The Art of Home

I’ve always enjoyed drawing. As a kid it was a way to recreate the machined elegance of Spitfires, Mustangs, and other warplanes. I never quite mastered landscapes; people were right out.

Later, I took up photography with my dad’s Minolta XD 5, and haven’t let up on that hobby, though it loses some charm when we all have a fine lens in our pockets.

More recently though, my wife (who has always enjoyed painting and all things crafty) has become quite the watercolor aficionado. She’s really quite good, and she’s gotten the rest of the family into it, too.

The impetus for this turn has been the co-op school our older two girls attend (and where Rachel tutors part-time) which draws on Charlotte Mason’s educational ideas, including observational learning from nature. As such, each student is encouraged to keep a nature journal where they can paint or draw the things they spot in the world around them. We’ve adopted this habit as a family, and I’ve been amazed at what I’ve found in taking up the brush.

It starts off simply enough, it’s just drawing with paint, right? Except that’s not it at all. Learning to work in a medium to its strengths takes practice.

The milky paint acts like the water it is, seeking its level, finding the crevices in the paper like micro-arroyos, absorbing in to fade and spread colors. If you mix it thick enough to stay put, all of its liveliness shuts down, leaving you with flat, smeared lines.

To represent what you see, you have to paint what you don’t, laying down layers of color, slowly fading from light to dark to get things just right. The brush has to be held like a scalpel, the pressure, angle, and part of the tip with which you first touch the paper is going to set your course for good or ill. And once you’ve done something you don’t like, trying to fix it will only make it worse.

Watercolor has been a humbling learning curve for all of us, but perhaps for me—self-assured and overconfident as ever—most of all. You have to come prepared to shift along with it. The art takes you where it wants to go, and if you resist, it pushes you out of the picture.

During this time of pandemic and shutdown and quarantine, we’ve found some bursts of creativity. For me, that’s taken its usual poetic turn, but the watercolor has brought life, too. Because we’re stuck at home, we’ve looked closer at the world close at hand, watching and waiting as the magic of spring and the circles of life unfold in our 1/4 acre yard. We’ve been forced to slow down and open our eyes.

The past several weeks have been more of the old normal for me—working too hard on projects for my job and writing papers and studying to wrap up another semester at seminary. But I’m ready to stick a pin in all that and start to paint again.

Is it coping? Perhaps, but it is also exploring. Learning to know a place deeply enough to see it as it is. Pain, beauty, joy, anxiety, and anger swirl about in every breath these days, and we wait, brush in hand for what may happen next.

Marriage, or Talking to Myself

The Bible says
   A man and his wife
      Become one flesh and that
         Must include the brain as well as
      The heart and all the rest
   Perhaps this is why
Our eyes always
   Meet in mutual
      Recognition of the
         Crude cruel funny and sad and
      Why we laugh and cry at
   The same time maybe
That’s why we have
   Ended up liking
      All the same foods and same
         Movies and music and have
      Generally become
   Inseparable
Not in the so
   Sappy romantic
      Sense which usually
         Is meant by that word but just
      A simple statement of
   The fact that after
So many years
   There really isn’t
      A distinctive you and
         Me and even when you’re not
      Here you don’t won’t rub off
   This is probably
Why most of the
   fights that we’ve had with
      Each other in truth have
         Been fights with myself steady
      Internal dialogue
   That slowly flows down
To acceptance
   Pooling into faith
      In jumped-to conclusions
         And a brave face toward the world.

Image: Tide Pools, Beaufort County, S.C., September 2019.

Morning

A sweetgum is silhouetted
        against the east cream-sky, leaves like
                star-shaped kids’ cereal sogging
In forgotten milk.

Weathered, brittle plastic toys lie
        scattered in the backyard glowing
                in faint beatific rose light
For a little while.

The house sits quiet and languid
        as the summer air outside feels
                like a held breath, waiting to burst
Out, then in again.

When the kids wake, the spell will be
        broken, but for the time being,
                the world itself seems possible,
Open, blank, watching.

Maybe today’s news won’t happen,
        and all is cream and roses and
                God is standing back of it all
                        Breathing, “It is good.”

Image: Appalachian Sunrise, Watauga County, N.C., July 2018.

Unripe

unripe blueberries are
not miniature death-stars
waiting to zap planets
with blinding acid juice
but if they were how would
we even find out? all mine
in the backyard find
their way to the bellies
of mockingbirds before
I can verify the
destructive potential
of future pies and jams.

Image: Original Artwork, May 2019.