In our house I’ve always claimed that I’m the singer (albeit of modest abilities) and my wife is the artist. But one of the things about our marriage is that we enter into the things each other loves. Marilyn goes to concerts with our choir, puts up with me practicing, and even reads some of my blogs. And she’s made her peace with a house full of books and classical music on the stereo.
Art was not a happy subject growing up. I attribute much of this to a middle school art teacher who was probably fed up with middle school boys (we could be obnoxious). Once those required art classes were out of the way, I stayed as far away from art as I could–except for marrying an artist!
My wife has always loved art but really didn’t seriously pursue painting until after her mom died. She is most alive when she is in front of a canvas with her paints. Then an artist friend who encouraged her to enter one of her paintings in the county fair art show. No prizes, but she took the big step to show her work in public.
Entering into the thing she loves has meant helping frame paintings, figuring out taxes when she sells a piece, and lots of trips to the local Blick store. It has also meant picking up a sketch pad to go along with her to paint and joining a local art league and a plein air group. They call me the plein air sketcher.
I won’t pretend to any artistic talent. But in these very amateurish attempts, there has been this experience of really seeing the things I’m looking at. It is noticing the plays of light and shadow, hidden dapples of color, shapes and textures. It is thinking about composition, how a viewer’s eye will find its way through the scene you are rendering.
If I were just sitting with a book, I’d probably nod off at some point. Yet I find myself with a heightened sense of attention, fully engaged with what I am seeing, and thinking of how to render that. I’ve written in other places about practices of attentiveness that enable us to see God and the world he’s made. I’m coming to believe that drawing and painting can be another of these practices.
We’ve really come to enjoy the people we paint with–so much so that we even signed up to go on a painting retreat this fall. And with that, I made the decision to take the plunge and buy some paints and brushes and canvases and really enter in.
So today was kind of a trial run. My wife gave me the use of her french easel and helped me set up. I found a picture I’d taken several years back of a bridge in Mill Creek Park back in Youngstown. I have to admit, it was a bit scary staring at that blank canvas and those tubes of paint. Then I started staring at the picture and noticing colors and light and shadow and shape and I squeezed a few paints onto the palette and plunged in. I spent a lot of time learning how paints worked, how long it took acrylics to dry, and which brushes worked best for what. I also learned, similar to singing, that when you make a mistake, just keep painting!
Well, I’ll let you judge my first attempt for yourself. What I can say is that for two hours I was absorbed with scene, paint, and canvas. I can see why great leaders like Churchill and Eisenhower painted. And I discovered the truth of what Van Gogh said:
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”