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Under the Wings

Painting:  “Wings,”  Oil on linen,  30 x 40 inches

The first reaction is usually a chuckle.  Yeah, it’s a little bizarre.  I think that’s what Robert Williams was thinking when I told him my idea for the painting.  But at least now I know that you can purchase arm floaties for adults! No joke.  (By the way, if anyone is interested, here is the link to where I bought them on Amazon.)

After the first laugh subsides it gets a little awkward because other than the floaties, the rest of the painting is… well, serious.  His pose is serious, his expression is serious.  And there is a serious message to consider.  So that leads some to start rubbing the bottom of their chin (the way my four year old does when she’s “thinking”) in order to try to ponder the meaning.  Hopefully, you can take away your own meaning from this work.  But since we live in a society that doesn’t typically spend a lot of time pondering artwork, I’ll share some of the things that were on my heart this past February when I worked on this project.

As many know, spirituality and faith are major themes in my work.  The more I explore the depths of these topics, the more I appreciate the complexities of religious faith and recognize the challenges that exist.  We are living in a society where having and maintaining convictions can be challenging—especially when you become the brunt of the joke and are quickly dismissed as being ignorant or childish. Contemporary Christianity faces this challenge and unfortunately, many critique it with a large and dismissive broad brush (and the hypocrisy seen in this political season isn’t helping).

In many ways, this work speaks of that struggle.  The struggle to stand unashamed—despite the laughter.  The struggle to stand with loving conviction in an age when passive indifference seems to be the route our consumeristic society funnels us towards.  As Peter Kreeft points out, “The opposite of faith is not doubt but indifference.”

In this painting, he stands with his hands on his hips and in doing so, his body evokes readiness, strength, and power.  At the same time, the floaties remind us that he is completely vulnerable and dependent on something.  And that’s what faith is.  It’s the complete trust and confidence in something beyond oneself.   When you consider his expression, you can see that it is not an expression of indignant self-righteousness nor does emit an air of timid embarrassment—it’s one of love, compassion, and fortitude.  He has strength in his eyes, yet thereimg_5955-copy-1-copy are also small traces of pain and loneliness.  In a world of storms and trials, he does not retreat.  Ignoring the umbrellas that surround him, he does not try to avoid the elements or refrain from his immersion.  Rather, he maintains a realistic expectation for the flood waters that are approaching and recognizes where his devotion, trust, and hope lie.

As Skye Jethani points out in his book With, water is often seen as a force of chaos throughout the Biblical text.  We can see this in the stories of Noah, Moses, and Jesus (among others).  In these stories, there is an emphasis on strength and stability in the midst of this chaos.  Additionally, there is a call for a trust and reliance in something that will supersede the wild forces that rise up in opposition (ex: ark, basket, etc…).  In a way, this contemporary image speaks to those ideas and themes and invites us to reexamine our own convictions.

Despite the looming chaos, this painting reminds us to ignore the laughs, embrace the challenges, and trust the wings. 🙂

Isaiah 40:31; 43:2

Thoughts on Track

Yes, that’s tape.  Kinesio tape that I borrowed from my sister, Tia Stone (you may have heard of her successful running blog  One day in March, I came over to her house and proceeded to tape up her daughter, Abi for an art project.  She’s kind of gotten use to this sort of thing so there weren’t too many questions asked.  It was more of a “Hey Abi, can you get in some running clothes and put this k-tape all over your body?”  “Sure!”   That’s how we roll.

One of the special things about having Abi to pose for me was the timing.  It couldn’t have been more perfect.  When she posed for me, it was the spring of her 6th grade year– the exact same age that I was when I started running.

 I don’t talk much about running any more mostly because, well, I don’t run anymore. I walk.  And I drive.  Occasionally,  when I drive by runners, I get a sense of nostalgia, and I think about all of those years when I would hit the pavement before daybreak.  I remember it feeling like the whole world was asleep and it was just me.  And the road.  I think about all of those Saturday mornings– the smell of wet grass and Icy Hot and the sight of toned legs as we all lined up to chase after a PR.  That decade of my life (1997-2007) is starting to leak into distant memory, and in a way, this painting is a celebration of that time.  It’s a remembrance of a season in my life that I may never get back, so in a sense, the running bib could also read like a tombstone.  It was a period when I learned about perseverance and dedication and became  so focused on getting faster times, it was as if my watch were taped to my head.

But it’s also a reflection on the reality of the experience, as well.  In my short decade as a runner, I dealt with a lot of injuries. Many minor things at first, but when I was a senior in high school, I was diagnosed with an overuse injury– compartment syndrome, which required me to have surgery.  In the surgery (fasciotomy), they made long interior incisions from my ankle to my knee in the fascia of all four compartments of each leg to release the pressure I was experiencing.  They told me my legs may never be quite the same and that my calve muscles would never be as strong.

They were right.  And during my four years running in college, I suffered with severe, chronic shin splints.  I was living off IBProfene and heating, icing, and stretching my calves for hours a day just so I could run and maintain my scholarship.  By the time I finished college, my legs were spent– and I was burned out. I decided I would take an indefinite break from running and spare the strain on my legs.

Although half of my time as a runner was in a  constant state of injury, I don’t have any regrets.   It was a beautiful time in my life, and I miss it in many ways.  I met my husband on my college team, developed good friendships, and learned a lot about perseverance.

In this painting, the runner wears her taped injuries like a badge; unashamed of the cost of being dedicated to something that challenges, strains, and inflicts. If you can look past the running attire in this painting, you might start sensing that this work could symbolize some larger themes and ideas.  In a way, it’s a metaphor for the universal notion of being devoted.  When I see the extreme devotion of this figure, I am reminded that we are all devoted to something.  We make sacrifices, we sweat, and we bleed. Whether you claim to be religious or not, you can’t squeak by in this life without worshiping something.   It’s the human condition.  Whether it be our relationships, our jobs, our accomplishments, our possessions, etc…   We are all taping something to our heads and making it our focus.

When thinking about the things we often (symbolically) tape to our heads, I am  reminded of something Tom Brady said in an interview on 60 Minutes ten years ago. In the interview he asked, “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is what is.” I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think: it’s gotta be more than this. I mean this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be.”

I think this response demonstrates the cracks in our cultural system.  We are caught in a system that sucks us into thinking that life is about the here and now– our legacy, our comforts–those are the things to tape to our heads and consume our focus. But I think we are all finding that in the end, they just can’t satisfy.  They can’t satisfy because we have an inherent desire to seek and worship something much greater than ourselves.

After I painted this work, the wrist taped to the forehead started to become a personal symbol of loyalty and devotion.  As a follower of Christ, it began to serve as symbol and reminder of my devotion to my faith and my acceptance in God.  I even found myself–in times of personal prayer and reflection–putting my wrist on my forehead and praying, “I don’t need anything else.  I do not want to look to anything else.  I am yours.”

It is in these moments that I experience a wonderful beauty and peace from a place deep within.  The kind of peace that surfaces only when my thoughts are on track.

Phil 3:7-14

Beyond the walls— the sudden passing of Tom Scott

“When am I gonna see my painting?”  I can still hear his voice in my ear.  I told him about the painting in October and he asked about seeing it almost every week I saw him.  It was our running joke.  He was excited to see it, but because I had to ship it to New Hampshire by December for my first residency of my MFA program, I wasn’t able to show it to him before I left.  I guess I could have shown him a picture of it…  But I wanted to show him the real thing, and when I did, I wanted to give it to him–to keep.  And so I waited.  The painting was well-received when I exhibited it at my new school, but it didn’t arrive back in the mail until a couple weeks ago—when Tom’s health started to make a turn for the worse.  By last Sunday, we heard he was back in the hospital undergoing dialysis, and things sounded serious.  The next day, we brought the painting to the hospital, and Tom finally got to see his painting.

“I kind of look like Sean Connery.” He said with a smile when he saw the painting.  I laughed, but it was hard to see him in such a weakened condition in his hospital bed. “It really captures my life right now… Thank you.” He had said slowly with warmth in his eyes and all sincerity.  We leaned the painting against a wall on top of the dresser in his room so that he could see it from the hospital bed.  Then we chatted for a bit, said a prayer, and left.

That was the last time I spoke to Tom Scott.  He passed away in that very room yesterday morning.

I keep replaying that hospital visit in my head… I can’t help but wonder what I would have told him if I would have known he was going to be passing on.  There are so many things I would have wanted to say.  I know a lot of people feel this way.  Tom had become a close friend of TJ and I over the years.  He volunteered a lot of his time ministering and serving our youth group.  In fact, we were all in Branson together for the Teen Leadership Conference just the other weekend. We knew he was going through a rough patch in his battle, but no one expected this to happen so suddenly.

As I look at this painting now, I can’t help but imagine what words he seems to speak through the painting…  “Yes, I’m up against this wall.  It’s scary.  But it will be ok.”  If I know anything about Tom, I know that he was a man of faith.  He was a man who looked beyond the temporary walls of these earthly trappings and had assurance of things eternal—the things unseen.

That is the essence of what I was aiming to capture a few months ago when I asked Tom to lean his head against the atrium wall at church so I could take some pictures.  I took several photos, but when I saw this particular pose and expression, I knew it was the one to use.  There was something haunting and convicting about that stare.  It’s as if he had accepted what he was up against but was also looking back at us to remind his viewers that we share the same plight.  We are all fated to confront the humbling experience of death at some point.  Upon reflection, how are we affected by that idea?  Or more generally, how do we respond when we face physical obstacles?  This painting reminds us to ask—where is our hope?

As I reflect on the passing of Tom and think about those who are much more affected by the loss of his earthly presence, I take refuge in 1 Cor. 15:54 which declares, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”  Certainly, the resurrection of Christ is a convicting reminder that the earthly walls we face ultimately have no sting.

After reading that passage, I almost wish to paint Tom again, as he is now.  Without the wall.  : )


Public bathrooms.  Not the most sanitary place you want to spend time in– and not  the most picturesque place to begin my MFA work.   But that’s where I’m going.  I’ll explain my reasons later.

The goal for this project is to paint 30 different scenes from 30 different bathroom stall interiors.  I’ve come up with a list of guidelines for myself in order to push the project conceptually.  Here are some of my requirements:

  1.  Each painting will be completed on site, from life, inside of a bathroom stall.
  2.  The thirty different bathrooms must be in public places in the city I live in, and locations must have an additional stall for others to use while my painting is in progress, so that I do not have a monopoly over the stalls.
  3. Each visit will be documented (filmed and photographed) and written reflections will be made during visit.

Once I established these parameters, I spent hours driving around town going in and out of public restaurants, gas stations, stores, etc… in order to develop a list of thirty locations where I could paint.  The most difficult thing about finding the locations was finding places that had more than one stall.  I know this may seem odd– but I was amazed at how many restaurants only had a single stall for women.  I had to write off these locations because it is important that this project not be isolated or removed from the public.  I also wanted to make sure (for the benefit of the place I was painting) that I do not take up the only bathroom available for the public.  So if it had only one stall, it was out.  Despite this difficulty, I was able to come up with a list of 30 places that I could paint which had multiple stalls.


Next, it was time to start prepping for the paintings.  I needed to think about this project in its entirety– as a series.  So I had to figure out how large I wanted the series to be when displayed collectively on a wall.  Once I realized the general size I was going for, I determined that each painting should be around 8-10 inches.  Then it was time to start thinking about surfaces.  What would I paint on– Canvas?  Wood?  I immediately thought about one of my favorite series recently executed by Rose Frantzen called Portrait of Maquoketa.  You can view the series here.  I noticed that she used wooden panels for her series, and I really liked how this looked.stacks_image_5028.jpg

I also remembered a NHIA classmate of mine, Ellie, had completed a series with 8×8 wood panels she purchased from Dick Blick.  So I decided to use square panels, knowing that working within a square will provide me with some composition challenges.  I’ve never worked much in squares, so it will be a good experience for me!


I went ahead and purchased 12 panels to see how I would like them.  They are 3/8 inch thick and have already have an acrylic gesso.


As an oil painter, I prefer to work on an oil ground, not acrylic gesso.  And so when the panels came in the mail, I immediately coated each panel with two layers of Gamblin Oil ground.  This took some time.


A finished surface.  After a week of drying, it will be ready to go!