Yard Art

The same artsy techniques which are used for theological reflection in a journal can be used to create simple "yard art." I bought the 18"x18" ceramic floor tile from Home Depot in the closeout section and acrylic paint and custom "word stamps" to make a decorative tile for Way of the Cross in the church's meditation garden during Holy Week.
To begin, choose a scripture verse and print it in the largest size possible in the font of your choice. Position the printed pages face up on the tile with a piece of carbon/tracing paper face down underneath. Trace the letters so they transfer to the tile. Then write over the letters in a thin marking pen in the color that you will then paint over using a thin brush and acrylic paint. The marker pen simply makes it easier to see the lettering as the tracing paper is light.

Embellish with words from custom made "stamps" from wine corks or erasers. I chose words that reflect, for me, the significance of the scripture verse. To add emphasis on the significance of the cross I layered two "stamps" with RESURRECTION in purple on the bottom and then REDEEMED diagonally across in silver. The single stamping HOPE is the essence of the message. I stamped GRACE around the edges. The bottom photo shows how we used the "yard art" on Palm Sunday- it was placed at the foot of the cross in our "Way of the Cross" Meditation Garden and palm branches were laid there after the procession of palms.

Apostles' Creed

This journal page is part of an altered book which has sermons based on the Apostles' Creed. I left the creed exposed and painted the rest of the page with white gesso then layered yellow and gold acrylic glaze. The art is a cutout from a catalog that sells banners for churches, and I carved the stamped words out of wine corks and/or erasers. The words represent the main theme of each of the articles of the creed: God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Church, Grace, and Redeemed.

Doodle Edge Reflection

A simple doodle edge can become a theological reflection when combined with the "exposed word" altered book technique where the background/words are entirely painted over with white (or black) gesso and the exposed words left "exposed" as the centerpiece for reflection. I identified these words and left them "exposed" as a reflection shortly after completing my PhD dissertation in which I argued the significance of mission for the Church. The 280 page dissertation could be boiled down to one sentence: "If the Church isn't doing mission, the Church isn't being the Church." This simple journal page reflects the significance, for me, of the Cross with the necessity of mission for the Church and the Church for mission.
Identify the words you want to leave exposed and paint the rest with gesso then one or two layers of watercolor or acrylic glaze, being careful to leave the words and phrases exposed. Then draw a "doodle edge" with a colored pencil-press it on the edge of the page and make your doodle design around the exterior of the pages without lifting your pencil. You can go back and add a 2nd or 3rd color. I drew around the exposed words with a purple Prismacolor Brush Tip Marker to add emphasis. I might leave these pages alone or they might become the background for further reflection in the future.

Take Time for Teens

It is interesting how an afternoon hanging out at a picnic table "watching" teens at a local amusement park also can be an opportune time for theological reflection-reflecting on the questions: Why am I here? Where is God here? What is the purpose (if any) spending an afternoon with teenagers at an amusement park during spring break?
I brought my Bible, an art journal, and some basic art supplies and prepared to spend five hours hanging out at a picnic table watching teens run to and fro. With the view before me (photo at right), I reflected on the simple blessing of being with the teens. They had such fun with each other-teens in community; and other adults dropped by to eat lunch and visit. We also had the blessing of another adult swapping her vehicle with mine so that I had more seatbelts and could haul more teens. It was interesting to be able to experience peace, grace, and God's presence in the midst of the chaos of an amusement park during spring break.
I used the altered book technique of selecting key words or phrases along a theme-which here is servant leadership-which prompted the reflection questions mentioned above. Mark the words and phrases lightly with pencil and then use white gesso to cover the rest of the words. I used a Master's Touch #20 round mop brush to "sponge paint" two layers of acrylic glaze. Then I sketched in the scene before me using colored pencils. I wrote my reflections on top with Prismacolor Brush Tip Markers. The interactive process of reflection and art helped to affirm the value-and the blessing-of spending this day with the teens.

Altered Books as Journals

A super fun way to create a journal is to "repurpose" or "alter" an existing book. Choose a hard back book that has thick pages. My sister-in-law gave me a four one-volume encyclopedias: the year of my birth, the year I graduated from high school, the year I married her brother, and the year our son was bon. I'd had them tucked away in the back corner of the closet in the spare bedroom when I realized they would be wonderful recepticles for altered book journals. In the same closet I had 15-20 three-ring binder photo albums from childhood to the present. I began this (massive) project by going through all the photo albums and organizing them by the timeline categories that matched the one-volume encyclopedias. I also sorted through all the childhood memorabilia that I had stashed in another corner of the same closet. I integrated the photos with the scrapbook material.
The actual altered book process requires tearing out pages throughout the book to allow room for the extra art, photos, and memorbilia that you will add. The encyclopedias were a bit big for a first project and the pages were too thin. (I had to use an "ATG" tape gun to "glue" several pages together so they were strong enough to support the materials added to the pages.)
Sometimes I left words, phrases, and/or photos exposed from the text; other pages are entirely covered with scrapbook items and photos. I have completed the first round of this four-volume project--but it will be easy to keep revisiting the journals to add more artful reflection as time allows.

Funeral Reflection

Altered book page with selected words from original text left visible.
Mauve and sea foam green acrylic glaze sponge painted in layers.
After a super hectic week for preparation for two funerals back-to-back (attending the 1st and leading worship for the 2nd), I need to carve out time for theological reflection on the death of two persons very dear to me. I used an already prepared page in my art journal which had the words exposed "Forgiveness of Sins," God freely forgives sin for Jesus' sake," and "death is not the end." I brought my mini journal to the service where I was attending as part of the congregation. I made it a point to listen particularly attentively to the readings from the Old and New Testament, and jotten down key words and phrases as I listened. I also made rough sketches of some of the imagery that came to mind during the readings and also made simple drawings of symbols in the church sanctuary.
During my reflection the day following the 2nd funeral I re-read my quick journal jottings and chose phrases which most expressed my belief about God, faith in Jesus Christ, and the resurrection of the dead. I also chose the stained glass cross which is at the front of the sanctuary as one of two key symbols to incorporate in my art reflection. I also included a small labyrinth and then wrote phrases from the scripture readings as my prayer.
During the process of carving the theological word "resurrection" out of an eraser to use as an embellishment I thought about what I believe about life after death: resurrection. That brought to mind  "hope" and the affirmation that death is not the end. I wrote in crayon a phrase from one of the songs that had been sung at the funeral: "Lord we lift your name on high," and then I toned down the color by sponge painting with the same colors from underneath. I embellished the page with carved stamps from wine cords: "GRACE" and "HOLY." I stamped a row of candles cut from wine corks along the bottom of the page to signify Christ as the light of the world. The "ink" for the stamps" is acrylic paint. Squeeze a bit on a paper plate, spread it with a cotton swab to the widtch of the stamp, and use it like a conventional stamping pad. [TIP: Hold the used stamp under running water and use a toothbrush to gently remove paint between the letters.]
The cross is scribbles of crayon in the colors of the stained glass at the church, and I topped it with pearl acrylic glaze stippled on with a fluffy brush. I wanted to tone down the glare of the color and also give it a shine as the cross were illuminated.