January 26, 2015

A Buckle in Beemerville

My most recently revised drawing came from a sketch made several years ago in Beemerville, New Jersey. The man in the sketch is Leland Bell. I sketched him first at an outdoor picnic table,leaning over a radio/tape player. He was listening to a piece of jazz music, tapping out the beats with his right hand.

After listening to his music, Leland rested by the side of a small outbuilding. I drew him again in that spot, recording the two poses on the same page - dual aspects of Leland Bell. Leland was very ill at the time and it was impressive that he made the trip out to New Jersey to be with his graduate art students.

In order to finish this composition, I darkened the foreground and extended lines throughout to tie the elements together. This tying together in the final drawing reminds me of an observation of my husband’s about certain historical works of art. He coined the word, "buckling" for the technique of unifying a composition by attaching the lines that create the spaces and forms at various junctures like a buckle on a shoe.  In two areas, Leland is the buckle.

January 24, 2015

A Lens Distorted

Once again, I am turning to old sketches to turn into new drawings. How is that for alliteration?

The drawing above was completed in charcoal and pastels over an original pencil sketch. I believe that the model’s name was Francesca and she purposely wore these long black stockings and struck and pose reminiscent of Toulouse Lautrec or Degas.

The original pencil sketch had no background so I created one that was like a view through a distorted lens. I had been reading about lens implants so this may have had a subliminal influence. I was advised to find out more about the makings of lens implants before getting one on account of my numerous chemical allergies. Thus far they look okay - mostly made of silicone and plastics.

Artificial lenses, although great for restoring eyesight, aren’t the same as the eye’s natural lens in that they only provide focus at one distance and the cataract patient is then obliged to wear glasses for close-up work and reading. What I found fascinating, however, was that in 2013 a new lens was patented that focuses in three ranges - more like a natural eye lens. This is something that might be worth asking about, although on account of my far-sightedness in my right eye that may or may not work. The new multifocal and accommodating intraocular lenses (IOLS) are patented under the trade name Cystalens and Trulign. When I call the companies about materials used I may inquire about these as well.

January 21, 2015

The Cat with TMJ


I have been working on my sculptures, musical instruments and pottery using my found purple clay. These objects will take a long time to process before they are ready to photograph and include on a blog or web site. In between drying times I am working on small charcoal drawings and illustrations - always nice to do things that give immediate results. The latest completed illustration is a pathetic little illustration for my rhyme about a cat with TMJ. I was recently diagnosed with this and can now add that to the growing list of difficult to treat conditions. Fortunately TMJ can be treated with physical therapy and a brace - it does do some good.

The Cat with TMJ is part of my new collection of rhymes, "A Book of Hapless Cats." His rhyme:

When he eats a mouse, without fail
his jaw will lock if he chews the tail
Munch the bones and he’ll have to pay
That hapless cat with TMJ

He is careful not to yawn too wide
or move his mouth from side to side
He sits slack jawed to keep pain at bay
That poor little kitty with TMJ

He would like to meow at the moon at night
But it would probably cost him a jaw locked tight
So he sits mute towards the end of the day
wishing that he was not a cat with TMJ
copyright 2014 Janet Kozachek

January 10, 2015

The Cat in Cataract

I have decided to self publish The Book of Marvelous Cats. This is my way of coming to terms with the fact that I need to move the work out there for friends, family, and the larger public if possible, and must do so by relying on professional services than my own hit or miss process. I haven’t committed to a service yet but have at least decided on a publishing method.

In the mean time, I am at work on a second volume, The Book of Hapless Cats. Thus far, these have been illustrated with quick charcoal drawings for speed and ease of execution. My second illustration in this series is for the Cat Aract. I had originally intended to make this drawing using only my blind eye but found that I am now so blind in that eye I would only be making an amorphous blob. Instead I compromised by peaking with my good right eye in order to make a cat form more discernable. But anyone viewing the Cat Aract will get the general idea of diminished vision. The blurred lettering in the background of this drawing is what even the largest "E" on an eye chart now looks like.

January 2, 2015

Allergy Cat

In recent blogs I addressed the issue of how to deal with a growing list of allergens that most likely were contributing to my woeful health. My list of chemical allergens and their alternate names/forms were overwhelming. A veritable laundry list of polysyllabic names was handed to me. I wondered if I should just slowly memorize the list as if it were an epic poem. To that end I started writing a poem about a cat with allergies, including some of the names on my long list. To illustrate the text, instead of using detailed pencil drawing as I did in my Book of Marvelous Cats", I made a sketch in charcoals and pastels in my quick and gestural style. The cat wears a dust mask and Apretec barrier socks. I suppose it is a self portrait of sorts.

The poem goes like this:

Allergy Cat

Allergy Cat’s snout swells out from fleas
But all his flea powders just make him sneeze
When he eats canned cat food he starts to wheeze
Diphenylguanidine in his catnip makes him heave

Dried cat food preserved with methylparaben
is Allergy Cat’s most volatile allergen
But the soap in his bath that he really does hate
is the one made with butyl-p-hydroxybenzoate

Allergy Cat improves in a pesticide free sweater
On a mite free cushion he does even better
His paws turn red from untreated wood
Hypoallergenic cotton booties do him some good

The sniffling kitty cannot abide
Kitty crackers with parthelinomide
When other cats come in wearing strong perfume
Allergy Cat will up and leave the room

Allergy Cat gets a rash from his collar
-the cheap used one he picked up for a dollar
So he reached into his pockets and pulled out some green
and purchased a new one made of polypropylene

His friends advise Allergy Cat not to be so neurotic
and to sit among flowers both colorful and exotic
Allergy Cat replies "I beg your pardon...
but I can’t swish my tail in a pesticide garden"

And thus begins the new "Book of Hapless Cats" 

December 31, 2014

Finishing "The Book of Marvelous Cats"

The end of the year is here. I had set a modest goal of finishing the illustrations for my Book of Marvelous Cats and have done so. Most of the illlustrations were revisions of previous drawings. The revising, although truly time consuming, turned out to be a good idea as the second generation of images were much more detailed and rich with nuance than the first generation.

After completing the last revision, I created one more new drawing - Carpenter Cat.

In the remake of Bouncer Cat, pictured above, the interior has been transformed from a vacant space into a lived in home. Gone is the rat in Bouncer Cat’s right hand. Instead he grabs a hapless person by the foot. In keeping with my new interest in shoes, there is a shoe on the floor. The enormous cat is so eager to fling the man out of the house that he doesn’t even allow the "bounced" person a chance to put on his shoes. On the wall is a picture of "Designer Cat," from a previous illustration. The picture is replete with a number of such details of the cat within the picture of the cat. See the earlier version at right for a comparison.

December 2, 2014

Eliminating Methylparaben, Other Parabens and the Return of the Dragon

The drawing illustrated above is a cultural overlay of ancient and modern design. The bottles are drawn from Byzantine glass perfume vessels. The background consists of over a hundred repeated tracings from a tube of ointment. What they represent are my present search for paraben free products. My drawing, however, with its background of nine columns each of thirteen tubes (if you count the implied tubes hidden behind the glass bottles) came to signify something else after I completed it. So I will address the subliminal, almost mystical aspect of the drawing first, then proceed to the paraben issue.

Before attending to my blog post about my attempts to eradicate parabens from my life and after I finished the drawing I had an interesting experience with my history in China. I was cleaning out my basement, also to downsize and remove allergens, when I came across a crate that my mother had sent to me nearly two decades ago. The crate contained my letters from China. She had kept every one. I had not the heart to open the crate because although China in the 1980's and 1990's was a meaningful experience, life there was very painful in many ways as well. Yet as I was doing yard work later that day, I thought about the memoir I had started to write a few years ago before I became too ill to work on it. Should I recover enough to work on this memoir again, I thought, looking over the letters would be helpful as time clouds memory.

Later that day, I received a package from a friend that I had kept up with off and on since high school. She had been cleaning out her house this past week as well, she told me in a letter, and thought I could use the contents of the package she sent. The package contained three boxes of letters from China that I had written to her over a four year period. She had kept every one!

After this day of synchronicity, I looked began to look at other things for clues or signs that there was something mystical in the works. Was there something subliminal or cosmic about my choice of nine columns of thirteen tubes in the background of my drawing? Nine times thirteen equals one hundred and seventeen. Out of curiosity I looked up nine, thirteen and one hundred and seventeen in Chinese numerology. To my surprise I found that nine is the symbol of the dragon and that the Chinese dragon has one hundred and seventeen scales because nine times thirteen is one hundred and seventeen. Amazing! It could be coincidence or perhaps the China years are so ingrained in my subconscious that I subliminally use significant numbers.

Does this relate to the preservative methylparaben and can I extend the metaphor of dragons, numbers and China to a chemical compound? Probably not. I suppose I could grab at an obscure reference to methylparaben having an odd number (3) of oxygen atoms in its chemical structure but that would be a stretch. Once again, my writing about an illustration will be in two completely unrelated parts.

The preservative Methyl Paraben as well as other parabens, has been receiving scrutiny in recent years as a commonly used preservative in numerous over the counter as well as prescription medical products. There is some research implicating parabens as not quite healthy for human consumption in general and as a result there are a growing number of "Green" , "Eco-friendly," and "Hypo-Allergenic" industries that claim to leave this preservative out of their products. See the Washingnton Post article: www.washingtonpostcom/...parabens

For those who are suspicious of this product and wish to eliminate it from their daily use, I have provided links to various companies that produce paraben free products. For those who are allergic to it, elimination will be essential.

I first became aware of the preservative methylparaben when I found out that this product was on my long list of chemicals that I am allergic to. Finding products without methylparaben in them has proved to be challenging. The first product to eliminate was local anesthetics, cortisone injections, or other ingested drugs with this product in them. This first line of attack against the parabens was essential because ingesting or injecting the paraben would cause the most severe reaction, i.e. low blood pressure, tachycardia and loss of consciousness. Not being able to use local anesthetics for minor procedures was becoming increasingly difficult. Although I did get through a forty-five minute tooth extraction with no anesthetics I would not recommend it.

Fortunately there is an epinephrine free lidocaine without the methylparaben in it. I did get chills and some tremors after using this, probably from hypersensitivity, but the severe reaction was eliminated. A heads up though, about local anesthetics for people allergic to methylparaben. Local anesthetics fall into two categories; amides and esters. The ester local anesthetics are broken down by the body into para-aminobenzoic acid, or PABA, which is a metabolite of methylparaben. This could provoke an allergic reaction. http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=amide+local+anesthetics+PABA&btnG=&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C41&as_vis=1

With the local anestheic problem tentatively addressed, I turned to eliminating methylparaben in the numerous over the counter and prescription medications as well as in soaps, shampoos, and cremes. I was amazed at how ubiquitous the chemical is. I found it in sunscreen. It was in my lotion. The metabolite of methylparaben, PABA, was in the multivitamin I was taking every day. It was in metalworking oils and fluids. It was in the food I was eating.

In addition to its predominance in so many products, another problem in eliminating methylparaben and paraben mix compounds from these products is that it goes by so many different names. It can even be masked under "other fragrances." The alternate names for methylparaben are: Methyl p-hydroxybenzoate, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid methyl ester, methyl parahydroxybenzoate, p-methoxycarbonylphenol, ethyl p-hydroxybenzoatek ethylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid ethyl ester, ethyl p-oxybenzoate, p-carbethoxyphenol, propyl p-hydroxybenzoate, propylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid propyl ester, butyl p-hydroxybenzoate, butylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid butyl ester, benzyl p-hydroxybenzoate, benzylparaben, phenylmethyl 4-hydroxybenzoate, p-hydroxybenzoic acid benzyl ester. Like spell check on my computer, most health care professionals do not recognize the names of these chemicals.

Considering the hard to remember multi syllabic chemical names and the fact that companies may not even list the names, or may mask it under a vague name, the best course of action I found, was to use products that specifically state that they are paraben free.

The paraben free product that I was initially most interested in obtaining was hydrocortisone creme. It seems counter productive, but just about every over the counter hydrocortisone creme on the market contains both methylparaben and paraben mixes. One wonders at why an anti-itch anti-rash creme would contain a common allergen known to elicit contact dermatitis - unless the object is to create more rashes so that the hapless victim keeps using more hydrocortisone creme. There is one company worth mentioning here. Exederm, based in New Jersey, offers a paraben free hydrocortisone creme: www.exederm.com 908 542-9300. They may be the only company that manufactures paraben free hydrocortisone creme. They are worth checking out, as they are committed to purity in their products and produce other items that are paraben free, such as shampoos and conditioners.

For paraben free toothpaste and lip balm (yes chapstick brand chapstick has methylparaben in it) I used Tom’s of Maine: www.tomsofmaine.com The Allergy Asthma Center has a good line of paraben free soaps, shampoos, detergents and skin lotions. They also have a shower attachment that removes chemicals such as chlorine from the shower water. The latter has proved to be quite rewarding: www.allergyasthmatechcom or call 1-800 621-5545. Hope this helps chemical allergy sufferers!

November 25, 2014

Bop Goes the Beetle

Toys can come back to haunt you. When I was a child I was given an action game that included a large green plastic frog like creature, two orange bats and an orange and a blue pod that loosely resembled beetles. The game was called Bop the Beetle, and came out around 1962. The object of the game was to open the jaws of the frog and balance the hinged panels on the inside to keep the jaws propped open. Then you would use the orange bat to hit the beetles so that they would fly into the open frog mouth. Upon hitting the panel inside the frog mouth, the mouth would snap decisively shut.

Bop the Beetle terrified me on some level. Perhaps this is because I would sometimes accidentally step on it and it would snap shut on my leg. Or if the panels inside the mouth were touched too heavily it would snap shut on my arm. Bop the Beetle doesn’t look too intimidating today but I do recall that it was large enough to swallow up half a leg or a whole arm of a toddler. Such was the state of ideal toys for kids in the 1960's. Nevertheless, bopping or throwing the plastic beetles into the frog’s mouth was fun.

It is now time to say goodbye to Bop the Beetle, if that is even possible. He has been dutifully cleaned, photographed and posted on e-bay. But since I have not yet accomplished the fine art of bringing attention to my listings no one appears to be looking at Bop the Beetle. Just in case the frog and other childhood toys do leave the household - and I sincerely hope that they do - I have been propping them up and using them in paintings and drawings. Good to get one last bit of use out of them. The painting above is a fanciful interpretation of Bop the Beetle as an icon. The photo to the right is the actual plastic frog with his orange and blue beetles. I never did find out what happened to the orange plastic bats that were used to pop the beetles into the frog’s mouth. The painting of toys before relinquishing them has occasionally paid off, with my selling a painting for more than the object itself would have earned.

In a tangential way, unloading these toys and various other items does indeed dovetail with my present goal of reducing environmental allergens. At this point I am looking at objects as things that increase the dust collecting, mold growing surface areas of the immediate environment. Many of these objects have been cleaned and packaged so as not to have them out and about, obliging me to keep them dusted.

One thing I have found is that getting rid of objects is much harder than one would expect. There is the initial requirement to put sentiment aside, which isn’t difficult when there are too many objects to maintain. The next step is to relinquish the idea that these things are valuable. Most vintage items have value if they have been unused or barely used. Even for those things that do have value, finding a buyer willing to invest in them can be problematic. For antiques, finding someone to evaluate them professionally can cost up to $100.00 an hour. Too bad if the evaluation turns up a $10.00 item! So the next barrier to letting such things go is to resign oneself to the fact that they will be sold (ala flea market style) most likely for less than was originally paid for such things. Truly, the taste for acquiring stuff subsides when all of the above is taken in to account!

So bopped out of the house go the frog and the beetles.

November 24, 2014

Mechanical Cats Do all the Chores...I Wish.

I have been writing blog posts about my search for allergy free products, beginning with shoes and socks and ending with watches. There are many products yet to come, and more richly illustrated articles to attend them. In recent days I have turned my attention to jettisoning more allergens from my environment and found this to be so time consuming that sitting down to write about them and illustrate the process was squeezed out of the day. During the cleaning up phase I did make notes, however, and the allergic artist blog posts will return shortly.

In the mean time, a second project that I have been working on has moved to the front burner of artistic pursuits.

The revised illustrations for my Book of Marvelous Cats left only four more to do and while it is good to clean up one’s environment, it is also nice to finish projects. Inspired perhaps by cleaning and restructuring, I turned to my revisions of the illustration for the rhyme about Mechanical Cats. "Mechanical Cats do all the chores, they roast the chickens and mop the floors.." the rhyme begins. Would that I had mechanical cats to be doing these things for me. In my revised illustration I included a picture of "Culinary Cat" from a previous illustration. The last few revised illustrations have been paying homage to previously illlustrated cats. An art work within the art work. Another new detail is the long cat on the back wall. This was taken from a photograph of my friend’s cat standing on its hind legs to play with a suspended toy. I simply turned the cat on his side to fill a horizontal space.

November 13, 2014

The Search for the Hypoallergenic Shoe with Socks

I made a sketch of a man seated near a table that was set for a dance party. The sketch had a long expanse of blank floor at the bottom. This was an awkward, empty space so I did not complete the sketch or resolve to paint the scene.

Now that I am using my past sketches to make new drawings, sketches with blank spaces are welcome. The blank areas in sketches serve as stages for the dramas being played out in my daily life. The sketch delineated above served as an illustration for my continued search for the hypoallergenic shoe with socks. In what was formerly a blank area in the sketch I drew in shoes and socks. For these I had an array of my husband’s shoes to sketch from as well as my Crocs slides. I dropped a pair of socks into the mix, letting them fall into position naturally.

In the midst of my continued wrangling about shoes and socks, my microbarrier booties and dermasilk socks arrived from Alpretec (www.alpretec.com ) These were neatly packaged in sturdy hypoallergenic plastic containers. The company must take the business of allergies seriously, I noted from the careful packaging as well as the detailed instruction contained within about the proper care for their product. There was a picture on the package of someone pulling regular socks over the booties so I followed suit.

After a day walking around in my new paraphernalia I was pleased to find that there was no rash on my feet by late afternoon. The barrier booties soon came due for their first washing. Instructions called for hand washing in tepid water with a small amount of hypoallergenic shampoo. I used Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. The next day I wore my booties underneath my socks again. This time results were decidedly different, with two red feet by day’s end. Could it have been the washing in the Baby Shampoo? I checked the ingredients and there was a long chemical list, including fragrances that I was supposed to be avoiding. I killed them, I thought with utter despair. I killed my beautiful Italian booties with an American industrial product! Johnson’s Baby Shampoo may be gentle enough for babies but not for this baby.

So I washed the booties again with hypoallergenic soap and gave them several rinses. Next time I wore them I also added the dermasilk undersocks for good measure. I went about my day with my undersocks and refreshed booties. By the end of the day I checked my feet and found that they were free of rashes but had some small spots of redness which I attributed to pressure. So I live and learn and try to remain as itch free as possible.