Saturday, October 22, 2011

Our Lady, Helper of Mothers, Childbirth and Midwives II, part 2.

Last night I sat bouncing Bernadette as I was painting the bodily layers of the icon.  Layers are so important, no matter what medium an artist is working with.  What colors you use to layer (keeping in mind oil content, translucency of the colors), as well as choosing when to layer and when not to, or how thick or thin the paint you are layering is – all these have a great impact on the end result of the work.  Of course, different mediums behave differently.  Oil paints, for instance, take many weeks to dry.  Artists can therefore mold the paint while wet, as well as dry (an interesting note: The Mona Lisa was painted in such a way that no brush strokes can be detected.  In other words, Da Vinci really “molded” the paint with his layers; he didn’t let the paint dry while working on it).  With egg tempera, however, it is easier to add layers when they are dry – attempting to add wet upon wet often results in pulling up the layers beneath.  Acrylic can be used in a similar way to oil paint if the paint is thick (though it dries much more quickly), and it can also be thinned out and used like egg tempera.  What an artist does with his paint and layering changes depending on the medium and the end result he is trying to achieve at a given time.
But what I find most fascinating about layers is how each layer adds more depth to a painting or icon.  When one begins an icon, the faces are brown and monotone, perhaps ugly.  As you add layers, ending with the white lights on the limbs, the icon comes to life.  
The point of layering is not to cover up what is underneath, but to bring out what is underneath to its full potential, transforming what is ugly into what is beautiful.  Every layer can add to the beauty of the final product if the painting is left in the hands of a capable artist.  
Similarly, God can mold out any evil or wickedness within us, and untwist the twisted – and the end result will be better than when we were newborn babes.  Every tragedy and sin in our lives can make us better people.  How fortunate that only God knows eternity.  Our duty is see every person as potentially our mates in the Kingdom, whether it be Hitler, or the bum on the street.  They are our brothers.  They were once little babies that could have been bounced on their mother’s lap as she painted.  Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and preserve us from all sin!
Look how different they are!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Our Lady, Helper of Mothers, Childbirth and Midwives II

Bernadette and the icons.

Many, many months ago, I was asked to write some smaller versions of this icon, and I agreed.  I began gessoing the boards, but didn't continue.  One reason was that I started up extreme couponing (somewhat mundane, I know, but the family needs to eat!), and that has taken quite a bit of my "alone" time at night, as well as my "not alone" time during the day.  But I'm finally getting the hang of it!  
The main reason for my delay, however, is pictured here, my lovely Bernadette Elise, born three weeks ago.  For those who've never been pregnant or infused with all those wonderful female hormones: hormones can change a woman like nothing else.  So, for example, one moment we're feeling creative, another moment we're not. Or we feel creative in different ways.  My creativity has lately been taken out in sorting baby clothes.  And couponing.  And shopping.  Hence my need for couponing (a joke, of course.  Mostly).    :)
A few days ago, however, I was talking to my mother, and she brought out remorse in me, for this project left undone.  Did you know that breast-feeding also changes hormones?  And lo and behold: I wanted to write icons.  So I began again last night, and brought them to their current state this morning with a baby strapped to my body, and two other rascals running around making trouble.  
Albeit, this is a good time to be working on these icons, since I'm on maternity leave.  But I do want to say one other thing - I sure feel sorry for those monks who are able to spend 12 plus hours a day writing icons.  With no distractions.  No kids running around making life crazy fun.  While 12 uninterrupted hours sounds VERY attractive at times, I must say that I am thrilled to have just got in 45 minutes of icons done this morning.  But more than that, I would never give up the fact that as I'm writing this blog I have one baby on my lap being burped, one toddler behind me kissing my back (I've no idea why, but I enjoy the loving), and a three year old asking how she should put her clothes back on after having gone potty.  
What the monks are missing!  There's something to be said for work done with blood, sweat and tears.  And spit-up.  I've got it all. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Frame 1

My frame with my sketched design, all ready to go.
When I first made this Our Lady of Guadalupe drawing, someone told me that it was a mistake to draw it on cardboard.  They said it just made the drawing look as though it ought to be cheap, when in fact, it took no less time than had I done the drawing on expensive paper.  So, having thought about how I could make the best of it, I realized that needed a frame to match: cheap materials (pine wood), expensive design.
I was originally going to just buy some frame supplies from the store, but when my husband found out it would cost at least $40, he told me to buy some brushes instead, and set out to work in his woodshop.  My carpenter built me a sturdy pine frame, simple, and with the rustic look in keeping with natural wood imperfections, just as I wanted it.  It is, of course, far better than what I could have bought in the store.

The frame with the design sketched on it in pencil.
The first of the wood burning.
I'd had the design already in my mind for several weeks, so it was only a matter of drawing the design and burning the wood.  My husband then advised me in finding the right kind of stain for the flowers (I settled on acrylic mixed with an aging medium).  My caring spouse provided me with a mask and some water-based wood finish, and offered to mount the picture in the frame when I finished. 
Staining the wood, side design.
As I finished the frame, it was an obvious contemplation to acknowledge how lucky I am to have such a man: knowledgeable, caring, helpful, willing to spend his own time to make sure I have the very best.  It is not as though my art is my living.  It assists me to enjoy and love life, certainly, but it is not a necessity to my life, as say, a job that provides bread and milk for our growing family.  Come to think of it, this very same husband sat with me an hour last week helping me figure out how to make sugar lanterns for our daughter's third birthday Rapunzel cake.  Seriously, how many dads can give their wives pointers on working fondant?
Staining the wood, corner design.
But then again, going back six years, before I was even dating my husband, I remember kneeling in my icon corner for a full nine nights, praying a special novena to St. Joseph with this intention: "Please, PLEASE, help Sean to fall in love with me and marry me, but only if it is God's will, and if he is like St. Joseph."  I discovered within a few days that he was actually dating someone else - a lovely, good, Catholic girl - hopeless, right?  I cried a little.  For about ten minutes that is.  Because I knew that if it were meant to be, Sean would marry me some day.  We are now a month from our fourth anniversary.

In my lovely breathing mask, filtering out any possible fumes from the safest water-based finish possible.  No baby in utero could be better cared for!
But that St. Joseph part of my prayer...sometimes Sean is a bit too much like St. Joseph.  A carpenter (by hobby! Pilot by trade.), sure.  A hard worker, absolutely.  Adept at most house and yard stuff, guns, car technology, and all the things that modern society deems what constitutes a "real man."  But what I mean is that Sean is a righteous man.  Sometimes he makes it hard to be an emotional, near-crazy, sinner of a woman.  He just doesn't react to my fits, or at least, doesn't react as I want him to.  Growing up, if I was grumpy, by golly, everyone had better get out of my way.  Sean just doesn't seem to get it.  And that's part of what makes him perfect for me. Another man would stone me, or turn me over to the authorities.  But not Sean.
Of course, Sean isn't perfect.  Unlike St. Joseph, he has sinners for a wife and children, and so comes a multitude of worries and frustrations: besides being the main bread winner, he has to worry about how to discipline a one year old, and how not to let a tantrum throwing three year old get to his nerves, and how to be patient with a crazy wife (not to mention absent-minded.  Seriously, I stuck my finger in the blender last month, and now I'm trying hard to remember to water the yard during Sean and the rain's five day absence this week.  Wouldn't be the first time he comes home to find the grass and garden dead). 
Can you tell that I love my St. Joseph?  Among so many other things, it is only because of him that I have the chance to make beautiful things, such as this frame to honor our Lady.  God bless good husbands and fathers.

The finished product.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Our Lady, Mother of Sweet Sorrow III

After a long period of time away from the blog – due to technical problems – I am now back, and ready to show you some recent work. 
This particular Mother of Sweet Sorrow was fun because my commissioner requested that her version of the painting have no color.  I didn’t like the idea of mere black and white, however, but enjoyed the warmth and spectrum of brown tones in the painting.  That said, there is something a little too ghost-like in the painting to fully appeal to me.  Unlike the richness of the colored version, our Lady’s garments look poor.  Her face looks too wan.  I suppose this was the challenge – to make this brown version work as well as the original, and in my opinion, without the color, the painting loses part of its life
The Original Sweet Sorrow
I suppose it is partially a matter of opinion, however.  For instance, on a different but related issue, I enjoy that some of the most ancient icons and artwork adorn our Lord and the saints with flowers, angels and other decorative designs (see below).  I find that applying a similar honor to my own icons and artwork enhance the beauty of my work.  Yet I was criticized for this recently, informed that most people would rather not have a decorative border around their icons.  The only thing I can figure is that people are different.  Some may find color distracting; other may find ornate decoration distracting.  And when you are speaking of a Sacramental, it is certainly important to listen to what calls to you to prayer.  Each individual should be able to be drawn closer to God according to his own sensibilities.  I will stop my preaching here - only observe how different the styles depicted below are.  Both time and place are amazing for creating such differences - and ALL honor our Lord.

Painting of the Good Shepherd in the Catacombs of Rome

Bulgarian icon
Plashchanitza or Epitaphios (Icon of Christ's Dead Body which is kissed on Good Friday)
Medieval Manuscript page

Ethiopian Icon

Mexican Retablo

Monday, April 11, 2011

Easter Eggs 7 - The Easter bunny

Easter is less than two weeks away, Palm Sunday is fast approaching.  We see the typical consumerism in the stores: brightly colored eggs, tons of candy, and fluffy white bunnies everywhere.  Bunnies?  What on earth do bunny rabbits have to do with Easter?
Amazingly enough, the Easter bunny has its origin as a pagan symbol of fertility and new life.  As the pagans honored the bunny in the Spring around Easter time, it only made sense for Christianity to Christianize the bunny - God's goodness encompasses all His creatures, including those fuzzy long eared jumpers that make absolutely delicious stews, and a very traditional Italian Easter dinner.  Similarly, in my own family it would have been more traditional to eat lamb, in honor of the Lamb Who Was Slain.
What is fun is that the German tradition of Easter bunnies includes their actual laying of colored eggs on Easter - what a miracle!  So in my own eggs I chose red eggs, for the Blood of Christ, as these are traditionally given out in the Eastern Catholic Church on Easter.  Christ's Blood and New Life always go together.
Unfortunately, this is my last set of eggs this year - I have neither the time or energy to make an eighth set, which would be fitting symbolism for Easter.  Next year, perhaps!  Have a happy continuation of Lent, and an equally Happy Easter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Easter Eggs 6 - Monarch Butterfly

The butterfly is an Easter symbol of Christ, because the caterpillar goes in his cocoon (the tomb), and leaves his tomb a new and beautiful butterfly (new life).  The butterfly on my eggs is the Monarch, for the Kingship of Christ.  
The feast of the Annunciation is fast approaching.  I look forward to a break in the fast in which to honor the Conception of our Beloved Lord, and the fiat of His Mother.  On Friday there is no fasting, but good chocolate and tender ribs. 
Alas, we have barely begun the Fast, and already my weak self relishes the thought of breaking the Fast!  But God knows - caterpillars need some special nourishment if they are to become butterflies.  When we take a break from the Fast physically, therefore, we should also take a break spiritually.  The Annunciation should be a feast of joy and anticipation.  If we are to do well the remainder of the Fast we must throw ourselves wholeheartedly into feasting and praise for Mary's wonderful fiat that begot our Savior.  We must gather strength, spiritual strength, so that we can enter into the tomb with Christ, and emerge, on Easter, refreshed and made anew in His Resurrection!

The leaves on the back of the large egg are decorated with little butterfly eggs!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Easter Eggs 5 - Robin Red Breast

The robin is a sign of spring – one of the first birds to appear in the cold weather.  He is noted for his lovely red breast and beautiful blue eggs.  But the robin also symbolizes Christ death.   There is a legend that the robin got its red breast by plucking out the thorns from Christ’s crown on the Cross.  
In Emily Dickenson's poem "In Shadow," she writes: "I dreaded that first robin so,/ But he is mastered now, / And I 'm accustomed to him grown, / He hurts a little, though."  In this little meditation on Christ - the robin comes to assist Christ and pull the thorns out of His head - Christ speaks of how it is surprising that the robin, of all creatures, should be the one to cause Him pain.  He knew the robin would come: "I dreaded that first robin so," but nevertheless, knowing all His creatures, confesses surprise that so sweet a creature, with such good intent, should be able to cause great pain for Him.
We, as God's children, try so hard to ease Christ's pain, and often cause Him more pain.  For instance, one might give up ill-thoughts for Lent (hoping, of course, that the habit will be long gone after Easter).  But at the first opportunity complain about our neighbor.  This causes God pain, even though He knows we are really trying to become better.  God is patient with us, even when we twist the thorns in His head.  Would only that we were as patient, forgiving, and loving with ourselves, and we would have an easier time being good!