Roots and Wings

When our son was born in 1981 my sister gave me a small framed cross-stitched piece with the saying: The two greatest gives we can give our children; one is roots and the other is wings. Somehow this gift got lost in the shuffle of life and moving from one place to another, but I always remembered the sentiment. Recently I put together a 3-volume set of memory books for our son, and I was reminded of the ongoing combination of what it means to give our children roots and wings. These two concepts seemed to intersect-for our family-at our son's college graduation: our presence and the graduation represented ROOTS and that he was even walking across the stage to receive his college diploma represented WINGS. This simple journal page captures the essence of our joy and reminds me of the significance of the gifts of ROOTS and WINGS.
Oil pastel with a stencil. (This will take a LONG time to dry!)

Climbing the Brick Wall

I participate in a weekly study group with pastors preparing the preach for the upcoming Sunday. At a recent session one of the pastors was lamenting about a personal struggle in her life. She compared her experience to attempting to climb straight a brick wall to reach whatever "nirvana" bliss the top represents, when the reality is that the climb actually is a series of switch-back roads that gradually lead to the top. I scribbled a quick sketch of the brick wall/switch-back road in my sermon sermon with the intention of doing an art journal entry at some point in the future.   This is the sort of topic that make a great reflection series: "The Brick Walls in My Life." I picked one theme at wrote it on top of a brick wall: "Write Again" (by which I know that mean return to published writing; something I've take a hiatus from for several years). For the symbolic brick wall, I used an embossing form and pressed the texture into damp watercolor paper, used acrylics to paint it "brick" colors, and then adhered it to my journal page. He sat like this for quite awhile before I finally finished it. It took intentional thinking/reflecting to identify the skills, tasks, etc. that I needed to enhance to reach to top of this particular brick wall-which I identified and wrote on the brick wall. The zig-zag path represents how those skills come together to get me safely to the top of the wall.
Specific actions I need to take to "climb" my brick wall.

Sermon journal with sketched idea which I then transferred to a note card and put in my art journal for future reference.

Simply Exhilarating!

I often choose a book to recycle for a new "altered book" art journal based on the theme of the book more or less matching the mood I'm in for the topic(s) I expect to do artsy theology on. This is an exception that proved to be simply exhilarating! I made scrapbook type journals of our son's life birth through age 30 as a gift to him. I expected it to be two volumes and when it went to the 3rd I scrambled to find an appropriate book to recycle to complete the project. My Hebrew textbook from seminary was the exact size as the encyclopedias of the 1st two volumes so it became volume three. It turned out to be a fabulous feeling to paint black gesso to cover page after page...of the most painful course I took during all my academic studies. My professor might find it sacrilegious...but for me it was very freeing. So, find a book you DON'T like and recycle with JOY!

Anticipation: 8 Days 7 Nights

Mixed media collage
Collage pieces cut from samples for house paint.
Quickly writing the JOYS and ANTICIPATIONS.
 We are about a month away from celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary. It is a month of anticipation of much joy and celebration! I created this art journal entry in anticipation of our eight days and seven nights R&R to Los Cabos, Mexico. The mixed media collage is an interpretation of a photograph we took from the roof of our favorite low key place to stay in Cabo San Lucas. The rooftop view provides a majestic perspective of the tourist waterfront district below. The picture brings back memories of romance and rest and blessedness.
Block printed stamped image of wine glasses. 

Exposed words set the tone for the reflection.

Symbols & shapes: heart and two wine glasses.

The rooftop snapshot is from our last trip to our favorite date R&R in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Artsy Brainstorming

 When I was hanging out in airports while traveling back from Portland, OR recently I started jotting down on a single Post-It Note some ideas that I had for teaching and article topics. The only other papers I had to write on were the pages in my art journal. Then it (finally) clicked that I should simply write my ideas down in my journal instead of trying to cram everything onto a tiny little Post-It-Note.

The background is a junk piece of white butcher's block paper from my art table that I'd used when doing hand coloring on an earlier journal page. Afterwards I'd cut the scrap paper to fit my journal page and then affixed it with double-stick tape. The next layer is bio blurbs from authors in an art magazine. These bios inspired me to think third-dimensionally about my art/writing background. From there I began brainstorming article and teaching topics. The benefit of the tedious process of stenciling letters instead of free-hand writing is the slowness for it allows time to really think about what it is that is important enough to put onto a journal page. The tedium of stenciling becomes a tool for reflection even as the written words become inspiration for future action.

Alternating Rhythm

Subtracting text from a page in an altered book (or from a piece of paper torn from a magazine, newspaper article, or book) is one of my favorite ways to begin a journal entry.
Ideally, for me, I choose a page in the altered book I'm working in; something where the text on a page relates to an aspect of my life that "rings" a particular bell. In this example, the page in my altered book included prose on how to maintain a balance between solitude & retreat time and the fast pace life of work and family. Read and re-read the selected text and "subtract" the words that do not relate to your situation. Then reconstruct the remaining words in prose that speaks to you. My challenge is to maintain (find?) a balance between three different vocational callings: pastor, art, and writing. I reconstructed the prose on the right side of the two-page spread and titled it "Alternating Rhythm" to speak to what I learned/heard during the art & listening; listening & art process.
 Materials: clear gesso on left side; diluted white gesso on right page. Colored pencils to mark out/"subtract" text and to (re)write the new prose. The green lettering was done with stencil; the rest was freehand alternating the "font" by mixing upper case and lower case lettering with repeating the general formula of "upper-lower-lower."

The Shape(s) of Memories

My guide print photo of the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm.
Cutting out a symbol or shape over-and-over again is a simple way to do a collage that evokes memories of a particular person, place, or event. During the cutting and the gluing the thoughtful reflection of the experience reaffirms that memory, which then comes alive each time you flip through your journal and see the colors and shapes of the collage.
After a recent trip to a tulip festival while visiting my son & his wife in Oregon, I used a wide assortment of colors & textures in the shape of a tulip to capture the stunning colors and the beautiful memories.

Green paper w/ green acrylic added.
Basic tulip shape added over & over. Stems are also from cut paper.

This project is a wonderful excuse to use multiple pretty art papers.

The completed collage: a pretty reminder of a precious memory to a tulip festival with my son & his wife.

Definition of an "Artist"

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm with Mt. Hood in the background.

After a recent visit to Portland, OR to visit my son (and my doing art at his kitchen table daily) he emailed this a super insightful article about one's perspective of whether one is/is not an artist by

Have you ever dreamt of being a real artist?
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to call yourself a real painter, or a real writer, or a real actress, or a real musician?
Have you ever described yourself as someone who does something amazing and magical and wonderful and life-affirming and then added “on the side”?
Well, you might not like what I have to say.
Because I have come here today to deliver the unfortunate truth that you are lying to yourself.
You are not going to become a real artist one day.
You are a real artist right now.
You are a real artist when you sit in traffic, when you wait for the dentist, when you clean up the toys in your kid’s bedroom.
I have known I was a real writer since I was a little kid in Flemington, New Jersey.
How did I know I was a writer?
I got lucky.
A grown-up told me.
When you are a little kid and an adult tells you that you are something, you are wont to believe it. Remember this the next time a kid tells you she is a ballerina, or a math genius, or a comet streaking through an inky black night sky.
For years, I wrote only in my journals. I wrote diary entries, and sometimes stories about myself or other people I knew or celebrities or imaginary creatures. When I stayed home sick from school, I took pieces of yellow stationery with the Mack Trucks logo (this was where my grandma worked) and I wrote and drew comic strips about magical people.
In the third grade I wrote a short story called “Jared’s Christmas” that won an award from the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English. There was a ceremony and I was very, very nervous, because even then I had panic disorder, but I accepted my award and got my certificate and my mother and father clapped really loud and it felt really good to know I was a real writer.
I was a real writer then, and I am a real writer now, as I (anxiously and joyfully and cautiously and fretfully and gratefully and I need a Xanax) celebrate the launch of my second book, “Great.”
These days, I am allegedly a grown-up. While I don’t know you personally, I know that you are a real artist if you can answer “yes” to any or all of these questions:
Do you make art?
Do you make art because something inside you tells you that you must make art?
Do you make art because it’s the only way you can feel like yourself sometimes?
Do you make art because it brings you joy, and also pain, but the good kind of pain, the kind you need in order to remember that you are a real person with worth and value and power and all of the feelings (yes, even the shitty ones)?
Do you make art because it’s fun?
Would you make art regardless of whether anybody paid you to make art?
Do you stay up at night after the kids have gone to sleep, when you really ought to be in bed yourself, or at least doing laundry, just because it gives you a few precious minutes to make art?
Do you sit at your computer in your office and make plans to use the money from your office-and-computer job to buy supplies to make art?
Do you make art that some people love?
Do you make art that some people hate?
Do you make art that some people ignore?
Then congratzel tov, my friend. You are a real artist.
When I was 23, I decided to become a high school teacher in order to support myself as a writer. And so I taught high school in the Southwest and no one published anything I wrote, though I tried to convince them it was a good idea.
I was a real writer then.
I was also a real writer when I was a paralegal working at a law firm in Chelsea specializing in immigration for fashion models. I was a real writer when I worked at a publishing company in the South Bronx, in a neighborhood so violent we were required to sign out of work no later than 4 p.m. so that we could reach the subway before nightfall (there had been an assault and a murder a few years back, so the company was cautious). I was a real writer when I worked at a fancy pet boutique on the Upper East Side, where customers spent upwards of $300 on luxurious cat beds and eccentric women came into the shop pushing puppies in prams. I was a real writer when I worked at Planned Parenthood HQ. I was a real writer when I hosted a satellite radio talk show about sex and love and dating five nights a week from 8 to 11 East, 5 to 8 Pacific. I was a real writer when the show got cancelled and I collected unemployment. I was a real writer when I worked at a start-up and I was a real writer when I quit the start-up to write full-time.
I am a real writer now, and I will be a real writer until I die, whether or not I always do this as my full-time job. I have had day jobs in the past and I have no reason to believe I will not have day jobs in the future.
The biggest myth we are fed as artists is that we need to sustain ourselves solely on our art. This is ridiculous. Every artist has at some point in time had some other job. Some of them kept these jobs their entire lives. In the latter category: William Carlos Williams was a doctor in New Jersey; Henry Darger was a custodian in Chicago; Harvey Pekar was a VA Hospital clerk in Cleveland.
In more temporary capacities: Maya Angelou was a cable-car conductor; Sandra Cisneros was an administrative assistant; JK Rowling was a secretary; Jeremy Renner was a makeup artist (Please read that again: Jeremy Renner was a makeup artist).
Art does not require an MFA. Art does not require a BA. Art does not require a high school diploma. Art does not require any formal education at all.
Art does not need your full-time attention. Art does not demand that you starve in order to afford paint and canvas and brushes.
There is more nobility in hard work than in pure luck (though every artist can use a bit of that.) You’ll make better art after a day at the office than you will after a lifetime in an ivory tower.
Real artists have day jobs, and night jobs, and afternoon jobs. Real artists make things other than art, and then they make time to make art because art is screaming to get out from inside them. Screaming, or begging, or gently whispering.
Don’t ever let them tell you you’re not a success. Don’t ever let them tell you you’re not good enough. Don’t ever let them tell you you’re not the real deal.
More importantly: don’t ever tell yourself any of these things.
Believe me when I tell you that no matter how much time you spend at the office, it’s just a side gig.
You are an artist, full-time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Now go make your art.

A Spiritual Place

Sometimes my art journal is simple a place to experiment with new art materials and/or art techniques; other times I use it to "doodle" with ideas. Ultimately, each art journal becomes a record of my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and reflections over a given period of time. Some entries are more profound than others; some are more "artistic" than others. It is during the discipline of consistently sitting down with my journal for self-expression, listening, planning, prayer, and putting "brains on paper" that I am able to "process" what is happening in life. When I go through stretches where I do not make/take time to diddle in my art journal, I realize later that I've usually missed a piece of my life. It is the slowing down and artfully reflecting which helps me to identify, appreciate, and better understand the people, places, ideas, and activities in the too-busy-world around me.
In an altered book, I covered the right side of the page with white gesso and the left side with clear to show the crosses. I experimented with water soluble pastels (bottom layer) and oil pastels (top layer) to make the crosses on the right. Water and a cotton swab or brush easily spread the water soluble pastels. I used 99% isopropyl alcohol (available by special order at your local pharmacy) and a paint brush to spread the colors on the oil pastels.

Oil pastels spread with 99% isopropyl alcohol.

A few weeks later, after doing the crosses and the basic background, I was skimming through my sermon journal and I came across notes from one of the pastors in my study group. I saw a few doodle notes from a side path we'd run down while reading the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday.It is a theme I want to revisit with the leadership team at my church-and it goes with the theme of this journal page-so I added the doodle note in this journal entry for possible future art/reflection and also to remind me that this is a conversation pending with my leadership team.


One of my favorite seminary professors often talked about what he called "the theology of the pit." Essentially, when we fall into the inevitable "pits" of life, when we invite God into that pit it becomes holy ground. My particular favorite reference to this comes from Psalm 40:1-2.
      He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
         out of the mud and mire;
         he set my feet on a rock
         and gave me a firm place to stand.
      3 He put a new song in my mouth,
         a hymn of praise to our God.
         Many will see and fear the LORD
         and put their trust in him.
It requires some intentionality in looking for grace while in a pit, but it is possible to identify grace and the presence of God amid the messiness of life. Of course, it is often easier in hindsight to look back and notice where God had been present.
After completing a series of scrapbooks on our son's life, I was struck by the abundant grace that had been present during the years when parenting had been particularly challenging. In particular, when I uncovered a photograph of a group of women (Heartspring) who had been prayer partners and encouragers during this time, I was struck with renewed gratitude for their role in my life. It made me think reflectively about other people, places, and events when had been blessings and the name them as GRACE. Whereas during the struggles I had spent most of my energy lamenting these challenges, the reality was that God had been present in amazing ways. The final touch: I name the grace on the little hearts on the "GraceLine."

"Heartspring" was the group's name and our theme for prayer.

Embossed art paper with colored pencil. Pretty doodling when thinking.

Stenciling for no particular reason-more time to reflect & ID grace.