Thursday, October 9, 2014

In the CHCS Art Room

        As I mentioned last time, I didn't expect to have much time to produce any new pieces of art during the transition to Joplin, nor during the first couple of months of acclamation back to full time teaching. So, here a couple of shots of the classroom space.     
I had an interesting visitor to the classroom one day (Chey's pig) who was kept quiet and happy in the storage room.

I also wanted to include a few examples of student work:
Claire's 2 point forms in space
Rosie's art conversion portrait

Sarah's art conversion portrait

Paul's positive/negative collage
And here's a group shot of my Art Appreciation Class (cupcake party for Sarah's Birthday!).

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lessons From "Moses at the Sea": Believing God for the Impossible.

Of course, I need to show you the finished product (although it was completed earlier in the month). The process was a simple matter of using pure pigment and a gloss acrylic medium through direct painting and glazing. 
The problem I encountered was in maintaining a consistent perspective: the landscape, as divided by Moses' body, has a different perspective and proportion in each section. I wanted to show the expanse of the 2 million plus Hebrew people, while still showing some detail on the more distant Egyptian army (I thought that by including the cliff, even more separation would be suggested). And the water needed a more prominent part (to balance out the Shekinah pillar and dark sky) which forced a much higher vantage point than the other side with the crowd. If I were not in the hectic process of moving, I would have tried to resolve the matter. But, I decided to let composition win the debate and left it at that. If anything, I can explain the problem away by saying that the out of sync perspective helps to point out the multifaceted pressures heaped upon, there!

I also wanted to share with you this image of another icon which I painted much earlier this year as a commission for a friend. I forgot to take a picture of it after its completion, so ended up taking care of that with another visit to its new home.

Jean, the friend who hired me to make the fresco, loves gardening and wanted the icon to represent St. Fiacre: the "real" patron saint of gardeners! She expressed great frustration with the fact that so many gardens have statues of St. Francis in them, when he is NOT the legitimate patron saint of gardeners!

As with all stories about the famous saints, there are some very interesting legends associated with St. Fiacre. The most tenable is the story that he used herbs to help cure people of their ailments. In general, he was a compassionate man who loved people more than he did plants.

One of the more spectacular stories is that he tilled a huge garden in a matter of a few hours by merely dragging his staff over the dirt. I guess, if we're talking about Moses believing God for the impossible, we shouldn't be surprised when miracles happen in answer to prayer and faith.

My next installment will probably have something to do with my new art teaching job in Missouri.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Lessons From Moses at the Sea: Dealing with Crisis

     I've continued with the second and some third layer fill. Detail is missing at this point and will be painted over the sealed surface as will the glazing.

     At this point, because the technical information will mostly be repetition, I want to address some of the theology and faith for living message from this piece. Part of the beauty of the Bible is how it can shed light into and relate so personally with our world. It deals with the raw issues of life and reveals a pattern of God's dealing with His people (all believers in the Messiah/Christ).
     This particular story comes from chapter 14 of Exodus and is set up by the dramatic deliverance of the Hebrews from their captivity at the hands of Pharaoh. The plagues have already taken place, the first Passover has been observed, and the Hebrews have begun their exodus out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. However, at this juncture there was a most disturbing crisis of faith for Moses and his people.

More 2nd and 3rd layer fill with texture and
cross structural combing. At this point you can
see how the original squirt line is being buried.
     God lead them with a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. But He lead them to the edge of the Red Sea (no, not the Sea of Reeds!) and turned the pillar of cloud/fire behind them to act as a barrier to the pursuing army of the Egyptians. Add to that the mountains that blocked the people off from any escape and you've got a picture of the dilemma.
     I took the liberty to show Joshua and some of the levite guards protecting Moses from the angry mob while Moses is franticly considering his options.
     Freeze it right there! Can you relate at all to such a situation? Have you ever felt trapped; hemmed in on all sides with no way out? You've questioned the promises of God and even His character. Yes, God lead you into this crisis situation! But how could He do that to me? I thought that God loved me! Why would He deliver me from a horrible life of bondage and then throw me into something even worse?
     Wow, doesn't sound like your best life now! Beyond corrupted TV preachers, running to 1 Corinthians 10:13 doesn't do any good either. What I think is "too much" is never the same as what God thinks is just right to produce in me mature faith and Christ-likeness. In fact, we should expect to struggle through such times of trial (1 Peter 4:12) and discipline (Hebrews 12:4-11); it's the only way that lasting fruit will be produced through us (John 15:2f).
     (to be continued...)

A Closing Word on the Process
     After the final layers are added and dry, the surface must be carefully sanded down to reveal that original squirt line. Of course, there's a danger of sanding too much and going down to the prime coat or worse yet, the wood support. I did the former in a small section of the sky above the mountains and had to attempt a patch job (won't matter too much there due to the darker tones).
     I also wanted to show a side by side contrast between that sanded surface to the left and the sealed surface to the right. The polycrylic not only protects the finished piece from UV rays, but it intensifies the colors in the plaster. Most importantly, that poly seal will allow for application of either acrylic or oil paint if any detail or glazing is desired on such a piece. Without sealing in some way, the paint will just flake off in the years to artists in the Middle Ages discovered (the traditional compound for sealing the plaster surface in preparation for oil paint was made up of 1/3 linseed oil, 1/3 turpentine, and 1/3 Damar varnish).

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Technical Steps on "Moses at the Sea"

      I will take you through another one of my creations. This one is a commission for a former colleague of mine. The denotation is the story of when Moses and the Hebrews were backed up to the Red Sea, with mountains on one side, the Egyptian army on the other, and the Shekinah pillar of cloud/fire as a guide and protection.

     This first stage shows the pre-mounted and primed lauan with a preliminary sketch and squirted line drawing. The lauan has to be sized with a cement adhesive (commonly used in preparation for stucco application) before receiving a thin layer of plaster compound as a primer. If I'm going to create an abstract piece that requires no sketch, I will further prepare the surface by combing that thin layer of primer (that allows for textured surface that will grab subsequent layers of plaster). 
     The squirted line comes in various pigments depending on local color. After this line has dried and is lightly sanded, it acts as not only a boarder for filling shapes or areas, but it creates a bead which allows for a consistent level of material.
     I begin to fill in some of those spaces with premixed plaster and pigment (tempera paint). For more organic areas, I keep the mixing of the material to a minimum. This makes for a more mottled look in a space for, let's say, the mountains. 
     Powdered fabric dye is sprinkled over the wet plaster in some areas for additional visual texture. Combing lines are incorporated to a) add even more texture, b) create space for the third and maybe fourth layers of material, and c) suggest form through structural lines.
     The window allowing for manipulation of the material is wide: about 30-40 minutes (if in a relatively cool room and away from direct sunlight). If additional texture is desired, then specific layers can be exposed to direct sunlight at different times of the day and for particular periods of time.
     Also, when doing a more representational piece like this one, some care needs to be exercised in filling alternating spaces. This just keeps the pigments from "contaminating" adjacent areas (overflow can be easily cleaned up on a dry surface).

     In this example, you can see the third layer where it has been added to the previous layer combing lines. The pigment for that layer is typically darker, for the purpose of contrast and conveying shaded planes.
     You can see the mixing spot where I blend the plaster and tempera paint for smaller spaces. A plastic lid serves as a palette for larger amounts, and a margarine bowl for still larger quantities.

     (continued next month)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

More on the Journey Through Pain

First of all, I wanted to include an update on my current piece, now entitled "Dave's Pain". My time to spend on my art has been squeezed down to a couple of hours/wk. So, production is minimal. 
I still need to expand some of the dark line-work into more of the face and hair. Not sure if I can get that done by this Friday. What's the rush? Well, I entered the piece into a local invitational. Even without the touch-ups, the portrait can hold its own. 
The delineation, while continuing to support the concept of a "maze", has taken on a secondary message relating to broken pathways. Our perspective is limited. We can't see the end; just bits and pieces of what appears to be a pattern. I'm reminded of the metaphor of the tapestry or weaving as viewed from the backside. In the following quote,  Jean-Pierre de Caussade explains it in a powerful way:
"When the soul is well, all is well, because what is from God, that is to say, His part and His action are, as it were, the counterpoise of the fidelity of the soul. It is the best part of the work, which is done something like beautiful tapestry, stitch by stitch from the wrong side. The worker employed on it sees only the stitch he is making, and the needle with which he makes it, while all the stitches combined form magnificent figures which do not show until, every part being complete, the right side is turned outwards. All the beauty and perfection of the work remain in obscurity during its progress. It is the same with the soul that has abandoned itself to God; it has eyes only for Him and for its duty. The performance of this duty is, at each moment, but an imperceptible stitch added to the work, and yet with these stitches God performs wonders of which He sometimes allows a glimpse to be seen, but which will not be visible in their entirety till revealed on the great day of eternity. How full of goodness and wisdom is the guidance of God!" (p.97)

Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Here are some more quotes from the same book, just for your contemplation:

When one is thirsty one quenches one’s thirst by drinking, not by reading books which treat of this condition. The desire to know does but increase this thirst. Therefore when one thirsts after sanctity, the desire to know about it only drives it further away. Speculation must be laid aside, and everything arranged by God as regards actions and sufferings must be accepted with simplicity, for those things that happen at each moment by the divine command or permission are always the most holy, the best and the most divine for us. (p.16)

The will of God has nothing but sweetness, favours and treasures for submissive souls; it is impossible to repose too much confidence in it, nor to abandon oneself to it too utterly. It always acts for, and desires that which is most conducive to our perfection, provided we allow it to act. Faith does not doubt. The more unfaithful, uncertain, and rebellious are the senses, the louder faith cries: “all is well, it is the will of God.” There is nothing that the eye of faith does not penetrate, nothing that the power of faith does not overcome. It passes through the thick darkness, and, no matter what clouds may gather, it goes straight to the truth, and holding to it firmly will never let it go. (p.29)

There is a kind of sanctity in which all the communications of God are luminous and distinct; but in the passive state of pure faith all that God communicates partakes of the nature of that inaccessible darkness that surrounds His throne, and all ideas are confused and indistinct. The soul, in this state of obscurity is often afraid, like the Prophet, of running headlong against a rock. “Fear not, faithful soul, for this is your right path, and the way by which God conducts you. There is no way more safe and sure than this dark way of faith.” “But it is so dark that I cannot tell which way to go.” “Go wherever you please; you cannot lose the way where there is no path; every way looks the same in the dark, you cannot see the end because nothing is visible.” “But I am afraid of everything. I feel as if, at any moment, I might fall over a precipice. Everything is an affliction to me; I well know that I am acting according to abandonment, but it seems to me that there are things I cannot do without acting contrary to virtue. I seem to be so far from all the virtues. The more I wish to practice them the more remote they seem. I love virtue, but the obscure impressions by which I am attracted seem to keep virtue far from me. I always give in to this attraction, and although I cannot perceive that it guides me well, I cannot help following it. The spirit seeks light; but the heart is in darkness. Enlightened persons, and those with lucid minds are congenial to my spirit, but when I hear conversations and listen to discourses, my heart understands nothing; its whole state and way is simply an impression of the gift of faith, which makes it love and appreciate those principles, truths, and paths wherein the spirit has neither object nor idea, and in which it trembles, shudders, and falters. I have an assurance, I do not know how, in the depths of my heart, that this way is right; not by the evidence of my senses, but by a feeling inspired by faith.“ (p.75)

This is because it is impossible for God to lead a soul without persuading it that the path is a right one, and this with a certainty all the greater the less it is perceived. And this certainty is victorious over all censures, fears, efforts, and all imaginations. The mind vainly cries out and seeks some better way. God and the soul work in common, and the success of the work depends entirely on the divine Workman, and can only be spoilt if the soul prove unfaithful. (p.79)


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Finding the Path. Using the Path.

 The main problem with having a studio space away from home is the limited blocks of time that can be spent on production. I can't afford to drive there whenever I have a break. Besides, the space is used by other folks from time to time. There really isn't much choice; I can't do any work, of any preferred scale, in my small home and my painting materials would freeze and be ruined (I never keep the heat on over night, so it's routinely below freezing every morning when I get up...even in the teens!).

I started a new version of my "excavation series". The intersecting lines have been compressed and are more interwoven; creating a type of maze. This advances part of the message of  an "excavation" piece: pathways. The roads blend and overlap with different colors and in different directions. There's still structure, but the order is impractical...the paths take you nowhere and, like in any maze, it's easy to get lost.

I started this new approach without knowing why and, now that I understand the personal connection, the execution is frustrating. It gives expression to my convoluted path of the past 6 years: wondering, trying one door after another, going from one dead end to another. Some doors are nothing more than a painting of a door. For me, the art offers no answers but accentuates the frustration of my life these days.

The piece to the left is in process. It's from a photograph of a friend of mine when he was at one of the lowest points of his life. As you know, every piece that an artist makes is a bit of a self portrait.

The maze pathways in the shirt have already been filled with the second layer of plaster and are made up of cool colors. The background will be darker, with the top portion broken up into those attacking or emanating electrical charges. Looking at it now, they seem like distorted figures in some sort of Mayan delineation. I began working on the face itself today.

It's my hope that through this confusing journey the Lord will speak to me and lead me to a new experience of Himself. Until then...I'm learning to be content in the maze.

"For the Lord God is a sun and shield; 
the Lord gives both grace and glory; 
no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly."
Psalm 84:11          

"My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber."
Psalm 121:2-3        

"The Lord will protect you from all evil; 
He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forever."
Psalm 121:7-8        

I added this followup image (right) to show some development. More has been added since then, but it involved filling with the second layer, obscuring the portrait. This all becomes a part of the "building up, digging down; excavation" process which is indicative of my technique. The image will be resurrected after all has been filled, dried, and then sanded.

This step shows the final layer having been added and drying. This 32x48 inch panel will next be sanded down to reveal the original plaster line "drawing", but I will have to wait a few days until the snow melts and the ground dries a bit (besides, I'll be going to an evangelistic convention during the end of the week). That is due to the fact that such sanding must take place outside.

After vacuuming the surface, I'll seal it with a polycrylic and then decide what acrylic glazing needs to be done to enhance the image (eg, primarily shading to clarify form). Then another polyseal coating and a simple frame made out of firing strips. I'll be sure include a picture of the completed piece.


Friday, January 3, 2014

The Weather has Forced a Move

These cold temperatures are too much! I moved my supplies to a warm storage location a month ago and plan on resuming production next week. Don't mean to be secretive...but it's at an undisclosed location (no, I won't be underground for another couple of years!).