Marks of a Migraine

Eyes Open  , watercolor and gouache on hand-stretched watercolor paper 

Eyes Open, watercolor and gouache on hand-stretched watercolor paper 

When people view my Migraine Series paintings at a gallery show, I hear similar remarks; These are beautiful, they are so happy, so lively and energetic. It would lead some to believe that these are fun whimsical paintings made by someone who is full of life and happiness. But, while making those paintings, I felt quite the opposite of all those things. Beautiful, happy, lively and energetic would not be words I would use to describe the way I felt when realizing each and every one of those pieces.


It’s sometimes easy to forget that my watercolor abstract work comes from a place of pain and hardship. I’ve been working on my Migraine Series for about four years, and I’ve loved every moment of creating the colors, shapes and forms that you see on the canvas surface. The energy put into them is real and raw. But, the momentum behind it is disheartening. They depict the feeling a migraine causes. The experience of a migraine is hard to describe to people who have never had one before. Cue my abstract obsession.


As an artist, it is my job to tell a story. It doesn’t have to be pleasant, but it also doesn’t have to be dismal. The idea behind the Migraine Series was to create something from a horrible circumstance. On some days, this thing was controlling my every waking (and also sometimes sleeping) moments. It was at university that I decided to take power away from this thing. This thing that would make me contort in pain, shake from nausea, and sulk from vision disturbances. It wasn’t until I created my first group of migraines on watercolor paper that I realized, I really had something here.

My very first watercolor migraine experiment piece.

My very first watercolor migraine experiment piece.

I dove head first into my work and ran as fast as I could with it. Rome wasn’t built in a day and my work didn’t appear overnight. I still keep my original work which has held itself as the foundation of what you see today as the Migraine Series. Scribbles and dabs, fiber, collage and even ceramic work that all collided to help me find my medium. Finding myself in watercolors and gouache was an amazing day. It was like this series and that medium were meant to be together. The way the colors flowed, mystified and drank up into the paper was exactly what I was trying to dig up from my experiments.

My fashsionable attire for an icepack.

My fashsionable attire for an icepack.

As I continued my work, here and there I would have vision disturbances, or fogginess that would blur my mind. When it got too bad, I had resources like ice packs, ginger chews, and when available, sleep to fall back on. Most of the time it would keep the pain at bay, but not always. And that’s why the paintings never stopped, because the pain wouldn’t stop. I have had people ask me, “What happens if your migraines stop? Will you stop making these paintings?”. I won’t have to, because the pain will never leave me. The feeling of a blackout in high school, or the pain in my head that rushes up the right side of my neck to the middle of my brain that feels like an electric eel zapping my nerves, or the tunnel vision and droopy eyes that I have when my head feels heavier than a bowling ball; that will never go away. Those feelings are with me forever. But, I am not special and I am very much not alone.


Someone that might happen upon my art, not knowing the core vision of my work will see flowery colors and shapes, but won’t get the message right away, and I don’t blame them. I don’t mind if people walk away thinking my art is a wonderful landscape, or a inventive structure of composition. I don’t even mind if they walk away thinking that their ‘five year old could do that’. More than 37 million people suffer from migraines. I was bound to meet one or two of them at one of my shows. I’ve had people tell me, “That looks like how my migraines feel. You nailed it.” It is an unimaginable and even unforeseeable force these migraines. And the viewers that see them, and enjoy them for their power and story are the ones I appreciate the most. I couldn’t describe them in any other way, so I described them with my hands.


Migraine Series, 8"x10"  , watercolor and gouache on watercolor paper and board

Migraine Series, 8"x10", watercolor and gouache on watercolor paper and board

I hope this short burst of energy of a blog allows someone to realize that migraines aren’t an end all. They slow things down some days, other days they make everything come to a sharp and violent stop. But, they shouldn’t stop you from living your life and seeking professional help when you need it. The fact that you have a migraine would mean that you are stronger than you thought you ever could be. My paintings say I’m an artist, but what they’re really saying is, I’m going to live my life my way, no matter what.