Why I Make Art

Long Road Home; 2013; 12" x 15"; mixed media: watercolor, pastel, charcoal, pencil.

Long Road Home; 2012; 12″ x 15″; mixed media: watercolor, pastel, charcoal, pencil.

I am wired to connect with people. Although I measure about as strong on the introvert scale as possible, I am an introvert who loves people. I need to connect with others in order to thrive. For many years of my life, I felt torn between these two seemingly contradictory compulsions.

I crave hours of solitude to think and create. If I don’t make something each and every day, even if it is a simple photograph, my soul wilts. I am hard-wired to shape and form and alter the world around me. I intrinsically look beyond what is there to see what could be. My most important revelations arrive in the midst of solitary physical activity – biking, hiking, running. An image suddenly clears in my head, a phrase lands neatly in the net of my conscious mind.

But if the outcome of these hours of isolation does not impact another human being, I lose motivation. For years, people tried to encourage me through this mental block. They assured me that even if artwork is simply a prayer to God and stacked in my basement, unseen, the process in and of itself is worthy; I interact with God, and my soul is strengthened. Therefore, I am better equipped to serve the world. I do absolutely agree with this logic, and I tried for many years to feel satisfied with it. But for some reason, God created me with this drive to connect. Honestly, it was never enough for me; the stacks taunted me.

For many years, making art was like taking a long hike to an alpine meadow. When I grabbed the time and space to make the trek, my soul danced with the vibrancy of wildflowers. I left, craving the next opportunity to slip away to that secret place. Finally, life circumstances conspired to force me to go there and stay for awhile. To heal, to restore balance, to dream, to wait for the next marching orders.

I left a job I dearly loved and believed in a year ago without any clear direction about what would be next. Just that I knew I needed the extra space and inner resources to parent as well as I possibly can, and to pick up my art supplies as often as possible. My dear friend, who continually reiterates the same words since we met as teenagers, “You are an artist,” kept urging me, “The soul knows what it needs.” Her voice gave me courage to listen. Early this year, as I tentatively glanced around this expansive meadow and realized I was free to linger, I felt exhilarated and terrified.

I picked up some charcoal and started drawing. It used to be that I withdrew my art supplies from a cabinet to create, then packed them away. Now piles of pastels and watercolor sprawl across my desk permanently, even though they sometimes get knocked over by kids searching for clean socks in my studio/laundry room. Hardly a day goes by that I am not in process with a piece.

The results?

I miss the mission and direct connection with global concerns of my old job, issues that still stir my passion as much as ever. I miss interacting with people from other cultures. Our family is financially poorer in a season where we perennially re-stock our refrigerator (with 3 teenage boys who regard it as a revolving door from early to late) and as we contemplate paying for college for four children in the ever-nearer-future on just one salary.

But, my soul is once again sensing the under-pinning of reality, once again listening to words of truth that can only be heard in the quiet still place. I am blessed to be married to a man who affirms that this soul space is worth more than piles of gold. In 1914, Mondrian said this, “The interior of things shows through the surface, thus as we look at the surface, this inner image is formed in our souls. It is this inner image that should be represented.” Through making art, I find my way through the surface maze and into the inner images of feelings, motives, and energy. I see that beneath it all and connecting it all together is a God so good, so much more than we can even dream possible. Particularly in the darkest places. This deeper reality is the wildflower meadow where I thrive. It’s the place to which I long to invite those who view my art, a place where we can dialogue.

As I started creating in earnest early this year, I simultaneously sensed that blogging should be core to my activities. Blogging provides structure, goals, and interaction for me. Twice a week, I surface from the subterranean world of ideas and emotions. I finish a piece, photograph it, and toss it out like seeds into the world. If somehow, by the grace of God, my work touches someone’s heart, opens them to another way of seeing, my zeal is renewed. I retreat to my isolated laundry room studio with that person held in my heart. It is for him or her that I once again apply charcoal to paper. The internet has created a life-giving bridge for my seemingly contradictory urges. You may not realize, when you view my posts from countries like Pakistan, or Montenegro, or Oman, how much it means to me. But seeing your country pop up in my stats keeps me motivated. It is an invigorating digital statistic of connection to a world community.

ORIGINAL: Offering; 2013; 14.5" x 22.5"; mixed media collage: watercolor, graphite, charcoal, pastel. DIGITAL PRINT: 7.5" x 11" (featured in "Print Shop" for $15)

ORIGINAL: Offering; 2013; 14.5″ x 22.5″; mixed media collage: watercolor, graphite, charcoal, pastel. DIGITAL PRINT: 8″ x 10″

This year has also been a journey of thinking about making vs. marketing art. My goals this year did not include making money. But as I’ve stepped through doors that unexpectedly opened, the questions loom a little larger. A friend of a friend saw a piece of artwork, Longing to Be Free, hanging in my friend’s Missouri home, and asked if I sell prints of my work. I researched, talked to other artists, and figured out how to create a fine art giclee print for her through Reeds Art & Imaging of Denver. Other people asked about prints of other works, and so I now have created limited editions of Carried, Summoned, Longing to Be Free, and Free Indeed. More recently, a friend asked about featuring artwork on cards. I collaborated with Young Life printing services to create two card versions. I want my art to be accessible to people. So I experimented with Young Life to create inexpensive copies of Offering. My friend, and co-founder of Pamba Toto, features these products on the Pamba Toto website. It thrills me to link my art to a cause I care about deeply. I’ve also posted them on my Print Shop page and created an Etsy store. In addition to a few other sales of originals this year, I was absolutely surprised and honored that Carried won Best of Show at the Colorado Springs Art Guild Spring exhibition, with a cash award, and was subsequently purchased by Woodmen Valley Chapel.

Am I hoping to make a living off my art? I’m honestly not sure yet. Right now my income vs. expense tracking sheet balances even. I keep listening for my next marching orders; and, so far, all I hear is “savor today.”

I resonate with a quote by Condoleeza Rice in the Spring 1994 Notre Dame Magazine, which I copied into my sketch book years ago, “I have no idea what I was sent to accomplish. I have to hope that I’m sort of getting there. I believe that following your instincts is a very good way to connect with some plan God has for your life. If you go through life trying to make it add up to something, then you miss an awful lot of exciting moments.”

As a first-born, reformed perfectionist and Type A achiever, I’m on the uncharted course of “no idea where I am going.” As I am fond of saying lately to my future-obsessed ten-year-old daughter, “each day has enough trouble of its own.” It’s a long road home, but through creating art, I’m taking one step at a time. I’m learning to slow down, trying to be present to this moment, learning to be. I’m seeing the vast field of images that only the soul can see. I’m connecting with people around the world.

I feel alive.

So, that’s why I make art.

6 thoughts on “Why I Make Art

  1. Wow! I can totally relate to this post. I love my time with God, I love my own company and I love people. I also took time off from work to pursue a course and now more creative endeavours but then recently started working part time for finance sake. It is not an easy decision to make because my soul aches for more time. It is hard to know which example to set for children. Follow your spirit or work hard to pay the bills….

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    • It is such a difficult balance in life, and there are probably seasons for both. I’m not sure how long this season in my life will last, so I know I need to savor it while I can. I admire you for working so diligently and devotedly on your writing as you carry so much else in life!

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  2. Thanks for your post — it resonates with me! I also wilt when I don’t create — thanks for giving me that word, “wilt”, to describe how my soul feels when I’m in my head and heart too much, and not letting all that I experience come out of my hands.

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  3. I don’t know why I hadn’t read this before, but I felt like I could have been speaking almost the exact same words out of my mouth! I know we kind of figured this out through our walk and chat last week, but I continue to be amazed at how much our outlooks and challenges are so similar. You are a few steps ahead of me in figuring out this journey of art/missions/introversion/purpose and I’m just so blessed to read and hear about what God is showing you! Seeing your discovery of light throughout the process encourages me in my journey and inspires me not to settle in a place of complacency but to earnestly search for that place where personality, desires and gifts converge into calling. Thank you, dear friend!

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