Beautiful art without any underlying meaning is boring. In my search for more meaning and beauty I stumbled upon an ancient Jewish custom known as, Hiddur Mitzvah. A tradition of enhancing the beauty of ordinary objects to add greater joy and satisfaction to our life's journey. You don't have to be Jewish, Catholic or Christian to adopt this simple philosophy and incorporate it into your creative process. All you need is an open mind, and a willingness to learn from other cultures and traditions.
A lot of people ask me to share more about my process in creating mixed media painting. Here is a run down on the techniques and materials I like to use the most...
All paintings require a substrate, which is a fancy art way of stating the obvious, you need something hard enough to paint onto. As far as substrates go, there is much versatility, I like canvas and use it regularly, but hardboard is my favorite for mixed media because it lends itself well to the wear and tear of the medium. You can get hardboard at the art supplies stores, but it can be rather expensive. I purchase my hardboard panels from Lowe's and home depot and have it cut to size at the store. Next, it is time to Gesso, sanding with a fine 220 grit sandpaper in between coats. Usually for hardboard I like to use 3 to 4 coats of Gesso before painting.
The cleanest and most professional way I have learned to transfer my sketch onto an art panel is with Saral transfer paper. Tracing over your original sketch with Saral paper underneath will leave you with clearly outlined composition for painting on later.
Now, we start to get to the fun part, the paint!! Much of the mixed media supplies I use are acrylic, non- toxic water based paints similar to this liquitex acrylic set shown above. The BEST part about mixed media painting is all the fun layers of depth and texture that you get to create. Every layer and applied technique can adds another element of interest to your painting.
Paint and paper go together like peanut butter and chocolate, trust me, you WANT to try this! It looks amazing and each material compliments the other! It is important to mention, that not all paint and paper are created equally. When I first started experimenting with mixed media, I used inexpensive materials such as Mod Podge and tissue paper. Another, more sophisticated technique is the liquitex heavy or medium gel with handmade papers. This too creates some beautiful work, just have fun with it. Like I said, paint and paper, peanut butter and chocolate what's not to like?
FACES & HANDS are one of the more challenging things to learn how to draw well and accurately. Fortunately, there are MANY FANTASTIC resources on the web to help you overcome this difficult, yet rewarding topic. Resources such as the, Andrew Loomis method is tried, true and now available for free download! Alternatively, if you are looking for something more stylized and fashionable, I recommend, "Beautiful Faces" by Jane Davenport.
Personally, I don't like working with oil paints even though they create the most extraordinarily, exquisitely, stunning works of art. Many artists rave about the mixability and ultra creamy texture of oil paints. It's just that, art for me at least, is not just about the final outcome, it is about the process. I want to enjoy my work and I have found the difficulty of clean up and toxic fumes of oil paints to be less than tolerable. I love working with soft body acrylics, however, there only down side being quick dry time, which can be a cumbersome when trying to paint a portrait. Open acrylics and retarder gels help, but they still do not have the slow drying time of oil paints, making perfectly blended and accurate skin tones even more daunting. This is where pan pastels come in! I like to use them to "paint" my faces and hands. Simply, paint the face, hair and hands in an acrylic opaque hue and let dry. Next, use your pastel ground to prime the area, once this dries you are set to use your pan pastels, you can see in the picture below where I have begun to work with the pan pastel over dried acrylic paint. I use a combination of pan pastels and colored pencils for the finer details and seal everything with a workable fixative.
Another, favorite, tried an true mixed media method is stencils! Using a palette knife to mix fluid acrylic with a medium such as fiber paste, or pumice gel. I put the mixture onto my stencil similar to buttering a piece of toast and then wipe away the excess by scraping off the top using the same palette knife. You can see details on the final effect below using Waverly stencils over opaque solid background colors.
Another favorite technique is Gilding. Gilding is in the art studio what butter is in the kitchen, it just makes everything better! If you want to turn up the wow factor in your art work add some metal leaf. It's reflective glow creates a soft elegant, luxurious and sophisticated style. YES, it really is SO EASY to use. All you need is size, metal foil sheets and a sealer. After following the manufacturers directions, there are a few other useful tips worth trying. First, try using wax paper in order to keep the foil sheets in place before placing them onto your substrate and sealing the gilding with a gloss finish polyurethane.
Finally, to finish your work it must be finished with a sealant. If I am working large scale on a mural, I like to use Polycrylic, rather than the more expensive varnishes available at the art supply store. If you are interested in using these professional varnishes more power to you, as they will only add to the beauty, brilliance and longevity of your work. However, if you are not yet concerned about archival quality and the longevity of your artwork, then Polycrylic is a suitable, substitute for mixed media.
Lastly, a few great tools that every artist needs! The master's brush cleaner, color wheel and gray scale finder. Seriously, I have wasted so much valuable time trying to clean my paint brushes without this magical ointment. The Master cleaner will keep your brushes looking bran spanking new for a L-O-N-G time. Also, the color wheel, and gray scale value finder are necessary tools to have in order to understand the underlying principles required in creating skillful compositions. My friend, Michael Cooley taught me much, if you live in the central Ohio area and are looking to work with a Master in fine art and illustration, Cooley Studios in Worthington, Ohio is the premiere place to be!
"Visio Divina" latin for "divine seeing" means praying with imagery. God's beautiful handiwork can be observed in everything from the physical tactile world around us, to the vastness of our solar system. Observing mother nature can become a sacred form of prayer, for all life is interdependent containing recognizable patterns that exist from the macro to the invisible molecular world innate within us. The evidence for God's existence and his creative genius can be found through something called the Fibonacci sequence. A number sequence discovered by Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, known as Fibonacci. Starting with the number 0 and going to infinity, every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones. 0, 1, 1, 2 , 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 and so on. This number sequence can be found practically everywhere in mother nature. It is the growth proportion (1:1.618) inside all of creation and is mother nature's way to maximize efficiency. From the growth rate of a succulent plant to the inside of a sunflower, to the proportions of the human hand and face, this mathematical ratio is even found in treacherous places like a hurricane and the galaxies of our solar system.
The word, "Cosmos" comes from an ancient Greek word meaning order. The universe is an orderly system from which we all came. The bible tells us that we are all God's children created in the likeness and image of God himself, who many believe to be the intelligent designer and benevolent force behind the big bang theory. Many ancient cultures represented this all powerful and all knowing God of the universe in intricate geometric patterns, for God is sacred and no human could ever ignore his Majesty. A mathematical representation of God is called sacred geometry and was recognized in the time of antiquity, during the byzantine empire and Islamic culture. These infinitely intricate patterns of beauty represent a God of unity, logic, and order. Just like the rhythm of waves and changing tides of the ocean, God’s supreme thumbprint and omnipotence is present. For God is in everything. He is in you and me, the trees, the stars, a honeycomb, the plants, a pine cone, a snail, a hurricane, a galaxy and even the tail of a seahorse. God's love will never fail you. Sometimes His love will fall over you in obvious ways like in receiving the grace of the sacraments. Other times it will come over you like the tides of the sea in the form of redemptive, cleansing waves, refreshing you with his grace and washing you clean of all unrighteousness.
Often times, God’s love will manifest in a pattern of blessings, abundant fruit and the fulfillment of your purpose. You are his called, chosen, and beloved child. God will love you in the beginning, middle and end of your life. He will love you here in earth and in eternity after you are deceased. He will love you forevermore, his love for you will always be an underlying pattern in your life. It is important to understand, God doesn't love you because of who you are, but rather because of who he is. God loves you because God is perfect, he is LOVE. For him to cease in loving, would mean for him to deny to exist and since God can not contradict himself for as much as he is Love, he is also truth, we can safely find rest in his unending love.
"31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8:31-35)."
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Acceptance of ourselves and others comes more readily when we genuinely begin to appreciate the beauty, love and truth of God in the world around us. When the paradigm in our mind shifts and everything becomes a gift rather than a right, we become happier. Acutely more aware of the pattern of beauty, love, brokenness, redemption and forgiveness throughout all of our lives.
Our own lives resemble the seasons we observe outside of us. There is a season for everything, a time to reap a time to sew, a time to weep and a time for laughter. Nothing in our lives is ever staying the same, we are all constantly evolving, as our world is around us. When you stand outside, watching and listening to mother nature she reveals the obvious truth, that she is never stagnant but always full of rhythms, shapes, colors, lines, textures and patterns constantly trying to engage us. We can find all the inspiration every required for creative expression through looking outside of ourselves at the beautiful world around us. When we take the time to notice the geometry of God’s love everywhere, epiphanies of spiritual awareness begin to translate into a flow of beautiful creativity...
Nautilus Shell Painting
Happy Father's Day!
The Catholic Church teaches that solidarity is seeing every person, created in the likeness and image of God. When we seek to see others as valuable and created in God's image we open up our hearts to more radical kinds of love. Seeking solidarity increases the value of others we once had little-shared commonalty and changes the way we view our world. We were all created to love and to be loved by God, even if we are unaware of our value it can never be taken away. All of us desire happiness and purpose for our lives and those we care about. God calls each of us in different ways. It may be to serve in your family, lead in your community, build a company, share the gospel or generously invest into some strangers life. We have been given a very special gift of free will. It is this very gift from God that is the root cause of our biggest triumphs and tragedies in life. It is a freedom that is difficult to fully understand. For our biggest and most valuable commodity is time, not our money, not our families, but our time here on earth and how we choose to spend it counts for all of eternity. Time is always passing us by, we can never go backward, only forward in life with a stronger commitment to share God's truth and demonstrating his love to others.
God is love, truth and beauty. Id we believe in his good character and will then we can trust that he hears our prayers and wants what is best for his beloved children. Our lives and everyone else's are extraordinary gifts. With this extraordinary free gift in mind, it seems fitting that during this season of lent we press in and more fervently serve others. To seek God's will and not our own.
I first learned about the epidemic of minor children affected by our nation's mass incarceration while serving at a woman's bible study at the Ohio Reformatory for woman. At the time, the email came through my inbox I was pregnant with our fourth child and eager for a break. This I reasoned would be a great way to give back and be filled up at the same time. I discovered many things behind those prison walls that you can not read about or find in books and statistics. To get to know people and hear their stories of faith, fear, joy and hope touches the human heart. For we are all people no matter the great variance in our circumstances, languages or backgrounds. These often overlooked children afflicted with the pain of having an incarcerated parent are dear to the Lord and his mother Mary. Solidarity is about seeing these children and their families who are afflicted with the pain of incarceration as not so different that our own. Unfortunately, this is a radical, inconvenient and difficult thing for some people to do. In order to seek solidarity we have to be willing to look past race, social status, external differences or people's life choices and peer into the heart of other human beings. Genuinely caring for them because they are very valuable to God, no matter what. Jesus went out into the world to those who are weak and poor in spirit and we should too. Hurting people are not always in church, many of people who need the most ministering are in the broken places of our communities. There is widespread sin in our cultural today and many people are finding themselves caught in the shadows. As Catholics, and Christians we should be the people who are willing to take a stand against social injustice, against systems that deny the weak and oppress the underprivileged. We are called to do charitable divine works of mercy and to love our neighbors as ourselves. These children facing the stigmas and adversities of having an incarcerated parent are in serious pain and turmoil. They, like, all young people need the body of Christ now more than ever. Many of us are unaware of the statistics of how many people are locked away, most of them parents of children 10 and younger.
How many children have an incarcerated parent?
1 in 28 children or 2.7 million have an incarcerated parent
Through my research I learned much about incarceration and the people it effects. Before last year, I really had no clue how many people were behind bars. The statsics are staggering. The truth is that when we incarcerate a parent, we are also punishing their children. Oftentimes, a mother in prison was the primary care provider for her child, and now after being incarcerated she obviously cannot be home for her family. Where do these children go? Some of them end up living with family, and some of them end up in Foster Care. Although Foster Care is an important program for our society, the system is far from perfect. The amount of children suffering from mental illness and chronic health issues in foster care greatly exceed that of children in the general population. It is a popular belief that children are better off without their offending parent, but this is often not the case. Many corrections facilities are doing all they can to aid positive relationships between inmates and their children, and in a perfect world, this would be enough. However, the stigma is real and the emotional toll high for those who have a parent behind bars.
If you have never heard of this subject and how it will impact you, now is the time to read more. When you see the truth, it is difficult to stand back and do nothing. Real love requires action, to stand up and create a ministry of love and out reach towards a worthy cause is no small undertaking. That is why we need an outpouring of participation, prayerful devotion to Mary, and perseverance aimed towards this cause. Together, as artists, we can give the gift of a quality faith-based education.
"Let's Create Something Beautiful!"
Additional resources about children of incarcerated parents:
Penned by: Christine L. Munhall