Use the above QR code to hear my thoughts about this painting. (Click on Download as MP3.)
Twilight, Sunday sitting waiting for my glazes to dry so I can add the finishing touches on the window reflection on my latest painting. I’ve got Roseanne Cash’s Black Cadillac album playing. Life is quieting down like the end of summer.
In a few days, I’ll go back to teaching high school art. These last days of summer are tough especially when my vacation has been so eventful. So many little adventures have taken place, and my soul is so content, relaxed.
Even so, the anxiety of starting afresh with a new group of teens nags at me too. They’re just a few gray clouds hanging out on the horizon. They’ll drift in soon. The storm is coming.
Until then I’ll remember a quiet afternoon on the Mendocino coast. That day dark clouds drifted in and out with breaks of sunshine. On the window sill, sunshine sat in three, vine-ripened tomatoes. These orbs of summer glowed with the internal warmth of long, hot summer days. They held the memories of working with my brother in our shared backyard garden and the days waiting to bite into the just picked, warm and juicy fruit of all our hard work. Of zucchinis, cucumbers, peas, and beans, the tomatoes ripen last. Because of our micro-climate, they ripen in August. So that first bite is also a signal that summer is coming to a close.
In my painting, they stand like soldiers at easy, yet holding back what is to come and radiating the glory of the life they hold. Memories of sunny days without cares.
Technique or soul?
Such an odd pairing.
But, while I tried to go deeper into one, my ego made me take an old path instead of experiencing what could have been a holy different adventure.
To the right is my finished icon painting of Mary of Magdalene. I tried to follow the directions in the book Drawing Closer to Christ: A Self-Guided Icon Retreat by Joseph Malham. This artist/author has given me a fuller understanding of what it means to venerate an icon and how this kind of painting can be thought of as a way to bring The Word into the world.
While Malham gives very clear directions on how to technically paint an icon, it is the passages in between that are rich with historical background and guidance into using the time to prep for a days work with prayers and working with a more contemplative mindset throughout each work session that I found the most insightful.
I wish I had the patience to follow the directions of the author, to use the painting process outlined as the retreat it was meant to be. But alas, my focus became to just finishing before Spring Break was over and in time to show my piece at my church’s art show. I dropped Malham’s technical directions and relied on my usual process for painting an image to appear three dimensional. Yes, my ego won over my search for a spiritual experience.
I did, however, take time to learn more about Mary of Magdalene, read her gospel and finally opened the Book of Common Prayers looking for ones to begin and end each painting session. I’d like to spend more time with Mary’s gospel, especially it sections about the soul and sin. I did find some beautiful prayers, that so fit with my redirection for painting, that I know I’ll return to them as I try to build a more soulful art practice. Malham’s book also lead me to Saint John of the Cross’ poem Dark Night of the Soul. The “dark night of the soul” keeps coming up on the podcasts I listen to and the books on my nightstand. Saint John’s poem paints an experience so different from how other sources use that phrase. John’s is more beautiful and enlightening about one’s meeting with God. Malham’s book is making me rethink what compels me to make art and question what “words” I’m bringing into the world.
So, while I didn’t stay on the path, I guess my meandering lead me to places I needed to go. So goes the spiritual path. It is definitely not a straight one.
Every Blade Of Grass Has An Angel
That Bends Over It And Whispers…
The above lines from the Talmud have stayed with me since I read it many years ago. It flies up in my mind whenever I see someone taking extra special care to assist another person to succeed. I so relate it to my experience of being a teacher. I like to think I do this with all the students that walk into my classroom, say “Grow, Grow!” Even though the passage means a lot to me, I’ve never tried to illustrate it before now. I guess the time comes when something is ready to come into the world.
My new church holds a yearly art show called Art & Soul. Parishioners bring in their works of art, crafts, poetry, and songs for a two-day celebration of creativity. When the call went out for artists to get their work together, it was suggested to think about Earth Day as the show is held this year on the day of this yearly event. This image called out to be made. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I think it has blossomed well.
It was fun to try my hand at gilding even though I held back from buying the real gold leaf. I’m planning on following the instructions of the book Drawing Closer to Christ: A Self-Guided Icon Retreat by Joseph Malham. It will cover in more detail how to use gold leaf on a wood base to paint religious icons. I think I’ll do an image of Mary Magdalene who helped grow the early church, definitely an “angel” that said, “Grow, Grow!”
How fun it is to collaborate with someone when making art. The mandala shown here was done with my friend Coletta.
She started it at a retreat where I presented how to make a prayer mandala. For some reason, she was unable to finish her design. But her sketch, shown here, really caught my eye. So I asked if I could complete it for her.
Over the course of several emails, she shared some ideas that I tried to incorporate while also letting the design speak its spirit into being, too. The colors were selected to express the Dress Rose Scotish tartan pattern she wore when she danced. Learning this I incorporated Celtic knot patterns within the letters. Her chosen word for her mandala was “listens.” She wrote to me that it was to remind her that God listens and she needs to work on listening. (Don’t we all!) He must have heard her because as the word was repeated in a circular pattern hearts and angels appeared. I embellished it was even more of them. I hope as she meditates on the design, she feels God’s support and love are always surrounding her.
This weekend I’m going to a women’s retreat where we’ll be making mandalas and origami cranes. To prepare to lead these wonderful women I’ve taken some time to research contemplative art practices. It’s been an enriching experience and a validation of my own art practice. I’ve always felt that the Spirit guided me in my endeavors to create. Through my research I’ve learn that this process is similar to Lectio Divina. So maybe this art process could be called artem divina and help my sisters to have a deeper spiritual practice.
While this piece was done using Adobe Illustration, we’ll be using traditional media at the retreat. The process will have the artists hide a word within their mandala. One that they could use as their focus for later contemplation or meditation. I’ve chosen to use the word holy and hope the Spirit reaches out from the design to touch those who gaze upon it.
As I developed this design I realized that the Holy Spirit is the lattice that supports our growth as we become more fully engaged with the world and God. May it help you with your own journey.
What a glorious day!
A good service at church about letting one’s light shine in a world that can look so gloomy and dark. It was a call to step up and be, as Gandhi said, “the change you want to see.”
From church to a friends house for a pot luck with my theater buddies. Breaking bread and sharing wine as a group is an echo of the Eucharist. When we meet with love, I know God is always there.
And now back home to put the final touches on this Christmas mandala that I hope sends a light out to everyone .
This was my year to learn the history of the poinsettia and it’s symbolism as it relates to Christianity. I’ve always just thought of them as the Christmas flower. It’s great to know now that the five points leaves symbolize the Star of David and the blood of Christ. It’s a symbol that pulls the old and new thoughts of God together into a flower that seems to burst upon the season with all the hope this holiday is about.
To work tight or lose?
This is always a tough decision for me. I’m strongly attached to painting details. They say God is in the details. They also say God loves diversity. So for this work I loosened up and let go of trying to capture very detail before me. Even my rendering of the hydrangeas is a bit of a fantasy. While I’m close to finishing, I’m facing a tough time of pulling it all together while keeping it loose.
Isn’t that, too, a face of a God that likes diversity? He is somewhere in between and yet all encompassing; a continuous flow and in the moment, oh, so specific.
That is how it has been to work on this painting, moving between just letting go and focusing.
I’ve been listening to Billy Joel in the studio . His rock and roll helps my brush dancing across the canvas, and his song, with the lines
You maybe right
I may be crazy
Oh, but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for
somehow fits with this working dichotomy. It feels right and crazy all at the same time.
One of my favorite songs of Bill Joel’s is And So It Goes, a soothing and at the same time sad tune. It begins with the lines
In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong
To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one come along
I hope the person I’m creating the painting for feels the a bit the beat of Joel’s rock and roll and at the same time finds a refuge, a place to rest at the end of her day.
Life and rest.
God in between and all around.
Thanks to everyone who participated with the the creation of this painting to honor Stephanie Wagner. I hope it conveys something about her interests and personality. Parts are a symbolic prayer for her that her next life is brighter and feels her with unending joy.
This is an update on the progress being made on the painting to honor Stephanie.
Thank you Cherie and Kate for your remembrances. Cherie, some of yours have already been added. More will be added. Kate, I’ll start on yours soon.
If you’re not sure what this about, read below for an explanation. I hope to hear from more Stephanie’s friends.
A couple of days ago I learned that my friend and co-worker Stephanie Wagner had passed away. She was a unique person who put all her effort into teaching her special education students. To say that she had a hard, personal life is an understatement. It was the type of life that causes one to think, “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” With all her troubles, Stephanie kept the best part of herself for her students. No matter how low life took her, her biggest joy was making her students know that they could do more with their lives than what the education system, fellow friends and students, and even parents, thought. Stephanie help her students excel.
If you are one of her co-workers, past student or friend and are are reading this, please help me memorialize her through a painting I’m just beginning. Stephanie loved the quirky and macabre. She loved to read and go to the movies. Her favorite teaching activity was taking her students on a field trip to San Francisco to Comic Con. Stephanie was a big fan of Kickstarter and donated a lot to support artists on that crowd sourcing site. If you know of any imagery, movies, books, artists, comic and graphic novel characters or details of her life that would help me continue my painting, please email your thoughts to me. I’ve started this Day of the Dead image yesterday. I know she enjoyed this type of work. Please help me fill it with details about Stephanie. There is room on the clothing, clouds, sky, books, and border to add imagery about her likes and life. Please share.
It’s done! After several weeks my first grisaille painting has been finished.
Here’s the last draft followed by the finished piece.
I hope you can see when you compare the images that the finished one is much more richer in color and shading is more developed. This was a real workout. I’m glad I persevered and worked out all the technical issues. Makes me want to continue.
Well, after only two days of adding color, I’ve actually learned a lot about acrylics. First, there’s a big difference between using gel and glazing mediums. While you can get a transparent glaze with gel, it’s not as easy to mix as the glazing medium. A pallet knife makes the mixing process so much easier. And since this is my first attempt at doing grisaille, judging the amount of pigment to add to either the gel or glaze mediums has been a real learning process. I’m beginning to wonder if I should stick to the direct painting technique as just a time saver. I don’t know if grisaille has made my work more realistic or not. Maybe a well developed under-painting would have been sufficient in laying out the values.
At least I’m into the home stretch. Yeah!
Here’s where I left off with the last post. Almost finished with the grisaille technique.
Here’s where it stands now as I’ve begun to add glazes of color.
The color glazes are much more difficult to do especially by someone as impatient as myself. A more direct painting technique is what I’m use to doing.
Since I have a lot of it, I’m using gel medium for thinning the pigments, probably a poor choice as it is rather thick to work with when I need a more running consistency. Live and learn, right? Next time I’ll invest in glaze medium. I did splurge to buy some fluid acrylic zinc white which has made me more aware of the consistency I should be using for my glazes. Even so, my attempt at rendering a realistic texture is not working out. That beautiful rose petal texture is beyond me right now. The weather isn’t helping either. We’re experiencing a heat wave, so the paint is drying really fast. I’m settling for an impressionistic brush stroke texture instead.
Maybe I’ll title the piece Patience