The Impact of Art

Last Monday I got to speak at a homeschool conference about why art, in particular theatre, was important. Since one of the main things theatre has done for me was help me find myself, I wanted to share some of those thoughts here as well.

The impact that theatre has on my life goes way back, twenty years ago, when I was a withdrawn eight-year-old girl.

My older sister, Anna, was very theatrical. She was always acting. One year for a Christmas present, my parents signed both of us up for drama classes. I don’t remember much from that first class, but I do remember the recital.

Our drama instructor had put me in a scene (debating whether cats or dogs were better) and given me an Aesop fable to perform. The scene went fine, but the fable….

It was a lot of words for a shy, dyslexic girl to memorize and speak in front of a crowd of people. So many words in fact, that I wasn’t able to do it. So I performed it with script in hand, not at all disguised by the pretty paper we put on the back of it to look like a book.

Ashamed of my inability to memorize, I ran off stage crying before I had finished reading the fable. No moral for that tale.

After that day, I was certain I would never do theatre again. Obviously, I have since I now help run a theatre company. For one reason or another, I kept returning to it. Through the years of performing, I came out of my shell and found a confidence that I did not have.

Self-confidence is probably one of the most obvious ways that theatre can impact children’s lives.

But there are others. As an adult, when I think about why art is important to me it is not because of the confidence it brings, but because it is a mirror.

In Act 3 of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark says of acting “the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere a mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image and the very age and body of the time his form and presence.”

We use mirrors to see ourselves. We can’t get an accurate picture of our face without outside help. Art can be used to reflect a picture of our core being, our soul, our humanity. As I have been exposed to art in its many forms, I have found that can it challenge me, comfort me, affirm me, and give me hope.

I’ll start with a challenging example. I’ve talked about how I am working to change the subtle ways that I struggle with begin racist before. One thing that I did not immediately recognize when I first realized that I needed to repent of that sin was how dismissive I was of the extent of racism that minorities face today. It was easy to buy the line that the “mainstream media” was “exaggerating” things.

I gained a different perspective when I watched the movie “Dear White People”.

(As an aside, I have been upset by the controversy swirling around Netflix’s remake of it. Nothing about that movie was “anti-white”. Personally, I found it to be very fair and balanced. I fear those who feel like the movie was an attack, went in with the goal of being offended.)

The movie was a very eye-opening and disturbing look at how disrespected and diminished minorities are. In watching that movie, I had to wrestle with how easily I dismiss others pain “because I didn’t mean to offend them.” and realized that if I truly value a person, I am going to take their hurt seriously and do my undermost to understand that pain and seek to learn how to interact with them in ways that communicate respect and dignity.

 

Art can also provide great comfort. I’ve mentioned before how I lost a very good friend to suicide. In the first several months especially, I struggled with so many emotions that I didn’t know what to do with them, and I often pushed them aside and ignored them.

A few months in, I got to watch a one-act based off of a Greek play, “The Trojan Women”. In it, a mother is grieving the loss of her family and home. As I watched the actors go from tears to cold horror to screams of pain, I thought about my loss.

The tragedy of the play took on my tragedy. I found such comfort in seeing the tears that at the time I could not weep reflected back to me.

I found such comfort in seeing the tears that at the time I could not weep reflected back to me.

Art can also be a great affirmation of the beauty and hope that is in the world. The other weekend, I went to see the “Last Days of Judas Iscariot” performed by Northampton Community College. In the final scene, Jesus travels to hell to visit Judas whose appeal for release has been denied. Jesus goes to reassure Judas of His love for him, to offer him a way out if he would only take Jesus’ hands.

But Judas refuses. He instead accuses Jesus of abandoning him to his fate and literally spits on His face, screaming and swearing at Him to leave.

There’s a lot going on there to think about, but as I watched this struggle between the characters, I thought of my own relationship to Jesus and how I often scorn His love and help because I feel that He has abandoned me to my fate. When the character of Jesus was affirming His love for Judas, it reminded me of HIs love for me

When the character of Jesus was affirming His love for Judas, it reminded me of HIs love for me and His continual offer to free me from my doubt and bitterness that I struggle with if I would but accept His love and take His hands.

It was amazing to watch because though it looks different, I betray Jesus all the time. Yet He still loves me. He died for me. And He comes to me in my darkness to rescue me.

The reflective nature of art is why I think it is so important. It is why I wanted to keep my theatre going after my older sister stepped down. I want to invite others to have their own experience of seeing themselves more accurately because of a show, or a drawing. I want to encourage others to wrestle with the beauty and pain of life that we can often push aside.

Art often gets dismissed as unnecessary, an extra activity that can be removed if there is a lack of money or time. I strongly disagree. I know everyone is different, but in my life, art has been one of the most powerful tools to help me bloom into the person God made me, either in giving me confidence or giving me understanding.

Have you had similar experiences with art? What about it is important to you?

 

 

Uprooted

“There’s no place like home.” – Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz

I’ve never been a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz, but that statement has always run true for me. I’ve been a homebody all my life. There is something about home. Here I mean more the feeling, the sense of security and belonging, of home than a physical house.

Over the past four months, my idea of home, security, and belonging has shifted. To help process it all, I’ve been compiling a Spotify playlist which acknowledges one or more of the myriad of emotions that I’ve been struggling with. One of those is “Lost at Sea” by Jimmy Needham. There’s one line in particular that I belt out with him.

(The whole verse is so good, I’m going to quote all of it.)

Ride the wave, wave goodbye, by the way did I mention today
That I don’t know the way home
So could you take me by the hand and lead me to the dryer land
So I can finally breathe again instead of sinking like a stone
And now I will diligently and not religiously but affectionately come
Before the throne of your grace in this place and seek your face
For all eternity and then some
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“Reaching”. Carving. 2008.

 

Sometimes, the home there is earthly; sometimes it is a longing for the heavenly one. Either way, this song captures so well how lost it can feel to navigate a difficult time. The last month I haven’t been able to blog because of the upheaval of my life.

One of my more recent posts was about the process of pruning that sometimes happens in our lives. In the last month, in particular, I have felt that a more accurate description of my life right now would be being uprooted.

Or being uprooted and pruned at the same time.

(I take great pleasure and pride in my ability to be melodramatic.)

As I’ve been trying to settle into my new normal, the idea of putting down roots has been often been on my mind. I think the typical process involves becoming sure in your place, joining a community, and impacting your sphere of influence. For me, I have been realizing the need to put down roots in something more stable and lasting than any of those things.

I need to be rooted in Jesus.

The cynic in me shouts that that is not as simple as typing seven relatively short words.

It’s not. But I believe that it is the only hope I have in this world and the next.

What does it look like to be rooted in Jesus? For me, it is the cross and the empty tomb. Two years ago, when my mentor killed herself, I nearly gave up on following God, but Jesus kept putting the cross in my way.

One of my many struggles as a Christian has been the issue of God’s sovereignty in the face of evil and suffering. I like to describe my relationship to Jesus as a wrestling match because I feel like I am always fighting for the right to run my life my way.

When my friend died, I could not understand how God could abandon her to such a dark place when He said He loved her.

God never really answered that question. Instead, He pointed me to the Cross.

If anyone has been uprooted, it was Jesus. God became man, transplanted from the glories and splendor of heaven to the squalor of grief of earth. God the Son came to bring restoration to the world. The cost of restoration was His death.

On the cross, an innocent man hung in a criminal’s place. More than that, Emmanuel, God with us, died in my place, taking the punishment of my sins.

It is a horrific scene, an evil scene, an unjust scene, a scene that has Jesus calling out “My God, my God, why did you abandon Me?”

(If anyone had the right to ask God the Father that question, it was His Son.)

But the cross is also a beautiful scene, a scene of love, the place where mercy and justice kiss, a scene that allows God to pull us in His embrace.

That moment in history is one of the greatest clashes of all time. Horror and beauty. Evil and love. Justice and mercy.

And God ordained it all. He ordained it so that He could rescue me.

I wish that truth impacted me more emotionally. Maybe I’m too tired. Maybe I’m still struggling too much with believing in His goodness. But regardless of my emotions, the cross keeps me clinging to Jesus, allowing Him to take me along life’s journey (or even carry or straight up drag me at times.)

If the Trinity had devised a means of saving humanity that did not weave together the allowance of evil and the victory of love, I don’t know if I could even attempt to trust Jesus.

As I look to Good Friday and think about how Jesus was uprooted for me, as I get overwhelmed by the waves that crash around me, as I feel lost and uncertain of where I belong, I take a deep breath and pray “Jesus, restorer of my soul, help me to find my home in You.”

I’ve lost a lot in the last four months. But not as much as Jesus gave up to be able to “prepare a home” for me. Why did God need to make me feel like I was “Lost at Sea”? Only He knows, but I am striving to believe that no matter how dark the situation seems, love is in, underneath, and around all of it.

Some of it is a matter of perspective. Some of it is a matter of trusting that no matter what God might take away from me in this life, I will always have my home in Jesus, and everything else is inconsequential compared to the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”.

Is it easy to believe and trust? I really wish I could say, but that would be a lie. I think sometimes, Christians feel like we have to make it seem like being a Christian is a breeze, but it’s not. At least not in my experience. Paul the apostle compared it to a race, a fight, a war.

I like to compare it to a wrestling match.

One that I know Jesus will win. Because he loves me, even when I don’t love Him. Because He died and rose again and is coming back for me one day to take me Home.

Slow and Steady

Time for a writing update! In the midst of the difficulties and upheaval of feeling like God is taking sheers to my life and pruning every branch of my life, I’ve been trying to press on in my writing.

I had quite lofty goals: finish the first draft of Mercy and Justice by the end of 2016, polish Chrysalis by February 28th, query Chrysalis in March, in addition to revising my three plays and work on writing a new one.

Sometimes my ambitions are…rather ambitious.

Especially when I am going through a hard season.

I’ve had to drastically scale back my expectations of my writing output. For the past few months it’s been easier to draw than to write, and since I couldn’t get the “correct” word count in per day, I gave up on it entirely for a time.

Until someone encouraged me to do small steps. Instead of expecting to write 1,000 words each day, I bumped it back to 100. I did that for a time and then bumped it up to 400. It’s slow but it’s steady work.

Over the last couple of weeks of writing 400 words, I’ve finally crept past the 90K mark for Mercy and Justice, leaving me with less than 20K words to go. It’s taken a while, but I feel like I can see the finish line.

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This would not have happened if I kept pushing myself to do 1,000 words each day. The number was too daunting for where I am right now. I may have written at that word count in the past, but it is not doable for me at this moment.

I’ve learned that even though I’m writing fewer words in a session, I am getting more done by consistently pecking away than I would if I kept trying, and failing, to write more. This way, I don’t burn out, don’t feel guilty, and I enjoy (usually anyway) the 20 – 40 minutes it takes to get the words out.

Somedays 400 words become 900 or even 1,500! Yesterday I didn’t wasn’t able to get the words in, and I was exhausted, so I didn’t push myself to write because I had gotten enough words down on Saturday to make up for it. Today I’m excited to get back to it. Maybe I’ll stop at my quota, maybe I’ll get more down. Either way, I will be 400 words closer to “The End.”

Sometimes, slow and steady is the only way to press on.

 

Surviving Pruning

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They say pruning is good for the health of the plant. I bet the plant feels differently.

Despite the glamorous alternate reality that is sometimes hailed as possible from the big and small screens, the truth is that life is hard. I find myself remembering the words of the great Dread Pirate Roberts:

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something. – From The Princess Bride

Not that life is only pain. Far from it. But there are definite periods where it seems like the only reason you know you are still alive is the pain. People, especially those in religious communities, call these periods by different names.  The last several months as I’ve been going through a painful phase of my life, I’ve been thinking of it as pruning.

When I repurposed my blog I decided to focus on encouraging others to pursue blooming in all areas of their life. Unfortunately, in order to promote the growth of new blooms you’ve gotta prune.

Why? It helps prevent disease, allowing for better circulation which reduces the risk of black spots and powdery mildew. Things we’d all like to avoid.

It’s easy to justify the need to cut dead and diseased branches off a rose bush. The need for drastic action is clear to us. It’s harder to understand when life cuts something, or many things, from your life.

I know for many Christians, the belief in God’s sovereignty is a constant source of encouragement. For me, the doctrine of His sovereign will and care is more a mixture of confusion and comfort. Sometimes the one is stronger than the other.

Even though I know in my mind, and often believe in my heart, that God is using the pain He has allowed and/or brought into my life for good, I can’t help but ask the questions:

Isn’t there another way? Couldn’t you bring out about whatever good you are working to accomplish with something less difficult? Or maybe even something pleasant?

I got reminded by my brother that Jesus asked similar questions of God before He went to the cross.

Holy week I plan on writing a blog post devoted to the importance of the Cross in my faith, but here’s a sneak peak:

God told Jesus “No” in order to recuse us because He loved us. A “Yes” would have meant ease for Jesus but judgment for us. Knowing that God has used great suffering to bring about immense good in the past helps me trust that when He says “No” to me, He has my good in mind, even if it doesn’t look like it.

Why is pruning necessary? Isn’t there another way one could promote growth?

I don’t have solid answers, but I have experience. While pruning is far from fun, I’ve seen how it has shaped me. It’s much easier to say when the experience is past and you’re basking in the glow of new growth.

It’s harder when you are in the midst of things. If you’re anything like me, it’s especially hard when it seems like everyone else around you is flourishing.

With this pruning session, I’ve been finding myself asking less of “Why did You let this happen?” and more of “How do I survive this?” These are some of the things I’ve learned from family, friends, and counselors.

1) Reject labels

It’s easy to feel as though my particular struggle is written on a sticky note and posted to my forehead, demanding attention every moment from everyone I interact with. And while some of my well-meaning friends are tempted to operate that way, for the most part, my community has encouraged me to remember I am more than what I am struggling with.

It’s taken a while to believe that, and while there are still times when I feel like all I can focus on is which branches God is cutting back, I’ve had days when I’ve been able to focus on areas that are particularly strong right now, like my desire to draw.

2) Take the work of recovery seriously

The last several months have been very difficult for me and the process of working through things has brought about a period of depression. Since I struggle with putting my identity in how much I accomplish in a day, it’s been very discouraging to experience weeks where I feel like I get nothing done, or to consider a “good” day when I get a couple solid hours of work in.

My depressive episodes are better or worse depending on my to-do list. This can cause massive spirals if I am feeling down and then have a less than productive (by my somewhat excessive standards) day.

The other week my counselor told me that recovery is work. I’m not a master gardener (or really any kind of gardener) but from what I understand, rosebushes typically don’t get pruned when they are in the height of blooming. They are cut back when they are finished with their season and can rest, get stronger and grow.

Even though they aren’t producing buds or blooms, they are still working.

In periods of sorrow, trials, and difficulty, sometimes the greatest thing you can accomplish in the day is pressing on. That takes work and tenacity and is being productive. I don’t need to compare myself to what I was able to get done before or to what others are accomplishing now. With God’s help, I can push myself to do what I need to do and trust Him enough with everything else if I need to spend my time journaling, or resting, or talking.

3) Live moment by moment

Try as I might, as I gaze into the future and try to plan my life or guess at how the issues I am facing will resolve themselves, I cannot know how God is going to shape me.

That often frustrates me. I wish God would just tell me: “This is what life is going to look like. This is how I am going to bring something beautiful out of this pain.” But He doesn’t.

That gives me two options: I can worry and fret, or I can trust Jesus with my future and focus on one day at a time.

This is probably the one I’m struggling with the most right now. I am a fast results gal. Waiting around is not my style. What I’m learning, and trying to remember, is that I don’t have to wait around. Even in the face of uncertainty, I can be proactive throughout my days by focusing on what I need or want to get done that day, living moment by moment instead of getting lost in the face of the unknown.

When I do that, I get writing and drawing done, compose e-mails and grants, read books and take naps, or some combination depending on my energy. The amount of writing, e-mailing, and reading is still less than what my peak was before, but at least I’m still making progress, instead of wallowing in worry.

4) Encouragement from others is vital

My sister has written a very honestly about mental illness on her blog The Doctor DancesShe has been such an encouragement to me. In particular, she pointed me to this TED Talk video “How to get stuff done when you are depressed”. I’ve never met this lady, but listening to her speak was extremely helpful in figuring out how to even attempt to function at this difficult time.

I strongly recommend it.

Whether it comes from a youtube video, a sister, or close friends, getting support and encouragement from others is vital.

5) Pruning as a way of thriving

As I said, I don’t really know why God chooses to allow difficulty to come into our lives to teach us things. The typical reasons don’t satisfy me. But I am trying to embrace the reality that pruning is a good thing, even if it hurts.

Even if I don’t understand it, I can survive it, and with God’s help, I will even thrive in it.

I hope that this post is an encouragement to you if you are in the midst of difficulty and feeling overwhelmed by it. None of these lessons have changed my situation, but they have helped to change my mindset and attitude which has made the pruning more bearable.

Here’s to when spring (or summer, depending on the variety of rose) comes in its fullness and brings us back to a season of blooms!

 

 

It Fades but never Passes

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“Judy” Drawn in 2015 as part of my grieving process.

Grief.

It leaves a permanent mark on you. But I no longer think that’s a bad thing.

(Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire persuaded me that it was okay)

Wednesday will mark two years since the death of my good friend Judy. As the days have slowly crept towards her anniversary, she has often been on my mind. The crawl to February 22nd has been both weightier and lighter than last year. Lighter because I do not dread it with the anticipation that plagued me for her first anniversary. Weightier because I miss her so much more.

There have been a lot of songs, and poems, quotes, and scripture passages that have helped me cope over the last two years. Here are some of my favorites.

From Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire

Becca: Mom? Does it go away?
Nat: What?
Becca: This feeling. Does it every go away?
Nat: No. I don’t think it does. Not for me, it hasn’t. And that’s goin’ on eleven years. It changes though.
Becca: How?
Nat: I don’t know. The weight of it, I guess. At some point it becomes bearable. It turns into something you can crawl out from under. And carry around – like a brick in your pocket. And you forget it every once in awhile, but then you reach in for whatever reason and there it is: “Oh right. That.” Which can be awful. But not all the time. Sometimes it’s kinda… Not that you like it exactly, but it’s what you have instead of your son, so you don’t wanna let go of it either. So you carry it around. And it doesn’t go away, which is…
Becca: What?
Nat: Fine… actually.

“Playing Hard to Get” by Rich Mullins

You who live in Heaven
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth
Who are afraid of being left by those we love
And who get hardened by the hurt

Do you remember when You lived down here?
Where we all scrape to find the faith to ask for daily bread
Did You forget about us after You had flown away?
Well I memorized every word You said

Still I’m so scared, I’m holding my breath
While You’re up there just playing hard to get

You who live in radiance
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin
We have a love that’s not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then

Did You ever know loneliness, did You ever know need?
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on and Your friends fall asleep
And don’t see the blood that’s running in Your sweat

Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You’re up there just playing hard to get?

And I know You bore our sorrows
And I know You feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained

And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow
All I really need to know

Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can’t see what’s ahead
And we can not get free of what we’ve left behind
I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret

I can’t see how You’re leading me unless You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

*Lamentations 3:31-33 

31 For the Lord will not reject forever,
32 For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.
33 For He does not afflict [j]willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.

*Really the whole chapter but it would be far too long for a blog post, but I strongly recommend you read it in its entirety.

If you are in a period of grief, I know something of your pain. I hope the above selections are a comfort to you as they have been for me.

The Danger of Pressure

20170205_12075122This is my first blog post written in a hospital. Last week, I wrote about my slow processing of learning that there is a lot of value to taking things slow and easy, working in layers and steps instead of pushing to get to the final product all at once.

That idea is being reinforced with hospitalization.

Last Wednesday I got to take a boxing class. For those of you who know about my quest to find appropriate expressions for competitive aggression, my desire to take up boxing will not surprise you. It was glorious. The instructor was very intense, pushing us all with an extreme workout that lasted an hour, with me nearly throwing up at the end, and leaving me with extremely numb arms.

I was the only girl there that day, and even though I had determined before the class started that I was not going to try to prove myself–after all, I was there to learn, not impress–I still gave my all.

Several days later, both of my arms are swollen, my right one very much so. Saturday night I finally went to the ER for what I assumed would be a quick visit to confirm that everything was okay and maybe the dispensing of some muscle relaxants.

I laughed when they told me I had to get admitted to the hospital. The overuse caused some kind of toxins to rise in my blood and they wanted to keep me overnight for observation while they flushed my system.

The ER doctor asked me if I was “hardcore”. I answered, of course, yes.

I didn’t realize it during the boxing class, although maybe the numbness in my arms should have given me a clue, but I was putting too much pressure on my body. I was working too hard, not giving my muscles time to adjust to a kind of workout that it wasn’t used to.

And that’s the danger of pressure. When you want to be Superwoman, it can be easy to push through or push harder and not realize when we need to lighten up or to just be patient with ourselves!

So here I am, in the hospital, on night two of trying to clean out my system. I’m thankful that God designed our bodies to have warning signs for problems and for the good and kind care. Now, I’m hoping that I will remember that too much pressure can be a bad thing, in drawing, in exercise, in everything.

My Mom tells me my motto needs to be: Be Kind to Yourself!

So to me and to you who are reading, let’s try to be kind to ourselves and ease up the pressure so we can avoid its dangers!

 

 

Easing the Pressure

Lines drawn in the sand can get washed away. Hard lines drawn on a page can be impossible to erase. That is the lesson I learned when I was working on this picture:

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The photo is not the best quality, but you can see that the gridlines are still stubbornly present, refusing to cooperate with the eraser, or me.  I wrote a post about how I had to be patient with myself as I went through the process of growing as a writing, artist, and person.

Growth can take longer than we want. Even though I knew I needed to be careful with the pressure of my drawing, the paper of my next illustration was left scared by my heavy-handed execution.
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True, the grid lines and original sketch is lighter than in the drawing above, but they are still there.

Fortunately, Photoshop exists for those of us who have trouble with drawing lightly.

My issue is that I love intensity. I thrive on it. The other night (cooling down from a passionate debate), I described myself as a “Volcanic Crusader”. My favorite motto, despite knowing it is not true, is “Brute force is always the answer”.

When I work out, I want it to be extreme.

(Consequently, I’m starting to take boxing lessons this week. I cannot wait.)

When I play the piano, I bang. PP’s are FF’s and FF’s are

FF’s!

And when I draw, I lay down thick, bold, and rather unerasable lines.

Sometimes this works okay, especially when I am working in Ink. But as my previous pictures show, this is not always good. After I completed my last illustration of the kid pretending to be a doctor, I was frustrated by my inability to go light.

So I’ve been making a practice of it.

And I’ve learned something. Starting out gentle, light, tentative, leaves room for nuance and gives much more control.

Drawing my grid lines lightly and working layer by layer with the pencil has turned out so much better. And I was still able to bring intensity into it, it just came about more slowly.

So I’m learning that there are times when it’s good to ease up the pressure, on my pencil but also myself.

Because I struggle with wanting to be Superwoman all the time I often put high and unreasonable expectations on myself for performance. Pressure can be a great motivator. I think intensity is a lot of fun. But gentleness and working a little at a time is sometimes the needed approach.Taking thing nice and easy, step by step, being diligent and patient with one’s growth, instead of demanding instant results, can yield better work.

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I have more work to do on this drawing to finish it, but I will continue to work lightly and then go back with layers as needed.

Intensity is still amazing, and I will probably always joke that “Brute force is always the answer”, but I am now trying to practice developing intensity out instead of forcing it. So far so good. We’ll see how long it takes for me to forget this lesson.

 

Investments 

Black Friday shopping is dangerous: crazy drivers, crazy shoppers, but also crazy deals.

This past Friday was my second venture into the fray. My list was short: a pair of gloves and one colored pencil. This plan for derailed when I realized Dick Blick was selling a set of colored pencils I had been wanting for years at less than a third of the original price.

Impluse buying is typically frowned upon. That’s what I told myself. But I made the decision to calculate the price per pencil. 

Then I called my husband. 

I didn’t want to blindly throw away a large sum of money. So I asked his opinion. I presented the cost benefit and also the fact that I would be needing to buy several of these pencils in the near future for my next illustration project.

Being the great guy he is, he fully supported me in whatever decision I thiught made the best financial and artistic sense.

I wandered around the store for a while debating. 

For us, it was a lot of money. For the pencils, it was dirt cheap. I would need many of them for my next illustration project if I did it in full color. But I might just do it in monotone since I’m not that good anyway. 

These kind of thoughts went back and forth for several minutes. Finally, I decided to make an investment, not in colored pencils, but in myself.

Seizing the Black Friday deal was more than a purchase; it was a commitment. I made a commitment to myself to push past my perceived limitations, a commitment to develop a stronger technique, a commitment to believe that my growth as an artist, and a person, is worth the investment of money, time, and tears.

I know figuring out how to work in color may be frustrating, but I am committed to conquering that medium. 

Thanks to Black Friday, I have 150 pencils to reminded me of that commitment.

Sometimes you need to be willing to invest in your own growth. What’s a way you can invest in yourself this week?

Controlling the Flow

She spread the pages of her sketchbook, seven pages of paper, out in front of her, and she dipped her pen into the ink well. She pressed the metal nib against the paper and drew. A dark line of ink seeped out. Black blood took shape.

….

Splat!

A blob of ink darted off the nib. She relished ink as a medium. It was dark and unpredictable. The ink would flow exactly how you wanted it until–bam! It disregarded its wielder and did exactly what it wanted. She wanted to be ink in Anson’s pen. He had control over her now, but one day she would overthrow him.

– From my first novel, CHRYSALIS 

Little did I realize how true these words were. Expect for the unpredictable bit. You can predict that ink is not going to do what you want, in fact, it most definitely will do the opposite of what you want.

That is what I love about it. But I’ve learned with one of my more recent art projects that India ink does have its limitations.

 

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“Rose of Notre Dame”. India ink and India ink marker. 2016.

 

The above was my attempt at recreating the rose window at Notre Dame. It’s the second piece that I have done for a former professor of mine, Michael Pogach, who wrote an intense (in the best way) book and did me the honor of asking if I’d be interested in doing some sketches based off his story.

Rose windows in general, and in particular at Notre Dame, are sprinkled throughout the novel. The beauty combined with the technical challenge of the location captured my interest in drawing it.

Though the perspective is skewed, I was pretty pleased with the piece until I got to the stained glass. My brilliant idea was to use my favorite art medium, flowing India ink, to fill in the different shapes and shades of the window.

The process quickly proved to be frustrating. It didn’t matter how much I tried to dilute the ink, it was still dark when I wanted it to be light. Giving the ink time to dry didn’t prevent the ink from bleeding into parts of the drawing where it didn’t belong. In short, what I thought would be an awesome way of capturing the varying degrees of color and brightness turned out to be more of a mud pie. At least in the actual rose part. Some of the saints on the bottom aren’t so bad.

Frustration with the ink meant that I got sloppier, less patient, and less concerned with messing up. The result is a mixed piece of sections that I love, sections that are decent, and sections that I’m really not thrilled with.

But, as always, I’ve learned a lot from this piece. India ink is not a great medium when you are working in small areas and you want to create specific details. Especially if you aren’t patient enough to let it dry.

So now I know. My plan is to redo this drawing in 2017. Make it much larger and buy several colored India ink markers to do the stained glass. Or….just buy colored ink and let it run as it pleases.

That’s a very exciting thought.

Hmmm….

I’ve got time to figure that out. Either way, I’ve learned something about myself as an artist. There are times when I love going with the flow, but there are also times when I need to control the flow. Figuring all that out is all apart of the process.

I think that’s similar to life too, isn’t it? There are times when we can go with the current, times when we want to go with the current but can’t, times when we want to fight against the current but shouldn’t, and times when we must fight against the current.

Do we go with the flow or control the flow?  How do you know when to do what?

Accepting the Process

Instant gratification is not enough for me. I want instant perfection.

As a late bloomer, I struggle with the need to “arrive”. When some of my gifts did start to unfold, a need to make up for lost time drove me to succeed. I had to be the best at art, theatre, writing, anything and everything that I put my mind to. The goal: gain perfection in at least one, if not several areas, to hide the shame of being “slow”, “uneducated”, “academically backwards”, etc.

(This is apart of my “Superwoman” complex.)

One of the great frustrations of my life is that blooming is a process not a single event. That should be a comfort to me. We aren’t limited to one blossom opening up and adding to beauty! We grow, and change, and impact the world in different ways at different times all throughout our lives. The fact that rose bushes put out multiple buds, all opening and fading as they will, is a wonderful way to look at ourselves or others.

We have never arrived. We are never beyond hope.

And yet.

And yet, I often get weary of the blooming process. I don’t want to have to struggle for excellence.

I’m tired of having fought so hard for simple things like being able to tell the difference between  P’s and B’s and understanding basic rules of grammar. I am at a loss to understand how sometimes I am able to draw and the next time I pick up the pencil I have forgotten all about the art. Fighting the same sins of self-righteousness, selfishness, and addiction gets discouraging, even in the midst of gaining ground, because it isn’t enough ground, it isn’t gained fast enough.

Maybe you can relate.

The area that has been causing me most frustration at the moment is the area of drawing. Back in 2008 when I took “Drawing II” at NCC with my wonderful Professor Isadore LaDuca gave me feedback about my work. He said many encouraging things, but one thing he noted was that I would seemingly at random produce projects of great caliber and great disaster. For whatever reason my skill was not consistent.

It still isn’t, though I am less likely to draw flops as I was back in 2008. But they still happen. Here are some embarrassing examples.

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This was my second attempt at the cover for my sister’s children book that I am illustrating. The first attempt was worse. There are sections of this drawing I love, but for some reason, I was not able to draw their faces, even though I had just recently completed a good portrait of a dear friend of mine in pastel.

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This is an in progress shot of my current illustration for my sister’s book. The faces are better, but still there are perspective issues, and I drew the grid marks too dark to be able to erase them. Photoshop can fix that when I go to put the book together for publication, but it infuriates me that after ten years of seriously studying art, I cannot draw a grid correctly!

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Here is my second attempt at an illustration cover for my grandfather’s commentary on Galatians. I gave up once the woman’s face was beyond saving.

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This is much better but still flawed.

Artistically, this year has been difficult. I created a greater amount of work that were more technically proficient last year when I was still recovering from an injury that almost severed my drawing hand. It’s not that I haven’t accomplished any good drawings this year, but it hasn’t been as effortless.

Why is this year harder? Who knows? But I’ve learned something over the past 11 months of trying to draw.

Even though my work isn’t attaining the instant perfection that I desire, the process of failing and trying again is valuable.

In the illustration for my grandfather, I learned that while I can come up with a concept and a sketch in my mind for an illustration, I need real faces, tress, clothing, etc., to reference for the actual drawing.

My current illustration project has taught me that I have to be more careful about drawing the grid lines.

To be honest, I don’t know what I learned from the two failed covers, but I know the practice drawing will not be wasted.

Instant perfection would be gratifying, but I would learn little if the skills were uploaded into my brain like the Matrix. So while I’m not thrilled or proud of my failures, I am trying to accept the process.

What about you? What are some areas that you are trying to improve? Does the process discourage or encourage you?