Searching for Sacraments: Marriage

Marriage – the final sacrament in this series and, at least for now, my favorite.

I think that’s because, out of all the sacraments, I know what this one looks like in my every day life. I rarely baptize anyone and too often I forget to stand by my sick and hurting friends. But every single day I wake up married.

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But maybe it’s also because this sacrament seems to hold all of the others within itself. My husband and I eat together each day (communion), and every day we welcome the other a little deeper into our hearts (confirmation). We encourage each other to step out (holy orders), support one another through joy and pain (anointing of the sick), and spill the secrets of our hearts (confession). As for baptism? Maybe that’s the very beginning. The moment when you leave the old life behind for the new.

Or maybe I’m trying too hard. Maybe it’s just my favorite because I like being married. In Searching for Sunday Rachel Held Evans writes that if God’s only grace to her in this life is marrying her husband, it will be enough. I can say the same about my husband.

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Whatever the reason may be, I’ve illustrated my favorite sacrament with my favorite feathered symbol of marriage – the albatross.

Albatrosses are the most faithful of all birds. They choose their partner carefully, and they return to that partner over and over again for the rest of their lives. I love that image. To me marriage is a choice to return, over and over again, every day.

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And maybe that is what the sacraments are. A choice to return, over and over. A choice to remember when we share a meal, a choice to stand by a hurting friend, a choice to welcome strangers with open arms.

A choice to practice faithfulness over and over again, every day.

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This series was inspired by Rachel Held Evans’ book, Searching for Sunday.

If you’re interested in prints from this series, you can find them here.

 

Searching for Sacraments: Anointing of the Sick

Anointing of the Sick.

It’s a tricky sacrament to illustrate with birds. I’m not sure I know what a sick bird looks like. I’ve scooped up a few birds and nursed them in shoe boxes over the years, but they don’t look much different from their cousins chirping in the trees (aside from, you know, being in a shoebox). Somewhere along the way I realized that I don’t need to know what a sick bird looks like, because it’s not the sickness I want to illustrate.

It’s the anointing. It’s the healing.

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“There is a difference between curing and healing, and
I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of
healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint
it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”

- Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

Maybe anointing the sick isn’t a one time event. Instead it’s a journey where we come alongside our family and friends and even strangers and weather the storm. With that perspective in mind, I knew exactly what I needed to illustrate this sacrament.

Penguins.

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You saw March of the Penguins, right? Remember how all those emperor penguins gathered together to protect the vulnerable? They huddle in great masses, protecting one another and keeping out the storm (and there were some serious storms). If any bird sums up anointing of the sick, I think it must be emperor penguins.

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So I painted these penguins in their huddle. The huddle that brings shelter from the storm. The huddle of gentle love and slow healing.

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This is the sixth illustration in my sacrament series. Previous illustrations are Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion and Confirmation. This series was inspired by Rachel Held Evans’ book, Searching for Sunday.

If you’re interested in prints from this series, you can find them here.

Searching for Sacraments: Confirmation

Although I’m posting this illustration later in the series, it was actually the first one I finished painting. That’s because I knew exactly what I was going to paint as soon as I read this line:

“The church welcomes us (confirmation).”

- Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

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I immediately pictured rows of little birds sitting on their telephone lines, scooting over to make room for the newcomer. Because there is always room. We can scoot over forever, those lines will never be so full that we can’t make room to welcome one more.

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This is the fifth illustration in my sacrament series. Previous illustrations are Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders and Communion. This series was inspired by Rachel Held Evans’ book, Searching for Sunday.

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If you’re interested in prints from this series, you can find them here.

Searching for Sacraments: Communion

Growing up in the church, I never felt comfortable with communion. Even now the thought of it settles like the small weight of stale cracker in the pit of my stomach.

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Communion was always about rules. Everyone was supposed to wait and take the bread when the preacher told them to, or they were supposed to take it when it was handed to them, or we were all supposed to ponder all of our sins and confess every single one to God because if you missed one and took communion anyways something very bad would happen. I’m not sure what it was exactly, but it felt on-par with going to hell.

Besides the discomfort of never knowing what I was supposed to be doing, I’m not a juice person. And grape juice is the worst of the worst. (I would always save a piece of cracker to eat after the juice to get the juice taste out of my mouth, even though I was pretty sure that was against the rules.)

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Then a couple months ago I was given an advanced copy of Rachel Held Evans’ book Searching For Sunday, and reading it gave me a whole new perspective on communion. Here’s a little glimpse into what she had to say about communion in the early church:

“At the beginning of each week they gathered—rich and poor, slaves and free, Jews and Gentiles, women and men—to celebrate the day the whole world changed, to toast to resurrection. While each community worshiped a bit differently, it appears most practiced communion by enjoying a full meal together, with special prayers of thanksgiving, or eucharisteo, for the bread and wine. They remembered Jesus with food, stories, laughter, tears, debate, discussion, and cleanup.”

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When I read that, I understood communion in a whole new light. Communion isn’t about rules, and it won’t to send you to hell if you eat the cracker at the wrong time. It’s a celebration, a remembrance, a community gathering. And so I illustrated communion with hummingbirds.

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I picked hummingbirds because they are (it seems to me) one of the few birds who can stop fighting over food and come together to eat. But mostly I chose hummingbirds because of what they eat.

They don’t eat bread crumbs, or old seeds, or insects with shockingly long legs. They drink the sweet offerings of beautiful flowers, and that imagery was perfect for my new understanding of communion. So I gave these hummingbirds a luscious, red flower. I can take a sip from those petals. I’m pretty sure there’s no grape juice in there.

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This post is the fourth in my series on the Sacraments. You can find the previous posts here, here, and here. Each of these illustrations was inspired by Searching for Sunday, which is available today!

If you’d like to purchase a print of this painting, you can find it here.

Searching for Sacraments: Holy Orders

Have you ever seen an image of St. Francis? He is often portrayed with a bird in his hand, and maybe a few on his shoulders and surrounding his feet. These birds are not included in images of the saint because they are beautiful, and Francis is not the patron saint of birds. The imagery is there because those birds represent people.

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Back when reading was a privilege reserved for the elite, commoners learned to read imagery in place of words. Different types of birds represented different people groups, and viewers would have recognized their own people among the flocks of birds.

This tradition is why I used birds to illustrate my sacrament series. My hope is that in these birds you may recognize your people, and maybe even yourself.

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Although this sacrament series contains many types of birds, this painting – the sacrament of Holy Orders – contains the widest variety in one illustration. In this painting I intentionally included very different types of birds. Each is a different color and different size. Each makes it’s home in a different type of environment. Each calls to mind different personalities and unique symbolism. They stand in for us – for you and me and for our next door neighbor and our fellow humans across the globe.

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These birds come together to commission one of their own. To send out one of their fellows with joy and support in the great adventure of spreading one’s wings and heading into the world. The birds don’t shed their differences when they come together. They maintain their unique colors and songs.

But they come together.

And I think that’s really what the sacraments are all about.

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This post is the third in a series on the seven sacraments of the Catholic church. Read part one here, and part two here. Check out the book that inspired this series here.

If you’re interested in prints from this series, you can find them here.

Searching For Sacraments: Confession

Today I’m going to continue the sacrament series with confession. (Part 1 here.) Confession was the hardest sacrament for me to illustrate for a couple of reasons.

One: I don’t really know what confession means. Is this a group of people making a general confession of faith or wrongdoing or is it one individual confessing to another? (Both options I never really saw growing up.) Or is it confessing to God? Or maybe all of the above?

Two: Without that clarity and experience it was difficult for me to envision a visual expression for confession.

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I thought about a lot of ideas. I considered peacocks sitting with their tails folded. I thought that maybe this could represent us in confession – not putting our best face forward, not showing off only what is beautiful about us, but humbly confessing one to another. But when I mentioned this idea to my sounding board husband he said he thought their tails needed to be out because confession is about exposing all of yourself. The imagery was too confusing, so I nixed peacocks.

I thought about parrots. They’re known for talking and confession is all about speaking. The problem is when you see a couple of parrots together they always look like they’re gossiping. Nix the parrots.

I turned to Twitter for some crowd-sourcing advice.* Here are a few among many helpful ideas:

I let all those ideas stew a bit and eventually an actual idea formed. I painted it so fast that I forgot to take any process photos (which explains why this post is a little lacking in that area. Sorry y’all.)

I painted two nightingales confessing one to another. But I like to think that there is room for more just outside of the frame. Perhaps this whole branch is covered in birds confessing.

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Why nightingales? Because the nightingale sings even in the darkness of the night. I liked the idea of a night bird coming into the light, singing her way from darkness into the new day. And because in Hans Christian Andersen’s Nightingale fairy tale, the nightingale’s song drives away death and brings new life.

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Interested in the book that inspired this painting? Check out Searching For Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. More thoughts on the book and more paintings to come.

If you’re interested in prints from this series, you can find them here.

 

*If you offered a suggestion on Twitter, thank you so much! Every one of them helped inspire me to create the final image here, even if it doesn’t look like any one in particular.

Searching for Sacraments: Baptism

I don’t know much about the sacraments. I grew up Baptist, so I’m pretty sure I never even heard the word “sacrament” until I was in my 20’s. But I’m reading a book about the sacraments now, so illustrating them seemed like a way to explore them a bit more intimately.
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Let me make a quick correction. The book I’m reading isn’t really about the sacraments. It’s about life and church and long journeys. It uses the sacraments like pillars. They structure the story but they aren’t the only part of it. They’re part of the story like I suspect the sacraments should be a part of life. Not separate, but intertwined like a thread you can’t quite pick out because it’s part of the whole.

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Like I said, I don’t know much about the sacraments, but I do know about baptism. (Grew up Baptist, remember?) So Baptism seemed like a good sacrament to start with. (Plus it’s the first one in the book!)

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Baptism was also an easy beginning because it has powerful imagery built in. Baptism evokes ascending doves and flowing rivers, death and life and water everywhere. Baptism isn’t passive, it isn’t quiet, it isn’t slow and it’s never done alone.

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So here are my Baptism birds. They’re ascending and splashing and living all together. And it’s kind of normal. Birds splash. They live.

Baptism is a big event, but maybe it’s also just part of life.

Oh, and that book I’m reading? It’s Searching For Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. You’ll hear a little more about it and the sacraments over the next few blog posts, so stay tuned.

If you’re interested in prints from this series, you can find them here.

A Fox Brought Magic To My Backyard

It seems like I’ve been starting lots of blog posts with confessions lately, and now I’ve got another. Hope you guys aren’t sick of them yet.

I only painted a fox because someone commissioned one and I was not excited about it.
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Foxes seemed boring. I like to paint animals with interesting silhouettes, animals whose bodies make interesting shapes, who are too long or too bendy or too interesting (just kidding, you know there’s no such thing.)

But I painted the fox. And I loved it.

Foxes, it turns out, are not boring.
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They jump and leap and float in the air. They are long and sleek and even their bushy tails are graceful. And those slender legs…foxes are the runway models of the animal kingdom.
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So then I painted a few more foxes. I just couldn’t stop.
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I started with single foxes, single, graceful creatures leaping into the air.
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And then it just seemed right to add a partner, to turn that leap into a dance.
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I haven’t seen very many foxes in my life. Most of my glimpses have been just that – glimpses of a tail disappearing into a bush, a streak of orange darting through the shadows.
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But the other day I stepped out into the backyard, a small fenced yard in the middle of a neighborhood full of other small fenced yards, and I saw a fox.
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He was walking across the neighbor’s yard, right on the other side of the chain link fence. He was stepping at a brisk pace, but he wasn’t darting or running or hiding quite as fast as I’ve seen before.

And seeing that little fox, slipping through the green grass, weaving through the quiet homes . . . . . .

It was magic.
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You can find a few of these foxes still available on Etsy.

The Evolution of an Illustration – Crow Traverses the World

I’d like to be able to begin this post by telling you that all my thumbnails are finished and I’m ready to begin painting! Unfortunately only half of that sentence is true. I haven’t finished my thumbnails (thumbnail post here), but I am ready to begin painting. And since I don’t have anyone to tell me not to, I’m starting.

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Yep, took this photo all by myself since the husband is out of town. Impressive, right?

(Actually my husband told me not to, but he’s out of town and I’m not listening to him.)

This post will be full of process photos, and I’ll keep the words to a minimum. I think in this case the process is best understood visually. Enjoy!

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I begin by drawing the basic shapes on the image full size on a piece of tracing paper. I use this drawing to guide me when I cut the shapes out of painted tissue paper, and again when I glue them on the surface.

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This photo contains all of the shapes I’ll be using in this painting – a large curve, the crow, and the background sky.

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I glue the pieces of tissue paper to my background – a piece of painted mat board in this case. I start with whatever will be on the bottom layer and build from there.

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Placing the tracing paper over the image lets me place the crow in exactly the spot I had planned.

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He’s all glued down and beautiful! I mean, look at those great wrinkles in the paper. I love them.

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Everything is glued down and mostly dry, so it’s time to start painting. I’m darkening the earth, and painting the daylight just on the horizon.

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Again, look at those wrinkles! Aren’t they the best?

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I decided to add a few very faint stars, so I’m applying them with the tip of my knife to make sure they stay small and unobtrusive.

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Completed illustration. (This isn’t the final photographed image, so there will be a little bit of difference between this image and the final image in the book.)

 

Top-Secret Thumbnails and a Story’s Beginning

I have a confession to make.

I hate preparing for an illustration. Ok, maybe hate is too strong a word, but it’s not my favorite part. I just want to get to the cutting and pasting and painting because my first idea is always absolutely perfect.

Except sometimes it’s not. Sometimes my first idea is actually really bad.

So I do thumbnails.
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If you’re not in the art and design world, thumbnail might be a completely meaningless word to you. If that’s the case I’ll fill you in real quick.

Thumbnails are tiny, fast drawings. They aren’t supposed to look good, and in fact most people who look at them probably can’t figure out what those squiggles are supposed to be. That’s ok, because thumbnails are really just for the person drawing them. They help get ideas out of the imaginary realm where all perfect art resides. In this realm all art is perfect, and it’s only when you try to translate that perfect painting onto paper that problems arise. So, thumbnails are a quick way to see those problems before you put hours and hours of work into an idea that turns out to be ugly, or wrong, or simply not quite right.
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I don’t usually show my thumbnails, because most of the time they are fast and tiny and only make sense to me. I keep them secret because sometimes they’re just straight up ugly. But I’m showing them this time because I’m making a book, and I want to share the whole process with you.

It’s a children’s book, and a grown-up’s book, and an in-between book. It’s a book for people who love stories. And I hope it will be the first of many. I want to create a collection of illustrated stories from around the world. I’m searching for stories that aren’t famous, but are beautiful.

I’m beginning with a story I first heard years ago from a fellow illustration student – the Inuit tale “Crow Brings the Daylight.”
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I won’t tell you the whole story now, but you can look it up or watch as it develops here. I’ll be sharing posts of each illustration as I do them.

And, of course, you can read the whole story in the finished book. Digital copies will be free, and all proceeds from physical copies will be going to a charity that supports reading and education. (More on that later.)
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I’m creating this book to share a story. And I guess I’m posting about thumbnails, even though I hate them, because they’re part of a story too. They’re part of the process, the journey to creating my first all-by-myself, not-in-school illustrated book. So please jump into the story and be a part of it. Share your thoughts and I’ll share mine and we can watch the story grow together.

These thumbnails are about to get a little bigger.
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