Some Thoughts on Being An Artist

(These thoughts were written in November, 2008 in connection to a solo exhibition of 30 works in Stowe, Vermont)

It is said that you should be careful what you want when you’re twenty, because you’ll have it when you are forty…..

I remember riding horses with a girlfriend when I was seventeen. We were discussing what we wanted to be when we grew up. I don’t remember her dream, but I clearly remember mine. I told her that I would be an artist. She looked shocked and told me that I would have a hard life, because artists don’t make much money. I said that I knew this, but that I still planned to be one. There have been other things I’ve desired that have not been realized, but becoming an artist was in part meant to be, and a calling that required a labor of love and tears over a period of many years.

People admire my work today. I see three things when I look at it – sacrifice, solitude and a whole lot of self-discipline. My family heard, “I can’t watch the movie, I have a painting deadline,” and, “I can’t go out, I must finish what I am working on.” Saying “no” so I could say “yes” to something I thought was more important. “Be quiet and don’t disturb me, I’m in a very important part of the painting! “ is another exclamation they know well. Today I sometimes wonder if I chose rightly.

I was not satisfied with mediocrity and am still pretty critical of my own work. Most always I begin a painting by planning to “paint a masterpiece”. I talk about it, think about the subject matter, and other things fade. When entering a judged show, I usually endeavor to win it, and then try for the people’s popular vote, too. Might as well. Competition is fun, part of my motivation and the positive mental part of the work is essential. Show deadlines have really helped me complete work.

After finally deciding to try to “show forth all his marvelous works”, I shook in my boots when asked to paint important works on printing deadlines, praying on my face, asking for wisdom before I began painting. When completed, the end product would surprise me as much as anyone else. There is an element of wonder to this for me, because I often feel that my hand is guided. Our Creator is the best artist. He is the glorious One who made infinite and intricate variety. I can only try to copy Him.

There has been a price to pay. Immobilizing myself to get detail, straining to catch nuances of color and value have taken their toll, my eyes and back tell me they are tired, and my painting time has lessened. The body was made to move, not hold still.

Many years ago, my work was likened by my kind Paletteer artist friends to Beatrix Potter, the woman who wrote and illustrated the Peter Rabbit stories….this was flattering at the time. I see now, looking back, that there are similarities to her somewhat secluded life, too. I can also relate to the life of poet Elizabeth Barrett, before she married Robert Browning. Each of these women lived at home, painting and writing for many years in their studio bedrooms. They had experienced tragedy and physical illness which caused their lives to deepen. Their work reached the world.

I, too, have suffered in becoming an artist. It was largely my disabilities visually and physically that removed a lot of opportunities I otherwise would have chosen. The biographies of those who came out of polio paralysis and wheelchairs to win Olympic medals have always fascinated me. As Phyllis Higgins shared with me recently, “Pain is good for an artist, it makes you deepen.”

Christ’s strength has been made perfect in my weakness. I don’t actually have the ability to see my own work from any distance. It has been said that I “paint by Braille.” Not quite, but almost. I believe that I am simply a conduit, and the work that I paint was planned “before the foundations of the world”.

I tell my students that the work they do reflects who they are. Essentially, I am hanging on those walls in Stowe – it’s a strange feeling. Paintings are a picture of life. You often feel that you’ve
ruined something that had begun well. Persistence and continuing to work out the problems with the composition and design leads to lessons learned. Planning is essential to a good watercolor – mistakes can be avoided. If mistakes are made, they can usually be turned into benefits. The painting often takes a lot longer to finish than you thought. Big paintings usually have more impact than smaller works, but they sure take a lot more patience to complete.

Painting is not for the faint in heart. Boldness is needed to begin, for touching white paper with color can be scary! Determination, thoroughness, gentleness, sensitivity, diligence and faith are all qualities that are built along the way, if you want to improve. The painting becomes stronger when there is depth of perspective and a strong light source.

Melancholy types tend to be very creative, for some strange reason. There are lots of times I have wanted to quit painting entirely. But, I have kept on, by the great grace of my Father, the Creator of the world, YaHaWah.

Twelve years ago I was told through a scripture verse that my life would bless the world. This seemed completely impossible at the time, for I was living at the end of a dirt road on the backside of a mountain and no one really knew who I was. The Scriptures are true when they say that a way is made in the wilderness, for my work is appreciated today by thousands. It is humbling to have seen the power that our Father has. His vision for our lives far exceeds our understanding.

My “art patron” Dr. Werner Gitt, has greatly encouraged me in the past few years, sending my work to many lands and tongues through tract distribution. I have enjoyed painting to please others perhaps even more than painting for myself. The Character Training Institute in Oklahoma City and the Haynes family have also inspired, printed and distributed my work to the nations.

While working, I’ve listened to many hours of instructional tapes, sermons, superb music or educational radio. It’s one of the best things about painting – you can kill two birds with one stone, as it were. Mixing colors becomes subconscious, like cooking or playing music does. What I’ve heard has blessed my life, and sometimes I can hear the messages when I look at the paintings, as if they are imbedded in the image itself.

There is an aspect of healing that comes from working with your hands and colors. In life there have been countless situations that have been completely out of my control. I could not change the situation or outcome. Trials raged like a troubled sea. But, when I painted, I could make decisions. Hundreds of decisions, actually. This is tiring and also very pleasant. I think that painting has given me some sense of stability, a productive place to retreat to when the rest of life is in disarray. I am glad that it brings other people joy, too.

“And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O yisra’el, in whom I will be glorified.” – Isaiah 49:2-3

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