Crop it UP

Scenic overviews are lovely, but point and shoot full frame images generally do not offer the same impact as cropping up on the same general scene. The overview shows the quantity of wildflowers in my backyard, but the extreme close-up shows the texture, design and colors of the wildflower. Both pictures were taken with what I call my "snappie"- Canon PowerShot Elph 300HS. It's always in my back pocket or purse.

Bright Overcast Equals Soft Light

The ideal light for photographing-called "sweet light" by professional photographers-is considered to be shortly before and after sunrise and sunset. Sunrise renders the "color" of light more blue, and sunset creates warmer tones. Bright overcast light during mid-morning or mid-afternoon is another ideal light that turns the sky into a great big "soft box" so subtle details easily shows up on white and pale yellow flowers. Bright overcast light also makes bright colors, like the fuscia geranium, "pop" with vibrancy.  Grab your camera when the light is right, and file the photographs away under appropriate sub-titles for reference photos to be used in future artsy theology. No fancy camera gear required; use the camera on your cell phone and/or the snappie that fits in your back pocket.

Kick-start with Exposed Words

Leaving a single word exposed on a page can become a catalyst for a later journal/art reflection. Begin by covering the page with white or black gesso, carefully leaving the selected words exposed for future (reflection) reference. You can continue to the background prep with fabric spray paints, acrylic glazes, and/or your favorite art materials. OR you can leave the exposed words bare...for another time.


Fabric Spray Paint

Use fabric spray paint to create a splatter background. Here, three colors have been sprayed over two lace doilies as "stencils." Gently blot excess paint with a paper towel which also will enhance the textured effect of the paint.

Uniquely You

After a "rough day at the office" I needed to reflect on my strengths and gifts.

 This mixed media reflection in an altered book combines photographs, graffiti words that describe the unique you, flowers cut from pretty paper, marker pens for embellishment, and acrylic paint. It would be a good project for VBS or for a 12-step recovery group.
I began with an already prepared  background of white gesso and layers of mustard yellow and blue acrylic glaze. I used a hard edge to scrape the top layer for a rough look.
 Use artist medium to glue down photos. Blend the photos into the background with layers gesso then the same colors used to make the background. I used pearl acrylic glaze with a rubber paint applicator to create a sense of depth. The diagonal stroke (below) is meant to give the sense of motion.

Allow to dry and then use a thin brush with acrylic paint or a wide marker pen to write bold words that describe what is uniquely you.
 I wanted to tone down the boldness of the words and also bring in my love for flowers so I cut a variety of flower shapes from pretty papers and glued them over and around the words to create a layered collage.

To prevent the photos from getting lost in the busy-ness of the collage, use wide marker pens to make doodle flowers around the photographs. You can continue to embellish with doodle art as you desire.

Earth Day

 Earth Day is the theme of this reflection on what it means to be caregivers over all the earth (Gen 1:28). I painted the background with various shades of blue and green acrylic glaze with a #12 round brush. To give the background a feeling of the cosmos I used circular motions and left the lower left corner as the center of the swirl. I alternated between blue and green permanent markers to write key like repurpose, recycle, natural, and homemade. Then I used a silver pencil to add specific suggestions to apply the themes, such as reduce food waste, use more available light, and consume less commercial goods. I used yellow to write specific people where I might have influence through teaching, such as teach children what it means to repurpose and teach teens what it means to unplug from electronic gadgets.

Never a Dull Moment

 I like to begin artsy theology in an altered book by using the exposed words of a phrase, sentence, or series of words from the text (below) which becomes the catalyst for the art and reflection. "Following Jesus never entailed being promised a rose garden" could easily foster negative discourse, so I took these words as a challenge to express the phrase in a positive way.
 To begin, I identified the words to leave exposed and covered the rest of the page with layers of white gesso, mustard yellow acrylic glaze and purple acrylic paint thinned with artist medium (allow to dry between layers or force dry with a hairdryer). I used a dry brush to "scrape" the acrylic across the gesso. The first thought is that in the faith journey there is "never a dull MOMENT" and this expresses itself particularly in faith community by agreeing to disagree on all but JESUS. I used two sizes of lettering stencils and a purple Prismacolor brush tip marker. Next I added key issues that continue to challenge my congregation to "agree to disagree" in all but Jesus and wrote those wit the same brush marker. The counterpoint are three theological themes which are integral to the congregation's ongoing conversation: GRACE, GRATITUDE, and MISSIO DEI (mission of God). I used a stencil to make the three overlapping circles (Trinity) with Jesus again being the common denominator (center).


The abstract circles are a combination of two "mental images"--one of an abstract piece of art that was created entirely with small overlapping circles in a variety of colors and the second a group photograph from our recent all church retreat where we had a joyous weekend of community building, fellowship, and worship. The overlapping circles represent the people whose lives we have touched/are touching with the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These circles/people cover up the issues that we have agreed to disagree on so that we may come together and worship Jesus. Hence, the cross in the center of the gathering of "people" keeps our focus on Jesus. Meanwhile, there is never a dull MOMENT! Thanks be to GOD.

The Harvest Is Plentiful

I covered two pages with layers of white gesso and acrylic glaze and left the scripture verse exposed. I chose three theological symbols to illustrate the verse: the flowers represent the beauty of the harvest that is plentiful; the single cross symbolizes the centrality of the cross to our response of faith; and the butterfly symbolizes being a new creation in Christ Jesus which, of course, is the catalyst to become laborers  to help with the harvest.
Fabric stamps are a great way to illustrate theological symbols. These stamps are larger than traditional stamps for scrap booking; they can be used in bold colors to stand alone or in lighter shades to create a background layer. I bought these at Hobby Lobby and I used regular ink pads in three light colors for the flowers; the multi-colored pad for the butterfly, and silver for the cross.

Additional layers include the theme of "new creation" in stamped lettering (also fabric stamps) plus hand lettering with pilot markers to emphasize the exposed verse. I added the light turquoise flowers last to complement the "ask for more laborers" lettering. While I was working on the artsy theology I was reflecting on the particulars ways I participate in the harvest and also how I might (creatively) ask for more laborers.
I made one last pass with the small flower stamp and added purple to accent the lettering on "The harvest is plentiful." The wonderful thing about artsy theology journal pages is you can keep adding bits here and there. (Worst case if you feel like you "ruin it" then you can cover the whole thing over with white or black gesso and call it a "DO-OVER" and paint the pages all over again from scratch!

Still Waters

The catalyst for this reflection is a combination of exposed words from a previously prepared background ["The obvious quite often is ignored."] combined the familiar words from Psalm 23: "...he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul." I was struck by the simplicity of resting beside quiet waters and having one's soul restored...which is quite obvious and is often ignored. The net result of noting the obvious-and acting upon it (i.e. resting beside still waters) is PEACE.
Background is white gesso in an altered book with one sentence left exposed plus part of the floral picture.

Spritz fabric spray paints over fabric stencils; carefully remove stencils and allow to dry.

 Close-up detail.

 Use various colors and overlap stamping.

 Stacked journaling with colored pencils: stating the obvious for "you" that has been ignored.
Lettering done with dimensional fabric paint.

Experimenting with Encaustics

It is too fun to play with encaustics (AKA blocks of colored wax). I bought an electric griddle at Target that fits six slices of bread. Then I melted portions of the encaustics in a metal mini muffin tin that is resting on the electric griddle with the temperature set to 150 degrees (recommended temp for encaustics is only 80 degrees but that wasn't melting the blocks through the added layer of the muffin tin). I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to use/dip the wax from the muffin tin-but at least I have the palette set up and a way to easily melt and access the colors. Next, I tried melting small puddles of color directly onto the griddle and then dipped a metal paint palette knife in the puddle of color and pressed it onto a journal page to make shapes of flowers. Different shaped palette knives of course make different sizes and shapes of flowers. It is an easy peasy way to experiment with encaustics. Tip: It is important to place paper towels between pages when you turn the page and apply way to the "next" page because the heat from the new page will make the wax applied on the previous pages stick together.

Empowering Art

It is empowering to start playing around with a new (for me) art technique. I like the idea of encaustic art--working with hot wax--because of the vibrant colors and texture. I have no background in this media. I bought a few books and a few basic supplies and decided to just JUMP RIGHT IN and experiment.
I bought an iron that is specifically for encaustics-the "iron" tip (right) plus a burnishing tip. I plugged in the iron/wand and pressed in onto the blocks of wax and started experimenting to see what would happen. The goal was to create a sense of a "Monet" watercolor flower garden.
Use the side of the tip to create lines, and then squiggle the tip back-and-forth (left) in the applied wax to create texture. Nothing fancy here; but a beginning. Very empowering to try something new. I used the thin burnishing tip to make the flowers (below). I chose flowers for the theme because they remind me of my mother and the theme I had designated for this journal page from previously doing the background prep was: "Mother's thoughts."

Treasure Boxes

Treasure Boxes made by children during a summer Vacation Bible School

Treasures inside the box represent interests & "gifts."
Make a "Treasure Box" out of a cigar box. Cover the box with spray paint or gesso and then decorate with stickers. The idea is that the outside of the box represents the public person that the world sees and the treasures you put inside represent the real you that God created. The project is easily done for VBS by having the kids gradually add stickers to the outside of the box--a few stickers each day. The inside of the box holds treasures from home plus the other projects they create during VBS. A more advanced version can be done with older children whereby there is more thought put into the external person we show the world over against the real "us" God created with wonderful gifts. The idea being to help the participants identify the gifts that they might not be using to the fullest.

Please take notes

When you don't have time to "do" art, a great way to take time for art is do the background prep for journal pages. Then, later, when you have more time, you can flip through the pages you've prepared and look for something that suits the muse (mood) to continue the journaling process. I'd had an intense hospital experience of dying & death during Holy Week, and the "please take notes" from an earlier background painting session resonated with my need journal.
As part of my reflection I compiled the encouraging text messages and emails that I had received from pastors who prayed me through pastoral care for the family. As I wrote and glued and carved theological words that expressed the experience for me, I was reminded God is present in death and in life and that God is always faithful.
The words I carved in wine corks and erasers are key words from the message I preached at the Service of the Resurrection which was held two days after Easter. The process of identifying and then cutting the letters for the words is an opportunity to listen to God. Ask such questions as: Why these words? What is the significance in the experience that is being recorded? How might I live out the message of these words vocationally, as a wife, and as a mother?
One of the challenges is how to express yourself visually when you are "not artistic." For example, I struggled with how to record the beautiful outpouring of love that was visually evident at the hospital through the hugs family members gave one another. I cut pieces from art paper to express my mental image of the circles of love as arms were wrapped around one another in strong and loving hugs of compassion, grief, and pain. Collectively, during the process of this reflection, I thought through my experience in pastoral care with a grieving family through the intensity of unexpected critical illness and death of a 65-year-old mother and grandmother. The goal of "artsy theology" is not the end product but intentionality in listening to God through the journey of art.
Tip: use a toothbrush to clean paint from stamps.