I have spent the majority of my life in an art studio of one description or another. Lately I’ve entered the music studio stage of my life, and it welcomed me with open arms, like I was coming home. One of my mentors calls it the peace that surpasses understanding, and I must say, doors have been opening for me that I never expected.
Recently I was asked by a buddy, Jim, to sing backups on his album. I was so honored. We had met over a year ago at one of my regular events and regularly admire each other’s work, so of course I agreed.
I was a little nervous before going, having only recorded in my own home recording booth thus far – but it was a very positive experience. The sound engineer Brian was very welcoming and down to earth. I loved watching the workflow in general; as I observed, I had good instincts and practices in my own recording and editing, and even my choice in equipment.
When it was my turn in the booth, I took to the environment like a duck to water. I was decisive as to whether it was a good or bad take or if a certain phrase needed tweaking. As at home, I knew listening through the headphones gave me much more detailed sound so I could really hear and give feedback to both songwriter Jim and engineer Brian, to cooperatively refine the tracks. I easily articulated what needed doing; asked what they thought; we found solutions together.
As a natural harmonizer, I hear harmonies all over the instrumentation in a piece. I know I have choices and I know I don’t have to stick to one part; I can go between parts or sing in unison or drop out in different areas of a song to leave the spotlight on the main vocals, in order to interpret the intensity of the lyrics in each part or to help the song to build and to resolve. As I listened to Jim’s songs, I honed in on the story being told and made some suggestions, as he humbly gave me a wide latitude of artistic license. He heard many and we discussed options, and he liked my instincts. On one song, I asked, “Can you give me a separate track in addition to the one I just did, so I can experiment? Do we have time?” I got their respective blessings and did what I was thinking of, not even being able to hear my other harmony track. When Brian played back all the tracks together, we learned that I harmonized in perfect time and relationship to my other harmony. They were both reacting, “How did you do that?” and I said, “I can still hear the other one in my head; I just thought this area might like a little more roundness for emphasis.” They thought it was genius concept and execution (thanks to already having familiarized myself with the songs ahead of time, I even laid down a couple tracks in a single take with almost no editing needed) – and even though it was unplanned, it was a keeper for the song, and we did the same sort of thing on the next song because he was so happy with the results. Jim’s praises and trusting my instincts were very validating!
After the last session, I stuck around briefly, talking recording process and equipment with Brian, who was very gracious and generous with his knowledge and his feedback with where I had already gotten on my own. He was so encouraging and it inspired me, because he has a degree in this field and many years of experience. I couldn’t wait to get back to recording my own work at home, armed with bolstered confidence.
I have to say that in the information age, almost any knowledge you want is available if you are willing to search for it, and it’s helped me to do everything from learning web design to repairing several engine issues in my truck to learning languages, and now…sound engineering and recording, as well as music business. But machines and books can never replace that human experience and exchange of ideas; the open, spontaneous, sharing communications of humans are key for all growth and creation. One doesn’t create in a bubble; we have to get it out there! And I will, but I’m taking the necessary time and effort in order to do it right.
I have the blessing of many wonderful musicians in my life, a driving passion and hungry mind that God gave me, and more than one family and growing number of fans who cheer me on. May you each find your niche and support system as well.
Fine artists and math aren’t usually friends. Math is a necessary evil at times, but visual and wordy creative types generally avoid it. (And for those of you who know my fanaticism concerning grammar and spelling, yes, the title above was intentional, and no, I do not have a fever. I do however suffer from a fascination with terrible puns. And no, there isn’t any other kind of pun.)
However, math skills are incredibly useful in many areas of drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture and more. Linear perspective is based on mathematical relationships, lending realistic proportions to depictions. It translates into sculpture getting anatomy in proportion; into fashion design measuring for pattern sizing. Ancient cultures, Michelangelo, and modern artists alike utilized measuring and drawing grids for enlarging paintings. Mathematical volume ratios are important in timing and recipes, from acids for etching printing plates, to mixing paints, to formulating ceramic glazes and kiln temperatures and firing times.
I didn’t like math much, except geometry. It actually has saved my art projects on many occasions. It isn’t just figuring square footage for a rectilinear wall (length x width) before you buy too much paint. It can be handy to figure out the perimeter of various shapes depending on a project’s needs, and you may not be able to predict all the needs you’ll have in future projects, so it’s good to already have a working knowledge of math embedded in your grey matter before a problem crops up (especially if you’re under a deadline).
The point is, for example, at this particular juncture you don’t know how big the circle is or the radius or diameter from the info you have right in front of you. This is how you find out. Once I had a project into which I had to figure out how to fit a circle exactly between random elements that were not making it easy to just measure a diameter; the three places crowding into the space formed a triangle. Using my existing knowledge of geometry, I could figure out the precise point at which I needed to place my compass point, based on a principle that didn’t even require actual measuring. No measuring? Cool. I did have a couple of extra steps because the space was already halfway enclosed and I did have to take measurements to recreate a triangle from those three points to get the angles right, but I’ll start by the main concept, which, barring such constraints, really requires no measuring.
First, some basic vocabulary, like you need to know that straight line segments connect singular points. Simple enough. Then you must understand what perpendicular means: that would be a line that is exactly 90 degrees difference from another line. Then you should know that “bisect” means to cut in half. Also know that the center point of a circle is theoretically where one could put a compass point to adjust the business end to scribe a circle around it, and the distance between the circle’s edge to the center point is called a radius, and the distance across the widest part of a circle from edge to edge is a diameter. Sorry if that seems a little too elementary, but I’m trying not to assume too much (I haven’t limited who visits here other than spammers and other mischief makers).
That introduction should prepare anyone for the following rule: the center point of a circle that will pass through all three of any three points (in any orientation to each other) may be found by determining the respective perpendicular bisectors of two line segments connecting any two pairs of the three points, and locating the intersection of these two bisectors. For example, on Figure 2 one line segment paired with its perpendicular bisector is in purple, and the other pair is in green; where the green and purple bisectors intersect is where you put your compass point; adjust it to the span between that point (the center point) and any one of the random three points, and you will see that the circle drawn with that radius will pass through all three of those points.
Now, your three points can be in any proportional orientation to each other; they needn’t be lined up anywhere close to a regular sequence as they nearly are in Figure 2 above. Alternatively, as in Figure 3 here, two points can be rather close to each other, while the third is relatively distant, yet you will find that the principle of the intersection of perpendicular bisectors functions every bit as accurately with any configuration for finding that common radiusat that intersection point. You’ll notice that the intersection seems to be more “between” some of the points in this second example; whereas before, it seemed more “outside” of the area of the more lined up points. And that’s okay, either way.
So…how does one determine that perpendicular bisector? Well, there’s always measuring it out, which is a fat pain in the neck, but the easy way is with any straightedge and the compass with its pencil. Even if all you have is a piece of scrap paper, you can fold it over a few times and the fold will make a nice straightedge if you don’t abuse it too much. You don’t need a ruler with measuring marks, and you don’t actually have to calculate anything; the laws of physics do the heavy lifting, and you’re just an apparatus. So let’s try it:
1. Draw a line segment between any two of the three points.
2. Draw a second segment between (either) end of the first segment (since you only have the two choices left), and the third point.
3. The same procedure for finding the perpendicular bisector (steps 4 through 7) will be applied to each segment, so choose just one to perform it on first.
4. Stretch your compass just a little farther than the length of line segment #1. A distance that could produce a nearly equilateral triangle would be sufficient distance to get a good bisector length.
5. Place your compass point on one end of the segment.
6. Estimate about where you think a perpendicular line would pass on both sides of the segment and mark an arc (just part of a circle) lightly but generously in that vicinity, to be sure it crosses it on both sides fully. Do not readjust your compass after making these lines. Figure 6 may help you see what I mean on placement.
7. Repeat the arc process from the point on the other end of segment #1. Again, don’t readjust your compass by mistake; these arcs must be equal from either side to stay centered. This will produce a little “X” on either side of segment #1. Drawing a line that passes right through those two X’s willbe the perpendicular bisector of that segment.
8. Now repeat steps 4 through 7, only for (whichever your choice is for:) segment #2.
Now if you have a physical project that you needed a circle shape for, you can cut out the circle you just made, and use the circle itself (either it, or use the hole it left in the paper or cardboard you cut it from) as a drawing template. Cut it out of chipboard or whatever and it’ll be a little sturdier than just on paper, but a little harder to cut out. Or match a circle template to it if you can…you may not be able to, though, since available sizes of templates are so limited. If you’re an adult, I suggest cutting it out carefully by hand with and X-Acto knife instead of scissors if you can (but kids, DO get help from an adult; X-Acto type art knives are notorious for slicing even adults if one isn’t very careful and steady), or if you’re lucky enough to have a circle cutter, go for that if you’re working in wood. (It bears mentioning that in every school, furniture, design or model building shop I ever worked in, these art knives had way more accident reports than any of the power tools! Don’t be overly confident; be extra careful!!)
My project for which I first had to use this knowledge had a key area that was very difficult to access, because other elements were already in the way to just being able to measure easily. Knowing the (perhaps obscure) three-point rule about circles was already in my brain, patiently waiting for a use when I found I needed it. It paid off!
But sometimes you’ll need actual measurements for a triangle. The thing one has to remember is that any 3 points (that can locate a circle) also makes a triangle, and all triangles have 3 sides. Those sides (like the segments we made in the last exercise) have center points, (and therefore, they have perpendicular bisectors). Triangles also have 3 vertices (vertexes if you prefer), or corners, and no matter what proportion the triangle is in (right, obtuse, scalene, equilateral, isosceles; whatever), those 3 vertices always total 180 degrees when you add their angle measurements together. Always! And that means that there is always a way to figure any single unknown measurement, so long as you have the degree measurements of at least 2 vertices, or of at least 2 sides. This is why the Pythagorean theorem works for right triangles; but I’ll explain that later. Don’t worry: the formula is almost easier than the pronunciation. (You can scroll down to Figures 8 and 10 for triangle references, where these two triangle paragraphs are expanded upon.)
What if you don’t have a right triangle? Well, how much info do we have? Is it enough? You pretty much need measurements of 2/3 of the sides or 2/3 of the vertices degrees to get that last third of either. There are ways to do combinations of a vertex and a couple of sides and things like that, but I have neither needed that combination nor have I any recollection of how to do it, and it’s late and I’m too tired to look any of this stuff up; I’m going purely on memory in this whole post…literally from decades past.
You might wonder why we even want to know any stuff about sides. Well, if you’re edging a shape with some sort of trim, you’d need to figure out the perimetermeasurement, or the distance around it, so you’d know how much yardage/board footage (or other type of length) of trim to buy. If you’re painting a big shape, you’d want to know how much paint you’ll need, and need to calculate the area of a shape. Most containers tell builders or DIY remodelers how many fluid ounces or gallons or whatever they contain; some will say how many square inches or feet or whatever that liquid volume will cover…but they may not. And having far too much or too little is often a problem if you fail to plan. Paint can get pricy, and it’s bad for the environment to waste it and many people don’t even bother to look at recycling. So waste not!
Area, a measure of the surface of a two-dimensional entity, is good knowledge for many things: ordering sod for your yard, or raw canvas to stretch z number of qsized stretched canvases plus their borders, or concrete for your patio, or to help calculate how much x number of cows will eat grazing a pasture in y amount of time before you have to rotate them to a different pasture and let the other pastures grow again for the next round. Cows? We’re talking about cows? Heck yeah! Math is super useful in almost any topic. So there are formulas to help us figure this stuff out for almost any shape, even if you have to take a big weird shape and break it up into smaller components that are easier to define and then add it all together.
Quadrilaterals, Triangles and Circles
I guess I’ll start with quadrilaterals, or four-sided figures; they’re the easiest. Perimeter for a square would be S x 4, where S stands for Side. For a rectangle it would be (length x 2) plus (width x 2), or L2+W2. For a parallelogram it would be the same as for a rectangle, and for a rhombus, perimeter formula would be the same as for a square…but not so for area.
The area (A) of a square or rectangle is simply A=L x W. For a rhombus, you measure the lines connecting the opposing corners and multiply those: A=D1 x D2 (D stands for diagonal). For a parallelogram it’s a liiiittle more complicated, because you kind of break it up into components, one of which is a triangle, so I’ll shelf the parallelogram and teach you about triangles first, with a quick detour to trapezoids in between.
Triangles are nearly their own field of study and I do believe that relates to the term “trigonometry”. All I remember from trig is how to figure the sine, cosine, and tangent, and I’ve not yet had practical cause to use it, so I’ll skip that for my audience. We’ll concentrate on perimeter and area.
The perimeter of any triangle is just derived by adding the sides’ values to each other. The area, however, is obtained by using the formula A=½ h(b); in other words, area equals ½ times the height, times the base (when you see parentheses in a formula, it means to multiply the value within and the values outside the parentheses…it saves confusion using the old-school multiplication symbol x alongside variables which also may look like x). It makes more sense when you look at a right triangle and notice that it’s like someone sliced a square (or a rectangle, or a rhombus) in half diagonally…base times height is a whole lot like length times width for a square…then you divide it in half, because it’s only half of the area of the quadrilateral it would fit in. ½ h(b). Picture that while looking at the different triangle types in Figure 8 above. So…what are height and base?
Well, you can take any triangle and assign one side (generally the bottom) as the base. From there, the top corner opposite that base is what determines height, but only if you measure on the perpendicular. It doesn’t matter if the height is directly over the base or hanging out in the “air”, as it might with an obtuse triangle. The height is always completely perpendicular to the base (see Figure 8 above, on far right; the obtuse triangle with the dotted lines; note how that also translates to the acute triangle in center).
Now I’m just going to give formulas for shapes, and if you have questions on how to execute them, please email me…or contact your local math teacher, who is probably (hopefully) far better at explaining this than I am.
A trapezoid at first seems like a Frankenstein’s monster of shapes, but its formula is pretty easy, kind of ripped off from the triangle, but it acknowledges measurements for a top AND a bottom base: A=1/2 h(b1+b2). You don’t double the height, because it’s still just one height. Note that the formula below the parallelogram in Figure 9 says “either base”, not “both”, because you only need ONE. Since they’re the same (they’re parallel and so are the sides that connect them), you can choose either one of them.
Right triangles of course have special rules all their own. In geometry they always have a little square in the corner reminding you that their angle is 90 degrees. The single side exactly opposite that right angle is called the hypotenuse. The example shown on the far left is actually an isosceles triangle (two 45-degree angles plus one 90-degree angle equals 180 degrees), but sides a and b could also be different lengths, and the other two angles can be different measurements as well (as they would necessarily be, what with having different length sides). For example, the triangle on the right has one 30-degree angle, one 60-degree angle, and the (right) 90-degree angle, again adding up to 180 degrees.
Right triangles are where the Pythagorean theoremcomes in: a2 x b2 = c2. If a triangle with sides abc is a right triangle with c being the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle), where the number of length units a=3 and of b=4, and you don’t know c, you can calculate that using the theorem: a2 + b2 = c2, and a=3 so 3×3=9, and b=4 so 4×4=16, so 32 + 42 = c2, then 9 +16 = c2, then c2 is obviously 25, and the square root of 25 is 5. So 5 is the measurement of that hypotenuse. Obviously, the measurements rarely calculate so they fall into such neat round numbers; this is just an easy example. You can figure other square roots manually, but it is admittedly tedious; I highly recommend using a calculator for this component. Similarly, if you change the same proportion around so that b is the value missing instead of c, you can just subtract a from c to get b, or: c2–a2=b2, instead of adding like we just did.
Hmm…we’ve done quadrilaterals and triangles quite enough. So back to circles – let’s do some actual math. One of the most “famous” formulas in geometry is “Pi R squared“, or πr2. In truth, that’s not a complete formula; it’s only half! You need to know what that combination yields. In this case, it’s the Area, so A=πr2 is the whole (balanced) formula. The A again represents Area; the r represents the radius, or the distance from the center point to any edge of a circle (and it’s the same distance to any edge of the same circle). Another useful formula for circles is for the Circumference, or the distance around the outside – and yes, basically it’s the same thing as perimeter for other shapes; “circumference” is just a specialized term for the perimeter of a circle. The formula looks a tiny bit like the one for Area, but don’t confuse the two: C=2πr or in longhand: Circumference = 2 times pi times the radius. (It really is quite different in function.) Now, anyone who’s paying attention will notice that 2 times radius is the same thing as (one times) the diameter, since the diameter is the distance across a circle at its widest, which necessarily runs through the center point…essentially, 2 radiuses. So you could alternately say π(d) and be done with it. Except, of course, until you need to plug in a definition for π (pronounced pi like the Greek letter). Pi is a “magical” circle-specific value represented by 22/7 – which, since those numbers don’t ever make human sense together, have a decimal equivalent something like:
3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640628620899862803482534211706798214808651328230646…blah blah, random constant ad infinitum…but for most practical purposes, 3.14 is adequate. If you don’t dig doing immortal arithmetic using top-heavy improper fractions with anemic prime denominators, go for the decimal shorthand instead. I think I’ve done more with circles than with any other shape, save for squares…obviously.
Formulas For Forms
Artists also work with 3-D geometric forms as well as simply 2-D shapes. Remember from our art lessons on Forms that forms are essentially mere spatial extrusions or rotations of shapes, expanding 2-D to 3-D. Formulas abound for forms as well, but instead of needing formulas for area and circumference or perimeter, they need formulas for things like volume and surface area…things like for the sphere: V=4/3(π)r3. Prisms are easy; calculate the shape on the end and multiply by the height of the prism to get the volume of it. Surface area of those, you just calculate the areas of rectangular sides and add them all to the areas of each of the ends. Pyramidsare 4 equilateral or isosceles trianglesplusasquarebase for surface area. Volume for those is a little weirder. Cubes are made of 6 squares, so their surface area would be the area of one square times 6; its volume would be Length times Width times Height (LxWxH). Tetrahedrons are 4-sided forms with all equilateral sides. When you get into dodecahedrons, icosahedrons and the like, you’ve gone beyond what I’ve ever had use for personally, but there are mathematic resources on the web you can search for with any question – or, again, contact your local friendly math expert and he or she will likely be glad for the inquiry.
Grow Further from the Foundations
Of course, shapes and forms may not always conform to geometric proportions; sometimes they are organic shapes or forms (see lesson on Shape). But usually you can guesstimate parts based on similarity to a geometric counterpart…or five.
Now, you may be wondering…how on earth again can any of this be useful to an artist? I’m certainly not saying it comes up with every project. But when it does come up, it is good to be prepared, and know what you’re doing. I had to figure out how to draw proper gothic arches for my 3-tree triptych. I had to figure out perspective for Catreedral. I had to stay aware of paint to medium to water ratios in all of my acrylic mixtures so my paint didn’t lose adhesion viscosity effective in relation to the canvas or other substrates. I do commission work to fit in certain spaces in situ.
A lot of times it’s like my first example: you’re trying to fit an element into a composition with only part of the information you need to execute it, and you should know how to generate that missing information from what you do have. It can help you assemble 3-dimensional forms; it can help you understand proportion when drawing things either freehand or by perspective. It can help you organize radial or concentric arrays or grids in regular intervals to make patterns. It can be used in symbolic capacities. It can help you distribute elements on a certain shape and size of substrate. Perimeterand circumferenceare good for figuring minimum linear measurements for physical materials to wrap around the outside of a shape. Volume is good for figuring out how much resin you can fill a hollow form with, or how much airspace a solid one will take up, or how much water or glycerin it would displace if submerged; while areaand surface area would let you know how much paint or flocking or whatever you would need to color or coat the thing with. When you get into large shapes or forms this sort of calculation takes on a more significant importance with budgeting supplies, as well as figuring sale price from a root of cost of materials, times your hourly rate, differentials, incidentals and whatever is relevant for your medium and project. It’s not always formulas; sometimes it’s understanding the theory and relationships behind the formula and applying it in a custom situation. I’ve gotten to the place where I know some of this stuff so well, I can visualize it accurately without doing computations, which saves lots of time with sometimes impatient or unrealistic clients.
When I was an architectural model builder, I was given a rather challenging project: to produce a very quick small-scale context model of a building designed by a visionary architect named Frank Gehry…without any plans or elevations. I was to fabricate it from rigid, flat clear acrylic sheet, and manipulate it to match the feel of an existing context model. I had no access at the time to 3D printers, and clear media on those had not yet been developed. I had to figure out how to make a flat pattern, cut it on the laser cutter out of clear acrylic, and then carefully melt it into shape with a propane torch and tweezers to bend it into shape, but I needed a starting point that was viable, in a flat pattern I could cut out first on the laser cutter. I scrutinized a digital virtual model of this building, which looked, as some say, like a crumpled piece of paper, and then I noticed that the (thankfully ubiquitous) windows were of a certain ratio of proportion to themselves and between each other, and were laid out on a sort of grid, and I started twirling the camera angle in the file all around, (no idea who drafted it or how; stellar job though), counting in all the relevant directions, taking notes and creating a schematic. I ended up, using synthesized knowledge from my foundations in geometry, making a very faithful yet tiny model of that building that satisfied all requirements from my superiors and from the client. Geometry prowess made my deducing the pattern for it possible, and my job very well may have depended on it…I was after all running the model shop, and there was no one else to figure it out for me, or so I assumed; it was my job to do it. Math saved my proverbial posterior. Never underestimate the income value of the ability to analyze and solve.
If you prepare and have these geometric principles in your head already, you will be able to spontaneously formulate solutions to many future problems on the fly, without ever having anticipated this or that particular challenge prior to its presenting itself. In professional situations, clients are not willing to wait around for you to learn basic, practical information like math to finish their project; you should already know that stuff. That’s part of doing the job. A well-rounded artist is versatile – and by nature, a problem solver. Math, and particularly the user-friendly concrete geometry, is another essential tool in your utility belt.
It must be said that art should not be funneled down to graphic design applications, any more than math should be limited to what a calculator can do for you. What I mean is, get down in the muck (or paint or clay or hand ciphering) and do it manually; figure it out on your own, without a machine, because that is what it takes to get your brain to be really agile and useful in unpredictable situations. And hey, if an anti-tech dystopian society befalls us, you’ll have marketable skills that will fast earn your reputation as a person in great demand and of great success by default, since most dullards won’t be able to add two and two and come up with four without some microchip telling them so, or be able figure out how big a barrel to make to fit that low-tech washbasin in the corner of his hovel, let alone how much pitch to coat it with so it doesn’t turn his dirt floor to mud.
If you are frustrated with other academic subjects, and struggling to find relevance for them in your life, I do hope you take this post to heart as the first of many examples of how things are, in fact, connected, and how they can be made useful. Aspects and underlying concepts in different areas of knowledge can be synthesized quite usefully into other areas, informing your vocation in ways that are rich and multilayered, and propelling you (and your career) into deeper realms of excellence in your craft.
This sort of outside-the-box thinking is actually cultivated in studying the arts themselves, more than in other more common school subjects alone. This is also why I am more a proponent of STEAM schools over STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math schools)…the “A” standing for “Arts”, of course…and that’s not just visual arts, but all arts, for they all stimulate and stretch the brain in unique ways: analysis, synthesis and evaluation over mere memorization, comprehension and simple applications. It’s the type of creative, often unstructured yet free and communicative thinking that fosters inventive minds and generates entrepreneurs, and that’s a pretty darn important bundle of skills these days. On that note, I encourage everyone to support arts education in all schools, because it enhances technology training in crucial ways that cannot be taught without the arts. Arts and the way they challenge our brain development will always be just as valuable to our culture as math, sciences and history, and as important as communication and social skills will always be, which we are relearning as a society, through recent backsliding and failures, that we still very much need to retain and sustain. Arts, in concert with technology and other sectors, will help us to preserve, portray and propel our culture.
I started drawing as soon as my dimpled little fist could grasp one of those big fat crayons. I’d been fascinated by the concept of art since I was two, when my mother explained, in simple terms, the idea of imagination and art looking like reality. I didn’t care how long it took…if someone else could do it, I wanted that magical power to create something from nothing and make people believe it. I wanted it more than anything–and it was not a passing fancy. Decades later, the fire hasn’t faded.
When my class hit second grade, we all had to take IQ tests. I scored within a couple points of genius and was placed in a “gifted” class the next year with other advanced students. We got extra projects to stimulate our nimble, hungry minds; we had an engaging teacher, and most of us were quite happy and productive. My artwork flourished, I had a diverse group of friends, and my life was very, very good.
Then my family had to move. My father’s job caused this occasionally, and it was always an upheaval. But in this particular timing, in the place we ended up, was to do nearly irreparable damage to my academic path. The new school district didn’t even have an accelerated program. I was placed in what would be my normal grade with no accommodation or interest in the level of study I had become accustomed to. My new teachers had no recourse provided them by the district; their classes were large, their syllabi were set and their hands proverbially tied. But I wasn’t privy to this fact.
I struggled in my new school, academically and socially. I was the “weird new kid”: hurting in the looks department, wearing outdated hand-me-downs and sporting a “funny accent” (Southern), and newly being forced into wearing thick brown ugly glasses. On top of that, I was presented with scholastic material I had mastered one to two years before. I found zero incentive to repeat studies with which I, by then, was bored. I made few friends, least of all my teacher, who (in my angry young eyes) bore almost as much blame for this torture as my parents. And my parents were absorbed with starting the new job, setting up the new household, getting acclimated to the town and its citizens, and dealing with my older siblings’ more rebellious growing pains to the disruption in their own lives as well. Lost in the shuffle, I felt like the invisible girl, and I naïvely began devising an outlandish plan to run away, convinced that no one would notice. Luckily, a sensible girl named Cheryl, in whom I had confided this boneheaded plan, talked me into waiting a while to see if things got better, pointing out that I had no money for a bus to California, and had no verified place to live if I could get there. She should have been in a “gifted” class! She had told me, that if I left…at least she’d notice. I had to admit, it was nice to hear this from somebody.
So, lacking any better plan, I stayed around, and went on strike and refused to do my homework. Rivers of notes were sent home from my fourth grade teacher, followed by visits to the principal’s office, parental lectures after PTA meetings, swats at school for repeated offenses with a thick oak board with holes drilled in it for better aerodynamics, and a fair number of swats at home with lesser tools of inspiration, yet none of this was provocative enough for me to mend my ways. All of this was for missing what I rightfully viewed as redundant homework assignments, mind you. Fifth grade came and my resentment festered, and my study habits grew more dismal; D’s and even occasional F’s became heavyweights on my report card, although I still got A’s in English and spelling because I actually liked them. At quarterly meetings, my fifth grade teacher spoke kindly of me to my parents, and he noted that I was still brilliant for my age, yet I wasn’t being challenged enough…. But he was simply fascinated by my early artistic prowess. He showed my folks the papers he had confiscated that I was doodling on, telling them how advanced I was, and he asked them on more than one occasion if he could keep some of the drawings to have as proof that he knew me “when” someday I would be a famous artist (so sorry to have disappointed him; he was a sweet old man). It’s very flattering, of course, but by this time my folks were not only tuned into the fact their littlest had a serious issue afoot, but they were also straining at any way to get through to me; I had shut them out along with everyone else and lived in a tormented fantasy world, trying to escape the ennui and frustration I felt toward the real one.
When you’re a kid you don’t necessarily understand that
adults go where the work is and everything (and everyone) else kind of has to
fall in line with that, no matter whether or not it’s ideal; meals have to come
from somewhere. A kid just understands how he or she feels until something is
explained, or better, demonstrated, to the end of changing that mindset with a
convincing argument and fact. I still needed that presented to me in a way that
I felt mattered. I held out stubbornly, and foolishly.
Changes at home continued and I still felt like a last
priority. My social life was very limited by multiple factors beyond my control
and I had a big chip on my shoulder. Moving had been hard on me, at (apparently)
a key age. I had been very popular with many friends in my old town, where we
had owned a nicer house in a neighborhood full of kids, where there were things
to do and fun to be had, and I had enjoyed a bigger room, and now this still-new place I hated for more reasons than I could count. I
liked my fifth grade teacher for his appreciation of what I appreciated, but it
didn’t improve my grades much; I was still bitter and lacking any motivation,
and frankly, my single-minded attitude stunk. I was beginning to fall behind,
particularly in pre-algebra.
When I was in sixth grade, my father had an
epiphany to appeal to me through the one
thing he knew I cared about most: I loved to draw…compulsively, all the time,
and on any paper product I could get my hands on. I had always wanted to be an
artist, and by then I had told my folks plainly that I simply didn’t see any
point in all these other classes that didn’t interest me, so I just wasn’t
going to waste any more time or effort in them. This certainly did not sit well
with them, yet no manner of wheedling, bribery, threatening, punishment, or
gnashing of teeth was swaying my stubborn will.
Through his job, Dad had gotten acquainted with many of the area denizens, including the local art star, and he asked this man’s advice. The artist and muralist offered to talk to me for him. He even arranged to visit me at school, a visit I was very excited about – I felt like I was granted an appointment with a celebrity. It was a topic of curiosity for some of my classmates: “Why is he visiting you?” I just smiled.
When he sat me down to talk I was very nervous, and I wanted
to learn all I could. I knew there was still so much more about art I needed to
discover, and we were only to talk for about a half-hour…how could I squeeze
the most out of this precious time? After introductions, I didn’t know what to
say or how to start, so he took his turn first, to ease me in to asking
He worked around into relating to me how he would daydream in school, and admitted that at first he hadn’t found much interest in math, science, history, or even English (I still liked English class: a bit of a word geek, I actually enjoyed diagramming sentences). I listened intently. Then he said, “But after a while, I learned that I truly needed all those classes to make good art.” I was dumbfounded. How could all this stuff be relevant? All I wanted to do was draw; I didn’t need a slide rule or a dictionary for that. I started to smell a trick from my dad.
The artist continued. He pointed out that all the famous artists used mathematical principles (geometric and algebraic) as the basis for drawing things in linear perspective and in good proportion, so that things look right; he needed to understand fractions and decimals and figure circumferences, and plenty more. He even drew some things to demonstrate. He said science comes into play when mixing pigments and mediums, in chemistry glazes for ceramics, in studying biology and anatomy to draw beautiful birds and animals, and that ultimate Holy Grail for artists, the human form. Artists study, illustrate, and draw inspiration from literature. And artists throughout time recorded history either from their own pasts or actually as it unfolded; they worked jobs where they charted maps, relating to geography; they illuminated planets in astronomy books, and illustrated characters in yet more literature – they touched on every other subject in school.
It all was relevant! My mind shifted so suddenly that I nearly fell over.
He told me my drawings showed advance and promise; that he could tell by the complexity and focus of my few questions that I was a bright girl; he hated to think of me wasting my talent, potential, and obvious passion for my art. He was convinced I would be a brilliant artist if I applied myself. So he struck me a deal: if I brought my grades up in my other subjects, then he would give me a lesson on how to draw any category of thing I wanted to learn to draw…and then he asked me what that would be. I thought for only a few seconds before proclaiming, “Trees!” I so very much wanted my trees to be not the stiff, tortured things I created, but more realistic and believable, like the botanical illustrations in my mother’s bird books; I loved nature. So he agreed to teach me to draw trees if my grades improved.
It worked. I strived hard all through sixth grade to get back on track in all my classes. I had some hiccups but I brought all my grades up at least one letter grade, and several two and one three. I started communicating more with my folks, and soon proudly showed my report card to my Dad, and asked him about my pending art lesson. He followed up with that artist, who, sadly, had become too busy to keep his promise to me, for which I was bitterly disappointed…but…that didn’t stop me from learning how to draw trees! Now armed with biology lessons from my science book and studies from encyclopedias and botany books from the library, I became a photorealistic tree-drawing powerhouse on my determined own. I don’t think it was to spite him, as he likely wouldn’t have noticed me either way, being in our separate bubbles of society. I think it was just I was that passionate about trees. (Apparently I still am!) And I learned about the inconstancy of human nature and that we all make mistakes and disappoint people – but I also learned that we could still choose to move on anyway, and take accountability for our own respective paths in life.
Years passed, and I evolved far beyond just trees, and eventually beyond mere realism. Even without the initial tree lesson, that artist gave me something priceless: the gift of learning with intention. I finally noticed that my mother also modeled a love of learning, and my father was a self-taught professional as well. As I matured, I came to appreciate being better rounded, both as a thinker and as a creative. I learned to adapt to my new environment, and made more friends…and I learned that a lot of the barrier to that gain had been my own attitude. I learned that many distinct, seemingly separate things actually could be integrally related and interdependent. I realized that the payoff to effort might not be immediately apparent or accessible, but that compiled knowledge accumulates and bands together to make powerful structures on which you can build bigger and better ideas. I learned that taking a studious approach could render me more self-sufficient. I learned that I can develop many different facets to myself, and that in doing so, I would never be bored again. Indeed – I never am.
In junior and senior high, I made honor roll more often than not, and only really struggled once getting to advanced Algebra and Chemistry…my mind wasn’t yet to the point of very abstract thought (and that still showed in my ultrarealistic artwork, which I started showing in a gallery at 16, since I had already begun selling portraits at 14). My folks pushed me on these classes in the college bound track in high school, but they finally recognized I was truly besieged by material a bit too advanced for me just yet. Our state was plagued with math teachers who may have known math really well but did not have the communication skills to teach it to students who struggled with it like me. My high school geometry teacher did pretty well, though, and it helped that it was a more concrete category of math because that was how my mind operated then.
I had to take algebra three times in college to pass it, and the third time, I got my first really good math teacher ever, and realized it wasn’t so much my fault as the system was failing me up to that point: my university at that time had the highest math failure rate in the state; however, with this specific professor’s patience and her devoted tutoring, I made 96% on the comprehensive final – including trigonometry and logarithms. At the university I still had some difficulty focusing on some studies due to my newfound freedom, but I grew exponentially in my depth and breadth of artistic skills. I took a myriad of classes including sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, various painting classes, and lots of art history; I learned new media and techniques; and I even made a tentative breakthrough to abstraction for the first time: something I struggled with for years.
My years at the art institute were even more intense, allowing me to apply my artistic abilities, problem solving prowess and creative imagination in new ways in the industrial design program. I learned to manipulate new media and utilize new materials and processes. Woodworking, welding, plastic production, sand casting and the design process and projects in all of those and more made me a much more well rounded artist, and everything involved math, science, history, literature, and/or more, as well as building on foundations I already had. It was exciting and my mind grew both hungrier and far more productive. I was designing things spontaneously in my sleep, and began keeping a sketch journal next to my bed to record lucid ideas to someday bring to fruition.
Nowadays I am a glutton for knowledge; I want to know what makes everything tick. I earned two college degrees. While getting my K-12 art teaching degree, I discovered that in children, artistic giftedness routinely walks hand in hand with academic giftedness, so if you’re a parent reading this and my story rings familiar in your own progeny, look into testing your own kid(s) and arrange for them to get the mental stimulation they need, even from a tutor or mentor if necessary.
I want to point out that a child needn’t have a high IQ to be a good student: passion is nearly everything. Zig Ziglar, an American author, salesman and motivational speaker of many inspirational quotes, rightly said, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” I’m a living case study. So-called “natural” talent is worthless and fruitless without concentrated effort. The unmotivated will be outpaced by the motivated. Passion can overcome any lack of ability, and it drives gaining any nuts-and-bolts skills one requires in one’s quest.
Einstein said, “The true sign of intelligence is not
knowledge but imagination.” I say they both work in concert; he himself proved
that. I continued studying on my own, outside of school, ever since my last
graduation, and if I ever won the lottery I’d go to “school” the rest of my
life – at least intermittently; I am at my creative and intellectual best while
in the stimulation of some sort of an academic environment, even if self-created.
I’ve taught myself foreign languages, web design, auto repair, musical
instruments, tons of artistic techniques and mediums, and most importantly, I
taught myself to always be learning and that there’s nothing I can’t study; if
I don’t know something, I know how to find out. I can enrich my understanding
of the world through diverse sources, and I can always find ways to improve
myself: not just as an artist but also as a human being in society, and my passion
can spread far, far beyond its own selfish little island.
That is a priceless lesson, and one that has a huge return on investment.
It’s important for artists to constantly be gaining knowledge in many areas, devouring books, news of new things in science, understanding, human psychology, staying up to date in politics, knowing milestone literary works, being informed on historical foundations, learning new techniques and media, and being in touch with pop culture. Professional artists may be some of the smartest people you will meet; they are natural tinkerers who want to know how everything works and what makes people tick. Good art has a message and competent artists strive to know what they’re talking about, to extend the conversation to society at large.
No matter who said it or exactly word-for-word how, (and there are some debates and misunderstandings), but there is truth to the quote that says, “Beware of artists; they mix with all levels of society and are therefore most dangerous.” People in power are often intimidated by anyone who is well informed; they hold those in power accountable and expose corruption, as well as those who help to whistle blow or educate others to do the same. It’s important work.
This post is the introduction and inspiration for my new blog series, “the well rounded artist”. Look for more entries in the future that tie art to other subjects in school, and in life.
My hubby and I went on a road trip toward Glendo State Park in Wyoming for the great 2017 eclipse. We didn’t make it into the park, deciding upon seeing the insane line that we’d do better pulling off-road after turning back south on I-25. We really did do better, and the photos support that. *
I was glad not to be in a crushing crowd with too many bodies and not enough bathrooms. I was happy to have space and time to enjoy the interval leading up to the event, strumming on my ukulele and sipping on an icy beverage. We sat under the shade of the VW’s hatchback and taped halves of an extra pair of eclipse glasses to our camera lenses to protect our sensors from getting fried.
I had no illusions that there was any life-changing impact from this phenomenon or pointless pagan rituals to follow. I was unencumbered by expectations of anything other than beauty.
I was not disappointed. Even the sunrise on the way to our destination had a special sense of anticipation to it.
Indeed, it was stunning. The last time I witnessed an eclipse, it was through a hole in a box we each made in grade school. I only recall it being rather anticlimactic. OooOOOoooh, a shadow. Whoopity-jinkies.
This time, eclipse glasses gave me a new freedom to watch the progress in a position I was used to viewing normal things: with light and space. The news that I could slip off the glasses during totality (in areas where it actually occurred) was exciting, and I rushed to rip protective lenses off everything to get photos that way once we reached it. We had about two minutes plus, to fiddle around with things, and in my haste, I never even tried taking a picture with the tablet or the phone, preferring to stick to my camera with the zoom engaged. I even got some great pictures using the digital zoom – without a tripod (my hubby used it with my other camera) – I had alternately set up on the roof of his car, braced only on the rain guard over the sunroof.
As if this weren’t spectacular enough for two photographers, there was the added treat of the way the atmosphere around us changed during totality – the shimmering silvery purple cast that settled all around us in an otherworldly filter between eye and world – every tree, flower, and person was a different color than I had ever seen and it cast a magical aura upon all denizens of the path. A colorful post-sunset twilight glowed on the horizon 360 degrees around us, as we never can witness otherwise. The sky didn’t blacken, but waxed to a starry indigo, showcasing planets and stars in a way few photos can convey – the headliners of the day aren’t divas; they share the limelight.
Spectacles like this only emphasize to me how truly special God considers us to be. There is no way for me to deny the concept of Intelligent Design if I really think about all of the billions of miracles that happen every day – from the intricate interworking of the ecosystem and climate balance to the perfection of how the moon just “fits” perfectly in proportion to the sun many millions of miles away to give us such a show with just enough corona and time to enjoy it. It serves no practical purpose – it’s just a cast shadow when you get down to it – it doesn’t accomplish any useful task in the sight of the universe – except to fill a wee creature with enough mind to consider it with wonder.
Sunsets didn’t have to be beautiful, nor kittens cute, nor birdsong inspiring – but they are – because He cared enough to make it so, and to design us to appreciate it. Berries didn’t have to be delicious, nor roses so aromatic, nor moss so soft, but for us to enjoy. Yes, there are other critters that expend their senses on these things, but they would anyway even if they were strictly utilitarian, as they do other things, and further, they indulge in some things that to us are outright repulsive.
One may argue that some things don’t have such pleasant smells, flavors or tactile properties…but to that I point out that many of those things are that way for a different reason, such as to deter us from things that have spoiled, are poisonous, or may in other ways cause us harm: a concerned warning.
Our earth revolves and orbits within amazingly narrow parameters that happen to sustain life. Other celestial bodies’ gravitational forces are just such that we are not obliterated. Flowers open at just the right time with just the right smell for just the right species to come along and pollenate in just the right geographical area. Trees get just enough light and water to photosynthesize just enough oxygen to sustain animal and human life on the planet, balanced with certain atmospheric requirements and minerals in the soil turned over by worms and the waste of other animals and many other factors put in place by our Creator.
How absurd it is to me that anyone could possibly believe that all of this could coincide on a purely random basis. That takes far more of a stretch of faith than believing in God! One could believe in a Big Bang…but Who made the Big Bang? He Who designed each stunning eclipse.
Specified complexity** is a marker of design by an intelligent source – it is sufficiently, significantly complex enough that it is highly improbably to occur at random, and specific enough to have to have been created for a given purpose. Combine millions of instances of this in the known universe, and it is impossible for all of them to have occurred by chance.
Science, and faith in God, are not mutually exclusive. God created science; He created math; He created physics and created – or allowed to perpetuate following His initial creation – all that we see, hear, taste, touch, smell, know about, and still have yet to know. The scientific community has increasingly discredited Darwinism, and many scientists speak in terms of intelligent design – and of faith. They can’t escape it. Yet lesser minds persist in resisting.
Some people think it’s insane to believe the world was made in six days (God rested on the seventh, remember?) or that the earth is only so many years old rather than what carbon dating or fossils say. I say: we have been wrong many times before. What makes this any different? We were convinced that we were right before, and our arrogance soon was exposed. Our technology now could just as easily be inaccurate. And we’re also ignoring the obvious: any Being, Who is capable of creating the UNIVERSE and of creating MAN and WOMAN in an already mature state, is also capable of creating other things in advanced states of evolution and development – including rocks and fossils and species. I wrestled with this myself, and as I did, I reasoned: Really, you aren’t going to try to limit the limitless, are you? That’s just your inadequate mind trying to make God as small as your limited imagination. He’s not subject to your shortsightedness; He made you! I can just see Him planting little bits of “evidence” to keep us busy for a while, perhaps to test our faith. If you think God doesn’t have a sense of humor, take another look at the duck-billed platypus. Don’t take yourself so seriously!
Timothy Keller is one of my favorite authors, and is very adept at pointing out bulletproof logical arguments for the faith. In his book The Reason for God***, he relates a quip and draws a brilliant analogy that (one hopes) resets a closed, limited mind to one that confronts the fact that we don’t know it all. I lent my copy to someone, so I will have to paraphrase it. A Russian cosmonaut (atheist) returned from space and proclaimed tersely that he “didn’t see God” while up there. Keller, always on point, countered that the cosmonaut’s assertion that this was any kind of “proof” of the nonexistence of God was akin to Hamlet going up to his attic and claiming he didn’t see Shakespeare. The point being: the character (Hamlet) could never have any idea of the existence of the author (Shakespeare) except what Shakespeare chose to write into his character’s consciousness. Hamlet’s obliviousness to his creator’s existence bears exactly zero relationship to the very real fact of Shakespeare existing. Shakespeare would exist regardless of whether or not he ever wrote himself into the play or into the mind of Hamlet. Likewise, our attempted denial of God, based on our own ignorance, cannot negate His existence. The creation is never greater than the creator. The creation only exists on the whim and graciousness of the creator. The creation had best get his mind right and his facts straight.
My paintings aren’t greater than I am. They would not exist were it not for me. They aren’t even equal to me. They can’t do what I do. I make them; I can change them; assign them; destroy them. They portray things because I design them that way. But my art analogy doesn’t have legs…I can make mistakes. I can make a dud painting, flat out. It’s not the painting that made itself go wrong.
God makes mankind in His own image – but gives man free will. Man chooses wrong; man screws up. Man sins against himself and against others. Sometimes he doesn’t even mean to. Man is imperfect. But God is perfect, and doesn’t make mistakes. We make them. Sometimes that mistake is that we make a “god” out of ourselves, and deny Him. But that has no bearing on His existence.
God is evident in the instinctual physiological response of mothers to the sound of crying offspring.
God is evident in the intricate function of a human eye.
God is evident in the very DNA to which we both adhere and occasionally transcend via intent. ****
None of this is the result of random chance. It is too complex and too specifically pertinent to the successful function and survival of a certain species in a particular environment. Evolution does not explain the origin of any development to this stage. Someone designed that from which it evolved. And it is more than possible that the path of evolution itself is designed and directed by that Being.
And Someone designed our moon to be just the right size to just block most of the sun when viewed from our Earth, and the moon’s orbit within the same plane as Earth orbits the sun so its shadow will intersect our sight (remember, Neptune’s moon Triton’s orbit is not parallel to the same plane – so our own moon’s orbit didn’t have to be either). He made everything line up in such a way that when we are perfectly lined up with it, that we can stare at the spectacle for two minutes straight without our sensitive eyes going blind, and marvel at a rare, unique beauty. Talk all you want to about how colors are caused by bending of light waves and elements in the atmosphere – He created all of that! And He designed us to respond to it with fear, wonder, joy, curiosity and a desire to know more. What a priceless gift.
On the way home, in the limitation of a simple pencil, I tried to describe the abstract beauty of the eclipse in my own God-given manner.
My self-expression may have evolved of its own nature and my intent, but the underlying passion fueling my art was born as my received gift from Him. And to Him I am ever grateful.
End notes/asterisked references in this post:
* I rarely show my photography, but thought this a rather special occasion. I have plenty more, and far higher-resolution prints than the images you see here (with more discreetly placed watermarks) are available to order.
At long last, I’ve finally compiled and posted some of the videos I’ve made, learning to play ukulele and sing, and performing in various places. I decided it’s time to market myself a little, and to give some insight into the process of learning a musical pursuit to other beginners by showing what I went through to get where I am now.
The new VIDEOS page can be found here, or by hovering over the Music menu to get the sub-menu title “Videos” to show up. It’s still being populated with all of the videos I mention I’m to have on it, but it has a good amount of content on it already, and a fat lot of custom code to organize it and give easy navigational jump links.
All of the videos are in Mobile sizing, so if you try to enlarge them, they will just look blurry, so I don’t recommend it.
I’m really happy to announce this new milestone! I hope you enjoy!
P.S. I’m still not giving up my artwork. Or my writing. Don’t worry!
Among the many stereotypes that are tritely painted on artists as a whole with a broad brush, one I cannot wholly disagree with is quirkiness. That may be because I am known as quirky, but also, almost everyone I know – artist or not – is quirky in one wonderful way or another, so I know I am in good company!
One of my eccentricities came out in bold form lately and I just had to share it, to inspire folks to step out of the ordinary for a while – just for the fun of it.
Like many creatives, I doodle. A lot. Sometimes, I get an utterly irrepressible compulsion to doodle and I cannot rest until the itch is scratched. Sometimes the appeasement feels so darn good I keep scratching away until the doodle becomes a finished drawing. This is not always convenient, like when we are traveling and I have no pencil or paper…but I manage to make do with what’s on hand.
My hubby and I went on a long overdue jaunt up into the mountains a couple weekends back, and we both have a soft spot for certain sites around the area, including tasty Beau Jo’s Pizza in Idaho Springs, Colorado. We had even dropped in there for mountain pie after we got married, as it was already a favorite haunt whilst dating as well. I’ve been going there many, many years, and remember the days they used to invite all their visitors to draw on napkins, and then they would display them around the restaurant. Folks would eagerly explore all the galleries that resulted in the grand old building; it gave you a feeling of belonging, inclusion and community. Sadly, they don’t do that anymore; they ran out of room years back. But that didn’t stop me from paying homage to tradition in an appropriate style, with a rendering of something we aim to go see every time we visit, and I got to bring it home too:
“Fall to Your Knees” – ballpoint pen on pizza box, L. Eilee S. George
Yes, it’s a Bic. I absolutely love it. This shows I’m still connected to my photorealistic roots, but rest assured, my Neo-Pixellism is still in full swing.
This place is very special to us; special things happened here…happy special memories. Times laughing, crying, times I’ve prayed for help, for peace – and in thanks for grace and blessings – then I shared this spot with my sweetie and later we said our vows very near here. And the rest, as they say, is history. 🙂
More updates when my next batch of art is suitably “scrumptious” as pie!
Three Trees is a work I had been considering for a few years, lacking any photographic resources from which to draw. There are three major trees in the story of God and man. Sure, there are other trees, like the fig tree that Jesus caused to die because it wasn’t bearing fruit, and the tree that temporarily shaded Jonah while he fought the Lord, but none so impacted the fate of mankind as the stories of man’s fall, and Jesus’s offer of salvation, and the promise of eternity in Heaven with God. The possible exception is the burning bush, and it’s not technically a tree, and deserves its own painting, and at any rate, I wanted to stick with a triptych to reference the Trinity.
The first painting is The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the catalyst by which Adam, and through him, mankind, fell. This is The Rebellion. You can see the two pieces of fruit at the base of the tree, each with a bite removed from it, representing the Original Sin. The serpent wrapped around the trunk, returned to the scene of his crime, of course represents Satan and his power over mankind in this life.
The second painting is The Tree of the Cross, the site where Jesus took the pain and punishment for all our sins in order to offer to us a way to salvation, to avoid damnation, to return to our right relationship with our Father. This is The Redemption.
I chose to depict the cross as a more naturalistic form that still harkens back to the tree from which it was constructed. Researchers have found that sometimes when finished timbers were in short supply, crucifixions were actually performed upon olive trees outlying the city, along the road as a warning to ne’er-do-wells. This tree is not the proud, straight cross often shown as the instrument of Jesus’ death; it, like Him, bows in humble obedience. At the top of the Cross is the sign with the inscription, “King of the Jews” in three languages: Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the base of the Cross is a dogwood sapling, long symbolic of the Cross in our own culture with its four blood-stained petals. It is indigenous to neither here nor Israel, but is native to the Mid-US from which the artist harkens.
The third painting is The Tree of Life, which was removed from the Garden of Eden when man sinned, so that he would not eat of it and remain in a sinful state for eternity – thus giving him the chance to accept God’s gift of salvation and receive the reward of eternity with Him and all the kept promises of Heaven. This is The Reunion. The massive tree reappears in New Jerusalem, growing either side of the River of Life, which flows from the Almighty’s throne, bearing a bounty of twelve fruit and grains every month for the partaking by residents of this Holy place. Fruits depicted are not listed verbatim in the Bible, but research has given the artist a good guess with the Seven First Fruits and other plants native to the land at the time of Jesus’ life on earth among us. The Tree’s leaves heal the nations, represented by the City’s many architectural styles.
This triptych tells the story of God’s relationship with mankind in a succinct summary of major turning points, of mercy, discipline, and grace. It is told in the context of a Protestant Christian viewpoint of pure scripture in both the Old and New Testaments. The format of the paintings abstractly suggests Gothic stained glass windows and mosaic works (akin to those in cathedrals) to which my work was often compared even before this series; they are rendered in pigments derived from minerals of the earth onto canvas woven from plants of the earth by a human who was ultimately the result of another human rendered by God from the earth. I am honored to share the action of creation with my Creator, and joyful to share His Message and Promise with you.
– L. Eilee George
Prints of these works are available through special order. Contact the artist directlyhere.
On April 29, 2017, artist Eilee George dedicated with Calvary Community Baptist Church of Northglenn nine new works, many of massive proportions, depicting significant sites in the walk of Jesus, and including a triptych featuring three key trees in the Bible. Knowing that people often want to know the background, reasoning, symbolism, technique and inspiration for works in order to make a deeper connection with the art being viewed, the Church asked the artist to give a presentation explaining the works in the context of meaning and method.
This post shows a longer draft of the speech than actually given, with more detail than time constraints at the event allowed, but all of the key points are present in both versions. Several attendees specifically requested that I publish a copy of this. A Power Point presentation was used as a visual aid to illustrate each of the paintings as they were being discussed. The presentation was whittled down to eight minutes from the original twenty, and was well received. An edited adaptation of the original presentation follows, with painting illustrations:
I’ve been asked to give some context to these paintings you suddenly see everywhere. Pastor Brian is a brave man to ask someone as verbose as I am to make a “brief” presentation – but I’ll do my best!
When I was asked to highlight our renovation with some artwork two years ago, I jumped onboard with both feet. I was very honored and intimidated and full of hope. I had full artistic license to do whatever I wanted – creatively, an artist’s dream commission. I took my responsibility very seriously and had plans to study my brains out.
Sheryl & L. Eilee At Mt. of Beatitudes, Galilee, Israel
Not twenty-four hours after I was given this opportunity, another one fell in my lap. My mother in-law, Sheryl, called and said their tour group to Israel needed another body to hit quota. She offered it freely, no obligation to me but to show up and have her back – and she offered it without any knowledge that I had received a request to paint art for a church. God’s will mobilized both her and myself. There was no other way I could have afforded to go. I had never been out of the US and had no passport and just a short time to get one, but God moves in very purposeful ways. Is there any more perfect trip to gather resources for church paintings than eleven days in Israel? Amazing. Now, I feared traveling so far, and flying in general, but cast fears to His care, and He got us through a very difficult flight and a few exciting episodes while abroad, and got us all home safe, praise the Lord. It’s a trip every believer should take.
I was looking at sorting through some 10,000 photos I had taken. I kid you not, I’m very OCD. I needed material for this work and I had one chance at it. Once home, I had to choose images to paint that weren’t just great photos, but also would gel well with my very patterned, Neo-Pixelist style. Not just any work will do; it needs a balance of space and detail. When I paint, the patterns create an entirely different painting up close than you see when all the strokes melt together from a distance. This involves a lot of walking back and forth across the room while painting, squinting, and juggling different types of eyewear, in my case. The technique displays the particulate nature of all matter – that on an atomic level, we’re all made of the same stuff – but more than that; we’re molecular and systemic and all connected; relationships are key between us, and that parallels our relationship as the created to our own Creator. It’s atomic Gestalt theory in pigment: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
After months of sorting, choosing, revising and second-guessing, I chose what to paint. Then I had to get enough courage to put brush to canvas. I didn’t feel talented enough for such a mission! But God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips those He calls. When I prayed for His help, I literally felt the Holy Spirit guiding my decisions and my brush until I had enough confidence to persevere. I listened to a huge playlist of inspiring music while I worked, and eventually just listened to sermon after sermon on Grace FM to paint by. I sang hymns and cried and prayed and laughed, and it all worked out very well I think.
So on each of the individual paintings, a few words. There’s the triptych, here behind me…a word that refers to 3 artworks shown side by side as a unit. Then there are six smaller ones.
We’ll start with the six. Each depicts a site that is significant in the life of Jesus, and each features a scripture that directly relates to that site. In most of them, I purposely worked the scripture into the pattern of my brush strokes for a reason: it is subtle, in order to force you come closer, to pay attention, to meditate on the work – just the way one should meditate and linger in the Word, to increase comprehension and mindfulness.
The first work I did was the Garden Tomb. There are differences of opinion among different denominations as to actual site of the tomb; being so long ago many sites were “best guesses” but you still felt something “real” at times. We went through Church of the Holy Sepulcher but I did not feel Him there like I did in the area of the Garden Tomb. For this work I decided to go with theories that seem more compatible with Baptist beliefs. The Garden Tomb area is more peaceful, humble, and simple – and a place of quiet contemplation – devoid of icons/idols, rituals and dogma. For me it had to be the Garden Tomb.
This little 16″ x 20″ jewel was the first of the series, and I did a lot of experimenting. As I paint, I shoot progress shots with my camera to show its development, and this one had a lot of initial experimentation in technique; I recorded having put 22 layers on this relatively tiny work.
The Garden of Gethsemane is actually split in half by a narrow street; one half is adjacent to the Basilica of the Agony. This painting is from the the Basilica side of the street, although I saw the other side to be more restful for meditation. The trees are certainly ancient. In my test versions of planning, I tried both day shots and night shots. I wanted to think about doing a night scene because it’s my impression it was night when Jesus went there to pray right before His arrest. In the end I thought that a night scene would not have the right color palette for a church and I went with daylight. This 30″ x 48″ work has 33 layers of paint to achieve its molecular effect.
Next: the River Jordan, a 24″ x 36″. Few sites are available to tourists who are getting baptized in the Jordan as we were. We went to Yardinit, a deep area of the river except on the side of the baptismal stations. Much of the structure in this area is obviously modern, so I replaced with interpretations of random rocks and plant life, reminiscent of an early ruin, once I got around to Photoshopping my concept. The area we were in was lush, and it spoke to me of new life – like that represented by baptism itself – so I kept that aspect in my own version. I weighed the possibility of actually depicting Jesus and John the Baptist in the act of baptism, but sometimes depictions of Biblical persons can be controversial for a few reasons, and I am mostly a landscape artist, and that is what I was known for when I was asked to do the work, so to keep all of the work consistent I stayed with landscape, deviating only to superimpose a luminescent dove representing the Holy Spirit. The water is where my style really started getting flexible and curvy, and it developed even more in the next painting.
For a while I considered the simple shots I had taken of the Sea of Galilee, testing them for compatibility between my style and their composition; I found that they could be terribly dull unless I really stretched out of my comfort zone. Looking at all that sea and air, and painting the way I do bringing life and vision to smaller elements of matter, I decided to imagine both the air and water currents and those elements swirling around in them. This, plus sunset colors, made my 24″ x 36″ Galilee look psychedelic in the early phases, but many layers of tinted glazing took the edge off and gave it harmony. I briefly considered including a ghostly image of Christ walking on the water, but again, I decided to stay consistent and retain the original scope of landscape art, which is often contemplative on its own.
Calvary…in front of the Old City in the Second Temple Period…while in Jerusalem, we went to the Israel Museum, which had an enormous model of the Old City during the Second Temple Period, the time Jesus walked among us. I planned this painting, like I did with most of them, on Photoshop, but it was more complex, in that I had to remove the walls and tourists, and figure a more fitting background, and I had to choose an appropriate angle for the emotional impact I had in mind. I scrutinized the legend of the model, and guesstimated the approximate historical location of Golgotha and the cross in relation to it. You only see a beginning of the Temple’s Women’s Court on the right; mostly featured is the adjacent Antonia Fortress. This structure seemed to mirror the hardness of the chronical it faced, so I superimposed from my photography portfolio a dramatic post-storm sky from our very own Colorado that seemed to hold God’s light. This canvas is rather imposing at 36″ x 48″.
This Ancient Tree of Gethsemane is adjacent to the Basilica of the Agony and is estimated to have been there at the time of Jesus’ life. Today the trunk’s girth measures more than 13 feet. It is weathered and scarred, showing the wounds of a long and fruitful life. To reflect this, the painting shows this survivor with a sturdy, solid trunk, but tissue-paper collage delicate greenery. It was overwhelming to be in the presence of such an ancient olive and consider that He may have prayed at the root of this very tree. This work is 24″ square.
So that’s the six. Now the triptych.
The Three Trees Triptych (TTT) in progress
The Three Trees Triptych were by far the most challenging of the group – I had no photographs to lean on; only Scripture and my imagination. For the group as a whole, I decided after long consideration and several other failed ideas to simulate the idea of the gothic-arch frame, along with an exaggerated version of the mosaic/stained-glass effect that my work is known for – an appropriate technique…for paintings to be hung in a sanctuary!
I kept a log through all the paintings and took progress photos as I went. This got really complicated with the triptych because I had to regularly work among them in order to coordinate colors, align adjacent elements, and figure the direction of the light. I even had to rearrange my entire studio in order to accommodate three such monsterous works side by side (each canvas is 48″ wide and 60″ tall), and they barely fit in the dim little basement cave that I call my studio. Just finishing them was a small miracle. Let’s take a look at each of the three works individually.
Rebellion is the first panel of the triptych. Not a lot is available for source material to paint the Garden of Eden. There are scriptural references of course, but much is left up to the imagination. The area of the intersection of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers is suspected, and any river valley should be lush, as was the Garden itself from all extrapolation. This Tree is the hardest of the three to depict, as it has no distinguishing characteristics by which to recognize it. To reveal its identity, I wrapped a serpent around the trunk, adding two hastily-dropped half-eaten pieces of fruit in his shadow.The concept is loosely based on the account in Genesis. This scene was the catalyst for the fall of man in his relationship with God – a rebellion.
In Redemption, I turned the composition to face Jericho’s distant barren hills, and to include the sun bursting through dark clouds as on the day of the crucifixion. This also serves as the main light source for all three paintings of the triptych, the throne in New Jerusalem scene to the right notwithstanding. Inclusion of the non-indigenous dogwood sapling is a nod to our own culture and its symbolism in the four white, blood-stained petals that draw a parallel to Christ on the Cross. It isn’t even native to Colorado, but it is very much from the place where this artist grew up. The vines emanating from the base of the Cross symbolize the new life offered to us in the presence of our God for all eternity by Christ’s sacrifice and atonement for our sins.
I thought I had a decent idea of what to do with the last panel, called Reunion – until I started comparing Revelation to Ezekiel. I had several meetings with Pastor Brian and others on these seeming conflicts, and consulted various tomes including Randy Alcorn’s book entitled “Heaven”. I pored through heavenly depictions through art history; I watched videos that alluded to it; I read online comparisons between accounts by different prophets and apostles. I prayed hard on it and decided to go with a version from Revelation, realizing it is likely not any inherent “contradiction” but rather speaking of a different time from Ezekiel (eternity versus the 1000 years); therefore it makes sense that there would be some differences. Showing the great City from the inside out also presented a challenge, as many descriptions talk about the gates and foundations that would not be visible from the interior of such a vast place, and descriptions aren’t highly detailed from that perspective. The Bible reveals that the Tree of Life grows on EITHER side of the River of Life, so I had to resolve how that works. The Seven First Fruits and other native crops were used for the twelve crops on the Tree. Combining the reference to the healing of nations as well as Christ’s promise to go and prepare a place for us in His father’s house of many mansions, gave me license to show architecture of many cultures in close proximity and harmony.
These works are a labor of love. The whole time I painted them, I prayed that they might inspire someone to seek God, to seek closer relationship with Him, to seek their own spiritual gift and to dedicate themselves to honoring Him with those gifts. I did this and found that the gift again is to me, and at this crossroad I look for God to guide me to His will for my next steps. Thanks, Sheryl, for taking me on the trip of a lifetime; thanks Greg for your steadfast support through all of this; thank you to my families by blood, marriage and here at the church for your inspiration; I couldn’t have done it without you; thank God for His help and facilitating my spiritual and artistic growth. Thank you for sharing my journey.
Prints of these works are available through special order. Contact the artist directlyhere.
When you have been creating art for *mmgfrgm* decades – ahem, you have sampled a lot of different products, and found that some really perform well consistently, while others fall far short of that distinction. There are brands of sketchbooks I wouldn’t touch now because of the texture of the paper and the way it makes erasures smear rather than erase. There are colored pencils so waxy that the color saturation is all pastel, preventing any depth or contrast. There are paints that are of the consistency of tar and sand. If you’ve been burned by bad art supplies, your self-preservation takes over and catalogues what to avoid and what to seek. I thought I’d share my catalogue with you today.
In this post, I will mention brand names only of my favorites – not to suggest that there are no other good ones in each category that I will still use from time to time – and I will not name the ones that I dislike at all – indeed, a few of them have already gone out of business, since I’m sure many other artists felt about them the way that I did, or people just retired or got bought out. Nobody is paying me to say nice things about their product or company. If that ever changes, I will update the post to inform you of that development.
I’ve used a lot of brands of acrylic paint, but Golden acrylic paints go on smooth “like buttah”. Where some brands are grainy and textured, Golden brand never lets me down, with a creamy consistency that makes mixing and painting a joy. For my purposes, I use heavy body paints, but they also offer fluid, open (for longer drying times, which I achieve instead with a combination of medium and a very small amount of retarding liquid), and high flow, which is for airbrushing now (use a respirator and ventilation please). I have not used every other brand out there, but now that I’ve tried Golden I don’t need to – I’m so impressed with its products that I won’t buy anything else now. They cost a little more, but you totally get what you paid for; it’s worth it. No more fighting grainy goo!
Golden Soft Gel is awesome for wet-in-wet and texture or isolation layers. You can get it in gloss, semi-gloss, or matte. The matte is a little harder to work, as it dries very quickly and leaves a bit more of an atmospheric fog behind – which is great if that’s the look you’re aiming for. I prefer semi-gloss myself. Gels also come in regular, heavy, extra heavy, and high solid textures; I haven’t tried all of these yet, and will update this section when I do. It takes a little getting used to doing a wet-in-wet with gel, because it goes on reasonably opaque (but dries clear), so you have to both envision what you’re doing without really seeing it at the time, and be open to serendipitous surprises. You can brush layers of it over a base layer of paint to make things look atmospheric. You can whip it up like frosting and then put paint into it while it’s still wet. You can do a dry-brush technique over it once it’s dry. It’s fabulous for creating an eerie sense of depth in 2-D.
Likewise, Golden Glazing Liquid is great for atmosphere in a much more consistent, delicate application. I’ve done some really nice lighting effects by applying multiple, slightly-tinted-with-paint layers over a painting to create a glowing light, blending around the edges; it’s also great for subtle transparent overlays of color to soften an area. Either way the results are magical. This is yet another product I can use to extend my drying time to facilitate much finer blending than I would be able to achieve with straight paint and water (too much water inhibits the polymers in the paint adhering to your work anyway). Yes, I’m a Golden fan.
Good old Prang watercolors are what I came through grade school with, and they’ve always been adequate for me. There are far fancier-looking ones out there named after great master artists, but I can’t say that watercolor has been a major focus for me personally. The one thing that irked me was painting around white areas, and that was remedied when I was introduced to (1) frisket (an example can be seen here but I haven’t tried this brand; my old one is no more), and (2) gouache, or opaque watercolors, which can come in tubes rather than trays – including white! Opaque watercolors sit on top of the paper and on each other, rather than soaking into the substrate. Winsor & Newton gouache has been perfect for my needs whether applied by brush or airbrush; I’ve never had a problem with it. I also like watercolor pencils, and have been experimenting with ones by Artist’s Loft of late. As far as the old-fashioned Prang paint tin is concerned, my all-time favorite is the one my brother custom decorated for me as a gift when I was in grade school; I refill the trays whenever I can.
Brushes are a matter of taste, and in my case, abuse. I don’t like to buy high-end brushes because I’m quite rough on them and it’s cost-prohibitive to always get the best if that’s your modus operandi. I’ve gotten adequate use out of the cheapest of brushes, but I aim for the middle ground as far as cost. I’m not loyal to any brand here: I use natural-hair brushes for watercolor and gouache, and synthetic ones for acrylic, except for fine blending applications. I keep a wide variety of styles and sizes for different uses. You’ll just have to experiment and find what works for you and your art.
Remember the cheap colored pencils you used in grade school? You could never get really dark, true colors out of them no matter how hard you colored. In some cases, sub-standard art supplies can only produce sub-standard art. Prismacolor pencils have the intensity of paint pigment, unlike those waxy, washed-out box-retail specials. The first time I used them it was like seeing for the first time after a veil had been lifted from before my eyes. I use them on white, black, and different colored papers as a base. They blend very well; they’re able to be quite opaque; they’re sturdy and bold. The only other good pencils out there are the ones that are copying them.
Vine charcoal is very versatile for unique styles and techniques. It’s put out by a lot of companies, and the one I used for some twenty years has long gone out of business, so I’ve switched to Art Alternatives, which is sold at many retailers and does the job. Some people seem to hate this stuff because it’s a little messy, but they haven’t learned to appreciate their potential. These little charred sticks allow you to wear them into the shape you need with a few strokes, and you can use their end or their side, or you can angle them to get a broad, velvety stroke. You can use them softly for light tones; they blend well with blending stumps (tortillons) or cotton balls, and they can mark down to a dark-medium value even though they’re still what I would call delicate. Add compressed or brick charcoal for deep darks to blend in with them; they work very well together (especially love General’s #15 Charcoal Kit). Combine them with kneaded erasers and you can do some real magic….
Kneaded erasers are the ultimate in control and technique for erasers. Not only can you mold and point them to erase in the tiniest corner of a drawing, you can turn them into a drawing and blending tool under the right conditions. They don’t leave crumbs, so you won’t need a brush or risk smearing your work with your hand swiping them away, and any little squiggles that do occur from aggressive erasing are easily picked up by the rest of the eraser and easily worked back in. They also don’t go “bad” (rock-hard, greasy, or otherwise useless) like many rubber erasers do with time. There are many great brands of kneaded erasers, but I trust Prismacolor ones most. I’ve also had good luck with General’s and Prang Design ones, and there are many more. Above I mentioned that these work well with vine charcoal. What I used to do a lot was to turn the vine charcoal on its side to make a nice all-over gray tone. Some drawings I would do that to the entire page before drawing anything. Then I’d lightly sketch some outlines of things with the tip of the vine charcoal. I’d figure out my light source and where highlights and such would be – and I’d take my kneaded eraser and erase out the highlights from the colored-gray background; you can also dab or roll them on surfaces for various degrees and textures of erasure. Then I’d darken shadows with a firmer pressure on the vine charcoal by using the tip, and for dark darks, I would move to a compressed charcoal pencil or brick charcoal and blend that in where appropriate. This works similar in concept to chalk and charcoal on gray paper, but you’ve made the paper gray, and it has a very cloudy, dreamy look. Another thing you can do, and this takes a bit of practice, is use a very charcoal-dirty and smooth area of the eraser to blend with (it doesn’t remove as much charcoal as a tortillon). Then when you need a fresh clean area for a starker, white erasure, you just stretch it, knead it, pull it inside-out and fold and mold it like Silly Putty to find and shape one tailor-fit to the area. This rejuvenating capacity renders this type of eraser good for use for many, many years. Brilliant!
Good old #2 pencils are fine for everyday drawing. I grew up using the ones with my dad’s job’s logo; never been without one. I still use them today, even though he’s gone and he had retired some twenty years ago. It’s kind of a comfort thing to hold onto them. In my artistic history, such commonplace implements pre-date my more official art tools. It forced me to do more with less: I can get all the light and dark I need from just a plain old #2 pencil. To be specific, I mean 2B…B leads are soft and can get pretty dark, and I never had a lot of use for H leads because I can use a B with a steady, soft touch (but H’s smear less, so there’s that). Sure, I have the fancy drawing pencils, but these are like an old loyal friend, and despite the existence of fantastic pencils out there and even in my studio (my old Venus pencils, and Pentalic brand), I always gravitate to one of Dad’s old pencils for old time’s sake, as I did several works for him with those, and continue to in spirit. So I guess you can choose supplies for sentimental cause.
Strathmore produces sketch paper with just enough tooth that it is smear-resistant. Time was that I would buy any cheap sketchpad out there, but I learned my lesson. Cheap papers smear irreparably if you try to erase; they lack tooth and can ruin some otherwise good drawings. Yes, occasionally artists do have to erase – especially if you block in some wire-frame type structure lines that later need to be removed. Not all sketch papers are made the same. Some of them just are not good, and when I find something I like, I stick to it. Strathmore isn’t quite as high-end as Canson (which is truly excellent), but it is affordable in bulk and perfectly fine for any drawing needs, and comes in a vast array of types for different media uses.
I have to say I haven’t worked much with pastels (do not confuse with colored chalk) and oil pastels (I’ve used Grumbacher a little), but they seem pretty consistent from brand to brand. I’ve used Faber Castel Designno, now they’re Prismacolor Nupastels and the more compressed Prang Pastello pastels; the former is firmer and a little easier to blend for me. I definitely recommend using them with a pastel-specific paper with a very coarse tooth for better blending capacity; Canson has a great selection of pastel papers.
Occasionally I still construct models or sculptures using acrylic sheet and super glue. Sometimes working with it, it gets scratched. Novusplasticpolish is fantastic for buffing small scratches out of acrylic. It comes in different viscosities for different depths of scars, and it requires some elbow grease and a little patience, but it can save your project outright.
Epoxy works best for joints needing a tiny bit of flexibility. I’ve used various super glues, because I like the wicking properties to get them into tiny cracks, as well as accelerators to get glue curing quickly, but these can become very brittle on non-porous surfaces. If your project needs to shift a little or is going to be under strain, an epoxy is often a stronger, more flexible bond. I don’t really have a brand preference on this because I’ve never run into a bad one; JB Weld, Loctite, and Gorilla all make good versions as well as others. You want the two-part type that you mix together. Don’t be intimidated; it’s really easy.
When you want to mount something to a board, spray mount is the way to go. For years people used rubber cement, and I hated it going through university. It was what all our professors used when they were going to school, so it’s what they had us use. But rubber cement is terribly messy and lingeringly fumy; the built-in brush always gets messed up; it’s hard to keep the can clean enough to close and not partially dry up; it doesn’t age well; it goes on in blobs and is hard to apply smoothly so that it doesn’t show through with bumps. On top of that, after twenty years, the project fails completely and rubber cement doesn’t stick any longer. Then the parts are stained with some nasty brown smearing that won’t take other adhesives to put it back together. But one professor introduced spray mount to us, and it was like a godsend. 3M Super 77 spray mount renders the old-school rubber cement “boogers” obsolete. Yes, you should have a spray booth, or point it downwind, outside, with a large disposable drop cloth or liberally spread newspapers for overspray – but it goes on smoothly, and none of my projects with this have failed. You can even carefully lift, shift and re-position the work you’re mounting at first, in case you didn’t get it aligned quite right, so that short initial flexibility in curing time is another perk.
X-Acto is X-actly what’s needed, but Olfa kicks butt too. I’ve used X-Acto for years and love all the different blade attachments that come with them, not to mention the custom carrying case. Sometimes I do paper cutting and it’s so much more accurate than using scissors. While I was a modelmaker I had chance to use a retractable Olfa blade – the kind with the scored blade where you can use pliers to break a dull region off the end, to have a fresh new blade where you broke it off – and I loved the idea. Since it’s retractable it’s easily transportable, and since sometimes I’m doing little set-design jobs off-site, that’s important. It’s also easy and safe to store when not in use.
More modern media also reside in my portfolio. Photography is a supplement art to my stickier medias, as I do a lot of my own photography of my work as well as art photography for its own sake. I use a Canon Rebel T3i for the really good stuff, and a Canon A630 for quick pix. I miss my old manual Minolta X-700; it was damaged by someone I once lent it to. But that forced me to learn that digital photography is far cheaper than film and developing. AdobePhotoshop is a vital tool with my digital photos, as I use it for color correction in the case of color correction (say, a green tint from an old fluorescent fixture), for cropping, for stitching things together, and for artful editing of all sorts when I’m feeling really experimental. I use Adobe Illustrator for vector graphics like logos I design in my branding business. I use Adobe InDesign for a lot of my graphics jobs, and of course I design all of my web sites on a WordPress platform (if you’re not a web DIY’er and don’t want to self-host, visit here instead).
WHERE TO BUY
I certainly haven’t shopped everywhere, or anywhere online for that matter, but from my artist friends I’ve heard good things about JerrysArtarama.com, CheapJoes.com and DickBlick.com. There are other online venues that are, I assume, also good, and others who certainly too big to need my humble promotion. Brick-and-mortar stores I’ve gone to of course include Hobby Lobby and Michael’s, as well as the Denver giant, Meininger. Some supplies can be gotten (perhaps more cheaply) at hardware stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s or Ace, or at office supply stores like OfficeDepot or Staples, or even big box discount stores, supposedly. I’ve found that framing and hanging hardware is much cheaper at hardware stores, but I’ve heard it’s even cheaper online, and you can get it discounted in bulk. Cameras I’ve picked up both at specialty shops and big-box retailers, and software I get from the developers.
Please email me via my CONTACT page if you have questions about other media; I haven’t mentioned every category that I work in on this post. I have experience in various types and media of sculpture, ceramics, and I’ve recently procured two kilns and a lot of china-painting supplies from my mother, who has retired from the practice after creating a beautiful legacy of work (I’ll be teaching myself and my mother in-law this art after I finish a few commissions and we both find the time). In more traditional painting, I also have worked in oils, but acrylics are my preference, since they can be manipulated to resemble various other types of painting, and are far less toxic than oils and don’t require the ventilation that oils would demand to be truly safe (turpentine, anyone?). I understand that there are turpentine replacements out there, but they are still stinky, and I just plain like to work faster than oils do. The only time acrylics are toxic is when basically atomized through an airbrush (don’t just do that unless you want something like black lung disease! Use gouache instead, and always use a respirator!) So, yeah, I’m kind of prejudiced against oils, although I did some lovely ones back in the day. If you’re willing to deal with their challenges, more power to you; it’s just not me. It’s probably best to consult someone besides me on oils.
The links in this article are, as much as I could manage it, to the original manufacturer rather than a retail destination, which I only provided when I couldn’t find the maker. I cannot guarantee the quality of any products I have reviewed here, as companies sometimes change their processes or even go out of business, without consulting little old me – nor do I guarantee forever function of any of the links here, as some webmasters seem to like to move stuff around arbitrarily, and I can’t police all these links every week. My apologies in advance for any links that may become outdated in the future. I would like to point out again that there are no ads on my site and none of these companies have compensated me in any way for these recommendations (they likely don’t know I exist); these are the same recommendations I would make to any friend, and I don’t get paid for that either. 🙂
Truth be told, to help fund my work, I am very interested in learning how to monetize the site eventually, and should any of these links become income in the future, I will let you know in a short legal disclaimer statement in close proximity to the relevant reference. Until then, I hope you have found something helpful here. 😉
For the last few months I’ve been working on a new series rather covertly. It’s one I had been gearing up for since April of 2015, when I went to Israel. I had just been asked to do a bunch of artwork for my church following a renovation, and literally the next day, without my initiation or anticipation, a trip to Israel just dropped into my lap. Is there a more perfect way to gather sources for art for a church? These things happen for a reason, and it was with this in mind alongside my trepidation in leaving my native country for the first time ever (to visit a place which, while immensely inspiring, was also in the news constantly for violence and unrest), that I trusted God’s plan, told my irrational fears to get lost, and accepted the invitation.
Detail of the Garden Tomb painting with its scripture: “He is not here, for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” – Matthew 28:6 – painted in a fractured, pixelated style in beige, ochre, cream, plum, mauve and gray
Knowing I’d never be able to afford to return in time to gather more material for my commission, I took many thousands of photos while on tour there. I was determined to capture some amazing photos, and luckily I had trained for years to frame a balanced composition in a split second. Being of the philosophy that one has to take a hundred photos to get one really magical one, I took almost 10,000. Yes, you read that right. God bless digital cameras.
Needless to say, it took months to sort through them all, and to identify all the places and rename the better ones appropriately, decide on a theme, pore over fonts, carefully curate between so many good options, and narrow down what I would actually paint for the church (who are giving me a stipend). I also cropped a few reference photos for emphasis or stitched a few photos together, and decided that each painting would contain scripture tying directly to each site being depicted, so there was additional research to be done (hence the font poring). The extent of artistic license and interpretation also had to be determined to some degree. Distractions from this mission were swatted away until I “got it” that this was what I was supposed to do now. Between the epic amount of sorting, the self-doubt, a detour almost getting a really cool job (which had such a horrific commute it would have obliterated any time or energy to paint), and several poignantly-timed illnesses that forced me to stop, think, and re-assess my priorities, it was nearly a year before I actually touched brush to canvas. Luckily my clients were in no rush, and gave me full trust and creative autonomy.
Here I had to face another fear: that I wasn’t good enough for the project. Most artists have this gnawing self-doubt, even when it isn’t earned. Society gives creatives a lot of mixed messages concerning their “worth”, but they aren’t the ultimate measure, nor is money. Don’t get me wrong – funds to afford food, shelter, a studio and art supplies are quite vital, but that isn’t necessarily the purpose for creating; it is essentially a facilitator. Money is a terribly inadequate means of measuring the value of most things that matter, and public response can be swayed by too many fickle factors. Art is nearly as impossible to measure as a feeling or a life. It is more a matter of quality than something quantifiable, and what I mean by quality is how it impacts lives – either that of the artist, or of cultures or sub-cultures, or that of others such as collectors or anyone else who views art with varying purposes. It can calm, inspire, educate – even be a call to action. I have hope with this series that I might inspire viewers to seek relationship with God, if not simply to serve to glorify Him with the passion and skills He graciously and abundantly bestowed on His not-quite-humble-enough servant (hey, I’m a work in progress too). I may never learn what impact anything I do actually occurs, but my knowing is nonessential.
There’s a subconscious meme in our collective awareness that is a picture of the writer facing the blank page – or the artist in front of a blank canvas – that it is the most intimidating thing in the world to pull something from nothing and create something there. This is where I was after all my preparation…preparation that probably took longer than it should as an indirect result of that fear. Eventually I had to face the fact I must do something. Not that I hadn’t been doing something, but I had to get on with the show, so to say. Restlessly wandering around in my mind with a feeling of disquiet, I frankly wasn’t putting the right effort into figuring out what was wrong yet. Then the Spirit hit me with the notion I needed – duh, I needed to pray about it. So I did. I dropped to my knees, and told God I didn’t feel worthy of my commission, and that I probably wasn’t – but that I knew I could do all things through Him Who strengthens me. I asked for divine assistance. Boy, did I get it!
Now…I’m a very analytical person. I know my skills and limitations: where they lie and where they stop. I know when something is happening beyond what I am currently capable of. So I don’t care if anyone thinks I’m delusional. I own what I say here. I know what I have experienced and nobody can take that from me: I did my initial drawing and blocking in of the painting, in the faith that God won’t steer a parked car so I had better drive…and then I felt Him take the wheel. When I got to a place where I didn’t know how I’d place the strokes or what look the painting would have, I paused for a quick prayer, and immediately I felt Him take control of my decisions and my brush, and guide me into my new techniques.
This doesn’t happen every session, or even every painting in such a dramatic way. But I have felt His presence and influence in every stroke since then, even though it thankfully is a logical progression of my style that’s still recognizable as mine. I have also watched my style subtly evolve with each painting. Usually that only happens every few series of paintings. The work I’ve put into this series surpasses anything I’ve ever accomplished – because I didn’t do it by myself. We worked in concert, and continue to (as I’m not half finished with this series, but wanted to let you know I’m still producing, and just what’s going on – quite a lot!)
It has been a labor of love. What a gift that God arranged for me, in answer to my plea to find a way to serve Him that was custom-tailored around the talents He had given me. And to think I almost turned down the trip because of a dumb fear. I actually heard more gunshots in my own neighborhood the first 24 hours after returning home, than I had in eleven days in Israel, including 5 days in Jerusalem! How silly of me to have hesitated, knowing there’s nothing I can really do to alter the number of days He ultimately planned for me to live anyway.
Detail of the River Jordan painting, inspired by the scripture: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:17
I must say that Israel was far more beautiful than that which is depicted in many movies set in Biblical times generally shows. Much of the land of milk and honey is a varyingly lush, blooming oasis in the Middle East, and my artist’s face was wet with gratitude at being able to witness it, and to walk the steps that Jesus trod, and to be able to witness layers of history excavated before my very eyes. I recommend a visit to the Holy Land for every believer – and even for those who aren’t…and it may just make a believer out of you, if you dare.
When I returned home, I was exhausted but exhilarated, and among ideas for paintings, I started writing a book about my trip, and separately I created a slideshow-video of some of my best photos – played to a background of me reciting a poem I that wrote about the journey. This was an experience that produced a creative tour-de-force.
If that weren’t enough of a present, my methods and techniques began to evolve further as I’ve already mentioned, and I embraced experimentation in a way I hadn’t for years. I’ve progressed so much that I may have to edit my artist statement.
When I embarked into this style, I was acutely aware that matter and light were of a particulate nature: that all things, living and otherwise, are made of atoms with electrons furiously spinning about their respective nuclei, and that light is a blast of speeding photons. I was thinking on an “atomic” level, and was using that microcosm to allude to the parallel that we humans, however different we may seem superficially, are all made of the same stuff – unique yet unified. Now, in the Holy Land series, I have progressed into showing the relationships between these entities, by making my brush strokes and shapes interrelate in a more “molecular” way. It is not enough that we have things in common; it is imperative that we recognize and act on those common bonds by nurturing relationships.
Detail of the Garden of Gethsemane painting, utilizing the scripture: “…nevertheless, not My will, but Thine, be done.” – Luke 22:42
And now my subject matter is sites that were significant in the life of Jesus Christ, He who became the very liaison between the Creator and the created. There is no higher relationship I could portray. I chose not to depict literally the countenances of Father, Son or Holy Spirit; rather to use the light and beauty of nature, another creation, to, appropriately, reflect Them. Then, to reinforce the participation of the Trinity in my visual message, I include the Word, or scripture, within the compositions – scripture that is relevant to the scene illustrated and is relevant to those who read it, regardless of their understanding or even agreeing with it; it is a relationship offered nonetheless, in the context of free will and dependent on one’s voluntary acceptance since, by definition, true love, respect and loyalty can only be given, not taken by force. Similarly, this same push-and-pull tension is also described in the relationship between brush strokes, among which the scriptures are nestled and purposely partially camouflaged, necessarily so one must come closer to read them – just as one must meditate on the Word to absorb its meaning.
The paintings are each two works in one; from afar one sees a realistic scene, but close up one is confronted with intricate patterns and harmonies, creating that Gestalt that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This echoes the responsibility of all humanity to keep a balance between the big picture and the important details, a dichotomy not unlike that of our calling as believers – to repeatedly attempt to transcend humanity while still shackled to it and all its flaws; to balance self and others; to balance discipline and compassion; to balance life in this realm versus that in the next. Mindfulness in relationships are key, and as one progresses, the journey is every bit as important to consider as the destination.
It bears mentioning that each individual’s act of creating is yet another testimony to the fact that we are made in our own Creator’s image, a divine gift He gave us to feel kinship with Him. I can scarcely wait to finish this series and dive into the next one, since I have several waiting in the wings and my mind is so full of ideas, I wish I didn’t have to sleep (and I really like to sleep). I even have yet another Israel series planned beyond the collection for our particular house of worship.
You may have noticed this post is only illustrated with a few details. I feel it wouldn’t be right to show the finished paintings here before I present them to their ultimate home. Looking forward to the day I can post all the finished works after the unveiling at church!