Ink, Watercolor, Oil, & Acrylic

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Fan Art – NF

I’m not much on “Fan Art” per se, but I am a fan of my nieces and nephews! And my nephew who is 16 requested a large painting (30″ x 30″) of album cover art for his birthday this year. The musician is a rapper called “NF” and the album is titled, Clouds. I thought a huge painting of clouds would be pretty easy! I’ve painted clouds and sky plenty of times. But it was actually a challenge to study cloud formations as a large-scale focal point. My mom suggests it’s because they are amorphous forms. And, I guess that’s it! They can’t be totally abstracted or they won’t look realistic. Clouds are fairly translucent. So there was a lot of layering of subtle color shifts and soft edges going on. I blocked in the basics with a sponge. Then worked my way toward details using smaller brushes and a bit of finger painting. I love the little figure sitting there – love the surreality of the image and how the skin tones bring just a touch of warmth to an otherwise neutral design.

If you like rap or know a teen or preteen who does, I highly recommend NF! His full name is Nathan Feuerstein, and he’s been on the scene since 2010. My nephew has had me listen to a lot of his stuff, and it’s good! Most of you know I teach at a public high-school. As I’ve asked students if they are familiar with the artist, I’ve found that several do know and listen to him all the time. They listen because he actually tells stories with positive messages in his work. And he’s clean, which is hard to find. He hasn’t had an easy life. So, he can relate to the tough stuff teens and young people deal with. But his messages are typically about hanging on and making something good, of acknowledging and working through the tough things, and seeing purpose in your life. My nephew has all the lyrics of all the songs memorized. It’s fun to hear him singing/rapping along in the car. So, if you are looking for a good influence on your teen’s music choices, check this guy out! And, NF, if you ever read this blog post…my nephew lives about 15 minutes from you and (though he doesn’t technically babysit) he’s really good with his younger cousins and would probably love to help you out if you ever need a sitter…

For the Grads – Helen Keller

The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were not limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.

~ Helen Keller
copyright 2021 Mollie Bozarth

Teaching is like unwrapping a package whose contents you know nothing about. Every day, students come into my classroom and walk out the door 50 minutes later. Noisy, friendly, squirrely, eager to learn, hard to keep focused, quiet, even silent, hesitant, anxious, exhausted, solid, trustworthy, deep. 120 or so each semester, and for many students I will only know the surface…whatever they show me in class. But I know from experience that there is more. So, I look (at posture, body language, eyes, artwork content) and I ask (simple questions inviting them to talk about work or family, weekend plans or hobbies) I listen (for insights from them, from parent emails, from counselors) and I respond (engaging in conversation, relating, adjusting my teaching, challenging them to grow). A few students I am blessed to know fairly well by the end of their 4 years of high school. I learn as much from these as they do from me.

Anne Sullivan must have felt that way about her student, Helen Keller. We know from movies, plays, and books that Keller seemed a lost cause and hopeless individual when she and Sullivan first started working together. Oh how much the world would have lost if her teacher had written her off or if Sullivan and Keller had not persevered through the challenging parts of teaching! Proverbs 27:17 states, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Through 49 years of teaching, mentoring, and friendship, Anne Sullivan got to see firsthand the depth and capabilities of this remarkable young person.

Four years ago, a young lady walked into my classroom to join Art Club. Through several years of art classes, Art Club, Literary Magazine Club, lunch-bunch mentoring, and Independent Portfolio development, I got to know her and her family pretty well. The above painting was completed as her graduation gift. I’ve come to find out that I have many things in common with this gal’s mom (including woodworking skills and interests). Perhaps that is why she has always felt comfortable and safe in my room. I’ve learned a lot from her insight, her perseverance, her stubborn determination, and her care for those more vulnerable than herself. I’ve challenged her to work through art skills and life skills, to think about audience, purpose, motivation, and voice with the things she creates. Iron sharpens iron. I know that this young lady has been through more in her short life than most of us will ever face. Yet, by God’s grace, she stands, looking out across the horizon, keenly aware of the “rewarding joys” this life can bring.

Helen Keller didn’t know my student’s story. Yet her words strike a chord with us now. “For the Grads” is a series of blog posts I’ve written over the years, based on artwork created for students as they’ve graduated from my classes or from the church youth group with which I volunteer. Keller’s message seemed appropriate for a graduating class who spent the last 15 months of their high-school career in a constant state of change, uncertainty, and (in some cases) social/emotional/physical challenge. My prayer for the 2021 grads is that they breathe the fresh air, feel the wind and sun on their face, drink deeply of rewarding joy in this hilltop hour. And as life continues with times of dark valleys and limitations, they perceive the presence of a God who walks with them (Psalm 23), promising more hilltops to come.

Oak St. Treehouse – New Kid

I remember being the “new kid.” It can be exciting in some ways, and scary in others! I was the new kid at age 11. I had just moved 900 miles and was starting 6th-grade. Some kids teased me because I had a “southern” accent. Of course, if they had been from Virginia (where I’d just moved from), they would have known that people in Alabama have a southern accent…Virginian accent is comparatively mild! Others teased the way I walked (my walk was average, but their comments made me self-conscious). Still others excluded me because I liked big floppy bows in my hair and had a pencil collection.

Thankfully, not everyone was exclusive or mean. I made plenty of good friends that year, including some lifelong friends. And at least one girl stood up for me against the bullies, proving what a true and welcoming friend can be. Perhaps because of those early experiences, I can be shy and careful when it comes to new things, new places, new friends. At age 28, I remember walking into a 2-week conference for my MFA in Illustration at the University of Hartford. I was rooming with a girl I’d never met, away from home for the first time in a while, and unsure what to expect. The head of the program (Carol Tinkelman…wife of Murray Tinkelman) pulled my roommate aside, asking, “Is Mollie okay? She seems awfully quiet.” And my roommate, perceptive gal that she is, replied, “I think she’s just taking it all in!” She was right. That’s how I function as a “new kid.” I tend to step in quietly, survey the scene, gauge whom I can trust and what’s expected of me, then go from there. By the end of the program (2 years later), I was honored to be asked to speak at our graduating ceremony. Obviously, I had acclimated by then!

I recently finished illustrating a children’s book titled Oak Street Treehouse: The Day The New Kid Moved In. In this book, our “new kid” is NOT shy! He’s friendly and adventurous, excited to meet all the neighborhood kids. However, they’re not so sure what they think of him. One of my favorite scenes to illustrate was a list they make of pros and cons as to “why they should include him.”

copyright 2021 Mollie Bozarth

I love this illustration because (sadly) I can relate to it even as an adult! When I am part of an established group and someone “new” comes in, many of these petty thoughts run through my head. I may not be thinking about freckles…but we humans do tend to look at clothing, posture, and other visuals to make quick judgements as to whether we expect to “like” the new individual. We make random guesses about their personality and character, based on a few seconds of introduction. Then we get to the root of our problem: “He will eat our cookies. And, we’ll have to make room for him at the treehouse.”

There’s the rub! We have our comfort-zone; our group of people whose habits and expectations we’ve grown accustomed to; and our knee-jerk reaction is, “I don’t need anyone new! I don’t want to share my time, love, or emotional energy with someone new! I like things the way they are now!”

But, oh, how we miss out if we stay in that mindset! As I look around and behind me, SO many worthwhile friendships have developed from trying out new experiences and investing in new people. The stranger we welcome in can be a blessing we didn’t even know we needed. And, whether we “click” easily with the people we meet or not, our friendship and acceptance may be something they need as well. Spoiler alert. As the story progresses, God talks with the Oak Street Treehouse kids about the whole “new kid” issue. His advice? – “Sometimes the best gift you can give somebody is to include them.”

Whether you can relate to the new kid or to the established friend group, I hope you’ll check out Oak Street Treehouse: The Day The New Kid Moved In! It’s a great little story that connects well to the first Oak Street book – Oak Street Treehouse: The Day They Messaged God. Both are available on Amazon.com, or you can support my friend’s local bookstore in Virginia Beach by buying them through readvb.com. We’ve also set up a new website for the books! There you can find coloring pages, discussion prompts, links to hardcover or audible book copies. Check it out at OakStreetTreehouse.com! And the next time you have the opportunity to meet someone new, take a moment to step out and welcome them. You never know what friendship might be waiting around that corner.

Self-Portrait – Is My Eye Twitching?

copyright 2021 Mollie Bozarth

I tell my students that a portrait should tell some of the story of the artist and of the model. Well, when it’s a self-portrait, that still applies. Easy, right?…to tell your own story? Not always, when you’re an introvert!

Teaching over Zoom has its challenges (that’s not why my eye was twitching). I typically set up this unit with my Advanced Drawing kids and do an in-class demonstration of lighting and photography. * Thank you, Ted and Betsy Lewin, for the lesson in your attic studio during our master’s program! * However, this semester all of my Advanced Drawing class happened to be remote. So, the lesson became an impromptu selfie photo shoot at my desk, in front of the Zoom camera, with a couple spotlights and the camera on my phone. I kept telling my kids that the goal was to NOT produce poses that look like something out of your senior photo shoot. Use props; play with expression; play with camera angle, lighting and shadow shapes; be candid; have FUN! Thus the image you see here.

I probably would have chosen one of my more serious, demure, thoughtful poses to use for the demonstration drawing. But my students voted and 75% of them voted for the fun, wacky shot. Pretty sure my dad voted for that one as well. And now I’m glad they did! It was much more fun to draw this expression than it would have been to use one of the serious shots. I honestly haven’t drawn a self-portrait in years (other than as a basic demo for a Drawing 1 class). Guess I’d rather tell other people’s stories through portraiture than to try and capture my own persona.

So, is the Wild Purple Minion look really me? No. And Yes! Those who know me well know that sense of humor is key and sense of fun is preferable. Demure and dead-pan on the surface, my active brain is often plotting mischief or looking for the fun in whatever circumstance the day brings. My shyness may win out in a crowded room. But I can be fairly goofy at home or among friends.

I thought about titling this blog post “Last Day of School, 2021.” Between ever-changing plans, staring at names on black screens, doing demos over an old Skype camera (life-saver!), chasing down unresponsive students to try and get some work out of them, a couple students trying to cheat when turning in digital copies of “their” drawings (never had that before!), writing more failure notices than I have in 16 previous years of teaching combined…there probably have been days this year when my eye was twitching.

In spite of that, this was one of the best school years ever! I was forced to reach out to kids in new ways, through more encouragement notes than I’ve ever written in the past. Was forced to rethink various lesson plans and technology usage, some of which will definitely be kept in future years. Was forced to anticipate the issues individuals might have with their drawings and coach them proactively…since many of them hesitated to show their struggles over camera and/or couldn’t put into words what they were struggling with in a drawing. Got to teach from home part of the time and bring my favorite dog, Jack, onto the Zoom camera and into class conversations. Jack really helps break the ice in any given situation. Last but not least, I appreciated the time I had with kids where I sometimes take that for granted – whether connecting over Zoom chat, breakout sessions, or actual face-to-face time in the classroom and hallways.

So, there you have it. A little bit of “me” in 2021. I hope this portrait tells some of the story “between the lines” of my life. And, hey, if you’re doing a self-portrait some time soon, make it a wacky one! They truly are more fun!

After Concert Ice Cream

copyright 2021 Mollie Bozarth

In the suburbs where I live, there is a ritual performed after youth concerts and sporting events – namely the “Let’s go get ice cream” ritual. I’ve been at Andy’s, Culver’s, Dairy Queen, or Cold Stone Creamery when it occurs. Like a swarm of ants, families descend upon the local ice cream joints. Lines extending through the parking lot, everyone chatters happily as the stress or excitement of the performance is over and all relax. It’s a cheerful scene (although it inevitably includes a couple over-tired toddlers who wail as they wait or can’t decide what flavor they want). Somehow it reminds me of the old Norman Rockwell prints – downhome American community.

This portrait is of a young lady enjoying one of those moments. It’s a candid shot, cheerful, relaxed. And, the photo happened to be taken after a concert right before quarantine started in 2020. So, the girl didn’t realize that moments like this would be put on pause for a very long time. Concert is finished. Viola is safely stored in its case. Weeks of practice have paid off. Life is good.

I painted this portrait as a demo for a watercolor class/tutoring. Here are some tips I give my students when working a portrait in watercolor:

  1. Work light to dark. In watercolor, the white of the paper should be the only white you use. So, start with pale washes across the skin. This is typically a mix of Yellow Ochre and Cadmium Red for me.
  2. Once the lightest wash has dried, start to build up midtones. For this I continue with the pinky-peach I used before but less diluted. Then I start to deepen the midtones with Burnt Sienna.
  3. If I lay down a tone that is too strong/dark, I can quickly dilute it with a little more water, can dab it off my page with a paper towel, or can swipe it off and soften the edge using my finger.
  4. I never add black to shadows in skin. It makes it too cold. You have blood running below the surface, so stick to browns with red-violet mixed in. My red-violet is a combo of Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue.
  5. Eyebrows are tricky! You don’t want them to look like caterpillars. Nor do you want them to look smooth and penciled in. Do a wash of brown a little darker than the skin. Let that dry. Then use your finest brush to feather in dark tones with a little bit of texture. Go easy! And use short angled line strokes.
  6. Hair starts the same way as skin. Pale washes first to tone the lightest areas. Then mass out shadow shapes, starting with midtones and working toward darks. Look for patterns of light and dark shapes (not individual hairs).
  7. Once the hair is basically blocked in, you can go back and add thin strands here and there.
  8. Hands and fingernails are handled the same way that you did the face – with the darkest shadows or creases being a warm brown or red-violet. Careful not to outline nail beds completely. Outlining makes it look cartooned.
  9. My masters’ professors used to say, “You can’t fake folds!” Meaning, make sure you have a good reference with strong lighting. When painting clothing, drapes, etc. pay attention to the abstract shapes created by the highlights and shadows. If you can mimic those abstract shapes, the cloth will feel/look realistic. In the coat I used mainly Mars Black with a little Burnt Umber (I rarely if ever use pure black…instead I tone it with brown, blue, green, or purple).
  10. Finally, you have to decide what to do with the background. If the background from your photo reference is busy or boring you’ll need to improvise. You may want to use/keep some elements from the photo. Or (as I did in this piece) simply choose a color that compliments the figure and do a wash of color through the negative space.
  11. For washes in large areas (like the background) use a Wet-On-Wet technique. Wet the area with water first. Then dapple the color into the wet page. Add more pigment where you want the background color to be darker/deeper. Add more water where you want things to soften and swim. You can also play with salt added to the surface of the page. Salt crystals attract the paint pigment. So, wherever the salt is, color will be deeper in that area when it dries. It creates a tie-dye effect. Simply brush salt into the trash once painting is fully dried.
  12. Final tip: if you lose the highlight in the eye, you can go back with white acrylic or white watercolor paint when done and add that speck of white back in to the eye.

I love portraits! Especially of candid moments like this where you get the twinkle in the eye and a bit of a smile. Your goal as a portrait artist is to capture not only a likeness but (preferably) an expression that is typical of the model, their personality and character. If you can’t find or take a candid shot, try to set up your photo-shoot in a way that relaxes the model. Have him or her chat with you, fidget with something like an instrument or sporting equipment, and sit or stand in a relaxed posture. As you chat, snap your photos. You’ll get plenty of unusable shots where they are blinking or talking. But you’ll also catch a few perfect moments. These are the moments worth painting! The better the lighting and expression the better the end portrait product will be.

Scratchboard Hedgehog

Copyright 2021 Mollie Bozarth

This piece was done as a demonstration for my Advanced Drawing kids. Scratchboard is a fun and fairly simple medium to work in. But it can be unforgiving as well! Here are a few tricks and tips I gave my students that might help you as well.

First off, what is scratchboard paper? Scratchboard paper is typically heavy-duty white paper with a black India ink covering across the surface. It can also be a literal board (but those are more expensive). You use various sharp or rough objects to scrape away the black surface and reveal the white paper below. For this reason, scratchboard is BACKWARDS of how you typically function in a drawing class. In a “normal” drawing, you build up more pencil or ink where you want things to be darker. And you leave the white of the paper (or add white charcoal) where you want things to be lighter. In scratchboard you scrape away more ink where you want things to be lighter and leave the black where you want them darker.

That being said, the mark-making techniques for scratchboard are very similar to ink techniques. Namely: hatching, cross-hatching, stipple, scribble. You use line direction to help define form. I’ll often have my lines follow the curve of the form (fingers in this case). Then cross those lines with other curved lines to build up lighter areas.

Sounding too complex? Here are the basic steps and tips:

  1. Start with a strong reference photo (good detail and lighting) in black and white.
  2. Print your photo out at 5×7 or so size, cut around to the edge of your photo, and lay it on top of your scratchboard paper (also 5×7 size). Tape the top edge so your reference doesn’t move, and place all this onto a padded surface.
  3. Use a ballpoint pen to trace basic shapes. Press firmly to indent into the scratchboard paper below. This gives you basic proportions to refer to while you’re working with the knife later on.
  4. Using a scribe tool designed for scratchboard (or an X-acto blade with a new sharp blade inserted) begin scraping away the black. Test your scratch technique on a scrap of extra scratchboard paper to get a feel for the angle and pressure needed.
  5. Barely any touch or pressure is needed to scrape away! So, don’t cut or carve down into the paper. Work gently and find a rhythm. Try a variety of marks and line directions on your scrap piece before starting the final artwork.
  6. It’s better to scrape less than more. You can always go back and lighten an area as you progress…if you didn’t lighten it enough to begin with.
  7. If you do scrape away too much in an area, you CAN go back with a black colored pencil and touch up spots. Use this sparingly. In the piece you see above I had to use colored pencil to darken the tip of a finger. In the same way, tiny brush strokes of white paint could brighten highlights if they aren’t bright enough when finished scraping.
  8. A couple of experimental strokes include: using the long edge of blade at a flat angle (rather than using the tip of blade) to scrape a wide, uneven swath across the background; or using fine sandpaper to softly “scrape” a haze of grey into background.
  9. Some scratchboard artists like to go back and add color into the finished design using watercolor paints or colored pencil. For myself, I like the simplicity of the black and white. But there are plenty of scratchboard artists you can find online if you need inspiration.

About the Artwork

This particular photo was one I took of my niece when she was working as a junior zookeeper. I love the protective hands cradling the sleepy hedgehog guy! I always complain about doing patterns in artwork. As usual, I ended up with hundreds of spikes in an organic pattern. So, I took breaks as needed to retain my sanity. I don’t often work with scratchboard. But my strokes and linework improved as the piece progressed. If your first attempt is a major fail, simply throw it out and try again!

Image

Imagination

“You’ve heard of the French nation and the British nation. Well this is the Imagination. And once you get there you can do almost anything you want.” ~ Kris Kringle from Miracle on 34th Street

I’ve always had a vivid imagination. As an adult, it can be an advantage, for it translates into things like buying a home that hasn’t changed since 1988 and being able to “see” it as it could be with various updates and improvements. It also means I have a flexible brain that quickly problem-solves changing scenarios (a definite plus in a year of teaching where we never know whether we’ll be in school or remote and plans are continually changing). However, as a child my imagination sometimes got me into trouble.

My brother and I visited the Imagination (as Kris Kringle calls it) all the time as kids. There was a cool little space with a sloping ceiling beneath our staircase in Virginia Beach where we would set up boxes as tables and cram ourselves in, using flashlights to see, and play various games. That is, until the lack of airflow and oxygen in the tiny closet would force us back out into the “real world.” Then we’d transition to the Living Room where blue carpet became a lake we had to swim across with couch and piano bench as islands to stay dry. One day in particular went down in infamy. Jonathan and I were dogs. We had escaped from a dog-catcher, but he was chasing us. Of course, the dog-catcher had a shotgun (not a net or anything normal like that). Our only chance for survival was to swim across the blue carpet away from him. As we started to swim, Jonathan got shot in the back. In order to save his life (all of this, of course, while we’re swimming away) I BIT the bullet out of his back. (I was a dog, after all! What else could I do?) I did really bite him, and he collapsed into wailing. Guess the game was over. My oldest brother, who babysat while mom was getting groceries, wasn’t sure how to handle that one. He greeted mom in the driveway, trying not to laugh as he exclaimed, “Mollie bit Jonathan!” Mom replied in horror, “Why are you laughing? That’s not funny!” I don’t remember how they decided to discipline me for that one. But little bro did admit many years later that he cried as long and hard as he could, hoping to get me into bigger trouble.

Ahhh, the Imagination! What a lovely place to visit! Within it, we can create worlds of our own or visit parts of the world which aren’t easily accessed by the average traveler. I now watch Jonathan’s children play similar games (often dogs as well!). And, my oldest nieces also visit the Imagination through books read or fantastical characters created. The portrait above is of my oldest niece. It’s from a combination of reference images. Part of it comes from one of the photos I took of her for her senior photos in high school. She has loved doodling since childhood. Whether in ink, colored pencil, markers, sculpting clay, or trinkets and wire, she is forever making phoenix, fox, or gryphon come to life. The second part of this painting is an elaborate scene she made in marker that won an award in her high-school art program. I wanted to bring the two together so that we onlookers see the expression as her face lights up and the “happy thought that makes her smile.” (Michael Card song lyric)

The portrait was started as a demo for my Painting 1 students and finished in time to give it to my niece for Christmas. My affinity for the Imagination is partly why I love teaching art! Creative assignments give me a chance to see the imagination of each of my students. Art gives them a voice. And, many of them have tremendous things to say or express through their art! Whether they go on to become chemical engineers (like my niece pictured above), doctors, plumbers, teachers, psychologists, businesswomen, or artists I often hear from them many years later that art is still an outlet and lifeline for their Imagination.

Joy!

copyright 2020 Mollie Bozarth

O sing a song of Cherubim that echoes round the hills
with sweet unearthly harmonies, and effervescent trills.
A joy held back since Genesis is overflowing now.
Tired earth absorbs the news, then sighs a gentle sough.

The host, an army battle cry, proclaiming victory
for Word has taken human form, a first in history.
Then, bold, above the stable forms a bright and steady light;
a kingly star has pierced the curtain of our darkened night.

Do not fear, for all of sorrow, hatred, pain and death
begins to come unraveled with one baby’s tiny breath.
The Prince of Darkness trembles as the angel armies sing
for Prince of Peace could usher in a new and holy reign.

Safely swaddled, resting in the warmth of mother’s care
newborn babe with milky mouth, sleeps sweet and unaware.
Carpenter feels the fragile fingers grasp his calloused hand.
Exhausted, marveling at events he cannot understand.

Stillness broken as the doorway fills with lambs and ewes.
Shepherds crowd the stable, then go out to spread the news.
Astrologers, well-versed in ancient Hebrew prophecy
begin their pilgrims’ journey, to anoint this Jewish king.

And though the angel chorus does not reach his sleeping ears
old Simeon stirs, his spirit moved from long, expectant years.
Anna, in the temple, praying, fasting day and night
praises God for sending His redemption to her sight.

Elizabeth croons a lullaby to calm her baby boy
as John begins to babble, clapping hands with sudden joy!
Quietly reflecting, she pauses in her tune
remembering his joyful leap when he was in her womb.

Final notes and glory fade, the night is still again
veiled is the holiness that hummed in Bethlehem.
But souls awakened by the song can hear the echo ring
and feel their dry bones come alive as heaven and nature sing.

text copyright 2020 Mollie Bozarth

How do you write about Joy!? I could not approach this blog post as a discourse, lesson, or essay on joy. That would take the joy out of it! So, I’ve turned to another favorite form of writing – poetry. With poetry, we can enter into the scene of that moment in history we refer to as Christmas. The sights, the emotions, the electricity in the air on what would otherwise have been a boring night. I hope the words above capture something of that.

I painted the portrait as my Christmas card this year. As I did so, I wondered, “Can a baby truly feel or exhibit joy? Or is what I see in my niece’s excited face, pointed toes, and raised arms simply happiness or glee?” Then I remembered two things: 1. John (Jesus’ cousin…aka John the Baptist) is described as “leaping for joy” within his mother’s womb when Elizabeth and Mary are both pregnant. If a prenatal baby can experience and exhibit joy, then YES!, my niece could be joyful even in her babyhood. 2. Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” ~ Matthew 19:14 Whether Christian or no, we have seen the wonder and excitement in a child’s face that we long to have in our own hearts. Cynicism, hard knocks, and “adulting” can take us far from the simple innocent faith we had as children. The movie “Elf” is popular for that very reason! We wish we could be the adult whose enthusiasm at “the World’s Best Cup of Coffee” isn’t daunted by the reality of that coffee’s crappy flavor…an adult from whom joy and innocence overflow to even the most cynical around us. And, as Christian’s we aren’t excited about a crappy cup of coffee. We are excited about the Savior of all things reaching down into our messy lives and breathing redemption! Elf was misguided in coffee taste, but he was right about one thing: the best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear! The angels set an example two thousand years ago. My neighbors are spreading word about stepping out on our doorsteps and ringing bells together as a community on Christmas Eve. So, whether singing carols, singing in the shower, ringing bells, or yelling, “Wahoooo!” spread some joy this Christmas. That’s what the baby came for. That’s what it’s all about.

Shalom

Peace. Pacem. Shalom.

In a fun flick from 2000, Sandra Bullock plays an FBI agent sent undercover to a beauty pageant. Miss Congeniality pits the tough and uncouth Bullock and her friends against a domestic terrorist. In stereotypical beauty pageant style, each contestant interviewed declares that what she wants most in this life is to help achieve world peace. Bullock’s character gives a less idyllic answer in her spotlight moment. But, by the end of the movie, when she’s overcome chaos to bring the villain to justice, she admits, “I really do want world peace!”

Whether we aim for the grand goal of world peace or the seemingly simpler goal of personal peace, I think most people would admit that peace is something they long for but seldom find. Jesus, in John 14 and 16 gives a clue as to why: we won’t find peace in this world because this world cannot give the peace we seek. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives.” (John 14:27) That’s a bold statement! I know that as a teacher and an aunt, I’d better not promise things I can’t provide. Kids can smell false promises a mile away, and they’ll call your bluff. Perhaps, as John and Peter stood near the cross, watching their Lord succumb to a torturous death, they felt he had failed on his promise. Rome remained in political power. Pharisees and Sadducees stood smug in their thought that they’d eliminated a troublesome heretic.

In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”…At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)…With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” ~ Mark 15:31-39

A centurion, a gentile Roman soldier seems to be one of the first people to recognize that Jesus indeed had the power he claimed to possess. Three days later, John and Peter would see for themselves the truth of his bold claim: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) In the painting, I included the English, Latin and Hebrew words for “peace.” But I’d like to focus on the Hebrew word, “shalom.” Jesus would have been speaking Aramaic or Hebrew at the time. Jews would have understood that he meant more than just a sense of well-being or lack of conflict. He meant “wholeness.” “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” He cannot give what he does not have. But Christ had a wholeness that no other human could possess. Wholly God and wholly man, his hands had helped to lay the world’s foundation. Yet he lived a human life and breathed his human last breath for us, laying down his life as a sacrifice. “God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) Let’s face it, we can’t feel whole when our dearest relationships are broken. And, whether we realize it or not, our longing for peace is really a longing to be whole, to be right with the God who knit us and created us. That’s why this world cannot give us peace. It is broken and troubled. Even its best attempt at peace is crippled.

As I looked deeper into the Hebrew Shalom, scholars talked about the meaning of each letter within the word. Shalom is comprised of 4 Hebrew letters – שׁלום. Being of a pictographic nature, each letter symbolizes something. שׁ Shin ל Lamed ו Vav ם Mem. Shin means to crush or destroy. It represents almighty power. Lamed is a staff, representing the shepherd’s voice or voice of authority. Vav is a nail or peg, meaning connection. And Mem is chaos or destruction (like a tidal wave of water). Placed together, they form: “the destruction of the controlling authority that connects us with chaos or confusion.” (C.J. Lovik, author of The Living Word in 3D: Exploring the Hebrew Language in 3 Layers – Pictorial, Numeric, & Conventional) In other words, when Jesus claims he has the power to grant us peace because he has overcome the world, he means that his death and resurrection destroyed the controlling authority of sin. The chaos and confusion that come from sin’s hold on our lives have been overcome.

At least one Pharisee did not stand at the cross and mock. Nicodemus is the Pharisee who met with Jesus by dark of night before the crucifixion, seeking answers about the kingdom of God. I am sure that as others stood and mocked Jesus on the cross, Nicodemus had the conversation with Jesus ringing in his head: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:14-17)

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Some people get the weird idea that if you live the Christian life rightly, your existence will be trouble-free. Whoever says that hasn’t read the Bible! Our fearless leader says it plainly: “In this world you WILL have trouble.” To a Christian, peace isn’t about lack of conflict or achieving a certain level of comfort. It’s about power. Not our power. It’s about victory won on our behalf that crushes the power Chaos tries to hold over us. It’s about a deep residing Peace guarding our hearts and minds. It’s about wholeness. Knowing that the God who could crush us loved us enough to send a helper and savior instead.

About the Artwork

This piece was a retirement gift for a friend/coworker. The first verse, which is a blessing Paul speaks over Timothy and Timothy’s family, is my greeting to this friend. Her granddaughter, whose name was Grace, passed away almost two years ago. Just as God’s spirit and His grace wash over her family daily, memories of Gracie and Gracie’s faith-filled heart are with her daily as well.

The colors chosen tie in with all of the hidden and personal meaning behind the painting. But pink and purple are also calm, peaceful colors. So, they set a tone for the imagery. This was actually a difficult amount of text to organize! I tried to simplify and section off each message whilst tying it all together into a cohesive theme. If you look closely, you’ll notice the following:

  1. Peace, Pacem, Shalom, and Overcome are all in the same text style and size. This gives them emphasis. Shalom and Overcome have the most light-on-dark contrast because they are the crux of the message. Deep, abiding wholeness stems from Jesus’ victory over death.
  2. World and Trouble are enveloped in a rough, chaotic texture. They symbolize the chaos Jesus overcomes.
  3. You and Your are always in the same cursive text style. Though given to the general public, the message is a very personal message.
  4. Tucked beneath Shalom, in all caps is: “I do not give as the world gives.” To me, that’s the 2nd-most important part of this message. Jesus gives something very different from anything this world can offer.
  5. “But take heart!” That is perhaps my favorite line! It’s the line of hope. Visually, I tied the tail of the “t” into the top of the globe like a pulmonary artery. Christ’s life-blood flows, seeps, spreads through every continent. As his Word spreads, so hope spreads.

For the Grads – Rock

Rock Shaken Painting web

copyright 2020 Mollie Bozarth

When I get anxious, it’s typically about “unknowns.” That’s normal, right? Someone said recently that we never have control over our future or know exactly what’s coming next. But, situations like the pandemic make us come face to face with that reality – that uncertainty. I don’t like it. I prefer certainty! Ironically, fear, anxiety, depression, and addictions are often an outward sign of our inward struggle/desire to control life (feeling that life is out of control). I felt some of that cropping up a couple weeks ago as I tried to mentally prepare for a school year that looks nothing like any year I’ve experienced before.

I felt the knot in my stomach. The heartburn. The headache.

Then God gently put things in place to help me. He had a family contact me about tutoring their daughter in art. Initially, I was hesitant to tutor this fall (have enough on my plate already). Then, to tutor over Zoom was even less appealing. But I started meetings with the young lady, and she is a delight to teach! (I have forgiven her for being a student at our rival high school – Neuqua.) Planning lessons for her has enabled me to try out Zoom-teaching techniques and see that virtual learning can still include connection, demonstration, feedback, etc. The prospect of multiplying my experience with her up to class sizes of 20-32 kids is still daunting. But I’m not anxious now. The knot in my stomach is gone. The headaches are gone. Heartburn (if you know me) is just how my life goes.

It is a semi-annual tradition for me to write a blog post based on a painting completed for a recent grad. This blog post is dedicated to the 2020 grads, those headed to college for the first time, and those headed out who may have experienced college before but never in this way. Really, this blog post is for all of us (college or no) who are facing an autumn of uncertainty. Things don’t look like we want them to. We’re dealing with disappointment and other roiling emotions. We don’t like change. And plans are changing constantly these days. That’s why we need a ROCK.

I chose the verse from Psalm 62:6 because God is a rock we can count on when everything else seems to shift like quicksand around us. The full verse says: “God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I will not be shaken.” Grads and others, where do you put your trust? Is it in your plans? – they’ll fall apart or be forced to change. Is it in your work? – unemployment rates will tell you there’s no certainty there. Is it in your family? – then fear of losing a loved one to Covid can send you reeling. God ALONE is my true fortress. He is the foundation that will not be moved.

Does this mean that Christians never struggle with anxiety, depression, or fear? Heck, no! Scholars have counted up 365 times in the Bible where we are commanded: “Do not fear!” They say it’s the most frequent command found in scripture. God says it over and over because He knows we struggle with it!

When my eyes are on the roiling mess of uncertainties surrounding me, my heart begins to sink. But, when I look up, look around at the hopeful and sure light breaking through gloom, there is a calm that cannot be shaken. The light source isn’t any latest breaking news. It isn’t a prospective vaccine. Nor is it the “light at the end of the tunnel” idea that eventually this chaos will settle down and life will return to normal. No. The light is there no matter what news and vaccines bring. The light has been there since the beginning of time, before chaos unsettled earth. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5) The Word was God. The Word is my rock. The Word is my salvation. I will not be shaken.

There is a passage in Ephesians that talks about the armor of God. It talks about our struggle not being against flesh and blood but against things going on around us that we can’t see. It says “after you have done everything, simply stand…with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” (Eph. 6:10-17) You’ll notice in the painting above that the girl is barefoot and relaxed. A child of faith is able to be vulnerable because her strength lies not in shoes or visible armor but in a surety of the power and safety of her protector, her fortress, her rock.

My prayer for the 2020 grads, and anyone else reading this, is that we walk barefoot through the chaos, trusting the God who guides our steps. That we climb up out of the fog of uncertainty to sit where we can look out over a clear horizon. That we turn our face to the sunlight of our savior, allowing him to cast out any chilly gloom. That we rest in the strength of a God who will not be shaken. That our rest in Him becomes an unshakable calm within our own souls. With this, you can face tomorrow. With this, you can look forward to these last few months of 2020, rather than merely try to survive them.

About the Artwork

This is what I call an illustrative portrait. It’s not an exact likeness of the girl for whom it was painted, but there are similarities between this character and the real girl. She enjoys sports and is athletic. And, as long as I’ve known her, she’s sought to grow in her faith and make God a solid foundation for her life.

If you had seen this painting several weeks ago, you’d be surprised at the changes made. At first, I had many browns and flesh tones in the “hand of God” built into the rock. I did a couple days of work, then let it sit for two weeks. When I revisited it, I decided it was a “nice painting” but I wanted to simplify the color scheme and create a definite mood. The great thing about acrylic is that it’s easy to change details. However, it’s scary as an artist to take something “good” and paint over it, hoping to make something even better! I started blocking in greys and purples…and immediately regretted it. It was now a flat, formless mess of a hand. So, I prayed and worked and reworked. Slowly the new form emerged. Same thing with the rocks. I liked the rock formation in the “brown version” of the painting. Then I took out a palette knife, started massing in black and grey, and made a mess. Had to let the knife painting dry, then rework over top. I was able to salvage/keep only a few of my knife painting strokes. As I began lettering, I realized the ground was too busy (couldn’t read the words clearly). So, that section also gained several layers of paint before I was happy with lettering style, spacing and contrast. Did I get the sky right on the first try? Of course not! I “finished” the painting, emailed a photo to my mom, and she agreed that the sky was too gloomy. The effect was more “zombie apocalypse” than fog fading to sunlight. After a few more tweaks the illustration was finally complete.

Originally, I had not planned to put God’s hand into the scene. It was just going to be a girl sitting on a cliff. But the rock I sketched below her looked like a knuckle and thumb. I had used imagery of God’s hand holding a girl in last year’s grad painting, titled For the Grads – Held. So the image of a fist, representing strength, worked well here. Yes, it is also the symbol for rock in the ever-famous rock-paper-scissors battle. One of my favorite aspects of God as Father is that we never grow too old or too big to fit safely in the palm of His hand…or, in this case, to perch and rest upon His knuckle.