Tag Archives: art

This Artist’s Life, #7: Capture the Moment

Sycamores on the Ohio, en Plein Air, Oil on Canvas Panel, 11×14, by Susan E. Brooks.

Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.  — Claude Monet

The sky was so blue, the sun was dancing on the water and dappling the sycamore trunks with light and shadow, and I was so lucky to be out there, just soaking it all in, loving the moment, trying to capture it in paint.

The idea of plein air painting, a French term meaning to paint outside, is to capture the moment, the fleeting light and shadow, and to express in paint the feeling or mood of a outdoor scene as experienced by the artist at the time.

Some days it doesn’t go so well for me, and I stress about the painting, or about other things in life, and I’m not able to inhabit the moment.  At the restaurant where we were painting last week, they were blaring loud, throbbing rap music, which is not what I would choose for a peaceful painting atmosphere, and it bothered me at first.  But after a few minutes, I was able to just enjoy the beauty of the day, the river,  the trees, and the sunlight, loving the colors and the process of painting out of doors, and the blaring music faded out of my consciousness.

What I am learning from plein air painting might be relevant for other areas of my life as well.  I  need to forget about the distractions that could annoy me and  just look for the beauty in each moment, focus on the gift that is this day, this task, this few minutes with a loved one or friend, enjoy the time, and love.

(My plein air work will be available at Jane Morgan Gallery, 4838 Brownsboro Road – Arcade, Louisville, KY 40207.  Exhibition dates are Dec. 4, 2019 – April 30, 2020.)

Monet quote is from https://www.azquotes.com/author/10263-Claude_Monet

 

Mozambican Odyssey, #11: The Witch Doctor’s Drums

Coming into the Light, Oil pastel on paper, 24 x 18 inches by Susan E. Brooks. Available at KORE Art Gallery, Louisville, KY

The Witch Doctor’s Drums

It may not have been the very first night.  I suspect the first night in Maputo we were so exhausted that we didn’t hear a thing after traveling from Chicago to London to Johannesburg, South Africa, to Maputo, Mozambique, with 3 children, 14 tubs, 6 carryons, and countless goodbyes.

But I remember the first night that we heard the drums.  We were told that these were the drums of the witchdoctor.  As I sat on the porch, and listened to the sound in the distance, it felt as though we had traveled back in time or even to another world–which, in a sense, we had done.

I wondered what the drums meant.  What exactly did a witchdoctor do in Maputo, Mozambique in 1996?  Were the drums sending a message?  Was it about us?  Were they beating out,

“Let’s meet to go slaughter the new missionaries at 2am”?

I had no idea, but at the time I was not afraid.  It felt like a mysterious adventure, and I felt that God was with us.

Looking back sometimes I wonder at myself.  I am not a brave person.  I am a shy person afraid of many things. I can only explain going to Mozambique as God’s giving me peace and strength for what I was supposed to do at the time.  I know we made many mistakes, but I would not trade the experience for anything.

Maybe I need to take a lesson from my old self.  If I could survive moving to Mozambique and living there for 3 years, which was both wonderful and extremely difficult, maybe I can face today’s challenges.  I just need to trust.  Maybe you can too.

This Artist’s Life, #6: Is “Normality” the Goal?

Memories of Bernheim, oil pastel, 18 x 24, by Susan E. Brooks, available at KORE Gallery

“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

Most of the time, if not all of the time, an artist needs to follow her own way.  Of course, we all have a lot to learn, and it’s good to be humble and always listening, but when it comes to art, every human being is creative in his or her unique way.

It is fascinating for me to walk into KORE Gallery, where I am a member artist along with dozens of others, and see how many different styles and perspectives one can have on landscape painting, for example.  There must be something special in man, that every artist can develop his own style, and there seems to be no limit to artistic interpretations and creativity.

Did you ever think about how we can recognize the differences between a Van Gogh, a Monet, a Picasso, ad infinitum?

As an artist, my goal is not just to create a beautiful painting, but to develop my own unique style and to paint something that no one else in the world would ever paint.

There is a clarity, or maybe it’s a desperation, that comes with age.  In the time I have left I want to avoid “normality,” find my own path, and maybe a few creative “flowers” will grow along the way.

 

This Artist’s Life, #5: Purple Trees and Blue Ladies

“Strength in Blue” sold at KORE Gallery back in the spring. Oil Pastel, 20×24 inches by Susan E. Brooks

“Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.” ~ Claude Monet

Someone was looking at my painting the other day and asked,

“Why is the tree purple?”

“I feel like most trees should be purple,” I replied, and I don’t really know why this is true.

Experimenting with color is part of the mystery and the magic of creating art for me.   I realize that most trees are gray or brown, but in those grays and browns, I see shades of violet, and blue, and pink, or at least the light seems to suggest those colors to my mind.

I love color, and most of the artists I admire used color in creative ways.  Monet used all kinds of unexpected colors: he painted orange haystacks, blue and orange cathedrals, and if you look at his series of Poplars, even purple trees.  Mary Cassatt used blues and greens and violets in her flesh tones with beautiful effects.  Picasso had his blue period–maybe this is my purple period.

It is fascinating to me to see the unique styles of various artists.  I hope you can come out to the Portland Art and Heritage Fair this Saturday to see the many different interpretations of the the theme, “Life on the River.”  Mine will be the oil pastel painting of the river with the purple trees.

This Artist’s Life, #4: The Extravagance of Creation

A View of the Ohio at the 14th St. Bridge, 18×24,
oil pastel on paper, by Susan E. Brooks

“Looking at God’s creation, it is pretty clear that the creator itself did not know where to stop.  There is not one pink flower, or even fifty pink flowers, but hundreds.  Snowflakes, of course, are the ultimate exercise in sheer creative glee.  No two alike.  This creator looks suspiciously like someone who just might send us support for our creative adventures.”

–from The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

I love that quote by Julia Cameron, and I hope my landscapes celebrate the extravagance of the Creator.

This week I am delivering an oil pastel landscape painting of the Ohio River to be shown at the Portland Art & Heritage Fair.  Click here for info about the Portland Art and Heritage Fair.  I am honored to be a part of this exhibition about the Ohio River at the Portland Museum on September 28.  I hope you can come out for a fun day of activities for the family and see the exhibition.

 

Mozambican Odyssey, #8: Celebrate the Toads

 

Joseph was baptized while we were in Mozambique. Baptism in Mozambique, 24×18, Oil pastel, by Susan E. Brooks

“And I have caught a pregnant bluehead lizard that has already had one egg.  Soon it will have more eggs.”

–Joseph Brooks, October 21, 1996

Joseph always took care of his little sister.

When we first went to Mozambique, our son Joseph was 6.  As I sort through old emails, I came across a letter that he dictated to Martin to be typed into an email to send to his friends back home. It reads like this:

“Everywhere you walk, there is sand.  Most of the time it does not rain even though there are dark clouds.  We have tall thorns around the whole compound as a fence.

“It’s more exciting here because every day you have friends to play with, and you don’t have to go far to find any.  Most of the time we play marbles or play with a hacky sack or we play soccer which is really called football here.

“And I have caught a pregnant bluehead lizard that has already had one egg.  Soon it will have more eggs.

“And also, there was this hole in the flower bed, and I accidentally shot a marble, and it went down the hole.  As I was trying to dig it up to get it, a head popped out of the hole.  I thought it was a snake at first, but then my gardener told me that it was a frog.  So I ran and got a jar and caught it while my gardener watched it.  And I still have the toad and the lizard.  The frog is as tall as my finger and as wide as my fist.”

Joseph always was, and still is, a happy person.  Maybe it’s because he focused on the toads.  Too many times in life we are expecting a snake, and God gives us a toad instead, and it’s wonderful, but I tend to just say, “Whew! That was close.”   I forget about it, and go on looking for the next snake.  Instead, like Joseph, I should run and get a jar, and celebrate the toads!  How many times has God given me a toad when I was expecting a snake, but I just move on, forgetting all of the good times God has given, and all of the times I have been rescued, and I go on looking for the next snake to bite me, instead of being happy about the all of the toads.

This Artist’s Life, #2: Why Is Art Important?

A View of the Ohio at the 14th St. Bridge, 18×24, oil pastel on paper, by Susan E. Brooks

I often hear, “Write what you would want to read.”  As I think about what I want to read as an artist, and maybe what most artists need, it is encouragement to keep going.  Did anyone’s parents ever say to them, “You should be an artist when you grow up”?  Maybe a few did, but mostly they say be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc.

Being an artist is not for everyone–it is constant work and frequent rejection. When I was teaching, one of my colleagues said he had dropped out of being an art major to study law because art was too much work.

“For art, ” he said, “you actually had to make stuff!”

But another thing I keep hearing from artists is “You always come back,” or some variation of my own story, which is for years I neglected doing my artwork because everything else seemed more important, but eventually I came back to making art.

So why is art important?  According to Friedrich Neitzche,

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”

I can relate to that.  Not that my art is great, but that I create out of gratitude.  I see such beauty in nature, in people, or in colors and textures, and I’m so thankful to always have beauty.  Even and especially in the midst of pain and a constant flow of devastating news, that beauty is freely given, if I can just pay attention long enough to notice.

When we make art, we know we are more than just machines: we can feel again, we can react to what we see in front of us or in our imaginations in ways that are intuitive, emotional, and unexplainable.   We do not know what is going to happen on the canvas or on the page.  We are led by something or someone beyond ourselves.  There is mystery and magic once again when we create art.

 

This Artist’s Life, #1: The Gate into the Unknown

 

“The Gate into the Unknown” Oil on canvas panel, 11×14, Plein Air Painting, Anchorage, KY by Susan E. Brooks

When people ask what I am doing, I tell them I quit my teaching job to pursue my art, and they don’t seem to understand my answer.  I get it.  Rarely does one meet a fine artist, as opposed to a commercial artist, who is making a living with her art.  People assume that I have “retired” from teaching to kick back and enjoy the grandkids and dabble in art as a hobby.  The fact is that I do enjoy a little more time for the grandkids, but I have no retirement package, and I’m too young for social security.  I have made a leap into the unknown, and it is yet to be seen whether I can replace my teaching income with income from my art and writing.

So how do I spend my time?  So many different art and writing deadlines are looming that I’ve had to make a spread sheet which I update each week.  The columns are for things that need to be done “this week, this month,” and in the “near future.”  It also has a place for a shopping list.  Here’s a link to the weekly planner I made for those who might like to use it: my one page weekly planner

To keep up with the demands of the two galleries that represent me, KORE Gallery and the Jane Morgan plein air gallery, I need to do at least 2 large oil pastels per month, and go out every Thursday to paint “en plein air,” which means painting outdoors.  In addition to creating work to sell at these galleries, I have juried invitational shows and art fairs for which to create work and a solo show coming up next year.

On the writing front, I am working on a book of stories about our time in Mozambique.  From emails and journals that I wrote while in Mozambique, I publish a devotional blog story every Wednesday, which is a short excerpt from the book. Here’s a link to the first of those posts if you are interested.  Mozambican Odyssey, #1.  I am also sending off articles and stories to publishers each month.

What makes me think I can do all of this and maybe make a little money at it?  I ask myself that all too often, but when I need encouragement, I remember the words of a beloved college professor of mine.  Many years ago, when I studied art in college, the professor in charge of the art department called me into his office one day.  He asked what I wanted to do with my life.  When I told him I wanted to be a fine artist, he said this:  “I tell most of my students that they should go into commercial art because so few can make it as fine artists, but you could make it as a fine artist.  You can do whatever you set your mind to do.”  That dear man died of cancer a couple of years after giving me that encouragement, but I’ve never forgotten it.  It has taken me about thirty years to get around to trying it full-time, but I think that professor is watching from heaven, cheering me on.

 

 

 

Mozambican Odyssey #6: They All Said Yes

A Light Has Dawned, 17×20, pastel on paper, by Susan E. Brooks

I asked if any of the children wanted to accept Jesus and be baptized, and they all started shaking their heads “Yes”!

“Wait a minute,” I thought, “let me make sure they are saying what I think they are saying.”

You see, I was still learning Portuguese, and Portuguese is also a second language for these children.  They speak Changaan at home, but school is taught in Portuguese because Mozambique had been colonized by the Portuguese.  I had these illustrated Bible story posters with the story written in Portuguese on the back of the big, colorful illustration.  I would practice reading the stories in Portuguese, and the other missionaries told me my pronunciation was good, so they asked me to teach the children on Wednesday nights.  The truth is, I could read the words and pronounce them well,  but at times I didn’t comprehend what my own mouth was saying as I read the story to the children.

Sometimes having good pronunciation can get you into trouble because people think you have better language skills than you actually do.  The other night for example, two babies came to class with their older siblings, who looked to me to be about 6, and just as the class was starting, a baby toddled out into the dark night.  I tried to ask the children to go get her, but in my panic, my high school French popped into my mind instead of Portuguese, and the children all just looked at me blankly!  It’s as if my brain has a foreign language switch, and when I’m panicked, trying to think of a word in the new language I’m learning, instead, my brain supplies the word from a language I haven’t studied for years, sometimes a word that I wouldn’t be able to think of if I were trying!  I’m curious as to whether this happens to other people, or is my brain broken?

After I realized that I had used French instead of Portuguese, I corrected myself, and the big brother went to retrieve the baby.  After the story ended, I asked if any of the children wanted to accept Jesus and be baptized.

They all started nodding their heads and saying, “Yes!”  I was super excited, but not quite sure they understood.  It would have been great to just baptize them all and report the wonderful results to our supporters; but instead, I questioned them further, finding out that many of them had already been baptized, and things were not exactly as they seemed on the surface.

Most of the time these days, I’m not trying to communicate in a second language, but do I still make the same kind of mistakes?  I make a judgement, based on someone’s brief response, not really taking the time to ask questions and make sure they understood what I meant, and maybe I plow forward based on mistaken assumptions, not taking the time to get to know people or listen to them because I have an agenda for them.

Jesus, on the other hand, took the time to walk, talk, and eat with people.  He didn’t push an agenda, but he asked what they wanted, sometimes even when the answer seemed obvious.  He spent time daily with his disciples, teaching them by example and with stories and conversations.  I need to be reminded to slow down and listen to people.  It’s not all about my agenda for them.  Maybe they don’t need what I think they need, and I won’t know unless I let go of my agenda for them and listen.

Facing the Jury

This oil pastel portrait, along with 2 more of my oil pastels will be on display at the KORE Gallery for the month of March.

Don’t worry.  I haven’t committed a crime or anything like that, but sometimes, artists have to submit their artwork to to be judged by a group of jurors, and either we are judged to be at a level of accomplishment that warrants a title “juried member” or gets us into a show, or we remain in a not-yet-juried position, when it comes to joining certain groups of artists.

I am still learning about all of this, so I thought some of you might find it interesting as well.  Artists face a lot of rejection as we enter juried shows and try for various opportunities that come our way.  I’m learning to accept rejection as part of the artist’s life; but I am relieved and excited to share that I made it through the jury process of the Louisville Artisans Guild, and therefore was invited to show my work at the KORE Gallery in downtown Louisville, along with  the other new juried members of the guild, during the month of March, with the opening reception happening this Saturday, from 6-8:30pm.  Hope you can come join us!