Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Christmas All Summer — Water, Light, Inspiration

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.

21 comments:

Debbie said...

Those are breathtaking! I am in awe of your talent.

Barbaloot said...

You are SO talented! I love the caroler pictur and the one above reminds me of Switzerland. You are amazing!

Marie said...

Totally about the contest now for me -- cause I can't have enough of your paintings in my home! Could you hurry and finish the story before I leave for Aruba? Love you.

breckster said...

We found some christmas music playing in a store today. We looked at this season's christmas ornaments. I kept thinking--its too early.

But if it is going to be a spiritual experience a summer of christmas would be be just fine. (and probably with just as much stress as christmas in december.)

Shari said...

What an amazing talent you are! I absolutely LOVE watercolor, so I'm drooling as I look at your paintings, but I promise not to actual drool on the painting.

Shari said...

Okay. It's me again (the drooler who promised not to drool on the actual paintings). I couldn't e-mail you because I don't have outlook on my computer. So, I'll give you the link here. I've put a link on my sidebar and I'll post about your giveaway tomorrow at www.sharibird.blogspot.com.

Justin said...

I love this story. I am reminded of that conference talk where someone said "two can do anything--as long as one of them is the Lord." I love heavenly conduits of inspiration!

ME said...

Amazing and beautiful illustrations to a wonderful story. More, more!

The Mom said...

I love your pictures! So amazing and complex, yet simple!

Redi-Kilowatt said...

Okay, now I'm totally in awe, 20 minute quality time with the kids too. I would have told my kids to wait until next week for Back to School Shopping. My favorite painting is the one you said you didn't think turned out quite right. The shepherds and the star. It is wondrous! All your "people pictures" turned out beautifully. Another moment of awe...Thanks for using and sharing your talents. I received the copies of the books I ordered and love them. Each time I open them I find a new treasure to ponder about.

Redi-Kilowatt said...

I can't wait to give these books to my friends and share the treasures with them.

Lara said...

This post made me cry. I think great things USUALLY happen without fanfare, quietly in the night. That's how the Lord would have it, probably.

The caroler picture is my favorite. But all of them are so beautiful. Thank you for sharing with us.

L.T. Elliot said...

I love that in the end, it was natural for you to paint the Savior. Having seen His hand in all else, it felt right to move onward. Isn't it wonderful? Knowing that when He's already there, we see Him more fully in every other place we go?

So beautiful, Jana. What talent, what grace you have.

Rachel said...

The spirit you painted with clearly shows through the paintings. And the story is just as amazing.

Kateastrophe said...

Remember all those other days when I said I wanted to win more than the day before? Today that's true times 1,000! I am in awe of what you accomplished.

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, how this post warms my heart in the midst of my over-busy day. Thank you for writing out your process. It means so much to me.

I can't imagine being able to paint the Savior, let alone so beautifully and truly. Well done, my friend. The production of this book was a miracle, it's clear.

Jessica said...

I have chills! This story is amazing! And the artwork absolutely beautiful!!

Melanie Jacobson said...

Oh, I love this series, both the paintings and the story of how you made them, so much!

LisAway said...

How beautiful. All of it. Of course you were guided. This is what we call sharing our talents to bless others. I'm so happy you made it. (made the paintings and the deadline. :)

val of the south said...

Beautiful - I am in awe :)

deb said...

oh, Charette,
I don't even have words.

I just felt as though you let us share something sacred.