October 21, 2014

The Hunt for the Allergy Free Support Shoe

Last night I completed my drawing of a woman glancing down rather forlornly at shoes. This was influenced by my search for the hypoallergenic shoe with hypoallergenic insoles that also provides good support for problem feet. For various reasons, this beast may not exactly exist. What is left is a step down into using what may be the least provoking of materials. My search for latex, neoprene free insoles did not pan out. The insoles would have to be made almost completely of GORE tex which would not offer stability and support. So the next best solution may be neoprene with a synthetic barrier cover.

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, there are still small companies that make hand stitched shoes with leather soles. But cost aside, there are a few draw backs with these. Many of the higher end brands do not make wide width shoes. I am speculating that this is because the companies are making a well crafted product that looks good. A shoe made in a width that would fit my feet would not be pretty. Also, many of the hand stitched shoes that are sturdy and supportive of feet come in styles for men only. The women’s lines tend to be mocassin. But one solution here is to find a small men’s shoe that has an equivalent in a woman’s size. There are size charts on line that help with this conversion. But since sizes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, I found that the best solution is to take measurements of your foot (see www.shoes.about.com) and provide these to the shoe makers to be sure. Depending on the brand, the sizes to fit my measurements vary all the way from 6 to 8 ½"! Rancourt shoes has men’s hand stitched in a size that could fit women so I’m told. I haven’t nailed that down to specifics yet, but the men’s boots could easily double for women’s.

But even with a shoe that is hand stitched the problem of the insole will emerge again. So what to do? Barrier socks, and keeping feet and shoes as dry as possible seems to be the answer - a decidedly low tech solution.

October 19, 2014

Allergic to the Shoes on One's Feet - The Continuing Search

The crocs shoes did not work out. They were too loose, made my feet chaff and had virtually no breath ability. They had no support, which I already knew before ordering given they were slip ons, but I thought better of using them even for just walking around the house. I sent them back to the company on Friday. I will still try their shower sandals, which for some reason have been stuck at a post office in Atlanta these past two weeks. Something to investigate for sure.

The Gabor shoes did not work out either. Although a very stylish and well made shoe, they are really more of a dress shoe with their narrow width and low heel. They might be fine for someone with narrow feet that aren’t fraught with orthopedic problems. But with feet that are extra wide with a weak right ankle and right tendonitis they were decidedly impractical for me. I sent them back on Friday.

The hunt for the hypoallergenic shoe that will also accommodate my frail pronate duck feet continues. I went back to my allergy list that I obtained from the test results and wrote out the list of chemicals found in shoes that I am allergic to. The list was seventy-one items long! This would be a challenge indeed. It soon became apparent that I would have to either resort to shoes that are still hand sewn, thereby skipping the use of the resins and adhesives that I am allergic to, or find a good support shoe that has the least amount of the offending chemicals in it and find good barrier socks and a latex free orthotic insole.

There still are companies in the United States that are small, family run businesses that craft hand sewn shoes. They are pricey, generally beginning in the upper $400 range for one pair. The less expensive hand sewn alternatives that some of these companies make are mocassins. The companies I had found thus far are; Rancourt shoes, Sebago, The Eastland shoe company, and the Feit shoe company. Such beautiful shoes these companies make! I have no problem with their price - the price reflects what the value of a handcrafted shoe is. My problem is my budget. But these may be something worth saving up for some day. I only chatted with the folks at Sebago and they were delightful. I may call the rest just to talk briefly about their craft. The art of shoe making in general interests me as an artist, but in particular because I am descended from a long line of Welsh shoe makers on my mother’s side. Talking with these shoe makers is like a homecoming. Since my foot problems preclude the use of a mocassin I would be obliged to purchase a very pricey shoe indeed.

The stop gap measure became one of finding something more economical and expedient for the near future - especially since I am trying to make do with a makeshift bubble-wrap insole of my own design that I have been using to replace the latex insoles that I was allergic to. The tiny explosions coming from my shoes as I walk make walking into public, government run facilities prohibitive. Bubble wrap insoles aren’t working out too well. I did find latex free, EVA made insoles from The Insole Store which will ship out tomorrow.  I started the above ink and color pencil drawing of a shoe while I was waiting on-line with them.

Barrier socks, made for people with allergies to latex and leather adhesives, are available from Alpretec, manufactured in Italy. They cost $65.00 each and they do ship from Italy. They are unfortunately not manufactured anywhere in the U.S. Perhaps that may change one day as the demand for allergy free good increases. I will contact a few allergy supply stores and suggest that they consider having these available if possible.

After countless hours of searching, I did find a 6" high boot made by LL Bean in Maine that was only $99.00 ($89.00 if you get their credit card) with a sewn leather on the top and polypropylene on the bottom. The sole is rubber but that may simply be unavoidable in just about any shoe today -although some hand sewns have leather soles for a premium price. The interior of the boot is lined with allergy free materials. So I decided to have a go with this.

The customer service at LL Bean was excellent and very helpful. To my surprise they did not shun the question about the chemicals used in their adhesives and will compile a list that will be ready in two weeks. My guess is that it will have at least some of the seventy-one aforementioned chemicals on it. But with so many internal barriers that might not be too much of a problem. Besides, after reading through my shoe allergy literature more carefully, I found that shoe allergies can be staved off to an extent by keeping shoes and feet as dry as possible. The allergens from the chemicals used in the adhesives leach out with moisture. I found to my dismay that the boots I ordered from LL Bean are out of stock and won’t be shipped out until December 4 when they have a supply again. Good thing my orthotics are on the way as my bubble wrap won’t hold out much longer! And I do believe it is making me itchy.

October 15, 2014

Allergic to the Shoes on One's Feet....And Everything Else for That Matter

This autumn was supposed to be a "fall without agendas." This was because I had decided to concentrate once again in finding answers to the nervous system, eye and muscle problems that changed my life so dramatically. Illness removed me from the world of being a productive and basically healthy teaching artist to that strange underworld of the disabled. Firm answers were not forthcoming, only theories - some legitimate others quacky.

Things began to change when I pulled out all my records and did some painstaking research. On the basis of my research I requested more professional investigation into the field of allergy and immunology. It was determined that I had autoimmune illness but determining precisely what caused that and what to do about it is still a work in progress. What did emerge in greater focus was a veritable plethora of environmental allergies, which I already knew about. But what I didn’t know about was the legion of chemical allergies - upwards of thirty or more commonly used chemicals in the manufacturing, agricultural and medical industries. Each of these had lists of ten or more chemicals that cross react and several alternative names for each. It was overwhelming.

For my next entries, I will address some possible solutions I have found in my research because I am certain there are others in need of help for multiple allergies. And it gives me a great excuse for making new art work - like my drawing of toxic shoes.

I began the long search for allergy free materials from the ground up - starting with the shoes on my feet. Shoes turned out to be the most problematic allergy free item to locate. Almost all contain latex products, to which I am allergic. If they do not contain latex they contain alternative rubber products to which I am also allergic. The leather in shoes is glued with adhesives I am allergic to. The insoles are often sprayed with metallic substances to which I am also allergic.

After weeks of searching I did finally come up with some solutions, each with it own pros and cons. It was an interesting, albeit time-consuming journey. The most difficult part of this search was getting information from manufacturers about what exactly is in their shoes. For adhesives, the answers to my queries ranged from "don’t know" to "can’t find out," to "that changes monthly depending upon availability" to "that is proprietary information." It soon became clear that finding out about the actual adhesives used in shoes would be an impossibility. I found only one company that claimed not to use adhesives with known allergens in them. That was Gabor shoes, made in Portugal. I will have to take their word for it. These are available through Nordstrom Shoes. The one company I found in the United States that manufactures shoes without adhesives is Crocs. Their shoes are made from an EVA composite material that is molded as one unit. ( The actual composition is...you guessed it... proprietary information). I learned about Crocs from my dentist and from my sister. Customer service at Crocs was excellent! There are just two drawbacks to Crocs: 1. The use of EVA was apparently banned in Europe as a possible carcinogen 2. The shoes don’t offer much in the way of support. But I decided to get them anyway as slip ons for the shower and slip ons as light dress shoes. They fit fine. I am more concerned about autoimmune illness and allergies at this point than cancers anyway.

Now for the insoles. These are problematic as well. Some products that are touted as allergen free in fact are most likely not. Ortholite, for instance, used in insoles in many shoes is actually a rubber amalgam and therefore probably not safe for people allergies to latex, rubber products, or chemicals used in the rubber processing industry. Cork insoles are not pure cork (it would be too unstable and inflexible) but a cork and rubber composite. New Balance does offer insoles made from Gore tex, which is a material so inert that it is used in medicine as a tissue replacement. Poron insoles are another option for the allergic-to-shoes crowd. Many of these soles, I found were sprayed with Medzap, an anti-bacterial which may contain metal that I am most likely allergic to. Lost soles all those. One company that has been very helpful was The Insole Store, which has a great customer service and a shop online. I’m still working with them on insoles. (Update on that ...couldn't find a definitively allergy free insole)  As luck would have it though, the Gabor shoes I received today have plenty of support without the added insole. (Update on that, they don't have quite enough support for tendonitis).  But I am still going to obtain an allergy free pair to use as an interface in shoes I already have, as I need something to use as a work shoe. These will need to have a pair or two of socks "segregated" from my "clean" socks used only in the allergy free shoes. This is because I read from my allergy warning list that I am obliged to discard all my socks and start anew. Reason being, that allergens from adhesives and rubber are absorbed into the socks over time and do not wash out. Yikes! All the more reason to try to get the shoe and insole allergy question right the first time. Dreadful to think of having to throw out all one’s socks a second or third time.

If someone wants to be a purist and obtain shoes with no adhesives whatsoever, there are small companies that make shoes the old fashioned way, with hand stitching. I have my shoes, but I may look in to these companies anyway - just out of curiosity.

Many thanks to the shoe companies, Crocs, New Balance, Nordstrom, The Insole Store, Zappos.com, Foot Solutions, Finn Comfort, who aided in my search.

September 28, 2014

Woman Dancing With The Cosmic Slinky

The next drawing in my series of revisions of the sketches from my travel notebooks was completed yesterday. In case you’ve just tuned in to this blog series, I was once a traveling artist/educator. For decades my husband and I toured Asia, Europe and America. In the early years this was facilitated by working at various overseas institutes, traveling on weekends and vacations. On all these soujourns I kept illustrated journals.

Three years ago, when I became disabled, travel became out of the question. It still is problematic but I do get around on short jaunts. In my homebound time, which has most of the time, I turned to my travel journals, taking tours in memory and imagination. In my review, I discovered numerous sketches that could be reconfigured into complete drawings. For three years I have been slowly completing them, redoing some completely, merely restoring others.

The drawing at left was completed from a sketch I made of an eighteenth century French sculpture of a woman dancing wildly while swing large cymbals. Her purpose and meaning now elude me. This sketch evoked two memories; one of Hurricane Katrina, the other of a childhood toy.

I had used the original sketch as the basis for a painting on wood of this exotic creature. I painted her in red. The painting was collected by a patron in New Orleans and it was subsequently swept away by Hurricane Katrina. It is now in the permanent collection of the Gulf of Mexico.

When I made this sketch into a drawing I came up with the idea of expanding the cymbals into a series of circles and arcs. I had in mind a time lapsed movement, or perhaps the changes phases of two moons. The end result reminded me more of a childhood toy - the metal slinky.

Slinky was a simple toy made froma series of metal coils that could be trained to walk down a flight of stairs by flipping over itself. The metal coils made a beautiful cascading whir as the toy walked down the stairs ( A later, cheaper plastic version of slinky was manufactured without the characteristic sound which seemed to miss the point entirely).

Negligent children that we were, we invariably left slinky on the stairway to inevitably be tripper over by a hapless family member - usually my dad. His response was generally something like, "Who left that %$@($** slinky on the stairs!"

All of us kids being members of the silent conspiracy of the childhood mafia, the miscreant was never divulged. But we were always disheartened by the miss hap as it meant the death of slinky...its once pristine coils now mangled by the feet that tripped over it. Oh, we would try to resuscitate slinky by trying to hammer the bent coils flat again one by one but it left crooked gaps all the same and slinky would hobble down the stairs like a wounded warrior, ending in an abject heap at the base of the stairs. Eventually another slinky would take its place.

The drawing is of a woman, perhaps an allegorical self portrait, dancing with a cosmic slinky conjured up from the distant past.

September 27, 2014

A Piece of Fluff

The drawing at right is a piece of fluff. I found a sketch I had made earlier of a standing woman outlined pencil, holding a staff and accompanied by a goose. I believe that she was a sketch of a statue in a museum. It is the kind of drawing that may have best been completed in pen and ink, with crisp hard edge designs. But here she is in fluffy charcoals anyway. For this drawing I made use of my new tool, a white pencil. With this pencil I could add thin lines of white back onto the black and grey areas.

September 26, 2014

The Last of the Mama Terrors

I completed a charcoal and pastel drawing diptych called "Mama Terrors" based upon sketches I had made of actresses on a stage. I knew that I had made a third sketch of this scene with the son of one of the actresses seated at the front of the stage, his legs hanging over the edge. Luckily my hunt for this sketch yielded results right away, uncharacteristically finding it in the first place I looked. I spent part of my day making this into a charcoal and pastel art work. Now the diptych has become a triptych. The most recent addition should be a center panel, the boy flanked on either side by the matrons. He should be center not only because of the age and gender difference but because the whole composition is different from the other two. I’ve reproduced one of them again here at right for comparison. I call the new addition "Mama Terrors Plotting in Secrecy," so named for the female cluster at far left. The lonely empty chair reminds me of a throne with the matrons perchance vying with each other for the occupancy of it.

September 25, 2014

Aboriginal Cats Haves Lots of Spots

Yesterday I finally finished the revision of my illustration for the rhyme "Aboriginal Cats." I revised not only the illustration but the rhyme as well, further strengthening "The Book of Marvelous Cats." For comparison, I’ve shown at right the original illustration. For the revision I left out the details and focused only on the two cats. I juxtaposed them in such a way that their tales bore a yin yang relationship. As an avid didgeridoo player, I could not resist making one of the cats playing this instrument. For the background details, this time I consulted Australian Aboriginal paintings to get a better idea of how all the dots should be arranged. So many dots made this piece quite time consuming to create. It took nearly a week. This means that I’ll be posting quicker and more spontaneous pastel drawings for a few days.

September 15, 2014

Those Last Minutes of Sunlight

I have been slowly "retiring" the sketches from my travel books by making them into complete drawings. I am calling them "retired" because so many of them served as blueprints for paintings. But many, such as the one above, never did acquire oil painting status. Had I run out of time, or interest? Or perhaps there just was not enough information in the sketch to base a painting upon.

Although the drawing featured here was never used for painting, it now has an interesting life as a work on paper. These figures were hastily sketched as the sun was setting, consequently they were in shadows with their features undelineated. I often created paintings with the halos of the sun set, or sun rise around them, but in this case there was evidently not enough information to base a painting upon. There was a mystery to the dark figures squeezing a ball or badminton game into the few remaining minutes of the day, just as I was using those few minutes to make one last drawing of the day. A drawing of two men and a woman in a park in Italy. A nice moment to have revisited.

September 13, 2014

A Store Front in North

It was time to consider art work to submit for the South Carolina State Fair. Those pesky rules about two dimensional art work having to be at least sixteen inches long and completed within the last two years was a challenge for me. I had created well over a hundred pieces in the last two years, probably two hundred - all under sixteen inches. The logical thing to have done was matt and frame one of the 11" x 14" drawings. But I chose to register a painting anyway, giving it the generic title of "Remembrances," so that anything would do. I had one 18" x 22" panel left. I also registered a "ceramic ocarina," of which I have loads from which to choose.

I set to work painting a store front from North, South Carolina on the 18" x 22" panel. I had to work so slowly on account of illness that the paint dried faster than I was able to blend. This created a harder edge to the forms than I would have liked. But I decided to live with that. It now looks a bit like a folk art piece with all the flat expanses of color without texture. This will either become my new style or I’ll switch to slow drying oil paints. The finished painting would not quite fit on my 11" x 17" scanner so I had to float it on the surface - hence the fuzzy look. But this is the gist of the piece.

I have been working on a larger work with better texture but most likely this won’t be ready for the South Carolina State Fair - better for next year perhaps. Or it might be ready in time for the Orangeburg County Fair a few weeks later.

As to the ceramic ocarina, I chose one that looks great but doesn’t actually play. I’ll either have to take the dremel to the mouthpiece and see if I can fix it, or just hope that the juror doesn’t decide to try to play it.

September 9, 2014

Mama Terrors

To my great delight, I found another incomplete sketch of the two actresses from SCSU. Another idea to make into an artwork and a sequel to the first work. The first work I named "Mama Terror." Since there are two formidable women in this picture I have named this one "Mama Terrors." In rendering these actresses, I included the lower half of the stage for its geometry and also to keep the setting in the context of the imagined life. The two contrapuntal spirals were not a part of the original sketch but added later. The facial expressions were something most definitely embellished upon as well.