For almost 15 years, I have been an “inspired artist.” By this I mean I work from Scripture to create paintings. People always ask, “How do you do that?”
I try to do it myself, like a child who refuses help tying her shoes. As every parent knows, the struggle must occur for the growth to happen. We could so easily do it for them. Likewise, my art must eventually stand on its own. I know that the only way to create it is to have it go through me, albeit, abashedly.
Rather like Moses on the mountain and Jonah by the sea, I am a reluctant prophet of God’s message. In the trinity of creator—artist—creation, I stand in the middle, often blocking the way. The urge for self-reliance stands between the spirit and the work when I try to do it myself. Still this awkward dance of denial and production has been the process for all my paintings. Looking back, the process is so strange that I almost feel they are not from me. Actually they are not entirely mine. They are from the spirit that inspired them.
As a mother, wife, artist and educator, I create out of chaos. No idyllic studio in the woods, no reverent peaceful time set aside for painting without interruption. Amid this turmoil, it’s surprising and wonderful that I am inspired to paint at all. Perhaps you find this in your life. For me it typically goes like this:
I have a deadline, a project or commission.
I get very excited about doing the work.
I get very busy with other things.
Time gets short.
Fear of not having enough time sets in.
This fear is self-fulfilling and I begin to procrastinate to the point of agony.
I make coffee and percolate the idea. I go to the studio, take out a canvas, set it on the easel, and stare at the fearful blank monster.
“God?” I ask into the ceiling. I notice we have a leak.
I don’t wait for God’s reply. I am overwhelmed.
I go to bed.
The next day I remember that this is inspired work, so I search everywhere for my favorite Bible. Upon finding it and the verse, I sit down to read. The dog paws at my thigh and looks at me with hungry, helpless eyes that remind me I am out of dog food. I go to the store.
Four hours later, I am back in my chair. In 20 minutes I have to pick up the kids. My mind races over the passages, but I am only looking at the words. They might as well be in Swahili.
The evening ritual of parenting is a blessed struggle as usual. Homework, piles of papers, mail, a science fair project. I look for poster board in my cluttered studio and completely ignore the blank canvas waiting for me. The only creativity I have time for now is how to make dinner out of the weekend leftovers ( a miracle akin to the fishes and loaves.) The science fair project requires Kool-Aid. I need to go to the store but can’t find my keys. An extended search that includes dumping the entire contents of my duffle-sized purse on the counter produces nothing. I eventually find them by the dog dish.
After the trip to the store, we work on a fourth grader’s idea of the science project, which I am trying desperately not to control. She wants to do it herself. I encourage and console a sobbing, frustrated child who has genetically procrastinated working on the project. When the convulsing stops, we begin and complete a wonderful and surprisingly good project. An overtired child is tucked into bed, gets up to brush teeth and casually reminds me that it is our turn to bring cupcakes to class tomorrow morning. Back to the store.
I get back to my studio as fresh as a dishrag. Too tired to lift a brush, I slump into my chair and sit on my Bible, its sharp corner pokes me in the thigh. I read the passage; then I read it again. I close my eyes and give it up.
“God?” It’s a short plea of a prayer, but takes all my energy.
The third reading begins to make an impression on me for my heart is finally listening. Then God does what God has faithfully done for me with each of my paintings—encourages me. The blank canvas is ready. As if God has placed a thumb tack on my chair, I get up, squirt out some paint on my palette, get water and brushes and quickly cover the canvas with a timid coat of yellow. My arm moves around for a while, grazing the surface, then I back up. The next part may seem strange, but it’s almost as if I remove my hands, an artist’s most valued possession, and give them to God. Then with the passages still in mind, the image begins to take shape. It’s as much of a surprise to me as anyone as I watch my hands dip in the paint, twirl shapes on the canvas, swirl the water. I am lost in a divine daydream, finding God’s message in the paint. Whatever the scripture was, the underlying message for me is the same. Have faith; God will help. We can do it together.
The next morning, I get the kids to school in a frantic race that includes someone tripping over his shoelaces and losing a loose tooth. Back home I make coffee and stare at my counter, cluttered with the contents of my purse and dried frosting. It’s a familiar chaos. I smile at it and sip my wonderful sweet cup when I notice someone forgot her science project. I clean my brushes before I take it to the school. Now, if I could only find my keys.
Shari LeMonnier, a member of PC (USA), is an artist and educator. As a graduate of Southern Methodist University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, her traveling exhibits and lecture series have received numerous grants and international acclaim.