Under Construction

When I was teaching full time, it was often overwhelming to keep bulletin boards current, let alone creative! I especially disliked putting up those big cut out letters. I had them sorted alphabetically, but it took time to pull all the ones I needed. And how many times did I have to change the color scheme or go with random colors because I couldn’t find one last red “e” or a capital “T” that had to be blue?

Even worse was getting the letters spaced evenly on the board. I’d measure and figure and measure again. How wide is the fat “O” compared to a skinny “I”? No matter what, I’d still end up with letters allsquishedtogetherattheend and have to start over. So I avoided letters whenever I could. Pictures are worth a thousand words. Right?

Then there was bulletin board envy as I visited a colleague’s room. Where did she get the time and energy to make 20 hot air balloons, decorate them with each child’s picture and favorite things… and get the title, “Up, Up and Away! Our Class is Soaring High!” spaced just right??

I did do some very creative bulletin boards, but they took many, many hours, and who has that kind of time on a regular basis? In a teacher’s store I once saw a sign that said “Under Construction,”under-construction-clipart-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-9k5LRn-clipart and I thought that was the best idea since spring break. It was ideal for that time in early March when green St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks needed to replace red Valentine hearts, but there was no time between lunch duties and report cards. Of course, there was a danger–the temptation to leave that sign up through Easter and Memorial Day and Flag Day and… oh wait. Is it time for fall leaves and squirrels already?!!!!

You’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this! I feel like I need to put that “Under Construction” sign on my blog and even on my life right now. We retired from full-time ministry about a year ago, and I haven’t posted since! We are so thankful to be able to retire, but we’ve been struggling to figure out this new part of our path–praying and seeking God’s guidance on what ministries to get involved in, what church to attend (we’ve never had to do that before), and how two people, one a planner, the other a-spur-of-the-moment person, can handle time together, as in: “You want to visit the botanical gardens TODAY??? I’m sorry I’m going to the Y at 9, meeting _______ for lunch, and then I have a dentist appointment at 3. How about we put it on the calendar for next Thursday?”  Then… there’s our differing space and noise needs: one likes silence, while the other likes music and TV.

 

One major direction the Lord has moved us is even farther West–to Colorado, where we are closer to a part of our family. I never thought this Maine girl would move that far west, but I thought that about Oklahoma and Texas, too. And we enjoyed Oklahoma’s wide skies and fiery sunsets and Texas’ warm winters and now miss the churches we served and the friends we made in those places. It is such a blessing, though, to be here in Colorado,

and attend soccer games and plays and be in on some of the upcoming wedding preparations!

So just as bulletin boards need to change with the seasons, I need to be open to the seasonal changes that life brings. One thing that will never change, though, is the Lord’s loving kindness. He will continue to guide us through those changes.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand shall lead me,

                           and your right hand shall hold me.                                                                                                                                 Psalm 139:7-10

Amidst the many changes, I am praying that the Lord will help me to continue my writing. I have had some devotions and stories published in adult and children’s magazines and have other things out there, including a children’s chapter book. Next month I am visiting a field research site to continue my research for a children’s nonfiction article. I’m excited to be able to go and see a scientist at work in the field!

And a fellow writer is working on a website for me, and I hope to use that to get back to speaking to groups about art and Christian history and doing some drawing and art workshops for homeschoolers and other adults and children.

Then there is this blog! Many of you have been so faithful to read it and have told me you’ve missed it, which I really appreciate. But the blog too, needs some construction work to stay current. The problem is I’m still looking for the Lord’s leading for how to reconstruct it. One day I think I should do more art projects for children. (Quite a few of you liked those). Another day I decide to do the Life of Christ through art. Sometimes I think I should chronicle this retirement adventure! I just don’t know yet

So until I know, I will leave my “Under Construction” sign up.under-construction-clipart-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-9k5LRn-clipart

Please pray with me for inspiration and not too much procrastination! And let me know if you have any suggestions.

 

A Girl With a Watering Can by Auguste Renoir

A Girl with a Watering Can, Auguste Renoir

A Girl with a Watering Can, Auguste Renoir

Most of us love flowers. At this time of year, stores are crowded with people looking for flowering plants for their gardens. And, of course, Mother’s Day, a big day for bouquets, is just ahead!

So this post is for you if you’d like an easy art project for children to do for Mother’s Day and would like to learn more about a group of artists who also loved flowers—the Impressionists!

They painted fields of wildflowers, flowery hats, and bouquets of roses. But they especially loved to paint in their gardens.

The Monet family in their Garden, Edouard Manet

The Monet family in their Garden, Edouard Manet

In this painting Manet was visiting Monet (yes, they are two different people!) and was so taken with the light in Monet’s garden that he began painting. Renoir arrived a little later and, borrowing paint and brushes, also painted the scene.

Gardening was very popular in France, and the Impressionists liked showing modern life. So their garden paintings also bloom with beautifully dressed women strolling, reclining on the grass, or sitting at tables in dappled sunlight. Children play in many of these paintings. Family members and friends were often the models.

You_press_the_button,_we_do_the_rest_(Kodak)The Impressionists liked the look of the quick, snapshot-type view they had learned from photography, and they would crop

The Place Clichy, Auguste Renoir

The Place Clichy, Auguste Renoir

their compositions in places that made the viewer feel a part of the scene, and give movement and spontaneity to it.

Most of all, gardens were ideal for the Impressionists’ light, colorful palette and their desire to capture the quickly-changing effects of light on colors. They worked quickly and applied paint in patches of unmixed colors, which worked well to give the impression of masses of flowers.

The Artist: RENOIR

the artist, Auguste Renoir

the artist, Auguste Renoir

Renoir enjoyed painting beautiful things such as flowers, women, and children. He loved life and wanted art to be “cheerful and pretty.” And no one captured carefree parties at outdoor cafes like Renoir.

The Swing, Auguste Renoir

The Swing, Auguste Renoir

His feathery brushstrokes also created the “impression” of dappled sunlight coming through the trees better than anyone.

At 14 Renoir had been apprenticed to a porcelain painter and there learned that colors looked brighter and lighter when painted on a white ground. When he switched to canvas, he continued to prime them with white or cream instead of using the traditional dark grounds.

Like the other Impressionists, Renoir used a limited number of colors and didn’t pre-mix these on his palette. Instead he mixed them on the canvas itself and applied them wet-in-wet.

Unlike the other Impressionists, Renoir thinned his colors when he did faces, allowing that white ground to show through. It makes his faces look translucent. In contrast, his flowers are often done with thick paint.

The Painting: A GIRL WITH A WATERING CAN

A Girl with a Watering Can, Auguste Renoir

A Girl with a Watering Can, Auguste Renoir


This is such an Impressionist painting! It’s in a garden, and it looks like someone just ran to get the camera to take this little girl’s picture. They were hurrying to get it quickly before she moved, so it’s a little out of focus. The dabs of paint become flowers only when you step back.

And it’s so Renoir—a pretty little girl in her best dress, smiling at the “camera”! We can imagine birds singing, and the scent of the flowers heavy in the sunshine. And someone saying,”Oh, this will be a great picture to send to Grandmother!”

Okay, after that first impression, look away and see how many of these questions you can answer!

  • What is the little girl holding (besides the watering can!)?
  • What color is her hair?
  • What color is her hair bow?
  • What color is her dress?
  • What are the two types of decorations on her dress?
  • What decoration is on her shoes?
  • What is she standing on?

Now let’s go back and see how carefully planned this painting really is! (You know Grandmother would pore over every detail!)

Notice how the figure of the little girl connects and unifies all the broad swaths of color behind her:  her head touches the back flower border; her dress and arms connect with the green lawn and the yellowish path; and her feet touch the curve of the rose bush area.

It’s unified but not static. Renoir uses those massive blocks of color, especially the green lawn and yellow path, to move your eye around the painting. All those color swaths follow the same curve back into the painting, taking your eye with them. They don’t go back far enough to take your attention away from the little girl, though. And, of course, the patches of red catch your attention and move your eye around!

But what is the focal point of the painting? What does Renoir want us to look at the most?

A Girl with a Watering Can, Auguste Renoir

A Girl with a Watering Can, Auguste Renoir

It’s the little girl’s face.  What draws your eye there? First of all, we are wired to attend to faces! But Renoir does things to nudge us in the right direction.

  • The little girl’s face and hair are lighter than, and stand out against, the surrounding grass.
  • Her dark blue dress contrasts with, and frames, her face.
  • Her red bow is the brightest area of red in the painting and draws our eye to her face.
  • Her reddish hair and red bow are complimentary  (opposites on a color wheel ) to green, so they have high contrast and give an almost shimmery look to her hair—very eye-catching!
  • Last, but not least, there’s a trail of buttons from her high-top shoes up the front of her dress to her face.

Devotional Thoughts

tomb of Catherine of Siena before altar of church in Rome

tomb of Catherine of Siena before altar of church in Rome

In the Middle Ages Christians went on long and dangerous trips to view the relics at the great Gothic churches of Europe. In34 Monasticism - CopyOthers entered monasteries and gave up everyday pleasures to spend their days in manual labor and prayer.

Some believed their very salvation depended on these things. Most did believe they had to do such extraordinary things in order to improve or grow in grace.

Thanks to the leaders of the Reformation, we know our salvation is based on faith in the atoning death of Christ for our sins.

But in many ways we still approach the growing in grace part like people of the Middle Ages.

We still often look to extraordinary or special events to help us grow.  We want instant growth from events such as retreats, conferences, concerts, and short-term missionary projects.

Don’t get me wrong! These are often good things, but special events are one shot deals that only come once in a while. They can’t produce steady growth, and not everyone can participate in them.

The Bible teaches that our daily growth in grace as Christians really depends on ordinary things that we can all do, and this painting illustrates these.

Our initial faith is like the seeds that produced the flowers in the painting. They have already been planted, but they can’t grow without something as ordinary as water from the little girl’s watering can.

Neither can our faith grow without what are often called the ordinary means of grace:

  • attending church to worship and hear God’s word  preached
  • taking part in the sacraments
  • regular times of personal Bible reading and prayer

Although they may not seem very exciting, these everyday practices that everyone can do are the water that helps us grow spiritually.

The painting also helps us understand our part and God’s part in this growth. While water is necessary for growth, it doesn’t cause the growth. God does. “… neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:7

So it is with our growth in grace—when we are, with God’s help, diligent to practice the ordinary and outward means of grace, watering the seeds planted by God, He blesses that effort, in an inward, supernatural, and mysterious way that we call grace. And the plants (the fruits of the spirit, Galatians 5:22) in our life grow stronger and more beautiful day by day.

Determine with God’s help to practice the ordinary means of grace. Make them habits. Good habits are fine to have!! And the Lord has promised to bless our most meager efforts.

An Art Project for Mother’s Day

Moms and Grandmothers, you’ll love it!

Supplies:  20160502_125357sturdy paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, cheap watercolor set, brushes

Directons:

1. With a green crayon draw20160428_102200 curving stems as if coming from a narrow vase in the middle at the bottom of the paper. (See illustration) (I often draw the stems so that the bouquet isn’t too small)

2. With crayons of a variety of colors, draw the outlines of ‘flower’ 20160428_103005shapes (daisies, circles, spirals, etc.) among, and at the end of, the stems. Leave coloring them in to the next step—painting.

3. Now, just like the Impressionists, paint blobs of paint right over the crayon ‘flowers’. 20160428_104913 20160428_104910Blobs work because the wax of the crayons repels the water color and shows through. (Encourage children to use small amounts of water to mix paint. Otherwise the colors get pretty watery)

4. While the flowers dry, trace on another piece of paper around each child’s hands (have them spread their fingers apart a little). Include a few inches of their arms. 20160428_103747 (use colored paper or children may color these and add rings, watches, etc.)

5. Cut out the hands.

6. Glue the hands, fingers interlaced with thumbs up, at the bottom of the painting as if they are holding the bouquet! (the fingers interlace more easily if the hands come together at an angle)20160428_110827

Voila!    Write Happy Mother’s Day across the top and give to Mom or Grandma!

Other Things to Do

Visit art museums with Impressionist collections and see how many have flowers in them. Many American museums have at least a few, because Americans were among the first to buy their work. Mary Cassatt, an American Impressionist artist living in Paris, introduced many of her friends to Impressionist art and encouraged them to buy these works. At the time they were very reasonably priced!

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Parts of this post came from talks I have given for different groups, and I enjoy speaking to homeschoolers, women’s groups, and others on the topics of art and Christian history. If you’d be interested in my speaking for your group, contact me here.

The images in this blog are used for educational purposes only

 

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Florence was a busy and wealthy city in the Renaissance. An independent city-state, it was a major center for the weaving and dying of wool imported from Northern Europe and silk from home-grown Italian silkworms. Merchants made lots of money exporting their cloth all over Europe and had their own agents in most major cities. To finance their ventures many merchants also became bankers on a local, as well as international, level.

The Medici, one of these powerful families, used some of their great wealth to encourage and finance the work of a number of artists. That patronage, together with other factors, such as the rivalry among Italian city-states and the great interest in classical writings and art, helped fuel the Renaissance.

Florence produced many of the biggest names of the Renaissance: 20151107_123553Ghiberti (the bronze doors of the Baptistry), SAM_3630Brunelleschi ( the architect who finally figured out how to put a dome on the cathedral),

St. George, Donatello

St. George, Donatello

Donatello ( revolutionized sculpture with relaxed poses and realistic figures), and of course Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

20151107_104725

 

Today 1000s of tourists spill out of the Santa Maria Novella train station into a city that is still wealthy and busy. Many come for the art. Even off-season, there’s a line to get into the cathedral, and an even longer line to climb up into its iconic red-brick dome, which towers over everything else in town. Reservations are needed to get into Florence’s top art museums: the Uffizi is home to one of the best collections of Renaissance art, and Michelangelo’s David is the Accademia’s big prize. Even with a reservation, both museums are wall-to-wall people. One man actually rested his selfie-stick-mounted camera on Wes’ head to get a photo of a famous painting!

20151109_103452But Florence’s main streets and piazzas are busy, too. It’s a shopper’s paradise, with high-end fashions and home goods filling the stores, and merchandise overflowing into several big outdoor markets. Venders of leather products are everywhere, and it’s a toss-up which is stronger—the sales pitch, or the smell of the leather!

 

 

Tiny, expensive jewelry shops line the Ponte Vecchio.20151109_10020220151108_182541 They have thick, metal-studded wooden shutters, completely closing over the shops at night, probably just as they did back in Renaissance times. Back then, though, this bridge was home to butcher shops since it was so handy to just open a back window and dump the waste into the river. But the Medici grew tired of the smell on their way from palace to work, and goldsmiths took over.

 

The streets are busy all day, but even more at night. 20151107_17210820151107_184847SAM_3515Italians with babies in strollers and dogs on leashes, and tired tourists still snapping photos, throng the streets, walking, shopping, visiting, and dining in outdoor restaurants and enjoying gelato. Businesses stay open late, and crowds gather around street musicians and puppeteers. 20151108_17532320151116_115243People selling pastel-colored selfie sticks or little gizmos that light up when thrown into the air, thread their way through the crowds. It’s fun, but can become overwhelming.

 

The Artist and the Painting
A quiet place to rejuvenate and reflect is sometimes needed, and there is one in the Museum of San Marco that occupies what was once a Dominican monastery. Surrounding its own quiet cloister, it has some of the most beautiful art in Florence, but not as many people know about it.20151107_131112

In the 1430s Dominican monks took over this monastery that dated from a much earlier time and began renovations financed by Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder. Cosimo kept a cell here for times of retreat (I guess he got tired of the hustle and bustle, too!), 20151107_135641and near the end of the century, the reformer, Savonarola, was assigned as a teacher here. You can see their cells and studies.

20151107_132639As part of the renovation, one of the Dominicans, Fra Giovanni, soon known as Fra Angelico, painted frescoes of the life of Christ throughout the monastery and in each of the monks’ cells. Once only the monks could see these, but today everyone can wander through the quiet halls and look into each of the small cells. It’s startling to see a colorful fresco of the Nativity or the Baptism on its wall. Because of the plain surroundings, the frescoes stand out with moving clarity.

 

 

One large fresco, The Annunciation, greeted the monks, and now greets us, at the top of the stairs to the cells. The stairs turn a corner about three quarters of the way up so that you don’t see it until you’re right below it. Then it fills your eyes as you climb the rest of the way up.20151107_132113

This Annunciation is, I think, one of the most beautiful of all annunciation paintings. It depicts a moment of quiet serenity in a cloister not unlike the one just downstairs. The archangel, Gabriel, bows before Mary as he greets her and announces that she will bear the Christ Child. Mary’s hands are folded in submission to God’s will.

Gabriel and Mary stand out against the plain walls and floor of the cloister. But the more you look, the more the simplicity of the receding columns and arches, resulting in varying shapes of shadow and light, draw you in with their beauty and frame the quiet drama within.

As befitting an Archangel, Gabriel’s multi-colored, almost rainbow-like, wings are eye-catching, and the gold on them is repeated in the embroidery on his robe. The robe drapes in graceful folds that show rich shades and tints of pink.

That pink is repeated in just two other places—the floor of the cell behind Mary and her headband. That repetition allows our eyes to leave the heavenly being and come to rest upon the humble woman seated on a plain wooden stool. Mary’s clothing is also plain, but contrasting with her white robe is a dark blue mantle that frames her face and arms. Fra Angelico didn’t want you to miss her sweet expression and submissive gesture.

Behind Gabriel is a garden with delicate flowers and lush greenery. A walled garden is often used in annunciation paintings to symbolize Mary’s purity and virginity. It also reminds viewers of the Garden of Eden and what mankind lost when Adam and Eve sinned.

Some Devotional Thoughts
Fra Angelico was a Dominican monk who took his vows very seriously and eventually became prior of the monastery of San Marco. The Dominican order was founded, as were the Franciscans, when Europe was in transition from a mostly rural economy to a time of more trade and bigger cities. Traditional monasteries were self-contained communities, often in very rural areas, and, therefore, couldn’t easily help city dwellers.

Dominicans and Franciscans didn’t stay in their cloisters. They went out into the world to preach the gospel in a down-to-earth way and minister to people in need. They were very dedicated and effective, especially in the cities. During the years of the Black Death thousands of these friars died ministering to the sick.

When the San Marco friars returned at the end of a busy day, they passed through a quiet cloister, but then had many stairs to climb to reach their cells.

As they turned the corner and gazed up at the angel Gabriel, were they reminded of the vast splendor of God and His heaven?

When they looked at Mary, were they reminded of their own humble estate?

When they looked at the garden, were they reminded of the Garden of Eden and mankind’s fall into sin and separation from God?

When they looked at the cloister and thought of their own small cloister downstairs, did they long for a permanent rest from their labors, especially against their own and others’ sins?

Did they then think on the amazing love and grace God has given us fallen humans, in the gift of His Son?

Were they amazed anew by the miracle of God taking on human flesh and being born of a virgin to dwell among His people?

And did they praise God for opening the Way to return to a renewed and eternal garden of peace with God through faith in Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection?

Most of us today can’t withdraw into a monastery to get away from the hustle and bustle of what has become a very materialistic holiday season. But I challenge you this month to find a quiet space to think on God’s splendor, your humble estate, your longing for that permanent rest Christ can give you from struggling with your own sin and a sinful world, and praise God for opening the Way through Christ back to the Garden.

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The images in this blog are used for educational purposes only

Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Praying_Hands,_1508_-_Google_Art_ProjectI’m going to do something a little different for this post. There will still be information about the artist and the artwork but instead of a devotion, I’m going to show you a simple art project for children. It’s quick,and it’s fun. It will also help illustrate the meaning of the artwork, decorate your Thanksgiving table, and remind us all of our need for prayer, not just at Thanksgiving, but in all situations.

Durer, self-portrait

Durer, self-portrait

The Artist
Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was born and lived in the German city of Nuremberg, which was an important center of trade, metalwork, and the new technology of printing. Durer’s father was an accomplished and prosperous goldsmith, but life was still hard. Germany was divided into lots of semi-independent states with many resulting wars. There were also military threats from outside, frequent famines from crop failures, and recurring outbreaks of the plague (2 in Durer’s lifetime). Durer was one of just 3 in his family of 18 children to reach adulthood.

Durer’s education was typical of sons of prosperous merchants or craftsmen. He had 3 years of school to learn to read and write, then was apprenticed to his father to learn the goldsmith’s trade. At 15 Durer switched his apprenticeship to a Nuremberg painter and designer of woodblocks for book illustration.

At 18 Durer traveled throughout Germany as a journeyman. He financed this by making and selling woodblock designs to book printers. Twice he traveled to Italy to study the art of men such as Raphael and da Vinci. Durer was one of the first northern artists to do this, and his work shows a mingling of the Northern artists’ careful observation of individual detail and the Italian artists’ concern with the rules of perspective and form.

Frederick the Wise

Frederick the Wise

Returning to Nuremberg, Durer became a famous and respected artist. He received many commissions, including from Frederick the Wise, who also supported Martin Luther.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Although a great painter, Durer was one of the first to make the major part of his income from woodblock prints and engravings, which were affordable by all. In these Durer used fine lines to produce life-like details and shading. One project, 15 large woodblock prints from the last book of the Bible, instantly became a bestseller, making Durer famous throughout Europe. Some were later used in Luther’s German New Testament.

Albrecht_Dürer_108, sea crabDurer continued to travel. Wherever he traveled, he studied and painted ordinary places and creatures with the interest of a naturalist. He painted crabs he saw in the fish markets of Venice and in the Netherlands tried to see and draw a beached whale. It is believed that he contracted malaria from that excursion, and later died from it.

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Praying_Hands,_1508_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe Artwork
The Praying Hands have become an enduring symbol of faith. They were done as a study for a large painting that was part of an altarpiece for a church. In the lower half of the altarpiece painting, the twelve apostles are praying at Jesus’ empty tomb. We know this painting only from a copy, because the original was destroyed by fire in 1729.

Some of Durer’s original studies of hands, robes, and heads, including The Praying Hands, also remain. The Praying Hands study was drawn with a brush on a greenish blue paper. They show careful observation, yes, but goe far beyond mere recording, to illustrate humble faith and trust in God.

Self-portrait_at_13_by_Albrecht_DürerDurer seems to have been fascinated all his life by hands and their expressive ability. His first self-portrait done at the age of 13 shows that interest. Perhaps as an artist, he realized more than most how wonderfully made the hand is, and what amazing tasks God has designed it to be able to do.

A sentimental, but completely false, legend about these hands (I don’t know where or when it started) says that they are the hands of an artist friend of Durer who worked to pay for Durer’s art education. The story goes on to say that when it was the friend’s turn to get an education, his hands were too roughened by manual labor to be able to use brush and pen.

Portrait of Durer's father

Portrait of Durer’s father

The truth is always much better! The facts of Durer’s artistic education are as I stated above. As for his spiritual education, he seems to have come from a devout Christian family. In his writings, Durer describes his father as a gentle, patient man, friendly to all and thankful to God, who daily told his children to, “love God and deal truly with our neighbours.”

Durer also states that his father was pleased with his son’s hard work and desire to learn. He must have, in addition, loved his son very much to allow him to pursue a calling as an artist instead of insisting he follow his father in the goldsmith’s trade.

As an adult, Durer followed Luther’s writings closely, often requesting copies of new pamphlets from Frederick the Wise’s secretary. When Luther was “kidnapped” Durer was in the Netherlands. For some time he, along with most others, thought the kidnapping was real and that Luther might be dead.

This quote from Durer’s journal shows his worry as well as his desire to understand the ways of God. “Oh God, if Luther be dead, who will henceforth expound to us the holy Gospel with such clearness? What might he not have written for us in the next ten or twenty years?”

This is the well-educated, hard-working, spiritually-seeking artist who loved to investigate and depict the simplest things of God’s creation, and shows us in The Praying Hands a wonderful symbol of our need for prayer.

The Art Project, Praying Hands
This project can be done very simply with crayons and in about 15 minutes while everyone is waiting for dinner to be ready. At the end I will show and explain an extra step that you can do if you wish. It’s a little messier, but fun if you’re game!
Materials: basics–brown, white, or Thanksgiving-motif paper lunch bags, scissors, pencils, a little glue, and crayons or markers. Add poster-type paint and a largish brush, if you want to do the extra step. And some paper towels!!

20151124_1442261. Place a folded paper bag flat on the table with the folded bottom of the bag facing up. Have the child place his or her hand flat on the bag with finger tips pointed toward the top of the bag and their wrist at the upper edge of the folded bag bottom.

2. With a pencil, trace around the child’s hand.

3. Keeping the bag folded, cut in from the sides of the bag (just above the folded bag bottom) to the child’s wrist. Then cut up and around the traced hand (through both thicknesses of the bag) and out to the bag’s other edge on the other side of the hand.20151124_152726

The child may then decorate or color the hands.

 

20151124_144928The extra step: before opening the bag, fold the two hands away from each other and the bag bottom. Spread a thin layer of paint on the child’s hands (too much paint just smears and doesn’t show the lines of the hand. If you’re not sure how much to use, have some scrap paper handy and do a couple trial prints)

20151124_145709Then help the child to make hand prints on what will be the inside or palm of their praying hands.

20151124_145718They need to hold their hand still and just press down gently.

They will also need to do each hand separately so thumbs and fingers match. (To cut down on the mess, as you finish printing with each of the child’s hands, fold a paper towel around and into it so they have the towel to hold until you get them to wherever you’ll wash up)

20151124_152705I like to do this additional step if possible because when children see their hand print, it’s a great time to talk to them about how wonderfully made they are and that they are so special to God that their finger prints are different from anyone else’s.

Last step: Whether you do the printing part or just the coloring, now open the bag. To form the praying hands, glue the tips of the fingers together. (just a little glue so you can still put things into the bottom of the bag)20151124_153112

Whichever way you do these, it’s fun and a great reminder of what Thanksgiving is all about!! At the Thanksgiving table guests may write prayer requests or things they are thankful for on slips of paper and put these in the bag.

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with time to relax and remember the Lord’s love for you and His many blessings!

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The Peale Family Portrait

the Peale Family

the Peale Family

Peale Family Dog Foils Burglary!

That could have been a headline in Philadelphia newspapers sometime in the 1770s. Charles Willson Peale was one of Philadelphia’s leading artists at this time, and family legend says he put Argos in the family portrait because the dog scared off a thief intent on stealing the family silver.

We’ll leave Argos on guard and come back to this painting in a bit, but first a little about the amazing man who painted it.

The Artist
Charles Willson Peale, 1741-1827, had many interests and talents. He began as a saddlemaker,

Charels Willson Peale, self portrait

Charels Willson Peale, self portrait

but exchanged a saddle for three art lessons, and was hooked. After studying for two years in London with Benjamin West, Peale returned to America as a portrait painter. His career spanned the American Revolution and the formation of the United States.

Peale fought in the Revolution and knew most of the leading men of the early republic. He painted many of those men, including the first sevencharles willson peale 9 presidents, Benjamin Franklin, Meriweather Lewis, and William Clark.

Peale painted George Washington a number of times. The first was when Washington was still a Virginia militia colonel fighting with the British army during the French and Indian War. An anecdote from their continuing friendship shows Peale’s artistic skills as well as the same sense of humor that put Argos in a family portrait.

The Staircase Group

The Staircase Group

Working in the trompe l’oeil (French for “deceive the eye”) manner, Peale painted two of his sons as if they were on a stair. It was so lifelike that when it was exhibited in an unused doorway with a real step below it, George Washington is said to have nodded to the boys as he passed.

In 1782 Peale opened a portrait gallery in Philadelphia, but being curious about nature, he also accepted specimens of birds and other creatures. Lewis and Clark sent him specimens from their western expedition. When Peale became interested in something, he went at it with great enthusiasm. Soon the thousands of bird, animal, and mineral specimens outgrew their first home and had to move to the second floor of Independence Hall.

Always creative, Peale was one of the first to pose animals and birdscharles willson peale The_Artist_in_His_Museum 23 together in habitat groups, with appropriately painted backdrops. John James Audubon would adopt this method. In 1822 Peale painted a picture of himself pulling back a curtain to reveal one of the rooms of the museum. It is called The Artist in His Museum.

Part of what you see behind the curtain is the reconstructed skeleton of a mastodon. In 1801 bones were discovered on a farm in New York, and Peale rushed there to buy the rights to dig them up. He painted a dramatic picture of that chales willson peale The_Exhumation_of_the_Mastadon 21experience, called Exhuming the Mastodon.
Peale also worked to establish American schools for the arts, one eventually becoming the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

 

 

The Peale Family Painting
Colonial Portraits
Portrait painting was the most profitable form of art in the colonies. The cost of portraits depended on several things. Three-quarter or full-length portraits cost more, as did details, such as items related to work and interests. Some artists even charged more to put in hands!

So The Peale Family portrait stands out as something new. It’s full of almost-full-length people, hands, and details of work and home! It even has a still life. It’s a perfect advertisement for Peale’s talents! charles willson peale The_peale_family 13

Find all the hands and connect them to the proper people!

Find all the details of work and home life.

What details make up the still life?

Peale brought this informal style, called a conversation group, back from London. It is an apt name, because everyone is connected by hands or glances, and you can easily imagine them conversing as they sit for the artist.

There are two groups in this portrait of the extended Peale family. On the left, Charles is giving a drawing lesson to one of his brothers. Behind Charles is another brother, James, and a sister.
In the right-hand group are Charles’ mother (the grandmother) and one of Charles’ daughters.

Can you find all the clues that tell you they are the ones being drawn?

Behind them is another sister and standing farther back is the prim and proper family nurse.
In the middle, connecting the two groups, is Charles’ first wife, who is holding another of their daughters.

Movement
charles willson peale The_peale_family 13Movement in the painting is created by all those gazes. Find the three looking directly at the viewer. They invite us to be part of the family scene and form a descending diagonal left to right across the middle of the painting, leading us to the grandmother and the nurse.

The gazes of these two women lead us to the focal point of the painting—the art lesson. When you get there, it’s clear from Charles’ smile and gesture, that he is the teacher. Of course, his gesture and his brother’s gaze lead you back to the mother. Round and round, just like a conversation!

Color
Okay—what color has Peale used to help you focus on the group seated at the table? Of course!! It is red!!

In this case he has used burgundy, reddish brown, and pink, and spread them around the table. Burgundy is the most eye-catching. Find all of these, (don’t miss the little shoes peeping out beneath the baby’s dress) and notice how they lead you across the front of the painting and up to the grandmother’s face.

Peale has also heightened the attention we give to the reds by contrasting them with the green tablecloth. Opposites on the color wheel, such as red and green are called complementary colors. Orange and blue are complementary, as are yellow and violet.)

Art Style
Have you noticed the classical busts on the shelf? Do you see the pyramid arrangement of each group and of the overall grouping? Have you wondered why the colors are muted?

This was a time in art called Neoclassicism, when artists and architects looked back to the severe, symmetrical style of the ancient Greeks and Romans. This was partly a reaction to the increasing cotton-candy frothiness of the Rococo period. But also because of the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the 1730s that showed well-preserved ancient art.

Neoclassic artists believed art should appeal to the intellect not the emotions. Careful drawing was more important than color, pyramid arrangements gave stability, and backgrounds should be plain or have classical touches, such as columns, arches, urns, marble busts, and velvet draperies. These things made people look grand and important.

Monticello

Monticello

Architects also joined the craze and produced copies of Greek and Roman buildings everywhere. Thomas Jefferson remodeled his home, Monticello, in the style, and buildings in Washington D.C. would fit right into the forums of ancient Rome and Greece. The Founding Fathers thought the style was appropriate for the new American nation.

The Dog
charles willson peale The_peale_family 13What about Argos? Although he’s out of the line of all the gazes, he’s directly below the still life on the table. So when your gaze pauses now and then to look at the bright yellow and red apples, you notice him outlined by the green table cloth. There are a couple things pointing to him, too. What are they

The Spiritual Lesson
You’d think that with all his interests and talents, Peale would have no time for a family, but he was devoted to his family and had 17 children! (He had a long life and outlived three wives) In his enthusiasm for art and science, he named his children after great artists and scientists.

Several of his children went on to become well-known artists. Raphaelle was a painter of still lifes, and Rembrandt painted portraits. As shown in the family portrait, Charles’ brother James also became an artist, and three of James’ daughters did, too.

Two of Charles’ sons went on to careers as naturalists. Rubens became director of the Philadelphia museum and later opened a similar museum in New York. Titian was a member of many important scientific expeditions and specialized in studying and painting butterflies. For over a hundred years his paintings could be seen only in the Rare Book Collection of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. But this year they were published as The Butterflies of North America: Titian Peale’s Lost Manuscript.

What an amazing legacy! By the example of his activities and hard work, and by the direct teaching we see in this family portrait, Charles Willson Peale passed on a great treasure of artistic and scientific interests and abilities to his children and extended family.

How much more important are our example and teaching that help our children find the treasures of God’s wisdom.

The Bible says it is within the family that children learn the treasures of wisdom. It admonishes parents to,
“… lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul…. You shall teach them to
your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are
walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 11:18-19

Other verses show that grandparents are to be teachers, too.
One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts. Psalm 145:4

In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul says,
“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in
your mother Eunice and I am persuaded now lives in you also.

And what a treasure is God’s wisdom. Proverbs 8 compares it and its fruit in a person’s life, (prudence, knowledge, discretion, hatred of evil, humility, sound judgement, insight, strength, justice, honor, righteousness) to gold and silver.

Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. Proverbs 8:10-11

[the]…fruit [of this wisdom] is better than gold, even fine gold,
and my yield than choice silver. Proverbs 8:19

Most importantly we need to teach our children and grandchildren the ultimate source of this treasure of God’s wisdom.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10

The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that it is through faith in Christ that we receive the fulfillment of God’s wisdom. In Colossians 2:2-3 Paul says,
“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you…, that [your] hearts
may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of
understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all
the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

My prayer is that each of us will, with the Lord’s help, work even harder and more enthusiastically than Charles Willson Peale did for his family, to help our children and grandchildren grow into men and women with the desire and abilities to serve and glorify God!

This post is dedicated especially to our children and grandchildren, family portrait with Paddy 002because although they know how much we love our dogs, and often (well..maybe mostly!) include them in family portraits,IM000057 we love them much, much more and pray for them daily.

And [we] “…have no greater joy than to hear that [our] children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 4

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Harvesters Resting and The Gleaners, Jean-Francois Millet

672462fff31e66adda516e2835f0dc92I grew up in a coastal town in Maine, where there were many family farms. My brother and I sometimes worked on the weeding crews. We also spent a lot of time at our grandparents’ farm, learning and probably getting in the way, as they planted, weeded, and harvested from late spring to early fall. Some of my first memories are of helping my grandmother shell peas on the sun porch and of going down cellar carrying jars of canned vegetables.mason_jars By the end of the summer glass mason jars filled with beans or corn or rhubarb, and sealed with red rubber rings, stretched along all the shelves.

Grandpa Urquhart working on his woodpile

Grandpa Urquhart working on his woodpile

Outside my grandfather would be picking and husking corn. And although he was getting too old to do the haying himself, he was always working on splitting wood for his wood pile.

 

Fast forward about 15 years and my husband and I were doing much the same things on a small farm of our own.Farm 007 Farm 005In the spring we planted vegetables and waded with buckets of food among little squealing piglets. Farm 003By fall we were digging up carrots and potatoes and trying to avoid being bowled over by big, fat porkers.

In between we kept on cutting and splitting wood.

Wes working on his woodpile

Wes working on his woodpile

Farm 004Farm 002

 

 

 

 

 

Why all the fond farm memories?

Because today I can zip off to the grocery store for food, and I can flip a switch on the wall for heat, I tend to forget the hard work that it takes to grow and harvest all I use. I bet you do, too. We also don’t experience real shortages anymore. The drought in California and the bird flu in the Midwest may have increased prices, but we can still find plenty of vegetables and eggs in the stores.

But through much of human history, and still today in many areas, people must live on what they can produce, and a bad harvest can mean a lean winter or even starvation.

The early 1800s in France was one of those times. Industrialization was changing the job market. Large factories brought people crowding into the cities. Farming was also changing. Absentee landlords were buying up land to create large, commercial farms that employed fewer people. The lack of jobs for many and low wages and poor living conditions even for many who did have work caused great social unrest. These are the years of political turmoil in France that are pictured in Les Miserables.

THE ARTIST
During these chaotic times a group of young artists broke with the art establishment and began to paint landscapes and scenes of everyday life instead of great historical events. They are known as Realists, because they painted people and places as they really looked. They are also called the Barbizon School, named for a rural village 30 miles south of Paris where many of them painted. If you remember from my blog on the Hudson River School, an artistic school means a group of artists who often know each other, sometimes paint together, and have similar artistic styles.

The Realists were among the first artists to paint in the open air (en plein air), and they inspired and helped pave the way for the Impressionists at the end of the century.

Jean-Francois Millet

Jean-Francois Millet

A leader of the Realists was Jean-Francois Millet, who grew up in rural Normandy. Millet showed artistic talent early, and his family sent him to study in Paris. He studied at the leading art school and with a well-known history painter.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Following the violence in Paris in the 1830s and 40s, Millet moved to Barbizon. He spent the rest of his life there, painting and raising a family of nine children. In Barbizon the subject of Millet’s art changed from portraits to scenes of rural people working at everyday tasks.

Musee d'Orsay, Paris

Musee d’Orsay, Paris

Two of his iconic and much loved paintings are The Sower and The Angelus.

 

 

 

THE PAINTINGS

Harvesters Resting Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Harvesters Resting
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Millet painted Harvesters Resting (or Ruth and Boaz, its original title) in 1853. He returned to the subject again in 1857 with the now better-known painting, The Gleaners. The two oil paintings are each about two feet by four feet and seem to be about abundant harvests. Huge stacks of grain loom large in the first and dot the middle and background of the other.

The Gleaners Musee d'Orsay, Paris

The Gleaners
Musee d’Orsay, Paris

But the actual topic is just the opposite of abundance; it is gleaning. This was a provision that allowed poor and landless people to go into already-harvested fields to pick up any grain left by the farm workers. In Leviticus 19:9-10 God told the Israelites to leave the gleanings from their fields, vineyards, and orchards, as well as the corners of their fields, for the needy.

The title, The Gleaners, is a pretty big hint about the subject, but the focal point of each painting also says, “gleaning.” Find in each of these paintings the person wearing red or reddish brown clothing. That’s the focal point, the place Millet wants you to notice first so you’ll get his message.

In Harvesters Resting Boaz is the focal point of the painting. With one arm on Ruth’s shoulder and the other gesturing toward the resting workers, his out-stretched arms create movement and bridge the gap between gleaner and worker. In The Gleaners the red hat and red sleeves of the middle woman make sure you notice these three hard-working women first.

In Millet’s time, the upper classes looked upon his paintings of peasants as ugly and threatening. In addition, Millet painted his subjects with a sculptural look that made them seem heroic, and traditionalists objected to showing peasants that way. They thought only great people from history or the Bible should be shown in that manner. In his lifetime many of his paintings were not well-received, and he never made much money.

The focal point is most important, but artists also want you to look around their paintings, and they often use color for this. Millet has used blue. It doesn’t grab our attention first thing, but it does help to unify the composition and move your eyes around. In Harvesters Resting Ruth’s clothing is the brightest area of blue. Where are the other blues? Notice how they lead you around and back to Ruth.

In The Gleaners the blue hat of the woman on the left is the brightest. Where else do you see blues that “show” you around?

In these two paintings Millet has arranged a number of people and things in groups of three. Find the groups of three grain stacks in each painting. How many groups of three stacks are in The Gleaners? Find the other figures or objects arranged in threes.

Although there are some similarities in these two paintings, there are also big differences. In Harvesters Resting everyone is in the foreground in the shadow of three huge stacks, and the workers are in various positions of rest while taking their noonday meal.

Musee d'Orsay, Paris

Musee d’Orsay, Paris

In The Gleaners it is all work; in fact, every phase of harvesting is shown in the distance. Look closely and find people cutting the grain, carrying the sheaves, stacking it on the cart, and on one of the stacks. And of course, the three gleaners are hard at work in the foreground. These three women have come to be a well-known symbol of hard work in Western art. They seem to be just a few feet in front of  us.

In The Gleaners it’s easy to see the hard work of harvesting. We can almost feel the sun beating down, the scratchy stalks of wheat, and the chaff blowing into our mouths and eyes. We can imagine the ache of backs and necks that have been bent over all day.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The clues that tell you harvesting is hard work are different in Harvesters Resting. What are they?

There’s also a difference in the light. In The Gleaners the light is a little harsh and brassy, revealing the poverty of the women, but in Harvesters Resting there is a soft golden glow that makes everything seem more peaceful and secure.

One last difference: in Harvesters Resting the owner is up close and part of things. As already said, he is the focal point. But you might have trouble finding the overseer in The Gleaners. Hint: he is on a donkey. Where is he in relation to the workers?

DEVOTION
It is in these contrasts that we find our spiritual lesson. In The Gleaners there is hopelessness because there is an unbridgeable gap between the three landless and impoverished gleaners and the abundant harvest behind them.

The Gleaners Musee d'Orsay, Paris

The Gleaners
Musee d’Orsay, Paris

In Harvesters Resting Boaz bridges that gap when he invites the gleaner, Ruth, to join the group that is resting and surrounded by abundance. Boaz is what the Old Testament calls a kinsman redeemer.

Harvesters Resting Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Harvesters Resting
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The dictionary defines a redeemer as someone who pays a price to ransom or save something. But in the Old Testament book of Ruth God has given us a much fuller picture of a kinsman redeemer.

In Old Testament times in Israel the land did not belong to the people, but to God, their king (Leviticus 25: 23). Each family was given the use of a portion of it, which gave them an inheritance in God’s earthly kingdom, and taught them in a down-to-earth way of their inheritance in His heavenly kingdom. So it was very important for Hebrew families to hold onto their land. If they became very poor and had to sell it, God said that a relative must redeem the land—the kinsman redeemer (Leviticus 25: 24-25).

As the story unfolds in Ruth a Hebrew family moves away from their land in Israel during a famine. While in Moab the two sons marry, but eventually both they and their father die, leaving the three women alone. Naomi and one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, return to Israel.

In that society women without husbands or sons had little means of support and often lived in great poverty. Gleaning during harvests was often the only way to survive, and Ruth faithfully went out each day to do this back-breaking work. It was not an abundant or secure way of life. Look at how poorly the three women in The Gleaners are dressed, how hard they’re working, and how little they’re getting.

Ruth ends up gleaning in the fields of Boaz, a relative of Naomi. Bethlehem was not a huge place, and Boaz, along with most everyone, knew Naomi’s situation and that Ruth had left her homeland and her family out of her love for her mother-in-law. Boaz commends Ruth for her love and loyalty and encourages her to join his workers for mealtimes and to stay close to them for protection as she gleans. Boaz also tells his workers to leave extra for Ruth. Eventually He marries Ruth. Boaz and Ruth’s son Obed is the grandfather of King David.

Even on the surface the book of Ruth is a beautiful story of love and faithfulness. More than that, though, Ruth, and these two paintings that illustrate it, are a picture of us before and after Christ comes into our lives.

Musee d'Orsay, Paris

Musee d’Orsay, Paris

When Naomi and Ruth returned from Moab, they were in the first situation, shown in The Gleaners, poor and without hope. Before Christ we are poor and without security or hope in this life or the next.

 

 

Harvesters Resting shows Ruth after Boaz has found her and begun to put his protective arms around her.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Boaz is the kinsman redeemer, and what he does for Ruth is a beautiful picture of what Christ, our kinsman redeemer, does for us when He finds us and begins to put His arms around us.

  • Read the book of Ruth and study these paintings to see and reflect on all the ways Christ, our kinsman redeemer, rescues and cares for us. Here are just a few:
    He became one of us, not staying far off
    He seeks us out when we are still strangers to Him
    He paid the price to redeem us
    He casts out our fears and provides protection for us
    He gives wise counsel to us
    He helps us in our work
    He is pleased with and rewards our faithfulness
    He provides for us abundantly
    He serves us bread and wine
    He uses His wisdom and power to accomplish His plan for us
    He intercedes for us
    He gives us His name and provides a secure home for us in this life and the next

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John James Audubon

SAM_0728

My husband and I love to visit the Japanese Garden in Fort Worth. Its paths wind around flowering trees that stand out against all the different greens of spring. 20131118_105544A bridge arches over water that gathers in calm pools in some places and in others laps around stepping stones or tumbles over rocks. 20131118_111612All along its path the water reflects overhanging branches, and in the fall paddling wood ducks swirl the colors into ever-changing patterns.

We also look forward to seeing the garden’s resident large heron. We never know where he’ll be–sometimes he stalks along the water’s edge. 20131118_111631One time we almost missed him because he was perched motionless on the lower branch of a tree. Recently he was poised perfectly still at the water’s edge, SAM_2258ready to strike like lightening on any passing morsel of food. We’ve seen him flap into the air, then with his great wings outstretched, glide soundlessly to a new fishing spot.

Background

John James Audubon

John James Audubon

John James Audubon would have loved to study the ducks and that heron. He was a naturalist and artist who came from France in 1803 at the age of 18 to live in the United States. He loved to explore the countryside and study and sketch animals, especially birds. He spent hours observing their habits, even spending a night inside a huge hollow tree so he could observe and count the thousands of swifts that roosted inside. Before modern-day banding was thought of, Audubon tied threads around bird’s legs to see if they came back to the same nesting spots each year.

Eventually Audubon moved to Kentucky to open a store on what was then the frontier. From Native Americans he learned how to survive in the wilderness, and he continued to spend long periods in the forest, studying, sketching, and gathering specimens. Since European ornithological books didn’t contain many American bird species, Audubon decided to publish his.

No one in this country was willing to publish his work, so he went to England. Finding no publisher there either, he engaged a printer and financed the project by selling subscriptions to the book, which came out in folios of 5 prints at a time. To print color illustrations at that time each of Audubon’s original watercolor paintings had to be incised on a copper plate by an engraver, printed, and then hand-painted. Audubon wanted his birds to be as close to life-size as possible, so they were printed on sheets of paper that were over 2 feet by 4 feet—called an elephant folio.

Wealthy patrons, including the queen of England and the king of France, bought subscriptions. At that time, the whole book of 435 engravings cost about $1,000. In 2000, with only about 100 of the original 176 complete books left, mostly in museums or libraries, one sold at auction for $8.8 million.

The Paintings

Most paintings of birds before this time were very stiff. They were drawn from stuffed specimens, and they looked it. Audubon’s early drawings were also stiff, but gradually as he studied the birds and practiced drawing and painting, he began to paint birds in much more natural poses, with plants from the bird’s habitat. His paintings are very true to nature, but they are also well-designed artistically.

The purpose of an ornithology book is, of course, to portray the birds accurately. Audubon never loses sight of that purpose; yet his arrangement or composition of birds and plants is creative. Take these Carolina parakeets. Audubon 15 CarolinaParakeet2As required for a field guide, we can see their beaks, their feet, and their markings from every angle, but notice the top and bottom birds, which are almost mirror images of each other. The outspread wings and tails of these two birds stand out against the paper and frame the other parakeets. The bottom bird is especially dramatic and looks as if it might fly right at us. The other birds spiral up in a backwards S-shape, implying movement and making us able to imagine them flitting from branch to branch as they chatter and eat.

These ivory billed woodpeckers audubon 4 ivory-billed woodpeckerare less colorful, but Audubon has displayed them artistically so that the white and black on their bodies and their black tails form dramatic patterns against the white page. The red patch on the middle bird is striking and draws you into the scene.

Many of Audubon’s paintings have a lot of drama. For example, in his observations, Audubon had once seen a snake invade a brown thrasher nest for its eggs, and he depicts the ferocious battle that followed—creating a true and yet very dramatic picture. audubon 10 brown thrasherWith a wonderful sense of design, Audubon painted the snake twisting up through the branches, its black body contrasting with the eggs and lighter birds. This leads you to the focal point where two birds confront the snake. One guards the nest, while the other, with outspread wings showing its rich reddish brown coloring, swoops down to attack the snake. Their heads and the snake’s stand out against the plain paper.

Audubon wanted even the largest birds to be shown almost life-size, and fitting them on a page often produced some very modern-looking graphic designs. Look at the trumpeter swan—this mostly white shape almost filling the page could make pretty dull viewing, but the up-curving neck stands out against the blues of sky and water and gets your attention. Then, as the neck and head stretch across the body, its bright black eye and black bill break up that large white shape and bring out the swan’s grace. Audubon 7 trumpeter swan

Devotion

When I teach drawing I emphasize that training the eye is as important as training the hand. For this purpose I give my students exercises that artists have long used to help them look more carefully—negative space, breaking down the whole into basic geometric shapes, and contour drawing, etc. Children and adults are often amazed what a difference learning to see makes in their drawing.

But it’s hard to get people to slow down long enough to really look. One of my favorite lessons to help young children do this starts with the verse, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Matt. 6:26

When I ask what birds eat. Hands shoot up, “Seeds! Worms! Insects!”

“Okay,” I say. “And does God just sprinkle these things down for the birds the way we sprinkle food at the top of a fish tank?”

Most say, “No!” So we look at Psalm 111:2 that says, “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” And I tell the children that we are going to use our “artist’s eyes” to “study” how God has designed each bird with just the right beak, feet, body, tail, and wings to be able to gather its food in the environment that He designed for it. We see that all birds have legs but… God gave flamingos long skinny legs to wade in shallow water where their food lives and ducks short legs and webbed feet to paddle in deeper water. All birds have beaks, but… God gave hummingbirds long sharp beaks to reach into flowers to sip nectar and cardinals short thick beaks to pluck and crunch seeds and fruit.

In my blog post on The Country School I compared the flipper-like wings God gave penguins so they can “fly” under the water to the huge wings He gave pelicans so they can skim above the waves.

In Matthew 6:26-34 Jesus used God’s care of the birds to teach that our heavenly Father knows our needs and provides for us as He does the birds, so we can trust Him and seek His kingdom first. And surely part of seeking His kingdom is recognizing the beauty and intricacy of creation and giving glory to the One who made and sustains it all. Too often we are in a hurry and don’t see wildflowers blooming along the side of the road or the birds flying around our yards gobbling up insects and gathering material for nests.

Take time to see the work of the first and best Artist! How many different types of birds share your backyard? Notice the patterns on their wings. Is their beak made for seeds or worms? Take time to look inside a day lily and see how the colors change or at a wild flower and see how often God uses complementary colors—such as blue and orange or lavender and yellow to make these flowers more vibrant and attractive to us and the insects that pollinate them.

Try using basic shapes and curvy or straight lines to draw some of these birds. Most of the birds illustrated above have roundish heads and oval bodies, so you start there, but as you look closer, you see you need to add some straight lines to the top of the woodpecker’s head for those funny tufts. And while you need short, curving lines for the parakeet’s beak, longer, less curving lines depict the brown thrasher’s beak. The more you look, the more you see God’s wonderful design and diversity!

In the Middle Ages Francis of Assisi (in Italy) began to spend much time out in the countryside praying and appreciating the beauties of creation. He and his followers began to use illustrations from nature, as Jesus did, to preach and minister God’s love and care to people. Summer is a great time to cultivate yours and your family’s “artist’s eyes” to more fully see and appreciate the creative design and care that God has lavished on all of His creation!

And to see more of Audubon’s work that shows so much of that beauty and diversity, you just need to go online or visit your local library. His beautiful bird illustrations are readily accessible.

On another note, be sure to sign up to receive the next picture lady post so you don’t miss it!

All images in this post are used for educational purposes only.