This past week I was able to curate and hang a show at the local church where I help to lead. We’d put out a call for work a couple months ago, asking artist we know to submit work they had created over the past couple of years. We were looking for work that was created during what has been a very difficult season for pretty much everyone — I think all of us have very personally felt the effects of this global pandemic.
And for many, if not most of us, one of the ways we’ve coped, one of the ways we’ve connected to one another, one of the ways we’ve continued to worship God… is through our creative and artistic pursuits.
So we asked folks to show us what they’ve been working on. Help us put together a show, a collection of work that highlights not only what we’ve been creating, but also shows us how we, as artists, have been connecting with God and others, how we’ve been pursuing health and healing through creating beauty, how we’ve spent our time, often alone and in the studio.
I’d initially planned to curate the show, to pick and choose from what was submitted to create a specific experience for the viewer. But as I laid out the individual pieces to take a first look, I was amazed at how well everything looked and worked together. I was stunned at the personal beauty of each piece. The various contrasts between what was being represented, each personal point of view, the wide difference of experience and technical expertise of each artist — I found myself becoming quite emotional as I was pondering what to include and what to potentially leave out.
I decided to leave everything that was submitted in the show. Altogether it perfectly represents how these specific artists in this specific community experienced the past couple of years. Many of them wrote a little something to go along with their artwork, a bit of explanation, if you will, of what they have been learning or thinking along the way.
If you have time this summer, I’d encourage you to check it out! https://duluthvineyard.org/creative-arts-ministry/
It’s been a few years since I’ve posted anything on this site. My life has been busy with many other projects over the past few years. Nevertheless, once again, I intend to communicate, through art and creativity and words, what I continue to enjoy about art and love and beauty.
As I write this, I am finishing up a three-month sabbatical from all of my paid jobs. I’m so thankful for the gift of an extended sabbatical which was given to me by our local church community, the Duluth Vineyard, and by our national leadership team at VineyardUSA. The women and men I have the privilege of working alongside are people I continue to look up to, and learn from every step of the way. I’m honored to follow their example, and incredibly thankful for this season of sabbatical.
One of the invitations I believe God invited me into during this season, if I heard correctly, was to spend time painting and/or drawing everyday throughout my time away. I distinctly remembered how, when making art was my full-time career, I would spend long days alone, talking with God about every part of my life, as I was in the process of creating. I would talk freely about my struggles or frustrations, I’d ask questions about how to resolve creative and business and relational issues, and I drift into time of worship at the gratuitous beauty of the natural world around me. In fact, as one of my spiritual directors pointed out, those times of communion with God while making art seemed to be crucial moments of clarity and direction, key pivot points of my life that I remember clearly even today.
As I began to weigh this invitation to paint everyday, I longingly looked forward to the quite and contemplative nature of painting everyday over a period of ninety plus days; looking forward to slower pace this would require, and the joy I’d experience at seeing and experiencing and interacting with God’s love in an unhurried way. So I made a tentative commitment to slow down, to notice something beautiful each day, and begin to warm up my pencils and brushes.
One of the very first days I remembered this song from years ago written by an acquaintance called, Little Things…
Seems as though our lives are changing
They’re growing faster every day
As the pace of life grows stronger
It’s the little things I let go astray
But all the little things tell me of his greatness
All the little things reveal his love to me
All the little things show me his compassion
And I know the Lord loves me
Just today he said he loved me
As I watched the rain turn into snow
Every snowflake tells a story
They’re saying God is in control
Though consider now the sparrow
The Father feeds her everyday
He has told her that he loves her
But he loves me in a greater way
And I know the Lord loves me
I know the Lord loves me
Little Things, A Quiet Encounter
As I have spent the past few weeks drawing and painting, as I make art and reflect on the amazing beauty of the “little things” all around me, I’m continually drawn to trust and to rely on his love and provision in every single area of my life.
Here are a few of the pieces hanging in my studio presently…
This past summer at the Vineyard church I am so glad to be a part of, we were teaching through a series of messages at our weekend services about encountering God in both art and nature. And as I was teaching about experiencing God, I was also doing a watercolor painting. That’s enough of me talking about it. You can have a look for yourself right here…
I really do believe that God is creating a wonderful work of art in both you and I. The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2 this thought:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
What is it that he’s prepared for you today?
A bit more than a year ago, I brought a spiritual director to work with the staff I lead at church. His name is Larry, and he had us doing all sorts of creative and contemplative exercises in an effort to encourage a deeper connection with God. And for me, it really worked. I encountered God’s love for me in a very fresh, even new way.
As I left that week-long retreat I was praying about a way to continue those exercises, a way for myself to continue to press deeper into some of what I had learned. And one of the things I wanted to practice was a form of painting as prayer. Painting as a way of interacting with God in a way that goes beyond what I could express with words.
I knew that I would need a simple subject matter, something I could paint almost without thinking, or at least without getting too distracted by the subject itself. And just as I was asking God what kind of subject he might suggest, I turned my head and noticed the lake. How much simpler could I get…water and sky separated most of the time by a horizon line. Nice!
So just over a year ago I begin noticing the lake a bit more. You know, when you live right next to such a beautiful thing, the largest lake in the world, it’s easy to take it for granted. So I began to take a route to work where I’d have to notice the lake, take special notice of what the sky, the water, the colors and atmosphere looked like.
One of the things I noticed is that every single day it’s a different picture. Well, in one sense it’s exactly the same and in another, it is completely different. Awesomely different. And so this past year, rather than writing much on here, I’ve been using that time to paint. And I’ve got enough to cover my little studio wall a few times. How much fun is that?
Also, I’ve noticed how much I’ve been enjoying my time with God, talking and painting and noticing beauty and just enjoying him. I’ve been talking to him about the clouds, the water, my life, the wonderful community I get to pastor, my family, my neighbors—you’d be surprised, there so much to talk about. And when I’m not talking (being an introvert its the part I tend to like the best), I’m just enjoy God’s presence and the incredible beauty I get to live in.
And all along the way, one of the things I’ve noticed is his love for us…for me. And the great joy he takes in creating such a beautiful place for us to live. And this discipline of painting such a simple subject over and over again has reawakened my love for beauty, for creativity of all kinds, and for the people around me. This is quite a bit of fun.
Who knew that such a simple thing could be so deeply impacting.
Years ago, back in ninth grade, if I remember correctly, I began to try to make some stuff with leather. And I loved it. I think it was in a Jr. High arts class in Salem, Oregon. And the first thing I ever made was a sun visor, the kind that had a leather headband with a baseball cap-style visor. I wore that thing throughout the 70’sas I’m sure you can imagine—leather visor, bell-bottomed jeans, listening to Stevie Wonder and Van Morrison…but I digress.
A few years later, in bible college I had collected some leather-working tools and had begun to recover hard bound bibles in leather for a few of my classmates. They were rough, rustic looking pieces with a little design work, some carving here and there…nothing special really, but It was pretty sweet to be making stuff out of cowhide!
One of the last projects I remember making was a leather covered bible for myself. And I used that bible for many years, throughout art school, while traveling around in my old ’65 VW bus for just over a year…. I have so many memories of hearing God’s voice out of the pages of those scriptures. But over the years I replaced that bible with a newer translation and that lovely leather-wrapped bible sat on the shelf gathering dust and looking classy.
And then, just this past week, I had the idea of repurposing that old piece of leather into a watercolor sketchbook, a folio of sorts. I wanted something I could use over and over again, replacing the individual sheets of paper as needed, and putting the sketches up in my studio…and, I wanted to give this piece of leather that has been with me for over twenty-five years, another life.
I got the strip of wood from Jack, a close friend of mine who, among other things, builds guitars. He’s got so much wood around his place that I thought he’s bound to have a piece I could use. This is a small strip of Myrtle wood from Oregon. Quite fitting, don’t you think? And the Chicago post screws allow me to put as much or little paper as I think I’ll need for the next journey. Pretty sweet, huh?
Now I look forward to carrying this old friend around with me for a whole lots more years as I continue to make sketches, paintings, jot down thoughts and ideas, plan trips and much more.
This past week I spent a few miles north of Duluth along the Northshore of Lake Superior. About 90 miles to be more specific. And what a great week it was!
Most of the pastoral staff from the Duluth Vineyard went away for a week to connect with God and with one another. This is such an important discipline for all of us to participate in: getting away to connect. Life has a way of draining one’s soul. So, we scheduled some time away and invited someone to help direct us, to point us towards God and his great love. We invited Larry Warner to spend this week with us.
If you are unfamiliar with Larry, check out his book, Journey With Jesus, or his website: www.b-ing.org. He has spent the past several years helping people as a spiritual director and by leading retreats. I highly recommend his resources. I met him earlier this year and wanted the rest of our staff to benefit from a week with him.
Together, we all stayed in one big lodge in Northern Minnesota. We worshipped together, prayed together, spent individual time in silence and solitude, we ate great meals together and even played some games and laughed really hard together. I think we all left the lodge feeling like it was a wonderful investment. A week well spent.
Anyway, back to why I wanted to write this post…the topic of simplicity. I’ve always loved the process of taking complicated things and boiling them down to their simplest. Whether its an idea or a visual image, there is something about the process of simplifying that is beautiful and satisfying and highly intriguing to me. This doesn’t mean that the intricate complexities are bad, not at all. I love those elements as well. But there is something about simplicity that is stunningly beautiful, and I’ve always been intrigued with it.
Years ago I remember reading a wonderful book by Richard Foster called, The Freedom of Simplicity, which looks at simplicity as a spiritual discipline. Or an economics book, Small is beautiful, which looks at how we chose to live effects those around us. Or a collection of essays called, Less Is More, which looks at the art of voluntary poverty. And…well…I’m going to save that for another post.
And as the week progressed I was again and again reminded of how all of our lives and relationship with God and Christianity boils down to love. And it’s not just love in some generalized kind of way, but it all comes down to God’s love. The Apostle John saw the same things when he wrote, “God is love.” The essential essence of the universe is love. I doesn’t get more simple than that. And it doesn’t get much more full and rich and exciting than that.
Here comes the watercolor…I promise!
So later in the week, after much time in silence and solitude and prayer and listening and processing and journaling…I decided to get out my paints. Ad I wanted to paint the simplest of landscapes to somehow convey what I was thinking about the simplicity of what I was feeling…deeply and irreversibly and completely and unconditionally LOVED!
A simple sky over a simple beach with a clear and (you guessed it) a simple horizon. I you think it’s boring, you may be missing, and getting the point. It kind of is boring. But it is in a completely fascinating and inviting kind of way. In this sketch you are invited to walk for a very long way. And as you walk you are invited to think, to ponder without distractions. Think about the vastness of the landscape and the vastness, the unendingness of the love of God that each of us is invited into.
That’s sort of what I was a aiming at and what I was experiencing last week. And I just wanted to share it with someone. There’s so much more I could write and talk about in regard to simplicity, and I just may do that tomorrow!
Over the years of living in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area, I made many visits to, and many paintings and drawings of the Saint Paul Cathedral and the various buildings and landscape surrounding it. For quite a few years, this was a favorite destination for my days spent out of the studio.
While I might not ever recommend building such a facility to house church services today, I sincerely appreciate the way this building helped to direct my thoughts Godward as I spent time around it. And having not grown up with any experience of the Catholic church, this architecture speaks volumes to me. It’s vastness speaks to me of the absolute bigness of our creator. The specialness or distinctiveness of these building’s uses reminds my how unlike anything else God is, his otherliness or holiness. And the rich symbolism at every turn never ceases to catch my attention. And while I’ve had the same experience in other cathedrals, this one was close enough to visit over and over again, almost weekly for a few years.
I spent time drawing the buildings as they looked today, as well as what they might’ve looked like in the landscape they were originally a part of. I made pictures of up-close details as well as landscapes with the buildings as only a small but still significant part.
Most all of the paintings I produced of the cathedral are now in private, and perhaps a couple of public collections. And what I have left are these sketchbook drawings, and a couple of my watercolor prints.
At one point even the Archdiocese asked for some more artwork for a commemorative project of one sort or another, but nothing ever came of it. I wasn’t concerned however. I really didn’t need a special commission to keep painting this historical landmark.
It really is quite amazing to me how the buildings we live and work in, the ones we worship in or drive past or even hardly ever notice because of our familiarity—it’s amazing to me how theses structures add a richness to our lives. We grow to appreciate the shapes and smells, the textures and sounds, and the meeting places they become.
One of the things I’ve loved about these old buildings is that through every cultural trend and bias over the past hundred years, these old buildings have stood out in the midst of the landscape pointing towards our creator. Every time we’ve traveled past, they’ve been silently reminding us that there is one who rules over the entire universe whether or not we’ve wanted that reminder or were paying any attention. And the continue to be architectural sign posts, if you will, pointing to our heavenly Father.
That’s my take anyway, at least for today!
One of my favorite things to look and admire at for the last twenty plus years has been my children. But getting them to hold still long enough to do a drawing is quite another matter altogether. Even still I was able to capture a few moments along the way.
When our second one came along, our daughter, it was amazing to watch our firstborn, tough little man that he was, come alongside her and begin to care for, protect and entertain her. I caught them sitting in a bentwood rocker together several times. We had bought that already worn out chair for five bucks at a garage sale and it turned out to be the perfect backdrop for these two little ones.
In this drawing she’s just a few months old. And he looks like the perfect big brother as they watched Jungle Book for the hundredth time! By the time I got around to painting them I’m pretty sure they were on to the Little Mermaid or something. But it held their attention just long enough to get some work done. And the rocker is a bit more frayed, but still serving as a decent backdrop.
As they continued to grow I caught them in all sorts of different poses, different activities and even different frames of mind. But is was always a treat to study and memorize every little part of their faces, their smiles, frowns, ears and eyes.
One day my youngest son propped his chin up on the stair railing leading to my studio. And he just stayed there for more than a few moments watch me paint. I slid the painting I had been working on over to the side, got a new piece of paper out and began drawing that wonderfully curious face.
But it’s not just the kids faces I like to memorize. This painting of Brenda was done from memory about 6 months into our marriage while she was at work one day. I needed a break from the commissioned piece I was working on and, so I did a painting of the love of my life.
For obvious reasons, these are still some of my favorites!
A few years ago I took a week-long canoe trip to the BWCA, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, in northern Minnesota. It was a chance to retreat, find some great peace and quiet, enjoy to great outdoors, and hopefully do a little watercolor painting. And while I did get to produce a great many smaller drawings and paintings, this particular painting has long been one of my favorites.
It was near the end of the day and the sun was getting low in the sky. And when this happens the colors, the light just seems to keep getting warmer and richer. And this rich, warm light was reflecting beautifully off the rocks as we paddled by. And the water was not quite perfectly still, rather it sort of seemed like we were looking through an old poured-glass window that slightly distorted the scene being reflected into it. The entire scene was so stunning, so warm and inviting and peaceful that it was etched into my mind for years to come. Whenever I linger at the original watercolor which hangs in my studio, I revisit the calm peacefulness of that evening.
Over the years I did many paintings of this scene, capturing it from different points of view, because I just sort of memorized it as we paddled past that evening. In fact I probably just stopped paddling as we drifted past…thinking, reflecting, praying, absorbing, memorizing. And as I’ve remembered that scene, the evening calm as we slowly made our way to a campsite, the richness of life—as I’ve remembered and re painted that scene over the years, I’ve constantly come back to this verse from the great Hebrew prophet Isaiah:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30.15).
For me, this scene has become a reminder of the way our heavenly Father offers his salvation and strength to us. In this verse there are four words describing what we do and to words describing what he provides. And there is so much contained in these words: repentance, rest, quietness and trust. I experience each of them in this painting. Here’s one way to think about it. Picture each of these words like individual paddle strokes, activities we do, to help us get more in touch with the one in whom real salvation and strength lives. These activities do not bring us salvation and strength, but they put us in a place where we can finally receive what our Father offers. And what he offers is so well worth the paddling, so well worth the effort.
In this scene I’m resting in the place of being able to receive what he offers, what my soul has always longed for. This painting is one of my reminders that repentance, rest, quietness and trust, is a very good place to be.
This print, just like the rest of them, is available if you’d like one!