Monday, September 25, 2017

My Experience of Painting Pastor Steve Reeves

SHORT AND SWEET VERSION:

I painted this for our retiring, talented pastor of 31 years.  It was a big deal.  It was unveiled for him on his last weekend as one of his gifts of gratitude from the church.  He and his wife loved it.  Scroll for photos.

THE VERY LONG VERSION:

First, my testimony...


Steve Reeves is why I started REALLY wanting to go to church.  Back in the 90s, my heart was in a dark place.  I started going to Brownsburg Christian Church (now known as Connection Pointe Christian Church) at the recommendation of a friend.  As soon as I started listening to Steve, I knew I had found a spiritual leader that I so badly needed in my life.  Week after week, he taught me about the biblical account of Christ and how He wants us to live.  I needed this firm foundation, as I was drifting, spiraling, self-destructive.  Steve reminded me of my dad, very witty, intelligent, and direct.  When he talked, I was totally tuned in (and I have zero listening skills...big time ADD).  When he talked, he did not take just one point and belabor it.  He gave us good content to take notes on.  Food to get me through the week...  Purpose. Goals. Action. Boundaries. Love.  I felt sometimes he was talking straight to me, although actually he did not know me personally.  I slowly healed and my life has greatly improved.

One of the things he taught us is that we are made to serve and glorify God in our own unique way.  I was thinking, yeah, I'm trained as a nurse (obviously I could do medical missions), but God has wired me as a visual artist.  That is the area of my brain that works the best, and I'm very passionate about it.  How cool it would be if my art skills could be used to serve and glorify God.  Could it possibly make a difference in this world?  I was not sure how.  It does not feed the hungry, house the homeless, or treat the sick.  Art falls under the category of a "want" and not a "need."   This harsh world has some really desperate needs.  I asked God to find some use for my art skills.

Now, the story of the painting:

 

The Brainstorm

A couple years ago, as I was sitting 4th row center as usual,  I started thinking that there would come a day when Steve would retire (a day I rather dreaded).  I imagined how I would like to paint his portrait sometime, as a gift of gratitude for what he has done for me.  Well, his announcement came, and I mentioned to my husband Jeff what my idea was.  He said, "If that is something you want to do, you had better be saying something to someone!"  So I did.  I told my dear friend Brian Fike, who is also a employed leader at the church.  He liked the idea, and mentioned it to the elders and other key people at CPCC.  They looked at my website, and liked what they saw.  I met with elder Craig Hanson, and he shared his vision of a portrait of Steve and his wife Kristen together.  But, more meetings happened within those church walls, and then Teresa Byington asked me to do a collage of scenes of Steve baptizing people.

I was resistant at first.  Oh my, that is a LOT of little portraits in a complex composition.  No way could I do that in the time allotted.  I'm way too slow.  The stress of trying would make me crazy.  What if it turned out looking stupid?  The whole church would see it!  The thought was overwhelming.  Teresa gave me an out and said, "Well, if you could find one photo that sums up baptism, then we could just go with that."  She showed me online access to all the baptism photos from the past 4 years.  I perused those and found that I could not narrow it down to only one.  It became apparent that a collage would be necessary to describe all the stages and moments within the baptism experience.  A collage would also illustrate God's love for all ages, all races, and both genders.  This was the vision of my church.  I was offered the privilege to make it a real thing.  I've been well-trained for this moment.  And the Holy Spirit was talking to my brain.  
"Let's do this."  Matthew 19:26

I sent a photoshop layout of photos in the best composition arrangement I could come up with to Teresa.  She said it was so good it made her tear up.  Uh oh, more confirmation that this is what I needed to do.
So, I did as I was taught by Steve.  I gave it to God.  I felt as though God was telling me to just pedal this bicycle, keep my eye on the road, and He would get me to the end.  He navigated.  Burdened lifted. He carried it.  I stopped worrying about it (mostly), but I still took this job seriously.
Little color study to get me started.

Getting Down to Work

I was fully focused and engaged.  I was told that Steve is quite humble and would not want the painting to be all about him and his own face.  So, I really wanted to make the painting be about the love and joy of being cleansed and becoming children of God.  Steve's images should be secondary to the moments he is assisting in.  I needed to visually capture Steve's work, but not glorify Steve.  I re-examined the brushwork of John Singer Sargent, who knew how to put paint on the canvas with accurate bravura.  I also studied all materials from modern day master Richard Schmid.  Every lunch break, I studied paintings by current masters of color and heavenly light... Zhaoming Wu, Dan Gerhartz, James Gurney.  Anytime I had a question, answers came.  Often they came while I was dreaming.  One night I could not sleep.  I turned on the most sleep-inducing show that I could think of, "The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross" (ya know, "happy trees" and all that).  It did not make me sleepy.  I watched him do some fancy stuff with a fan brush (while talking about God's miracles all around us, as Bob Ross often did in his soothing, whispery voice).  The next day, I picked up my fan brush and did something cool with it.  I also pulled out my notes from taking classes with Indianapolis artist Charlene Brown, and implemented some of the approaches she taught me.
 
My family members would come in every afternoon with a fresh eye, and give me their opinions for what was good in the painting, and what areas needed fixing.  I didn't always enjoy what they had to say, but they were right. Every. Single. Time.

Every session was started with prayer.  I played Spotify music, mostly focus instrumentals and contemporary Christian music.  I invited the Holy Spirit into my studio every time.  I needed help.  The large central figures were from a black and white photo that was pixely when I enlarged it, so I had to invent color and guess at some details.  It was so important that I get this right. 

My Rewards

 
I became familiar with working on a surface that was new to me, the Raymar L64C belgian linen panel.  I tried some new colors, brushes, and mediums.  I improved on mixing flesh tones.  I learned more about simulating bright light.  I am more aware of value control, and it's importance in communicating the concept.  I am better at moving my eyes around so that my eyeballs don't play color-perception tricks on me from staring at one color for too long. 

I learned how to quit goofing around on the internet so much, and get into that studio and start treating my painting career like it's my job.  I developed a solid routine for setting up in the morning and shutting down in the evening.  I discovered that too much exposure to solvents is bothersome to my airways, so I learned how to minimize that.  I was too focused on the painting to feed my sugar addiction, and now I crave it less.  While pushing paint around, I had time to think and pray and work through some personal issues.  My standing muscles got stronger.  I learned to trust God more.  I became braver.  I slayed some giants.

Ultimately, I participated in the creation of a unique and personal gift for Steve and Kristen, who deserve it.  I finally found an opportunity to serve with my artistic skills.

The following video was filmed by my daughter Alyssa (thanks sweetie!).  I was too nervous.  I just wanted to watch the moment.



Okay, I must insert here that it was surreal seeing my own easel with my painting on it up on that stage, and hearing my name mentioned by Greg Moore in front of the whole church.
Taken after the ceremony
After the ceremony, once they figured out who did this, I got big warm hugs from the Reeves.  Steve said he loved it, and would cherish looking at it everyday from this day on.  He said he was blown away, and that it could not have been more perfect.

The next day, their son Nate told me that, at first glance, Steve did not even notice himself in the painting.  All he saw was the baptism scenes.  That thrilled me, because that meant that I had successfully communicated the concept that I intended to.

My art may not have made a difference in the world, but it made a difference for someone who has made a difference in many lives.  Thank you Steve, for talking straight to me.

Thank you so much to Teresa Byington and Laura Basso for your kindness and availability to me, and for your moral support and patience with all of my questions and crazy requests.

Thanks also to my husband Jeff, and my kids Jake and Alyssa.  You were awesome throughout, with hugs, taking over (most) domestic chores, and lugging my equipment when necessary.
Tribute to Steve Reeves        30" x 30"    Oil on panel









It's on to the next thing now... right after I clean my house.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Agnes

This young lady is the 4th child in her family, and she has been waiting for her portrait to be done so it will hang with those of her siblings.  We had to wait for her to grow though, so her portrait would match the ages of the others in their portraits.  Also, I understand that Agnes is a little less inclined to sit still and pose, so her mother took several photos over a few months, trying to get a good shot.  I would have tried to take the photos myself, but they live in Germany, and that's a tad too far away (although I should have traveled there and called it a business trip)!

Anyway, here's Agnes...

"Agnes"         11" x 9"         Colored pencil on Stonehenge gray

Friday, June 23, 2017

Falling in Love at The Cup

This is a portrait of my daughter, Alyssa, at her favorite coffee shop in her college town.  The Cup, located in The Village near BSU, was a treasured oasis for her.  She came here several times to "get away from it all," so much so that the staff knew her name and what she was going to order. The student artwork that graced the walls were an inspiration to her creative soul. She loved sitting at the back table by the stained glass window where she could sip her chai, do her homework, and write her novels and poetry.

I journeyed up to Muncie a handful of times to join her in this quaint little creative zone, so I could hear about her college life, admire the changing art exhibit, and savor my own toasty-hot chai tea.

Perhaps a more apt name would be Falling in Love With The Cup.

Falling in Love at The Cup      16" x 30"     Oil

As I was putting finishing touches on the painting, a song came on the radio which inspired the perfect name for the painting.  Here is the video "Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop" by Landon Pigg.   I have fallen in love with this song.



I am excited and honored to announce that "Falling in Love at The Cup" is an accepted entry in the 2017- 93rd Annual Hoosier Salon Exhibition!  Thank you to judges Sherrie McGraw and Jim Wodark!  Of the 619 entries received, 159 were accepted, so it is quite an honor.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Marshall

Last year I painted this for my friend Emily.  She commissioned this portrait of her fiance's beloved dog, to be her gift to him on their wedding day.  She did the photo shoot, and sent me the files to pick from.  I got the portrait done just in time.  The paint was still wet when he opened it.  Meet Marshall:

"Marshall"           11 x 11"         Oil on canvas panel
Emily generously loaned it back to me, so I could varnish it and enter it in a show.  I so very badly wanted to enter this one in the Hoosier Salon, but the rules say that it must be for sale.  Other quality shows, as far as I can tell, have the same rule.  Obviously, "Marshall" was sold before I painted it.

I did a lot of things right in this painting that I have been trying to do in past works.  I like "Marshall" so much I really want to keep him, but he needs to go back to his rightful owners now. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Jeff's Sketchbook Easel (for me)

I'm a fan of the work and writings of artist/author James Gurney.  I also had the pleasure of meeting him and his wife Jeanette at the Portrait Society of America 2016 convention in Reston, VA.  I've been admiring the sketchbook easels that Gurney has created and recreated.  At one of his presentations at the convention, I took some close-up photos of Jeanette Gurney's easel and showed the photos to Jeff.  Borrowing from Gurney's and his blog followers' ideas and suggestions, and incorporating a few adaptations that I had requested, Jeff has come up with very nice easel for me to use for sketchbook work "In the Wild" as Gurney would say.






I love working with Jeff in designing these sorts of things (in this case, a re-design of Gurney's design).  He's a very creative craftsman and problem-solver.  I throw some pretty challenging problems his way, and somehow he gets it figured out.  Thanks Sweetie!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Sketching at Sullivan Munce

I recently started attending a weekly (almost) open drawing/painting session at the Sullivan Munce Cultural Center.  We sketch from a live model.  I would say that the majority of artists in this group are there to practice portraiture, rather than full nude figure.  Therefore, the model is usually clothed and much of it is long pose.  We all divide the model fee among us, so... the more, the merrier (cheaper).  A couple of the models are my coworkers from the hospital.

Here are my Thursday night sketches:

"Reclining Girl"    black and white charcoal on gray paper
"Kassandra"    black and white charcoal on gray paper

"Stephanie Painting Greg's Portrait"     Ink and watercolor
"Sharla"   11 x 14  Oil on Senso canvas

 It's so much fun to connect and paint with other artists!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Most Important Painting I've Ever Painted


Words cannot describe the magnitude of pain felt by parents who have lost a child.  I will not pretend to know what it is like to experience it.  My own baby, Jacob, was walking that line in a NICU 24 years ago, but he survived.

Asher Charles was born on January 28, 2015.  He was born prematurely at 31 weeks gestation.  His mother has given me permission to tell this story.

 

His mother, Marti, is a new nurse in the NICU where I work.  It’s a big unit so I did not get to know her before she had Asher, nor did I get the privilege of taking care of him while he was in our NICU.  But I did get the honor of painting him after he passed, and since then, getting to know Marti.

Marti is a girl whom I have a heart for.  She, like me, had a baby in the NICU before she was ever a nurse.  She, like me, was so inspired by the NICU nurses who pulled her baby (Landon, now 4 years old) through, that she went back to nursing school and changed careers.  She, like me, struggled in school with our PTSD and anxiety, but was determined to push through so we could “give back.”  Like soldiers who finish a tour of duty in war but keep re-enlisting, both of us found our way back to the NICU on the other side, as a RN.  Coming into it, both of us struggled with “fitting in”, of overcoming our haunting NICU memories, with learning to deal with the stress of that environment, and we stuck it out anyway.  We both have teetered between “I love my job” and “what have I done to my life?”

But that is where our similarities end.  Her second child came into the world when she was fresh off of orientation in our NICU, and she was thrust back into her previous role of NICU mom.

 

At 31 weeks, Asher’s odds of pulling through were mostly in his favor.  But survival statistics provide no solace if your baby gets the raw deal.  Sweet Asher was overcome by NEC, which is a complication that some preemies get where part or all of the intestinal tract dies.  He passed away in his loving parents’ arms on February 13, 2015.   

Asher's last day.  Courtesy of NILMDTS

Karrie and Susan, close coworker friends of Marti’s, took up a collection and commissioned a portrait by me.  This reference photo was taken by a volunteer photographer from a non-for-profit company called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS).  Marti had told Susan that this was her favorite one.  The nurses wanted to present the artwork to Marti as a gift at a memorial tile blessing ceremony.  NILMDTS kindly granted me permission to use the image to create a portrait. 

I decided to take the black and white photo and turn it into a color portrait.  What was I thinking?  I had never done that before!  All they had originally asked for was a drawing, nothing too hard.  But I tend to bite off more than I can chew.  I’m not kidding when I tell you that I prayed every single time I went into the studio to work on that portrait, “God, please guide my hand and help me create something that Marti and her family will love.  They deserve it.  Help me to shut off the chatter in my brain and really listen to Your guidance, because this painting has got to be good.  For their sake, don’t let me crank out a turkey.”

Taking a black and white reference photo and ascribing color to it was actually very liberating.  It freed me to imagine the color of the background, and the color of the light sources around them.  I was able to communicate, with reds, oranges, and yellows, the warm energy and love that family can give to and draw from each other.  I could then contrast this with the cold harshness of the world outside of their unity by portraying it with blue.  As the warm light washes over Asher, he becomes his own source of light, illuminating his father’s face with gold.  I also deliberately broke the rule of “warm light/cool shadow and cool light/warm shadow” by painting the shadows that Asher casts on his mother’s chest as more like pools of orange heat, which represents the connection that they shared when skin-to-skin.


I would not have taken these liberties with color if I had followed a color photograph.  I would have tried so hard to reproduce the moment captured, that I would have adhered too closely to the colors in the photo.  I think the painting is better this way.  I was able to enjoy adding my own interpretation, which took me one step closer to creating an artwork, and not just a painting.
 

I barely got the painting done in time.  My husband Jeff, on short order, made a lovely custom frame out of oak with a mahogany stain.  I framed the wet painting and took it to the ceremony.  The attendees were Marti and her husband Zac, and their son Landon, their families and closest friends, as well as many staff from our NICU.  After the chaplain blessed the tile with holy water and gave a speech, Karrie took the floor.  She announced that the NICU staff had commissioned a portrait, and she pulled the drape off the portrait.  Marti clung to her husband’s arm and exclaimed, “Our baby!!”  Both of them cried.


Marti and Karrie


Chaplain Brenda decided right then to bless the portrait as well, with the holy water, her fingers tracing a small cross right above the image of Asher’s head.  I was thankful to God for this blessing by a chaplain, and I was thankful she didn’t accidentally touch the wet paint.





Marti tearfully spoke to the small crowd,  “Thank you all for coming and for all the support,” and then to the NICU staff, “Thank you for all that you did for Asher…for all that you tried to do…thank you so much.”   

Marti eventually came up to the painting, and she kept hovering her hand over Asher’s head, saying, “I want to touch it so badly!”  She did this more than once.  She knew the paint was still wet though, so she exercised great restraint.  She talked about some of her most precious memories of Asher was from their time in skin-to-skin holding, and of touching his soft wispy hair.

Sweet family of four... Zac, Landon, and Marti, and Asher (in spirit)
 

She tells me she keeps the painting safe in Asher’s room (away from the flying dust of their current home improvement projects), patiently waiting for the paint to dry. She goes in there several times a day to look at it.  Initially, sometimes it was several times an hour.  She says she wants to “pull him right out of the painting.”  Once construction stops at their house, it will be displayed in their living room.

The other day she brought it to work so I could borrow it back, because I needed to sign it and, if dry enough, possibly varnish it.  She brought it in the box, and at the end of the workday, would not let me carry it to my car because I had a drink in my hand.  That makes me smile.  She walked me to my car and I had her place it in my trunk.  She did, but made me promise that the painting would be safe in there.  We talked about Asher for a while, and she cried.  My heart goes out to her.  It was hard for her to let me drive off with the painting.  As soon as I got home, I sent her a large jpg file of the painting so she could put it on her computer as wallpaper.  And when I brought it back to her, in its box and wrapped in plastic, she could not resist opening it to make sure it was still okay.  The importance of this picture to Marti inspired the title of this blog post.

"Loving Asher"        10 x 14"        Oil on linen panel
 

This courageous woman, Marti, came back to our battlefield back in April.  Emotionally wounded and missing her Asher, she comes in and pours her heart into her work by supporting parents, vigilantly assessing and caring for the babies, and readily and without hesitation puts scrawny little preemies on their mother’s chest for skin-to-skin holding so they can draw strength and warmth from each other.  Because Marti knows, on a level deeper than most nurses can know, just how golden that cuddle time is. 


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Portraits in limited palette

The mother of 2 little girls asked me to draw portraits for them.  I saw this as an opportunity to try a limited palette.  Inspired by an instructional video that I have, called, "The Portrait in Three Color Chalk" by Robert Liberace, I set forth creating my interpretation of the photos that were provided to me.  

The title of Liberace's video might make one think he actually used chalk (pastel) in his demo, but he did not.  He used colored pencil, a medium I am quite familiar with.  I believe he calls it "three color chalk," because it takes on the look of the 17th century sketches by Peter Paul Rubens, and that of Jean-Antoine Watteau in the 18th century, who used sanguine, black, and white chalk on a colored ground.  Although resources and available colors might have been limited centuries ago, it is still a good combination for skin tones and yields a "timeless" effect.  It mimics a fuller palette of colors because each color can substitute adequately for any color on the color wheel.  Sanguine represents anything red, pink, or orange that is visible on the subject.  Black, applied lightly, substitutes for anything blue, violet, or green.  White creates highlights and blends with the other colors to create more colors.  The yellow paper can show through and visually mix with colors as well.  The viewers mind adjusts for the limited colors and understands the interpretation.

"Vanessa"    9" x 13"   Colored Pencil



"Vivienne"   9" x 13"   Colored Pencil

I, however, varied from this a bit and used terra cotta, ultramarine blue, and white colored pencil on Canson Mi-teintes paper (Honeysuckle color).  My camera always distorts color, and try as I might with Photoshop Elements on my computer, I could not get my digital images to match the artwork exactly.  It's always best to just view artwork in real life, face to face.  That being said... these drawings, along with other paintings and drawings of mine, will be on display through May and June at the Greenfield Banking Company, in their second floor gallery.  Some works are borrowed from my beloved patrons, and some are for sale.  I appreciate the privilege of exhibiting there.  Thanks to Dad and Mary for bragging me up! ;)  


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Have you seen my-...Heeey!!

Last evening was my daughter's last one at home for her college Christmas break.  She hung out with me in my studio and watched me "demo" and pretend teach with this painting, her as my student.  She gave me teaching tips (her major at BSU) and, when asked, her opinion on the painting itself.  Toward the end of the painting, I gave her the brush and had her dash in some accents and improvements.  She seemed amazed, honored, and thrilled that I would allow her to do that.  Her fun barometer went way up when she got to drive the brush.  She is in love with the painting now for more than one reason, so I said she could have it.  We came up with a name for it.  It was a nice conclusion to our time together.  She drove back to school today.  I miss her already.

"Have You Seen My--...HEEEY!!"    6" x 6"   Oil on Arches Paper


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thanks for the coats, and more!

I just wanted to say THANK YOU to Betsy, Beth, Kathy, Kathy, Kathy, Joyce, Linda, Alisa, Katie, Erika, and Missy for purchasing my little fundraiser Christmas cards (and to all who offered but I had run out)!  Because of your support, I was able to purchase 3 winter coats for Operation Warm.  Here is their thank you video:



But that's not all!  I had some money left for another non-profit that is dear to my heart, called Every Dog Counts Rescue.  They are a local, all volunteer group who rescue dogs from high-kill shelters.  Many of these dogs are not considered adoptable...seniors, dogs with heartworm, dogs who have been hit by cars or shot, dogs with medical problems like seizures or diabetes, tiny babies who require bottle-feeding, and dogs with "handicaps."  They get these poor animals the veterinary care that they need, and endeavor to find them a forever home.  Hence the name "every dog counts."  I follow them on facebook, and it gives me great joy to see the work that they do.  
I sent them some Pill Pockets (again, thanks to you), to help them give those dogs the medication they need.  Dogs need nurses too. ;)

A note to my coworkers: You will see our alumni NICU nurse Nikki appear in this video at 2:50.  It's a video by EDCR about "General Jimmy," a dog that just could not be saved but received good care and an outpouring of love from the community in his hospice days.  I'm warning you though, it's a tear-jerker and a little graphic.  I cry every time.