Who is this mystery man?

Who is this mystery man? I don’t know who he is, I don’t know where he lives, I don’t know his name. But I do know where he came from.

Well let’s just say this, I know where his photo came from.

Late last year, I decided to try to attempt a new medium: oil. I was not terribly pleased with my first oil portrait, which is why you are not seeing it here! But I discovered that I learned a lot.

You see, I am “about” learning. I think learning is incredibly healthy, it develops a vibrancy of the soul and heart. I believe learning incorporates so much more than the mind. For me, learning involves the passionate pursuit of something new, exciting, interesting.

Learning develops courage muscles! Which is why I chose this mystery man’s photograph for my second oil portrait.

harry the man 1

I chose to paint him because his eyes, the shadows, the light on his face–all three of these components intrigued me.

I am constantly amazed at what attracts people to a work of art. Is it the subject–landscape, still life, portraits, interiors, architectural buildings? Maybe the color–mauve, patriot blue, lime green, gorgeous orange? Is it the technique or medium–watercolor, thick, chunky palette knife, acrylic abstract splashes?

I find that sometimes what attracts me to paint something is not what attracts the viewer. Though this is not always the case.

Much to my surprise, this man’s face drew lots of comments!! Everything from, “I love his eyes,” to “he’s just too intense for me,” or “he’s a handsome man,” and even “I don’t like him at all!” Oh dear, I had no idea the range of responses I would get! I just wanted to challenge myself, and I did!

The eyes were tough as you can see in the next picture.

harry the man 2

The nose was tough, and as an added bonus, the beard was a challenge too! What a painting experience he turned out to be. At least in painting, you don’t really discover how much you’ve learned until you’ve started a new painting, or completed it.

Since I didn’t know this man’s name (I got his photo off a free photo site that allows you to paint what’s posted.) I called him “Harry”. Do not ask me why, he looked like a “Harry” to me; and I couldn’t really keep calling him “Mystery Man”. However, if anyone recognizes this gentleman and does know his name, I’d love to see what he thinks of my painting!

Here is the finished portrait, my second one in oil. I hope I conveyed the essence of what I see in him. Harry is one of a kind and so are you!

Harry the man 3

We are exceptionally unique and designed in the Creator’s image. Therefore the Creator God must be ever so fascinating as He has so many facets. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 129:14 ESV Never forget how special you are to Him and remember you are one of His works!

Please send me your comments and thoughts on my no longer a mystery man, “Harry”!

 

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The Most Dreaded Question

Just a warning. I’m going to do a little fist pounding in today’s blog! It’s about the most common question I get. Can you guess what that might be?

Is it: when did you first start drawing, painting, etc?

Or how about: why did you decide to paint that?

Maybe: what is that – oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolor?

How about: why do you work in pastel so often?

Perhaps it’s: why are paintings so expensive?

dreaded question

NO, IT IS NONE OF THE ABOVE. The question I get most often is “how long did it take you to paint that“? I’m going to say that this question drives me crazy. For so many reasons.

First, I don’t punch in and punch out with a time clock when I paint.

I sometimes paint in my dreams.  Creative ideas and thoughts come to me when I wake up or before I go to sleep, or perhaps driving somewhere. I pray over my paintings, cry over my paintings, get mad at my paintings, ask God for inspiration with my paintings.

Often, I may write the approach down, sketch it, redraw it, put things in different places and put it in little thumbnail sketches.

dreaded question 2

I may decide I dislike the idea and throw it away. Sometimes, I may want to combine certain media and need to research them to make sure the elements are stable. All too often, I may start the painting one way, scrape it down and finish it another way. Then I may spend countless hours doing a painting then dislike what I’ve done and relegate it to a closet.

But I don’t hate that closeted painting. Instead, I treasure what I’ve learned.

I know one thing. All the thumbnails, sketches, difficulties, failures are part of what makes my art me. My artistic endeavors fuse, making for better art each and every time.

Right now I am working on 4 paintings. One is an oil portrait of a man I call Harry. One is a pastel portrait of a Boston Terrier. Another is a mixed media of water lilies which is a preliminary painting of a much larger 2 ft x 4 ft painting I have been commissioned to do and one is a large still life of flowers in acrylic. Only one of them is working out the way I want it to. I guess you could say I am working on 5 because I’m thinking about one in my head too.

When working on a painting, you can encounter many problems, that truly is the “agony and ecstasy” of art. It doesn’t go as well or as easy as people think and if it does go really well, really easy, it’s probably not my best work.  Recently, I was working on a painting for client’s bedroom:

 

I was working on a deadline and I was close to being done. But I didn’t like one whole section. So I painted totally over it. My husband and brother-in-law were aghast. They thought it was fine. I didn’t!

One of my favorite artists, Everett Raymond Kinstler, a highly accomplished portraitist, states in his book Painting Faces, Figures, and Landscapes of a watercolor portrait: “The final watercolor portrait was my fifth attempt, after tearing up the previous four because I failed to get a likeness or because the painting had lost its freshness.”

Kinstler inspires me and gives me hope. He states he is reluctant to give demonstrations. He calls them “stunts and ego trips”, “speed of execution mean[s] nothing”.

“Spontaneous painting is the result of years of experience.” Everett Raymond Kinstler

While, I’m no Picasso, perhaps this story will give you a flavor of what I’m try to say:

Picasso was sitting in a Paris café when an admirer went up to him and asked if he would do a quick sketch for him on a paper napkin. Picasso politely agreed, did a quick sketch  and handed back the napkin — but not before asking for a rather large amount of money.  The admirer was horrified: “How can you ask so much? It only took you a minute to draw this!” “No”, Picasso replied, “It took me 40 years”.

I’m not sure why people like to ask this question to artists but as of yet I haven’t thought of a glib, quick answer, but I’d sure like to hear your thoughts.

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These goats mean business

Alas, I don’t! As some of you know I have a rooster and some chickens, but no goats.

juladame goat business

Just recently though, I learned how goats launched a business. I met Julie Wells a while back at an arts and crafts show. By chance and love, my dear husband bought me some of her all natural hand cream. I’m not the kind that goes out and buys hand cream for myself, but at the risk of sounding like a commercial, I couldn’t believe how wonderful that stuff was.

So, I’ve had it in my head to talk to Julie Wells, creator of Juladame, and find out what she might have to share with me and our readers. Her journey is quite interesting.

Here are a few important things I gleaned from my time spent with Julie.

juladame business

The business of being mindful
  • Creativity is not always due to natural talent. Julie said she just fell into it when someone gave her a few goats that needed milking. Chance and opportunity are good friends.
  • Julie paid attention. She said it just felt right. Pay attention when something feels right to you, when you are in the moment of being present and enjoying that time. That “still small voice” in all of us needs to be surfaced and acknowledged.
  • Decide if you’re really passionate. Julie was surprised to learn that some people consider her an artisan. If you enjoy any of Julie’s products, you easily see that she loves what she does and has developed quality soaps and creams. But Julie considers herself an educator. Why? Because in Julie’s heart, people should not have to settle for products that have a lot of harmful chemicals. She’s truly excited when people see the benefits of goat’s milk on their skin.

Juladame1 business

The business of perseverance
  • Be determined. While Julie fell into it, she kept on with it. In effect she kept falling forward. When she moved to Florida, her tried and true recipes from New York weren’t working. She didn’t throw up her hands here in Florida, and walk away from her business. She persisted.
  • Don’t think you’re too old! Julie started when she was 42 years old. As many of you know I started painting when I was around 59. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt when he was 80 years old, fearing the journey, yet trusting God. Fear at any age is our greatest enemy.

Juladame8 business

  • She cares. Julie named her business as a legacy for her 3 daughters. Listen to the interview here to learn how:

    One of her daughters is a dedicated mother and can see the benefits of working from home. Julie also considers her customers her friends. She gets to know them, their needs, and appreciates their feedback. So for her it’s all about family and friends.

Juladame7 business

Julie has some special words to share with those of you who may not believe you are creative. She’s encouraging, and her products make lovely gifts and are reasonably priced. Why not treat yourself or a friend? Go to Julie’s page and give her a call.

Let’s support our local artisans! Which brings me to a special request. Do you have an artist, artisan or friend that you think might make a great guest? Please let me know.

 

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Mindless Scratching

It’s tempting to scratch that itch, isn’t it? What’s more tempting is to keep scratching that itch over and over again, as if it’s going to make it better. In fact, it makes it worse. In my family we call that “picking” at something, which generally leads to an open scab or sore.

At this point you may be thinking that this doesn’t sound like your typical New Year’s resolution blog. It isn’t. But I think it will motivate you none the less.

If you’ve ever watched free range chickens, you may have noticed that they keep their heads down for the most part, looking and foraging for food. In many cases they keep trotting with their heads down, pecking away.

chicken scratch

If you are not familiar with chicken behavior, take a quick look here.

They don’t even look where they are going. Their pecking could lead them right up to the base of the Empire State building as long as a trail of chicken scratch led them to it!

So what is chicken scratch and what does that have to do with you, me and 2017? Ok, scratch is a mix of cracked grains. It usually consists of wheat, corn, oats, sunflower seeds, millet. etc. It is NOT complete nutrition. 

So basically chicken scratch is not all that good for chickens, but they like it. I can tell you they love it and would keep eating all day if we threw it out there all day. It keeps them busy and in motion.

Are you eating chicken scratch?

Chicken scratch comes in many forms for humans: 

  • Worry is tasty treat for all of us; yet has no nutritional value for our minds.
  • Busyness keeps us running in circles, thinking that activity is accomplishment.
  • Pecking, poking and chattering about others deflects the need to work on our own issues.

My latest pallet knife painting “Mad Max with Poppies” encourages us to look at these things with a careful eye:

© Laura Gabel, “Mad Max with Poppies”. Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10. $75.
© Laura Gabel, “Mad Max with Poppies”. Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10. $75.

So what “human chicken scratch” did you entertain last year? I encourage you to write down one area that:

  • Is mindless, but makes you feel better. You love it.
  • Often keeps you busy but isn’t good for you. You love it and hate it.
  • Leads you in circles, keeping you from God’s desire for you.

For me the most damaging thing about “human chicken scratch” is it keeps my head down. It keeps me in the world racing in circles. I don’t have the perspective that God wants me to have. I am learning to step away from my “tasty treats” and frame a new life that keeps me looking up! Framing things God’s way makes things look and work better!  “…while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18 NKJV

chicken scratch

So for 2017, I hope you’ll join me in not living like a foolish chicken!

chicken scratch
photo credit www.crossrivermedia.com

 

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The project pile or the trash heap?

Let’s face it, some days are better than other days; some projects roll out smoothly and others don’t.

But I’m one of those persistent types, I keep at it, which is good, because determination over talent can often carry the day. But other times, like with this painting “Pepper Harvest” I learned an equally important lesson.

project or trash
© Laura Gabel, “Pepper Harvest”, soft pastel, 14 x 16. Private collection

Have you ever felt like you wanted to take a hammer to it, burn it, stomp on it, just get rid of it? That’s the way I felt about this still life.

We are often tempted to scrap, dump, throw away a project that doesn’t seem to be going our way; it’s grinding and hard and no matter what you try, it doesn’t work. 

Artists are notorious for condemning their own work. Fortunately I’m a thrifty artist, and paint, pastel, canvas, and paper are costly, so I scrub a lot of projects away in the sink. 

This time however, I just put the pepper painting away. Yes, I removed it from my sight, I set it aside. As a matter of fact, I forgot all about it.

Then I found this old project again one day when looking for something else. I decided to just use it as a “practice piece” but as I started painting, to my surprise it seemed easy…hmmm. I wondered why? Was it:

  • Time? Perhaps I had strengthened my skills during the interim.
  • Distance? Perhaps I just needed a different perspective on it.
  • Desire? Perhaps I just really didn’t want to paint these peppers at that time.
  • Break time for the mind? Over-thinking or pushing too hard can often have a negative effect.
  • Purpose? As I practiced on it, I became more excited by it because I knew that I could make a special someone happy with it!

We can’t always take an extended breather, sometimes there are deadlines. But going on to do something different even for a day or two can sometimes make big a difference!

It’s really a life long skill to enjoy, acknowledge, and give thanks to God for those times when all seems to be working well and smoothly. It’s also good to remember that every situation is an opportunity to learn. There is wisdom in knowing when to rest and wisdom in knowing when to persist. Luckily scripture tells us we can seek wisdom (James 1:5) and God is happy to oblige!

Take a minute and tell me about a stalled project you’ve encountered and what you’ve learned from it. Or maybe you’re still stuck and we can help you get a fresh perspective.

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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?

 

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Competition and Courage

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase as you were growing up. It’s good advice, but it’s hard to try and try again.

There are many reasons we don’t want to try again: rejection, fear of failure, discouragement, thoughts that everyone else is so much better. I’m sure you could add to the list. In our culture there is so much pressure and competition. Some of this is due to the vast number of choices, the vast amount of information, and the vastness of our globally interconnected world. The pool of competitors and the points of comparison are so much bigger than fifty or one-hundred years ago. 

Whether it’s art, gymnastics, writing, soccer, or any other field, the idea frightens and challenges us that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” It leads to a “win at all costs” mentality that drives some of us to work harder and longer, perfecting our craft. After all, who wants to be a loser? And yet for others, this mentality gives us a reason to give up: “I can’t win, so I won’t even try.”

The theme here is not “You’ve got to play to win.” That sort of thinking sounds like a slogan for playing the lottery. No, the message here is about courage. And genuine courage, genuine strength cannot come from inside ourselves. All of us encounter dragons in our lives that are bigger than we are. The courage and the power to slay those dragons comes by looking outside ourselves! Fear of man — our fear of others’ expectations or disapproval — causes us to lose courage. The greatest regret expressed by many people on their death bed is that they lived their life according to the expectation of others. And living in that kind of fear can kill our ability to think big thoughts and dream big dreams. Especially for those who know Christ, our Creator dreams big dreams for us. So surround yourself with courage. How? Read the Bible. Be around people that encourage you to be the best you can be. Learn to filter those who bring you down.

Courage is contagious. It can be spread from person to person. God encouraged Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:23). The King James Version Dictionary definition of encouragement is something intended “to give courage to; to give or increase confidence of success; to inspire with courage, spirit, or strength of mind; to embolden; to animate; to incite; to inspirit.” David is known for slaying the giant Goliath, but several of his comrades slew bigger giants! You can read about David’s mighty men in 2 Samuel 23:8–39. If you want to kill giants, follow a giant killer.

LookAhead. Award

Winning this First Place Award at the Cotee River Seafest was wonderful. Truly, I owe most of this award to my husband, who went to the trouble of taking my paintings to the exhibit to be judged while I was at work. Encouragement has come from so many people: my husband,  my sister, my friends whose confidence in me I don’t deserve. So look outside yourself. Are you surrounding yourself with the encouragement of the Lord? Do you have friends who inspire you? Start reading the Bible, and then find a couple of “David friends” who can counsel you, encourage you, and love you through your dreams!

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The Ugly Place

Any time I start on a new painting, I pass through different phases: the nervousness of starting, the excitement of finishing the sketch and starting to add color, and then what I call the “ugly stage.” The ugly stage can turn a painter inside out, and it happens to all of us no matter what the project. You know you are in the ugly stage when certain thoughts come to mind: “Why did I ever start this?” “This is nasty looking!” “I have no idea how this will ever work out!” “Ugh! I should just rip it up and destroy it!”  

If you are doing something that you have never done before and it seems especially hard, maybe you are in the “ugly stage” but do not recognize it. And so you just give up: The dessert is just not coming together, so you call the bakery. Your plans are not adding up, so you decide not to start the business. Or you never get as far as trying and just call the handyman or go to the store, and then watch TV and growl when someone asks you about that project you were thinking about starting. 

That point when you are wondering whether to quit — that point is the critical make-or-break point. Maybe you really have bitten off more than you can chew. There are times when we need to call in an expert. But maybe there are times when all we see is the ugliness, and so we quit way too soon.

The ugly stage

Once I understood that there is always an ugly stage, once I was able to recognize it for what it actually is, I was able to work through it. The ugly stage is just part of the process; it is just one phase, but not the whole project. I had to learn that creativity is not merely a matter of gritting my teeth and pushing through, but also a matter of seeing things in context and recognizing what will pass.

In other words, though endurance is necessary, there is more to life than persistence. There is also perspective. Gritting your teeth on a project might work, but lack of perspective often chokes your creative flow. 

Here is my advice for the ugly stage: Step back in order to get some perspective. Take a break, call a friend, listen to some music, go for a walk, ask for advice. Remember that we are all works in progress, that God’s perspective on us in Christ is not to look back on our faults and our failures, but to look at the perfection of His Son. He sees our ugly stage in the perspective of His transforming work. We can give generously and risk sacrificially because He is able to make all grace abound to us so that we can abound in every good work!

More than a Mouthful, no longer ugly

 

Are you going through, are have you gone through, your own ugly stage? Maybe sharing it will encourage others. Leave me a comment! 

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Daddy, Billie Holiday & a Silhouette

Just like all of us, my dad had many facets to his personality. His day job required precision with numbers as an accountant; on some weekends he worked on the “Gateway Clipper” river boat as a bartender. Other weekends he played drums in a jazz band. We heard lots of Billie Holiday songs in our home.

This painting “Into the Light 1” was triggered by those moody songs. If you haven’t heard any of Billie’s songs from the 1940’s and ’50s you must. Listen here.

IntotheLight1
Her life wasn’t all that great. Working on this painting wasn’t all that great either, especially since I redid certain parts of her face–that’s a 12 hour forehead! Nothing is as easy as it looks, which brings me to the phrase my dad always repeated to me, my brother and my sister: “Confidence, Determination, No Fear! It was sort of a mantra for him. Whenever I would do battle at school (and school work was always a battle for me), my dad would say this phrase. So I would go into my math tests after he tutored me with a bit more courage. That’s the way I approach my painting. Do I have fear? You bet, but I have the  determination to work through the fear and I am confident that it will all turn out. This “CDNF” phrase is imprinted into my psyche.

Which leads me to ask, what are you imprinting with your words to those around you? Is it something they’ll treasure? If not, then develop your own encouraging phrase and use it! Or take my dad’s. Do you have encouraging phrase? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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