How to Find the Perfect Gift

Gift giving – never before in the history of mankind have we, as Americans, had the ability to buy so much stuff! The choices are overwhelming. In some cases if its a birthday or Christmas, the inner dialogue may go like this:

Gift Giver:I have no idea what to get this loved one, they have everything. I guess I’ll steel myself for the hunt, go to the mall and dredge up something for a gift that they hopefully will like and don’t have.”

Receiver:Hmm, it’s my birthday, I wonder what kind of strange, weird and unusable thing I’m going to get as a gift this year? Well, if I don’t like it I can always put it in the plastic storage bin in the garage, attic, basement or workshop. Shame on me, but perhaps I can “re-gift” it to someone else, but that always makes me feel so guilty. I know, I’ll drive about an hour away and give it to the Salvation Army, that will make me feel good. I’ll just hope and pray nobody asks about it.”

I often think of archeologists several hundreds of years from now, digging up our plastic bins, full of all those unwanted gifts. What will they think of another graveyard of cell phones, strange bacon cookers, sports team mugs, more miracle cleaners and miracle glues, collapsible garden hoses, banana trees, cheese graters, etc.

You could keep doing what you’ve always done or…

you can be like Denise, who commissioned a surprise painting for her husband’s birthday!

Denise:I have no idea what to get my dear husband Bill for a birthday gift, but I wonder what would really make him happy? I know, I’ll have Laura paint his favorite photo, the one with Bill and his grandson!”

While it’s more than a dinner out, a t-shirt, a mug, or even a new cell phone. This will be a treasure that can be passed down for generations; it speaks of a wonderful relationship that has special meaning. So let’s see how this incredible gift worked out.

The Gift

Prior to painting, I did sketches and thumbnails, as it was just a cell phone photo. It’s always better to work with the best photo possible!

I toned this 11 x 14 canvas light lilac, I wanted a warm glow to the painting: perfect gift

The pallet, the photo, my thoughts on the acrylic paint needed:

perfect gift

The first application of paint, darks and lights: perfect gift

Scary looking, but we are getting there: perfect gift

Refining some shapes and masses: perfect gift

Bill & Denise after church: perfect gift

Not a good photo, but the emotion is there!:perfect gift

A very happy Bill with Denise and me: perfect gift

Isn’t this a keepsake? Something that will last a lifetime! 

So next time you’re faced with the dilemma of getting a gift for that hard-to-buy-for loved one, consider investing in an original piece of art. I’d love to paint a treasured memory for you or as a gift. Contact me at with your ideas.

Hope, Hopelessness and Cancer

This is not the post I intended to write this week. I’ve been working on a post in my head about encouraging the imaginations of our children and ourselves. I did a little online research, listened to a podcast, saved a bunch of links and even had some pictures ready to plug in. Then I sat down to write and……nothing. So then I checked my email, partially from distraction and partially just out of habit. There were three emails in my inbox all from friends dealing with cancer – one needs a bone marrow transplant, one is undergoing experimental chemotherapy that (for the moment) seems to be working. One has been given a terminal diagnosis. I hate cancer. I. Hate. Cancer.

Earlier this year, a beloved former teacher at our school died. Cancer. It’s been just over year since a student at our school died. Cancer. My love for watching sports helps me see that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (I’m saddened that we even need such an awareness.); next month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. My mom is a breast cancer survivor. Another teacher friend of mine is also a breast cancer survivor. So many lives touched by cancer. So many lives taken by cancer. If you’re reading this post, the chances are high that you too know or have lost someone to cancer. I hate cancer.

Yes, I know, this is an art blog. You come here to be encouraged, to look at beautiful art. You don’t come here to read about cancer or think about those who’ve been ravaged by this hateful disease. Don’t quit reading just yet!

Hope in Cancer

When I sat my girls down to tell them about our friends who are dealing with cancer, my sweet five year old immediately said, “but it’s ok Mom, because they can go to Heaven and be with Jesus.” Yes, yes they can. But we who remain will grieve and rightfully so. 1 Thessalonians instructs us not to grieve as those who “have no hope.” Why? how is our grief as Christians to be different? Because our hope is in Christ and His return, the promised resurrection, the future of an eternity reigning with Him. Notice that we are not instructed not to grieve. Grief over death and loss can be God honoring. Death remains the enemy.

I find myself going back to Laura’s painting and thinking about my daughter’s response.

© Laura Gabel, "Glorious Foretaste". Pastel.
© Laura Gabel, “Glorious Foretaste”. Pastel.

When we re-did our home page I wrote:

We don’t know where you stand on the idea of Heaven, but as Christians we believe there is a Heaven. The Bible describes Heaven as a place where there is no more death, sickness, pain, or even crying. Heaven is where all the wrongs and brokenness we experience here on earth are wiped away because Christ is seated on His rightful throne. 

Can you even imagine a place where there is no pain, no broken relationships, no sickness? A place of perfect love and perfect community. Here, it feels as though everything is a little off, a little out of focus. In Heaven life works the way it was meant to work, and we see things as they really are. And when community and relationships work here, despite the messiness and mistakes, we get a glorious foretaste of what it will be like there. There is real beauty, real goodness, real truth. We see dimly here, as through a veil. There we will see clearly, because we will see Christ face-to-face.

Hope of the Gospel

My friends may well see Christ earlier than I would like. But they will know no more pain, no more cancer, no more sadness. And one day, I will see them again, because of the hope of the Gospel.

So today, I will pray for them; I will remember that life is fleeting; I will hold my loved ones a bit tighter; and I will give thanks to the One who will one day wipe all those tears away. Reflecting on our mortality and holding on to the hope (and the Hope) of Heaven can be an encouraging thing after all.

In what do you find hope? How do you remind yourself of that hope? Maybe you find yourself desperately in need of some hope – leave us a comment or send us an email. I promise we will pray for you! And if you or someone you love is facing a cancer diagnosis, may these articles be an encouragement to you.

How an art show can foster community

When Nature Coast Art League put out an announcement that Salishan, a retirement community welcomed artists to display their paintings, I decided I wanted to go.

Preparing for an art show is hard work! Deciding which paintings to take, pricing tags, packing the paintings (you can’t just throw them in the backseat of the car), hauling the display equipment (which is heavy), deciding what you’ll put on the table for people to take home; I get tired just writing all that! Anyway, I’ve got a checklist now which can help the next time around. Also I had help! I definitely recommend help in any big project you may be doing. There is nothing like an extra set of legs, arms, and brains. My husband always says that many hands make the work grow lighter. My work of set up and take down was lightened by my husband, brother-in-law Tom and good friend Joy.

Salishan, in Spring Hill Florida is an absolutely lovely place. 

art show community

They put the artists right in the atrium area, so wonderful, filled with light! My contact was the lovely Ana Raposo, Activity Coordinator. You’ll be seeing pictures of Ana in my next post.

art show community


art show community

Once set up was completed, I introduced myself to another artist, Bob Grant. His daughter was visiting and helped him with the set up. (She is a behind Bob in the picture). What a talented guy! He does beautiful work in acrylic; his horses are superb! It’s always wonderful to visit and learn from another artist.

art show community

Bob Grant Interview

Here is a short 2 minute audio interview I did with Bob, it’s quite inspirational!
Learn how Bob started at 6 and got his painting back 20 some years later. Let me encourage you through Bob–it’s never too late to do whatever divine dream has been put into your heart. Bob doesn’t have a website up, but you can contact him at 352-515-5263, he accepts commission work.

art show community

Now, some people might say, “why go to a retirement living center to show your work?” After all, these folks are divesting themselves of their posessions not looking to buy art. 

As for me, I was enriched by their community. I was blessed and encouraged by Bob and his daughter.  The staff at Salishan, especially Ana and Steve Wilkins were gracious and helpful. The residents were complimentary and in many cases fascinated by my work. I, in turn, was captivated by some of their stories too. My good friend Pam always says that people are God’s currency. People are stimulating, they stimulate ideas.  Community enriches all of us. I could tell the folks living at Salishan were happy. There was an air of “niceness” about their home; a community that encourages interaction, activity and art! What could be better?

During my time there I demontrated a painting, which caused lots of questions and interest. In my next post you’ll learn more about the demo and see pictures of the winner too!

art show community

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about “your community” and what enriches you. Leave me a note in the comments – I read every one.

What makes a work of art great?

Name the greatest works of art of all time… Where do you even start? You could try googling it, and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some even overlap on the works selected. How do you determine what goes on such a list? Is it simply works of art people are most likely to recognize? But wouldn’t that make the list one of popularity and not necessarily of greatness? Great works of art

Or perhaps it’s impossible to even talk meaningfully about which works of art are great. After all, isn’t “beauty in the eye of the beholder,” so that what I think is great, you may not find great at all? So who’s to judge what is great and what is ordinary? Shouldn’t we just learn to appreciate “art for art’s sake”? 

great works of art
© Laura Gabel, various works in acrylic

I mentioned previously that I recently read Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible which has me thinking a lot about how we view and appreciate art. Schaeffer argues that art has value in itself, which sounds suspiciously like “art for art’s sake.” But he is careful to explain that he does NOT mean that art cannot and should not be evaluated apart from any message it might convey. Nor does he maintain that works of art can be reduced solely to the message the artist wishes to communicate. Artists such as DaVinci, Picasso, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and countless others were all trying to communicate something through their art, but their art was also more than just the message.

Great works of art
© Laura Gabel, various works in watercolor and charcoal

Art has value because it is a reflection and product of human creativity. Humans are created in the image of a Creator God, and when we create art, we reflect His creativity. But that does not mean all art is equally valuable. Certainly skill sets of artists differ. My five-year old’s drawings do not have the same value as the Mona Lisa. Additionally, not everything we humans create is morally or ethically true, good, or beautiful. We live in a broken world, and too often, the expressions of our creativity are broken as well. 

Great works of art
© Laura Gabel, various portraits in pastel

Several years ago, my then-four-year-old daughter wanted desperately to attend an art camp. Funds were tight for our family, so I decided to create our own art camp at home using some online materials. One thing I really appreciated about the curriculum is that we considered not just individual pieces of art, but also artists and their bodies of work. We learned why Picasso used different colors in different periods, or how Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings developed over time, or why Michelangelo gravitated towards sculpture. Knowing artists helped us understand why they created what they created, which in turn helped us appreciate and understand their artwork. The artwork was valuable as art, but we valued it more appropriately when we understood what the artist was doing. 

Great works of art
© Laura Gabel, various works in pastel

So what are some of your favorite works of art? Who would you consider a “great” artist? As interested as I am in the who, I’m even more interested in the why. What criteria would you use to label something as great? How might your perspective change if you were looking at an isolated work rather than an entire body of work? Browse through Laura’s gallery. What do you learn about her and her perspective from looking at her collected works? We read every comment, so we would love to read your thoughts!


Are you a passionate person?

I love people that are passionate. It’s refreshing to meet folks that are “into something”! For the most part passionate people are interesting and engaging. My husband is one of those people. Once he takes an interest in something, there’s no stopping the vast amount of research and knowledge that he can consume. He educates me and we have delightful conversations filled with strange facts and cool ideas.

So I’m dedicating this blog to one of his latest “animal loves.”  I decided I would paint this creature as a partial surprise for my husband Ken, meaning, that I would let it develop a bit before he would see it. 

Additionally, I thought it might interest you to take a closer look at my creative process on this creature and the dialogue about how it should look:

Passion unfolding in 9 steps:

Step 1: it doesn’t look like much, the creative process is ever so disturbing.

What's Your Passion?

Step 2: I sketched him in…but forgot to take a photo. That’s what happens when you get carried away, you just jump in–Passion!

NO PHOTO Available

Step 3: Laying in some values of lights and darks.
What's Your Passion?

Step 4: Getting garishly bright! Have you guessed what he is?
What's Your Passion?

Step 5: As you can see from above, our little creature had a purple mouth, but now I’ve darkened it. 

The plot thickens, Ken views him, he likes him BUT said that he looked like he had bit of an unfriendly mouth. Naturally, we had many interesting discussions about making creatures in our own image!! What's Your Passion?

Step 6: Did you get it right? This creature is a Red Panda! Here is a picture of the real thing, and he doesn’t look all that friendly to me. But there are many cute pics of this mammal as well: What's Your Passion?

Step 7: Well, after all it was Ken’s picture so I had to make him a lot more loveable! Can you see the change in him?

What's Your Passion?

Step 8: OK, now we’ve got some background painted, a bit too bright though, our smiling Red Panda needs to be the star:
What's Your Passion?

Step 9: Finally, here he is in the flesh, no I mean in pastel! The creative process is long, arduous, filled with many twists and turns and lots of changes too.  It’s great to be around someone that stimulates and challenges you and that’s what happened during this painting.

What's Your Passion?
© Laura Gabel, “Red Panda 2”. Pastel on UArt, 16 x 13. Private Collection.

I was passionate about doing a good painting but not consumed. Being consumed by something, anything isn’t truly healthy. What do I mean? It’s easy to idolize something you’ve made, done or admire.  But the Bible, with good reason cautions us keep away from anything that might take God’s place in our hearts (1 John 5:21). At least for me, when He is first place in my life, everything else falls into place.

What do you think about passionate interests versus all consuming passions? Do you like Ken’s Red Panda? Did you guess correctly?