One of my growing edges is plein air painting. My wife is an artist and through a local art league, we’ve met a group of people who gather at a different park, homestead, or town square each Saturday morning during the warmer months to paint together. I never thought of myself as an artist, and still think of myself as a rank beginner, but I’ve come to enjoy the time with my wife, with my easel, and with my painting friends. As I’ve thought about it, I’ve also drawn some lessons that I think might bear on the beginning of a new academic year.
Pause and plan before you paint. We usually only have a couple hours at best to paint. The light changes so you want to work quickly. But I’ve watched some of my more accomplished art friends and before they start in earnest, they study their scene. Some use their phone or a slide frame to “frame” what they will paint. They will block in roughly the major features of what they are painting. Have you paused to listen to God, to reflect on your priorities for this coming term, both personally and professionally?
Pay attention to the light. Plein air painters speak of “chasing the light,” which is why they work quickly. You try to notice and reflect in your painting where the light is coming from and its character–cloudy, sparkling, moody. Where are the shadows? What is illuminated? 1 John 1:7 speaks of “walking in the light.” How will you attend to Christ’s light in your life amid all the features of your academic landscape?
Pathways for your eyes. In the composition of paintings, artists speak of how someone’s eyes will move through a painting. What objects capture attention and how does one move from one to the other? While your term may consist of a long list of “to do’s,” is there any kind of path you are aware of God inviting you to follow? “He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23).
Practice artistic license and simplify. We joke sometimes about “did you get your artistic license?” One of my freeing discoveries was that I didn’t have to paint everything I saw–every leaf, flower petal, blade of grass! In fact, I didn’t have to paint every tree. I could leave objects out. One of the wisest things Dallas Willard, a very wise man, said was to “relentlessly eliminate hurry.” You might ask God, “what aren’t you asking me to do?”
Paint with friends. My wife and I say if it weren’t for each other, we wouldn’t do this. She’s not a morning person, and so I’m the one who makes the coffee, loads the car, and gets us out the door. But she is the one the week before who says, “Let’s go paint here.” She’s the one who carries the painting torch and I’ve come to love sharing it with her. We often paint near each other and marvel how differently the two of us see the same scene.
Informal critiques with the other artists teach us so much from seeing what each other has done, and from comments on our work. Often, we are asked what we’d like help with–and I learn so much! Who will you paint with–that is, who shares your love for Christ who can encourage you on the way, and what space will you make in your life for that?
The practices I’ve shared are only good when you practice them–both in plein air painting and in the Christian life. Beyond the practices is the joy of time with my wife, in the creation, absorbed in putting paint to canvas, and sharing what I’ve done with friends. What greater joy there is for us to be with the Master Painter, to think of our lives as His canvas, his workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)!
The blessings of the Master Painter on your new term!
About the author:
Bob Trube is Associate Director of Faculty Ministry and Director of the Emerging Scholars Network. He blogs on books regularly at bobonbooks.com. He resides in Columbus, Ohio, with Marilyn and enjoys reading, gardening, choral singing, and plein air painting.