Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. 3 John 11

Next stop on my sabbatical with the Lord was print making.  I had a lot more freedom in subject matter, and I lingered with my cutting tools and ink rollers for months. The learning curve was huge, but the rewards were incredibly plentiful.

I am a visual and tactile learner.  I had a friend read to me on the phone just the other day, and I think I can remember one sentence of what she said.  On the other hand, if I see something and feel something, I can remember it for a lifetime.

The printmaking I was doing involved cutting linoleum with very sharp tools. A woodworking friend from an art guild in California had given me the tools, but not knowing how to use them or sharpen them, I had put them aside.  It was time.

Similar to the scratch art I did, printmaking makes you think in reverse.  For the areas that will be white, you whittle the linoleum away.  For those that will be black, you leave so that ink will be rolled onto it.

Black and white brings me back to my journalism days.  Before I picked up my first watercolor brush, I was a writer.  I was the editor for our high school newspaper and then got an after-school job at the Nevada Appeal, where I was a reporter and Sunday supplement magazine editor.  The newsroom smelled like 1980s computers, ink, and cigarette smoke coming from the intense and intimidating city editor.  We had a noon press time, and if the presses were not rolling by then, the tension was like a ominous and consolidated cloud over the brain room with reporters and editors.  I tried to metamorphose into something invisible at my computer, but it was situated smack in the middle of the room.  So I just hunkered down at my desk and watched grown professionals spin out of control and smoke more cigarettes until the whirring of the presses began spitting out the afternoon edition.

Like newspapers, the moment of truth in printmaking comes when the ink is applied and the paper is pressed to it.  It is only then, when pulling the paper off of the block, that the flaws come alive and glare at you in your face.  It is the test, and you can see how well you did.

My Father tests me from time to time. It is a bit nerve wracking.  I used to think of His tests in a negative light.  Now I understand that it is a gift because I long to be a more mature believer.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:3-4

I also learned from printmaking that my job is to imitate Jesus Christ.  My job is not to create anything new.  He is enough.  He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Matthew 5:17.  He is the standard, the Word, the living Torah. He came to teach us how to live in his Father’s Kingdom and how to obey our Father’s instructions.  If we mess up, He is faithful to show us as we peel off the print.  We are given opportunity to repent, and to try it again.

Child’s Play, Paper Mache

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 18:2-3

The sabbatical continued with yet the most unusual means of expression for me:  paper mache.

Isn’t this assignment child’s play, Father? 

He let me know that he enjoyed it when I was childlike.  He reminded me that I had permission to enjoy the “process” of making art.  And enjoy it, I did!

I needed a very strong base, so I filled a mason jar with weights and then added seven main branches, as I still had menorahs on my mind.  Seven is the biblical number for completion.  I used masking tape to structure the piece, then started the messy and tactile pleasing part of dipping strips of paper into goo.  I find it funny when I teach art that the boys, rather than the girls, are big wimps when it comes to getting their hands messy.  Not me — I love the sensation on my hands.

I moved to thicker, brown, grocery bag type of paper for additional coats.  I wanted to build up a head in the middle of the tree, as trees are like people with their own stories and purposes, and they produce seeds and fruits of great variety.  With each paper installation, I let it dry and get hard.  I made a paper pulp paste to enhance the details and used wire to attach further branches.  The project took weeks to complete.

As I was adding layers to my tree, my Father was removing layers from me!  I was simultaneously learning about personal deliverance, and had discovered that I had all kinds of hidden ugliness that needed to be peeled away.  It had been covered up and concealed, glamorized with shiny spray paint like my tree.  Fortunately for me, my Father is a gentlemen and tears off layers one at a time, like an onion, rather than ripping me to shreds.  In order for the process to work, I had to come to him as a trusting child and let Him do it.  Some layers were ugly, some rough, some tough.  Some peeled off easily, some took regular fasting and lots of prayer.  Just when I think I am done, I realize I am just beginning the process.  I want to be stripped to bare nothingness, so all I have is me and my God.  I am not there yet, but that is okay, as my Father is in no hurry.

Light of the World

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ John 8:12

In December during my sabbatical, I was struck with Mary’s response to the angel in Luke 1:38: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be unto me according to your word.” I was so moved, it became my morning prayer, usually uttered out loud while walking the dogs.  But this prayer — kind of like praying for patience — was powerful, and my next menorah assignment was the most precise and confining creatively.

I began by composing an image from my examination of the scriptures outlining the golden lampstand (also called the Lamp of God in 1 Samuel 3:3). I had noticed that my Father had been asking me to go deeper with each menorah and each medium would allow for greater details.  The first, chunky mosaic tiles, gave an outline form.  This last mosaic was reserved to show the real deal.  Though Moses had a heavenly pattern revealed to him on the mountain (Hebrews 8:5), I did not.  Lord, help me to do this.

Up to this point, I was least familiar with scratch art as a medium.  One false move and you start over.  You have to think opposite of drawing, and you scratch away to get the white, but you leave parts you want to be black.  It is like working with your brain torqued, twisted and tied up.  The instrument used is a stick with a sharp end smaller than a mechanical pencil.

My scratches had to be small and deliberate.  No wild strokes.  Self control.  My breaths were shallow.  I had to take breaks.  An old injury surfaced dating back 25 years ago.  Back then I was young and a go-getter, but also rather careless.  I had interrupted my workout to help a girl at a Marine Corps gym and pulled a pin out of a stack of weights only to have 160 lbs drop on my thumb to dislocate it.  (And, yes, it was very embarrassing to leave that gym on a stretcher with muscle bound and manly Marines looking at me.) Scratch art was painful.  My wrist ached from gripping too tight. However, I was determined not to have to do this piece three times like my gold leaf fiasco.

During the scratch, scratch, scratch, I had plenty of time to ponder.  I imagined Bezalel working on all manner of crafts while being filled with the Holy Spirit.  I thought about how my Father’s instructions were given for a reason, and how He gives beneficial instructions, even instructions for worship.  I contemplated that there really are only two kingdoms, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness.  Finally, I thought about how Jesus said he was the light of the world, but he also said that we who follow him are light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Wow!

When finished, I smiled.  I think my Father did, too.  It was time to move on to a new subject and yet another medium.


Gold Leaf Menorah

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7.

Again, Lord?  Another menorah?

YHWH is a persistent teacher.  He is tireless and enduring.  He wants us to get it, no matter how long it takes.  I shook my head a little and muttered under my breath that I already knew about menorahs and we could go onto another topic, but He was resolute.

So I settled down once again and studied Exodus 25.  The golden lampstand was to be made of pure gold.  I stopped, meditated, and studied about the purification process.

The art project using liquid gold leaf did not go at all as I imagined.  The first night, I sketched it out with graphite, then carefully and with the smallest paintbrush I could buy, applied the liquid gold leaf.  You have to put the lid on the little jar and shake it from time to time, or it separates into a watery red substance with the gold settling on top.  Timing is everything. When I was almost finished with the last branch, I bumped my arm against the jar and toppled it over.  The paint splashed and poured onto my masterpiece.  I was exhausted, in pain, and sweating.  I went to bed with no sense of accomplishment.

The next night I moved the jar to a new locale — far away from my paper.  The work had to be slow, meticulous and steady.  I had to remember to shake up the gold leaf paint or I would draw red which would show up on my menorah.  But my solution was no solution at all.  About halfway through the process, I dribbled splotches onto my watercolor paper.

This was really starting to tick me off!  More garbage can fodder.

Third time is a charm.  Well, no, not exactly.  In my God’s kingdom, there is no luck.  Trickle, trickle again!  I could not believe it.  I tried to salvage it with white out, but it really shows, at least to me.

So why write about this grim experience?  It was purifying me.  I had become a “product-oriented” artist and believer, rather than a “process-oriented” artist and believer. Each morning I was studying the Word, trying to tackle it with a goal of “getting through the bible in a year” mode, rather than it getting through me.  I heard my Father say, “Just slow down.”  My mentor said, “chew, little lamb.”  Each evening I was just trying to get the art assignment done so I could go on to greener pastures.  I rushed it not relishing the time in the process.  When I worked with such carefulness, I had intense hot flashes like I had never experienced before.  It felt like a stoked and smelting furnace with a brush in my unsteady hand.

Okay, I will slow down … sheesh. 

I think my Father delights in me.  I think he even chuckled, knowing that my next assignment would be another menorah.