A Message From A Long Lost Friend

When I first started out in Interior Design, I worked with a lovely woman named Odette. She loved everything French, excelled in the arts, and I considered her among my first ‘grown-up’ friends. We went to art shows at the Norton, visited French cafes in Delray, and got excited about color combinations and her new home decor selections. When I moved to Bolivia, she sent gorgeous French-made cards, and we visited whenever I made it back to the States. When the Great Recession hit, we emailed back and forth about how nervous we were about our beloved industry. Shortly after that, my sweet friend was involved in an automobile accident, and lost her life.

Five years ago, I moved back to South Florida, and I miss my friend often. She would have been the first to go to my art shows, and would have given me sound advice about my paintings. Over the summer, I came across an art book Odette had given me: a book about her favorite Fauvist artist, Raoul Dufy. In her inscription, she wrote:

I had recently started trying out mixed media, specifically ephemera and collage, so I decided to used the pages of the book Odette had given to me. Since then, I have completed several works, and I feel like she has inspired my art for the better. The use of ephemera adds an element of history and time to each piece, which is the underlying element behind most of my art.

I tend to paint mermaids or women floating underwater – and often there are symbolic elements such as masks, flowers, or pearls/jewelry floating around an ethereal woman. The only people we truly know in this life is ourselves – we all have insecurities and secrets we hide, and our physical bodies are just a glimpse of the person we are inside. Sometimes, we get to know other souls on a deeper level, and we are lucky when we find people we connect with.

Lately, I’ve found myself perusing used book stores for old texts, yellowed pages, and interesting illustrations. Old black and white photos now hold a deeper meaning, and I’d love to get my hands on old postcards with cursive writing. Little did I know how much a sweet gesture would mean to me all these years later. There are so many stories waiting to be told and mysteries to be solved about the past, and mixed media is a natural medium for my need to be an artistic storyteller. I just needed a little inspiration from a long lost friend.

The Pressure to be a Mother

I changed majors often in college, and after finally selecting Interior Design, I still contemplated what I would be when I grew up. At the ripe old age of 38, I became a nurse, and today, I continue to daydream about different career paths and life choices. One area in which I never faltered, though, was my desire to become a Mom. I guess it is ingrained into our psyche and genetic code at an early age. No matter how successful I was in my career, I felt ‘less than’ because I had a difficult time with maintaining relationships, and was fearful I wouldn’t find the perfect partner. The anxiety definitely shaped my choices, and limited my career and financial successes. I wanted to be like everyone else, and it was out of my control to get what I wanted.

If I could go back in time and take away the anxiety about ‘partnering -up’, I would have pursued a Masters in Architecture. I would have traveled the world, and done things on my own schedule. I wish I could have met my husband with that background, but instead I was an insecure young girl with a cute face, expensive clothes, and loads of debt. We need to do better for girls. They are more than their looks and more than their womb-status.

Once I fell in line with the status quo, found a husband, and had 2 kids, I finally felt the weight of that pressure lifted. It has been 17 years since I became a Mom, and I have grown into the person I wanted to be. Sometimes my husband says I am not near as nice as I used to be, and I have to agree. That person was never real to begin with. That girl wasn’t me. I have three older brothers and two sons. I know how to climb trees, and I know how to wrestle. It took me a while to re-connect with my chubby, self-assured child-self, the one that ate butter because it tasted good, and wondered about infinity. We’re back together, now that my frown crease is permanent and my abdomen is less than perfect.

Pandemic

Never could I have imagined what is going on now, and never could I have been more proud to call myself a nurse. In January 2018, after several years as an oncology nurse, my heart was broken. I came across a call to artists on the American Nurses Association Facebook page for artwork to shed light on the heavy burden healthcare workers face, and I felt this was my opportunity to make a difference. My piece, Isolation Mask, ended up being selected by the National Academy of Medicine.

This mixed-media piece, a self-portrait, encompasses all the emotions that go into being a nurse. 12 hour shifts turn into 15 hour shifts, fears of making a mistake, being short staffed, etc, etc. But nursing also held a treasure trove of life-altering moments. Holding someone’s hand as they passed from this life into the next, comforting a scared patient, using humor to make a miserable patient smile on the worst day of their life….so worth everything. Those patients inspired me to not waste time, and to finally follow my passion for art.

Today, as everyone takes a step back, I’ve been going into the chemotherapy infusion room every weekday. I worry about the canceled MRI’s and CT scans, as tumors don’t stop growing during pandemics. I worry about the scarcity of the blood supply, as my patients often need donated red blood cells and platelets to survive. I worry about my patients who have to go into the hospital for issues related to their cancer diagnosis, and cannot have any loved ones stay by their side. Some will die alone because of Covid-19, and they should also be recorded as victims when this is said and done.

I am overjoyed by the outpouring of love for healthcare workers, and I believe this is our chance to finally make needed changes in the healthcare system. Once this pandemic is relegated to the history books, we need to demand better working conditions for nurses. We need to demand reasonable nurse to patient ratios, and safer working environments. Now the world sees it is not missiles and armies who can save us, but rather science, empathy, and compassionate nurses. To my fellow brothers and sisters on the frontlines: my nurses’ cap is tipped to you.

A Transformative Year

I have been working on this painting for months, and today, it is finally finished. I do not have a sister, and recently I have been missing this particular familial relationship. I have, however, formed strong bonds with several individuals over the years, and this painting represents finding your ‘sister’. Throughout life, we connect with others, and sometimes that connection is magical and instantaneous. This painting celebrates the bonds I’ve forged with others during the major transformations of my life. Going to college, moving to another country, starting a new job, becoming a nurse: at each stage, I have met women who have supported and helped me adjust to my new normal. As an oncology nurse, I know that I am the ‘sister’ who helps newly diagnosed patients navigate chemotherapy and a cancer diagnosis.

The protea flowers floating at the bottom of this painting represent transformation. This has been my most transformative year. I have grown more as an artist at the ripe old age of 45 than I have at any year prior. Now that my sons are teenagers, I finally have time to resume this passion I have had for as long as I can remember. Becoming a nurse helped me realize that time is finite, and we have to do what we love NOW.

I hope I continue to find new ‘sisters’ on this life journey. This painting is acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 36″.

Angel Eyes

This painting, Earth Angel, has evolved several times since I started her this past summer. At first, I was going for an Alice in Wonderland vibe, but that didn’t last long. For a while, I had floating teacups and flowing hair signifying Alice’s drop through the rabbit hole. None of my paintings turn out how I originally plan, though, and I like it that way. I know eventually something interesting will evolve and I’ll like it. Sometimes this process takes months, sometimes a few weeks.

I truly thought I was done with her up until a month ago; her sweet face could be nothing BUT an Angel, and she was good enough. The perfectionist in me saw only the problems in my color choices and background elements. One night, I grabbed brush and painted over half of this painting. It was terrifying, and I truly thought I had ruined her for good. The colors were muddy, and the brushwork was way too blended. I kept trying to fix her, and I only made her look worse. I eventually went to bed, and when I woke up, I suddenly knew what to do and how to fix her. I just needed to sleep on it. Within a few hours, she was done, and I am quite happy with how she’s turned out. She represents Empathy and Compassion and Femininity; all traits this Earth could use right now.

Isolation Mask

Isolation Mask – Julie Shinn 2018

This painting above brought me back to art. In 2017, the ANA (American Nurses Association) posted a clip on my Facebook newsfeed about a call to artists for works related to Clinician Burnout. Well, I was a clinician, I was an artist, and I was definitely burned out!! I dusted off my old paints, bought a few extra, and poured out my heart onto several canvases. The first painting I started (see below), depicted a reflective nurse beside a bridge, with the sun represented by a clock face, and abstract figures going round in the distance. For a twelve hour shift, those faceless figures have a name, a family, a story. I was not happy with the quality of the painting at all, and the collage element of the clock face still irritates me. I love the story this painting tells, though, and one day I’ll do it justice. We are all part of the same human spirit, united in the highs and lows of life. Our tragedies have happened to countless others who have come before us, and will continue long after we leave this earth. Being a nurse awakened this reality in me, and the stories I tell on canvas are inspired by this knowledge.

For the call to art request, I eventually moved on to a self portrait with collaged words and shapes representing the challenges clinicians face in healthcare. I scoured Pinterest for styles I wanted to emulate, researched mixed media, and invested in some stencils to produce an interesting background. The final product was selected to be a part of the National Academy of Medicine’s Online Art Gallery. Recently, Medscape featured my painting, along with the essay I wrote, in an article entitled, “Physician Burnout and Sadness: Powerful Expressions” and I am quoted in the National Academy of Medicine’s 312 page report about the issue. I haven’t stopped painting, and now my biggest support for my art comes from my patients. Looking at my happy flowers and faces help us to not dwell on the bad stuff, and have hope for the best times in life.

She Found Herself In Solitude

WaterMark_2019-10-17-00-22-07

This painting started with a thought about items lost at the bottom of the sea, and eventually evolved into this brave woman who shed her false pretenses, dove into the unknown, and found herself floating in a magical bliss.  I wanted to capture an expression of knowing and serenity in her face.  I titled it, “She Found Herself in Solitude”, as an homage to my abject joy in painting alone.  The masks represent the facades we put on to appease the outside world.  This painting is 36″ x 36″, acrylic on canvas.