Why do we lift our hands? In concerts, people will raise up a hand or two, waving along to the music. Several decades ago, that waving hand might have held a lit lighter. Now, people have the flame app, and will wave their raised phone in sync to the band. At sports games, whole crowds will lift their hands in an undulating wave, cheering their team to victory or simply enjoying the collective experience. At theme parks, those same arms are raised in excitement, with hollers or screams, as the roller coaster zips down hills and around curves. In a classroom setting, we raise our hand to be acknowledged because we want to be heard. In the wild west, you’d hear the command, “Stick ’em up!” and you’d raise those hands immediately in submission, for the sparing of your life. The very tradition of waving hello comes from ancient times when you wanted to show a friend (or stranger) that you weren’t holding weapons when you came to greet them…you came in peace. A child will run to its parent with arms lifted, saying, “Hold me!” The parent swings that baby up into their arms to protect or cuddle or hug. Praise, excitement, acknowledgement, cheering, submission, peace, greeting, desiring comfort – this is why we lift our hands.
The world lifts their hands on a daily basis, for all of these reasons. Yet, I often hear non-Christians say, “That Christian thing of raising your hands in worship is so weird. I don’t get it. You’d never catch me doing that.” Well, all of those reasons listed above are why we Christians lift our hands. We lift them in praise and excitement, cheering for a God who is able to do more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). We lift them in greeting, telling God we come seeking peace between ourselves and Him – especially when we know we’ve done wrong (Psalm 51). We lift our arms like a small child, needing to be held by our Heavenly Father (Psalm 103:13-14; Psalm 46:1-3). And, yes, we lift them in submission – not to a gunman who seeks to harm us, but to the Almighty who knows the best and worst of us and loves us anyway (Psalm 139; Isaiah 55).
A week or so ago, I was at a high school vocal concert featuring an ensemble known for performing gospel music, as well as music from other countries/cultures. They sang a song entitled Total Praise. This song happens to be a favorite of mine! I first sang it in the late 1990s in a vocal ensemble I was part of in college. It’s one of those songs where the harmonies are so tight, and the flats and sharps so difficult, that once you learn them you never forget them. So, I found myself singing along with the high school choir last week. The song lyrics are based off of several themes from the book of Psalms. But the first few lines come directly from Psalm 121:1-2 – “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Musically, the notes rise, as though walking up steps, through that entire first line. I’m guessing this is partly because Psalm 121 is known as a Song of Ascents. In Jewish tradition, it would be sung by the people as they made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, up the steps of the temple, on their way to worship. Minor harmonies interplay in the line, “knowing my help is coming from you.” Then, the voices crescendo triumphantly through the line, “Your peace you give me in time of the storm.” And that word storm is an apex – a moment of dissonance, sung full-voice. Unless you’re very familiar with choral music, it’s tough to describe. But, listen to the link below, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I’ve tried to mimic some of those lifts and harmonies in the visual aspect of the illustration.
This painting is inspired by Elena – one of the young ladies who performed the song Total Praise at the concert I mentioned earlier. She happens to be not only a kid I teach at school, but also someone who helps lead worship at our church youth group each week. Elena relates best to scripture by creating amazing word art of the verses we discuss in youth group on any given Sunday night. She’ll make designs using markers on scraps of paper, emphasizing words or themes through color, style, and font size. Sometimes she’ll create 2 or 3 of these in one evening. After watching her perform, I thought it would be fun to do my own word art with the lyrics from the song. Because Elena likes symmetry, I’ve tried to create a sense of visual symmetry in the artwork, balancing colors and weight of words/shapes throughout the design. The Amens tumbling about at the bottom of the page represent a vocal layering of Amens that build upon each other at the end of the performance. You’ll hear them if you follow the link and listen. There are many versions available on YouTube. I’ve included 2 here for you to choose from. The first one is a goofy group of guys, but once they start singing a cappella, you hear all the tight harmonies I love. The second is a true gospel choir with drums and piano mixed in. Either way, they point you to the God who is worth lifting our hands to in total praise, trust, and submission.
When I told my friend that I’d toured 3 castles during my first 3 days in Scotland, her thought was, “If you’ve seen one castle, haven’t you seen them all?” However, having visited several of Scotland’s castles this month, I can safely say that no two are alike! No one can accuse Scotland of lacking castles. I’d be interested to know what the ratio is per square mile. Some castles are mere ruins; others have been occupied by families and/or clan leaders longer than America’s existed as a country. Urquhart Castle (pronounced Er-keht), which looks out over Loch Ness, was purposefully blown up by its owners to keep Jacobite forces from taking control. Many castles are simple fortresses to claim or protect territory. Others were built as protective walls, with a village of people or armies living inside. Some were built for glory, (then torn down and rebuilt even larger) to declare the owner’s wealth. Each is famous in its own right. But a few are famous for their gardens. When a family has lived in one place for generations, they have time to cultivate trees, flower-beds, walled gardens, waterfalls, in some areas of Scotland even tropical plants. Think of it as “Let’s plant a bush for Mom for Mother’s Day”…then times that by several hundred Mother’s Days.
One garden especially well-known on the Isle of Skye is Dunvegan Castle garden. When you walk down Dunvegan paths, you feel as though you’ve stepped into a scene from The Secret Garden. Natural waterfalls tumble into streams, with foot-bridges crossing them. A fence constructed of sawn branches lines walkways, blending in naturally with its surroundings. The Walled Garden houses more protected plants, including a lily pond with deep pink waterlilies gracing the tranquil surface. Meanwhile, the Round Garden has sections of open lawn and monkey puzzle trees stretching up to the sky. Everywhere color explodes around you in flowers of all kinds, each labeled with name and Latin classification for those who care to know what they’re seeing.
Of course, these gardens don’t take care of themselves. Acres of manicured beds, trimmed hedges, and weed-free paths require work. So, today’s portrait is dedicated to the many gardeners working behind the scenes to maintain a castle garden’s majesty. This particular portrait is a woman who works part-time at Dunvegan. In the few minutes I spoke with her, it was evident that gardening is both an enjoyment and a labor of love. She seemed a quiet individual; perhaps shy, but happy to talk about the plants in her care. Each gardener is given a particular section of the grounds to maintain. Her segment includes Rhododendron hedges (Scotland’s famous weed), spotted with pale pink blossoms. It also includes several beds with springy green heather tucked amongst the flowers. As I photographed her, she was trimming the heather. When I asked when the heather blooms, she told me that this is a garden-variety heather that blooms in spring. The wild heather which transforms Scotland’s hills to gorgeous purple will bloom later this summer or early autumn. An old wheel barrow with tools and extra flowers stood nearby. And as we finished our conversation, she paused to put on “midgie gear,” a net-like head covering to protect her from midge bites. For those who don’t know, the midge is the national bird of Scotland. Just kidding! However, they are like tiny gnats that swarm and leave you itching. In a garden that looks like paradise, midges remind you you’re definitely on earth. With her midge protection in place, the Dunvegan gardener continued quietly and happily, content in her work.
When you’re in the highlands, you may live in a village with houses clustered together, or your home may be tucked into a hillside at the end of a cart-track. Whichever the case, your nearest neighbors are bound to be hundreds of sheep. These neighbors can be found gamboling down the road next to (or in front of) your car. They camouflage with boulders on the hillsides, making you think: “I could have sworn that was a rock, but it just moved!” In rain or sun, high wind or gentle breeze, they seem to be forever grazing, head down, munching and roaming and munching again. If no sheep is within view at the moment, just listen. You’ll hear the “maaa” carrying across from a loch or hill behind you. After visiting the highlands, I now understand why streets in Edinburgh are lined with shops advertising Harris Tweed, lamb’s wool scarves, cashmere sweaters, and haggis. In a land of rocks, boulders, and turf (where even houses, walls, and barns are built from those very materials) farming sheep is both a way of life and a necessity.
Having grown up in the church, I’ve long been familiar with passages comparing humanity to sheep. Jesus grew up in a land like Scotland, with rough, rocky terrain well-suited to sheep-farming. I grew up in the wilds of Naperville, where soybeans and sod farms are pushed aside by shopping centers. Sheep are scarce, if non-existent. If you pause and listen, you’ll hear the rumble of a semi-truck, not the bleating of lambs. So, while Jesus’ listeners could easily relate to his parables about sheep, I’ve had to use my imagination. Visiting the highlands has breathed fresh life into the realities of his comparison.
This Sunday my family visited a church in Carloway (Isle of Lewis), where the pastor was preaching on Matthew 18:1-14 & 19:13-15. The passages focus on Jesus’ interactions with children and how we must become like children (as regards faith) in order to enter God’s kingdom. Pastor Davis talked about how children don’t know what they need, but they know who they need. A baby may refuse to eat because she’s gotten so worked up about being hungry. In her anger, she doesn’t realize that what she needs is being offered to her. Yet, from her earliest weeks she knows her mother and father’s voices (she’s been listening to them for 9 months in the womb). So, even if she’s too upset to know what she needs, she knows who to go to for comfort and provision. Pastor said that as adults, we have a pretty good idea of what we need. But we don’t know where to look or who to go to for provision. Instead of going to our heavenly Father (who knows and has what we truly need) we look for fulfillment in relationships, success, binges, etc. I confess I’m guilty of looking/searching for the next ____________ (fill in the blank) of life…the next stage (marriage/family), the next success, or the next book publisher. I often feel God tapping me on the shoulder, saying, “Mollie, slow down. What’s right in front of you – what I’ve provided – is all you need for now. Enjoy it! Be still in the midst of it. Stop searching for more when you’re not even sure what ‘more’ implies.”
In the midst of Jesus’ teaching on childlike faith, he interweaves a comparison to sheep (18:12-14). This comparison got me thinking about the similarities between sheep and children. Children implicitly trust the parent who loves them. Sheep implicitly trust the shepherd who cares for them. Children wander off, need guidelines/boundaries to feel safe, and sometimes need rescuing from foolish mistakes. Sheep are the same way. Children can identify their parents from across a crowded store, simply by hearing mom or dad cough. A sheep knows the shepherd’s voice and will ignore or run away from a stranger’s voice (John 10:4-5). This last comparison has gained new meaning for me here in Scotland. I’ve always heard that sheep run from a stranger’s voice. Yet, I will stand with my camera on the hills of Skye and call out to a sheep…trying to get it to look up from its munching so that I can take a good photo. I’ve even tried talking the sheep’s language (not Gaelic but “maaa”…and, yes, I’ve seen tourists from Germany and China doing the same thing). Inevitably, the sheep ignores me. If I approach her, she shows me her backside and walks away. That sheep knows I care little for her, beyond a photo opportunity. On the flip-side, I met a shepherdess last week. When I asked Linda if she would be sheering any sheep in the next day or so, she replied that the weather was awful and “the girls wouldn’t like it.” Linda knows her sheep. She loves, protects, provides for each one. Just as a trusting child, those sheep could identify her voice in any crowd.
In wrapping up his sermon, Pastor Davis concluded: as we approach God, our mindset must be that of a child. We should approach Him in humility, understanding our inability to supply our own needs. We should approach with a trusting heart, as children run with open arms to their parents’ protective embrace. We should seek to obey our Father’s voice as children who understand that rules aren’t about constriction but simply provide safety. And we should honor our heavenly Father as a child would brag about the strength of his dad. May I have the childlike (and sheeplike) faith to always trust that voice I know so well. May I always remember who to look to, even when I think I know what I need.
What happens to your household items when they go missing? Why do hairpins and spools of thread vanish? Where did your pencil go when you know you set it on the table? What about the heirloom pocket-watch you kept so carefully in a dresser drawer? You’ve looked everywhere for one of the knights in your favorite chess set. And, why do Lego pieces regularly disappear? Mary Norton proposed a solution to these mysteries in her Borrowers series, which first came out in 1952. The Borrowers are tiny people who live within the walls of our homes. They believe that the only true purpose for “Human Beans”…as they call us…is to provide the basic necessities for their lifestyle. They have no qualms about taking everything from potatoes to pins to pieces of cloth or paper. According to Mary Norton, their rooms are papered with letters rescued from a trash can. The handwritten script runs as vertical stripes up each wall. A chess piece becomes the marble bust on a column in their living room. Bits of pencil may look like rolling-pins in their hands but are still useful for writing. A Borrower’s main goal, besides living comfortably, is to NEVER be seen by a human. Their fear is that (if seen) the humans may buy a cat or some other deadly pet who would force them out onto the streets, looking for a new home.
Today’s artwork was inspired by the SCBWI prompt – Borrow. While brainstorming ideas, I remembered stories I’d heard as a child. I also remembered a TV cartoon series called The Littles, which I’m guessing was based on The Borrowers. So, I borrowed (no pun intended) my mom’s copy of the book and began researching this month’s illustration. Most aspects of my illustration come from the book…including the wall paper, chess piece, sofa, pencil, diary, wall art, and spool of thread. The girl is based on the main character, Arrietty, age 14. And the boy is a human she meets, age 10. These roles were played by my niece and nephew. While mine is a more modern version of the setting, it remains true to the heart of a Borrowers scene. My aim was to capture the very moment Arrietty is seen (and no, this setting is not true to the book…they first meet outside). It’s that frozen second of calm before the storm, where she’s been writing in her diary and hasn’t even had time to think of escape. I hope you enjoy it! And, if you’re looking for a good book for young readers, check out Mary Norton’s stories!
Tips and tricks connected with this illustration:
Obviously, when compiling photo references for an illustration like this one, you can’t get everything in one shot. First, I made a rough sketch of the poses, expressions and setting needed. I took photos of my nephew looking through a cardboard cut-out hole. He quickly learned that acting surprised while trying not to turn your face (lest you cast shadows in the wrong place) and peering through a hole in cardboard is…tricky! Thankfully, he has a dramatic flair and was up for the challenge. Then, I set my niece up in the pose I’d sketched and took her photos. We placed a chess knight on top of a Lego column for that particular reference, and I took close-up shots from the angle needed. Other items were found online. All images were pieced together in Photoshop. Here I could use the skew and perspective tools to tweak angles. I could play with filters, lighting, layer-effects, and brushes to bring a consistency to the scene as a whole. Once finished, I printed out the compiled reference, projected it onto watercolor paper, and went from there!
My grandparents have often talked about which of them will go first (pass away). They’ve given each other permission to die and honestly would be happiest if they died at the same time. When you’ve lived most of your life with the love of your life, it’s hard to be apart even for a short time. Murray Tinkelman said goodbye to his bride of nearly 60 years and knew that his job here on earth was done. He had run the race. He had lived a full life: enjoying children and grandchildren, a successful career, and the respect of colleagues and students world-wide. So, only two weeks after Carol’s death, I received news that Murray has also passed away.
I wish my students could have met this man. His rough language (thanks to the army) and his tough persona (thanks to a stubborn disposition and a childhood in Brooklyn) could not hide his deep love for illustration, art history, his wife/family, and teaching. I mentioned in my last post how Carol kept the Illustration MFA program running smoothly. But the program would never have existed without Murray’s vision, knowledge, and contacts. For over 40 years, he’s been a highly respected illustrator. His work has been included in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Brooklyn Museum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and the Norman Rockwell Museum. In 2013 he was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, joining artists such as Norman Rockwell, Winslow Homer, Maurice Sendak, and Charles Schulz. In 2014 the Norman Rockwell Museum honored him with its Artist Laureate Award and an exhibition of his work.
Murray’s first illustration was published in Seventeen Magazine. When asked about that illustration, Murray is quoted as saying: “It was awful! I was paid $10. You’re right if you assume I was grossly overpaid.”
That sense of humor – quick-witted, blunt, unvarnished, and extremely funny – is what I will miss most about the man. Murray planned to retire from his role as head of the University of Hartford Illustration MFA in June of 2016. Perhaps that is the only goal he failed to achieve. However, knowing Murray, I don’t think he would regret “dying with his boots on.” His job and his life were about people. The relationships we illustrators built during our years in the Hartford MFA reflect Murray and Carol: their genius, their teamwork, their understanding that artists can’t survive alone; we thrive in an atmosphere of collaboration and accountability. Murray and Carol created just that with their program. I am honored to say that I knew him and learned from him.
About the artwork:
Murray worked mostly in pen & ink, using Rapidograph pens in a hatching and cross-hatching technique. Being color blind never held him back and probably helped to develop his sense of value range and contrast. To hear Murray describe his technique and process, click here.
* If you’d like to learn more about his life and work, check out the following sites:
Today a mother-figure and mentor has passed away. For those of you who don’t know, I earned my MFA in Illustration through a program at the University of Hartford. Murray Tinkelman (whom I mentioned in my post Autumn Rhythm) is the head of the Hartford MFA program, but I’m sure he would agree that much of the program’s success is due to the tireless efforts and ingenuity of his wife and lifelong teammate, Carol. In a program designed as a tight-knit experience, Carol had the knack of bringing people together who would challenge and inspire one another. She was the mother hen, checking to make sure everyone had what they needed as we traveled to various illustration hubs around the United States. She was the one behind the scenes, getting paperwork together, emailing contacts, communicating with secretaries. She was one tough lady…not a woman whose bad side you would want to be on! Yet, she is beloved because her heart was big, her encouragement far-reaching, and her advice practical. Though I haven’t seen Carol in several years, I kept in touch with her through Facebook. She has checked in on my free-lance work, read my blog, and kept me posted on how she and Murray were doing. She will be greatly missed.
Above is an illustration I did after our Pasadena trip with the Hartford program. After each trip, our assignment was to create a piece based off of the city we had just visited. Throughout our week in Pasadena, the song The Little Old Lady from Pasadena had stuck in my head. Its chorus goes: And everybody’s sayin’ that there’s nobody meaner, Than the little old lady from Pasadena, She drives real fast and she drives real hard, She’s the terror of Colorado Boulevard, It’s the little old lady from Pasadena (Go granny, go granny, go granny, go!). Walking down the sidewalks of Colorado Boulevard, I could picture the granny flying past terrified pedestrians in her bright red sports car. I had originally sketched a boy scout in the dog’s position…playing off the irony of boy scouts’ tradition of helping old ladies cross the street. However, my art director felt having a boy scout dive out of the way seemed too precarious/dangerous. So, the dog running for safety took his place. If you look closely, a squirrel is peeking around the palm tree’s trunk. During our week there, squirrels were prevalent. One squirrel particular came right up to my friend Michael’s feet when we were in the backyard of a famous house. The critter stood up on its hind legs, tame as any pet, and stared at us for several seconds before retreating up a tree. I actually had time to snap a photo of it before it ran! Memories of this trip and many weeks like it will forever be tied to Carol Tinkelman. I hope she knows what an impact she had on countless lives, including mine.
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” Such a simple statement. Yet, in a few words, Aristotle sums up an expansive truth. What is it about the perfect sunset that will cause us to pull off on the side of the road, stop our car and stand in awe? Even lightning storms, their jagged electricity radiating the night, will keep our faces pressed against windows…watching heaven’s firework show. There is something about nature that leaves us breathless, enchanted by its beauty, its power, its intricacy. And this is no new phenomenon. King David, in Psalm 19 wrote: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” (v. 1-3) That voice is more than the rumble of thunder in a storm, more than the rustle of leaves on a breezy day; it’s also in the silent moments of sunrise, calling out in crimson and coral, beams of light breaking through clouds. According to David, that voice declares God’s glory. It points to the author, artist, scientist who first put this globe into orbit. 3,100 years before Discovery Channel would enable us to observe wild animals in their natural habitats, God unfolded for Job a rich, panoramic tapestry of nature. From shutting the sea behind doors, to journeying to the springs of the sea. From binding the Pleiades and loosing the cords of Orion, to counting clouds and tipping the water jars of the heavens. From knowing when the mountain goat gives birth, to commanding eagles to soar. 125 verses, spread through 4 chapters (38-41) in the book of Job consist of a documentary account of the marvels of nature.
The painting above stems from an illustration prompt given by SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). Each month, members have the opportunity to submit a piece that will be posted to SCBWI’s online illustration gallery. The piece you see here will go live in that gallery on October 1st. The prompt was “Enchanted,” and my initial ideas headed toward the fairy tale realm. As a big fan of Trina Schart Hyman, I would love to illustrate fairy tales. Perhaps some day I will. Before I’d settled on any solid idea, I came across a photo that my cousin had posted to Facebook. It’s a shot of her granddaughter who appears to have stopped mid-spin, her attention captured by something off-screen. My first thought was, “I love the rim lighting, and I want to paint that expression on her face!” My next thought was of the Aristotle quote, which is on my favorite stationery at home. That took me to the question: “What is she looking at? What causes children to stop, stare, and study? For me, as a child, it would have been a cicada, caterpillar, or butterfly. And, so the illustration came to be.
I sketched out the quote in calligraphy format. Having pieced together photo references in Photoshop, I transferred my reference to watercolor paper. Then I could project my calligraphy onto the paper, playing with placement and size. The child’s face and hair, being the focal point, were the first things I painted. Moving to the background, I blocked in dark green foliage behind her, then faded down to a basic wash of grass. From there I jumped over to the caterpillar and his flowers. Her dress pattern was daunting, and I honestly planned to replace it with a simple pale blue. However, I needed the rich blue to complement her reddish-orange hair. As I worked, the pattern came together, warping as it hit each fold in her skirt. One key to this illustration was to keep everything (except her face and the caterpillar) in soft-focus. This meant a loose, soft background behind the caterpillar, fading out completely where the calligraphy would begin. Calligraphy came last. Marvelous was an easy choice…the color needed to pop as it tied in with the lighting around her hair. To balance that coral tone, blue became the thin letters of there is something. Earth tones made sense for of nature, though I pulled a few strokes of coral into that as well to tie in with the other lettering. Finally, I chose yellow for In all things, knowing it would be enough contrast to the white sky behind it without drawing attention away from my focal point word.
Need I say it?…I love watercolor! Yes, the piece was inspired by an SCBWI prompt. But I painted it for me; for fun; as a personal illustration challenge. I know I’ve mentioned it before on this blog…there is something about the story-lined wrinkles in the old, and the innocent expressiveness of the young, that pulls me right in. I enjoyed every moment of this painting.
As a side note for those who haven’t heard already: my blog was chosen to be featured for the month of September on SCBWI’s homepage! If you look on the left-hand side, in their BlogRoll section, you’ll see a link to this blog there. Mine is the 6th one down – they feature a few blogs each month, from members across the nation.