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.

Go ahead...share the encouragement
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

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!

 

Go ahead...share the encouragement
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

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!

Go ahead...share the encouragement
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

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! 

Go ahead...share the encouragement
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

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.

 

Go ahead...share the encouragement
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Curiosity, cat-life and you

InnerKitty-2If you have a cat or many cats as we have had, you know they are defined by curiosity, can be clever, amusing and sometimes downright frustrating! Dogs are really human-centric, but cats simply tolerate humans. They are busy investigating!

“What are you doing, why are you here, what do you want?” These are some of the questions I want to raise in the viewer’s mind when looking at this painting.

“Curiosity may have killed the cat” as the saying goes, but  the inquisitive, investigative mind is apparently great for humans. Why?

1. Curiosity causes wonder! Wonder is a child-like state that asks, dreams and delights. When we wonder, we lose a sense of time, space, circumstance. Driving, running, painting, walking, playing an instrument all induce a state of relaxation because it suspends the dance of life. That’s why sitting on the front porch or on the back deck will always be a timeless activity. Wondering about nature and in my case, thinking about the Author of Creation brings an endless amount of questions and a desire to learn more.

2. Curiosity is a trait that demands that we explore! So, conversely, curiosity can cause discomfort. My wonderful husband is always asking why. I like that about him but sometimes the why takes a long time to think through, to answer, to find meaning and understanding.  My get-it-done mentality causes me to push the whys, the wonder, away, naturally to my own detriment.

3. Curiosity causes anxiety! That’s why we like a good story, an exciting movie. It’s good to cultivate an eager state of not knowing. We become stronger, wiser. Whenever I ask myself a question such as, “I wonder what will happen if I add watercolor to this painting,” or I sketch a composition that differs from the photograph, I cause problems, but I’m better for them. Asking why am I here, what am I created for, what’s my purpose, these are unsettling questions that are easily pushed away with an opiate dose of tv.

ISeeYouToo

 

A life without curiosity is flat, sluggish, dull and safe. So let your “inner kitty” spring into action this week! My challenge for you is to seek some opportunities to stretch your curiosity! If you have any curious ideas about curiosity, please comment below.

 

Go ahead...share the encouragement
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Baseball and Springtime

My husband says I’m not much of a baseball fan (and he’s probably right), but some of you readers may be, so we’re resurrecting a previously posted painting to grab your attention today.

Punxsutawney Phil has stated that we will not have 6 more weeks of winter, the temperature today in my lovely central Texas town is hovering around 80 degrees, my peach trees have little buds on them and pitchers and catchers report in just 6 days (see, I do have some baseball knowledge). Spring is in the air!

We’re featuring a guest post today by one of our readers who reflected on Laura’s rendition of New Yorks Mets Hall of Famer, Mike Piazza entitled The Slugger over on his blog (just click the embedded link under “The Slugger).

Slugger1

Please share your favorite baseball memories, baseball team and your thoughts on the upcoming arrival of spring. For those of you in climates where spring is farther away, hopefully this post is an encouragement and not cause for coveting those of us in warmer climes!

And my baseball loving husband is excited for this season – he’s a Cubs fan, and “next year” is almost here!

Go ahead...share the encouragement
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone