When it comes to creating her next masterpiece, for artist Christy Grace, there are many days where her mind is prepared to work, but her body is not.
There are times when Grace is painting, and her hand will go numb – requiring her to switch to her other hand to continue working, while shaking the numbness out of the other. She has worked while lying on the floor on days where she is low energy and has answered emails from the bathtub on days where she is in significant pain from dealing with three medical conditions, endometriosis, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.
“It can be very frustrating because I have the ideas, skills and ambition and know I could do so much more,” Grace said. “I have to budget energy, especially when there is a specific deadline or event and sometimes household chores suffer because I just can’t do it all.”
But despite those setbacks, Grace, a full-time artist with her own business and stay-at-home mother, was honored with the Creative Power award by Arts for All Wisconsin, an organization that has recognized and celebrated artists with disabilities since 1985.
According to a news release from Arts for All, artists from 59 Wisconsin communities submitted art to this year’s competition, and Fitchburg was one of nine communities with a winner. Ten artists were honored with the Creative Power award this year.
“Submissions are juried by arts professionals who look for creativity, originality, and craftsmanship in selecting ten artworks,” the news release stated.
Grace is primarily a watercolor painter who also makes diorama and shadowbox-style art in addition to pendants and enamel pins. She said she does not have one medium she is partial to.
“My preferred medium depends on what I am trying to convey,” she said. “Historically, I have used watercolor and colored pencils for my more illustrative work and acrylic or oil paint for my emotive or large-scale art. It is hard for me to choose just one because the experimentation and discovery of different mediums is very fun for me.”
Grace said art plays an important role in her therapy and recovery, using it as a journal that documents her health journey through self-portraits and communicating out what she thinks her pain might look or feel like.
She said she draws her inspirations from her imagination more than reality.
“A lot of my illustration ideas come from my imagination and dreams brought together by poignant memories of pretending to be a unicorn on the grade school playground or creating tiny worlds out of found objects,” she said. “My more emotive, personal pieces come from processing my pain or trying to communicate a certain feeling or experience.”
While Grace said she experienced pain beginning in middle and high school, she wasn’t able to put a name to it until years later after she got married and began trying to have children with her husband.
It was then, after researching her failed attempts to get pregnant and her infertility issues that she was diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis – a disease that causes the cells that would typically grow inside of the uterus to grow on the outside – and her ovaries were wrapped around her uterus and covered in cysts and adhesions. These cells go through the same menstruation cycle as those inside the uterus, but when the blood is shed monthly, it has nowhere to go – which leads to inflammation, cysts and adhesions in the pelvic cavity, Grace said.
Grace said there is no known cure and that surgery is required to remove the adhesions, of which she’s had three so far.
After her second surgery, she was able to get pregnant after four years of trying, and gave birth to a daughter in 2015.
With that joy came another blow.
A little after her daughter’s birth, Grace started experiencing pain that was not directly related to endometriosis, and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Grace said her body reacted poorly to fibromyalgia medications, experiencing side-effects including depression, rapid heart rate and weight gain.
So with her second diagnosis, she has had to strike a balance between work and rest, as she said she creates art daily whether it is just a little piece or a sketch or it is a mural or a painting, start to finish.
“There are days when I don’t feel inspired and that is okay because I always have business emails, organization and promotion to do,” she said. “There are also days that I wake up already exhausted and need to rest when I can in between being a mom and wife – so the rest days don’t come as a needed break from art, they are there because sometimes it is hard to keep my eyes open or stay upright.”
Being an advocate
At times, her health has suffered in other ways. She has been diagnosed with IBS and last October she got an upper respiratory illness that made her cough so hard that she ended up pulling a muscle in her neck and slipping some discs in her upper spine.
“I am still searching for answers and trying to advocate for myself, even during such circumstances,” she said. “I don’t want to be in pain or be exhausted every day.”
She has also used her art to be an advocate for others.
Recently, Grace said she has been “really inspired” by the Black Lives Matter movement. The national movement has taught her that she still has a lot to learn, even though she tries to be inclusive and aware of her actions.
She created a hand-letter brush calligraphy piece out of the word “beautiful” that used different skin tones after hearing a subtle dismissal of racism.
“I recently did a piece on my iPad which states, ‘I see you. I see our differences and I think they are beautiful,’” she said. “ I did this piece after thinking on the phrase, “I don’t see color” which on the surface sounds accepting but in reality, it is not respectful.”
While she said she has also been inspired by the pandemic, she is still processing how to convey those experiences artistically. Apart from her own health issues, her husband has a mechanical heart valve, so her family has been taking quarantining seriously.
Grace said once she has processed the pandemic some more, she has a large canvas waiting for a more personal painting that will most likely be a self-portrait that documents the state of her body and the world.
She said that a “human aspect” is one of the overarching themes of her art.
“With the human aspect, a lot of it comes down to making connections, helping people feel seen and not alone, and showing that we are all going through something and it would best to live with a kind heart,” she said.