Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Winter's Last Breath
Winter seems interminable. I suppose that there must be some out there who were born for cold weather, and gray skies and winter slop...but not me. I hang on by my fingernails through it, and as I get older and more mature, I try very hard not to whine after November hits. But it seems like a very (did I say very?) long time until I feel the warmth of the sun on my head again, and until the days don't feel like they have closed in from both ends in darkness. Because I have chosen not to whine on the outside does not mean that I don't feel it on the inside.
I do know that amazing things are happening during this period that feels so heavy and bleak. I know it, intellectually. While the trees seem to be dead, I know that tree roots are active under the surface- continuing to draw water and nutrients from the soil below, and even growing if conditions are favorable. And bugs, birds and other critters all have their winter stories too.
I think my art has winter periods. There are sometimes long stretches of time where I have not produced a single thing. Sometimes those are discouraging times- I don't feel the proverbial warmth of the sun in my work- I feel brittle, cold and dried up like last years leaf. But I am old enough and have seen enough of those "winters" to know that spring comes. Every time. And with it comes the fruit of the dormancy and rest that are sometimes necessary to become productive again. With each new "spring", I find that I am responding to color a little differently, or working my brush with added confidence, or have "unearthed" a new insight that I didn't know I had until it appeared on my canvas.
Sometimes winters are longer than others. But as with the actual seasons, we don't get to mandate when the the leaves will fall, or the snow will start or the buds will pop. Patience wins here. And we can be assured that everything will eventually cycle back to growth.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Art as Discipline

A view from Rip Van Winkle Bridge
I have been reading this very cool book. It's called The Disciplined Life. I know. It sounds enthralling. I know you secretly can't wait to pick it up and read it too.
I found it in the church library when I was looking for something else. I thought maybe it would have some practical advice for one such as myself. It's not that I am completely undisciplined. In the workplace, I am able to pull it off. At home...well,  I am just disciplined about the things I want to be, and on the timetable that suits me.
I have been convicted lately that that really won't cut it. I think that God expects more from me. And for some time, I have had a desire to be a better steward of my time and attention. So when I grabbed this book, I thought it would be a nice little nudge to get me thinking. It is a small book after all. And it has a lot of white space on the pages. And a cool black and white photo of a plumb bob on the cover. Yup, think I'll zip right through it, grab my gold nuggets of inspiration and away we go.
That was a good thought. Until page 19.(chapter 1 starts on page 17). The author makes the point that
it starts with a disciplined mind. "In the battle of ideas, the disciplined mind has the advantage over the scatterbrain...the man whose mind is undisciplined will soon be outclassed and outdistanced by others in whatever field he enters.
No where in my life has it been more true than in the pursuit of becoming a competent painter. Sometimes, buckling down and focusing on the work feels like trying to catch the wind in a jar. There are so many "problems" to solve in starting and completing a piece of art- technical, material, spatial, etc. The only way to come to the finish line is by tackling those "problems" one at a time. Sometimes it is laborious, and occasionally I find myself in a zone where the problems seem to figure themselves out. Sometimes I am happy with the outcome, and sometimes I am not. But the point is this...unless I become the master of those feelings...unless I subject them to the directives of my will...unless I (gulp) discipline myself, I will remain at the same level of skill and never progress in my ability to fluently speak the language of the medium.  If I choose the discipline, then the reward will be the expression of the joy and intrigue and awe that I experience as I look around me at the stuff that God has put here to impress us with His glory.
Bridge or no bridge named after him, I think that poor old Rip missed the boat on this one. I hope he enjoyed his nap, because that will be the reward in itself.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I am not sure when it happened. The adventure of making multiple small paintings- manageable with my limited time, validating in an almost immediate gratification sort of turned into something else. And I don't like it.

Recently, an opportunity unfolded in front of me to get some of them into an upscale store in an upscale town where upscale people from upscale places come to do their upscale shopping. Those little paintings were gone in a week. I was flabergasted. And faced with a choice...was this a very wonderful one-time "thing", or would I pursue additional exposure in this venue.

I chose the second. So I burned out another series of "smalls". While I was very happy with the paintings, I was less than happy with the transformation happening in my brain...and in my heart.

Suddenly, the excitement and wonder of being counted "good enough" to have my art alongside some other way-better-than-that art wasn't enough. I negotiated how much they were going to sell for. I felt the burn of pride when I was told that I was still an "unknown", and that I must be careful not to price too high.

I felt myself racing against the clock to drop off the goods to the store, and recognized the feeling of pushing against something in my spirit. I felt like I couldn't breathe.

This business side of making art- this need to circulate it and make it part of the world outside of my own doors always feels like it will extinguish the very tenuous flame of creativity that keeps threatening to smolder.

Yesterday, I decided to listen. I decided to ask God the question- am I headed down the wrong path? Did I become so enamored with the thought of my little success that I am willing to sacrifice the spontaneity and wonder of the work for the thrill of the sale? Have I, in a way, commercialized myself? I needed a reset.

I think that the misplaced need for my work's worth to be measured in money got in my way.
I forgot that I don't need to be measured in the world's eyes, with the world's scale.
I forgot that my worth lies squarely in the hands of the One Who created me.
(And oh, by the way, he didn't negotiate a price for me after he did that.)

It is funny how when we forget our worth in God's eyes, our true worth, we either elevate ourselves and feel the pinch of pride when we are brought back to reality, or we struggle and fight to prove ourselves unnecessarily.

In a way. I think that every artist must wrestle with this issue. I don't know the answer, on a practial level. I do know that every time my art or creative life has resulted in making a little money, it has become sour to me and the joy is lost. I never want that to happen with painting.

So I must, I must, I must remember Who is the behind-the-scenes Source of all of my little creative efforts, and I must remember that the dollars are not the point and are not a measure of my worth, and I must put my trust in Him to guide and direct me to the right and best outlets for the work that I do.

And if you are struggling with these issues, join me in this conversation, because I don't think it's going away any time soon!

Friday, July 20, 2012


'In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him." Ps95 4
I am blessed to live in an area surrounded by several mountain ranges. The Shawangunks, the Catskills, the Berkshires. In a short time, I can be at the foot of any of them...these, His mountain peaks. When I am confronted by God's "art", something interesting happens to me. I get a feeling of time standing still. For me that is huge- since I was little, I have always had the sense that time is hurtling past me at a distressing pace. So, these times are more than just sightseeing adventures. They are soul- restoration times. Maybe that is what true Sabbath is supposed to be- a sense of inexplicable relief, of quiet, of stillness.  When I painted this, I didn't think about all of that. I thought about the composition, and using the right values, and all the technical stuff. What I have to trust is that the feeling that germinated when I saw this scene will make it's way to the eye and heart of the viewer, somehow. We all need Sabbath.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Linen Canvas

This painting was done for my husband. It was our 12th anniversary yesterday. For the life of me, the only thing that I could think of to give him that was truly meaningful, (and using the 12th anniversary gift guide of linen) was a painting, painted on linen canvas. I suffered for 2 days after buying the canvas...will he like it, will it be one of those reject paintings, will it be lame. I started painting yesterday morning. I said a prayer that it would not be awful, and that God's Spirit would fill me with love, inspiration, skill, etc. This painting was done in 45 minutes. A record. Not a masterpiece, but I like it, and most of all, he loved it and felt my love for him. This painting was from a photo that I had taken last summer when we visited Portland, Maine. It was a wonderful time for us, and he remembered exactly where this was taken.

I am reading a book by Karla Kincannon called Creativity and Divine Surprise: Finding the Place of Your Resurrection. I find it mostly etheareal and not down to earth. I find it a little new-agey, although she does speak so much about Christ and His sacrificial love. There have been passages in the book that have spoken to me, even though I don't fully understand. I read this passage this morning- "...the Creator's love had to be embodied in creation and in the person of Jesus before the world could know the extent of divine love. Creative energy- the gift of God's loving self, the gift of God's Word- must take on form to be realized. In this respect creativity is incarnational.  Love always extends itself on behalf of others, or it is not love but sentimentality.  Creativity as an expression of love must be used in service of others.  Like love, creativity nees to extend itself beyond the one in whom it is embodied.  Without the drive to express, creativity remains incomplete and impotent. Creativity, like love, must offer itself as a gift for others to be authentic."

I believe this. I have believed it for a long time. That is one of the reasons that it sometimes is so difficult for me to understand the "big" purpose behind making art. If I can't see who this days' "expression" will benefit, or bless, then I have difficulty seeing it through. I need to change my understanding. Sometimes, the one Whom I bless is God Himself (I hope!). When I respond to His surges of inspiration, appreciation, awe etc...when I obey the urge to make marks that express the reverence I have for Him and the wonders that He has made...when I push through the discomfort and frustration of the process to see it through to it's completion...THEN I have participated in something incarnational, and authentic. Sometimes, the recipient is obvious, like my husband receiving this painting. Sometimes, finished paintings sit around in my basement for a while until they find their permanent home. Sometimes...sometimes it's not about the finished product at all, but it is about the obedience of listening and responding, the exercise of discipline and effort, and the joy of hope realized. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

An Itch I Can't Seem to Scratch

Just for the record, this is not how it appeared. But I like it. It's weird.

I went for a ride this morning while I was (am still) waiting for my son to be finished with yet another college prep test. It was raining and not so pleasant outside, but sometimes these drizzly days make really good photo ops. I wandered around Pawling, and wasnt finding much. I was ready to throw in the towel and go get a cup of coffee. There was no where to turn the car around, so I kept driving. I know by now, after many, many rides like this that sometimes the best opportunities come after you have decided to give up. (Why is that?)
I came upon fields of young plants of something or other, and as always, I am drawn in by the rhythms of the crop rows, juxtapositioned against the natural landscape. I drove past because there was not space to turn the car around. When I cam back the other way, I shot a few pictures, thinking that I'd have some really nice photos. And...again as always, I was disappointed with the results. It wasnt't that they were bad photos, really. They just weren't what my eyes saw. As I stood there before the expanse of dark, wet earth interrupted by the bright spring green of the crops, I was moved by it in a way that I am not by looking at it in 2D, in little sections. That is always my frustration. How on earth do I represent/reflect not just the image, but the feeling? How do I transmit to the viewer the sense of awe and reverence that I feel when I look at the real thing? This is an itch that I am stll trying to scratch. I am thinking it will always be just out of reach, but that doesn't mean I should stop trying.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Three is better than one.

 These are 3 very small paintings. Last year, I really got into sketching and painting very small landscapes. In spite of their size, they are among my favorite finished paintings. And something about them being together makes them seem like more than they are individually. When I look at them in isolation, they are less than impressive. Pretty blah, as a matter of fact. But I think that they are so much more dynamic, and play off of each other, together. These little paintings like being in community.
I didn't know that until they were completed. Each one, when it was finished was "ok". But when I saw them together, I was amazed, and encouraged to see that something had happened that I didn't plan. The sum was greater than it's parts.
Honestly, left to my own devices, I don't prefer community. I would rather live in my own peculiar brand of "ok-ness" than have to stretch myself, and communicate, and be social. I love solitude. No...I relish it.

But I know that's not ok(well, maybe sometimes). I know I need to be with others in order to be who I really am. I know that the best of me is drawn out when I am not isolated. And I know that it's my God given responsibility to draw the best out in my family and my friends. This blogging adventure has me questioning so much- do I have the time for this? Isn't this selfish? But now I have 2 bloggy "friends", and we need each other's encouragement to press on with the creative call that God has given us. 3 of us figuring this out together. And that is a good thing.