Monday, November 1, 2010

In the Beginning...

Exactly six months ago today, while the rest of you were donning your swimsuits and sunglasses, my summer turned into non-stop Christmas. I mean that both literally and figuratively. While you were planning your vacations, I was planning a Christmas. And if Christmas really is, like most children hope, an endless opening of new and surprising gifts, then my summer was that and more. It contained a series of gifts with unusual names: Toil, Solitude, Prayer. Water, Light, Inspiration. Even Miracles. Because what's Christmas without a miracle or two?

Without my even realizing it, this summer-that-was-my-best-Christmas-ever actually began almost four years ago. Divinely orchestrated, much like wise men watching for a star to appear, key events were put in place. An author I adore, Ester Rasband, had seen an exhibit of my work in Park City . She had purchased a giclée of one of my paintings, and said my work captured an elusive spirit...a combination of warmth, depth and light...that would be exactly right for "a little Christmas book" she had written decades ago.

An out-of-print book? Didn't sound like a very promising project. But she had printouts from ebay and Amazon showing there was still a big demand for her book on the used market. It had a pretty impressive following. She handed me the manuscript. She had recently updated the text. Just four pages, printed out in a gigantic font. That didn't look like much. But then I started reading. I was immediately pulled in. She writes with a profound simplicity that feels more like poetry.

The book is about the gentle reminders of Jesus' birth and divine role we find in every Christmas tradition...if we only choose to recognize them. I was so struck with the symbolism I wanted to make her thoughts come alive in images; to help the reader feel every word on every page. I was thrilled she had approached me, and my mind started spinning with ideas. I could instantly see how the sparkle and spirit of my watercolors would be a good fit for the glorious message of Christmas presented in her book.

She asked me to redesign the book and re-envision all of the illustrations. Start from the bare manuscript. Create everything from the ground up. My very first book! It sounded daunting, but doable, and I agreed to give it a shot. I told her I had a pretty full plate, and it might take me a long time to complete. She said she knew we couldn't have it by that Christmas, but maybe in time for the next. Then she bustled out the door, saying how excited she was that I was on board. And I pinched myself. I couldn't believe someone had just handed me this amazing gift!

But later, as the idea danced in my head, it became more like a vision of sugar plums than a real project. It turns out I have a life. A whole other life, already filled to the brim with teaching, painting, parenting, carpools and one wayward teenager. (Notice I didn’t even bother to mention the laundry?) As much as I loved the concept, and despite my best intentions, Ester’s project gradually slid...not just to the back burner, but right off the stove! One Christmas went by. And then another. And another. And still I had nothing down on paper. (Sorry, Ester.)

It was becoming impossible. I knew there was no way I could pull off a huge project like that without the support staff and print broker I had in California. On top of that, there were dozens of figures to paint. And I was a landscape artist. And most daunting of all...there was Jesus. How could I possibly paint the Savior in a way that would do him justice? I felt so unworthy.

But for some reason I just couldn’t tell Ester no. I really wanted to do this project. I knew I needed to do it. The little Christmas book kept hanging around in the crevices of my mind, hovering there, waiting. As real life kept getting in the way, my initial excitement began to be replaced with a low-grade guilt. The perennially patient Ester started asking if I still planned to do the project, or if she should take it to someone else.

To be continued...Part 2 is here.

21 comments:

Cari said...

I love reading the back story (part 1 of it, anyway) to this gorgeous book. I love looking at it! I love knowing YOU painted all those gorgeous images! Everyone I have shown it to swoons! Every household (in the world) needs this book in their home and in their heart.

And, I'd like that copy of the original Ester Rasband book please.

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, I didn't know the very beginnings of this tale. Wonderful!

Sparkle and spirit. Yes.

LisAway said...

Oooo, what a story. I can't wait to find out how you found time for such a heavy duty project. And I could stare at those landscape paintings of yours all day. So amazing. And I'd love to see the original of the book that got your mind spinning with ideas for images.

Barbaloot said...

What a cool thing to be a part of! I can't wait to hear more.

Sandy M. said...

I would love a 'What Think Ye of Christmas'! I found some of the illustrations for it through the links - they look wonderful Jana :) How pleasant to have the opportunity of starting with the bare manuscript and redesigning the entire visual concept too.
I also enjoyed the post about your shared exhibit with your father , thank you!
(I am in the Christmas spirit - working on home-made presents and organising other projects,.. while YOU are probably now ready to move on to New Year celebrations or head for that postponed vacation! lol)
(Do you know that here - Down Under - people often celebrate 'Christmas in July'? It's an opportunity to have a hot Christmas dinner while it's actually somewhat cold outside.. Of course, when I was a little girl, it was usual (us being of olde British stock - way back at least), for us to have a hot Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, even when it was 115 degrees in the house! Then everyone would escape to the beach to cool off! Now we have salads and sit in the air-conditioning :)

xo

That Girl said...

Ack! I can't wait to hear the ending! (Though, obviously, it ends well...)

ME said...

Looking forward to hearing part II!

Heather of the EO said...

I love it when you tell your lovely true stories :)

The Mom said...

Oh, I can't wait to hear the rest of the story. The book sounds amazing! I am sure this has a happy ending and you did the pictures and it will go back into print so we can all buy a copy...right? Please say yes!

Lara said...

The book sounds amazing, and it sounds like you will make it even more so.

And I so feel for you in reading this. I have felt just like this so many times as I try to do things for others but cannot let my own life/children slide.

Kimberly said...

Having been blessed to cheer you on throughout the painting process, it brings such a huge feeling of warmth (and huge smile) to read of how it all began. So inspiring!

annie valentine said...

Since 1978 is the year I was born (and I played Baby Jesus), I think it's only fitting I try to win this book.

Very exciting story, BTW. Cant' wait to see where it goes...

deb said...

I'm cheating and commenting here now just in case,

Kateastrophe said...

Um, LOVE this idea. Love the title of the book and I know I love your artwork so let's get me a copy of "What Think Ye of Christmas!"

L.T. Elliot said...

How wild to see how this all began! And I can vouch for how it all turned out---SPLENDIDLY!

Redi-Kilowatt said...

"What Think Ye of Christmas?" we should ask ourselves everyday..."what think ye of Christ?" I was speaking to my Jewish hairstylist today about how commercialized both Hanukkah and Christmas have become and how we both feel it is more important to focus on the special meaning and share the gift of time with our families instead of all the gifts from the store. I would love Ester's treasure...I can't wait to see the new revised version either.

Cookie said...

Wow, this is a beautiful and exciting story already, and this is just part 1! You're reminding me of all these wonderful gift projects I've been given, too. In my case, I'm not the visual artist, though. I'm an editor, a ghostwriter, a poet, and a writer. So many gifts, and so many distractions! Oh, that laundry!!! I look forward to reading the book. The title captivates me.

Happy Mom said...

I just spent some time online trying to figure out the name of the book. What Think Ye of Christmas looks like a beautiful book!

Congrats!

breckster said...

Tammy and I have decided to write a book, but I fear we will put it off to never getting done because life keeps happening to both of us. I hope we get that push and shove to make us actually do it.

Shari said...

Can I just say, I like you. Yes, I know I don't really know you, but I can tell good people when I see, er, read them.

Rachel said...

I've heard bits of the story. I'm excited to hear the details.