Tag Archives: Louisville Artist

Mozambican Odyssey, #15: Sometimes We Cry

Window to the Soul, Oil Pastel on Pastel Paper, 14 x 11, by Susan E Brooks

Sometimes We Cry

The adjustment from one culture to another is called culture shock.  I had no idea what that was like, having never even been out of the country before the move to Mozambique, except on an anniversary cruise to the Bahamas.  Trust me.  Moving to Mozambique is no trip to the Bahamas.

The thoughts and feelings below are from my journal in August of 1996, just after moving to Mozambique, Africa:

I was excited to move into our house yesterday, but it has a few problems.  The toilet leaks sewage across the floor and into the shower stall.  I’m exhausted, and between a stressful team meeting last night and the toilet issues, I found myself in tears again last night.

(from 8/29/96, 3 days later)

What a week!  I tried to use the electric skillet, but it blew out the transformer.  All of our appliances from the states have to be plugged into a transformer to work on the 220 electricity.  Sometimes the transformers overheat, and it ruins both the transformer and the appliance.

We are supposed to have 220 electricity, but it fluctuates.  It’s really strange.  The lights suddenly become dim and flash on and off like a scene from a horror film.  This is also hard on appliances.  Our new refrigerator shut down after one of these episodes, so we called the electrician.  He pronounced our 5 day old refrigerator dead.  Desperate, we prayed, and tried one last time to get it going, and miraculously, it started running!

I needed that miracle.  Earlier today I was crying, again.  At that point we were nearly out of food, out of currency, no refrigerator, no vehicle, no way to manage.  What were we thinking, moving here sight-unseen with three kids and no overseas experience, at least none for me?  The tears flowed.

Somehow, by grace, by the end of the day we had a little money, and one of the local women agreed to walk to the market for me.  (She wouldn’t get swindled at the market like I would have.)  She came back with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and we had a meatless spaghetti meal for supper.  We invited a veteran missionary couple to eat with us and were comforted by their company and their sage advice.

Now in 2019, back in Kentucky, I still cry, but not about electricity or money or food.  I would not trade our time in Mozambique for anything, but neither do I want to relive it.  A quote from Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities describes it better than any words I can invent. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” but God got us through.

Last week, I cried over the fact that my little grandson was diagnosed with diabetes.  I hate it because, barring a miracle or the discovery of a cure, he will face that disease for the rest of his life.  But I know that God is faithful and gives us the strength to handle whatever comes along, even though, sometimes we cry.

This Artist’s Life, #11: Inspiration from Fellow Artists

This is one of the few animal paintings I’ve created. I’m now inspired to try more animals. We saw this young boy relaxing with his donkey as we traveled through Burkina Faso. 30 x 20 inches, Oil pastel on mat board, by Susan E. Brooks

Open Studio Weekend is an event sponsored by LVA, Louisville Visual Art, and by the University of Louisville Hite Art Institute in Louisville, Kentucky.  During this special weekend, scores of artists around town open their studios to the public, and LVA sells tickets with maps and information about all of the studios.  I did not sign up as an artist this year; instead, I enjoyed visiting the studios of fellow artists. It was an inspiring weekend for me.

The first artist we visited was Helen Merrick.  Helen uses bright colors to paint just about any subject you can imagine.  Helen inspired me to think about painting subjects that I don’t usually paint, such as animals or historic sites, and to try different mediums, such a watercolors or alcohol inks.  Thank you, Helen!

The next artist we visited was Anne MacCracken Borders.  She showed me that  I could open up my back porch studio area to visitors, and reminded me that I have traveled to many interesting places around the world that I could paint.  I will be digging into my travel photos soon!  Thank you, Anne.

On Sunday I stopped at KORE Gallery to hang out, both as an artist and as a visitor to my gallery owner’s studio.  I had never taken in Don Cartwright’s studio, which is filled with beautiful abstract paintings.  Abstract painting has not been my purview, but sometimes I feel that it takes more creativity than working from life or photos.  Thanks, Don, for sharing your creative imagination with us through your painting.

Our last stop on the Open Studio tour was at Debra Lott’s studio.  I love her colorful, haunting, floating figure paintings and portraits! She inspired me to think about how I can communicate powerful messages and advocate for justice with my art.  Thank you, Debra.

Thank you, LVA and  U of L Hite Art Institute for a great weekend of art!  Perhaps I will invite you all to my place next year.  Meanwhile, here’s my next big event:

This Artist’s Life, #10: Only One You

We are each one of a kind. Stachelle, 12×16 inches, oil pastel on mat board, by Susan E. Brooks

There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.

—Martha Graham

I love this quote, and it fits as I try to encourage myself to keep going.  We are created with unique creative minds and souls that are constantly coming up with ideas that no one else in the world is having in exactly the same manner, and if we don’t free ourselves to express and create, that unique expression will be lost.

We can get blocked, however, so what can we do when that happens?

I am writing these helpful hints to remind myself, and I hope you can benefit from them as well.  From the wonderful series of books beginning with The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, these are some things we can do when the creative juices don’t seem to be flowing.

  1. Free write for at least three pages daily, in the morning if possible.
  2. Get out for at least an hour a week, and go somewhere different just for fun, such as a fabric store, museum, pet store, art gallery–somewhere that feeds your imagination and makes you smile.
  3. Go for a walk weekly, if not daily.  Walking gives a fresh perspective and helps you process your thoughts.

There you go.  Three easy steps to jumpstart your creativity and mine.  Thank you, Julia Cameron.

This coming weekend our city offers Open Studio Weekend, and for one small price you can visit lots of art studios in town.  One stop on the map is KORE Gallery, where you can see my work and the work of many other talented artists.  I plan to spend part of my time there, and also tour other artists’ studios.  This is a great opportunity to experience new ideas and get inspired for your own work.  Hope to see you around the studios this weekend.

This Artist’s Life, #9: “Art Is for Life”

 

I keep adding layers, scraping and sealing, painting and adding layers of pastel again to see what I can come up with on this experimental landscape.

“Art is for life, not the other way around.”  –Austin Kleon*

How does an artist keep going when life gets busy and hard, and everything seems to be pulling at us from every direction?  How does one find time to stay fresh and experiment when so many opportunities and obligations are filling the calendar?

Using oil pastel on a surface of textured acrylic paint is giving the foliage a unique visual effect.

With new shows opening every month at KORE Gallery, fall art fairs, and an opening in December at the Plein Air Gallery, nine grandchildren that need “Ony,” church work, and holiday activities, time management is a big challenge for me.  I know it is for all of us at this time of the year.

I have decided that at least for now, it is okay to not to apply for every art opportunity, and allow myself to focus on the art commitments I already have, and maybe even experiment a little, so that I can keep growing as an artist.  If I am so exhausted from going nonstop, my creative juices are drained, and the work suffers.

There are different seasons in life for all of us, and decisions have to be made daily that can make life richer in the things that matter, or make life more stressful than necessary for the sake of things that are not as important.

Art is important, but so are family, church, rest, health, and so many other things.  For too many years I put art on the back burner, and I’m not going to do that again–but I need to find a balance.  Sometimes, I can be overly dramatic:

“There will never be enough time or money to create the masterpieces that I have in mind.  One thing after another will keep falling apart until I am dead, and I will never accomplish my dreams, so I might as well quit all together!”

“Oh, get over yourself!” I have to say to myself at times.  “You can work for a few minutes today, and then again tomorrow, and maybe a few hours later in the week, and over time, you will have a body of work, and you will grow as an artist.  You do not have to do every art fair and every show this year.  ‘Art is for life, not the other way around.'”*

I know it’s a little scary that I not only talk to myself, but I also answer myself.  Weirdness aside though, I hope you can avoid running yourself ragged too.  Don’t take yourself too seriously, and slow down enough to enjoy the coming holidays.  I intend to do just that.

*from the book Keep Going by Austin Kleon, p. 127.

Mozambican Odyssey, #13: Sharing One Cup

Tanzanian Queen, 24×18, Oil pastel on pastel paper, by Susan E. Brooks

Sharing One Cup 

One of our early church experiences in Maputo, Mozambique was a stretching one for me.  Having grown up in the protestant churches, we always had lots of individual little cups for the communion service, and those were filled with grape juice and passed around for church members to take, along with the wafers or crackers that represented the body of Christ.

We had not been in Mozambique long when one Sunday we traveled out to the village, out from town a bit, to attend church with other missionaries and locals.  We were honored as special guests and seated on the front rows, which did not thrill introverted me at all, but we did as we were instructed to do.

There was energetic singing, dancing, and preaching which I enjoyed, but when it came time for communion, I started to squirm.  They were passing around one cup of wine, and everyone was watching us on the front row, so we had to take our turn, drinking after a bunch of strangers.

My mind spun with all of the different diseases in Africa that we had never been exposed to before, and one of my greatest fears about going had been one or more of us dying of some exotic illness.  All kinds of tragic scenarios ran through my mind as I sipped, fearing that we would catch something horrible.  I could imagine the headlines:

“Missionary family dies from ebola after drinking communion wine.”

I don’t even know how one gets ebola or if they have ever had it in Mozambique, but you get the idea.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal now, especially since we didn’t get sick, but back then, it was frightening for me.  I sipped and prayed that we would not become ill, and we didn’t.

God protected us so many times, and he still does.  How often are we exposed to deadly germs?  How many near wrecks do we have?  How many times do we nearly fall, but we are caught just in time as children, or even adults?  How many illnesses do we recover from if we do become ill?

We take countless mercies for granted every day.  God has rescued us from so many terrible fates that might have befallen us.  When I am discouraged, I need to look back at all of the fears that God has delivered us from, and then I can hope and expect that He will do it again.

This Artist’s Life, #8: My First Plein Air Paint Out

Morning Sunlight on Beargrass Creek, 12×12, Oil on Canvas, By Susan E. Brooks

Creativity takes courage.”      —Henri Matisse

I was so nervous about my first plein air paint out.  I wasn’t going to do it, and when I mentioned it to one of my artist friends, she said,

“I never do competitions!  I tried once and I froze up.  It was awful and I’ll never do it again!”

That kind of spooked me.  A plein air paint out means a bunch of artists go outside and paint something in the landscape, and then the work is publicly displayed, judged, and prizes are given.  This paint out was part of a celebration at the Regeneration Fair for the opening of the new Botanical Gardens at the corner of Frankfort and River Road, here in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

I have been going out weekly since last June, to paint with the Plein Air Painters of Kentucky.  I enjoy that, but it is understood among us that some  days it turns out well, and some days it doesn’t.  A paint out is something different.  What if I froze up or just had a bad day?

Not for me, I decided. But then as I ran into friends in the local arts community, I was urged to participate.  After some consideration, I said to myself,

“This is not about you.  It’s about celebrating the new botanical gardens and raising money for the Children’s Free Art Classes offered by the Louisville Visual Art Association.”

Some of my students have benefitted from those classes in the past, and I even taught one of those classes a long time ago.  Kids who would not normally be able to afford special art classes can take them through this program.

The night before the paint out, I was exhausted from the week and whining about the fact that it was going to be only 40 degrees or so for the 8am paint out arrival time in the morning.

“Why did I sign up for this?” I groaned.

As is often the case after I get so worked up about something, the event was anticlimactic and fun.  I did have to jog a little bit and jump up and down to keep myself warm as I painted.  But as the sun rose over Beargrass Creek, it lit up the trees from behind into a yellow-green glow.  I loved it!  I was able to enjoy myself and to paint something that I liked, so I didn’t mind much whether the judges would like it or not.  I didn’t freeze up, although I almost did just from the cold!

When I put my painting down among all of the others, I was happy.  There were so many beautiful paintings spread out, and I was just happy that mine didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.  I survived–not only survived– enjoyed my first plein air paint out.

Congratulations to my fellow member artist at KORE Gallery, Anil Vinayakan, for winning first place!  You can see more of his work and mine at KORE Gallery at 942 East Kentucky St. in Louisville, Kentucky.  My plein air work will be on display at the Jane Morgan Gallery at 4838 Brownsboro Center, with the next show opening December 4.

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.