From time to time someone asks me if i would be willing to do a painting demonstration in order to share my painting process with other artists. I always say NO because my process would be so horribly dull to watch that no one would want to sit through it.
It's a real yawn to observe. The reason it would be boring to watch is that I spend more time thinking about my paintings than actually painting. So unless someone wants to watch me think quietly, then I'd better not do a demonstration. My paintings pretty much always start with prayer, usually while I'm taking a walk. I stare up at the tree tops and remember how small I am and how amazing it is that God thought me into existence. Then I just pray—not about art, but about whatever—neighbors, injustice in the world, children who are suffering somewhere, and beg God to help. Or sometimes I just thank Him for the trees and the sky. Then something comes to mind—sometimes it's a title or a story. I have something I want to say. A mood I want to capture…but i don't know how to do it. I never know how to do it. More prayer. Then I start to sketch and write words out to the side—words that capture the meaning I'm fighting for. Many of the words are recurring, because often my message is the same— Light shining in darkness!
My favorite words to write are, Light, Darkness, Wonder (that's my all-time favorite word), Hope, Magical, Ridiculous, Mystery, Victory, Courage, Glow. I find that writing words like this helps me not to lose my way as I paint. It helps me remember the mood I'm going for. It's sort of like those songs you hear that make you think— this song should be in a movie. Like the song, "In Your Eyes," by Peter Gabriel. The second I hear it, it's like I'm a character in a movie riding in a car at night and something amazing is about to happen. That's because the music has a mood. It has a color. Deep blue, in my opinion. So, I'm wanting to capture that same kind of intense mood in my paintings. And let me just say, it's a real battle.
When I teach painting and collage to students I tell them it is a mental battle that you have to fight. I tell them that they have to constantly remind themselves of what they're trying to say and the mood they're trying to convey. They ALSO have to fight all those annoying, pesky little voices in their heads— the ones that say, "You are wasting your time," or "You just ruined it. It's ruined," or "This is a terrible painting." I'm telling you, those voices will come and you need to be ready.
Here's what I say as I paint, "This is a beautiful experiment! This painting is going to be amazing! This WILL WORK!"
The reason I say these things is because these words produce perseverance and they keep hope alive so that I don't stop looking for the good in my painting. The moment you stop looking for the good in your painting—that's the moment you will no longer be capable of finding or recognizing the good. Isn't that just like life?
There's a Bible verse, in Proverbs somewhere that says, "The sluggard says, there's a lion at the door! I'll be killed in the streets!" I may be the only person in the world to say, that's one of my favorite verses. Because I understand the sluggard. It is so natural for me, when faced with an overwhelming challenge (in art or in life), to say—"The problem is so big! I give up! It's all over…everything is ruined and there's no hope left!" I'm a negative nancy. I like to call it being realistic, but seriously I'm often plain old negative. So that's where I have to fight, in life and in art. I have to fight those negative thoughts. I have to say, "Okay, there's a lion at the door and… maybe there's a way around the lion. Or maybe, just maybe it's a tame lion? or a blind lion? maybe this will not end in my eminent demise?" I have to keep looking for the good—looking for God shining out of the darkness. And when I look for Him, I see him.