When is a dog not just a dog?

I am a dog person. Many of you will not remember the song, “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” But, let’s acknowledge the fact that most of us wouldn’t sell our dog (or dogs) for anything. Ken and I have three long haired Chihuahuas. A pack, nicknamed by my stepson as the “Terrible Trio”. Indeed, they are naughty and yappy. I will acknowledge that; but they are also loving, entertaining, and they make us happy.

Which brings me to the saga of painting Emma.

Emma the dog 1

Emma is the darling companion Mary and David Flowers, church friends. Not just any dog, she is a Boston Terrier who rules the roost with energy and antics.

My motivating question when I paint is always, “how can I portray the true personality of this person, dog, cat, whatever?” Sorry photographers; but a photo is a flat reality. 

True art intensifies the real inner persona of the subject. It makes you want to know more…he, she or it should jump off the canvas and say something that is beyond the norm of “she’s a nice looking lady”, “he’s a cute dog”, “it’s a pretty scene”, etc. It’s a forever painting that somebody will want when a loved one dies. I’m not trying to be morbid, but paintings should be evoke emotion, have meaning.

So for me, Emma was more than just a dog. Emma had to recollect mischievous love for her owners, especially Mary.

When I paint a commissioned painting, I always ask for at least one photo from which to paint. This was the photo I was asked to paint:

Emma the dog 2

On the surface, it looks nice, but it’s a nightmare for a painter.

First, it’s not just a dog in the photo. On the viewer’s right is a hand! Yikes. Emma looks brown in the photo; but she’s obviously a Boston Terrier and they are black! There is little or no contrast in the blacks, the shadows are muted and not true to color.

Am I losing you? Then of course there is that teeny tiny Harley Davidson logo on the hat–all on an 8 x 10.

What to do? Pray, face the fear and begin!

Emma the dog 3

I wanted to make her coat silky and lustrous, showing a lovely under coat of browns, blues, and blacks. I want the collectors to feel as if they can reach out and feel their dog’s coat and the blanket. So I developed four levels of pastel (you can see those swatches on the right).

Emma the dog 4

I know Emma is playful, so I wanted to develop a little action in the background to suggest her energy and character.

Emma the dog 5

No white fur can be painted in until Emma is almost finished.

Now we are close!

Emma the dog 6

Not done but closer. I’ve got to polish up the fur, nose and logo! More hours, but worth it, she’s a doll. I’ve grown to love her as I paint her and that’s important.

With a mat and frame, Emma will be a darling keepsake.

Love is a growing thing. Most people don’t realize that. We tend to think of love as an emotion, but it’s not. I can say that after 34 years of marriage. Love takes patience, kindness, attention to the little things. Just like painting Emma.

Do you have a loving friend or creature that I can give life to through a painting? Then let’s talk! You can leave a comment or send us an email. And be on the lookout for a follow up post when she’s all finished!

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My daughter the unwitting celebrity

I have a “famous” daughter. My children are an endless source of inspiration and I love to write about them. In fact, I just did a quick search on my own blog and found more than ten examples of posts where I mention my girls. We take them on trips to art museums, we expose them to local artisans, we encourage their own creativity, and we delight to see them embracing, appreciating, and contributing art.

We, as a school community, celebrate both the visual and performing artistic endeavors of our students in grades K through 12 every spring. The students perform a variety of musical numbers for their adoring fans.  We also have a chance to view many of their art projects on display. Students are invited to submit original artwork to grace the cover of the program for the evening’s festivities.

daughter art 2

My oldest daughter labored for days on getting her design just right. She wanted to find the perfect illustration for this year’s theme of “summer”. In the end, the teachers recognized her hard work by granting her the privilege of having her artwork on the program’s cover. She became an instant celebrity on campus the day it was announced. I arrived to pick her up at the end of the day, and as we lingered on campus, every student who passed us called out their congratulations.

daughter art

Proud daughter, proud mama

I was so proud of my daughter for having her artwork recognized. Our students were so gracious to acknowledge their classmate’s success, and to be genuinely proud of her accomplishment. My daughter was definitely excited to have won, but she was also humble. I know that she does not like to be in the spotlight and was even a bit embarrassed at all the attention. She was also extremely worried about being publicly acknowledged during the night’s program. Her fears were relieved when she was simply recognized verbally that evening.

Now, I don’t know whether or not my children will ever have artwork on display in a gallery or a museum. But I do know that they love to create. Their minds of full of countless ideas, and art is one way in which they can express that imagination. I want to encourage them to be creative. We want them to enter contests, to take risks, to face their fears. I’m delighted that their school and their art provide them with opportunities to do so.

daughter art 1

What about you? Are there risks you can take? What art do you have to create? We all have something to share. Let’s also be the ones to cheer others on in their successes. And remember, if you should see artwork by A. Keller in your local museum, you saw her here first!

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A Gala, Grace, and Goodbye

A wise bear once said, ““How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”. If that is true, then I am indeed lucky, blessed in fact.

Two years ago, my family moved to the Austin, Texas area because my husband had accepted a teaching position at a classical school in Georgetown. This summer finds us packing up our home, saying “goodbye”, and moving yet again. I am excited to start a new adventure at a new school. However, I am finding the saying of “goodbye” to be incredibly difficult.

Recently, Laura blogged about a new painting she was finishing up for a benefit auction for our current school, Grace Academy. When I had originally asked Laura if she’d be willing to paint a landscape of our campus for the auction, I did not know we would be leaving the school. And so I found myself on a Friday night, surrounded by people who love the school and were excited to contribute their funds towards the furtherance of Grace Academy’s mission. Among the items up for bid was Laura’s painting.

goodbye to grace

Unexpectedly, I found myself anxious over it’s sale. Not because I didn’t think it would be popular, but because I was worried over who might get the painting. Would it be someone I know? Someone who loves art? A family who loves Grace Academy? Even though I didn’t create the beautiful landscape, saying “goodbye” to it felt a bit intimidating; it was also a “goodbye” to the school I’d come to love.

The auction was a silent auction, so I wasn’t aware of how the bidding was going. A friend of mine promised me that she’d let me know who purchased the painting once all the dust of the gala auction had settled. The next morning, I received a text from a dear friend that said, “guess what I have?!” and this picture:

grace goodbye 2

Not quite goodbye….yet

I found myself relieved that she was the one who purchased “Sunrise at Grace”. I told her that I was glad it was going to a good home; having it with her felt like it was still “in the family”.But I was also sad as the realization hit that she would be one of the hardest people to bid goodbye. She also texted me, “And now with y’all moving it holds another special place for me because I wouldn’t have the painting without your connection to Laura. So thank you! I will treasure it always. And always think of your and your family as well as the school we love so much!”

I have joked with her in the past that she is my muse when I have nothing to write about. On at least one occasion, she was the direct inspiration for my post of the week. I can think of countless other friends that I have met as a result of our time at Grace Academy who have so clearly influenced who I am as a person.

My friend sent a wonderful thank you note to Laura in regards to the painting:

I am writing to let you know that my family now has your beautiful painting of the Grace Academy landscape on our mantle! It is just beautiful!!! It will always hold a special place in my heart. Our two boys (currently 10th and 8th graders) started attending school at Grace in third and first grade. I can so clearly remember the first time my husband and I drove onto campus. The property is beautiful and just has a feeling of peace and joy. Even 8 years later I think of that first time I entered campus and how peaceful it was almost every single day that I drive onto the property. So thank you Laura! Thank you for your selfless donation of time and talent to our school. We will treasure it always. May God richly bless you in your artistic endeavors!

goodbye

This school will always hold a special place in our hearts as well. Even as I am writing this, I am a substitute teacher in the Upper School. I was just told by a roomful of eighth graders that I am their favorite sub, as I passed out their difficult Logic test. We will miss the students, we will miss the teachers, we will miss the parents. We are lucky indeed, for it is quite hard to say goodbye.

 

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The Art of Friendship – revisited

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was part of a book launch team for the book “Messy Beautiful Friendship”. Well, the book has launched, and now I’m “launching” my book review.

Christine Hoover, the author, is a pastor’s wife in Charlottesville, VA. In God’s providence, I was once a pastor’s wife in Virginia, and Christine and I had the chance to correspond over email. We’ve not kept in touch personally throughout the years, but I do read her blog. So, I was excited when she mentioned that she was writing a book on friendship. I was happy to sign up to be on her launch team and read her book.

I appreciate Christine’s uninhibited style of writing. She is honest about her failures and humble about her success. Most importantly, she grounds all of what she has to say not in her own experience, but in the Scriptures. If we are to discover what real friendship is, as Christians, we must look to what the Bible says friendship ought to be.

As someone who has moved six times in my 13 years of marriage, I know how challenging it can be to make friends. Even finding a casual acquaintance can be intimidating – especially for those of us who are more introverted in nature. But finding deep, lasting, godly, life giving friendship? Sometimes that seems like an impossibility.

friendship

What is Friendship?

Christine looks at some of our misconceptions about what friendship is and then lays out a biblical vision for true friendship. She posits that we often find ourselves dissatisfied with our current friendships because we don’t have an accurate understanding from the Bible of what friendship should be. She says:

When I am disappointed with my friendships and I take time to dig a little deeper in my heart, I inevitably find that I’m looking for my friends to relate to me as only God can. I want God to give me good friends, and when he has, I’ve been prone to shove him aside for the attention, wisdom, and companionship of those friends, despite knowing that they were intended as gifts rather than replacements. People are not fillers for a present God, and God is not a placeholder for future friends. (Messy Beautiful Friendship, p. 38)

All too often, I find that to be true. I’d rather have the “perfect” friendship here and not rely upon the eternal friendship I have with Christ. I want to see friendship as a gift from God. But the challenge to me is not to love the gift more than I love the Giver.

friendship

Threats to Friendship

She also then examines some of the threats to developing deep and lasting friendships. In her final sections she offers some practical wisdom and insightful challenges to us as we seek out friendships that honor Christ. I especially appreciated her chapter entitled “Faithful Wounds” about speaking the truth in love. Unfortunately, our culture has adopted the idea that to love someone means you never disagree with them, and thus would never have a need to confront them. However, the Bible teaches that “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed.” (Prov. 27:5) It is precisely because we love our friends that we will confront them when we see them wandering from the truth.

I highly recommend Christine’s book. Even if you are a person who makes friends easily, it can be a helpful reminder of what biblical friendship is. The book is a quick and relatively easy read. She even includes some discussion questions in the back of the book. I think the book quite readily lends itself to being a selection for a ladies book club.

friendship

As I am facing yet another move, I find myself grieving the leaving of my current friends and feeling anxious about making new ones. What a comfort to know that I already have “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Tell me a story of one of your dear friends. Or share a picture of you with your friends! I’m always encouraged by hearing how God has blessed you. And if you happen to pick up a copy of Christine’s book, let me know what you think.

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Rest and Recharge to Charge Ahead!

sunrise at grace rest
© Laura Gabel, “Sunrise at Grace”. Oil on canvas, 24″x48″. $850.

I’m taking a bit of a rest because I’ve just completed a 2 foot by 4 foot painting that will be at a benefit auction for Grace Academy in Georgetown, just outside of Austin, Texas. It’s a sizeable painting and I am excited to be able to share it with all of you!

Here are a few progress shots from the painting “Sunrise at Grace”:

Grace sunrise rest

Sunrise at Grace rest

When I start, get in the middle, and finish a painting like this one, there is a lot of planning involved to make sure the composition works out well. The overall effect that I want to portray must be in my head before I ever take paint to canvas.

Something else happens when I paint. I go through many emotional moments: concern, joy when a certain section turns out really well, despair when I think I’ve blown it, self doubt, and exhilaration. Finally, I come to the moment when I say “it’s done” in my head. But I’d still like to have another month with it. 

Sunrise Grace progress 7

Sunrise at Grace progress 8

Then the last feeling for me is a jumble of being happy, sad, and exhausted.

Some paintings are all consuming, for me. I often find that means I have a hard time stopping. I think, dream, and have it floating around in my head a lot! This was one of those paintings.

I can tell when my battery is low and I need to recharge so I can move forward. Moving forward means digesting what I’ve learned from this painting and clearing my heart and mind. I need to make room for my next painting, which more than likely, will be entirely different.

How do I recharge? I actively rest! Huh? It sounds like an oxymoron but it isn’t.

First, a couple of questions for you about rest:

  • When you think of the word “rest” in a natural sense what does it mean to you?
  • What does the word “rest” mean to you in a spiritual sense?
  • Do you find that you try to “rest” in the Lord only when you’ve explored all your other options, or hit rock bottom?

Now that you’ve taken a little inventory, here are a couple of things I’ve learned about rest that have helped me. Hopefully these will give you a different perspective on rest.

Rest is fruitful

Our minds can be refreshed and our strength renewed when we slow down and allow our minds and emotions to enjoy quiet times. Try it; watch what happens when you take a walk, go to the beach, meditate on just one scripture or turn off the cell phone and tv.

Rest is an activity

I admit this really doesn’t make sense but if you schedule a time-out for yourself you are halfway there. Being intentional about resting doesn’t mean you strive or struggle. It means you can be determined to take that break whether it be for 10 minutes, a day, or a weekend. Rest takes practice. Exodus 23:12 reminds us that “on the seventh day you shall rest;…that [you] may be refreshed.”

Rest is a choice

When you choose to recharge your batteries, you have decided to go against the world’s wisdom that counsels that we should run faster and harder. Choosing to take some of your time and dedicate it to slowing down is the best way to partner and collaborate with Christ. He promises that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Here is my simple way to practice rest: by deciding to climb into His loving arms to be held, behold Him and be loved! 

How do you recharge your batteries? Has this article has given you the encouragement you need to practice resting? If so, let me know.

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A Wonderful Reunion

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a surprise reunion with someone you loved and lost?

Unexpected, joyous…a warmth in the heart. At least that is what I hope for Ian when he sets eyes on his beloved dog Sally in this painting.

Ian reunion

This painting of Ian was commissioned as a surprise from his sister-in-law Joy and I was excited to create this for many reasons. This is an international painting, as they live in England. Second, I love making memories come alive for my clients. Time stands still and yet travels right into the heart when a painting speaks to him or herIan’s beloved dog is no longer with him, but what a sweet reunion he will experience through art.

Simply, when I paint, it delights me to delight the viewer. 

The painting should be in Ian’s hands by the end of this week. So I’ve included a few progress shots for his family and you.

reunion progress 1

The challenges of developing a painting stroke by stroke are well worth the effort. Pastel is such a vibrant medium and I really wanted to show the tender love these two had for each other.

The way they look at the camera together mirrors a long and loyal relationship.

I am very much believing that Ian will be totally surprised at seeing his special friend come alive.

An Easter Reunion

It’s one thing to see a painting of a friend you think you’ve lost forever, but it’s another to see that friend resurrected and very much alive after he has been in the grave for 3 days!  What a reunion that would be!

Imagine the heart palpitations, the joy, the disbelief, the overwhelming feeling that it really can’t be.

That’s what Mary saw as she lingered in the garden, looking for her loving friend Jesus’ body. But it wasn’t his dead body she found. He was alive! She saw him, she spoke to him and he said, “go and tell the disciples that I am he, I am alive!”

Yes, she saw him with her own eyes. Some say, seeing is believing, but Christ emphatically told one of his disciples, Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

That should give us all hope this wonderful Easter week.

Perhaps you have not believed, but are ready to now.  Realize that according to Jesus and His word, you are blessed! Talk to a friend, visit a church, email me at laura@lgabel.com.

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Procrastination, Ponderings, and Perfection?

I am a serious fan of procrastination. I probably shouldn’t admit that – and I certainly wouldn’t advocate procrastination as a way of life for my children or my students. But alas, procrastination has been my pattern for decades; you can ask my thesis advisor how that worked out for me in seminary!

On my neat and tidy editorial calendar, Tuesday afternoon is blocked off for “blog writing,” and that is normally how the week goes. Yet this week, it is now Wednesday afternoon and I’m just now putting words on paper. Sometimes, my procrastination is due to writer’s block. But not this week.

In fact, I’ve had this blog post in my draft folder for almost a year. It’s been started at least three times, but never finished. The original working title was “Work hard. Have fun.” My daughter has taken ballet for three years now, and that was what we would encourage her to do when she danced – work hard and have fun.

procrastination blog

Since I was intending to write about ballet, I wanted to include some artwork of ballet dancers.

Who better to feature in a ballet blog post than Degas?

Dancers in Pink, Edgar Degas
Procrastination wins round one

In just a matter of minutes, I found myself lost in literally hundreds of beautiful paintings in stunning pastel colors, the rich hues perfectly capturing the grace, elegance and poise of the dancers.

Four Dancers, Edgar Degas

And so the post didn’t get written. Take two on writing, take two on browsing through masterpieces. Procrastination wins again.

Now it’s the third attempt, and this time, I decided to follow advice I often get from Laura (which is oddly similar to what my thesis advisor said when I captured by procrastination in seminary) – “just write something!” So I started thinking, “maybe getting sidetracked by Degas’s art isn’t a problem; maybe it’s not simple procrastination.” What if my eye is captivated by beauty and that beauty is more interesting to me in the moment than using the beauty as an illustration?

Can we enjoy beauty just for the sake of beauty? Since this is an art blog, you may guess that my answer would be “yes!” And indeed, it is – an emphatic YES! Of course! Beauty is meant to be enjoyed! We were meant to love that which is beautiful. What beauty captivates you?

Oh, and my little ballet dancer? Well, Degas never painted her, but I sure have enjoyed watching her dance. And I think she’d make a great painting subject!

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Love, True Love…

Admit it, you love to quote that famous scene from The Princess Bride, don’t you?! If by any chance, I’ve lost you, head over here to enjoy it.

Yes, Valentine’s Day is coming, and it seems as though signs and symbols of love are everywhere. Love sculpture

Strangely enough, I’m not really writing this as a Valentine’s Day post, despite the title.

Did you read Laura’s post from last week? I was challenged by her experience about being spoiled by her sister. I think most of us would love to be on the receiving end of such a fun and lavish experience. But how many of us love to be the giver in such situations? Or do we find ourselves serving out of obligation? I realize that many of us do not have the discretionary income to spend lavishly on those we love, but does the spoiling have to be expensive to be lavish?

My husband’s birthday is this week, but we find ourselves in a position of needing to pay taxes, school tuition, some medical bills, car repairs etc (I’m sure you have your own list). While an overnight away with just the two of us sounds fabulous, it’s not an option at this time.

So I had to put on my creative hat. I’m not really crafty, so making him something seemed like a bit of a stretch. However, one of his great loves is pecan pie – so I make him one for his birthday every year

true love pie

I’m also making his favorite meal for dinner, and I’m ensuring that all my work is done before he gets home, so we can just enjoy the time together as a family. Both my girls made him cards, and we’ll just be with Daddy tonight.  When you love someone, spoiling them is easy.

And isn’t that the beauty of true love? It’s not based on your financial situation or your daily circumstances. It’s about being present, really present – no phone, no television, no endless “to do” lists. Just a good meal, good conversation and each other.

Who do you love?

Is there someone in your life that could use a little extra love? Maybe it’s time to put on your creative hat and make their world a little bit brighter today. As for me, I’ve got meatloaf , macaroni and cheese , green beans and pecan pie waiting.

 

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Driftwood and adoration

I don’t know anyone that doesn’t love a surprise gift. I have had very few gifts that have left me speechless. But for Ken and I last Friday, this one was an eye popper! This handcrafted driftwood sculpture stands about 19 inches high. Stunning, like nothing we have ever seen. See what you think:

driftwood and adoration

This was truly a heart gift from our friends Jo & Bill and everything about it resonates with our personalities, our decor (simple) and our love for the Creator.

Driftwood is called “marine debris,” the remains of trees that have been washed into the ocean. To be used properly it must be brushed and bleached. It doesn’t sound very inspiring, yet for ages, man has created art from driftwood.

As I pondered the uniqueness of this gift. I felt the simplicity and elegance of taking such dead, weathered wood and with tiny little nails making a thing of beauty. 

driftwood and adoration

While it is a striking “thing,” the real beauty is that it calls us to the most marvelous act of sacrifice. God, the author of all things, stepping out of His heavenly home and suiting up in flesh, as a baby in a simple stable, laid in a simple manger, made from wood. Simple, yet totally incomprehensible in many ways.

Some people worship great art; some folks worship icons. But God is Spirit and He alone is meant to be adored and worshiped in spirit and in truth

driftwood and adoration

You may not be able to craft a driftwood sculpture, but you can create an atmosphere of adoration in the simplest of ways. Here are a couple of ways I have found:

  • Sing to Him
  • Speak in your heart to Him
  • Love others like He loves

You will be creating if you do those three things, creating a life pleasing to him, a life of being more like Him.

We seem to be awash with lovely blessings this year, our handmade quilt,  this sculpture, the support of my sister, brother, brothers in law, our family, friends, church family. Truly our Father gives us all things richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17). How have you been made rich in your heart and life? How determined are you to create an atmosphere of adoration this season?

 

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Joy for the Sad

There are some paintings you just can’t part with. The painting below, “I’ll Fly Away” was really my first pastel painting. 

© Laura Gabel, "I'll Fly Away". Pastel on art.
© Laura Gabel, “I’ll Fly Away”. Pastel on art.

I didn’t like pastel, I thought it was messy, dusty and difficult. I persevered somewhat, but my teacher Laurie McKelvie was so passionate and so encouraging I just had to plod on. Kudos to her; I ended up loving pastel, learned about the amazing history and longevity of pastel, and developed as a pastel painter. But this blog isn’t about that story, as wonderful as it is.

I wouldn’t sell this painting, not because it’s my first, but because it is somewhat autobiographical. It’s really about the story of how I saw myself.  I was determined to compose and design a painting that portrayed the old me. My art was born out of some very raw pain, sadness and hurt. If you are not familiar with how I came to art very late in my life, please do read my story

When you look at the painting you see a young, unhappy girl gazing at the bluebird, wishing and hoping she could fly away. Believing that beauty was somehow in her future, that freedom was right around the corner. Sadness and pain is on her face but the bluebird is her hope of transformation. 

Finding True Joy

We hear so much about “Joy to the World” during this season and the joy of our Savior’s arrival is real. But as the light of His birth grows brighter and brighter, as we draw nearer to Christmas day there are others, for whom the days grow darker. Sadness overtakes them, loneliness beckons, darkness tries to overtake the light. 

But a prophet (Isaiah 61:1-3) promised that Jesus would come to comfort all who mourn, to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. That promise is real! In fact often when people see this painting they can’t possibly believe that this was me! But it was.

Here are some things I learned during this transforming time:

  • Misery loves company and it’s usually the wrong kind of company! Choose to be with those that will feed your soul with joy, not your sadness.
  • Practice looking for beauty in nature. Peace can be found in the quiet contemplation of His creation.
  • Concentrate on what you have rather than what you don’t have. This is important! All advertising points to what you must have in order to make you happy. But as we all know, the happiness of a new phone, car, dress doesn’t last long. So as my good friend Pam says, “turn your wanter off!”
  • Focus on the Light of the world. 

joy to the world

I’d love to know what you think of my first painting. How have you learned to repaint your life?

 

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