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.