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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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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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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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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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!

 

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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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How comfortable is your comfort zone?

Safety and security, that’s what most of us crave! However, when we step outside our comfort zones, we learn ever so much more! That’s what I want to encourage you to do this week.

Experiment! Do something different. 

As Americans we spend a lot of time watching and admiring other people do the things we wish we could do. There’s nothing wrong with learning about how someone climbed K2, known as the Savage Mountain due to the extreme difficulty of ascent. It’s always exciting to watch someone train for the Olympics, or perform in a singing competition, or photograph strange bugs and plants in the Amazon.  These programs can spur you on to greater things, but sometimes they dampen my enthusiasm. A spark of discouragement waltzes into my brain.  “I’m not him or her, I don’t have that kind of drive or talent, or resources…so it’s just easier and safer to watch the experts.”

The fact that I want a great end result and I want it fast can prevent me from even trying. I want to settle back into my comfort zone. Has that happened for you? You thought you had a great idea, you tried something once or twice and it didn’t work. I’ve learned that as I do more paintings, then I’m bound to make more mistakes, messes and stuff that goes straight into the garbage pail. That’s ok, because all my experimenting leads to better work and greater confidence. Yes, it really does!

I’d love a t-shirt or apron that says “It’s the Journey so I’m going to learn to love the learning!”

LovelocksLavenderTake this painting, it started out as an experiment, I never used this technique to prepare the basic  grounds (or paper) for any of my paintings. I was definitely NOT comfortable. I was tentative, nervous, and wondering whether anything in this painting was going to pan out. I felt my way through it step by step, using experimental approaches, colors, techniques.

I’m not nearly as afraid of messing up, especially after this painting. Experimenting  gives me freedom, and my work vitality. Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” I guess my comfort zone really wasn’t as comfortable as I thought! As it turned out this painting has sold more prints for the Spring Hill Art League here in Florida than any other. You can get a print (or the original) as well here. Sometimes an experiment can turn out to be a delightful success as well as a mess.

My encouraging advice for you is two fold:

  • Make a mess; experiment. 
  • Share your mess with our community here at The Art of Encouragement. 

Transparency is healthy! Let us know about your new quilt, recipe or marvelous mess.

 

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