Friday, 23 June 2017

Faith & Creativity: Mary Brack

Today's guest is Mary Brack.

Mary is a wife and a mother to adult daughters and works in church outreach ministry. Creative pursuits of art journaling, blogging, photography, and hunting vintage items keep her sane. 

“In the beginning God created….the earth was formless and empty…” Genesis 1:1-2
God took nothing and created something.

”God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27

We were created by a creative God who made us in His image to be creative also. When we create, we reflect the image of God, the Creator.

Through creative self-expression we become more of who we are and who God created us to be.

Erwin McManus, in his book The Artisan Soul, says,
"He who is the Creator God is the creative God, and he created us in his image and likeness. He created us with imagination and curiosity, with the capacity to hope and dream, and he placed within us all the material necessary to live an extraordinarily creative life. The proof is that more than anything else we are a soul, and that soul is the divine material with which we are made to create. The difference between humans and every other species on this planet is that humans are artists. This is our uniqueness - we were created to create."

For me, my creativity and my faith are very closely intertwined. In fact, in times of dryness, when I am experiencing a creative block, I generally find in looking back that I was experiencing a time of dryness spiritually also. Once my spirit is refreshed, I find that my creativity is refreshed as well.

Much of the time when I create, my ideas for art journal pages come from my time spent in God’s Word and in prayer. I may make a page that has a Bible verse on it, or a page that has a quote, or just a word or two. Those quotes and words may be spiritual or not, but they have all come about as a result of my time connecting with The Creator in prayer and in the Bible – it is all created from my soul.

Over the years that I have been art journaling and making mixed media art, certain symbols appear often in my art. They are not overtly religious or spiritual symbols yet they hold spiritual significance for me. Circles, for example, remind me that God is whole and eternal and I find my wholeness in living out who He created me to be. I have a love for birds and enjoy watching them. They appear often in my art simply because I enjoy them. But they also hold a place of significance for me. We went through many tough years and those times brought us to a deeper faith and a deeper place of trusting God for provision and care. Reading Matthew 6:25-34 during those hard times would help me keep my focus on God and remind me of His care for us and that in caring He would provide what we needed. So a bird became a symbol to me of God’s care and love and a reminder that I can trust and depend on Him.

Nature is another thing that appears often in my art journaling and in my photography. Time spent in nature, walking and taking photos, is a very sacred time for me. I see all that God has created, the beauty that it holds, and it is a time of worship and praise. Nature reminds us that we are finite beings who serve an infinite, mighty and merciful God.

So, whether you look at my art pages and see a verse of Scripture or simply a quote, those pages reflect who I am in Christ. They reflect my journey and my heart. Many symbols on my art pages, while not speaking directly to the observer, reflect the ways God has transformed me and the ways He has made Himself known in my life.

Thanks Mary.
Find Mary's faith explorations of life and art at Found on Brighton.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Faith & Creativity: Valerie Sjodin

The second guest post in the series on Faith & Creativity comes from Valerie Sjodin, a longstanding guest contributor to my blog and the art challenges.

I am an artist, workshop facilitator, and certified spiritual director. My passion is encouraging people to connect with God through creativity. Teaching Art Journaling and Art & Faith workshops in person and online are ways I live out that passion and connect with other like-hearted people. My hope is to inspire people to believe in their creative ability, and to connect with God through the creative process. Taking time to listen and respond to God through art making is a natural part of my life and faith journey, a combination of being and doing, a collaboration and conversation with God. I am blessed to be living an artful life in Hillsboro Oregon, in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with my husband Keith. We have three grown married children and four grandchildren.

When Bernice asked me to write a guest post about how my faith and creativity interact, and then quoted one of my favorite books, Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle, I knew it was a good fit. To be honest, I can’t separate my faith and creativity. I believe every person is creative because we are all created in God’s image, the Great Creator. For me personally, painting and praying often go hand in hand. When I paint, I find myself praying, listening, yearning for more of God in my life. The subject I paint or draw may or may not be overtly “Christian.” I don’t really like the term “Christian” artist, musician, writer etc. I believe if a person’s heart is intent on following Jesus, and creating from the heart, then what the person makes will reflect Jesus, no matter what the subject matter. Basically, what’s in comes out and because God’s creativity is unlimited, the Holy Spirit can speak through so many things in addition to the Bible, such as nature, beauty, the golden mean, color, people, story, etc. I love how Jesus used stories to explain truth, expose the heart of the hearer, with an invitation to encounter God. He approached individual people differently, often defying the cultural norms.

The limitless creativity of God inspires me to trust Him more, to risk creating outside my box, and to learn new things, therefore improving my skill. Sometimes I know what I am creating and have a plan. Other times, I just start painting or doodling. Knowing God loves me helps me to give myself permission to make mistakes instead of judging my falling short as failure. God speaks to me through the process regardless of the product.

If I had to reduce my faith and creativity down to one word, it would be GRACE: experiencing God’s unearned goodness. Grace is the God given ability to grow and flow with the Holy Spirit and do the impossible, to overcome and accomplish the purposes of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. I want more of that!

Faith, like art-making, often requires stepping out without knowing exactly what the outcome will be. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

This painting hung around my studio for months, and I would work on it now and then. I needed to paint something without a deadline or expectations. I started it as a prayer of longing to hear God and follow. I painted by faith, not knowing what it would look like. I started with color and without a plan. It wasn’t until it was finished that I knew what it meant to me: “The Beginning” when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters creating.

Most of the things I’ve learned about art making require experimenting, risking what I perceive as failure. No matter what the outcome, I move on as a more educated and experienced artist. In faith and in art, sometimes I just trust God as we walk through the process. In this season of life, I am challenged to hold on to God closer and harder than ever while trying to let go of my expectations and outcomes.

I cannot imagine my life without my faith in Christ and I cannot imagine my life without art-making. It seems like I’ve only scratched the surface of faith-filled creative expression. So exciting!

Cheers to you and your grand creative faith-filled adventure!

Thank you Valerie .
Find out more about Valerie's art and online line classes on her website.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Faith & Creativity: Susan Mulder

Welcome to the first in a new series on Faith and Creativity. Let me introduce you to Susan Mulder who I met on a retreat in Fremont, Ohio earlier this year.

An award winning, classically trained artist, Susan works in multiple media including oils, sculpture, installation and encaustics. After receiving her MFA in painting from Kendall College of Art and Design, Susan has served as an executive director for an arts organization, taught at the collegiate level, designed and led workshops for regional arts organizations, colleges and conferences and has spoken at national conferences on arts related topics including arts and entrepreneurship and religion/spirituality in art. She currently resides in Western Michigan with her husband and enjoys spending time with her growing family, reading, writing and creating.
Anomoly, 2017, 60"h x 40"w, oil & mixed media on linen

Susan Mulder: Christian Art
If you ever want to have an awkward conversation with an artist, bring up “Christian Art”. I don’t think I have ever had one that wasn’t filled with strong opinions on either side-there seems to be no middle ground. This may have to do with the fact that it is incredibly difficult to nail down what the term “Christian Art” means. Some believe it is religious art, some see it as spiritual art; but one thing we can all agree on is that it is difficult to agree.

I’ll begin by defining the terms religious and spiritual, as I will use them, because I believe there is a distinct difference in their application in regards to the nature of art. Religious represents a more didactic turn in which the work exhibits characteristics of ‘telling’. It is obvious in it presentation and leaves little room for interpretation on the viewers part. A good example would be images of the crucifixion, biblical stories and almost any image that contains a visage of Christ. Spiritual, on the other hand, is more enigmatic. The content is less direct and may be parabolic in nature, distinctly indiscernible as specifically spiritual in nature and can serve as an extension of the artists spiritual inclinations.

How this applies in my own work has been a journey. Long before I had any formal training I had an idealistic viewpoint when it came to the role of religion/spirituality in art. As an artist and a Christian I believed that I was called to be deliberate in my choice of subject matter and have a moral punch line for each piece. I worked with my church to bring about a better understanding for the role an artist could play-besides merely watering plants-in both the worship space and the worship experience. While this fed my creative nature it left me feeling constrained and, at times, not much more than a propagandist for leadership. In my attempts to create ‘good Christian art’ I was operating under the misnomer of what, I thought at the time, Christian art should be.

When I returned to complete my degrees I walked away from any idea of creating work with religious or spiritual implications. I was heavily vested in conceptual interpretations and often imbued my work with densely layered philosophical underpinnings-which I loved. I still love deeply hidden meanings in my work but the difference now is that the meaning really only applies to what happens in the creation process-which I’ll touch on in a moment. I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in painting and also work with installation, sculpture and dabbled in performance work. While working on my undergraduate degree I undertook a course of study that led me down the path of researching religion and spirituality that carried through into my graduate work. I was fortunate to have a professor who supported me (she was an art history prof.) and allowed me to spend a concentrated course of independent study that included seminary courses at an outside institution and the production of a lengthy thesis on the role of religion and spirituality within the context of contemporary art.
Pour Some Sugar on Me, 2011, 72" x 72", oil, mixed media on canvas

Following the completion of my MFA my art has undergone several permutations and, at one point, the complete suspension of any work at all. I walked away from creating for a period of about three years because I could find no reason to continue to paint. It wasn’t an existential crisis of any sort it was in response to a fresh calling to let go of everything. My personal life, my work and my spiritual life were in a season of deep transitions and when I finally went back to my work I found that the old ways of creating were of no use to me. Concept felt empty and I was forced to reevaluate what it meant for me to create.

The work I now began felt directionless but more necessary than what I had previously done. I discovered that when I was in my studio I entered into a space where I was finding a deeper expression than I had previously known. It was as if all of the training I had undergone had peeled off and I was painting from a place that lacked a definitive explanation. I couldn’t tell you the why of it, I only knew it was what I was supposed to do. That doesn’t mean I erased what I had learned-I still have a conceptual foundation based on ideas that have clung to my work all along-I just didn’t rely on knowledge but more on spirit. My work became more intuitive, abstract and, ultimately, satisfying.

It also became more spiritual. Not in the physical manifestation itself but in its creation. In my studio I encountered a kind of communication with God than I could not find anywhere else. As I worked, I found I would ease into a sense of suspended time-a kairos. I poured out my frustrations, my prayers and soul longings without the use of words. Would I call the work I am doing now ‘good’ within the context of the contemporary arts culture? Probably not. This said, the work I do now is infinitely more valuable to me as a person-it possesses meaning and purpose in a way my previous work did not.

My understanding and appreciation of the role of religion and spirituality has evolved. I use to argue the intrinsic necessity in application of both within the context of the contemporary art world. Through the experience of how my own development as an artist has transpired, I have come to value one over the other. The larger argument of religion and spirituality in art has roots that date back all the way to the reformation but I will speak only from where I stand at this point. My work itself is neither Christian nor non-Christian. It is certainly not religious but could be categorized as more spiritual - but, being abstract it can be argued that it is neither. It possesses qualities that only express themselves through individual interpretations. No one comes to a work of art without bringing their own experiential narratives to the interpretation process and, therefore, the work will be defined not by whatever intent I put into it but rather what they bring to it themselves.
Bookend, 2017, 24" x 24", oil & mixed media on carft fabric

Thank you very much Susan for your contribution to our discussion on Faith and Creativity.  Thank you for telling us about your experiences and your thought processes in creating your art.

Next time: A guest post from Valerie Sjodin

Friday, 2 June 2017

Faith & Creativity

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to whether Christian art of any kind is Christian because it is obviously about God or Jesus as in Renaissance paintings or Handel’s Messiah or whether any creative act is Christian because the person creating the work is a Christian even if God & Jesus are not mentioned.

Madeleine L’Engle says in ‘Walking on Water’ ‘Not long ago a college senior asked if she could talk to me about being a Christian writer. ... I told her that if she is truly and deeply a Christian, what she writes is going to be Christian, whether she mentions Jesus or not. And if she is not, in the most profound sense, Christian, then what she writes is not going to be Christian, no matter how many times she invokes the name of the Lord.’

I decided to ask various artist friends to investigate this proposition themselves and for the invited authors to give their testimony of how God commissioned them to use their creative gift and how they have grown into their gifting and calling.

Four responded and so through June there will be weekly guest posts featuring Susan Mulder, Valerie Sjodin, Mary Brack and Debby Hudson. They will share their thoughts and their work.

I hope you will enjoy the series.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Traverse update

I spent this weekend with the Traverse ladies.  We all did lots of work despite the heat!

I took this piece

and coated it with flour paste again.  When the flour paste was dry I crackled it and then painted it with brown paint.

When I washed it off it looked like this.  This looks better when you see it than in the photo!
I also played with my thermofax screens on paper and on calico.

Sorry you can't see the paper ones very well.

I tore these up into squares and rectangles and with a few pieces of other fabric put them together with wall paper paste!

I also played with some die cut canvas which I put onto calico with bondaweb

  and covered with a layer of scrim.

Jan taught me how to use my sewing machine with encouragement from Cath.  Still needs more practice!

The great thing about working with a group is that we all spark off each other so as if it weren't bad enough that I had so many ideas last week, I have come home with loads more.  Watch this space!

Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, 26 May 2017

So many ideas

I have so many ideas going around in my head for textile and mixed media pieces.  And as ever I am over-thinking them rather than actually doing anything with the ideas.

I started on this piece of cloth when I was at Studio 11 for the mentoring days with Christine.

I had some Thermofax screens made of some drawings and marks I made of chains.  I used fabric paint through the screens.

The print on the bottom right of the fabric didn't work very well.  It was supposed to look like a pile of chains.

I decided to tear off the offending section!

With a small brush I wet the inks that are on the fabric and lightly moved them to fill in the whitish gaps in the calico.

Then using black and then brown ink I wrote on the fabric.  Firstly 'break the chains that bind' in black and then 'He has broken the chains' in brown.

I worked on it the way it is above because the lines looked like prison bars and the chains are dropping down on the right.   It looks like this the other way up.

And now I'm stuck.  The choices are to stitch side to side on the upward lines of blue/black, stitch around the chain links or stitch the writing. Or any combination of the 3 or all of them.

I also have in mind to make felt chain as a separate piece but now I'm wondering about making the felt chain links so they drop from the broken links on the right onto the floor where there are bits of chain.

Choices! Choices!

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Take a line for a walk

As a primary school teacher I frequently asked the children to 'take a line for a walk'.  This usually involved scribbling all over a page with a pencil and then colouring in the spaces.  Currently I am examining 'taking a line for a walk' in a sketchbook using India ink, brown acrylic ink and Koh-I-Nor Dye based Watercolours.

I don't know whether any of this will lead anywhere in terms of a finished piece but that doesn't matter.  I'm enjoying playing with line.

Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, 19 May 2017


Last week I went to Stroud to visit the DIS/rupt textile exhibition and to do two workshops that were each run by a textile artist who had work in the exhibition.

The exhibition was spread over two sites - the Museum in the Park and the Lansdown Hall.  This meant that there was ample space around each exhibit and made for great viewing.  The exhibits were made from various media and were very thought provoking.   The work for the exhibition was provided by members of the Textile Study Group and details of the exhibition can be found here: DIS/rupt.

I drove down on Wednesday and spent the afternoon looking at the exhibitions and walking around Stroud.  There were other exhibitions to see around the town as part of the Select Festival.  There were some pictures of birds by Jilly Cobbe in a rather lovely cafe called Meme in George Street, where I had a chocolate explosion of Hot Chocolate and a chocolate brownie.  Yum!

The first workshop on Thursday was run by Ruth Issett called Disrupting Repetitive Pattern.  This was really well prepared and we achieved an amazing amount in the 2.5 hours we had available.

We did quite simple monoprinting with a limited palette of colours.  I chose turquoise and lemon and later turquoise and yellow.  At various points Ruth asked us to use black or white as a third colour.  We started on calico.  I ended up with this but I think I was a bit heavyhanded with the black.

We moved on to Cotton Organdie which I loved using.  You can disrupt everything you are doing because it folds so easily and holds the shape.

This is the start of the second piece of organdie.

I disrupted this by screwing up the organdie as tightly as I could, flattening it out and then printing on top of it.

Ruth gave us some black organdie

And then she gave us two pieces of her own dyed fabrics with a square of freezer paper on it.  I printed over the top and then removed the square.

I may have been a bit heavyhanded again with the white.

There was a short break between workshops where I went out for another look at the Lansdown exhibition and had a hot chocolate with a friend.  You can read about her view of the workshops on her blog.

The afternoon workshop, Text in Textiles was run by Julia Triston. This was another excellent workshop.  I didn't take photos whilst I was working!  We had to choose a word or phrase  and find ways to disrupt the word.  I chose 'exiles'.  My initial thought was to put the letters in pairs and have 'ex' larger than 'il' which in turn was larger than 'es'.  Julia suggested I might put blocks of colour and put the letters on top and disrupt the line of rectangles with some of the letters.  I built up a background of calico pieces and sewed them together with running stitch to infer pathways.  I used bondaweb to attach the blocks of colour and the letters.  I still have to finish stitching the 'e' at the top right (which currently looks like a 'c'.)

On Friday I did a little tour of Gloucestershire to view other of the Select exhibitions on the way home.  I went to Painswick to visit a felt exhibition at ACP.  The clothes were beautiful.

Then I called at the Malthouse Kitchen & Bar where there were enormous drawings of children dressed as superheroes called 'Future Giants'.

And then on to The Nursery at Miserden to view the sculptures.

If you're ever down that way Miserden is well worth a visit.  It's tucked away in the Cotswolds.  It's one of those villages where the 'big house' owns the village.

My final visit on the way home was to New Brewery Arts which had a few items for the Select Festival but mostly I went to see Emily who has a studio there where she make beautiful books.

I had a lovely time and my head is full of ideas from both the DISrupt exhibition and the two workshops.

And since the workshop I have continued to stitch and the piece now looks like this.

Thanks for stopping by.