Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cultivation

My (new) roommate and friend pointed out that we needed an introvert night after several days of both hard work and revelry, including moving her stuff from her old studio apartment into my house.

She is so right. So here we sit, in the same house, within sight of each other, but silent. Later we might do pedicures and talk about nothing but frivolity and "what if's."I don't do a very good job of planning my own introvert time, and I'm too easily swayed to activity. It's easier than dealing with my own head. However, there are a few times and places where I can really find the head space and be alone with my thoughts. The garden is one of them. In fact, it was thinking while gardening one Saturday that somehow ended in a determination to blog regularly for a while (why yes, "regularly" is a term that here means "sporadic, but optimistic".)

Today I came home from work and immediately headed out to the garden. Gardens require maintenance. It's been warm lately, which means I have to water, or ask one of the roommates to water if I have to be gone. I have to pick things. Lettuce is a bumper crop right now, and the herbs will go to seed in a blink if I don't pick them. I found 3 large cucumbers on that vine the other day, which was a total surprise! I made them into dill pickles on Sunday, of which accomplishment I am inordinately proud.

Other than watering though, the main thing about a garden that takes work is the issue of pests. There are not many pests in my garden. There are the requisite slugs and bugs of our part of the world, but overall I've been lucky so far. But one pest is always there, the one that takes the most maintenance: weeds.

So many many people far wiser than me have compared weeds to sin in our lives, that it's a cliched metaphor, to put it mildly. But I can't help but have the metaphor slap me in the face when I've been away from the garden for a mere day, and I walk into it thinking I've been doing so well with taking care of it, only to find the darn green things have popped up overnight. I have a lot of questions about weeds. Why do they grow so fast, when my poor basil has to be so babied and pampered with the perfect amounts of sun and water and plant food? I swear, I will dutifully pull weeds in one patch, turn around, and immediately spy 3 or 4 more weeds in the midst that I must have missed.

Weeds are tricky. I have one kind of weed that has sharp prickers if it gets too big. When I reach down to grasp it to pull it up, I sticks me and I end up with a looser grasp, letting me pull off a few of the leaves, but leaving the roots untouched. Some weeds do the same thing without prickers, keeping their leaves loosely attached so you can almost never get the root out.

I have one other specially recurring weed that has a very tiny root system, and sprawls out lots and lots of viney little arms above the ground. These are very distracting and it's hard to find the center of the plant. Each arm will detach with the least pressure, but the others will all still be there. You have to go very slowly, gathering up all of the vines in the plant, finding the center of it, and then pull it out slowly.

Weeds require constant maintenance, AND they will almost never be gone. they are always there, waiting just below the surface, for the least and tiniest opportunity to spring into existence and choke out the good plants. This constant battle with nature is what we have come to call cultivation, the process of developing; promotion of growth or strength. In gardening, I work to promote the growth of some plants, and to inhibit the growth of others.

Once I thought that in the end, it would be the fruit that proved the gardener's wisdom in picking the right plants to cultivate. But then I realized that the gardener doesn't really have any control over if the right plants actually produce fruit. I have a crazy cucumber plant in my garden, but I also have a pepper plant and a lavender plant that don't seem to have grown at all, no matter how much plant food, water, and sun they get.

So I make dill pickles, and enjoy them. I won't worry too much about the rest. But I will keep pulling the weeds.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Creation, Doors, and Art as a gift

This is the last in a series of posts about the art project my sister and I and some of our friends collaborated on for a recent wedding. The story and details are in the previous 7 posts, if you are interested in reading and seeing more about the artwork shown here.

This is the only photograph we have of the doors set up, just after the ceremony (Thanks to Bekah Stolhandske, who had just finished running the Seattle Rock'n'Roll Marathon in time to come to the wedding, and still had the presence of mind to take a picture.). I think the main reason we're short on pictures of the whole set of doors together is that Luz and Cole wanted to include an aspect of revelation, so each door was draped with white fabric at first. A dramatic reading of scripture, both Old Testament and new, started the ceremony, accompanied with music from a local band, and the groomsmen removed the fabric for each door at the appropriate point in the reading. You can even catch a bit of the white fabric on the floor behind Day 2 in this photo.

The other part of the project that was critical were the stands, designed by my dad and I. We needed them to support the doors, especially Day 3 and Day 6, which were terribly heavy, but we also wanted them to be minimal in appearance, and to stand the doors upright like a proper door and not like an easel or sandwich board. Since the integrity of the stands was important, I went to my dad for help. We spent an afternoon in the lumber store (childhood memories!) and in the garage cutting the lengths of 1x4 and getting them assembled.

The stands are the part of the artwork you're not supposed to notice, I suppose...but they are also part of the integrity of the whole picture. And that is probably a metaphor for something. :)

Doors: Day 6


Genesis 1:24-31 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that cre
eps on the earth.

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.


These are my friends Cole and Luz, who happened to be behind the whole doors thing, because they met, then got engaged, and then decided to get married. Luz is a graphic designer, and has always loved handmade and unique designs. Cole and Luz's idea was to include the 6 biblical days of creation in the ceremony, and they asked Jessi and I if we could work out an idea for 6 multi-media art pieces. That sounded very serious and heavy, and made us pretty nervous. Then we realized that it was, after all, a gift to celebrate Luz and Cole, two great friends who are starting out a life of commitment and living grace.

The last piece is about relationship and personal connection. The most interesting thing about working on this door is that I believe I removed more layers of paint than were left in the end. I always work in layers, adding color washes on top of color washes, then wiping or sanding the layers off, leaving only the residue or history of what was there. This process of building and destroying, creating and removing seems to me to embody a sort of sacrificial process that, by being destroyed, actually builds.


Jessi and I heard Andy Crouch, a teacher, writer and musician speak a couple of years ago at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Music. He talked about the Tom Waits song Picture in a Frame, and we've never forgotten the tender lines of it. It's one of my favorite tender songs now, and I thought of the words as I brought in the blue and gold into this portrait: The sun came up, it was blue and gold/The sun came up, it was blue and gold/The sun came up, it was blue and gold/ever since I put your picture in a frame.



The other two panels simply carry through the theme of connection and relationship. The borders around the panels are illustrated with sketched animals to reflect the variety of creation.



Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Doors: Day 5





Genesis 1:20-23 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

Initially when we went door-shopping, I
thought that we would use these smallish doors for all 6 days. In the end, the variety of doors helped to create a more unique
way of expressing each concept, and we worked with more different media this way.

This door, though, was more fully acrylic painting. My friend Sarah really envisioned the simplicity of the design, and she helped me clean, finish and paint this door, and chose the antique hardware latch. This was the first one we completed and it really helped set the tone for the whole group with the bright colors and the joyful mood.

And, as Sarah pointed out, we chose to paint a type of fish, the Koi, that looks like it has a mustache. But more about that tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Doors: Day 4

Genesis 1:14-19: And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great
lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.


This day is all about light. But more inherently, it's about the division of days and order of seasons. We were completely lucky to find a beautiful french door at the Re-store (unfortunately, we photographed the white side, but ended up using the pretty blue side because, well, sky.). At $25, this one was a splurge. But we did literally nothing to it except clean it up a bit, and build the shelf on the back to hang the lights.

The paper lanterns were my favorite part of the lights, I love how the light glows from within. I traveled to Seattle again this past weekend to set up the doors for an art walk, and Luz and I bought more medium-sized paper lanterns in place of the stars. I'll try and show pictures of that version when I get them.

After the wedding, I was spending time with some friends at their house for the fourth of July. They mentioned that once they had done a storyboard for Creation for their preschool classes, but they had only used 3 boards, since for each of the first three days, God created, but the second three days were about populating that creation. Day 1, the separation of light and dark, finds its purpose now in day 4, with its order of governing bodies for day and night.

I had never thought about creation that way, but that idea lent order and clarity to the whole creation idea for me.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Doors: Day 3


Genesis 1:9-14 Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And that is what happened. The land produced vegetation—all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit. Their seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. And evening passed and morning came, marking the third day.
This old screen door was $4. Screen doors are more outdoors than in, and in my mind they seem to have more to do with gardens and outdoor living, so it seemed to fit day three quite well. The only trouble we had was in determining how to include the separation of the seas in the imagery. In the end, we went with a very simple depiction of just a single clear glass container with water. The door was also very fragile to begin with, and we reinforced it with staples and nails to keep it in one piece.

Here's the final version. We wanted to do the green paint to tie it more closely to plant life and growth. The birch branches are from the tree in our front yard, and the paper flowers were made by Margaret, who also made the flowers for the bridesmaids bouquets. They turned out to be so bright and clear, that against the green door the design showed very clearly and simply. We floated a few candles in the vase so that the water would be more obvious.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Doors: Day 2


Genesis 1:6-8: And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

Here is the door we picked for day 2.


Day 2 seemed to have three natural divisions, so this door worked very well with its distinctly separate sections. I didn't want to do too much to this door because I loved it's basic structure so much. The center section had a panel of plexiglass screwed onto the back, making that section double-paned...this gave us the idea for a shadow box or collage for the middle panel. Jessi's main medium is found art and collage, so that section belonged completely to her.

This is the finished door. On the top section, we used pieces of hand-stained vellum, part of an old art project from my senior year in college. The vellum takes in these dark, rich layers of paint and can be scrubbed, crumpled, dried, and stained again, then ironed back out. The finished paper is still transparent, like stained glass. To bring out the transparency, we put a lamp behind this door, too.The center section began with the idea of a collage of maps. Jessi used National Geographic maps, a hand-painted map, more pieces of the vellum, draft graph paper, ribbons, ceramic ornaments, buttons, and a branch with light bulb tips to create a dimensional collage. (close up picture below) She put in some more personal elements, including a drawing of the states of Arizona and Texas, where the Luz has lived, and a hand-drawn map of Seattle, where Cole is from and where they will live now.The bottom section I wanted to be very simple and iconic. I painted the wave with acrylics in layers, and sandpapered away enough of the paint to make the surface a little richer and more historic.This door turned out to be one of my favorites of the set.

A close-up of the vellum section. (the top left pane was missing when we bought it, but I liked that.)

A close-up of the collage. The blue map Jessi hand-painted, and I love it. The light behind glowed through some of the vellum and graph-paper sections, too.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Doors: Day 1

Genesis 1:3-5:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there wa
s evening, and there was morning—the first day.

Luz and Cole, while giving us the subject matter, didn't give us many other guidelines. After meeting to talk about the artwork, we weren't even set on doors, just panels of some kind.

By the time we came to talk of doors, it was time to get started. So my friend Sarah and I went off to the Re-Store to purchase some salvaged doors. The two louvered doors you see here were $1 each, the old-fashioned hinges to attach them, $2 each. I never would have gone for louvers, but Sarah, a designer, helped me pick out 6 totally different doors.

We wanted to incorporate words somehow, without being overly obvious, and for this one we wanted light to be the main feature. So Jessi collaged together printed pages of scripture, stained with sepia and black ink, and hand wrote in every language and font we could find the words for "Light" "Dark" "Word" and "Speak". The bottom panels, like the one shown here, are solid and so are dark when the light shows through the louvers, as in the top photo. The words look very subtle, but rich. (you can see the word "luz" in the upper left corner; a tribute to Luz's name, which is the spanish word for "light.")

The top louvred panels are finished with copper and gold acrylic glazes, and silver leaf to really reflect the light from the lamp which stands behind it. The idea was to have the light reflected as pouring and dripping through the slats, formless as yet, but still glorious and gushing light.

Open Doors

This is the painting that inspired the post a few weeks ago on Toning the Canvas. You'll get to see how it the final painting turned out at the end of next week.

It's actually 3 paintings, one on each panel of the door, which is one of 6 doors my sister and I have worked on together as a gift for my dear friend Luz's wedding to her husband Cole.

It was Luz's idea, actually, to have 6 pieces of artwork based on the Biblical days of Creation as set pieces for the wedding. She also wanted there to be an aspect of revealing each piece in order, to accompany a group reading that would follow scripture.

I've helped out with many weddings, been in a few wedding parties myself, moved enough picnic tables, cut enough cakes, poured enough punch and danced to Footloose enough for a lifetime, and while I'm sure this wedding was more than crazy for Luz, Cole, and many others who helped with the various details, it was completely worth it. When it all came together, it was lovely, intentional, joyful, and meaningful.

To make up for having disappeared for a week to recuperate, the next 6 posts will be on the doors and the story of our time making them.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Cheer up!! You Are Free!!

I decided to work on the observed 4th of July holiday, saving my floating holiday for later in the month. When I came in on Monday morning, an e-mail was waiting for me from a colleague at our affiliate company in Chennai, India. Here’s what it said:

Dear Jana:
Cheer Up!!
You Are Free!!
Best wishes for your Independence Day!

Political and religious freedom is something that I know with my mind, but rarely remember to be specifically thankful for. It often takes a conversation with my dear friends who are from or currently living in countries that are not free to remind me to be thankful for all that we have here in the United States.

But these five words were reminders to me to be thankful for the other big gifts in my life, too. In scripture we are often reminded to be thankful for what we have. Paul writes to the Colossians (Col. 3:15):

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father.

As I thought about the words in the note from half a world away, I thought about how true and good patriotism, as well as true and good living, flows from simple thankfulness and a remembrance of what we have been given.

Not only am I free politically, I have freedom from death in Christ’s sacrifice. It is out of a grateful spirit that I can find strength to go on and joy along the way. But still, there are a lot of days where I could use the written, shouted, or blared reminder that I should cheer up and remember what I've been given.

So, Happy Independance and “Cheer up!! You Are Free!!”

… God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir. (Gal. 4:4-7)