Monday, January 27, 2013

“My Masterpiece”

“There is not a soul alive who appreciates and delights in the artwork as much as the artist himself.”

I’ve been using my phone to take pictures from various angles and at every stage, from first pencil sketch to each final color. Like a child, I gleefully drag in visitors to view my painting. Proudly I show everyone I know and love hoping they see what I do. Most of their comments and remarks are less than satisfying; they feel like ashes thrown on the flame within me. The holes in their responses casually remind me of Jesus instruction not to ‘cast your pearls before swine.’ Though they themselves not swine, of course, but most do not see the art as I see it. They don’t feel it, they don’t experience it, taste the paint in their mouth, as they hold their breathe over one small streak. Smell the cloudy colored water; they don’t know each stroke intimately from beginning to end. They do not get so grossly involved that they dip their paint brush into their coffee instead of the water. Or see the colors melting together like northern lights. How could they feel the intensity of the excitement when I get that “tree” just right, or that contour just perfect, or that color so real. They don’t peek in on the painting just to make sure it’s still there and stare at it in the evening before bed. They don’t see it as some sort of light illuminating a dark place in their soul. Of course not I wouldn’t expect them to, would I? It’s not their fruit burst on the scene after a long cold winter or a seedling emerging after a abnormally long period of dormancy. Yet I do. Therefore it is I and it is He, and it is the artist who truly receives the greatest gift of all from his fine work of art, laboring relentlessly over his beloved, it IS that laboring that becomes the gift and then releases to know the gift in its fullest measure when fully complete. it is the piece which makes the master, yet the master designs and brings life to the work of art. It is as if the two souls, that of the art and that of the artist are somehow entangled in an eternal dance, forever searching for one another, knit together in a beautiful union of joy. The master breathing life into his work with his hands and his thoughts.

It was shortly before Christmas, perhaps mid December, my list for the children was made and I was determined and succeeding at vicariously sticking to it. However, even our most established resolution and die hard efforts at times result in failure. I was walking casually down the aisles of a craft store, browsing innocently at all the interesting depictions of beauty, when I saw them. in a spontaneous flare of creative brilliance picked up a little white tray of semi-professional water colors, priced to kill at 35.00! the thought had never occurred to me before, water colors? It was a new idea entirely, I associated water colors with crayola, and children’s play, even a two year old could use them on a rainy day with little supervision. And yet here I was enthralled in this novel idea, professional watercolors. And as the moment of brilliance touched down and kissed my conscience I realized I had to give her watercolors for Christmas real ones, expensive ones. I picked out two trays of them, followed by a heavy pad of thick water color paper, and several fine paint brushes. What a grand skill for the child to develop, really only building on her love of creating scenes anyway. How could I resist, this could be the start of a great love of painting for her.
Honestly she wasn’t as excited to unwrap them as I was wrapping them. At first sight they remained a mystery to her, just a white box, and in the excitement of the day, she forgot that she even may have cared. The week that followed Christmas , after the children had made their way through most of the holiday goodies and gifts, I observed the child wandering around aimlessly as children typically do, a week after receiving the “mother lode.” Every child under the age of thirteen is a type of self – gratification coma. Like “there is so many things to choose from I don’t even know what to do.” So I helped guide her, “how about we open that box of water colors, do you want to paint together.” She missed everything except the word together. We took out all her special painting things, I ripped a page out of her book so that she could have the book itself to paint on. We got a little jar of clean water, and paper towels and set ourselves up at the kitchen table, she chose free style, I chose a picture in the instruction book I bought for her that looked like a doorway from Italy. It’s funny how you don’t realize at the time but the choices you make are more than likely moving you towards what you want, like purchasing the paints in the first place. was I secretly hoping she wouldn’t utilize them and I could confiscate like I do her stocking candy. That’s what I was thinking as I entered the painting zone. Happily I painted away long after she tired of it, I painted on, using the book as my guide, using the techniques, the different shaped brushes, it was as if this whole new world opened up before me.
I didn’t know water colors could be so vibrant. I didn’t know they could create such drastic effects, like shading, and shadows, and layers, producing such a authentic image. The painting was like a trial run. The finished painting was fair, the children were impressed. I remember being more impressed with the abilities of the paints then the actual painting.
The next day, “do you want to paint ?”
I couldn’t decide was I fostering quality time together, was I trying to cultivate a new skill in her, or in me! I wanted a little more practice, I wanted to try my hand out again, now that I knew what these little cakes and brushes were capable of. I felt like I was getting on my bicycle the day after learning to ride a two wheeler. This time I looked at one of the paintings the instruction book displayed without following the written directions. much to my surprise, again I quite enjoyed the process. This painting came out significantly better than the first, but I also gave a hair more effort. I was proud of the result. I quite liked the feel of the brush in my hand. I distinctly remember how good I felt as I made fine dark smooth lines on the page into branches, and birch trees. There was a little pond in the painting and a row boat sat still tied to a tree, the reflection adding character and poise to the picture. I used a very fine brush to make detailed blades of grass across a sandy path and tiny purple flowers. I already knew of a new brush I wanted to purchase. I would not go back to the instruction book again. I was ready for something new. I admired that painting for several days; I tried to find another picture in that booklet to copy. I sat down several times to draw, sketch and try to inspire myself, but I couldn’t. Several times through the next two weeks I played with the idea of purchasing my own water color cakes, as these were for Hannah, besides I wanted a larger variety of colors, and some different shaped brushes. I decided I would go and buy my own. I enjoyed the water colors, more than I had expected. They were incredibly versatile. I could create a cloudy pastel backdrop like a blue sky which fades into white towards the horizon, just by added more water or a little white and using my brush like a sponge. I could paint a grassy hill spreading it across the page with shadows from trees, and tiny white flowers, with some dark green grass and lighter green as I headed closer to the direction the sun would be shining. The more water you use the more muted the color, but how easily and generously it stretched across the pages when necessary. Less water produced a rich dark deep color and tiny details with a slender brush. If I applied more pressure I got a broad stroke, less pressure applied a more dainty and fragile effect. Using white softened and lightened my colorful world, while using the tiniest drop of black mixed with a color can darken and produce shadows. I finally purchased my own “Christmas gift.” I saved so much money between coupons and gift certificates and discounts that the manager was rolling her eyes and giving me a little attitude, but … I also spent a lot, 91.00 dollars in paints and brushes and investing in my own paper was a good start.
My first freehand painting was a picture of a hummingbird I copied from a tropical lands book. I was very proud, it came out better than the first two. What impressed me the most about this little bird, was the skill I used (without knowing) in creating the detailed little feathers on it’s belly. It looked so real! I showed my therapist she liked it, I liked it, everyone liked it, especially my children (they are truly my biggest fans) each painting is taking a little longer, a little more effort, a little more care, and how surprised I am that I can do this, and am doing it!

I really love this. The details, the life likeness as I add more layers and more colors, and shadow and light, line and stroke. The feel of the brush gently and slowly dancing across the course paper with grace and purpose, as if my hand has a breathe of its own. The short quick jabs creating leaves on a tree, or hairs or grass in a close field, The intentional sweep and re-dipping to bring a red roof to existence on a white house. I feel free, like everything else disappears, every stress, every thought, every fear, and I enter my little world, where the only thing I have to think about is this pair of overalls that I have to get just the right color of blue. And I can concentrate and focus without thinking.
I’ve set up a little work station consisting of an old kitchen table pushed into the corner of a small room off the living room. I keep all our supplies there; brushes, paint tubes, color cakes, an easel, our little tubs filled with dirty water, and brushes resting inside reminding me of bunch of men relaxing in a hot tub. Our paper and our palettes decorate the table with their mixtures of thick color and dollops of unused paint. The child paints with me. I draw sketches with pencil and she fills them in. Surprisingly I am in there often; I listen to the conversation in the living room, or turn on a little music. I find myself laughing at the jokes made on the TV when the children are watching. I can see everything that’s going on, and I am close, yet in a quiet and still place where no one is pushing past and asking me to move my stuff or clean up the table. It’s my own little world; I just recently discovered and entered without hesitation and without resistance. I accepted, I allowed the juices to ooze ought of me onto the pages like the tubes of color I squeeze onto my waiting palette.

I think the focus that I am able to conjure up is a great satisfaction for me. Without thinking I settle in and looking at one particular feature to fill; one single empty tree, or bucket void of color, I go to work. I hone in on every detail, each color, each shadow and line and dot of light that sprinkles the edge or brightens the top. I slowly and meticulously bring it into being.

I have always enjoyed drawing, in high school I spent hours upon hours, in class, in front of the tv perfecting the human eyes, the nose, the facial features. In college I signed up for several art courses, having to drop a few due to necessary partying. I worked mostly with pencil, occasionally with colored pencil. I liked the control I had with the pencil, I never considered paint! Or maybe I was never brave enough. My sister is an artist, my aunt, and my great uncle, was a professional artist. SO I guess it runs in the family. My son though he doesn’t invest too much time has an incredible eye at seeing and reproducing images on paper. I have taken many photography courses; I enjoy beautiful pictures, color, and life. I’m lucky my husband is the bread winner in the family, maybe I can live my whole life painting and writing and hiding in my little world that I create and rejoice over. Perhaps I can pursue breathing life into my work…somehow bringing forth tiny replications of my thoughts, pieces of my heart, and parts of my humble existence and the greatest expressions of myself.
But what do I do with all these pieces of my imagination? I fear too. Sometimes I fear that no one cares, that they’re not as good as I think they are evidenced in the ashen responses of friends when I text them a picture of the painting, or drag them into my space. But how thankful I am that I can do it, paint it, know it, feel it and create these wonderful little treasures. I have somehow discovered this unique ability and in some strange way these fruits that were here within me are shining forth in this moment. Will it change? It could, it often does with me. I’m like the paintings, sometimes light and sometimes dark. I have been dry and barren for so long, like a single tree standing without water, without sun, immersed in ice and snow without bud or blossom. Those who pass by sneer and shutter at the shade I would offer if it were warm. It truly has been a long harsh winter for this old soul, yet once again I begin to feel the color creep up and in and I am alive! The blues and greens and oranges and reds that I see appear on my paper are but an offspring of my heart. It’s like there was no hope, no purpose, just darkness, and then there was hope. That’s what it feels like to paint and bring forth something of great value. It feels like hope. It feels like the light dawning on a black night. It dry bones living. It’s not about the painting at all, the painting maybe just an outlet, a channel through which this vital organ passes and is born. Looking at my pictures I see light and I see truth past all the colors and the details. I see God’s creation and his hand. It’s like I am truly his, because I am doing what he did, in his likeness I am producing beauty. I was void of color and now am filled with color.
So my next painting the “lighthouse”, I pulled it together relatively fast, but it took me longer than either of the first two. Both the first two painting (which now look primitive compared to this) I finished in one sitting. The lighthouse was something I left and returned to several times, adding a little each visit. Emptying and filling the plastic tubs with clean water numerous times. Tilting my head after adding, or holding my breathe, pressing my lips when the concentration was great. Squinting my eyes, staring intensely at the picture in the book. This was the first painting I used the tubes of water color, instead of the cakes, and it was radiant. The color so bright and loaded with character. A little white house with a red roof, sitting valiantly atop a green grassy hill on the edge of a rocky shore, the blue ocean beneath crashing white waves against a blue rock. I was overwhelmed with pleasure. This is the one my little child took to school today to show off to her teacher and classmates, of her own accord. And the maple tree forest which I presently am working on, almost finished, it’s taking significantly longer, and the detail are more advanced, and I just cannot stop looking at it. I’ve sent it off to mom, and friends, and pulled in uncles to see it, and cousins, and oh how much it delights me to know this is my little fruit. I wish you could see it. The trees some near and some far, the trees near are large with lots of detail and the blue sky poking through the edge of the forest. The snow which covers the roots of the trees and the feet of the men bent over collecting syrup, in their blue overalls, and bright orange sweaters. The buckets poised so faithfully ready to gather each drop of golden nectar. The long blue shadows which carpet the white floor of the forest. The sun unseen but touching everything and changing all by its own unspoken will. The bare thin trees in the background. I can almost see the men at work, and later on as they boil the syrup down over large outdoor fire pits, it’s a slice of Vermont, a moment of time captured by my once still and dormant paint brush. Which state shall I do next?
I keep thinking of God and me; except in my thoughts – God is the artist and I the picture he brings to life on the canvas of this earth. The painter looks carefully, using gentle purposeful strokes to shape and blend and change and define his ideas. His work, me. His attention to detail, like the nights the tears run silently down my cheeks as I lay in bed, did he paint those, does he know they are there. There is nothing on my canvas that I don’t know about. the time that he spends with me. His effort and pure delight over every addition, every color, every moment. How he steps back and observes with wonder and a smile admiring his work. I wonder Does he peek in on me, watch me while I sleep. Does it take a long time, layers upon layers before something of worth appears? At first our life is plain like that empty and colorless sketch, but as he continues to draw near and stroke, and paint we come to vivid life. he breathes hope into our barren empty souls. He returns again and again. He invests, he experiences, he knows each one of his painting each one of his pieces so intimately, what they need, what he’s going to insert next, what isn’t working. Day after day until we begin to see loveliness emerge and believe, he knows what he’s doing. Does he take pictures of me, the way I take pictures of my painting and send them around? Reminding others of me, to pray, to call, to send a note? Is he proud of his work, does he see himself in me, an expression of who he is, does he want to show the world so they to can know him a little better. Is he pleased because of his work on me rather than my work, after all the art doesn’t paint itself or choose what it wants, in fact it doesn’t DO anything, it just is. It is in essence what the master artist wants it to be. It makes me realize how important God’s existence is to mine, his life in me, his touch and gaze fixed on me, His master piece.

“So your God will rejoice over you… Isaiah 62:4-5

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