The Art of Healing

This month’s cover art was chosen from the work of painter Dorothy Holmes of Tall Girl Studio, who experienced two influential events that altered the course of her lifeand her art: a move to Bend,and more significantly, a life-threatening brain injury that was responsible for the surprising emergence of her inner artist.

Holmes arrived in Bend three years ago, leaving a job as a paralegal in Renoand a painful divorce behind her. “I came here to visitand it just felt right; it felt like home,” she said. “There’s an enthusiastic love of artists here. It’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s the friendliest city I’ve ever been to. I’d been looking for my next place to live,and when I drove into town it just hit me: this was it.”

The move dramatically changed her outlook—and her artwork. “Before I came to Bend my work was more sad,” she said. “I was coming off a divorce after a 22 year marriageand was painting a series called Phases of the Heart about griefand healing. Once I got here I discovered I was done with all of that.”

She turned her focus toward her love of natureand especially, love of birds. A lifelong birder, Holmes learned about the natural world from her mother who taught her the names of plantsand how to identify birdsand other creatures, from the time she was a just little girl. “It’s stupid how much I know about nature,” she laughed. “I know the different types of rocksand butterfliesand mothsand lichenand fungusand cloudsand the difference between a butteand a mesaand all that stuff. I’m pretty good with trees. I can bore you with that, too.”

Her recent series is called Girls with Birds in Their Hair. Holmes said, “[I] went through a phase where I was just basically painting women, some in turbans, surrounded by vinesand flowers, with a bird or a bee. It was something I just needed to do—bring out these womenand work in all the birds that I loved. And because of the pesticides we’re using that’s causing the decimation the bees, I wanted to honor bees.”

The Bend environment shapes her work, but Holmes cites her brush with death more than twenty years ago as the main influence on her life.

Unaware of a genetic disorder (arteriovenous malformation), a massive brain hemorrhage, “Came out of nowhere,” she recalled. “I was very, very lucky to survive it.” Holmes struggled with a serious reduction of cognitive functioningand motor skills, a speech impedimentand loss of retentionand memory—conditions she has mostly overcome today. “I’ve been left with a seizure condition,and my memory is sketchy, but other than that I’m good,” she said—and unexpectedly transformed.

When the hemorrhageand resulting damage permanently affected the left side of her brain, her right brain hemisphere began to work overtime to compensate for the losses on the left. Holmes, formerly a “type A, left-brained person” developed right-brained tendencies, including an aptitude for art.

“Before the injury I could not draw well, or see colors, or paint,” she said. “I couldn’t do anything nor was I interested in anything to do with art. All of a sudden I was a different person. I became a spiritual person. I became calmand peaceful. I had a deep interest in artand being creative. I became a right-brained person.

“You think I would curse my brain for this happening but I’m so grateful,” she continued. “I entered a whole new world.”

Was the near-fatal hemorrhage meant to be, or a blessing in disguise? “Pick any clichéand it would fit,” laughed Holmes. “It’s true. I have used every sappy thing to apply to this brain injury. It changed my life for the better. When you are faced with death—which I was—now every day is an absolute blessing. I live in Bend as an artist! What better place? Before that I was working for attorneys in Reno.

“It’s so important to never give up,” she said. “There was a time in my life after the incident when I was really downand outand depressed. I didn’t know what I was going to do. But I didn’t give up. I wish that my story could get out thereand help someone in some way.”

Holmes retains a few practical left-brain skills that have helped her boost her businessand shape her life—skills that other artists might want to mirror.

“Goal setting is practice I’ve picked up recently,” she said. “A small daily goal for me might be just to ‘let it go,’ whatever might be bothering me from the day before. Recently my daily goal has been to put a brush to canvas,” she said. “I’m trying to paint every single day.”

Maintaining a home studio makes it easier to achieve that goal. “I’m not the greatest sleeper, so I like being able to get up at four in the morningand walk down the halland paint,” she said. “If I was in one of these wonderful co-ops or other places in town where some of my friends work, it would be niceand social but I wouldn’t drive across town at four in the morning to paint in my pajamas. So I like the convenience of having a dedicated art space in my home—and it has a beautiful view of the sunrise in the morning. I literally stop whatever I’m doingand watch the sun come up through the window every day.” Holmes shares the view with three furry studio mates who snooze by her side as she paints: Larry the boxer, Herbie the corgi-dachshundand Bailey the spitpoohuakie—a spitz-poodle-chihuahua-yorky.

Holmes incorporates mixed media—acrylics, India ink, oil pastels—on top of paintings on wood, “Layers upon layers upon layers. That’s why I like to work on wood. Canvas can’t hold up to all the layers I’m putting down.”

Despite her love of dogs she has no plans to incorporate canine images in her work—at least at this time. “I’m not good with fur,” she said. “I just vacuum it up. This year I’m going to be focusing on trees. I love their different shapesand the shadows they createand their skeleton you can see depending on where the sun is shining.”

Holmes considers herself lucky to be able to paint in a variety of genres; her work includes abstract landscapes as well as representational images of natureand people. “I never know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I might wake up in the morningand feel like painting a tree, or an abstract. I don’t know what I’m going to paint tomorrow. I could never paint just one thing for the rest of my life.”

Her favorite painting celebrates her love of natureand is evidence of her optimistic outlook. Titled Smoke, the abstract image is, “based it on a pretty ugly situation,” she explained. “For two months this summer Bendand Sisters were filled with smoke. Terrible wildfires were burning. Everyone was just depressedand angry. I tried to capture the smokeand make it pretty; I wondered, how am I going to turn this negative into a positive?

“Another corny cliché!” she said. “I’m full of clichés. You’ve got to make lemonade out of lemons. You just can’t stay down. My life has not been a bowl of cherries—but I’m here, I laugh every dayand I made a pretty painting out of awful, smoke filled days.”

You can view Dorothy’s work hanging in the lobby of the Oxford Hotel in Januaryand February (including both First Fridays), on Etsy at, Instagram at tall_girl_studiosand Facebook @TallGirlStudio

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