That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.
—Psalms 1:3 (NIV)
Which season is this? After moving from Kentucky to Mozambique, Africa, it was sometimes difficult to tell. In Mozambique in December, my Christmas candles bent completely over like the Golden Arches in the extreme heat. When it wasn’t raining, the sun beamed into our bedroom at 4:00 a.m., and we woke up soaked in sweat.
Then in June through August, sand storms blew so hard we had to shield our eyes just to walk outside. Though the temperature rarely fell much below fifty degrees, the homes had no heat, so we felt the cold, especially after the sweltering rainy season. Our sense of seasons was off balance, but God knew exactly what season it was, not only for Mozambique, but for our lives.
Seasons of change and unrest come and go, such as the season of the pandemic or the season of civil rights movements. How can we stay rooted and productive when we may not even understand what season it is?
Psalm 1 says we need to be like a tree planted close to the water, which is our Source. Then we will bear fruit in season, even if we may not know what season it is. If we stay close to the life stream, fruit will come naturally at just the right time.
“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”*
—Leonardo Da Vinci
I have to admit that I do not know exactly what Leonardo meant by these words, but this quotation is thought-provoking for me. As usual, I am feeling a little sad with the approaching of winter and even the holidays. I need some encouragement. One way I can find encouragement, is to work with my hands.
I was having a conversation with an artist/teacher friend the other day, and we agreed that there is something healing about creating with your hands. I find that whether it’s painting, drawing, or making a pie for Thanksgiving, I feel better and breathe easier when I’m working with my hands.
Too often, I am just “in my head,” worrying over the grandkids’ health or the latest car trouble, and I need the healing that creative work brings. We sometimes act like we are only vehicles meant to carry our brains around while they do all of the important work. The reality is, we are body, soul, and spirit, all connected and created to act as a whole.
Perhaps this is what Leonardo meant when he said the spirit needs to work with the hands: Sometimes, when our hands are able to create what our spirits are needing to express, what results is art–something that goes beyond just one person’s expression and becomes universally true and impactful in unique ways to the viewer.
Simply working with our hands can be healing and helpful, but when the spirit shows up expressing truth through beauty, this is art.
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.
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
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.