The Farmer’s Market

Farmers Market

I painted this from some sketches I had done at an early morning market I once visited in Chicago. Yep, that’s right, a farmer’s market in Chicago. I had heard some restaurant owners talking about an early morning place they all went to get their fresh produce for the day. So I got up very early, for an art student, and set off to find this place.

 

IMG_0100Picture this with me…lots of the restaurant owners and all the produce sellers converged on this couple of block indoor/outdoor area for a few early morning hours at least a couple of times a week to exchange cold cash for raw produce so that they could feed the city, or at least those who eat in the local restaurants. It was a glorious madhouse. People running about shouting out orders for so much of this and so much of that. I sketched and sketched as fast as I could for about three hours until I had hand cramps. And then I went back to my studio to begin to turn it into paintings.

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Over the years I’ve gone back to those sketchbooks over and over again. This particular piece came from those original drawings, but many years later. It’s really interesting how, when I look at drawings in a sketchbook like this, I can still hear the shouting, smell the produce and feel the bone-chilling early morning air.

The passage I wrote on this painting is from Genesis 27, and is an ancient Hebrew prayer for blessing, for a full richness of life, “May God give you the dew of heaven, and the richness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine.”

If you’re interested in a print of this painting, well it’s available and waiting to get rescued from my closet.

The Minnesota Museum of Art

A few years ago. Quite a few to be exact. The Minnesota Museum of Art purchased one of my paintings. That was quite an experience for me. Why is that, Michael? I’m so glad you asked.

IMG_0969For years and years I had visited museums and loved every minute of it. I loved the large open rooms, the huge expanses of white walls and the uninterrupted time to study all the various kinds of art. I found it absolutely fascinating.

And I love the artwork. Everything from the solid colored 1960’s canvases to the ornate ancient Chinese body jewelry. It was wonderful. The creativity and craftsmanship was spectacular. But I especially love the marble sculpture, the paintings and the drawings. I would sometimes sit for hours in front on one painting, studying every line and shade and color and stroke. And I would often bring a sketchbook to jot down what I was learning.

At one point, while living in Chicago, I got special permission to bring my easel into the museum to spend a day copying a painting I especially admired. I had read that artists throughout the centuries learned in this way. And I just wanted to learn. The painting I was working from was painted by a fellow called John Singer Sargent. And needless to say, his was much better than any of my three attempts. But I did learn something.

There was one thing I didn’t appreciate, the museum tour guides. As I would be sitting for one place for some time, tour groups would pass through with one guide after another explaining all the things they thought the artist was thinking while working on the work being studied. It seemed to me, as someone who painted every day at that time, that most of what they were attributing to the artist’s thought life just wasn’t reality. But I digress, this is a whole different subject.

Back to the Minnesota Museum of Art. When I walked in that day to see my painting hanging on a wall next to others that I had long admired. Well, it took my breath away. Seriously. I had to sit down and a security guard came quickly over to see if everything was alright. I assured him I was healthy and went back to trying to find any unclaimed oxygen. I just sat there for a while and tears ran down my cheeks. I was thanking God for the ability and joy of recreating his creation on little sheets of paper.

IMG_0971Here is one of the original drawings that led up to the painting. I sometimes get asked if the work I’m creating exists out there in the real world, or is it all made up in my head—and the answer is yes! You can see the various elements in the original drawing, but they are rearranged or changed in the painting. In this way the artist can communicate and create a workable composition.

Anyway, that’s the thought for today. I have recently enjoyed paging through some older sketchbooks and reflecting. Enjoy winter!

The Pilot House – A New Print is Available

Pilot House - Pencil

Here’s a print of a pencil drawing I did a few years ago. The cabin is called “The Pilot House” and it on the shore of Burntside Lake just outside of Ely, Minnesota. It is a very beautiful and large lake, a great place to set up the watercolor easel and spend a few days being creative. I taught watercolor workshops up there over a few summers and grew to love the landscape. The camp where this cabin is located is called “Camp Du Nord” and is owned by the YMCA. If you’re ever looking for a place to get away from it all, this just might be a good choice.

And that cabin, well it is a special place. I don’t remember all the specifics. I think the cabin was originally built in the 1920’s or 30’s. Left over from the old days on the screened in porch which hangs over the lake there is a trap door built in to the floor to retrieve water from the lake. Now days the cabin has real plumbing so the trap door doesn’t get used as much…or does it?

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Brenda and I stayed here for a week while we were celebrating our fifth anniversary. We cooked and hiked and kept the fireplace burning and played lots of cribbage. There were no phones, no cell service or wifi, no one to interrupt the peacefulness of that slow week.

Anyway, when I look at this drawing I can still smell the fire softly crackling, the food cooking away. I can feel the crisp fall breeze and even see brilliant colors of the leaves. I can hear the waves gently lapping the shore and the birds singing overhead.

Drawing are kind of like that. I can shoot hundreds of photos, especially now that I don’t have to pay to get all that film developed. But as I look through all the photos I’ve shot I can hardly remember why I thought I needed that image. Perhaps you’ve had that experience as well. But with a drawing it is completely different.

As I comb through my sketchbooks and see all the drawing I’ve done over the years, I can still hear the sounds and smell the smells I experienced while making that sketch. It’s amazing to me. But there is something that gets triggered in our minds as we take the time to really interact with the landscape or person we find ourselves with.

Perhaps there a lesson in that for us, whether we like to draw or not. Perhaps we could remember the experiences in our lives a bit more, and enjoy the people in our lives a bit more if we just took the time to listen and look and study their faces and enjoy their smiles.

If you’re interested in a copy of this print, I still have a few available. Just head on over the the “Other Prints” page and get yourself on of these. I doubt you’ll be disappointed!

 

 

Creativity In Love And Freedom

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“There is no creativity without freedom.”

Really, is that true? I think so. If, as an artist (or anyone else for that matter), we must constantly ask ourselves, “What will people think?” or “Have I taken everything into account?” we will not achieve much, at least in the area of creativity. Why? Simply because we will always be relying on the rules made by others. We will stay within the boundaries other determine for us. And as someone who loves to think and write and paint and draw, this legalism, this staying within other’s predetermined boundaries stifles the creativity that longs to be expressed. Legalism and creativity have never been good roommates.

At the same time, creativity is also not meant to be completely unbounded. Hans Rookmaaker once wrote:

“Christian freedom is not a freedom from something, but  to do  something. It means openness, freedom of movement, exploration, and mental adventure.”

“Basically,” he goes on to say, “one should be free to do what is right.” As the title of this little thing states, our creativity is meant to exist in love and freedom.

Little GirlOur freedom never exists apart from love. Our freedom cannot be only an individualistic kind of freedom. We do not live on this earth in merely individualistic ways. There is a deep interconnectedness among all of humanity. We feel it strongly whenever something goes drastically wrong in the world. For instance, we ache with those who loose loved ones in a senseless act of violence. We must allow our freedom to be bounded by love.

Love means that we have responsibility, as servants of the living God, to direct our creativity for the benefit of others. As Jesus so succinctly put it, the purpose of our lives is to love God and to love our neighbor. And our creativity falls within this boundary. Creativity it turns out has a purpose and that purpose is love. And God, in his wisdom, has given us an amazing amount of freedom to express this love. We obviously don’t always get it right, but we have the freedom nonetheless.

So for me, when I want to take aim at getting it right, at expressing the creativity that is constantly bubbling up within in ways that are loving to God and those around me—when I want to get this right I have to be securely connected to my loving heavenly Father.

This freedom is a fruit of my relationship with God. According to Paul, the Spirit I received is not one that makes me a slave, but one that resounds within, crying, “Abba Father” (Romans 8.15). So this freedom is a fruit of the Spirit of God in my life. I am now free before God to call him ‘Father,” to enjoy him and his beautiful and wonderful creation, and to express his creativity in ways that help others. I experience this freedom because of his love towards me and so it is within this context that I give it away to others.

And if my life is rooted in Christ and is free before God, then I am free towards myself. I no longer need to be afraid to be of myself. Christ has accepted me as I am, with my own unique personality. And this helps me to live in freedom towards others. I am now free to work without pressure, without fear, without superiority or inferiority complexes. I am never alone. I now get to work hand-in-hand with the ultimate creator, experiencing and expressing his love and joy and beauty.

Issac MoellerLet me bring this down to earth a bit. When I paint I experience a bit of the joy and creativity of God, or at least it feels that way from time to time. There are all sorts of levels of experience and pleasure and thought going on at once. I am talking to him pretty much non-stop about whatever I’m looking at. I’m enjoying the shapes, the slender curve of a face, or the dramatic sweep of a landscape. I’m listening to the sounds, the birds or the breathing. I’m participating in the weather or the emotions of the thing. And I’m just thankful to be a small part of what is going on all around me in that moment. It’s pretty powerful and these words I’m typing do it little, if any justice.

And when I am done painting I step back and see something that expresses just a tiny bit of the love and joy and beauty I’ve experienced. And my prayer is that you get to experience just a bit of it as well.

May you be blessed!

Finding Inspiration

“Inspiration exists, but is has to find you working.” Pablo Picasso

One of my first-year instructors at the American Academy of Art, was Mr. Krajecki, and he used to tell me, “Michael, you’ll find plenty of inspiration when you get hungry enough!” I remember sitting at a little wooden desk that had probably been used by art students in downtown Chicago for for more than fifty years before my rear end found its way to it. I had been given a design assignment and want to do something no one had every thought of before. Something that would cause Mr. Krajecki to take notice of my substantial talents. But the great ideas seemed to be living very far from where I was searching.

It was at that point that he came up beside me, and with a hand on my shoulder told me where to to find the inspiration I longed for. Mr. Krajecki wasn’t the first person to say someone like this, and he surely won’t be the last. And I have discovered that what these quotes espouse is absolutely true.

Simply put, as I give myself to working each and every day, sketching, drawing and painting everything and everyone around me, noticing and drawing and watching and painting day after day after day—as I give myself to this work I have never ever run dry of real inspiring inspiration.

The banana paintings I shared on an earlier post were a day just like this. I was at the studio and it was time to work. I didn’t have anything that had to be done that day and I didn’t want a day to go by when I was not painting. So I set them up on a table and set easels all around. And as I was waiting for one painting to dry I would start another from another point of view. I was a whole lot more fun that it probably looks!

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you.” Chuck Close

This has been true in my life as an artist and it has been equally true in my walk of faith, following Jesus in my daily life. As I set aside the time each day to read the scriptures, to pray and interact personally with God, to reach out to others sharing my faith and praying for other’s needs—as I do this consistently day after day I have opportunities, I’ve place myself in a position to experience God’s presence in powerful ways.

And just like with my art, if I waited around to experience God’s presence before I went out, or if I waited to paint until I felt particularly artistic, there’s a whole lot of work that would never get accomplished. There’s a whole lot of what God is doing all around me that I would never get to join in on.

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. Thomas Edison

Becoming Human… Again

 “Christ did not die simply to make men Christians. That is not enough; his work too great. He died so that we might be human, living and acting in a human way, as God originally made us to live, in love and freedom.” H.R. Rookmaaker *

One of the unspoken things I felt when I began to follow Jesus, way back in 1976, was that I needed to give up, to walk away from some of the artistic activities I had enjoyed previously. That somehow playing the drums was inconsistent with being a Christian. And this was especially true if I was playing the music I really liked! I tended to feel the same way about drawing and painting. Looking back I can now realize how silly that is. But at the time it felt very serious. That somehow, to really follow Jesus, I was to leave all creativity behind.

During those years there were several things that kept me wondering how true it really was, did I really need to walk away from the art and music that I enjoyed making and listening to? One of those thought provoking songs was sung by Larry Norman entitled, “Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music.” Great title, huh?

larry-norman-only-visitingI want the people to know that He saved my soul,
But I still like to listen to the radio,

They say Rock ‘n Roll is wrong, They’ll give me one more chance. I feel so good I want to get up & dance.

I know what’s right, I know what’s wrong, I don’t confuse it. All I’m really trying to say Is , Why should the devil have all the good music?

I ain’t knockin’ the hymns, just give me a song that has a beat,
I ain’t knockin’ the hymns, just give me a song that moves my feet,
I don’t like any of them funeral marches, I ain’t dead yet.

I discovered along the way that many of us have felt this way. Some of us were told this outright. Others, like me, just felt it. But many of us have experienced this struggle. And personally, I think this struggle is a good one. Really? Yes.

As I heard and began to understand the message of Jesus from the New Testament and from the lives of those I knew who were trying to follow him; as I began to understood the implications of the gospel, I rightly realized that this message, this new way of life, if it was true it was going to effect every single area of my life. Nothing would remain unscathed. Nothing would be untouched. Nothing would be left unhealed.

Rightly so, this leads to a thorough examination of every part of our lives. An overreaction at this point could easily cause us to jettison even good things from our lives. I am so thankful for discovering the writings of Hans Rookmaaker and Francis Schaeffer, and a couple of relationships with really good friends. These writers and friends kept me from the knee-jerk overreactions and helped me to see how God had been shaping my life long before I had become aware there even was a God.

Self Portrait : 300dpiOne of many things I’ve learned along the way is how God blesses and encourages the human part of my life. My spiritual life and my bodily life are not at odds with one another. Rather as I follow Jesus he is inviting me to become more human, more the way he intended me to be. More able to appreciate and enjoy everything and everyone he’s created. More in love with him in all the depth and breadth of his character. And so much more free to be the person he created me to be.

 

*H.R. Rookmaaker, “The Creative Gift, Essays On Art And The Christian Life”, Crossway Books, 1981, p. 25

Bananas

A while back I had what you could call a “banana” day. It’s kind of like a “banner” day, but different. I set up three of four easels in my studio around a bunch of bananas. That’s it. Really. Of course I painted quite a bit until about 2 pm. After that I ate them. All in all it was a very good day.

At the end of the day a friend came in and asked if I was disappointed that some of the paint had run or dripped. I explained that the drips were all a part of what I was trying to accomplish. They are there to remind the viewer that this is, after all, a painting. They are a draw back into the two-dimensional aspect of the work. At least that sounded good at the time.

Here they are… the bananas in all their glory!

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Cleaning up the Studio

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Yep. That’s what I’ve been up to the past few days. Ever since I last moved my office, about three and a half years ago, all of my art supplies, a whole host of prints and original paintings and drawings, and more miscellaneous stuff than you can imagine—all of this has been piled floor-to-ceiling in one of our extra bedrooms. This week I decided to dive into that mess and see what I could find. And I found a whole lot. I found lots of dust, a few cobwebs, boxes of my favorite pencils, original work that I had forgotten I had created, and boxes upon boxes of prints of some of my work.

Many years ago a couple of fellows tried to start a 20121227-225049.jpgfine art print business. And one of the artists they wanted to publish was yours truly. I had never wanted to go into the print market myself. I loved the idea of the original work I had worked so hard to create being purchased and passed down through the years. Prints, to me, seemed like such a cheap and throw-away commodity. But as the prices of myoriginal work continued to increase, many of my friends were unable to afford the work. And well, I did need to make a living.

 

 

20121227-225102.jpgSomething else happened along the way as well. At one of my yearly openings, I set the sketchbooks I had used that year around the gallery for folks to look at. In my sketchbooks werenot only the initial drawings I had used to create the larger work, I also had various thoughts, ideas, quotes and even prayers that were meaningful as I was working on those paintings. Person after person came up to me that night to tell me how powerful it was for them to read what I had written alongside of seeing the work itself.

The prints that were eventually made reflected those sketchbook pages. A quicker watercolor sketch with one of the meaningful, at least to me, quotes or thoughts or prayers hand-written in pencil right with it.

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This is one of those paintings—of my favorite watercolor brush. This one holds so much water and pigment and just flows so nicely across the paper. And my prayer almost every time i use it is simply this, “Paint in my life a portrait of Jesus.” I just want to look more and more like him.

Art Needs No Justification

skf9F-688x1024One of the first writers I encountered along the way who encouraged me to pursue this gift of creativity was a man named Hans Rookmaaker. I never met Hans. In fact he died just a few months after I began to follow the ways of Jesus. But his writings and his life made a profound impact on my own.

I had always loved art and drawing and creativity. My mother reminds me that as a youngster I didn’t like coloring books with pictures already in them. Rather I wanted “blank coloring books” so that I could make my own pictures. And just a bit later in life I also didn’t appreciate the school art classes with all the various projects we were required to work on. All I wanted was a pencil and some paper and a good dose of quite, undisturbed time to draw. Apparently that was asking too much for more than a few of my art teachers!

After becoming a follower of Jesus things began to be a little more complicated. I was consistently encouraged to use my drawing ability to help “win” people over. And that the drawings were only useful as a way to communicate or preach about why following Jesus was better than all the other options for how to approach life. This is where the writings of Hans Rookmaaker came into play.

I discovered a small booklet in the basement bookstore of the bible college I was attending. The title “Art Needs No Justification,” was completely intriguing to me and I bought it immediately. Hans helped me to see that even just the possibility of creating art, creating something beautiful and well-designed, was in itself an act of worship to our creator. And then to be able to share that creativity with others, to help add beauty to their lives, was another powerful way to love our neighbors as ourselves. Hans writes:

“To be a Christian artist means that ones particular calling is to use ones talents to the glory of God, as an act of love toward God and as a loving service to our fellows. It means to be on the way, preparing ourselves as well as we can, learning the trade techniques and principles, learning from the work of others and from their mistakes, finding our direction, experimenting, achieving what we set out to do or failing. To work in such a way, with all our heart and mind and spirit, with all our potential talents, in openness and freedom, praying for wisdom and guidance, thinking before we work, is to accept our responsibility.” (Rookmaaker, Art Needs No Justification; you can download a copy here)

It’s difficult to express the freedom I felt as I first read his words. But this freedom has impacted me deeply ever since. It has colored the way I approach art or design. It has colored the way I approach being a pastor of a pretty cool church. It has influenced the way I worship God and follow his son. It has colored pretty much everything I do or say or the way I think about life. In this simple way of looking at the world I have found a freedom to pursue and express the creativity God has invited us to be a part of.

I would encourage you to read this little booklet, if you haven’t, and tell me what you find.