On the morning I went to spend the afternoon painting at the Glenrose, we had a fresh blanket of new snow the day before. But the sun was shining, and as it is a spring snow, we know it is temporary.
I decided to approach my blank watercolor paper with no agenda – no plan just to see what came.
I started with the blue and energetically, whipped those lines across the middle of the page of the page. Hmm, thinking of the blue snow shadows, I then threw clouds in the sky. But no, the sun is shining so there should be blue there too. Then followed the trees lifting their empty branches to the heavens. On a faraway hill the treeline of evergreens emerged. The bank and rocks pushed their way through next. Finally the tree shadows emerged and all of a sudden the sun was shining on my page.
I talked with Glenrose patients and visitors as I let the painting emerge. As one fellow said – “That has got to be Alberta.” It is all the parts I love about winter in Alberta: the long blue shadows, the white crisp snow gleaming under the sun’s rays, the shapes and gestures of the trees reaching to the heavens, creeks frozen or flowing.
Even so, I look forward to spring and I am out looking for evidence of its arrival. The pussy willows are showing their tufts. My daffodils and tulips are beginning to push through in the garden. But spring is teasing us. It is snowing again this morning. Spring is long and slow here in Edmonton, but it is not without hope. Like today, we will probably get more snow before winter finally let’s go.
Like spring, God’s redemptive work in our lives is long and slow. We may go two steps forward and one step back (and sometimes one step forward and two steps back), but he is there with us. He made a way for us.
Praise be to God who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
We have had a full summer already with a family visit, in-person classes opening up, art walks to participate in, new websites, and projects to create. Yet, we have taken a weekend each month (June -Aug) to go camping and get out to enjoy the beauty of Alberta. Inspired by the quiet beauty of the landscapes we saw, I started a painting on location on each trip, completing the pieces at home.
Sometimes this is restful, and other times I am trying hard to get it right and I feel tense or anxious. Often, I have to get through it to the other side, but it takes trusting the process and letting go of ‘getting it right.’ It all looks the same on the outside (a painting results) but how I feel along the way changes. Stillness and being present are key to getting past the tense parts, but it isn’t always easy and sometimes I just have to start over.
I was listening to more of Steve Bell’s work recently, and his song, Wait Alone in the Stillness, caught my attention. I resonated with the phrase: “wait alone in stillness, O my soul, wait alone.” I have long meditated on the verse which I believe the song is based on (in Psalm 62) – for God alone my soul waits in silence. Bell’s rendition changes the semantics of the phrase, and I can’t help pondering the meaning of his interpretation. There is an element of trust in “for God alone my soul waits…” In the former, the sense is about being alone in the stillness. (The Hebrew word "duwmiyah" can be translated as silence, stillness, quiet, trust, waits.) I think for me stillness also means, giving myself space in quiet – no phone, no music or book to read, not necessarily painting or doing. It was in this kind of stillness that the thoughts for this blog started to churn. I thought about it more as we went camping last weekend and I sat again in stillness.
I have been learning the value of stillness, of quieting myself, being present to the moment. When I am practicing that presence as I paint, it is calming and restful and I can lose myself and let the painting take me where it wants to go. I can listen, relax and trust the process.
However, when I cannot be present, when I am worried about getting it right, or what others may think of the piece, or any other part of my life I am anxious about, then there is a couple of different exercises I might perform to release tension. I can take a deep breathe and try to get present again or I can set what I am working on aside and find my way back to stillness by just playing and creating. Allowing myself to experiment and play with my mediums gives me the break I need to release my anxiety in the creation process, letting it express itself. Once that is released, I can return to the piece that was causing me angst.
During the winter of 2020-2021, as I was feeling down and stressed, I needed that sort of space, and I tried something new to “play” with, acrylic pouring and methods of using fluid acrylics. It was a fun process. I tried pouring and moving the fluid paint by blowing it using a few alternative methods; a straw, blow dryer, balloon, cling wrap, and turntable, were all employed in my efforts. I continued to experiment. Once I understood the process more, I could apply it in other paintings. It will also become part of what I teach in acrylics classes. The pieces I created will be available at my next art walks for those who are curious.
Here are some of the results of some of my favorite acrylic pours and experiments:
Do you find ways to practice stillness, or being present?
I like Summer. It's a time to rest from the busyness of the year, a time to take a break, hike, travel, try something new, and meet a new friend.
This summer I took a break and traveled down to the San Francisco Peninsula, where I explored the natural scenery, and had time to paint, rest and visit with some family. A lot of my time was my own as my husband, Sam, was busy taking courses on Enneagram training. The weather was beautiful. We were fortunate that all the smoke from the forest fires stayed north of us, but we certainly got our fill of it coming home.
My cousin Nate and his wife, Karen, generously opened their home to us for a part of our stay. They have landscaped a beautiful garden with paths and raised garden beds. I found one flowering bush, a Red Tiger Abutilon, particularly enchanting. And one day as I sat in the garden painting the Tiger's blooms, I heard him. He made a clicking noise, and I looked around to see a humming bird flitting from flower to flower on the other side of the Tiger. He was curious, too. He even came and looked me over, fluttering just three feet away! My camera was right next to me, but he wasn't ready for that yet, and zipped away as I reached for it.
I decided to go a little slower, to get to know him first. I learned his song, and when I started to hear it I reached for my camera even as I looked for him among the trees and flowers in their garden. He wasn't as shy this time, and even posed for me, letting me catch him sitting on a branch.
The next day I came again to his garden, taking time to just be still. I sat and I read, enjoying the beauty of the garden. And I waited. I waited for him to come to me. Forty-five minutes had passed when I heard his song. He came, dancing, darting, pausing in mid-air like a breath, flitting from flower to flower in the golden sunlight of the morning. And then he was off again, and it was my turn to breathe and wonder. So beautiful.
For me, the beauty and wonder of God's creation is part of his love song to us. In big and small ways nature speaks of God's great glory and love, and I particularly enjoy first hand experiences like these.
And I also love it when I can capture nature's beauty on film so I use them later when I create with God in my paintings. I was dancing inside as I experienced each of the beautiful animals and places on our trip. Each one felt like a gift.
I saw elephant seals, California seals, egrets, hummingbirds, pelicans, deer and fawns, tide pools, the ocean, redwoods and lots of people. I took thousands of pictures, sketched and painted 'plein air".
Here are some of the paintings I started… or sketched...
I look forward to sharing some of these new paintings when they are finished. Some of them are a perfect fit for the new show I will be installing at the Glenrose in late October: Flowers and Birds. Mark your calendars for Wed October 31 for a reception 2-6pm.
Whether I am walking, hiking, on a bike, or in a car, I am soaking in the view, the details and the beauty of the world around me. I am open to possibilities and yet when one comes it sometimes seems to leap out to catch me, other times the beauty just quiets my soul.
We were camping at Gregg Lake in the William Switzer provincial park. As we biked through the park, there were a couple places that caught my eye enticing me to come back to paint them. In the morning, as we sat by the lake, I painted the first one: the misty morning mountain. The kayakers paddled into the painting as I worked on the peaceful scene I shared last month.
In the afternoon, I took my supplies and biked back to the end of the lake that had caught my eye earlier, where the water meanders a path through the reeds, reflecting the surrounding hills. In the shallows where a stream empties into the lake, submerged rocks add their hidden depth to the beauty.
I did the preliminary layers of paint on location that afternoon in the sunshine, but as the clouds rolled back in, the light changed enough, so I stopped working. (Besides, we wanted to take our own kayak out.)
The next day the same scene looked very different. The light that had caught my eye the day before was not there. It would have changed the mood of the painting and the hidden depth was not as visible on the cloudy day. It just felt different, less inspiring.
I took the painting and the photographs with me to work on during one of the art walk weekends. I was disappointed with the photos as they did not line up with what I remembered, but I worked with them anyway and got to a completed stage.
Yet, later at home, the painting still was missing that hidden depth of the foreground that had captured my eye in the first place. But what I remembered wasn’t in the photos. How could I paint it in?
Then, as I was going back through my phone, looking for the photo I took of my set up on site where I used my bike as the easel, I finally had a photo that matched what I remembered. With this photo, I was then able to do the finishing touches on the painting. Yeah!
Sometimes, or maybe more often than not, I have to push past what I think Is done. I set a painting up against the wall and sit with it for a awhile until it tells me that there is more to do with it or it is done.
Often, while I paint and work on a piece, I wonder what it was that caught my attention. For this painting, what was it about the rocks in the foreground, and the ones I could see through the water in places, the hidden depth that the camera could not see? It was like seeing two perspectives at once: the reflective surface and what is underneath in the hidden depths.
We have hidden depths. We also reflect (deflect) to hide ourselves, sometimes intentionally, sometimes subconsciously. With the right lens, we can see to the hidden depths within ourselves. There is beauty there to be discovered, in each and every one of us.
It takes a journey to find those hidden depths in ourselves and in each other. It is worth the journey.