Smurf Paintings

One day I was working on an art project with a student who I'll call, Mary. She was painting a still life of some flowers. I asked her to write down some words that expressed the emotions she wanted to convey with the picture and then think of the colors that she'd like to see in her painting once it was done. Mary did all that, and then I suggested she begin by painting everything exactly the opposite colors she just wrote down. She looked a little surprised. I told her that if she started off with the exact colors she wanted, then the painting may look a little flat in the end, and it may lack interest. But, if the underneath is painted in contrasting colors, the painting will be less predictable, and more interesting. Then I talked to her about Smurfs.

“...when I paint pictures I'm going for a look that has more depth than The Smurfs.”

As a kid, I used to watch The Smurfs every Saturday.  I loved them—loved their happy bright colors, their little mushroom houses, and their cheerful catchy tune. And while I did love that show and believe there was beauty in it, when I paint pictures I'm going for a look that has more depth than The Smurfs. They're pretty flat. Once you've seen one Smurf you've seen them all… with the slight exception of Smurfette and that's just because of the blond hair… and Papa Smurf because of the beard… and Brainy Smurf because of the glasses. Still, you see what I'm saying. The Smurfs lived in a land without shadows. The colors were pure and unwavering. All the Smurfs were the same shade of blue. The grass was all one or two shades of green. Flat Land. And that's okay. The art was doing it's job. It was telling a simple and entertaining story, and kids like me loved it.

“Mary's painting was far beyond a Smurf painting. It had depth. You could see the fight in it, which always makes a painting beautiful.”

Mary didn't want a Smurf painting. But it went against all her artistic instincts to paint her canvas the wrong colors. I asked her if she trusted me, and she said “yes”.  I could tell that she meant it. Because she trusted me, she painted her picture with those odd colors underneath and then later added the bright beautiful colors on top. Mary's painting was far beyond a Smurf painting. It had depth. You could see the fight in it, which always makes a painting beautiful.

I'm a perfectionist in art and in life, and I have to fight it. I have to fight the urge to set everything up just right (as if that were even possible) because I don't want Smurf paintings and I don't want a Smurf Life. Except I would like to live in a mushroom village.

- Amy

P.S. - If you haven't seen my new book, And The Light Comes In, you can find it on Amazon

Behind The Story: The Place Where The Bluebells Grow

Featured in my book “And The Light Comes In” 

Featured in my book “And The Light Comes In” 

Surely certain experiences mirror Heaven more closely than others. I don’t just mean good days as opposed to bad days, but moments that are truly beautiful. Moments that strike a chord in our souls. I remember a day when I was riding in a car with an old friend. A hauntingly pretty song played on the radio as we passed beneath a row of cherry trees. The wind blew and pale pink petals fell and floated like snow. Petals collected on the windshield and dotted the road. At that moment the feeling of friendship and beauty was so strong that I remember thinking “this has got to be a little bit like Heaven.” Whenever I hear that song I feel that moment all over again. That’s the idea behind The Place Where the Bluebells Grow. It’s about those intensely wonderful times that continue to sparkle long after they’re gone.

Behind the Story: Listen to the Stories

Featured in my book “And The Light Comes In”

Featured in my book “And The Light Comes In”

I know that stories don’t impact everyone in the same way. Some people see them as entertainment and some really aren’t interested in them unless they’re factual, like a history or a biography. For me, they are a “heart language”. I’ve learned more through imaginative stories than through any class I’ve ever attended. Stories have truly changed my life and they keep changing it. Not long ago, I was doing a writing exercise where I was supposed to list the people who have had the biggest impact on my life. Some of the people I listed were Beatrix Potter, C.S. Lewis, Madeline L’Engle, George MacDonald, and Jane Austen. This painting is about the value of good story telling. It’s about the power of that “heart language” and the impact it has on the lives of those who listen to the stories.

- Amy

Behind the Story: The Snarly Skeins

Featured in my book “And The Light Comes In”

Featured in my book “And The Light Comes In”

I remember it well—that day when I thought of The Snarly Skeins. I'd been riddled with anxiety and guilt the whole day before and had awoken still riddled with it. It was an old anxiety and an old guilt, coming from old troubles. On this particular day I'd gone down the well-worn path I'd traveled so many times before. Each time, I'd believed that if I just thought everything through really well—maybe even wrote it down and numbered it like an outline—I could make sense of it. But troubles like this can never be thought out well enough or written down clearly enough to make sense of them.

So once again, rather than finding clarity, I'd only gotten more and more knotted up inside. I went for a walk and prayed. This picture came to my mind: a little girl, certain she could untie terrible knots of yarn, but finding each strand just lead to another. How helpless she was to untie those knots! No amount of time would do it. Outside assistance was required. The supernatural kind. The image brought me a lot of comfort and has helped me to recognize life's snarly skeins. No point trying to untie them myself.

- Amy

Behind the Story: The Night Rabbit

Featured in my book “And The Light Comes In”

Featured in my book “And The Light Comes In”

I'm amazed at how a kind word, an inspiring story, or even just a good walk under tall trees can lift me up out of brooding, sad thoughts. One afternoon, as I was going for one of my long walks under tall trees, I was thinking about how suddenly darkness can lift—even when it seems like it could go on forever. That's when I envisioned The Night Rabbit. It immediately made me smile—that shadow-black bunny, with a shimmering glow of hope around him. He represents all those wonderful thoughts, and beautiful scenes that can sneak up on you even as you were right in the middle of a brooding, sad thought. I believe God sends those hopeful ideas and that's why they're powerful. I love The Night Rabbit!

- Amy

Behind the Story: Out of the Box

Featured in my book “And The Light Comes In”

Most of my life I have struggled with fear. It can be debilitating. It can make you miss out on the beauty around you and paralyze you from trying new things. Fear is the enemy of creativity. I don't think I or anyone else can keep from feeling fearful at times, but I do think we can choose not to make fear our ruler. We can acknowledge our feelings but make our decisions based on truth, hope, love, and kindness. That's what this painting is about. It's about a choice. There is no box that will protect us from pain or sadness. And if we choose to let fear rule us we will lose our sense freedom and hope. Life outside of the box is better than life inside it.

- Amy

Source: http://www.storypaintings.net/blog

Thoughts On Worth, God, Vincent van Gogh, and Donald Trump

Lately I've been thinking about worth—maybe it's because of Donald Trump. I keep seeing pictures of him with that, "I'm an extraordinarily valuable person" look on his face. I've been considering how easy it is for people to think of themselves as products. It's not just because of Donald Trump that I've been considering these things. It's also because my husband and I have been working on a book together. A product. And I wonder—how will that go? Will it be a success? What if it's not?

Other people's opinions of me or my book are not my source. Success is not my source.

I've been reading a book called, The Artist's Way. In it, the author talks about the concept of "God as my source." The way I'd explain that concept is like this: The book I've written and illustrated is not my source. Other people's opinions of me or my book are not my source. Success is not my source. Instead, I'm recognizing God as my source—my source of creativity, hope, joy...everything I need. This idea has been helping me a lot. With God as my source, my fears fall away. Somehow this feels closely connected with the idea that results do not determine my worth. My worth is determined by God. I've found rest in that.

I bet Vincent van Gogh was a high/low guy—hence the "ear incident".

I'm an up and down person. I can either be up and down like rolling hills, or like a crazy roller coaster. Remembering that God is my source of worth, and everything else I need, takes the highest peaks and deepest valleys down to a level that's not destructive. I bet Vincent van Gogh was a high/low guy—hence the "ear incident". Seems like he was the stereotypical artist who feels everything. I'm one of those too.  But I bet that if the stereotypical artist knew his worth didn't go up and down with his emotions—his life might have gone better. Vincent might have kept his ear. 

People aren't products. They're beings, personalities, creations of extraordinary worth. If Donald really knew what made him valuable he'd act different. He'd treat women better. And, I think he'd wipe that look off his face.

- Amy

That Wretched Documentary

"In the Shadow of the Dark Fortress" shows the light winning.

"In the Shadow of the Dark Fortress" shows the light winning.

I have a tendency to either see life like a sunny sky that's always been sunny and always will be… or the exact opposite—like a dark sky that's always been dark and always will be. One day, a couple of years ago, I was beginning to feel that ominous sky creeping into my mind. It was lunch time and I thought to myself—hey, I think I'll watch a documentary while I eat lunch. That sounds nice. A few weeks before I'd heard someone say there was an interesting documentary about Sea World. Sure enough, I found it on Netflix and sat there munching a salad, ready to be entertained, and hoping to feel a little less gloomy afterwards. The documentary was very sad. Very, very sad. I didn't watch the whole thing, but I definitely watched enough. When I picked my kids up from school, they told me about their day and I remember thinking, That's really sad. Just like Sea World. And I continued to think those same words—That's really sad. Just like Sea World—about nearly everything I heard for the next three months. It's amazing how many things you can relate back to a sad documentary if you set your mind to it. After a while I started thinking—you know, the world is just one big Sea World, and all of it is really, really sad. I was super depressed. I might have continued that way forever, or at least for a good bit longer, if it weren't for a certain family of geese. 

I realized that I had taken a joyful event...and had managed to make it into a postponed sad event by tacking the words, "this time", on to the end of my sentence.

I was driving along, thinking sad thoughts that all went straight back to Sea World when I noticed this family of geese attempting to cross a busy road. I was certain they were all going to die, but to my surprise the car in front of me stopped in time for them to get across, and the car coming from the other direction did the same. The geese made it. Out loud I said, "Oh, thank the Lord! They made it! This time." Hearing myself say this out loud I realized that I had taken a joyful event—a bunch of geese not being squashed flat—and had managed to make it into a postponed sad event by tacking the words, "this time", on to the end of my sentence. The ridiculousness of this had a jolting effect. What had I been doing for the last three months? There had probably been good things here and there the whole time, but I'd colored them all with that wretched documentary. 

I've found that it's important for me to search for the light and hold onto it—even the memory of it—and to notice quickly when i'm sitting in the darkness and dwelling on the gloom.

I've found that it's important for me to search for the light and hold onto it—even the memory of it—and to notice quickly when i'm sitting in the darkness and dwelling on the gloom.

I decided to think back and try to see God's provisions—all the places He'd been shining through that I had not noticed before. I thought back, and there they were! The provisions had not necessarily been in the form I would have chosen, and so I had counted them as nothings at the time. I had looked straight past them. But now that I was intentionally looking for them, I could see so many. Little kindnesses. Little moments. Big kindnesses. Big moments. 

Creating art is a form of dwelling on an idea. It's an active dwelling.

There's this one verse that says, "Whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, if there is any excellence, anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things."  Creating art is a form of dwelling on an idea. It's an active dwelling. If I spent a long time painting a picture that had a hopeless message I would be negatively affected by it. I'd probably "go Sea World" after 45 minutes—maybe quicker. It doesn't take long for all the color to get sucked out of my view. That's why I only paint hopeful pictures. Some of my paintings have deep sadness mixed in. The ideas and stories for some came to my mind when I was praying about very difficult and dark situations,  but they are all centered on hope. I paint pictures of the light winning.  

I've found that it's important for me to search for the light and hold onto it—even the memory of it—and to notice quickly when i'm sitting in the darkness and dwelling on the gloom. The act of painting is one of the ways I hold on to the light.  Avoiding incredibly sad documentaries is another. 

- Amy

Math: How My Enemy Became My Friend, and How That Relates to Art

I always say I'm terrible at math. I've said it all my life. It's based on experience. I've got a friend who's really wise, and she says my definition of math is too narrow—that, in fact, I'm good at math, just not at my personal definition of math. That's a little hard to swallow, but when I really think about what she's saying, I see she's probably right. I'm good at proportions and logic, as long as there are no numbers involved. My definition of math usually involves a lot of numbers. I can tell you without any hesitation—without any misgiving whatsoever— that I stink at numbers-math. This showed up in elementary school with things like the calendar ("Amy, it's your turn to show us what day it is today on the calendar"), the clock ("Amy, what time is it?"), and later in all manner of math problems (please allow your imagination to run wild here).

 I already know I'm OCD. Now you know too.

Along with being terrible at numbers-math, I am also a very determined person. I like understanding things, and I hate not understanding things. If given the choice between doing math and not doing it I will definitely not do it. But if the choice is between doing math and understanding it, and doing math and not understanding it, I'm determined to understand it. I don't know why. So here's how that played out: In high school I worked so hard on math (my worst and most despised subject) that I had little time for anything else. I never studied for English/literature class, which was my favorite, because I spent all my time on math—my nemesis. There was little to show for it. I used to keep a record of how long i spent working on math, and I mean really focusing on it. If I daydreamed I would subtract minutes from my time. I subtracted snack time and bathroom breaks too. I already know I'm OCD. Now you know too. One time I studied 22 hours (or somewhere around there) for a math test. When I say studied, what i mean is tried to understand how to do these math problems. I made a 15 on the test. That's bad. I never told anyone how long I studied and no one ever knew how bad I was doing in the class, except the teacher. Thankfully she gave points for completing homework even if the answers were incorrect. People always asked each other before a test, "Hey, how long did you study for this?" And the answer was usually, "Just in study hall." People asked me, and I said, "A while." It was a true statement. Vague but true. 

Today, in my life, I do very little number-math. I use a digital clock and I'm not "the banker" in monopoly, and I'm late a lot, or early.

What in the heck does this sad, totally depressing story of number-math failure have to do with art? I think it has a lot to do with my art. Here's why. For years I considered all that time spent on my worst most despised subject a waste. After all, I could have been working on art, or taking a walk, or I could have tried out for a play (I never tried out for a play because I had too much math to do.) Yes, it was a waste in that sense. It really was. But, recently I was thinking about the perseverance that developed in me—the determination to finish something that seemed impossible, and maybe was impossible for me. I kept going even though I saw little to no progress. I trudged. I would not stop fighting until the fight was over (it was over in college when I barely passed pre-calculus—as in one point above an F). Today, in my life, I do very little number-math. I use a digital clock and I'm not "the banker" in monopoly, and I'm late a lot, or early. But I use perseverance. I use it a lot. Recently, I finished the cover illustration for my first book. It took a lot of perseverance. I had to start over after many hours of tedious work—I mean start all the way over from the beginning. 

I think there is a sparkly thread of hope and goodness running through our lives. I see it in mine. I see it in my weaknesses, my lowest points of life where I am despairing, and in my victories, and in my art. I definitely don't always see it at the time, but I often see it in retrospect—so often that I believe it's always there but sometimes is hidden from my sight for one reason or another. Sometimes I forget to look for it. But I think that the good, sparkly thread is there somewhere, even in the darkest places. 

- Amy

 

The Fruit Years

If you were to walk through my house you'd notice a lot of art. A lot of it is mine. You'd probably notice that there's a wide variety of styles and subject matter. These represent seasons— certain times in my life when I was focused on one kind of art or another. Only a few paintings are still lifes of fruit. These are significant. These signify The Fruit Years. They were unhappy years, artistically speaking. There are a bunch of great fruit paintings out there, by the way. I'm not down on fruit or other still life paintings. I've always really liked them. Some I love. But The Fruit Years weren't good for me.

Professor Shmoo used to stand behind me as I painted (I'd never ever painted before) and he would say, "I am not impressed," and, "This is dishonest artwork."

When I went to college, I believed i was an artist. I've always thought I was. Drawing was my comfort zone. It was my safe place. I was not insecure about my art—about myself, yes—about my art, no. Not until I met this one teacher. I'm going to call him Professor Shmoo, because he deserves it. Professor Shmoo was not nice. Professor Shmoo was not encouraging. Professor Shmoo used to stand behind me as I painted (I'd never ever painted before) and he would say, "I am not impressed," and, "This is dishonest artwork." He suggested I paint with my feet because he said I was not good at realism so I should focus on abstract (which unfortunately I have no eye for). Bad. Now, add to Professor Shmoo a second professor— Professor Shlimp, because he also deserves it. Professor Shlimp had a talk with me. It went like this: "Amy, there are a lot of people who love music. They LOVE music. But that doesn't make them musicians. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?" Now, before you get really mad at Shmoo and Shlimp keep in mind it was a long time ago and these were just people, and people make mistakes. People don't always do it right. Somebody might be blogging about me right now calling me Professor Shmurt or worse, because maybe i deserve it. I'm not mad at these guys anymore, and I think one of them wasn't a bad guy even back then. He just wasn't an encouraging teacher. At all.

Once I thought of a pear with some little fairy lights around it. That was the haze beginning to lift.

When I got out of these two classes, that occurred in the same year, in the same semester, my creativity was zapped. Normally I had so many ideas. It was a question of which picture to work on next. But after Shmoo and Shlimp, I would just sit there and stare off into space and try to think… of anything. Anything at all. And after a long time I thought of… apples. A pear. Some strawberries (that was a better day). Once I thought of a pear with some little fairy lights around it. That was the haze beginning to lift. The Fruit Years went on for about three years. Maybe five. Numbers aren't my thing. Shmoo and Shlimp were like creative-vortex wonder twins with the power to de-activate creative thought.

Be careful what you say. Be careful what you believe.

Words are powerful. If I hadn't believed them they wouldn't have been, but it's hard not to believe words like that. Be careful what you say. Be careful what you believe. Just think, FRUIT YEARS when someone says negative things to you. You don't want to only be able to think of apples and pears for the next five years, do you? No! Me neither.

- Amy

 

My Favorite Color

AG_Blog_Green_Swatch.jpg

Green is my favorite color. When I was a little girl green was not popular. The way I know this is that every year in ballet at the end of the year performance none of the little girls wanted the green costumes…except me.

I always wanted the green costume. I would raise my hand high—desperate for the green costume—fearing someone else might get it instead of me. In reality no one else wanted it, so there was nothing to fear. They all wanted pink. 

I still love green, and I think I can say that I love green more than most people love their favorite color. If it was a food I would eat it up. To me it is a heavenly color. However it can also, in certain hues, turn into one of the nastiest most disgusting colors imaginable. Few colors can achieve the ugliness of a bad green. Isn't that weird? I fight greens a lot in my paintings. Fight for them. Fight against them. The Green Unknown was a painting I did a few years ago that was quite a struggle. I could see that amazing, edible green in my mind. I could feel it in my soul (that may be a bit dramatic, but still…), but I couldn't seem to make my paints capture the green I wanted on the canvas. For a good while that painting was absolutely revolting to look at. I had to turn it away from me each day as I left my studio so that I wouldn't be hit with it's hideousness upon entering the studio the next morning. Ugly! But I love green so much, and I was sure that the green I craved could be accomplished. I kept painting and praying. Painting. Praying. Painting. Praying. And then, low and behold—there was green. Delicious green! Green from Heaven! Praise the Lord for good greens!

 Don't give up. Colors are hard—especially green. Amen.

- Amy

My Answer to the "What's Your Process?" Question

I write a lot of words to capture the meaning I'm fighting for.

From time to time someone asks me if i would be willing to do a painting demonstration in order to share my painting process with other artists. I always say NO  because my process would be so horribly dull to watch that no one would want to sit through it.

It's a real yawn to observe. The reason it would be boring to watch is that I spend more time thinking about my paintings than actually painting. So unless someone wants to watch me think quietly, then I'd better not do a demonstration. My paintings pretty much always start with prayer, usually while I'm taking a walk. I stare up at the tree tops and remember how small I am and how amazing it is that God thought me into existence. Then I just pray—not about art, but about whatever—neighbors, injustice in the world, children who are suffering somewhere, and beg God to help. Or sometimes I just thank Him for the trees and the sky. Then something comes to mind—sometimes it's a title or a story. I have something I want to say. A mood I want to capture…but i don't know how to do it. I never know how to do it. More prayer. Then I start to sketch and write words out to the side—words that capture the meaning I'm fighting for. Many of the words are recurring, because often my message is the same— Light shining in darkness! 

My new painting "Undone" captures a mood.

My favorite words to write are, Light, Darkness, Wonder (that's my all-time favorite word), Hope, Magical, Ridiculous, Mystery, Victory, Courage, Glow. I find that writing words like this helps me not to lose my way as I paint. It helps me remember the mood I'm going for. It's sort of like those songs you hear that make you think— this song should be in a movie. Like the song, "In Your Eyes," by Peter Gabriel. The second I hear it, it's like I'm a character in a movie riding in a car at night and something amazing is about to happen. That's because the music has a mood. It has a color. Deep blue, in my opinion. So, I'm wanting to capture that same kind of intense mood in my paintings. And let me just say, it's a real battle.

When I teach painting and collage to students I tell them it is a mental battle that you have to fight. I tell them that they have to constantly remind themselves of what they're trying to say and the mood they're trying to convey. They ALSO have to fight all those annoying, pesky little voices in their heads— the ones that say, "You are wasting your time," or "You just ruined it. It's ruined," or "This is a terrible painting." I'm telling you, those voices will come and you need to be ready.


Here's what I say as I paint, "This is a beautiful experiment! This painting is going to be amazing! This WILL WORK!"


The reason I say these things is because these words produce perseverance and they keep hope alive so that I don't stop looking for the good in my painting. The moment you stop looking for the good in your painting—that's the moment you will no longer be capable of finding or recognizing the good. Isn't that just like life?

There's a Bible verse, in Proverbs somewhere that says, "The sluggard says, there's a lion at the door! I'll be killed in the streets!" I may be the only person in the world to say, that's one of my favorite verses. Because I understand the sluggard. It is so natural for me, when faced with an overwhelming challenge (in art or in life), to say—"The problem is so big! I give up! It's all over…everything is ruined and there's no hope left!" I'm a negative nancy. I like to call it being realistic, but seriously I'm often plain old negative. So that's where I have to fight, in life and in art. I have to fight those negative thoughts. I have to say, "Okay, there's a lion at the door and… maybe there's a way around the lion. Or maybe, just maybe it's a tame lion? or a blind lion? maybe this will not end in my eminent demise?" I have to keep looking for the good—looking for God shining out of the darkness. And when I look for Him, I see him. 

- Amy