from the heart
“From the Heart”
For as long as I can remember I have known myself to be an artist with a yearning to express my heart in original, meaningful, and intentional ways stretching far outside the lines of coloring books and boundaries of what was considered “following the norm.”
I think an artist who has felt the call as part of the fabric of her being all of her life knows in their deepest soul that they were made for something otherworldly but also for the restoration of this world... the tension of the now and the not yet.
I've thought about this mystery a good bit in the last few years... Wondering how what I do here on earth might be tied to what I will do in the New Earth one day... And whether creating beauty now somehow mysteriously ties to bringing Heaven to earth now: in the present?
And when my mind grows tired from dreaming I can rest in the beauty and delight of being simple and small—there's enough value in being faithful in the everyday to fill the heart with wonder.
I grew up "expressing myself" creatively from the time I was in diapers.
When I was a toddler, I used my mom's brightly colored lipstick to create dramatic abstract works on the walls. I made colorful construction link streamers that could cover miles of territory as a schoolgirl... Wrote secret messages and tucked them neatly into old coke bottles, which were then thrown off bridges into rivers and oceans all in the hope of communicating and connecting and being seen and known... there's something about the human heart that needs to be known and seen as beautiful and valued.
I created and painted my way through high school and college... sometimes hiding behind the messes I was making because the studio felt safer to me than the world outside. However, I longed for connection: to express my heart and to be part of something bigger.
I remember feeling internal torment when I graduated from college because I knew I had been created to be a painter but I had “caught” some fragmented theology somewhere down the line. This theology haunted and pulled me to believe that if I wanted to truly serve God, I would become a missionary. However, I longed to express my love for God in other ways—so I was torn.
Even as a young adult, I continued to see and respond to life with paint. I dabbled in ministry roles and loved others deeply, but painting was always there even when muffled.
I remember feeling ashamed for being drawn toward painting because it was not a “real” profession or valued calling. I didn't really know how to live without creative expression until I married and started a family...
I began painting again when our second child was a toddler. A dear friend approached me and asked me to paint something specific. She had seen a painting of a group of angel-like figures by another artist, but said she would love to have something similar from me instead.
I enjoyed the process so much that I bought a few more small canvases, set up shop at my kitchen table every afternoon during nap time, and painted more of these celestial figures.
I shared these new pieces at a holiday home show and sold out immediately.
I painted and sold through high end stores, art shows, designers, and word of mouth. I became an "angel factory" for years, churning out these figures in droves until I was tired of them; I cannot imagine how many thousands of paintings I sold during that time.
We are all in process... I am thankful for the influence and name I gained during this season.
During the height of "sales success," I visited Nashville for an art show with a trunk full of my usual plethora of angel paintings. This particular time an older, wiser friend met me to unload my car before the show. As we carried paintings into the host home by the armful she asked me a thoughtful question: “How many of these paintings are from your heart?”
I thought this an odd and somewhat irrelevant question, but stopped to give it some thought because of my love and respect for my friend. After a long pause, I replied that maybe three of the sixty-five pieces actually meant something to me.
My friend seemed to be thoughtfully pondering my response as we finished our work, but when we were finished, she left. I kept wondering why she had asked me that, and I still ponder the question to this day. During the Nashville visit this same friend happened to take me to a small gallery showing that God used in this same vein to cause me to stop and consider my life and my art. The installation was organized in such a way to allow the viewer to meander slowly and thoughtfully through the exhibit at her own pace. Each piece was accompanied by a small, written segment that happened to be a part of a conversation between the artist and his pastor.
The questions and topics they covered in the writings were deeply meaningful... many focusing on the suffering and the brokenness of this world and also the purpose of hope and the mystery of heaven.
I was deeply moved.
For the first time I began to consider for myself if I might have something more to say with and through my work. My imagination was stirred.
I also began to listen more to my body and realized I needed to paint larger because of my inability to see details and to control smaller brushes and utensils.
I found my yearning again to communicate and maybe for the first time realized the value and weight of my creative voice. I began to wonder if I had anything worth saying and what that might look like.
“If there is a constructive way forward for Christians in the midst of our broken but also beautiful cultures, it will require us to recover these two biblical postures of cultivation and creation. And that recovery will involve revisiting the biblical story itself, where we discover that God is more intimately and eternally concerned with culture than we have yet come to believe.”
― Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling
I soon realized I truly wanted to move strictly to galleries because it seemed I might have more opportunities to create meaningful experiences and space for viewers and clients who would be purposeful -or even unintentionally stumble into situations where they could be captivated and touched in some way by beauty.
I also realized that in order to love both myself and my family better, I needed to raise my prices to enable me to paint less and rest more. I needed to create more margin to listen to the Trinity and the world around me; and to know my own heart to then be able to create something of meaning.
Over the past decade, I cannot say I have sold as much or know where I am going in my art. The more I grow, the less confident I am in what I know. I have grown immensely in my dependence on God, others, and the belief that I create by faith and not by sight. I have come to realize how totally dependent I am on the Spirit to hover over me in both life and the creative process: to bring order and beauty out of chaos.
Sometimes I am totally stuck by a blank canvas and walk in circles in my studio for hours wondering what I am supposed to be doing. Many times I am painting over paintings again and again wondering where and what I am doing... wondering if what I am doing has meaning.
But then there are moments when the Spirit whispers and I know what to do—I sense it and follow what feels right—and find my way through the darkness. Part of the journey in moving toward creating more intentionally from my heart and from a place of authenticity has to do with the community I surround myself with. There are beautiful creatives from all disciplines speaking into my life and challenging me to take risks and for this I am forever grateful!
For many years after college, I was isolated as a creative. Having been immersed in small creative community and studio settings since I was a preteen, I had forgotten about the inspiration and energy that comes from being a part of a creative community.
Over time I began to see my need for collaboration and connection with other artists and creatives... today I am wildly compelled to pursue, gather, and nurture the creative community in my city for the common good. I believe if the artists in my city flourish- the Church and the City will experience revival and restoration.
My friend Steve Garber in his new book Visions of Vocation says; "There is much to be cynical about – and it is a good answer if there has not been an incarnation. But if that has happened, if the Word did become flesh, and if there are men and women who in and through their own vocations imitate the vocation of God, then sometimes and in some places the world becomes something more like the way it ought to be."
In saying I have transitioned out of being an “angel factory” and into the mystery of painting from my heart ...
I am not looking to paint a picture of pure ease and spiritual bliss...
But I am looking to live a more authentic and faithful life in the everyday place I live and among the people I know in the place where I am known.
I take seriously the role of creating beauty—as I believe beauty stirs hope in the human heart and reminds us humans of the kindness of God and the reality of His coming Kingdom.
Creating anything from your heart can be grueling. So much of the beauty that flows out of my heart has come maybe as an expression of the beauty I personally long for in response to the brokenness of life or as the desire to communicate—or to be seen or known.
Much of my inspiration these days flows from relationships or good stories or profound heart changes in my own life—I am also heavily influenced by music and community and all sorts of images that come to me in dreams or during church or during times of prayer or while reading scripture.
I believe Wendell Berry says it best: “There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”