Recently, my chiropractor was asking about my artwork, so I pointed him to this blog. The next time I saw him, we continued the conversation about art. He asked if I’d ever followed along with Bob Ross videos while painting. I laughed and responded that everything I know about oil I learned from my grandmother and a wonderful college professor, Rod Crossman (whose artwork you can view by clicking this link). As it happens, Rod Crossman had his own local TV show. I remember watching a few episodes of Crossman’s show back in college…which is probably 2-3 more episodes than I ever watched of Bob Ross. The iconic artist whose afro can still be seen on art supplies in Hobby Lobbies across the U.S., would talk in his lullaby voice about “Happy Trees.” Eventually, the phrase and the voice imbedded into America’s subconscious. We’d all love to paint easily and effortlessly. We’d love to place a touch of light here and a dab of tree there and have everything pull together into the perfect landscape we picture in our mind’s eye.
But the reality is that as artists we often struggle to capture perfection. In fact, we end up over-working areas of the canvas (especially in oil paint) and creating mud…colors smudged and running together to the point that we must wipe it all clean with turpentine and begin again. I remember Crossman saying, “Lay it down and leave it! Don’t overwork the brush stroke.”
Perhaps that struggle to perfect oil is the reason my very first oil painting is one of my favorites. Grandma had a tradition that the summer each grandchild turned 7, she would sit down with them and help them paint their first oil painting. To this day, I can picture us in her studio. Me in the tall artist’s chair that swiveled when you turned. An empty canvas in front of me. Palette, brushes, and knife nearby. The scent of turpentine in an old coffee can, ready to clean off our brushes. And, Grandma next to me, telling me which brush to use and how to mix my colors. Any time I smell oil paints now, it takes me back to that studio space.
Bob Ross talked about “Happy Trees.” For me, it’s “Happy Clouds.” Those circular cotton balls floating above the mountains were probably swiped onto the canvas using a rag. They are extremely childlike in their simplicity. One section of mountains looks flat and unfinished. But, for the most part, those mountains are a lesson in the FUN of a palette knife. Color laid down, scraped at an angle, pastel yellow highlights on top like a smear of butter on toast. Dark green bushes stand shoulder to shoulder, each its own peculiar shape and size. Then, the fan brush! You can tell I got a little too excited, dabbing clusters of wild flowers across the ground. Finally, the lake, a cheerful periwinkle blue, reflecting hints of the yellow soil around its banks. And, no less important than the landscape itself, my name – signed with the bold, awkward lettering of a 7-year-old.
When was the last time you let yourself play as an artist? Experimenting with brushes, trying out new tools, dabbing flowers across a field for the fun of it? My chiropractor mentioned that Bob Ross had been a drill sergeant before becoming famous. However, once discharged from the military, he was determined never to raise his voice again. Instead, he learned to paint for fun. Remember the title of his show? – The Joy of Painting! You’ve got to hand it to the guy for not only loving the act of creation but instilling a love of painting into the lives and mindsets of generations of TV viewers. Next time you (or I) begin to feel that painting is more of a burden than a therapeutic creative outlet, maybe we should take a break from the desire for perfection and return to the simplicity of “Happy Trees” and “Happy Clouds.”
My grandpa is one of those men who is hard-working, fun, a good teacher, humble, faith-filled and faithful…the list goes on. And, if I have the opportunity to marry some guy who reminds me of him, I’ll feel very blessed in that regard! I can only remember being in trouble with him once when I was a kid. My brother and I were fighting/squabbling while playing ping-pong at my grandparents’ cottage. Grandpa was tired of hearing us fight, so out came his gruff voice (the one that’s usually saved for commanding dogs to hush when they bark too much at the door), and he banished us from playing ping pong for the rest of that afternoon.
My main memories of him include patience – especially when teaching us tennis strokes or helping us learn to fish. Patience…and a colorful vocabulary. Now, many of you probably think that means he swears like a sailor, but I’ve never heard a curse word on his lips. No. His colorful vocabulary consists of: Hookie-doo (meaning: cock-eyed, out of whack, needs to be fixed); Unreal! (meaning: no way!, I can’t believe it! amazing!); schnockered (technically means drunk/tipsy, but in his vocab it means you got beaten soundly in Mario Kart or some other Nintendo game). Yes, he’s played video games ever since they were invented. He owned several major systems through the years, including Atari 5200 (which is now in my basement and on which I still play Pac-Man and Jungle Hunt). I remember him teaching my baby brother, Christopher, how to play Nintendo when he was a toddler. They’d be sitting next to each other, Grandpa’s bulk next to Christopher with a pacifier in his mouth, learning how to shoot ducks in Duck Hunt.
Like most men, Grandpa avoids going to the doctor when possible. I remember a day when he went fishing and caught a fish-hook in the palm of his hand. He took the hook out, cleaned the wound, and only complained of the pain when he tried to play tennis later in the day. It hurt to hold his racket, though he was determined to play anyway. He’s a tough guy but never a mean guy!
I appreciate that my grandpa has always been a faithful husband. He and Grandma recently celebrated their 66th anniversary. In all of those years, he’s been a provider, a stronghold, and has loved Grandma and worked with her as a team. They each give strength to the other. And, they’ve lived a life of faith, relying on God for strength and provision as well. Grandpa doesn’t think of himself as especially wise or Bible-smart (probably because Grandma has tons of the Bible memorized, and he compares himself to her). But he’s a man I can go to for prayer and wisdom, counsel, and insightful listening. He’s the man who (all through college and many years after) ended his emails to me with Psalm 118:24 ~ “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” I heard that from him so often it’s become the verse that rings in my head as I wake up each morning. A good way to start the day! A good reminder that no matter how my day is going, I can praise God for His hand in it. I do thank God regularly for the grandparents He’s given me. And I treasure each day I have with them.
About the artwork:
This piece was completed as a demonstration for my Drawing 1 students. We’re trying something new this semester – scribble portraits! It’s a pen & ink technique that’s faster than stippling (where the entire image is made from dots). However, the scribble mark-making is tricky because you can’t control it as easily as you would dots/stipple. If you want to try a scribble portrait at home, here are a few tips I shared with my students:
- Use a reference image with strong value range/lighting and clear details. Change the photo to black and white when you print it out, so that you’re focused on value and not on color.
- Less is more! Use very few marks in the light areas. It’s always easier to go back and add more marks than to try to lighten an area that’s too dark. Paint pens or white out can be used for small mistakes and touch-ups.
- Prop up your desk/table top while working. Step back from your artwork and look at it from 5+ feet away to see how everything’s blending. The scribble marks will look strange from up close. But, when done right, they blend beautifully from far away. Pause and check your work continually to ensure you’re capturing nuances of muscle, tendons, cheek bones, etc.
- Change pen sizes. Three pen sizes were used in the making of this portrait. One was a small (.7 mm) gel pen for tight spots and areas where I wanted thinner marks/lines. The 2nd was an ultra-fine Sharpie marker for most details in the face and hair. Third was a fine-tip Sharpie for the dark areas of the sweater. I worked on 18″ x 24″ paper to keep my pen strokes loose.
- Failure IS an option! Don’t be afraid to trash your first attempt if you blow it. It’s better to start over and improve on technique than to cover half the face in white-out because you refuse to admit failure. There is no particular scribble pattern required. Look up examples online, and you’ll see several artists who have made a career from this technique. Experiment with line patterns, and have FUN!
My nephew is a funny guy. You wouldn’t think it just to look at him, because straight-faced humor is his forte’. For example, we’re all at a family party a couple of years ago. I’m standing with the adults, chatting about my new Rav4, comparing its mileage with that of my old Honda. Little guy is nearby, listening to all the adult conversation. He decides to chip in. “I get pretty good mileage on my bike!” he announces. “Yeah?” I reply, “What kind of mileage do you get?” “Oh….to the end of the street and back.” We all start laughing! The glint of a smile in his eye is the only hint that he’s not serious. He knew he was being funny. Not long ago my sister signed him up for drama club because she realized we needed to put this wit to work. So, last spring I went to see him and his older sister in their school’s production of Lion King. He played one of the hyenas and could be seen enthusiastically scratching his fleas on stage.
Well, a few weeks ago I needed reference imagery for a portrait demonstration in one of my classes. I’ve painted some of my nieces before but haven’t tackled any of my nephews. So, I found a good photo of him and used it for the project in class. We were studying color schemes. I showed my students how to play with filters and colors in Photoshop to simplify their reference imagery and change their original photos to something that fit one of the color schemes we’d studied. For mine, I went with complementary colors. Complementary colors are “opposites” on the color wheel. I tell my kids, think of “opposites attract”…the quiet guy is often interested in the talkative girl. Each of them brings out the best of the other. The same goes for colors. If you put green next to blue, the two colors (being similar) will kind of blend into each other. But, if you put green next to its opposite (red) the two visually have nothing in common. So, each makes the other look brighter/more vibrant. For this painting, I shifted slightly from the red/green pair to red-violet and yellow-green. When I’d basically finished painting, it needed something to really finish it off and tie the segmented colors together. I took my brush with a pale yellow-green on it, and added just a few swipes of that color into sections of the eyes, eyelid, hair, and background. That did it! When you’re working on a painting, look for ways like that to bring color from one section of the design into areas that don’t have that particular color. Even little touches can help tie everything together and balance the composition.
When I sent the finished portrait to my nephew, I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be. He might think it “weird” that I’d painted his face in shades of purple. But he LOVED it! He apparently walked around saying, “This is Sooooooooooooooooo Good! It looks just like me!” He showed it to the family chiropractor that day at an appointment. And, he sent me a photo, waving at me with the painting in front of his face. Fun reaction! Well worth the effort of painting it.
Leaving Edinburgh in June of 2016, we drove through the highlands towards Skye, stopping to visit 3 castles in 3 days along the way (Edinburgh Castle in the city, Sterling Castle south-west of the city, and Eilean Donan near the new bridge to Skye). Though rain had hit in Glencoe the night before, locals continued to express concerns of drought. For Scotland, I guess this means it rains periodically instead of every day. Lush green around us, with flourishing flowers, would seem to say that the land had seen plenty of water! But, I’ll admit that the fact that I could wander with my camera beneath the bridge at Eilean Donan confirmed lower amounts of rainfall than the area was used to seeing. Around 5 p.m. (according to my sketch journal), I walked a good ways out onto rocks beyond the castle and sat down with my sketchbook to draw. The panorama (in the photo montage below) was taken from that vantage point. It was interesting to see and sketch the castle from this less iconic angle. Just as I finished my sketch, large drops of water began to plop onto the page. Stowing away sketchbook and camera, I scrambled back over the rocks toward castle and proper land.
As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, Eilean Donan is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. In fact, a photography contest was going on while we were there! People from all over the world had sent in their favorite and best shots of the place, seen from various angles, including from boats out on the water, or gorgeous sunrise shots with pinks glowing on the horizon, and nighttime shots with castle lit by star and lamp. These photos were posted all through the cafe where my parents and I ate lunch that day. Winners of the contest had been decided days before our arrival.
Fast-forward to present-day. I was prepping a new unit for my Drawing 2 class – drypoint etching, and decided my demo piece would be a good chance to pull out photos of the castle and try something new in the Scotland Series. Drypoint etching is actually a technique I had never tried before, though I’ve heard plenty about it and seen samples of Albrecht Durer and James McNeill Whistler through the years. It’s a form of etching that doesn’t require acid. Instead, you use a metal scribe (looks like a sharp metal pencil) to scratch your marks into the plate surface. In Whistler or Durer’s times, copper plates were common to use. But, for cost-efficiency and ease of procurement, I picked up Plexiglas sheets from the hardware store and cut them down to size for my students. We actually started the process simply using nails (also from the hardware store), and sharpening them with sandpaper. For my etching, the side buildings and bushes to the left of the castle were all done with a nail. But, once we were a few days into the unit, I determined that it was worth the cost of ordering a class-set of traditional scribe tools. Boy, what a difference! You get much better control and cleaner/deeper marks with the scribe than with a nail.
Though this was my first etching, I’m pretty happy with the results! After a test-print, I tweaked minor areas, adding more hatch-marks, making some transitions more subtle. I’ve also begun to experiment with the inking and wiping process. In printmaking, you can change the look from one print to the next merely by adjusting the amount of ink you apply to (or wipe off of) certain areas of the plate. On my plate, there were bushes that tended to soak up too much ink. So, I’ve begun to wipe those more thoroughly before running it through the press. I’ve also been playing with leaving smudges of ink in the sky to accent clouds there. This is the type of thing Whistler would do with his prints as well, leaving sky or water virtually empty, but using a hint or smear of ink left on the plate to give subtle shading to those smooth surfaces. My kids are really enjoying this unit! They love getting to use the printing press (which looks like a metal dinosaur with a captain’s wheel to steer it). Perhaps I’ll get permission from a few of them to post results of their work on my blog. If you’re an art teacher reading this blog, I’ve been very happy with the Akua Intaglio inks and Akua tarlatan for wiping plates. The inks have an oily consistency but are soap and water washable, which makes for easier clean-up. Having tried drypoint etching, I’ll definitely keep using this method/media. There are several other shots from the Scotland trip that would translate well into printmaking. Now that I have a feel for using the scribe tool and creating shadows and texture with cross-hatching marks, I’ll work on improving depth, shading, and subtleties within the technique.
My brother-in-law used to tease us that riding in our family van was like being in the Partridge Family bus. We decided to take that as a compliment, though we prefer to be compared to the von Trapp Family Singers. Whatever the case may be, Bozarths always have some song stuck in our heads. And, what’s stuck in our head comes out our mouth via humming or singing. There are times when one song gets stuck indefinitely. When that happens, my brother Jonathan and I figured out as kids that the best way to get unstuck is to sing Yankee Doodle. For some reason, this tune never gets stuck. So, we can sing it in the interim, while our brain searches for some new song to replace it.
I think King David could relate to the Bozarth family. He was a man of music, a compulsive hummer and songwriter, lyre-player and singer. In fact, before becoming king, he was hired by King Saul for his musical skills – to play and sing and calm Saul’s nerves (1 Samuel 16:14-23). Unfortunately, Saul had a nasty temper and eventually turned against David, throwing spears at him, hunting him down, determined to kill him (1 Samuel 18-20). Let’s just say, not an easy boss to work for. At times like these, when David was on the run and life was turned upside down, the songwriter became stuck. New songs were silenced as the words caught in his throat, choked back by tears or fear or frustration. Humming drifted off, fading to an echo, a mere memory of music written during his days on the hills as a shepherd. David had faced enemies before: lions, bears, even the giant named Goliath. But he’d never faced unjust anger aimed directly, personally, and dangerously at himself. Did he have the physical power to take down King Saul? Yes. But he refused to attack a ruler God had anointed and placed in power (1 Samuel 24-26). So, he hid in caves, trying to decide what to do. David had entered the “muck and mire.” His life was in a pit, and he could not free himself from it. At this point, he had a choice: despair and give up; wriggle and writhe, trying to get free on his own strength; or wait patiently for God to rescue him. The mighty warrior decided to wait. His reward, in the end was a new solid foundation, secure steps without fear, and a new song in his mouth…a song of praise to the God who had saved him (2 Samuel 5-7).
The calligraphy above was painted recently for a friend’s wedding. Though not a passage we typically think of at wedding celebrations, it captures much of the journey that my friend has been on. She walked through the turbulence of having her life turned upside down. She choked on tears of sorrow, fear and frustration in the “pit.” And through it all, she waited patiently for the mighty God who could make life new. This wedding celebration was the culminating note – the crescendo of a new song – as laughter and joy, praise and thanksgiving were on her lips. Walking down the aisle to meet a man who loves and cherishes her, her steps were secure. Like David, she can’t help but hum and sing a song of praise to the God who has made (and continues to make) all things new.
A couple of weeks ago, a recent grad walked into my classroom. He was wondering whether I could use Photoshop to put a “painting” filter over a photo of himself and his fiancé. With an anniversary coming up, he wanted to give her something special, but with only a week’s notice, he knew I wouldn’t have time to do an actual portrait of the two of them. Before leaving, he said, “So, do you have any students like me this year?” I laughed and replied, “Alonzo, I’ve never had another student quite like you!”
I first had Alonzo in class as a senior, so there wasn’t the usual rapport developed over 4 years of high school between myself and him. He’s a guy built for playing football, generally friendly, leadership qualities, and definitely outspoken. There were times in class where I’d say, “Alonzo, shut it!” (meaning his mouth) when he’d speak without care of what the other person thought. He’s the kind of kid who will ask you to toss him an eraser or pencil sharpener because he doesn’t feel like getting up to go get one. Yet he’d also stay after class a minute or two to clean up messes other people had left behind.
In spite of the tough or pompous persona, I quickly learned that beneath all that is a big heart and a humble, get-the-job-done attitude about whatever he tackles (no football pun intended). So, I wasn’t surprised to hear by the end of senior year that he had fallen in love with a young lady and her baby girl and was planning to get married soon after high school. He’ll tackle husband-hood and father-hood in the same way he handles most things…probably saying the wrong things sometimes, but making up for it with a caring, humble, get-it-done attitude about daily life and love. I could tell he was already off to a good start. Because, when he walked into my room the other day, baby girl was asleep in his arms. He had made the rounds of the office, showing off this beautiful, sleeping bundle. She looked quite comfy and obviously trusts the strength and provision of the arms that were holding her.
With all that in mind, I decided a Photoshop filter wouldn’t cut it for this anniversary gift. So, I made time for a watercolor portrait. Alonzo was thrilled when he heard about the up-grade and asked if I could include the phrase, “I love you to the moon and back,” below the painting. While I didn’t scan that part for a blog post, I thought it deserved mentioning. “To the moon and back” is quite the measurement! May we all be willing to love that immeasurably: putting our words to action, tackling the hard times whenever they come, and having fun along the way.
I am not a runner. In order to get me to run, you have to put a basketball in my hands or a soccer ball at my feet. Then I’ll clock miles up and down court (or the field) without realizing that I’m actually running.
But I know plenty of runners – have cheered on students as they pace through cross-country and track meets; have cheered friends while they push to the finish line in the Chicago marathon; have graciously/carefully avoided hitting runners with my car when die-hards are jogging along our local highways. In my vast experience of watching other people run, here’s what I’ve observed about true runners:
- they’re in the race to pursue their own best time
- it’s often more about finishing the race than winning it
- something in them loves to run and finds the discipline invigorating
- they strip down to the essentials, neither carrying nor wearing anything that drags them down
- true runners don’t cut corners or cheat the race marked out for them
- their focus is forward – not looking back, or stopping to gaze around them, nor looking down
- when a race gets tough, crowds cheering from the sidelines can give the boost needed to persevere to the end
- worn out running shoes can be a trophy in themselves, proof of miles well-run
I’ve no idea whether the writer of Hebrews was a runner. But he must have understood something about the discipline, because his analogy 2,000 years ago is still spot-on today. As Christians, we are called to be true runners, to never give up on the race marked out for us. Whether the path God takes us through is desert, rocky terrain, green pastures, or narrow valleys, He’s placed markers along the way to keep us on track. Often times, these are the guidelines laid out in His Word. They may also be the convicting prodding of the Holy Spirit or words of affirmation and/or correction and accountability from family and friends. In the verses following (Hebrews 12:6), the writer quotes Proverbs 3:11,12 saying: “do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves.” In other words, the race markers and corrections we encounter aren’t meant to frustrate or depress us, nor are they meant to be ignored. They are there because we are loved by the God who sees a bigger landscape than we can comprehend…a God who desires to guide us around pitfalls more dangerous than we’d realize.
When I first read Hebrews 12, I pictured familiar faces of friends as the “cloud of witnesses” cheering me on. Those faces certainly are part of the crowd. However, the first verse actually starts with “Therefore” – pointing back to chapter 11, which recounts the lives of several Old Testament men and women. It’s generation upon generation of people who lived by faith and persevered to the end of their race. We aren’t simply cheered on by people like me (people who don’t mind watching a good race but prefer to avoid running whenever possible). We’re cheered on by thousands who endured muscle cramps and shin splints, yet refused to give up. Why did they refuse to give up?…was it sheer stubborn determination, or foolish pride that kept them going? The first verse of chapter 11 tells us why: they refused to give up because they were “sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they could not see.” Having reached their finish-line and found more joy than they could have imagined, they now cheer us on. With those voices shouting encouragement, we can be inspired to strip off everything that slows us down, and keep our eyes on Christ. We can let go of baggage from our past, not looking back. We can ignore temptations around us, not stopping to gaze at the world’s distractions or leave the path to roam “greener pastures”. We can look up at the Son who ran his own race and came out victorious, instead of gazing down at gravel beneath our feet.
Today’s painting was inspired by a young man (Joel) who loves to run. I had the privilege of being one of his middle-school youth leaders many years ago. Then, as he grew up and headed off to college, he came back as a volunteer leader for the same youth group he’d grown up in. Now the race marked out is taking him in an unexpected direction. Feeling a prodding to leave the corporate world, he has started to apply for youth ministry positions. While this is a career shift, it’s not one that surprises those who know him. His knack for teaching, heart for ministry, and rapport with students have been evident for many years. One of the most memorable lessons Joel taught on a Sunday evening included his running shoes. Holding up a pair of worn out sneakers, he told us about all the miles he’d spent talking to God, worshipping, asking questions, listening…just being in relationship with his Heavenly Father. I’ve seen so many of our kids look up to Joel. They see his steady obedience, sense of humor, love and honor. They hear his honesty about ups and downs, struggles and faith and the overwhelming faithfulness of God. Joel doesn’t simply “talk the talk;” he runs the race. And, he’s one of the cloud of witnesses cheering on other runners, saying: “Don’t give up! Keep your eyes on Christ!” I pray he continues to run his race with perseverance, all the way to the finish line. And, I hope he always hears others’ voices around him, encouraging him to look up and finish strong.