Archive for August, 2015

As an artist, and as a Christian, it is wise to wean yourself from a dependence on affirmation. Better to have the approval of God than the approval of men, and also quite frankly, the approval of men can be hard to come by. If you allow yourself to gauge your success or failure based on human affirmation, as an artist and/or as a believer, you might be in for a world of hurt. Better to pray for guidance and move out in the assurance of God’s love, grace and faithfulness.

That being said…

Affirmation is still a wonderful thing. Something to be received graciously and humbly. I’ve received several of them in the last day and they have really blessed me tremendously. How we handle this wonderful blessing is imperative. Here are three ways to make sure you handle affirmation properly.

1. Don’t let it go to your head. As Christians, we are more the instrument than the masterpiece. The glory belongs to God alone. Appreciate affirmation, it’s a good thing and may well be God using that person to show you you’re on the right track, but direct the glory to God.

2. Be appreciative and humble. This refers to step one to some degree, but goes a bit further. The person affirming you didn’t have to do it. They went out of their way to show you appreciation. Appreciate the person. He or she is a blessing.

3. For goodness sake, take it to heart. If you’re like most artists, especially believing artists, you will want to deflect glory while taking every harsh, ugly, condemning criticism to the very core of your being. This is exactly backwards. Ugly, condemning stuff is never from God so why would you take it into the heart where God lives? God allowed you to do something that touched and blessed someone enough that they went out of their way to praise what you have done. Receive it AND give God the glory.

Two last things. Sometimes affirmation comes from wrong motives. Test everything against the Word and the Spirit. Don’t let a false affirmation take you down a wrong path. And lastly, affirmation is encouragement and encouragement is a good thing. You know how it feels to receive it. Don’t be afraid (or hesitant) to give it. You may just spur someone on to love and good deeds, the very thing we are called to do.

Thank people for their affirmations, give God the glory and do something else that is praiseworthy.

It came up this morning, while goofing with my family. My wife was cutting my hair and about half way in, she had to step away for a moment. My son joked that she should leave my hair that way. My wife said, well he is an artist. It was a joke of course, but there is a stereotype. Many people expect us as artists to be, well, frankly, a little weird. My response, weirdness is not a prerequisite for being an artist.

We all know there is a good bit of truth to the stereotype and plenty of artistic folks who are more than willing to feed if with their strange behaviors. Society also seems to give artists the “weird” pass. Eccentricity is almost expected from us. But does it have to be?

I’ve heard so many artists talk about being misunderstood. To some degree that’s a cop-out. How can we be misunderstood when the very gifts we have received, are gifts that should make it much easier for us to express ourselves and make ourselves understood. If you feel misunderstood, apply your creativity to finding a way to be understood.

One could argue pretty successfully that artists seem to experience the world a bit differently than the rest of the general populace, but is that a license to be attention grabbing oddities? Personally, I don’t think so, especially for those of us who claim the name of Christ. Aren’t we supposed to be living to honor Him and point people to Him? Now that’s truth.

Scripture calls all believers a royal priesthood, a peculiar people… What that means is we demonstrate our “odditude’ not by being weird for weird’s sake, but by living such a good life among the world, that people will see us and be open to our message.

Now that’s a kind of weird I can get a hold of.

My wife asked me this morning if I ever wrote a post about speed painting and how I do it. I don’t know that I ever have and it is such a big part of what I do. I think it was a great idea and so over the next few days I am going to do just that. Let’s start off with the basics.

Why Speedpainting?
The first question one might have is why would you do speed painting? After all it would seem a bit stressful to attempt to paint a large painting is six minutes or less. Actually, that’s part of what makes it fun. I’m about to use a dirty word for ministry. Speed painting is performance. It’s meant to be done live before an audience. I don’t speed paint in my studio (unless I am practicing). The reason for that is simple. Speed painting is more about the creation of the art than it is about the art. What I am shooting for is an experience. I want to keep the people guessing what I am doing for as long as possible. I want them to be engaged. I want them to be drawn in to the story I am telling. A studio piece is about creating a work of art that will stand the test of time. A performance piece is about creating engagement and a memory.

I will often say a speed painting is not the best piece of art I can do, but it is the best I an do in six minutes. This in itself can be a lesson. So often we artists will lament the conditions, supplies or lack thereof, etc. Speed painting is about doing the best you can with what you have in the allotted time. I want people to come away from one of my speed paintings, ready to hear a story and ready to tell the story of what they just saw and heard.

Speed painting is meant to capture people’s attention and draw them in to something bigger, the message itself. People often have very limited attention spans. If I am going to paint live, it’s got to be done quickly, so it’s not like… well… like watching paint dry.

The plan…
Because speed painting by it’s very nature needs to be done quickly, a plan is often important. For the most part, I never sketch the piece on the surface. (It’s not wrong to sketch and I know many artists who do, I just like it this way.) Occasionally, especially if I am planning on urging two pieces into one, I will add a few guidelines to make sure the elements that need to line up, do so, but otherwise, I like to let it flow.

Simplicity is key. Details are slow and we don’t have time for slow. I always start by breaking the item down into it’s basic shapes. This is drawing 101 but it really comes into play here. When I paint a face for example, I will often start by painting a cross on the “canvas.” People assume that I am trying to spiritualize things, and to an extent, I am (remember, I am always trying to draw people in), but that cross form also helps to line up the eyes and nose. Other times I will just work in a few basic forms and work around them. Even in this, the story is king, so anything I can do that will draw people in to that story is really worthwhile.

We’ll continue with this in a later post. Here is an example of me speed painting a lamb.

This cross of art and technology by Anthony Howe is absolutely fascinating…

mural1Years ago, Hillary Clinton wrote a book called It Takes a Village. I wasn’t necessarily in agreement with her and the phrase has sort of irked me ever since. A few days ago a friend of mine, Kent Rice, asked me to design a mural for his latest project, East Petersburg Area Civic Center. I was excited to do this project. I sent the sketches through and he asked me to make one addition.

A banner that says, “It Takes a Village…”

mural2Are you sure??? I said it might be seen as political, he reminded me if comes from an African proverb, long before it became the time of Mrs. Clinton’s book. I added it.

Today as we began the painting, it was amazing. I had so many people volunteer to help. People who see themselves as artistic, people who really don’t, but just wanted to help, even young children. It was amazing, kind of like a village. Someone made the comment that they were surprised that I, as an artist, would allow others to work my design with me. I actually love to collaborate, Beyond that, the only way it was going to get done was massive quantities of help. At least ten people helped over the course of the day. It went from blank wall to finished piece in one day and a whole lot of people can look at that piece and say I helped with that.

mural3This civic center project is all about community and so is the mural. Maybe it really did take a village.

I stand corrected.

On my most recent ministry trip, my hosts (and friends) had a request for me. They had found a nice table at a yard sale and asked if I could paint something on it for them. I love to do things like that, and there is a fair amount of downtime in a four day ministry trip, so, of course I obliged. Then comes the usual question:

What should I paint?

She replied, “Pray and paint what you feel led to paint…”

It made me a little nervous, and I don’t really know why. After all that is basically what my ministry presentations are. Every single one of them was born out of praying and painting what I felt led to paint. That’s how they all start. I’m not sure what was so different about this one. Perhaps it was the fact that it is on a table they want to keep. In the beginning stages of my presentation paintings, I have the basic idea and I begin to work, but it usually goes through an awkward stage, and often gets quite bit of work before I can speed paint it. This would be one shot and done.

Nonetheless, I went to bed about midnight and before I went to sleep, I prayed. I awoke 4:00 a.m. with not just a clear image, but also how to set up the image, the idea of using templates, and exactly how to paint it. I saw three things, a butterfly, representing new life and new creation, flame representing the Spirit of God and a broken chain representing freedom. I moved forward with the painting and this is what came out.

tablepaintinglrWhen I showed my friends the final piece, it related to all sorts of things they were seeing in their prayers. God is amazing like that. He really does speak into our lives and if we will ask Him, He will give us things to do, pictures to paint, stories to write, etc. Things that will not just edify you as a creative, but also speak into the lives of others. If you find yourself in the midst of some sort of creative block, start with prayer. God is listening.

He’s good like that.

sio1A few years ago, I was about to do some art in an event… a Christian event… an outreach event. It was announced that one of the groups invited to participate was from a type of church that was decidedly not Christian. Some Christian folks backed out, worried they might be associated with that group, and I was asked if I wanted to sit this one out as well. My response was “no.”

Here’s why. First of all I am called in Scripture to be salt and light. There is also an admonition to make the most of every opportunity. Finally, when believers sit out of things because other groups show up, our voice is not heard. That makes no logical sense. Sitting out because this group came would not have effected the other group at all. Their message would have been the only one heard that day. Their message would have gone forth whitely Gospel stayed at home. Secondly, I don’t dislike these people. They simply do not believe in my God. I believe my God is the one true God. How will they ever come to know Him if we sit out every time they show up? I think it’s better to go where I am invited to go and at the very least add the Gospel into the mix. I think Jesus is strong enough to shine through.

And it’s a lot better than the Gospel sitting this one out…

No I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. As I sit here this morning I realize this is the longest I have gone without posting since the early days of this blog. Don’t worry I am about to catch it up. I was ministering over the weekend at the beautiful Liberty Raymond Tavern in Greene, OH from Wednesday to Sunday. I made the 320 mile drive Wednesday morning only to discover that I left the mighty MacBook’s power cord sitting at home and I thought I would need the charge in the machine for my presentations, so I left the MacBook closed for four days.

Other than missing blogging it was kind of nice to unplug for a little while. Oddly enough the Lord was leading me in some different directions for my presentations, so I got to create some new things, which were both stretching and fun. The end result is I have a few new presentations to use when I minister and I have an increased trust in the Lord’s ability to inspire and provide. It was a great time away…

I will catch up today.

treva and dennyMy Aunt, Treva Blair (pictured with my Uncle Dennis who is also and awesome human being) is a brilliant woman in her own right. She was that person in my life. At that time when every adolescent has a hard time relating to their parents, she was there to be a voice of reason and as a result she had a pretty major impact on my life.
I remember this one time. I was worried and distraught over something. Today, what it was has long since faded from memory (which proves her point from long ago was quite correct). She looked at me and said, “Before you allow yourself to get this worked up over something, you need to ask yourself a question, ‘Will this matter in 20 years?’ If it will then invest your time in fixing it, not worrying about it. If it won’t, why worry about it now?” It was some of the best advice I have ever received and when I have the presence of mind to remember, it helps me to stay calm and happy in the face of some truly difficult situations.

A lot of fear of failure comes from worry, anchored in the age old question, “What if I fail?” The truth of the matter is failure is usually quickly forgotten by the general public. They simply don’t have time to remember all the failures of others. They are usually to busy with their own lives. We are the only ones with the luxury of being able to dwell on our own failures. It’s not really a luxury. It’s a self-imposed death sentence to our creativity, but what if we applied Aunt Treva’s question? Will this matter in 20 years? In 20 years life will have gone on and hopefully we will have moves on as well. This perspective should give the courage to try to find the next solution that will move our idea forward or sometimes to let it go and move on to something that will succeed.

Ideally success will last longer that failure, because if failures are seen as learning opportunities rather than fatal blows, we learn from them and move through them until we succeed, finish what we start and ship something wonderful to the world.

Most failures won’t last 20 years, so there’s no point in dwelling on them now. Learn from them and move forward. Thanks Aunt Treva. See I was listening.

(excerpted from my upcoming book Start…Finish…Ship…Repeat)

twoPeter is an awesome person in Scripture. I think part of my attraction to this hero of the faith is his “reality.” He’s so much like us. One minute he’s bold and brash, proclaiming truth for the world to hear, the next he crumbles and struggles just like the rest of us.

Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am?” Peter (AKA Simon) said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus blessed him and changed His name to Peter, which means rock. Jesus then went on to say on this “rock” I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

A few minutes later, Jesus is instructing His disciples on His impending death and Peter comes to the rescue. I won’t let this happen, I will protect you. In that moment Jesus calls him Satan. What happened to the Rock? Oh, Peter is still the rock, but right now, he’s off track and Jesus needs to set him straight. You see Peter wants to save Jesus, but it’s Jesus’ death will save Peter (and all the rest of us as well). Getting in the way of that plan would be the work of Satan, not God.

Another time, when Jesus is speaking of His death, Peter vows to stand with Jesus even if he has to die and Jesus informs him that before long he will deny three times that he even knows Jesus. Of course, Peter tries to rebut that, but to no avail because a short time later that is exactly what happens. Peter denied Jesus three times just as Jesus said. What happened to the Rock?

Peter is still the Rock…

Later after Jesus died and was resurrected, He met with Peter again. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. You can hear the pain in Peter’s voice as he replies yes, over and over. It almost seems like Jesus is being cruel to the one who denied him. In actuality, Jesus was healing a restoring Peter, three denials cancelled out by three affirmations, and after each affirmation, the same command, some variation of feed my sheep.

It’s clear what Jesus is doing. Peter is reinstated. He is still the Rock. He (and HIs proclamation of Jesus’ Lordship) is still the foundation of the Church men like Peter would begin. The road will be a hard one, ending in death for Peter, but God’s Kingdom will be advanced, the church of Jesus Christ will be built and Peter (like us) will receive his eternal reward.

In Acts 2, that church truly is born, and who steps to the forefront? Peter! It’s Peter who declares truth. It’s Peter who preaches the Word. It’s Peter who brings the message, a hard message that includes the fact that the people killed their own Messiah. Yet that message draws thousands to repentance. So you know what that message is?

It’s Peter feeding Jesus’ sheep.

None of us have achieved perfection and we won’t on this side of the grave. We will mess up. We will make mistakes. We may even sin. None of those things change who we are in Christ. Peter was still the Rock, even when he failed. When you fail, repent and return to your path. Don’t give up.

Feed His sheep as we build on the Rock.