He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.
St. Francis of Assisi is believed to have said this, and I agree with him. I also feel that God intended all people to be artists with different mediums. Some use words or flour and sugar or plants or ideas or house paint. Creating something that hasn’t existed before reflects God’s creative stamp on us and engages and aligns all the layers of a person, which is why I think everyone should regularly create.
I’ve learned that limited mediums help me create more. If the whole world is my oyster, all the choices overwhelm me when I want to make something new. But when I have only a few choices, I know better what to do. Limitations are freeing and clarifying.
When someone at work ordered a big whiteboard, it came in a box taller than me, so I claimed the cardboard before they took it to the recycle pile. Cardboard is the poor artist’s canvas, and I have a different way of recycling it.
Here is where most of us artists want to insert disclaimers, before we unveil our work:
What I did is nothing like the picture.
It’s not that great, really.
Someone else could do much better than this.
While all of that is true, I believe there’s something even truer: whenever we create something that didn’t exist before, and if it brings some measure of truth, beauty, or goodness into the world, it’s something to treasure, and not make excuses for.
There’s always someone better than us, and there’s always something we could’ve done to improve it but there’s so much goodness in the process of creating, in the courage of putting paint on a blank piece of paper or cardboard or wood, that it should keep us from giving much air time to the disclaimers.
Over several month’s time, I worked on this mixed media project. First, I sketched a rough outline of petals, and swiped the highlights with white acrylic paint to give it a raised texture. When it dried, I propped the cardboard on a chair for my easel and stroked, layered, and blended chalk pastels with fingers and thumbs and palms. Some evenings, I took it outside to work on. I sprayed it with fixative, because chalk brushes off easily, and then saw more colors to add, so I put chalk on top of fixative. I discovered by accident that this really worked well, because the spray gave it a little more tooth, as chalk artists call it, which is roughness of the surface. The cardboard gives it its own texture, which adds to the overall impression.
Some time after it was finished, I came across a line from Robert Capon, and I knew where it belonged, and added it with a gold marker.
Only miracle is plain. It is the ordinary that groans with the weight of glory.
Another way this evolved is when I cut the upper left corner to follow the contours of the flower. This is the beauty of using cardboard. The downside to it is that the paint made it buckle. I painted the back of it to balance it, which helped, but it’s still curved. The other downside to cardboard is that I don’t respect it as much as a canvas, and poke tacks in it to mount it on the spare room wall, which is probably unwise.
I like all the colors and texture here.
I keep it because I don’t want to throw it away yet, but also because of the deep joy in smearing, rubbing, and layering all the delicious colors. Creating aligns my head, heart, and hands so that for several glorious hours, all the parts of me aren’t fragmented or confused, and I feel whole and new. I value the process just as much or more than the finished product, and this artwork on my spare room wall reminds me of how fun and exhilarating that process was.