Category Archives: Creativity

Creativity Contained

Last Summer

“Last Summer” Acrylic on Panel, DS

The painting would not come together. The idea was clear. The execution was not. Colours, shapes, glazes were painted over again and left for more inspiration. Small but mighty this painting lived on. Layers added here and there. A figure, in fact only a woman’s head low on the picture plane, viewed a waterfront landscape. There was a lamppost, a bridge, and several easel shapes on the tiny 8” x 8” birch panel.

Some ideas cannot be enfleshed. They are delicate, fleeting, yet so powerful. This work now has a layered landscape of knitting attached removing all evidence of the woman. Yet she remains. The waterfront and her image in it live on, hidden under the knitting. There is something about it – an atmosphere, a choice of colour, which draws me to prayer. Is this a contemporary icon?

 

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.   Book of I Corinthians

 

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Experiences of Art Series: Werner S.

IMG_1395“Opera Cafe” DS

Interview at Opera Cafe

Bio:

– Retired engineer

– Bought first piece of art with his pocket money – a watercolour of goldfish

– From a family of architects, engineers, farmers and watchmakers of the Black Forest

Art:

– Print of a forest, black on white fabric

– 4 feet wide, 8 feet high

– Natural edges

“It just appeared one day in my youth. My father brought it home saying he bought it. He gave no details. He determined to hang it in our modernist dining room in the suburbs. I always felt it was misplaced there because it limited its visual impact. It hung silently in my parents’ home for five decades.

Now I have inherited the print. It hangs like family history in the glassed entryway here on the North Shore of Vancouver. It acts as a foil to the green trees surrounding the house. It is visible best from the dining room.

I had holidayed in the Black Forest at my great aunt’s place one summer. Her husband taught me the rudiments of mechanical engineering. I was quite good at it. This was not surprising to the family. I am part of the old stock.

Every time I look at it, it has a different meaning for me. It represents distance and closeness to me in the psychological sense. I feel challenged somehow when I look at it. Of all the pieces we inherited from Germany it is the most meaningful.”

IMG_1401“Forest Print – Black Dye on White Fabric” DS

IMG_1406“Back Deck Forest” DS

 

First Time Ever

An e-mail arrives to the in box with the subject line: No Service Tomorrow Due to Snow. The church is closed – what? No one can be found in time to clear the parking lot. It is unsafe. A contractor wrote: Even if we were able to plow today it would only expose the ice and make a very bad situation worse.

I guess it is good to know that the pastor has our safety in mind. Now it is on me to deal with the disappointment of the day’s festivities being cancelled – including the Blue Christmas service. It allows me to take stock.

These words came to me after breakfast: The service is cancelled for the first time in the 25 years I have been going there. This snow is too much. The driveway is impassible, the 30 steps a risk to ankles, and the car covered with ice again. It must be said though that we are warm, we have light, we are together and we have enough food. God knows the situation.

We are thrown back on our own resources. We must worship God on our own without the benefit of a worship team today and pray depending only on the Spirit’s prompting. I found help at youtube.com:

“When I’m with You” Citizen Way

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-A2jGZfgYH0

Ken Shigematsu’s book “God in My Everything” comes to mind. The next chapter focus in giving Spiritual Direction will be “Sabbath: Oasis for Body and Soul”. We need to rest from our activities. We are invited to ‘question our assumptions” about life and express our love to God. In doing this we trust that God will look after all that concerns us while we take a break. I work on making some Christmas collage cards.

It has been several days now since I have been ‘out and about’. I injured my neck and shoulder early in the week clearing snow from my vehicle. Ice and heat packs have been my intimate companions. I wait for our name to come up on the list for driveway clearing with a local company. We are certainly not alone in our condition of isolation.

A holiday of sorts has begun. I find myself thinking in different ways about many things. Who could really use some extra prayer today? Should I do some contemplative knitting with my sore neck? It is only fall; will we get through winter this year? Will the turmoil of my time commitments falling like dominoes make me draw back from being involved? Should we move to a place where the streets have better snow removal?

Yet the day, as it wears on, becomes a true holy day. I feel more at peace. I remember when God has looked after us in worse situations. I breathe. I trust. I pray. I pray for my family and for those who would have attended the Blue Christmas service this evening.

Hope arrives in the form of dripping snow. The trees are becoming less white as clumps of snow slide down the boughs to thump on the covered grass underneath. Like my knowledge of the green hidden under the white, my faith is there under the fears –

“All will be well and all will be well and all manner of thing will be well”

Julian of Norwich.

In Vancouver snow means recovery from trauma – that of realizing that we are not totally in control of our lives. I have faced one of my basic fears – being snowed in – and discovered again the real meaning of Christmas – that God’s Son is with us – Emmanuel.

I am OK. I am rested. Tomorrow will come with its health and work. God invites us as friends into the changing plans.

John 15:11-15 The Message 

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

iPhone Photo DS

“30 Snowy Steps” DS

 

 

Prayer and the Creative Process

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“View from Stephanart Studio” DS

 

The one thing I’ve learned is to always keep moving. Never let it all drop. Always be doing something for your project, even if it’s printing it out and crossing out words and writing in other words, or writing a plan. Stay in motion. Give it something.

Contemporary writer Alex Leslie

An unfinished painting stands facing the wall in the Stephanart Studio. The artist has not painted for months now. Her fear has been that in her angst to continue the work she will ruin it. Her work was interrupted by life and she lost the vision for its completion.

It had stood central on the easel for weeks while the sketchbook drawing was enlarged and redone on the 36” x 24” canvas. The foreground and background were thinly painted in. Three telephone poles had been erected in the image and Easter colours chosen for their completion but never applied. Their starkness in the landscape mirrored the artist’s wilderness experience of late.

Just now, in the middle of the night, after all this time technical ideas came to its creator. Shapes and colours floated through her dream. An inner excitement drew her to record it here. She will go out to the studio, unlock the door, and restore the work’s place on the easel.

The day before, the artist had received a visit from a colleague who had prayed for her to forgive a past hurt and for creative work to continue. An oppression has lifted. Inspiration is this odd, this ad hoc. The work stops, the work starts again – so frustratingly simple, so complex and profound. Who is this great God who calls and equips us to create, to forgive, to live inside the real work of art that is this world? Who is she that her work can be disrupted by her inner life, by her outer life? Why was her call answered so quickly when others are not?

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous [person] availeth much.

Book of James

 

Failure: the Doorway to Success?

Photo of Iona and Labyrinth under new ownership 2015

Photo of Iona and Labyrinth under new ownership 2015 DS

Government programs fail to deliver; countries fail to provide for their citizens; ghost towns form. Movements fail or decline, new ways emerge. Countries like Syria are struggling for survival. The Yukon was the sight of failed gold mining. Planes fall out of the sky (Malaysia Airlines, EgyptAir, Indian Air Force), again.

Wars are lost. Boundaries are changed. Peoples are displaced.

There are failures on a global scale to protect air, water, and land. Species have become extinct. Some failures may just be the natural ebb and flow of existence.

The iconic Iona Building at UBC had to be sold although the theological college still exists apart from that grand space. I think of the Highland Clearances of Scotland (to make room for sheep), to be a failure, as well as the Potato Famine of Ireland. The wildfire of Fort McMurray is a failure of sorts but the town will be rebuilt. I hope.

We fail to rehabilitate, to resuscitate, to reinstate, to collaborate, to meditate. We are unsuccessful in love, in business, in losing weight, in baking a gourmet cake. I do/am.

Friendships are lost. Cars are crashed. Our bodies are injured or break down with disease. Mine does.

Everyday failure is real. It is not the end of the world though it may seem like it at the time. Failure may be a chance for change, or just sorrow to be endured.

How would Mother Teresa have measured success, or Picasso, or Matisse who created from his bed, or Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.…? (How do I – by mission statement?)

Sometimes our failures catch up with us. We stand in need of forgiveness. The making of amends, as in AA, can rebuild relationship success.

Success can be illusive or inconclusive. It can be fleeting or misleading. True success in life – who can define it?

I just received 2 ‘declines’ from an art jury. I have received many of these over the years. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I say. Do I take their refusal as permanent – or as fleeting?

Is it them or me, their judging or my creating? I have never actually kept track of my declines or failures. I change goals. My work has been exhibited in over 70 shows.

A Business of Art course instructor once told us that some artists have commercial success and some critical success. Juries love my work. Yet the fact remains, that I have a high ratio of donated paintings versus those I have sold. By which criteria do I judge my own work?

Much of what I create, I will admit, does not fit well in a living room above a couch. It is too raw for that. The colours are anything but subdued. The techniques are immediate, layered, direct and even messy. My style does not have the requisite consistency. But there is an internal rhythm. In my latest jury submission of 33 paintings (one for every year of the life of Christ) each has a cross or stripe pattern.

The truly difficult thing is that the work has to be created, the materials purchased, the time set aside. Years of work needs to be framed before one applies. One has to get the paintings onto a gallery wall so viewers can consider buying them. One has to have the space to store unsold paintings. New paintings have to be imagined and realized for the next jury, to fit the next art space requirements.

How, I think now, can any artist really keep going to achieve success? There are so many barriers, so much competition, so many people who ignore art totally.

It seems to me that each artist must define success differently. Each artist must hone and redefine the definition to fit the circumstances, must see benefits where they seem invisible.

Creating art is similar to being a mother. Our paintings incubate and are born. Success, I realize now, is to have children leave home ready to meet the world and to have paintings leave the studio to find their niche. My children and my paintings are offered to the world as the best of me. Adult children forever at home or paintings lying dusty in the studio are the true failures. But success often calls just when we are ready to give up.

In the meantime, children may struggle, paintings gather dust, but independence is close and my oeuvre is being built for that day not too far away.

How can one achieve success when accolades come for just the opportunity to show? What can assuage the echoing sting of ending an exhibition with few sales? How can one go on year after year financing one’s own – what – ego? When the paintings pile up in the studio why do I apply to more juries? This art-making refuses to die. It becomes like a form of addiction. That first flow of colour off the paintbrush at 7 years old had me hooked. As with all addiction there is grief.

My paintings need a home and I want money for them. There, I have said it. Maybe after I am dead, success will come in memorial. Perhaps it is my children, my estate that will benefit from my collection. I have now got it: my legacy will be my success. My part is to enjoy the process of creating.

One thing about achieving a degree of success is that one asks what do I do next? Where can I go? When can I say, it is enough? For now, I decide I will rest with gratitude.

I know that if I get that show for my 33 paintings my desires have not changed. I want people to attend the opening. I want a decent write up in the reviews. I do not want to carry those cumbersome paintings out of the gallery, into my vehicle, and back to my studio only to begin over again next week. I am tired. I need success now and I need studio space. My body feels broken. My mind and spirit carry it trailing behind like the tin cans tied to a wedding car.

Jesus’ death on the cross: failure it appeared.  Was his goal to live three score and ten years? The Resurrection 3 days later proved the success of his mission.

When I think of failure and success after all this, I ponder two questions:

  1. What do I want?
  2. How will I know when I get there?

As I wait to see how sales have gone at my latest exhibition, I receive a message that my painting “VanDusen Gardens” has been chosen by the art committee at Lions Gate Hospital for their permanent collection in ‘The Healing Power of Art Program’. It will hang with the greats – Molly Bobak, Sylvia Tait, Gordon Smith… Am I there yet?

 

VanDusen at home

“VanDusen Gardens” Acrylic on Canvas, 32″ x 48″, Deborah Stephan

MAKING AN UP-CYCLED COLLAGE JOURNAL 2016 (Shellseekers Art + Soul, Deborah Stephan)

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“Gone Girl” DS (page in collage journal)

This is an economical way of making a journal that will help save the environment. It will also provide a way for slow de-cluttering of your bookshelf/library in the re-purposing of some of the books that you like but will not re-read or passed on.

Images and text will be used randomly throughout – unlike a regular notebook or journal. The idea is to promote freedom of expression and an acceptance of ‘mistakes’, poor penmanship and ‘primitive art’ as happy accidents or random acts of everyday art. The book will be messy, hopefully so untidy that others will not be tempted to read it as they would with a bought diary. It may look like a piece of junk – indeed like some of our lives do at times – yet in the messiness, patterns of beauty begin to emerge for the one who notices.

The spiritual quality of the book is hidden in the everydayness of its creativity. The purpose of the Shellseekers Collage Journal is to discover both our own selves and God as in the prayer of St. Augustine: “Lord let me know myself; let me know you.”

Making in 3 easy steps:

  • Select a pre-read book, either soft cover or hard cover, preferably one from your own collection or at least a book that you somewhat resonate with
  • Obscure the cover with collage materials glue-sticked on, either wrapping paper, newspaper or magazine images, tissue paper, foil gum wrapper, bus tickets, anything around your home that has been used before
  • Place a ruler along the inside of the right page rip about 3 pages out using the ruler as a guide so that when finished you have about a 1 inch remainder of the pages and do this every 30 pages or so intermittently to the end of the book (this is so when you start to collage the book will still be able to close)

 

Feedback comments and questions are always welcome.

 

Grace Wulff Booklets

Gifts for the Journey

Gifts for the Journey

At a recent conference I ran into a classmate from our days at the Carey Centre for Spiritual Formation, Grace Wulff. Grace is now a hospital chaplain in Vernon, B.C. She has written her own resources, which include her drawings to further enliven the work. They will be providing interest, comfort and an opportunity for self-expression to those enduring long days in a medical environment.

Through personal narrative, encouragement and timely questions, her books provide accompaniment. Examples:

Dreams and Hopes

Did some of your dreams come true?

Do I still have dreams?

Write down your dreams and hopes for the future.

“A Guided Journal for Hope and Healing” 2015 Grace Wulff

Waiting Room

Sitting

Alert

Waiting for …

the moments pass

 

I breathe

In

Out.

 

Sometimes the

Doing

Preoccupies.

 

It fills the

Spaces.

 

Perhaps

Waiting

can be a gift.

 

Can I calm

The restless

anxiety

of not controlling

the next moments?

 

As I sit

and wait

and breathe.

 

“Gifts for the Journey: A Hospital Chaplain’s Reflections on Life and the Life to come.” 2015 Grace Wulff

 

Here’s a shout out for the lovely Grace –

Blog website: journeyofhopefaithandlove.blogspot.ca

 

– to purchase the booklets and materials please contact Grace directly at:

 

grace@gracewulff.com