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Autumn Rhythm (Number 53)

Turner, van Gogh, & Pollock

Turner, van Gogh, & Pollock

Abstract art is not my thing. I’ll take a Rembrandt over a Jackson Pollock any day…representational realism is more my forte in the art realm. However, I must admit that there can be beauty in abstraction, and that abstraction is easily found within the marvels of nature. JMW Turner’s stormy seascapes (ex. Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth) are tumultuous walls of spray, movement of water in greens and greys. Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night features the abstracted motion of heavenly bodies, with explosions of light radiating from stars and moon. Until my master’s program in 2009, I had not realized how common sights around us can capture moments of abstract composition. Murray Tinkelman (pen & ink illustrator and head of University of Hartford’s MFA Illustration program) gave a memorable lecture where he took famous abstract paintings and placed them next to photographs of the streets of New York. Old rusty doorways, paint spillage at a construction site, brick patterns in a wall…each accidental scene perfectly mimicked the matching Rothko or Pollock masterpiece. Murray called it “found art”.

In honor of Murray’s eye-opening lecture, and as an homage to Pollock’s method of titling pieces, we’ll call today’s post Autumn Rhythm (Number 53). The Number 53 in my title refers to 53 reclaimed wood boards I sanded, stained, and installed as a feature wall in my basement. Is a wooden wall considered artwork? Yes! The studs and braces were my canvas. Stain created a similar translucency to my usual watercolor paint. Natural wood grain replaced ink lettering in playing with line, curve, and repetition. But the design principles remained the same as I utilized contrast, balance, movement, and emphasis in arranging each row of boards. The final composition is truly artistic. As with viewing a van Gogh in a museum, peer closely to see nuances of line and color, then step back to enjoy the overall effect of the piece.

wood wall 2 web

wood wall 3 web

wood wall 4 web

In planning the wall, I chose black as an accent color, using two lighter stains on the majority of boards. Within each row I placed boards end-to-end, looking for continuation of line or interesting patterns. I’d step back to see what it looked like from across the room before nailing anything in place. Each board was approximately 30″ long (donated by a friend from a deck her husband tore out and replaced). I cut some boards shorter for aesthetics, or to fit the needed length. My scroll saw came in handy when cutting a curved slot to fit around pipes. Since I don’t own a nail gun, I pre-drill holes. Tip: when pre-drilling, you can cut the end off one of your nails and use that as the bit in your drill. This saves any risk of breaking a regular drill bit and creates the perfect size hole for your nail. I used black finishing nails (typically used in baseboard and trim) so that the visible nail heads would be small and decorative. Working with old, uneven boards, I did check to see that each row was basically level as I worked my way up the wall. Sometimes I had to file down edges or adjust the tilt of a board to maintain an even, horizontal line pattern. Below is the finished result!wood wall 1 webSo, for those of you who never thought of carpentry as artwork, take a closer look at the movement of line and color in wood grain. It may inspire the Abstract Expressionist in you!

Image credits: Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, oil, 1842, JMW Turner; Starry Night, oil, 1889, Vincent van Gogh; Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), enamel on canvas, 1950, Jackson Pollock

 

Blessings Without Number

Allums Blessings web

If you’re worried and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep, and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.” Irving Berlin hit it right on the money with this lyric in the movie/musical White Christmas. Counting our blessings takes our mind off the focus of current circumstances. It replaces lists of mounting anxieties with reminders of everything that’s going well in our lives, reminders of loved-ones who are there to support us, and provision of daily needs. Do you need those reminders? I definitely do! Personally, I’ve found it helps not merely to mentally count blessings but to write them down. My prayer journal has several pages of blessing lists. They’re written on nights when I’ve fought the Eeyore syndrome all day (depressed, ho-hum, unhappy with my life). They’re written when life’s circumstances are overwhelming, my brain racing as I roll over for the umpteenth time, unable to sleep. They’re written when fears and shifting shadows loom. Writing them does refocus my thoughts as well as my heart. And, looking back at lists from long ago enables me to see a line of faithful provision year by year. God does not leave me to struggle on my own. He never abandons me. My attention span for counting blessings is much shorter than the actual number of ways He blesses my life!

The friend who commissioned this piece for his 10th wedding anniversary, understands the significance of its message. The script comes from a stanza in their wedding processional. Walking down the aisle 10 years ago, they couldn’t have imagined some of the difficulties and heartache the decade would bring. But there is joy now. There is song and laughter. There is a strength that comes from walking thru the trenches together, leaning on one another and on their heavenly Father. And there are countless blessings they can look back on, seeing 10 years of God’s faithfulness.

About the artwork:

This is the first wood-burning commission I’ve had! The husband wanted this as a surprise gift for his wife, so I worked with him in the design process. He chose the stanza, color-scheme, and told me his wife’s favorite flowers to include. It was a fun piece to work on because it combined my graphic-design skills with painting and wood-working. I’ve always enjoyed carpentry (I cut the curved top on a scroll saw in my garage) and have done several wood-burning projects for myself over the years. I chose a pale stain, almost creamy white, to finish off the wood, so that it would contrast the medium purple paint and dark burned lettering. For my client’s privacy, I’ve blocked out the names on this photo of the artwork. In the original, their names and wedding date are above the “10 Years”.

Corolla Sketches

For years my mom has wanted to bring the entire family together for a week on the beach. Last week we finally pulled it off! Most of my siblings, nieces, nephews, Mom and Dad were there, sharing one of the huge beach houses in Corolla. Though we all live near each other, my siblings and I rarely get to spend extended time together other than at family weddings and funerals. We’re blessed to have a family that truly enjoys each other, works together, and are patient with each other. Living under one roof for a week can test that, but I think we all left Corolla with highlights and great memories. Personally, I loved being goofy with my brothers and sisters; playing Canasta and Settlers of Catan late into the night; playing billiards with my nephews; holding my baby niece as we splashed our toes in the pool and tossed rings for my nephew to dive down and fetch; a long drive to the airport with my sister and her oldest daughter, chatting along the way; an overload of Krispy Kreme donuts…my brothers and I not realizing that each of the others had already bought a box or two. One of my favorite memories is an early morning beach walk I took with my niece, Abby. While we walked, we combed the surf for shells. And I would pause to sketch while Abby searched the sands nearby. Today’s sketches are from that walk.

Corolla Beach Sketch 1The first is a gesture sketch of Abby picking up shells. A gesture is a quick sketch, done to capture the basic action of a figure. It’s a snapshot, not a detailed study. With Abby turning and stooping, standing then moving away, I only had a few seconds to study the lines, angles, basic shape of her movement. When teaching, I have my students start with a 3-5 minute study of the figure. Then we progress throughout the period, shortening allotted time for each pose, until we attempt one in 30 seconds near the end of class. It’s a fun exercise to try if you never have before! And, it’s a great way to train your eye/brain to process what you’re seeing then spit it out onto paper in a few lines.

Corolla Beach Sketch 2Fishermen line the beach, particularly in mornings and evenings, casting into the surf. When walking, watch out for the invisible lines! Don’t try to walk between the fishermen and their ocean or you may get tangled in a line with them cursing you in frustration. We knew better than to get in their way. I’d say standing in cool water, with the ocean breeze on your face, beats bobbing in a boat on the lake with stifling heat any fishing day.

Corolla Beach Sketch 3Stairways line the dunes – hundreds of them all alike. On a long walk, it’s easy to lose your bearings and struggle to find the staircase that leads back to your street! So, I studied ours, sketching the concrete wall and lines of sand fencing (not sure what you call it) that keep the dune sand from drifting when winds are high.

I often tell my students, “photos are great, but you really notice details when you take the time to sketch something.” Looking back at these sketches will remind me of our time in Corolla and the memories made there.

Shifting Shadows

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

“Shifty” is a descriptor that leaves us feeling uneasy. A shifty character, shifty eyes, a shifting foundation…all are bad news, implying mistrust at best and at worst, disaster. Add in shadows and we’re suddenly 4 years old again, in a dark bedroom, unable to sleep for fear that the flickering shadows on our wall will come alive if we close our eyes. Fear is always magnified in the dark. And a vivid imagination can run away with us at night when the world is quiet and life feels most lonely, most vulnerable. Millions of night-lights are lit nightly to help dispel the dark. Light vs. Dark, Good vs. Evil – in movies and books the theme abounds, mirroring the spiritual realm and the ultimate battles of good vs. evil. In chapter 3 of the oldest story known to man, a “shifty” character, a serpent enters the scene and begins twisting truth. “You will not surely die,” Satan tells Eve in reference to eating forbidden fruit. “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5) Would Eve die instantly as she bit into the fruit? No. And yes. Death did occur in the garden. Her relationship with her husband, the unity she shared with him, was broken now. The curses connected with sin (vs. 14-19) went into effect. Her physical body would now experience pain, thirsting desire, subjugation and eventual death. Most of all, the perfect communication and community she’d enjoyed with her God was now dead. A redeemer would be needed (and must be long-awaited) to fix the mess. In the meantime, man began to fear shadows.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) Throughout the old and new testaments, God is refered to as Light. His glory shines so brightly that Moses’ face is described as “radiant” after merely glimpsing His glory and speaking to Him (Exodus 33:19-23; 34:29-30). John, in the book of Revelation, describes the future new heaven and new earth as not needing the “sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp…there will be no night there” (21:23-25). No night. No shifting shadows. Besides glory, God’s character is described as faithful, unwavering, steadfast. God does not twist truth. He is straightforward. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, goes so far as to say that “even when we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot deny His character” (2 Timothy 2:13). This is the Father of Lights. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him. Psalm 139:12 says, “the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to God.” And Psalm 127:1-2 calls us to rest without worry “for, while they sleep the Lord provides for those He loves.” So, when we lie awake, the night’s silence resounding with the clamour of our thoughts, fear beginning to play on us as shadows flicker across our wall, we can close our eyes and call out to the God who does not change. He promises to be light in our darkness.

About the artwork:

This painting was a wedding gift for a friend who has traveled widely and taken many spectacular photos of her journeys. Wanting to include her photography in the painting, I noticed cool patterns in the architecture and cloths she had photographed. Those patterns became the inspiration for the border. I actually designed the border before choosing the scripture to go inside. As for the verse, I didn’t want a typical “wedding” verse, nor something you could buy on a plaque. This verse is a good reminder in the “for better, for worse” days, that God has surrounded them with good and perfect gifts, providing big things and small blessings on a daily basis. The primary triad (red, yellow, blue) color scheme came from tile patterns in her photos. With such a busy border, the text color needed to stay as monochromatic as possible. So, I stuck with deep blues and grey-blue, adding thin text of red to tie in with the border color.

My Kids

My favorite teacher-movie is the 1939 film Goodbye, Mr. Chips, starring Robert Donat and Greer Garson. (If you’ve never seen it, rent it from the library!!) In one of the final scenes, Chips sums up my own feeling: as teachers we have thousands of kids…many of whom we affect (and are deeply affected by) through the years. For me, “My Kids” can refer to any student I’ve taught, mentored, coached, or worked with at church over the past 15 years. In this particular post, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my Painting 2 kids. These are upper-level painting students. Having learned various acrylic techniques in Painting 1, we work our way through Chinese Ink Brush techniques, India ink, watercolor, and eventually oils in Painting 2. The watercolor portraits below were completed about 3/4 of the way through our semester. The artists have offered to share their work and words here.

Maddie G.

Maddie G Watercolor web

My painting subject is my younger sister; since this was a baby picture Miss Bozarth demonstrated for the class and I that in babies and younger children we should keep the edges soft so it won’t have the feeling of an older person’s skin. Another thing I learned was how dark to make the watercolor. With acrylic I can add white to lighten a color, but in watercolor paintings white is not used as much for lightening the color. I learned that it is about how much water I have on my brush and how many coats I layer. For the red blanket I had a hard time keeping the colors translucent. When I was working on the background I made the mistake of going too dark, but I learned to lift out the color with my wet brush and paper towel. When I was coming near the end of the painting, Miss Bozarth told me to go back and darken the shadows in my sister’s hair and shirt. This allowed a better contrast and brought out the highlights in her face and shirt. I look at the finished painting and see how far I’ve come. I am proud of my piece, but I couldn’t have achieved it without the tools I learned from my teacher. I am looking forward to working with watercolor again in my future!

Kevin S.

Stolle Blue Dog webThis painting is based on a photo of my dog, Banjo. To make it more interesting, I chose to recreate the image in blue. This was done in watercolor with outlines and shadows refined using black ink.

Kristy K.

Kristy K watercolor webI chose this picture mainly because I didn’t want to do skin tones and facial features. It shows my passion for the Chicago Blackhawks and my favorite player Duncan Keith. While doing this painting I learned that watercolor is terrifying to tackle! White watercolor is basically non-existent, and once you mess up, it’s like Sharpie…really hard to fix. I loved doing the wrinkles in the jersey; at times I thought it was real. This was a great learning experience for my first watercolor portrait.

Lauren V.

Lauren Vivian Watercolor webI wanted to make a piece that had a humorous pun and also involved one of my nerdy favorites. I went through my favorite Star Wars characters and remembered the Scout Trooper and connected it with everyday Boy Scouts. So, if the Star Wars universe ever needed popcorn, you’d know what trooper to buy from!

Jessica Y.

Jessica Y watercolor webTitle “Principessa”

Watercolor is a weird medium. Throughout Painting 2, I learned the complete opposite of what I’d learned working months with acrylic. Once you’ve made a move you cannot take that mark back, and you can’t simply cover it with more paint. It taught me how to control my brush strokes and mixing colors. It was sort of a nervous experience to get used to the feeling of watercolor. But once you get the hang of it, watercolor has results that are lifelike. When I was painting my oldest sister, I was happy with this new paint. With each stoke, I was able to capture everything that my sister is. My older sister has always lifted us up when we were down; each one of her words always made you calm. She never gives false comfort; she acknowledges the circumstances, yet she makes it seems as though it isn’t even a problem. She always looks out for others more than herself. When painting her, I tried to represent that very character.
Note: Jessica’s finished portrait is part of her AP Portfolio and was still at the college board when this blog post was written. So, we’ve included a snapshot of her working on the piece while it was still in progress. As her teacher, I must say it was a gorgeous portrait!

Answer Me!

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

“My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me! I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam…”

Oh, the busy-ness of life! How quickly we get sucked into projects, commitments, pressures, and the heavy burden of feeling like a failure when we can’t keep up. Fear of letting others down. Fear of rejection when we can’t meet the standard that seems to be set. Fear that when we miss the mark, God Himself will be standing there, tapping His foot impatiently, saying: “When will you get it together and be good enough?!” I’m not talking about you guys out there in the blog-reading world…I’m talking about myself. But, I have a feeling many others can relate.

That’s why I need passages like Micah 6:3-4,8. God seems ticked off with Israel here: “Answer me!”  He charges His people to explain exactly what burdens He’s placed on them. The charge jerks me up out of complaining mode, forcing me to look back over everything that’s led to my feeling over-burdened/overwhelmed. And, honestly, I can’t answer Him. I can’t continue to complain and rant at my Heavenly Father for long, because He hasn’t placed these burdens on me; most are pressures I’ve put on myself. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” It’s not that God promises a burden-free existence. Oxen yoke were designed for two to walk together, sharing the work load. If I’m exhausted, I’m either refusing to be yoked with the God who can make my burden light…determined to prove I can do everything in my own strength. Or, I’m fighting the direction my yoke-fellow wants to take me, and the squirming and wriggling and wandering wears me out.

So, what does the LORD require of me? Micah 6:8 continues: “Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”  First off, He wants me to look back and see the ways He’s been providing for me all along. I wasn’t a slave in Egypt, but I know the suffocating feeling of being entangled in decisions I thought would free me, which really left me empty and dissatisfied. He disentangled. He redeemed broken relationships. He brought me out into the sunlight, filling my lungs with the fresh air I hungered for. Secondly, He wants me to look right beside me…do I see Him there? If not, I’m probably not walking humbly with Him. Do I trust the God who offers to walk beside me? If not…why not? What am I afraid He’ll keep me from, that I’m so sure I’ll enjoy? Or, what do I fear He’ll make me do that I’m not ready to do? Lastly, He calls me to look around. “Act justly and love mercy” sounds very similar to Jesus’ simplification of all the commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30,31) If we love God with every part of our being (heart, soul, mind, strength), that love will naturally show itself in how we’re treating others. I always wanted justice as a kid…always wanted everything to be “fair”. Of course, my idea of fair consisted of basically wanting things to go my way. Am I acting in fairness to the people around me? Do I love to be merciful? Or, am I stingy with mercy, handing it out only as I see fit; giving it to people I feel deserve it?

Deciding who deserves mercy and justice isn’t my call. It’s a burden I’m not qualified to bear. So, when I’m overwhelmed with burdens, this verse often comes to mind. Then I take a step back, look at things in perspective, and call out to the God who is beside me. “Love your neighbor,” He whispers, “and walk with me, trusting me. Everything else is non-essential. It can wait while you rest. I’ll take care of what burdens you, or I’ll give you the strength to get it done, but for now, your soul needs a break.”

Artistic note:

The piece above was commissioned by a friend who is a quilter. In fact, we did a trade: I painted a favorite scripture in calligraphy for her; she quilted a table-runner for my kitchen table. She specifically requested Micah 6:8 but left all design choices (other than color preference) up to me. Starting with sketches, I researched quilting symbols that could be incorporated into the layout. For the word “God”, I wanted 3 interconnected circles, representing the Trinity. But I needed it to clearly read as G O D. Playing around with line and color, I managed to make it work. The surface is cloth stretched across a canvas and attached using Matte Medium. Matte Medium is a liquid plastic, which looks like glue but isn’t sticky. When two surfaces are coated and pressed together, they dry with a permanent bond. I projected my design onto the canvas/cloth and sketched it in pencil. Painting was done with acrylics, though you can see where I used Matte Medium to attach bits of fabric detail as well. To use my art-geek vocabulary, this is the first time I’ve worked basically in a tertiary triad color scheme. Translation: main colors used were blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.

What I Did on My Rainy Saturday

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

This Saturday’s to-do list included laundry and should have included balancing my checkbook. But checkbook balancing can happen any old day. Rain clouds and wet grass meant no yard work for the afternoon. Sooo…I decided to paint!…no big surprise. I needed a gift idea for a friend, but hadn’t been happy with anything I’d thought of yet. Then I remembered that she’d taken a trip to South Africa with her family last summer. She’d posted pictures on Facebook. Going back to that album, I found a handful of shots with potential for painting. I didn’t really want to paint the typical safari scene. Instead, I was attracted to a photo of sheep on her grandparents’ farm. The dusty grey color palette reminded me of a quote by Andrew Wyeth (Pennsylvania-based painter from the mid 1900’s; son of N.C. Wyeth). Wyeth said, “I’ve been blamed for the fact that my pictures are colorless, but the color I use is so much like the country I live in.” We think of African art as bold, vibrant, colorful. And, yes, the people, the fabrics, the sunsets in Africa are vibrant. But the landscape itself is rather muted…sandy yellows, cream, beige, browns, muted greens. As Wyeth saw the beauty of this color-range in his Pennsylvania surroundings, I wanted to capture the beauty of rural Africa. A sheep pen constructed from tree limbs, with a makeshift gate and tangled wire mesh…using the natural and man-made resources on-hand to make do. This is the art and ingenuity of so many cultures; something we rarely see in urban/suburban America. Besides subject-matter and color scheme, I liked the framing of this particular photo. Fence-post, gate, and roof perfectly frame the sheep, whose interest in her feeding trough has been distracted by the viewer’s camera. Design-wise I could work almost directly from the original photo, without having to make major changes to image or cropping.

Charlotte Africa close webMy palette for this piece consisted of: yellow ochre, violet, grey, with rusty-red thrown in as an accent color. I wanted to build up the surface (creating both real and implied texture) before painting. Not having any modeling paste around, I improvised with spackling. Yes, the stuff you use to fill holes in your wall can also be used to build texture on a painting! Apply it to the canvas/board with a palette knife or fingers and allow an hour for drying-time before you paint. When working with acrylics, adding modeling paste (or spackle) gives a 3D surface-quality that mimics impasto oil-painting techniques. In the close-up shown here, you can see what I mean.

My friend was thrilled with the gift, and recognized her grandparents’ farm at once. So, it was a worthwhile rainy day of painting! Perhaps I’ll balance the checkbook tomorrow.

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