Back in the studio!

I feel a little bit bad saying this, but the opportunities the pandemic and subsequent shutdown provided for me, along with, a year later, my first three-month sabbatical after twenty-four years of ministry, was a vey unique and wonderful opportunity. Altogether, it’s been a brutally difficult, and at the same time, an absolutely glorious period of creativity. I’ve found joy in every moment. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m serious. In the past couple of years, I’ve lost my father (due to covid), and many who I would’ve considered friends have distanced themselves from me. At the same time, I was afforded the opportunity to lean into artistic disciplines that have long gone ignored. And I’ve worked at adding new skills to the mix of my life. Through all of it, I’ve continued to grow, to explore new visions of creativity, and to find refreshment for my soul in ways that continue to bring me great joy.
These pieces of art represent of some of what I’ve been learning… There are landscape painting of places I dearly love. Objects that highlight the beauty of the ongoing work of our hands. Words and prayers that are continually on our lips. People who radiate the image of our creator. And ancient scriptures that represent the life we’re invited into, passages that point us toward the love we dearly long for.
This artwork, as I’ve put it on display, is presented in a way that highlights its fragility… honestly, it’s really only marks I’ve made on paper. The paper and the writing or painting is not incredibly permanent. Although I’ve used the best of materials—one-hundred percent cotton paper and light-fast pigments—its still incredibly fragile… just like us. While we might not often take time to consider our own physical impermanence on this planet, it’s still a reality. Each of the materials used has another story to tell, from unique writing instruments to the brushes, the different kinds of paper, and even the leather and two-hundred year-old wood used to hang each piece… just like you and I, each element has it’s own story that’s worth hearing of how it ended up here. To view these up-close and personally, visit the gallery at the Vineyard Church of Duluth, Minnesota sometime this summer.
Come Holy Spirit #3
Expressive Calligraphy with Walnut Ink on Cold-Pressed Strathmore paper
This represents that way this ancient prayer is never far from my lips, always a part of each breath I take. Whether I always realize it or not, my life in continually dependent  on the empowering presence of God. And I want this prayer to never get old, to never become merely rote repetition on my lips.
Psalm One
Expressive Calligraphy with Walnut Ink on Hot-Pressed Strathmore paper
The first of the psalms paints a word picture of the kind of life we’re invited into… a life deeply dependent on the one who created us. Creativity, joy and lasting fruitfulness are the result of experiencing daily delight in the wisdom of the one who made us. I wrote out this psalm by hand almost daily over several months while working on a commissioned watercolor which represented this scene. As I read, and as I wrote this out day ofter day, over and over again, I asked God for this delight over his way of life to continue to grow in my own soul, that my life would resemble the tree in this psalm.
A Stack of Books #2
Watercolor on Cold-Pressed Strathmore paper
Over the course of my life I’ve discovered that my difficulty with letters and numbers was the result of dyslexia. And while over time I’ve learned many coping mechanisms, the difficulties with reading are never far away. (I regularly thank God for spell-check). Throughout my life I’ve also discovered the incredible beauty and joy of books! There is so much I don’t know…so much to learn and experience and think about. And even the books themselves are beautiful works of art. The art of book binding is amazing beautiful. The objects themselves are treasures where I experience the joy of God’s creativity in my soul. (And, sometime over a drink, ask me the story of applying for, and being denied a job at a college library!)
Duluth’s Canal Park from the Rose Garden
Watercolor on Rough Strathmore paper
This is one of many plein-air paintings from this location that I’ve completed over the past couple of years. There’s something very powerful for me about slowing down enough, while outside, to begin notice all of the details of a particular scene. When I look at a piece like this, I can hear still hear the noises, the conversations happening around me, and the people I met that day. I can smell all the smells and feel the sun or rain or wind I encountered. And I can immediately remember what God was saying to me as I worked to represent what I was seeing on that day.
A View of Wisconsin from Duluth’s Rose Garden
Watercolor on Rough Strathmore paper
On the same afternoon that I painted the a scene of Canal Park, I just rotated my easel about twenty-degrees and found myself looking across lake Superior toward Wisconsin. What a stunningly beautiful place we get to live in. We just look in a slightly different direction and a whole different scene presents itself. Not far from where I was sitting, a man who is currently housing-challenged was making and selling small wallets and coin bags from scraps of leather and fabric he’d found. Perhaps because he was a tad more friendly than I was on that day, he had many more conversations with passersby. Afterwards we had a lovely chat about the beauty of this place we both call home.
The Breath of God
Expressive Calligraphy with Sumi Ink on Waterford paper
I had recently been studying how God revealed himself to Moses in the book of Exodus, and the personal name of God… יהוה, (yhwh). Scholars have suggest that this could be the sound of an inhale and an exhale. In this piece I was visually playing with the idea of God’s name, of an extended inhale and an extended exhale. I wanted to visually represent the experience of being close enough to not only hear, but to feel, to experience God’s breath in a tangible way.
The House My Father Grew Up In
Watercolor on Hot-Pressed Strathmore 5-Ply Bristol Board
My father transitioned to be with God on December 24, 2021. He is the first of my parents to have died. I wasn’t able to be with him because of restriction around Covid. One of the way’s I’ve been able to interact and process my grief has been to paint and draw moments from his life, the places walked and the people he knew. This house In Tangent, Oregon is no longer standing, as least as I could see as I drove around the small town several times one afternoon last summer. I had visited this house several times as a kid, playing with my grandparents and more than a few uncles and aunts. Processing my grief in this way is extremely helpful as I relive and thank God for all the wonderful memories I have with my family.

Hanging a new show at the Vineyard

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!