“Waterfall” Courtesy of Alexandra Whiteside
I recently had the privilege of attending my friend Alexandra’s art show at a local gallery. She’s a remarkable lady with too many talents to list … She paints, she writes, she speaks, she teaches … and she even has a sense of humor. Still, I don’t hate her one bit! Remarkable.
I walked into the gallery and there, splashed all over a long wall, were her paintings. Not knowing what to expect, I was confronted with the kind of art I just don’t get. Abstract. And so I just admired the pretty colors because, like I said, I just don’t get abstract. You throw colors on a canvas and smear it around, right? Maybe even I could do it.
Of course it’s not true. I’m one of those people without a lick of artistic ability. But I resolved to really look at her work. Each painting had an expressive title, and so I was able to figure stuff out. A little. I understood why she titled the series, “Freshly Squeezed.” I got why she called the one with soft pinks and white “Berries and Cream.” And how she had drawn (hey! A pun!) inspiration from lemons and limes.
But it wasn’t until Alex took time to explain some of her process that I began to actually see the paintings. She often works from photos with enticing colors, textures, and shapes. She then “abstracts it out,” adapting the original image to the vision in her artist’s eye. And so, in the painting that had at first seemed to be just blue and white paint sharing a canvas, I recognized the corner of a white building and the brilliant afternoon sky in “Garden Shed.” Oooooh.
And then there was “Waterfall.” Several discussed the direction of the flowing water. The flowing down-ers had the majority, and Alex admitted that was how she had imagined it. But, she quickly added, everyone sees it differently and that’s the point. Up or down didn’t matter. (She often paints canvases that can be hung in any direction.) Her inspiration had been a little waterfall at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. The bottom of the actual waterfall was rocks and moss or algae, but she exchanged those colors for purple. (That’s abstracting it out, I guess.)
Experimenting with different brushes and tools, she had spent hours getting the texture just right. Sometimes she had to clear off all the paint and start over. For the effect at the bottom, she finally used a Martha Stewart stenciling brush—a tool not usually intended for oil (or was it acrylic) canvases. But really, how cool is that?
All that got me to thinking about writing. (Don’t all roads lead there?) Writers often take a phrase, or an overheard conversation, or a picture … and abstract it out. Daphne du Maurier drew inspiration driving past a farmer plowing a field. Above him, seagulls dove and swooped. Her thoughts “abstracted” the scene to one of hostile birds attacking a farmhand, his family, and his town. Alfred Hitchcock later “abstracted” her short story into the suspense thriller, “The Birds.”
There are plenty of other stories of how a glimmer of ideas and dreams blossomed into entire novels. But not without much work. Just like an artist’s canvas, we have to write, and re-write, finding the best words, the perfect tone and rhythm. And sometimes we even delete the whole daggone thing and start again from the blank page.
How wonderful it is that God, too, let’s us build and grow and prune and rework our lives. While I often see my life as abstract—mostly an idea of who I want to be or who I might be created to be, but not having that solid existence, God knows exactly who I am, who He created me to be. And so He works—and lets me work—the colors and textures and phrases and scenes of my life into something pleasing to Him.
The best thing of all is that the Author and Creator of the Universe lets me delete the messes I’ve made and start each day with a fresh canvas, a blank page. His mercies are, indeed, new every morning.
A couple of great quotes:
“It’s never too late – in fiction or in life – to revise.” (Nancy Thayer)
“The archer knows the target. The poet knows the wastebasket.” (Ron Dakron)