Sandra Woods
Art despite pain

In the news

Four weeks from now I'll be carefully packing several large boxes, each containing five of my framed watercolour paintings.
These boxes will then be hand-delivered, by me and my sweetheart, to the School of Continuing Studies at McGill University.
We'll then be on hand to help hang a new art exhibition at the School's MCLL Lounge; my first solo show.
As an emerging artist, this is rather exciting for me.
Not only do I have the opportunity to select the paintings and choose the frames (from my own collection of gallery frames), I've also been granted permission to curate this exhibition.
That means deciding where to position each watercolour, in relation to all the others, within the constraints of the hanging system already in place in this gallery space.
So this weekend I played what looked like a bizarre - and rather large - game of Tic Tac Toe, across two rows of picture-shelves that my sweetheart had installed for me.
I arranged and rearranged the selected paintings for almost an hour, to come up with a layout that represented my aims for this show.
The exhibition title is "Watercolours on Two Wheels", and it has two different goals.
The first is to highlight the natural beauty of Montréal Island, by featuring paintings of scenes that I've encountered while cycling through farms, forests, and nature preserves, and along four separate waterways.
The show will include at least one plein-air watercolour sketch, completed while I was resting during a bike ride.
The others will be studio paintings that originated from sketches or studies I did while cycling, or the occasional photo I took when a bird or animal was moving too quickly for me to sketch it.
This brings us to the second goal of "Watercolours on Two Wheels"; the reason I stop to paint or sketch during my bike rides.
I live with two rare diseases, CRPS and FMD. The latter is more or less asymptomatic, and easy to ignore. The former, however, completely changed my life in 2016.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), formerly called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), is an odd mix of autoimmune disorder and neuroinflammatory condition
What this means, in brief, is that its symptoms range from localized to full-body issues.
And, as its name implies, this disease is known for causing severe pain.
My right hand and arm experience several types of chronic pain (mostly in the bones, joints, nerves, and skin), joint rigidity, sensitivity (to temperature changes, touch, vibrations, and more), spasms, and tremors.
The full-body symptoms include autoimmune fatigue, and even the Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) that ended my career in bioethics and healthcare five years ago.
Although I've been an outdoor sports enthusiast all my life, these rare diseases mean that I've had to adapt my activities.
One of the ways I've done that, to keep cycling, is to ride mostly with only my left hand on the bars - and only in low-traffic areas.
I've also given up my racing-style road bike, using only the heavier and more stable commuter-style bicycle - with a pack-rack - that I'd used for fair weather bike-commuting to work.
Another adaptation has been to take a long rest stop on rides of more than 30 km (almost 20 miles), to let my CRPS-affected right hand and arm recover from the vibrations of the wheels on the road.
Those long rest stops were the catalyst for my creation of a bike-as-easel set up for watercolour painting, and for my plein-air painting adventures while cycling.
With strangers frequently stopping to see what I'm doing, this has become another opportunity for my Art Despite Pain #ArtDespitePain initiative; raising awareness of chronic pain, often through one on one conversations, and encouraging others living with pain to consider creative pursuits as pain-management techniques.
After all, I began learning to draw and paint in 2021 as DIY movement-therapy for my right hand and arm, as brain-plasticity or neuroplasticity training for my MCI, and as a way to distract my brain from pain.
The image below is the Exhibition Introduction, which will hang beside my paintings, focusing on this second goal of the exhibition.

"Watercolours on Two Wheels" will be presented April 15 through June 21, 2024, in the The MCLL Lounge at McGill University in Montréal. The MCLL is the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning, housed in the University's School of Continuing Studies across the street from the main campus.
The exhibition will be open Mondays through Thursdays from 0900 to 1700 and on Fridays from 0900 to 1500, at 680 Sherbrooke Street West, Suite 229.