Monday, November 8, 2010

Christmas All Summer—Toil, Solitude, Prayer

This is part four of a story that starts here. 

* * * * *

The first thing I did (after learning that I had to do 20 paintings in two weeks) was enlist a small handful of close friends to pray for me.

Next? I started making plans for doing two paintings a day on a houseboat:

Work surface? (check)
Outlets for light table? (check)
Schlepping supplies? (brushes, paints, sketches and layouts, etc.--check)
Schedule? Let's see...
  • One day riding in hot car
  • Three days holing up in houseboat while kids in swimsuits run past, knocking over brushes and water
  • Three days of well-meaning people begging me to go swimming and ride jet-skis
  • Three days of questionable productivity, with constant interruptions and distractions
  • One more day riding home in hot car
PPPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNIIIIICCCC! (Oh me of little faith...)

When Jeff discovered what I was doing, he was mildly horrified. "You can't bring all your painting stuff and work on the houseboat." "If I can't work, I can't go. The deadline is set in stone." There were some tense and awkward moments over the next few days, until it was time to pack. (This is the part where you all swoon, and sigh deeply over the fact that the man I married is already taken.) Jeff presented a loving and generous alternative: "Okay, I can see you need to stay here and paint. I'll take the kids to Lake Powell. I hope you get a lot done while we're gone."

Whew! Just like that, the panic lifted, and I went from making plans for painting on a houseboat to making plans for painting in my own studio, in total quiet. Instantly I thought of Tolstoy's creative process: Toil, Solitude, Prayer -- and was so grateful I'd have a few days of needed solitude in which to focus my energy and be, perhaps, the most productive and creative I'd ever been.

Ironically, I planned to exist in a very monklike state and keep a very structured regimen for my week of freedom. I prepared some very healthy but minimalist food so I wouldn't need to cook or clean up the whole time I was working. I was up by 7 every day to pray, down a protein shake and work out. From there I painted in strict 90-minute increments, interspersed with 20-minute breaks, during which I did something different to clear my head: A snack, maybe some light reading. Sometimes my "break" was actually folding laundry. :) It surprised me how much I found not just the painting but the actual rhythm of the routine very satisfying and therapeutic.



I started with a landscape (from a photo I took while staying at Sundance). A cozy cabin in the woods that will appear on the last page of the book. Begin with the end in mind...








Next I painted the Bethlehem sky. But I had to stop and start over because it wasn't perfect. And the Bethlehem sky has to be perfect, right? But the second one I tried wasn't perfect either.
Finally, my wise husband (still loading up the car) told me if I kept fixating on that sky I'd never get the rest of the paintings done. I needed to let go and move on. And of course he was right. :)













I consoled myself with my understanding that the Navajo tribes always intentionally weave an imperfection into their creations because only God himself is perfect. I paused right here and went on to the next two...telling myself if there's any time left at the end I can try another one.




I worked steadily, day after day, in my studio-monastery, somewhat miraculously turning out my requisite two paintings a day in my toil-solitude-prayer routine. And if they weren't quite finished, I still quit painting before midnight and went to bed, so I could get up early again the next morning. I was listening to a Sarah Groves Christmas CD fairly often while painting, and one of the tracks had two little kids telling the nativity story, starting with the annunciation. It cheered my soul to hear that tiny little voice say, "Is anything impossible for God?" Maybe not. I'm hoping not.

On Friday, my last day full day of painting before everybody got home from Lake Powell, I had planned to finish three paintings instead of two. My intern, Katie, was scheduled to come help with a few more sketches and scans, and I was already in the studio finishing up a painting from last night. The doorbell rang, and it took me a minute to get up there from the basement. I opened the door to find Katie somewhat collapsed, red-faced and out of breath, on my front porch. "Are you okay?" I asked. She could only manage to shake her head. Bless her heart...Her roommate had needed the car, so she rode her bike all the way up the hill to my house, in 90-degree weather! I could tell from my Webelos manual (I knew that thing would turn out to be a blessing someday!) she had heat stroke. I brought her inside, got her a glass of water, and had her lie down on the couch. Called a friend of mine who's a nurse. And spent the next three hours taking care of her...putting a fan on her, feeding her ice chips and water, running to the store for gatorade and chicken noodle soup.

* * * * *
By the end of the afternoon, it is also the end of Week One. I have no new paintings done, but I also know I've done the right thing. I go back down to the studio, quietly finish the painting I was working on, and start another. I am now one painting behind. I have eleven to go. Most of them are figures. And tomorrow morning Jeff and the kids come home...

To be continued...right here.

 Today there's also a review over at Half Past Kissin' Time. Find out what my friend Mrs. 4444 in Green Bay, Wisconsin has to say about the finished book!

25 comments:

breckster said...

Isn't it interesting that more often than not the master's are correct? While, not as entertaining, I'm glad you got to be a monk, instead of a houseboat painter.

val of the south said...

I love this story, and your incredible faith.

The paintings are beautiful!

val of the south said...

I'm so sorry you've been sick :(

Hope you're feeling tons better :)

Lara said...

Opposition in all things, I suppose, frustrating as it is. You were obviously doing something very important.

The paintings you show here are beautiful!

Kristina P. said...

I sort of hate you. You are so talented! An amazing writer and painter. You go!

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

I would love to win some of the notecard prints. And I love you and your your story.

Kimberly said...

Oh lovely. I knew some of what was going on at time time, but it's such a fuller experience to read this account...the then-ness of it, and the now-ness of it. Beautiful.

ME said...

Amazing to have so many things come together to make the project possible!

(My word verification is ameness--apt, no?)

Melanie Jacobson said...

I'm so fascinated by this story. I love hearing about the creative process.

Barbaloot said...

I'm enjoying the sneak peak pictures:)

L.T. Elliot said...

Wow. I loved what you said about imperfection because God is perfect. I loved how they all turned out. The lights vs. the bounty is one of my favorites. I think about it often. In fact, because of that one picture alone, I'm determined to get up my Christmas lights this year. =D

Roban said...

Back for a lengthier visit.... I can't imagine painting these Christmas scenes while on a houseboat! I'm so glad you were able to live your monk-like existence at home instead.

It was so interesting to read how you budgeted and managed your time. Your paintings are so beautiful. I'm still thrilled to own my own special copy of the book!

The Mom said...

I'm sorry you got the flu! I am so intrigued by this story! I can't wait to hear more!

Debbie said...

I can understand why the Bethlehem sky would be intimidating. But it looks wonderful to me.

Marie said...

What a project. I am anxiously awaiting the rest of the story.

Shari said...

Toil, solitude, prayer. I love that. It's the solitude that's tricky, isn't it? Your work is beautiful. I'm having fun being part of your story. Thanks, Laura!

Redi-Kilowatt said...

Wow...I'm so glad Jeff recognized a need and took on the kids alone for a week. I'm also in awe that you would take time out to serve despite the deadline...when I'm under pressure, I am not pleasant to be around...yet you were able to care and nurture....I guess that is what thinking of Christmas and of Christ all the time can do for us.

Jewel Allen said...

My family goes to Lake Powell every year and it's hard to picture painting Christmas in that heat :-). Kudos to you!

Rachel said...

Your paintings are gorgeous.

Kateastrophe said...

I just noticed I missed this day. That is no bueno. I read it! I thought I commented! Glad I checked!!

Dori Montoya said...

LOVE everything, the string of glowing lights is beautiful!

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, but I LOVE your Bethlehem sky!

I still can't believe the intern incident. Oy.

I hope your tummy is back to normal! xoxoox

Jessica said...

again, this story is so much fun to read! I can just imagine that week of simple rhythm in your studio/monastery and sense that joy of creating.

LisAway said...

Wow. Heat stroke, eh? You are a very good person. What a nice trial for you.

LOVING the paintings shown here!!!

deb said...

I have goosebumps reading this.
You are incredible.

hope you are feeling better.