Sandra Woods
Art despite pain

In the news

(posted on 7 Jul 2024)

Eighty-five years ago, in 1939, a group of American artists on the West Coast founded the Northwest Watercolor Society (NWWS). Today, the "NWWS has grown into the internationally recognized, historically rich organization of today with over 1,000 members.
It has been recognized by Artists Magazine as one of the ten most prominent watercolor societies in North America."
They also offer the option of creating a free account, without any membership requirement, to receive  their "very popular, quarterly newsletter Hot Press and other timely news".

Even though I'm closer to the East Coast, and north of the border in Canada, I joined the NWWS in 2021 for their fantastic offerings of live-virtual watercolour demonstrations and workshops.
In chats with other members during the introductions at each online event, I usually mention my Art Despite Pain initiative - and that I began learning to paint as a way to help deal with chronic pain from a rare disease named CRPS, and for my CRPS-related Mild Cognitive Impairment.
These conversations often continue during the breaks, as people tend be quite curious about the more therapeutic benefits of painting - of art in general - and about the various arts-related healthcare and research projects with which I'm involved as a volunteer Patient Partner.

A few months ago, I was asked to provide additional information about all this, and about how I combine watercolour painting with exercise and nature (two other elements of my pain- and symptom-management plan) by painting en plein-air (outdoors) off the back of my bicycle.
The NWWS has ePublished this, as a two-page feature on my Art Despite Pain initiative, in the Summer 2024 issue of Hot Press (across pages 10 and 11).
I'm honoured that the NWWS has profiled me and my recent solo show "Watercolours on Two Wheels", which featured plein-air watercolour sketches completed during my bike ride rest-stops along with studio paintings from bike-ride studies and sketches.
I've posted only excerpts of the Art Despite Pain profile here; to read the entire feature, please sign up for a free account with the NWWS.
In the meantime, the profile begins in this way:
"When someone approaches while you're plein-air painting, and asks "Why are you painting?," or "How did you get involved in art?", what's your usual response?
It catches people off guard when I reply: "I paint because of pain."
This leads to other questions, and one-on-one or small group conversations which are a fantastic way to raise awareness of chronic pain.
That's how my Art Despite Pain (#ArtDespitePain) initiative began."

Thanks so much to the NWWS, for helping to raise awareness of chronic pain and for highlighting the role that art can play in managing persistent pain as well as cognitive issues!


(posted on 1 Jul 2024)

I've just received some great news, as a fabulous ending to the Canada Day long weekend.
A few weeks ago I submitted two of my recent watercolour paintings to a Call for Artists, for a Summer Show at the BOA Gallery.
Located in the gorgeous Old Montréal historic district of the city, this Gallery specializes in contemporary art.
With an entry limit of two paintings per artist, I took a chance and submitted a couple of my more experimental pieces for this group exhibition.
The good news that I just received is that both of my paintings were juried into this show!
With these kinds of exhibitions, it's an honour simply to have a painting (or more) accepted, so I'm very happy with this news.
One hundred and nineteen artworks were submitted, with only ninety (or 75%) accepted; 28 artists had only one piece selected, while 31 artists had both of their artworks accepted.
All in all, fifty-nine different artists will be participating in this juried exhibition - and I'm truly honoured to be among them.
Here are the details of the "Summer Daydreams" 2024 exhibition:
. Vernissage (opening): 19 July, 1600 to 1900
. Show: 1000 to 2000, 19-23 July
              1000 to 1600, 24 July
. At:  Galerie BOA
         263, rue de la Commune est
         Vieux Montréal
         * Near Place Jacques Cartier
Via:  AiM; Artists in Montreal | Artistes à Montréal
Happy Canada Day, if you're in this beautiful country! And for American readers, happy Fourth of July a few days early! 

Had a lovely surprise this weekend, when I opened the Summer 2024 edition of the "CPS eNews", the quarterly update from the Canadian Pain Society (CPS).
I do quite a bit of volunteer work with the CPS as a Patient Partner - even serving on a few of their Committees & Sub-Committees, including the Art Awards Committee.
[I should mention that the CPS uses the term "Person with lived experience" (of pain) or PWLE, rather than Patient Partner, which can be confusing.]
This edition of the eNews features the inaugural "PWLE Corner", focusing on individuals living with chronic pain in Canada who make a difference through their advocacy and/or awareness activities.
I am truly honoured to be the first Patient Partner/PWLE featured in the eNews.
A few years ago, one of my watercolour paintings won the inaugural Art Awards of the Canadian Pain Society, so I'm touched that this feature mentions my Art Despite Pain initiative, and how I encourage "people living with pain to use art and creativity - practice or appreciation - as a tool for pain management."
Thank you so much, CPS!


Montréal has a vibrant arts scene throughout the year, but during the spring and summer months the city hosts so many outdoor art and music events that it seems like a months-long festival.
As just a few examples, in May we host the World Musicians Festival (Festival des Musiciens du monde), and the weekly outdoor Piknic Électronik DJ concert series begins.
Into June it's the TransAmériques Festival of experimental choreography and dance, and the Montréal Fringe Festival showcasing more than 700 performers.
By mid-June it's the ten-day day, mostly outdoor and public, MURAL Festival celebrating urban art with building-sized exterior artworks, concerts, digital art installations, and techno-centric exhibitions.
Then the Montréal International Jazz Festival takes centre stage; the 44th edition will begin on June 27 and continue through July 4, 2024.
At the same time, the Mtl en Arts event transforms a huge swathe of the city into Eastern Canada’s largest open-air art gallery.
July brings Comiccon, the International African Nights Festival (Festival International Nuits d’Afrique) with performers from at least thirty countries, and the Taste of the Caribbean food festival.
The Fantasia International Film Festival, focusing on fantasy, horror, and sci-fi movies, begins in July and continues into August. And these are just a few of Montréal's spring and summer festivals.
As you might imagine, local art galleries are happy to join the buzz and often host special exhibitions during our warmest months.
So, with my three-month "Watercolours on Two Wheels" solo show wrapping up this coming Friday, I've been planning my submissions to some group exhibitions over the summer.
One of these is the Summer Show of Artists in Montréal, being presented this year at the BOA Art Gallery in the gorgeous Old Montréal historic district.
I've submitted two of my new experimental watercolours to this juried exhibition, as the gallery specializes in contemporary art.
This show will run from July 19 through 24, with a Vernissage from 1600 to 1900 on July 19, 2024, so wish me luck for my submission package!
One of the the watercolours I included in my submission was this one: "Hot & gritty day in the city (CN Tower), Toronto", with an additional description of: "Summer smog so thick, it's gritty; Toronto sunset".
With the summer solstice coming up on Thursday, this seems the perfect opportunity to wish you a good summer!

(posted on 9 Jun 2024)

My solo show "Watercolours on Two Wheels", at McGill University, will wrap up on June 21st after a 3-month run.
The show is open to the public, with no fees, at the MCLL Lounge in McGill's School of Continuing Studies - part of the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning.
This exhibition features watercolour paintings from - or based on - my adventures cycling around western Montréal Island.
There are plein-air works, painted entirely using my bike-as-easel set-up, and studio watercolours from sketches done during my bike-ride rest breaks.
I curated a mix of florals, landscapes, waterscapes, and wildlife paintings, to reflect the beauty and diversity of this area; farms, historic buildings, lakes, nature parks, rivers, streams, and even a vineyard!
As usual, I took the opportunity of my Artist's Statement for the show to focus on chronic pain, noting that I began learning to paint and draw in 2021 as a technique to help manage several symptoms of my bizarre autoimmune and neuro-inflammatory disease.
This art-learning began as movement-therapy and chronic pain management for my right hand and arm - severely impacted by CRPS - and as brain-plasticity or neuroplasticity training for my CRPS-related Mild Cognitive Impairment.

Exhibition details:
"Watercolours on Two Wheels"
680 Sherbrooke West, Suite 229
Montréal (next to the McCord Museum)
Mon-Thu 0900 to 1700
Fridays    0900 to 1500
Closed weekends & evenings.

(posted on 2 Jun 2024)

On Thursday I finally made it out to the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), to view a major exhibition - in the nick of time.
"Georgia O’Keeffe and Henry Moore: Giants of Modern Art" ran from February 10 through June 2, 2024; it ended today.
I'd planned to visit this retrospective long before its final week in Montréal, and had even reserved tickets to an MMFA members-only lecture on March 27th.
"Georgia O’Keeffe: An American Phenomenon" was presented by American historian, curator, and independent art scholar Barbara Buhler Lynes, but I unfortunately had to miss it due to a family emergency.
It sounded lovely: "This presentation describes how Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, came to be one of the most recognized American artists and the first woman in this country to achieve such iconic status for her contribution in her lifetime".
And then somehow, after I missed that lecture, each time I'd make new plans to go see the exhibition they'd get derailed... by unplanned medical appointments for my two rare diseases, meetings related to my Dad's estate, car problems, a funeral for a friend' parent, and more.
I'd wanted to see this exhibition, even though I'm not a huge fan of "Modern Art" as a genre, because of the overarching importance of the natural world to both of these artists.
To be honest, this show blew me away; it was absolutely brilliant. These are just a few of the many photos I took, and don't begin to do justice to this exhibition.

"Organized by the San Diego Museum of Art, this groundbreaking exhibition creates a new dialogue between the work of Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) and Henry Moore (1898-1986), exploring how these iconic 20th-century artists developed their own shape of modern art firmly rooted in the natural world".
An astoundingly wide range of works by each artist were included, in thought-provoking juxtapositions and placements.

I never thought I'd have the opportunity to view so many of these seminal pieces by either artist, let alone to view recreations of their studio spaces.
Each room of the exhibition was a tribute to the organic shapes that O’Keeffe and Moore preferred and interpreted, as well as to the overarching importance of nature in their work.
This was particularly striking in the large areas dedicated to Bones & Stones, Seashells & Flowers, and Landscapes of Forms.

As noted in a March 2024 piece in Forbes, "Georgia O’Keeffe And Henry Moore Exhibition Reveals Unlikely Pair’s Surprising Bond", these two artists had much in common and may even have met.
"Biographical oddities aside, their deeper connection – one previously unrealized – centers around a shared fascination with nature.
Natural forms in particular.
Seashells, bones, stones, old pieces of wood acquired on walks.
Their respective studios were filled with them.
As were their artworks, obviously in O’Keeffe’s case, more subtly, but no less apparent with Moore once recognized."

"As two of the greatest and most recognized names in the history of Modern art, O’Keeffe and Moore have been the subjects of innumerable exhibitions and publications.
Now, for the first time, their lives and art are examined in parallel in this exhibition presenting over 120 works, together with recreations of each artist’s studio, in a partnership between the Henry Moore Foundation and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
In the resulting unique and powerful dialogue, O’Keeffe’s paintings and Moore’s sculptures underscore the fundamental relationship between humanity and the natural world – a theme that will undoubtedly resonate with audiences today."
Well, it definitely resonated with me.
If you have a chance to view this touring event, it's truly worthwhile - and give yourself extra time to wander back to the start of the exhibition and view it all over again, after having read through all the exhibition notes.

(posted on 26 May 2024)

I signed this painting today, after looking at it with ‘fresh eyes’ once I had set it aside for a week. There’s a saying, for watercolours in particular, that too often a painting is ruined when the artist tries to ‘finish it’. The point is that, to maintain the ephemeral qualities of watercolour pigments, it’s usually best to leave something to the viewer’s imagination in any given scene.

This has definitely been true for some of my paintings, when I’ve wished that I could go back and remove the last brushstroke – or even the entire last wash (layer) of a multi-layered watercolour.

To be honest, sometimes I get so caught up in the shimmering dance of pigment and water on a surface that I forget to think about what I’d planned to paint in the first place; I become enthralled by the sheer joy of experimenting with the movement and blending of pigments on the page.

That’s what happened with this one, but only in the underpainting and first washes; I’d already mapped out in my mind – and in my sketchbook! – what I wanted to convey.

"Cosmic crocuses" is another of my watercolour experiments, this time centered around the concepts of fragility and resilience.

The first-glance or obvious link is between the changes to our planet (and to our solar system) and how these changes will affect the spring flowers and other plants that we take for granted. Not only at a global, regional, or local scale, but also as individual plants.

Is there a limit to the resiliency of all the flowers that bloom year after year, like old friends, in your garden – or mine? How can we help them adapt, flourish, and thrive in changing conditions?

The deeper meaning of this painting is applying the same question to individual human beings... What are the impacts of climate change and other changes (conflicts, discrimination, education, employment issues, healthcare, wars, and more) on individual people? How can we help them adapt, flourish, and thrive in changing conditions?

This is what can happen when a bioethics and philosophy nerd learns to paint. Many of my paintings are simply scenes that caught my eye, usually while out cycling or hiking. My experimental paintings, however, are more about concepts and philosophical constructs – and almost always questions.

This is also true of my chronic pain awareness paintings, as part of my Art Despite Pain initiative.

(posted on 19 May 2024)

This past Friday evening was the opening night Vernissage of another art show, the juried annual exhibition of the Women's Art Society of Montreal (WASM). This year's edition is special, as it marks the 130th anniversary of this historic Canadian art organization.
Being presented at the lovely Viva Vida Gallery in Pointe-Claire Village, not far from my home, this show feels much more personal to me than usual; my husband and I have coffee across the street, almost once a week!
Unfortunately I got home later than expected, so missed the start of the Vernissage at 1730 - along with the awards presentations and speeches.
So it was quite a shock when I walked in, and another artist I know told me that one of my paintings had a "dot".

I should mention that each artist in this juried exhibition was allowed to display only two paintings; both of mine are watercolours, in a more contemporary an experimental style for me.
Coincidentally with the recent Northern Lights phenomenon, caused by solar flares & geomagnetic storms, one of them is entitled "Aurora borealis, the Rockies". I say coincidentally, because I submitted my watercolours to this exhibition long before I'd heard anything about this season's extraordinary Aurora borealis.
The other is a Chronic Pain awareness painting, named "One in Five Canadians Lives with Chronic Pain". It features an orange-flame background on which float/fly five bird-like creatures; the orange pain-suffering figure is being ignored by most of the four blue creatures... But one of the blue figures is leaning down to interact with the orange one.
My goal for this piece was to convey the message that anyone can be that one figure/person, showing empathy towards someone living with chronic pain (or any other chronic illness).
Living with an invisible chronic conditions often caused isolation, and that can be prevented - by simple human kindness.

Back to "the dot" - have you been wondering what that meant?
In this exhibition, a red dot beside a painting signifies that it has been sold while a blue dot indicates that it was awarded an Honourable Mention by the Jurors.
When I finally got to my Aurora borealis painting, after touring the rest of the exhibition, I was absolutely thrilled to see a blue dot beside it.
What a truly wonderful way for me to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the Women's Art Society of Montreal - Thank you so much to the Jurors!
This art show continues through May 22, 2024 at the Viva Vida Gallery in Pointe-Claire Village; at 278 Lakeshore Road in Pointe-Claire, Québec.
A portion of proceeds of this event will be donated to mental health initiatives at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) hospitals, here in Montréal.

During a late-evening drive from Montréal to Ottawa in the spring of 1989, a friend and I pulled off the highway to watch a stunning natural phenomenon; the Aurora borealis, or Northern Lights. Pulsing across the sky in waves of greens, pinks, and purples, I recall being captivated by this extraordinary sight.
I'd never before seen the Aurora borealis, and we soon found out that this natural lightshow had appeared much further south than usual due to a major geomagnetic storm.
This storm, caused by solar flares, was in the news when we arrived in Ottawa as it had also knocked out much of Quebec's hydroelectric grid and caused a half-day blackout for more than five million Canadians.
Until this past weekend, that night thirty-five years ago had remained the only time I'd seen the Northern Lights.
So when I heard recently that another major geomagnetic storm was expected to once again push the Aurora borealis further south than usual, I scoured local news reports and autonomy websites for details.
The Northern Lights were expected to appear over Montréal Island overnight on Friday, then continue through the early hours of Sunday, but we'd only have clear skies on the first night.
Astronomers advised that this geomagnetic activity would likely make this Aurora borealis more colourful and vivid than usual, as well as pushing it over a much larger area; not only over swathes of southern Canada, but also into the Midwestern US and parts of Europe that wouldn't normally experience this phenomenon.
Even with an almost cloudless forecast for Friday night, experts recommended leaving the light pollution of urban regions and traveling to darker places for the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
The reality, though, is that my usual bedtime is about 2200. Living with two different rare diseases means that I rarely sleep well, and keeping the same bedtime is supposed to help.
Before hitting the hay I went outside and looked skyward, but couldn't see anything other than stars in the sky.
At about midnight I was woken by intense pain in my right hand and arm, from one of my rare diseases.
Hoping to finally see the Aurora borealis, I quietly dressed and slipped outside - trying not to wake my sweetheart. With the streetlamps still lit, and several homes in the vicinity bright with excessive outdoor lighting, I still couldn't see the Aurora borealis.
Given the level of pain in my hand, I knew that it'd take at least an hour before I'd be able to get back to sleep, so I decided to drive to a darker area not too far away.
My sweetheart woke as I was getting my keys, and opted to go back to sleep - a decision I think he later regretted, because what I saw was so spectacular!
I headed northwest, over a bridge off Montréal Island, towards a specific spot I knew would be dark - some waterfront farmland on the way up to the Ontario border.
News reports had said that this geomagnetic storm might push the northern lights as far south in the U.S. as Alabama and Northern California, and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to see them again.
My destination was a lakefront park, facing north across the water and the forest beyond; a perfect choice. Several other people were already there, and I spent a spectacular hour watching the gorgeous waves of colour ebb, flow, and pulse... and chatting quietly with strangers.

An elder gentleman was letting everyone take a look through his telescope, a young woman with her binoculars; I later found out that they were grandfather and granddaughter. One person was off to the side, wearing a dress that could've been a representation of the Aurora borealis, using a tripod-mounted camera. I approached and complimented the dress, asking if they'd mind some company - away from the haze enveloping the others, who were mostly smoking... something.
We had a lovely one-thirty-in-the-morning conversation ranging from astronomy to birdwatching to gardening, all with our heads tilted upwards to watch the lightshow across the sky.
Every now and then a few camera shots would be taken, then I'd try to capture the overhead scenes using my phone - with no success. My images were dark with a few vague blurs, and I didn't want to ruin my night vision by adjusting the settings.
So my new aquaintance, Émilia, shared a few of her photos with me and gave me permission to post them on my social media; with photo credit to Émilia Goulet (she's taking a break from social media, and asked that I not tag her; she has one of my "handles" in case she changes her mind).

Just before 0200 we'd both decided to head back to our homes, so I helped Émilia stow her photography equipment in her car-sharing vehicle - and declined her offer of a swig of the "super-stong coffee" she'd brought in a thermos.
It was a beautiful and ethereal event, and I'm glad I opted to head to a darker location rather than simply hoping to eventually see the Northern Lights over my home.
I hope you had an opportunity to see this geomagnetic storm in action as well, without any of the power outages or communications interruptions that occurred in 1989.
For more information on this geomagnetic storm, CBC News (the Canadian Broadcasting Company) has a good summary
* Photo credits: Émilia Goulet 11.05.2024, Montréal, Canada.

There's something new on TV this week, free and online, about chronic pain.
The award-winning short-form documentary series, "You Can't Ask That", from the CBC Gem and Accessible Media (AMI-tv) networks, finally created an episode on Chronic Pain to close out Season 3.
Although it was released today, the filming of my segment of this episode was done back in February at Pixcom Productions' TV studio in Old Montréal.
I was filmed alone, as were some others in different cities, and there were also some small groups of two people. Aside from the groups, none of us were aware of the other answers to each question.

Although I was in filming for an hour and a half, the final episode is only 22 minutes long; it will be a half-hour TV show, once commercials are added.
We all answered the same questions, but our replies were edited to avoid having too many people saying the same things in response to each question.
The concept of the series is to ask people living with disabilites and/or health challenges the kinds of impolite or even derogatory questions that many of us have already encountered in real life...
And to give us the opportunity to respond - honestly and sometimes emotionally - in a safe envionment.

The questions are MEANT to be almost confrontational; that's the whole concept of this award-winning documentary series, to have people answer questions that "polite society" would never ask.
From the introduction to the Chronic Pain episode:
"You’re not really disabled, are you? Are you really in pain, or do you just want to get high off pain meds?
These outspoken Canadians set the record straight on the stigmas and realities of chronic pain."

So if you notice me sometimes looking towards the ceiling during the episode, or off to the side, it's because I'm trying not to cry. Because if I'd have started crying then they'd have stopped filming, and I wanted to finish taping the show.
I'm hoping this episode could be a way for people living with pain to start or revive conversations about how they're really doing, with their family and friends, maybe even colleagues and community members.
And to let them know that they're not alone.

You can watch the Chronic Pain episode of You Can't Ask That here:

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