This is a continuation of a story that starts here.
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Everybody came home. They were so full of cousins and stories and jet ski adventures they didn’t even ask to see the paintings. I took the children aside and explained my routine, then asked them to please honor it this coming week: Ninety minutes uninterrupted in the studio, then a 20-minute break for them, plus longer breaks for lunch and dinner, then ninety minutes in the studio again. And again. And again. They accepted this offer rather reluctantly.
Late one morning my son came down to the studio to announce, “It’s been ninety minutes.” (He’d been watching the clock!) “Can we go look for back-to-school shoes?” “I have twenty minutes,” I said, “Let’s go!” I put down my brush and we darted upstairs for the door. We finished shopping and were on our way home when I looked at the clock. It had been twenty-three minutes. Then I added, “Well, I do allow myself a bit more time for lunch and dinner —— let’s grab a sandwich.” Lunch, shoe-shopping, and I was still on schedule, with one completely happy 11-year-old boy at my side.
That’s how my days went. I painted all day and half the night. And nurtured my children during love-packed twenty-minute breaks. (Thank heaven I only had to do this for a week!)
Meanwhile, back in the studio, the challenge was growing. I had unconsciously managed to save all the paintings of people for the end. Now I was painting a group of carolers, a child looking through a store window, Santa, my grandma...there was a figure in every painting, often more than one. And the most daunting of all I saved for the very last...Jesus.
The pressure was mounting. I chose the medium of watercolor because of its inherent spiritual quality, its reliance on water and light. But that same water and light also brings with it an element of risk, a lack of control, the chance of ruining it with every stroke. My dad says you haven’t mastered it until you’ve thrown away a thousand paintings! But I didn’t have time to chuck any of these. They had to be right.
Yet strangely, I painted in peace. The Christmas music ministered to me. The lyrics seemed to amplify the images I was creating. The words of the book distilled on my soul as I contemplated the subjects I was painting. Symbols (many unplanned) became clear, right down to the very color a subject should be painted, as though it were given to me through a direct conduit.
Listening to Christmas music helped keep me focused on the heart of the book's message. The Sarah Groves CD came on again, and I felt something so deep as I heard her sing, “It’s true-u-ue. Angels and crowns. A God who came down...” With each painting, I had the opportunity to ponder the accompanying words...often for hours at a time. And what I found was that the words slowly began to reshape my heart. Sometimes, when my brush didn’t manage to do what I saw in my head, I had to remind myself, “Don’t swear!” because I didn’t want to break the spell...lose the conduit of inspiration that was helping me paint.
I had the most powerful experience working on this project because I had to literally immerse myself in the text. First, by breaking down the raw manuscript, pulling out key phrases, deciding which images could best convey each thought. Next, by bringing those ideas to life through my paintings.
What I learned from this book? Is something I thought I already knew...that it's TRUE. It's all true. Angels, wise men, shepherds, gifts, wreaths, a star in the heavens, a child come to save us...every symbol, tradition, and component of the Christmas story is true, and still relevant today.
Finally, with trepidation, I arrived at the one I’d saved for last, the one of Christ with an older child, her face resting in his hands. I had wanted all along to prepare for that one, to take some sacred time, purify my heart, worship in a higher place. But there wasn’t time. Unworthily, I picked up my brush and blocked in his face, his hair his robes. It was working. And I realized I was ready. With each painting I had come to know him better. He’d been with me all along. In Bethlehem, in the lilies, even shadowing the shopper. The truth buried in each paragraph of text, in each painting, had distilled on my soul as I painted. And here was grace making up for my weakness. I painted from my heart. I added the final details. I knew when it was finished.
There was no choir of angels, no trumpet fanfare. I just quietly rinsed out my brush, heard the water ripple and the glass chime for the last time, and tiptoed up to bed. There was one thing I knew for certain: that with God, nothing is impossible. And my twenty paintings were tangible proof.
What I still didn't know...was whether we'd actually make that deadline and have our books there at the convention. In that sense, the book was far from finished. The paintings had to be scanned, placed in files, uploaded to an FTP site, and sent to Korea. There were still so many things that could go wrong -- what if the printing didn’t match the proofs? What if the instructions got all mixed up because of the language barrier? What if the boat sank?
To be continued...Part 6 is here.
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Also, don't miss this review of the finished book over at Dreams of Quill and Ink today.
L.T. Elliot shares a wonderful, heart-felt response to the pictures and prose.