Last summer at a gathering, a friend prayed with my husband and I because we were facing one of our most difficult challenges as life partners and parents.
And while his hands were on our shoulders and our eyes were shut and we issued our pleas for divine intervention, our friend received an image of trees, planted by streams of water. “You are the trees,” he said. The image included lots of elements tied up with them: A tire swing, a couple of wooden dories, a treehouse, a dock.
It’s hard being a support system.
Trees don’t have a say in what they’re used for. They can only depend on their firm, deep roots to hold them fast, and a constant supply of water to keep them fed.
I’m not a trained visual artist. I don’t think of myself as an artist at all, really—when I say that, I mean, if my creations end up looking good, it’s completely accidental. I approach painting with less trepidation than writing, perhaps because my motivation is not to make a professional career or develop a fan base, but merely to please myself. I just keep painting until I’m pleased.
Hmm…something to think about, there…
Anyway, the image of “trees planted by streams of water” stayed with me, and late last summer, I bought a huge canvas to paint a version of my friend’s image. I began with much vigour, but my enthusiasm dropped off as I realized my skill level didn’t match my ambition.
This makes sense to me as a writer. We grow by reaching past our capabilities. Arthur Miller said, “The best work anyone ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing them. Always.”
It seems painting water is also beyond my capabilities, especially when the photograph I was using was rather uninspiring — foamy brown water, and gray, green and brown earth set under a cloudy sky.
So the canvas languished in a corner of my spare room for months because I didn’t know what to do with it. But it beckoned to me every time I walked past the open door. I thought about giving it up, but the idea was still too precious. Moreover, I was between writing projects, and I couldn’t seem to move on to something new. I needed to finish this first.
In the New Year, I chanced upon a YouTube artist, who painted a spectacular country road in autumn (Chuck Black Art), and another artist (ColorByFeliks), who painted an autumn scene with a stream running through it. I figured I could adapt these works to my canvas. And voila! My vigour was renewed.
They make it look
Well, not so fast. Reflections in water are difficult, and realism even more so. Various iterations of my streams of water were disappointing. I figure there’s a bit of metaphor about our lives here. Something about building a perfect reflection in the Water of Life—how it takes time, discipline, patience—something like that. And who’s the artist? Is it God, or me? Maybe both of us are cooperating to create something beautiful.
After many, many, successive tries, I gave up on the realism. An exact mirror image is very detailed work. Oh, well. I like the Impressionists better, anyway. In the end, it’s not the original photo, and it’s not anything like the paintings in the videos, but it’s the best I can do today.
And I am held fast.
Be inspired to try something new, friends. No effort is ever wasted.