I kinda forgot to announce this, but…. I’ve switched my blog over. This is now “The Songbird’s Pencil”, dedicated to my more thoughtful, non-business related writings. My art and studio stuff will go on Hearthside Studio…..and I’m excited. So, come see me!
Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.
G.K. Chesterton wrote that, and he was right. If we don’t have a standard by which we measure what we see and create, we have no right to call a masterfully executed painting ‘art’ and that overflowing trash can ‘not art’. If there is no limitation, you cannot call one thing beautiful and another ugly. You have no point of reference for discerning between the good and the evil. I read this article a while back, and it really stuck with me. The author, Zach Franzen (himself an illustrator), talks about many artists in our modern day– who set themselves up as the standard for beauty, and expect their audience to bow to their definition. Why is that garbage can, littering the sidewalk with noxious refuse, art? Because I said so. Because I decide my own limits, or lack thereof.
“No limits!” sounds like a battle cry of freedom– when really it is a declaration of slavery.
The truth is, we cannot escape having a standard by which we live. Everyone has a starting point from which they view the world. Everyone, whether they are conscious of the fact or not, are governed by principles that tell them what is beautiful and what is abhorrent. Liberty is possible. But it must take place within boundaries, or it becomes chaos. There is great freedom for personal expression, yes– but it must be done within limits. Liberty within law. They are not antithetical to each other. A man cannot pick up a pencil, write nonsense, hold it upside down, read it backwards and then insist that the gibberish he just spoke was deep and meaningful. Self expression is where the universe revolves around us (or so we think), and we define what is good and evil. We need to remember that we are sub-creators, not Creators. Only God has the authority to define these things. Am I saying that there is no room for your personal style? No, not at all. I believe that there is great room for personal culture– for creating beautiful things that reflect your personality. But the key word is ‘beauty’. What you create must meet up to the standards that God has set for art and music and aesthetics. In summary, we can know what is and isn’t beautiful, what is and isn’t good, not by looking to ourselves for definitions, but by acting within the boundaries of Him who defines all things. There is liberty within law.
I’ve been working on a project, an illustrating/handlettering set for friends. We went over and over different designs. Days were spent trying to perfect one concept after another, only for us to come to the end and decide that they weren’t right after all.
Time was running out yesterday afternoon. Schedules were packed, and yet this important project was getting nowhere. One more design was set forward for drafting.
I started praying over it as I bent over my paper once again. ‘Lord, please, please, guide my pencil and help us find the right one soon…’
In all things, give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you.”
-1 Thessalonians 16-18
I was about a third done with the concept draft when plans were changed again. Time had run out: we were just going to settle for a ‘meh’ design that no one was particularly excited about.
“O.K.,” I replied, laughing to ease the stressed nerves between everyone. “No worries.”
Just for the sake of it, I sent a photo of the design I had been working on. “I’ll stop this and work on the new one.”
“Wait. Hold on.”
Guess what? That prayed-over, last-resort design was EXACTLY what my friend had in mind originally.
We’d finally found the design. THE design. The one we were going to make official. We didn’t have to settle
Nervously, still praying “Oh, Lord, don’t let me mess this up now,” I went back to work on the remaining 2/3rds that had not yet been ‘invented’. I have a fairly loose designing technique sometimes: I just sketch randomly until I hit on what I like. Not this time. I tell you, the design flowed, and every element just appeared under my fingers– perfect.
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
While working through possible-card-designs, a family friend (you know who you are, Mrs. B) was so kind in her remarks about my hedgehogs (which I’d forgotten about). Not real ones, it’s OK. I mean my drawn ones.
Soooo, those will probably be on the first cards released.
[drawn last night with pencil & watercolor pencil]
I don’t like working with pressure to finish a thing ASAP. I did it. But I rushed at the end. And that messed it up, and messing it up upsets me. You know, one of these times, maybe I’ll learn?
But still, it was nice to sit inside by the fire and draw and love on one of my favorite verses.
But it’s done.
As I’ve announced on my Facebook Page, I’ve got a number of greeting card designs that will hopefully hit the market soon (unless circumstances push it out to next year, which is possible). This is an instagram-quality snapshot of one of the designs.
Our scene opens upon two young men conversing together. One is of very earnest and animated countenance, with a manly bearing and the stamp of virtue upon his face; the other is of a manner more carefree and inclined to enjoy the youthful pleasures of life without considering the more sober, but necessary elements. We come upon Joseph, the former, speaking sincerely upon the matter of death.
“The voice of a dying man seems to be more readily hearkened to than that of his lusty neighbours. Perhaps this is on account that death strips away vanity from his thoughts, and he is given new eyes to shun that which is of no account in the ever-approaching light of the world to come. Death! How it banishes the thoughts of vain pleasures and the care for esteem of men. For who so foolish as to seek the acclaim of masses when his soul is quickly departing to the Presence of the One before whom the opinions and esteem of men hold no weight?”
Joseph paused his elaborations. Charles rested a firm chin in his hand and gazed across the fielded meadows and hills below. “But,” he answered, “I have known men to die in very different states than such as you have described. Why, John Cosper not a year ago, with the knowledge of his impending death, spent his last days carousing and drinking until he was laid so low that he was unable to rise from his bed, and even then kept up his profane speech.”
“This,” said Joseph with a smile mingled with sadness, “is too often a manifestation of the effects of death upon the unconverted soul. They cannot bear the agony of their spirits which should surely attend them should they allow themselves one moment’s solemn reflection. So, to quench such uncomfortable thoughts from their minds, they throw themselves into as much distraction and gratification as they can. Indeed, I have known men who are not faced with death to behave so. It is not uncommon— no, for it is the very nature of every man to have a void in his soul which clamours to be filled. And only one thing can fill it!”
Joseph rose to his feet and walked about excitedly. “only one thing can satisfy the deepest want that lies in the bosom of every man since Adam. And that thing is the Lord Jesus.”
“I knew it would come back to that,” said Charley whimsically. “You always manage to cram a great deal of religion into your lectures, Joseph.”
Joseph was not swayed by the carelessness of his companion. “Death is said to be man’s enemy, but I cannot help but think that the Lord has also given him the touch of a friend. For, though many men reject his calling, he bids them to take a close inspection of their lives and see whether they will pass muster on the final day. Death sometimes merely passes the door of a man, giving him a good shaking-up before passing on, which gives a renewed view of life, its brevity, and the importance of seeking those things which hold eternal value.”
“It’s all very well for you to speak so,” returned Charley, “but I have no thoughts so morbid as those which you seem to find pleasant companions. The way you talk, one would think that you derive pleasure from an evening at the grave-yard, among the foreboding stones.”
“As well I do, after a fashion,” replied Joseph, smiling. “I have often improved an idle hour by taking my books to the quiet solitude of gravesides to reflect upon the brevity of life and to prepare my soul for the life to come. It is not an unwholesome practice as it might seem, Charley. Oh, it could be rendered so by such modern thinkers as regard death with a sort of worship, considering those things that are manifestations of the Fall and sin as worthy of much contemplation and study. They are lacking the very element that makes such reflections profitable- and that is looking always upward to the Cross of our Savior and King. All studies must ultimately point there. If they do not, no matter how highly regarded, they are worthless and destructive. The light of the Cross alone gives wisdom, and no scholar or university can profess to know anything apart from it.”
I like to draw my own greeting cards, and I occasionally practise my handlettering. This was for a dear friend, and I took a quick picture with my digital camera to show you. What do you think? I’ve designed some cards– not just like this, but in the same style– that, Lord willing, I’ll be selling in the next few months. And that excites me!
I have a vision. A vision to bring back the timeless warmth of the home. A vision to introduce my generation to real living, which has been robbed of us in this cold day of efficient technology. I’m not at all against technology, but I do believe that too much of our culture is focused on efficiency rather than cultivating beauty and warmth in the home. As Maesimund Panchos once put it:
A stranger to our culture observing our commercial eating places might conclude that eating requires a stopwatch.
And it doesn’t stop at eating. We are more concerned with making everything ‘fast and efficient’, and less concerned with savoring the moment and cultivating relationships. We live in a world of speed at the cost of the things that really matter.
As I considered this great lacking in our culture, read books which mentioned it, and discussed it with friends, I came to write this (fictional) essay some weeks ago.
The words caught my eye as I stood before a broad display of candles, trying to choose a gift for a new neighbor.
I picked up the candle and smelled as my eyes fell upon another further down the shelf. “French Vanilla”
I began reading the names as I walked slowly down the row.
“Fir & Cedar”
All of the names sounded so warm, so inviting, so homey. I remember my grandmother’s house smelling like that. But those smells came from warm cobbler in the oven, freshly baked cookies laid out to cool, and a warm fire crackling around the cedar logs I’d split for her in the fall.
Sometimes the house would have the fragrance of lilacs wafting upon the sun-warmed breeze that made the curtains dance as it blew through the open windows. I remember the smell of moss as I picked up hazelnuts in autumn, the spicy scent of fir boughs in the winter, and the hazy, warm smell of hay in the summer as I sat on the board fence and watched the men harvest the fields.
I used to watch Grandmother hang up baskets of wet laundry in the sun and later help her take the clothes down again, sweet smelling and warm from the sun’s gentle rays.
We didn’t need to burn candles to make our house smell like home. Grandma did burn candles– but they were homemade. The everyday ones were made from her own tallow, and for special occasions she made bayberry tapers.
But now, something has changed.
We’ve let beauty and harmony be banished in the name of convenience and efficiency. After all, I can’t imagine that someday women will be spraying their homes with fragrances called “Microwave Dinner” or “Electrical Heating”. Why do we think we can give our homes the illusion of real living — the way Grandma’s house was– by burning a chemically formulated simulation of the real thing? Have we become as artificial as that?
I set the candle down and decided to bake a pie for my neighbors instead.