which she did, for about a year from the summer of 2022 to the summer of this year. In January of 2023, once we had Everett's offical diagnosis, I also hired an ABA (behavioral) therapist to work with him at our house, and she came four days a week, every morning, including during the summer. This gave me some relief and a bit of time to work, but the time always seemed to fly by and I'd just be getting into the groove when it was time for the therapist to leave, and I was back on kid duty.

In the fall of 2022, Everett started preschool at a public school, just 4 days a week in the afternoons, while our daughter went to a charter school 20 minutes away. Needless to say, the 2022-2023 school year consisted of a ridiculous amount of driving, accompanied constantly by a low-grade anxiety that I would be late to pick up my daughter, or that Everett would fight me on something, whether it was over what I'd made for lunch, or getting in the car, or not wanting to leave the playground. We were often late to things, because Everett does things his own way, in his own time, and I had to let go of a lot of my usual commitments. When he made up his mind about something, whether good or bad, he would dig in his heels. One of the hardest moments I had was one day when I tried to bring him with me to the gym. Normally I would set him up with an ipad during this time, but he decided that he wasn't interested in it that day, so he chose to stand there by the door, screaming during my entire workout. As a result, I did NOT complete my workout, but ended up carrying him out to the car, trying to hide the tears coming down my face. He could have his meltdowns any time, anywhere.

Cecelia is becoming a very gifted young artist!

Everett's chalk masterpieces, April 2023

Before I continue, let me clarify something: my children are my pride and joy. Cecelia (my nine year old), is a very talented artist, with an incredible imagination that blows my mind! Everett is extraordinary in ways I don't fully understand yet. From the time he was 18 months old, perhaps even younger, he became obsessed with letters and numbers. As a two year old, he learned to master writing them... in different fonts, including cursive! During the assessment for his medical diagnosis, he tested off the charts for his ability to solve puzzles and for visual problem solving. As a four and five year old, his most recent obsessions have been human anatomy, the solar system, and geography. If you ask him what the capital of Bolivia is, he'll probably be able to tell you! He is as smart as a whip, but his communication and social skills need work. He struggles with transitions, and needs to know what is going to happen next. Flexibility is a constant work in progress. And it seems like he and I are always battling over everything: bed time, meal times, getting out the door in the morning. It's exhausting.

That being said, learning to parent him has been like learning a new language. His brain is extraordinary and I'm just trying to figure him out, while loving and nurturing him, and also challenging him once in a while. It's a tall order.

So.. in 2023, I didn't stop going to the gym, but I definitely wasn't rigorously dieting or training like during 75 Hard

I didn't stop playing piano for church (you probably didn't even know I did that), but I did have to pare it down to just once a month.

I didn't stop painting, but I had to adjust my expectations and the scope of my projects. I was greatly blessed to have a large number of commissions in 2023, but I had to tell my clients, "I can't do a hard deadline. It could take me 6 months to a year... or more." Thankfully, most of them were happy to oblige. After all, for me to find a large chunk of time in the studio, was almost impossible this year. Once the kids were home for the summer, I was constantly being interrupted, or, doing MORE driving, this time to summer camps, which always seemed to go by so fast! 

But I was blessed beyond measure to have some incredible experiences this year as a professional artist. Sometimes, I just have to leave the house to remind myself that yes, indeed, I am a professional (d**n it!). 

In February, I took my annual solo trip to a desert location, this time to Sedona, Arizona. It was magical because on my second day there, it snowed and looked absolutely breathtaking.

In May, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach my first international workshop, and it happened to be in South Africa with a fantastic company called Workshops in SA! I would like to write a separate blog post about this experience, because it was so special and life-changing for me. I learned a great deal on that trip, and I would like the chance to do it justice by writing about it when I have the time to really dig in with more details. So be looking for that post... soon. :-) In the meantime, I made a video about it that you can watch on YouTube.

I flew from South Africa straight to Washington, DC for the Portrait Society of America convention. Yes, it was a little crazy on my part, but this is one of my favorite events of the year and I hate to miss it! There's something truly special about spending a weekend with my art family. By God's grace, I was healthy and experienced no jet lag. My twin sister Emily (are you following her on YouTube yet?) attended the event too, and I got to catch up with many beloved artist friends.

I was willing to wait in line a LONG time for Judith Carducci's book signing at the Portrait Society. She has been a mentor and inspiration to me for years. At this year's conference she sat for a portrait demonstration by Jeff Hein and Rose Frantzen and it was one of the most memorable demos I've had the pleasure of watching. Sadly, Judy passed away in August at the age of almost 88. She will be greatly missed!

A bunch of badass women artists dressed up for the PSOA banquet
(left to right: Emily Olson, Mardie Rees, Anna Rose Bain, Tina Garrett, Adrienne Stein)

Emily and I couldn't resist getting our picture with the one and only James Gurney!

One of my all-time favorite artists and humans, the indomitable Rose Frantzen

Me (left) and my amazing twin sister and BFF, Emily (right) May 2023 (why does she always look taller than me??)

Less than two weeks after the South Africa trip and the Portrait Society, I participated as a faculty member in the Plein Air Convention, which took place in Denver this year and was just 20 minutes from my house! That proved to be more difficult than I thought, as I wore my "mom hat" in the mornings (packing lunches, driving kids to school, etc.), and switched to my "professional artist hat" in the afternoons. It was a bipolar way to live. Or, maybe I was just worn out. But I enjoyed being part of this event and had the honor of giving an evening demo. 

In June I "relaxed" a little and started to dig in to my commission work a bit more. Well, I may have also participated in a Spartan race with some friends from my gym...

The biggest highlight was that after driving my dependable old Lexus SUV for almost 14 years, I finally traded it in for a brand new Toyota 4Runner! I've dubbed her "Jolene," and I can now call myself a proper Coloradan. Since this photo was taken, she's been outfitted with rock sliders and bigger tires with black wheels. Next will be the roof rack...

In July, I taught a 3-day portrait workshop in Lowell, MI, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the black raspberries were perfectly in season. I made a black raspberry dessert for my students and it was a very memorable workshop, if not for the great models and instruction, then at least for the dessert! 

Steve, the kids and I took a couple of family road trips, one for a quick weekend in Colorado Springs, and another, for ten days in Wisconsin to celebrate my parents' 50th anniversary. My typical MO is to overcommit to stuff, but once I'm committed, I give it 110%. That's exactly what happened with helping my parents plan their big anniversary party. I volunteered to put together the slideshow. It took me all summer to scan photos and negatives, edit, crop, and color correct them, and compile them in chronological order to the songs my parents had selected. My mom and dad are both perfectionists (must be who I get it from?!), so it was very important that the slideshow be just right. When the day came and we all got together as a big group of family and friends to celebrate their commitment to one another, I have to say that it was worth it when I saw the tears in their eyes while they watched the memories come up on the screen. 

My great big family! July 2023

I had the opportunity to take a couple of weekend art trips with my sisters Emily and Cara, and a dear friend from college. One weekend was spent in Moab, the other was in Grand Lake, Colorado, where we went on a ten-mile hike that had me realizing I'm no spring chicken anymore!

I was really happy with how this plein air sketch turned out of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park

My sister Cara (left) came all the way out from Wisconsin to hang with Emily and me, and she did some watercolor painting. I think art runs in the family.

Emily and I with our friend of 20+ years, Erica. She's that friend who's always up for things, including 10 mile hikes...

My sweet dog Bella gave us a scare this summer when she very suddenly came down with vestibular disease, a dog version of vertigo. She was so ill that she couldn't stand up and I spent two weeks attending to her day and night, often having to carry her outside to do her business. She eventually recovered and we just celebrated her 14th birthday! Meanwhile, our two year old puppy Elsa came down with a nasty abscess on her face, which had to be operated on. She is doing fine now and is back to her obnoxious self. She likes to jump with all four paws on our glass patio door.

As August came to a close, my daughter entered 4th grade, and Everett's ABA and speech therapy ended. We started him in Kindergarten at the same school as his sister. Unfortunately, it has been a very rocky adjustment. He wasn't used to full days at school, or wearing uniforms, or getting up early, or eating a packed lunch. We also realized over time that the curriculum, no matter how rigorously academic (it's a Hillsdale College charter school)... was TOO easy for Everett. His math skills are way above and beyond, and he's already reading and writing (in cursive, no less). So Everett started getting bored at school and would act out in terrible ways. It's still an ongoing process of us trying to impliment positive incentives and work with the special ed team at his school to help him succeed. At this point, we're not worried about him academically. We just want him to learn how to behave properly and be with people! Someday I hope he has friends, maybe even a girl friend! I love that boy so much, but oh... the heartache he's given me! I guess that's what it is to be a mother. The love and the pain are unbearable at times. I've been driven to my knees every day, praying for wisdom and strength in navigating these waters.

I continue the journey of being an artist, and even though parenting has taken center stage this year, the art is non-negotiable. Art--along with my CrossFit workouts--keeps me sane, and I'm thankful for it every day! In spite of the challenges, I've had many professional successes in 2023:

- Starting my own learning platform for streaming my instructional videos. I add a new video each month! Check it out at LEARN FROM ANNA ROSE BAIN.

- Teaching my first international workshop (May 2023) in South Africa, as well as my first workshop with the Scottsdale Artists School (November 2023). I must say, my husband's support was crucial in making these events possible!

- Leading a webinar with the Portrait Society of America on "Children as Timeless Subjects"

- Taking on numerous portrait commissions

- Maintaining my YouTube channel and social media platforms

- Hosting a successful studio sale via my newsletter and social media 

How have I adjusted my expectations this year? Well, large scale studio pieces and passion projects have been pretty much out of the question. The best I can do is the occasional plein air painting or portrait demo. And sometimes I chip away at one of the big pieces in my studio, but there are lots of unfinished works waiting patiently for their turn in the spotlight.

Yes, I make things look effortless (ha!), but I tell you what. It's December, and I'm dead tired.

If you've made it this far, I thank you for reading this. Wishing you a very merry Christmas and happy New Year. I'll check in with you in 2024!

- Anna


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