Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Studio

My new studio is finally ready for business!  Today I finished putting all my stuff more or less where it needs to go, cut up a bunch of boxes, threw out old packing materials, swept it down, and arranged things pretty much like they needed to be arranged.  I can walk in there tomorrow, squeeze out some paint, and start working.  

The main room has about 600 square feet.  I've got a desk, workbench, and storage rack for large paintings at one end of the room, and my easels and painting area at the other.  There are built-in shelves high on two walls, where I'm storing my smaller artworks and some random supplies.

There are no windows in here, unfortunately, but I've installed special daylight fluorescent bulbs that provide plenty of light.  Not shown in these photos is a small storage room off to the right in the above photo, which leads to a bathroom as well.  One thing I really appreciate is that this place also has an effective air conditioner and heater.

It has been a long road to get here.  When I signed the lease, the walls and ceiling had been spray-painted a hideous mustard yellow.  It also had computer network cables running all over the place.  Janis and I spent a lot more time refurbishing the place than I anticipated (surprise), but it has finally come together.  As a reminder, here's what it looked like when we first started:

Quite a difference, huh?

And to top it off, today a lawyer bought several of my courtroom drawings from the Bobby Medford trial five years ago.  He worked on the case and was great friends with the judge and prosecuting attorneys.  So this was an auspicious start to my new studio.

Can't wait to start slinging some paint!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Studio Developments

For the first time in two years, almost to the day, I have all my art stuff in a studio rather than a storage unit.  Woo hooo!  It's been a long road.  One of my early posts said that it would take about a week to get everything done.  Wrong.  It's been a month.

You may recall that the space was painted a fugly bright mustard yellow (even the ceiling) with a cold gray floor.  And it had computer cables running everywhere.  Janis and I set to work painting, ripping out cables, and patching things up.  Once the ceiling tile supports were painted white, the landlord came in and replaced all the ceiling tiles.  The last step was painting the floor.  Now the space has light warm gray walls, white ceiling, doors, and trim, and a dark brown floor.  It's a nice-looking space.  Today, I finished hauling everything from my storage unit into the studio.  Wore myself out, but now the storage unit is empty and the studio looks like the aftermath of a rummage sale.  Tomorrow, I'll start putting the shelves together, getting everything arranged and organized, and turning the rummage sale into a proper artist's workspace.

Pulling all the artworks out of their 2-year hiding places was like seeing old friends again.  Most of them were wrapped up in one way or another, and too many suffered various sorts of damage, either from poor wrapping, elements, or banging around in shipment.  It's clear that I have some repair work to do.  But hey, they're back in a place they need to be.

Photos?  No, you're not going to see any photos until it's somewhat presentable.  You don't take pictures of a lady until she's properly made up, and a studio is the same way.  I'll post a few pictures once things are looking better.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wounded in Afghanistan

I've learned more about my State Department friend who was wounded in Afghanistan on Saturday, in the same blast that killed Anne Smedinghoff (a State Department public affairs officer), a DoD civilian (whose name hasn't been released yet), and three soldiers.  My friend, Kelly, suffered massive damage to her skull along with shrapnel embedded all over her body.  She was medevac'd to Landstuhl hospital in Germany, where she is now in a medically-induced coma.  Parts of her skull have been removed due to swelling of the brain.  In other words, she is in bad shape.  Fortunately, she's in Landstuhl, where she's getting the best care available anywhere.

I didn't know Kelly that well, but had worked with her during the last few months of my time in Afghanistan.  She is the one who started the ball rolling on publicity for my "Faces of Afghanistan" drawings that eventually led to the exhibition at UNC Asheville.  Kelly is a dynamo, standing barely over 5 feet tall, with a quick smile, quick wit, and intense dedication to her job.  She is also, I think, tougher than she believes she is.  Which is a good thing, because her toughness will be sorely tested for a long time to come.

ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff suffered similar injuries in 2006 in Iraq.  Like Kelly, he was in a medically-induced coma for 36 days at Landstuhl, then spent several weeks at Bethesda, and was finally to a facility closer to home.  He was back on the air a year after the incident, although it was clear that he wasn't quite back to normal.  I am hoping that Kelly is able to follow a similar recuperation.  Like many other traumatic brain injury victims, she will probably suffer some effects for the rest of her life.  But at least she'll be alive.

Let's not forget the others who died in the blast: Staff Sergeant Christopher Ward, 24, of Oak Ridge, TN; Specialist Wilbel Robles-Santa, 25, of Juncos, Puerto Rico; and Specialist Deflin M. Santos, 24, of San Jose, CA.  They died trying to protect the team.

Many people seem to forget that Afghanistan is still a violent place.  Having a friend get hurt so seriously is a stark reminder that it's still going on.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Afghanistan ... Inbound and Outbound ...

So I spent last week training a group of military guys who are heading to Afghanistan.  As mentioned in my last post, my role was to mentor a team of four as they went through our immersive training course.  They spent a good bit of time in classroom training and, more importantly, a lot in role-playing scenarios.  Each of these scenarios is very much like what they'll encounter downrange.

My team were four very sharp guys and they did very well.  Throughout the week, the scenarios that we put them in got more complex and nuanced, with surprises that could trip them up if they didn't keep their heads on straight.  Which they did.  It was very rewarding to watch them develop throughout the week, to learn from their (minor) mistakes, and to become comfortable in dealing with Afghans in an Afghan world.

The role of a mentor is a complex one.  I was there to guide them through the maze of classes, preparations, and scenarios.  Some mentors have "taught the exam" - in other words, they told the students what was going to happen so that the students would know the "right" answers.  I don't subscribe to that theory.  My approach was the Socratic method, to try to guide by asking questions.  "Okay, so you're going to meet with the Provincial Governor tomorrow.  What do you know about him?  Where would you find information about him?  Who do you know that has dealt with him?  What do you want to get out of this meeting?  What will be the roles for each team member?  Will using your sketchy Pashto language skills be good, or will you stick with English and use your interpreter?  Who else might be there?  Will you try for a group photo?"  In Afghanistan, there are a very few things that are black, a very few that are white, and a whole lot of shades of gray in between.  In other words,there is no one "right" answer, so they need to be able to think for themselves as to which course of action is appropriate for them.

One of the other trainers this week used a great word to describe our mission: compelling.  For me, this is very compelling.  It's a national mission.  People's lives are on the line.  The success or failure of a nation is at stake.  And I have the opportunity to help train some of the people whose efforts will affect the outcome.  This work is tremendously rewarding for me.

Just how important it is was hammered home the day after training was over.  Two suicide bombers hit a convoy carrying the Zabul provincial governor and several Americans as they traveled to deliver schoolbooks.  Six Americans, including a young State Department public affairs officer, were killed.  Several others, including another young woman whom I knew in Kandahar, were wounded, some critically.  A number of Afghans were also killed and wounded, although I don't know how many.  It was a routine trip outside the wire, the kind that I had been on many times in my own area, only this time too many of them didn't come back.

The provincial governor said that he was the intended target, rather than the Americans.  Probably so.  The insurgents know that we're drawing down now and leaving soon, so there's not much reason to hit us besides the publicity value of killing infidels.  Their attention is more focused on the Afghan government officials that will be there over the long term: the governors, chiefs of police, Army officers, judges, and so on, who are picking up the fight that we're handing over.  I saw this developing in Maiwand last summer and fall.

So the next time that I go to Indiana to train Afghan-bound teams, this event will be first and foremost in my mind.