An Art Exercise Video For You {...Words Are Their Own Art Form}

This is a simple but enlightening grown-up art activity I put together last week, based on an old coaching exercise of mine.  I adapted it to artists, and like all my coaching material, I did it myself first.  It was powerful for me.

This is an exercise to help you in identifying and affirming your own artistic style.



For about the past two years, my art techniques and approaches have been undergoing a slow but very perceptible change.

 I am finding the courage to be radically simple in my subject matter and palette. And make no mistake, in this mixed media world I know and love so well, it takes courage to, in the words of country singer Luke Bryan, "Strip It Down".

 (Which happens to be my current favorite country song...but I digress...)

My processes in reaching a finished piece are still at times complex and varied, but the finished piece tends far more towards a still simplicity than it did, say, three years ago.

In life as in art.  Or is it in art as in life?  I don't know and I don't care.  All I know is nothing but bare, stripped down simplicity inspires me these days.

"Strip it down...down...down..."

(...you know you want to click that link, up there.  I dare you to listen only once.)

This was an exercise in writing down all the words that define who I am as an artist - words that describe the sort of work I want to put out into the world...and then painting those words.



Here's how to do it:

First, choose a few words that define your artistic bent. {Example: bright.  light.  complex.  layered.  Or....simple.  spare.}



Then, look up synonyms for your word or words. Don't forget the names of the colors in your palette...I promise, that's fun too.  Break out your old Thesaurus with the yellow pages.  Seriously.  Don't use your computer, because that goes against the whole spirit of this exercise.  We're tossing technology, and stripping it down...down...down...

Sorry.  {I'm embarrassed to tell you I'm chair dancing, even as I type.}

Then, find synonyms for THOSE words.  Then THOSE words.  Let the word geek in you come out.  Keep going down the rabbit hole of discovery. List all the words that most deeply resonate with who you are as an artist.

 Then, write every. single. one. of. them.  Scrawl them as large as you dare, with willow stick on paper. Keep writing, smudging, and layering. Then paint over all of it.

Lastly, I don't care what you think of the finished thing.  I want you to display it somewhere.  Honor your own effort - you applaud everyone else's.  Give the work of your own hands a special spot.




 This is an exercise I've always used in my coaching.  I've sat and watched women tear up...I've watched their tears fall...as a woman's own descriptive words take hold of her own tender heart.  Let's never forget that words really are that powerful.

{Since someone always asks: this sketch and paint took exactly 12 minutes in real time. Simple.}

Thank You, Jeanne Oliver {...my trip to Colorado...}

Mostly, you don't know how someplace has changed you until you leave that place.


 You can't understand the way an experience has transformed the way you are in the world until you've had time to synthesize and transmute that exposure to something new...to translate what you saw, into an awareness of just how it has changed you.  It takes time for the adventure to catalyze itself into the venture.

Three weeks ago, I flew to Colorado and stayed in the home of my sweet friend Jeanne Oliver.  She had invited me months before to be her special guest for the very first art workshop in her brand new studio, on the grounds of her brand new home in Castle Rock.


It has taken me this long to write about it, because I've been processing all of it deeply.  More deeply than I ever expected, to be honest.

I knew how that being in the physical presence of an artist whose work you admire, even taking one lesson from that artist, live and in person, can change your own art forever - but it takes time to see the incremental changes.

What I didn't realize - or to be more accurate, what I had forgotten - is how being in the presence of a friend who simply bears witness to who you really are, can change who you are forever.

That weekend, I got both.  I was in the presence of both friend and artist.

That entire weekend, my friend Jeanne was crazy-busy.  I can't imagine putting the finishing touches on an entire 1,100+ square foot teaching studio a mere day before a major workshop, then hosting an entire workshop while hosting a visiting friend.  But that's what she did...

...and so, what I'm saying is that she didn't have much time to consciously "bear witness" of me, or be profound with me or try to change me.  What I'm saying is that who she is, is so authentic, that it simply is.  And you impart who  you are, not what you think you want to teach others.

I caught such an impartation to dream and to believe yet more in a good, good God.  I was reminded that who I have been, in secret, for many years, is of infinite value - because to live life beautifully and soulfully is never - ever - a wasted effort.  In fact, it is the only way any of us can give away inspiration.  You can never just up and decide you are going to inspire someone.  No.  You have to live in an inspired way, alongside your spouse or your whole family, on a thousand Monday mornings, when the dailyness of the daily can become monotony - when no one is around to see the peaches you put in your oatmeal, when there is no one there but you and your loves to smell your scented candles.

After years of this, you can then impart powerfully.  (So start today!)

While I was there, in that beautiful studio, I enjoyed the company of other women, and participated in the art exercises.  But I didn't, at that moment, see one single change in my art.  (I didn't expect to - and neither should you.  These things take time.)

I've had three weeks to process, and suddenly, this week, art has come pouring out of me:



Art that isn't Jeanne.  It is art that is me, with elements of things I saw in her workshop - things that I consciously remember, and some that I'm sure are unconscious.

It's those unconscious influences that are the juju...


...they are the weighty, compelling imprint that changes you.



I don't want this post to seem, in any way, like a "you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours" advertisement for my friend, telling you to take a Jeanne Oliver workshop.

Not even Jeanne would want that.


What she would say, and what I would say, is that you must hold who you are - or if you are an artist, you must hold your art and yourself in high esteem - such high esteem that you trust the process of investment.  

Invest in you.


Remembering that the results take time.


But the rewards are permanent.
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A Different Perspective on the Existence of Evil


There is an enemy to human existence.  There is an enemy unleashed in the earth, who is hostile to the image of God - malignant towards the image of God that walks about upon the face of it. 

Sometimes, this enemy co-opts for its own evil designs the very human beings created to bear their Maker's image.  And that is the sad, sad part.  That is the ultimate degradation of imago Dei and the ultimate insult to the Creator.  

Though evil sometimes wears a human face, though it has often worn a human face for thousands of years or more, our battle is not with flesh and blood.  

Evil can seem to lurk large, even dwarfing the delight we feel in God.

But without this delight, without an unshakeable, unbendable, stubborn willing of our inmost being to be happy in all God is, all He gives, all He does - without inner delight dwarfing outside evil - joy dissipates.

Where joy is in absentia - (known to exist, but not present within) - strength is also absent.

It is time to put evil in perspective.  I tremble to write these words, because we all hope against what feel to be overwhelming odds.  But I will write it:

Evil has its limits.

Though the pain of evil scrapes out the interior of our hearts, leaving us feeling wounded and thin and without strong walls of defense, the weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

At the end of the day, at the close of your day-to-day fight to delight in God, you have a promise:  evil is only sufficient for a day.

"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof."  Matthew 6:34

I've heard it said that God operates out of abundance, the enemy operates out of a budget.   I know this is an unexpected perspective on Matthew 6:34, but I believe it is Biblical.

The enemy is the one on a budget.  You are limitlessly resourced.  Joy comes in the morning, no matter what this day brings.  Your God is all-sufficient, and your sufficiency is of Him.

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God

Evil has a short shelf life.  On this we can depend.  On this we can hope.  

On this we can act:  we can live and love and dream big dreams and look far beyond today with a hopeful heart.  We can plant trees, literally and metaphorically.  We can build houses and inhabit them and plant gardens and eat the fruit of them, even when all around us we see nothing but death and captivity.

Our sufficiency is from God.


(another great explanation of Imago Dei is found here


Cicadas and the Second Coming {...a repost from the archives...}

I heard the first cicadas of the summer season last night, and everything in me wanted to celebrate and mark the occasion.

But how?

Then I remembered the following post.  Hope you enjoy what I dusted off out of the archives today:




The Bible says in Romans that all of creation declares to us God's invisible qualities. Nature declares His attributes and power. This has given me great pause, over the years, as I try to figure out the message of each created thing. 

The rainbow speaks of the promise of God to Noah. The rainbow reveals the complexity of a God who is full of paradox. The rainbow speaks of justice and mercy, of law and grace.  It speaks of a God who said, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" and then told a prophet to marry a prostitute. 

That arch of color in the sky tells of a God who predestined me to salvation, and yet also infers life-altering significance to my choices. There can be no rainbow without opposites coming together. There is no prism of color without sunshine and rain present together, at the same time.

There are those created things with obvious messages, like rainbows and eagles and oak trees. Oak trees - those trees of righteousness, silent sentinels to the fact that even what God plants can sometimes take a lifetime to grow very large.

But my real obsession is with the Great Mystery of the Periodical Cicada

What.  the.  heck. can the cicada tell me about God?

Cicadas are harmless. They are nature's longest lived insect. I love the sound they make, so long as their numbers are not of plague proportions. They hatch, and burrow underground as nymphs, only to reemerge 13 or 17 years later, transform overnight into adults, reproduce and die.

What the...?? I'm stumped to consider the fact that a whole brood of periodical cicadas were under my grass, the whole time I was birthing my babies and teaching them to read. They were there, waiting, throughout the entire grueling process of my twin daughters receiving their driver's licenses.

And there are more, right there, underground, right now. They will hatch when I am, like, old.  

Kinda creeps me out.

If you look closely at the wings of a cicada, you might see the letter "W" or the letter "P". An old wives tale says that if the emerging insects have the "W", then there will be a war, and if a "P", why then we will have peace of course. Never mind the fact that there have been wars somewhere in the world since time and cicadas both began. 

I can understand the confusion - since the Bible does say that creation declares the mind and ways of God. Those old wives were just reading a bit too much into the whole cicada thing. They told their tale as though it were gospel truth.

Come to think of it, I know some televangelists who are no different. I wonder what they'd say about these mysterious insects, belonging to the genus magicicada? I'd almost guarantee you they'd find a message in there somewhere about the Second Coming.

Some folks eat cicadas. There is an actual cook book entitled The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook by David George Gordon

His book tells me that cicadas are nutty in flavor, and he gives me a recipe for Cicada Pizza. He also strongly recommends a certain fine wine to accompany the distinct insect flavors, but also advises me to drink it during the entire cooking process, well before I sit down to eat..."to fortify myself".

I've always believed that if sex or a meal has to be much-improved by the wine, then it is time for me to get suspicious. I prefer to be in full command of my reason, in the midst of either activity.

But back to Romans 1. Back to rainbows, oak trees, and the periodical cicada. My pastor-husband speculated, off the cuff, that the cicada might speak to us of God's persecuted, underground church. Surely the cicada's message can't be that obvious, though it is a thought. 

The poor man was just indulging one of my artsy-fartsy questions in the first place. He has given me other ideas and answers to my random questions that were accurate and even profound. So I have no reason to question his intuition on insects, but I do question it.

Until I can come up with something better, however, The Preacher's best guess will have to stand. 

What an enigma. Each thing in creation - the Bible says all of it - tells us something about God. Stars and even the periodical cicada have a message. 

If you figure out what that message is, please tell me. I won't eat them until I know for sure.

Southern Lights {...things that twinkle on a Wednesday night...}

I suppose I may stand amazed at the aurora borealis someday.  But until that day comes, east Tennessee fireflies will do just fine.

Summer fireflies, and summer stars.

(photo by my Preacher, Tim Atchley)

The June night was bracing cool like October, but without the promise of painted leaves.  June's exclusive rare and separate beauty is the firefly's staccato glow.  That's what we turned aside to see, my Preacher and me;  bushes burning with gentle tempered specks of flame.

We were parked in the wilderness of our national park, glad to be where neon is not normal, and all was unopposed, purple dusk.

I felt staggered by the glory of what must have been a million fireflies, each one lit from within by some sort of genius that is wholly something otherworldly.  The tall grasses, the fence line, the trees, the entire horizon glittered and blinked.  All the night was filled with darting gleam and moving shimmer.

It wasn't splendor, it was sparkle, which is splendor's lingering train.  Sparkle is like the backside of a beauty so bright, we best only focus on the leftover glow.  This side of heaven, sparkle is what you get to look at, when you say to God, "Show me Your glory!"

I looked and looked for a long time - and then I looked up.

Unhindered starlight.  Never had I ever seen a night sky like this - remember I said the night was bracing cool?  There wan't even a smidge of humidity to un-crisp this sight.

I looked and looked for a long time - and then chose to lay right down on the concrete, because I wanted to look all night.  The Preacher lay down beside me.

I lay prone on the sun-warmed slab, bad back be danged, and star gazed.  Every now and then I thought I saw a shooting star, but it was actually a firefly high in the sky.  The thought occurred to me that this was the first time since I was a little girl that I simply and singularly enjoyed the stars.  As a teenager, I was too busy to fling myself down and see stars.  As a young mom, I star gazed with my children, and loved every moment...but was too busy teaching about stars.  I was preoccupied with making sure my little ones saw stars.

Not this night.  This night, there was full-on wonder.  This night, there was flat-out, flat-on-my-back fascination.  It was then that I really did see a shooting star.  It was like all heaven was high-fiving the revelation that worship is wonder, plain and simple.

When surrounded by sparkle, face-up prone is greater than prostrate, and all is worshipful still astonishment.

As I head outside tonight, smack-dab in the city, my home a stone's throw away from a pawn shop and the sound of motorcycles, I plan on seeing fireflies and summer stars.

(photography by Tim Atchley)

I plan on being just as amazed.


"And God said, "Let there be light!"  And there was light."  ~Genesis 1









May Flowers


The unofficial start of summer is here, friends.  (School's out, here in Knox county...woohoo!  So glad my son-in-law, an algebra teacher at a local high school, can begin his summer break soon...after teaching a bit of summer school.)

This video isn't at all instructional.  It's just three minutes long.  It's just happy.  Pour yourself some iced tea and enjoy...

...and happy summer!


Birds of a Feather Flock Together {...the lost art of imitating the right people...}

It has been said, and I know it to be true, because I saw it in the mountains this afternoon, from about 3 o'clock to almost sundown:

"Birds of a feather flock together."



See, there's this question of authentic progress.  There's this nagging question as to how high and far you can really fly, if you are a bluebird flying alone...

....or if you are a bluebird from Tennessee who imitates a crow from Nebraska.

"Remember your leaders, those who have spoken God's word to you.  Think about the impact of their lives, and imitate their faith."  (Hebrews)

You will never fly high and long by imitating the flight patterns of a bird you honestly can't see, who isn't right in front of you.

You will never innovate (create something that is uniquely your own) until you imitate.  This is true in art, this is true in cookery - thus, grandma's biscuit recipe.  It is true for learning how to walk, talk, and use a spoon.  The necessity of imitation is hard-wired into all sentient creatures.

Be careful, therefore, who and what you imitate.  Bluebirds make strange crows.

There are 3 criteria that should be applied, when choosing who you imitate:

1.  Their outcome needs to be that which you want to see manifested in your own life.

2.  They need to be outspoken leaders.  (If they haven't said anything to you that ruffled your feathers, you will not make rapid shifts or big progress imitating their tactful timidity.)

3.  They need to be "YOURS".  

They need to be, to some degree, physically accessible to you.  "Remember YOUR leaders."

And while you are remembering, remember this:  If your leader carefully guards his or her time, that does not make them inaccessible.  That makes them productive, which makes them worth imitating.

We "remember" - we think about, sometimes even obsess over, and chase down -  remote teachers. Everyone wants Bill Johnson for their pastor.  (Good luck with that...I like him too, but he wouldn't have lunch with me if I asked him, not even next YEAR.  He probably would not personally answer an email from me.)

We imitate the faith of a YouTube prophet, and wonder why we don't see the personal growth we long to see.  We wonder why our lives always feel like two steps forward, three back.

Two steps forward, three back is what happens without the impartation that comes with the imitation of what is yours.

"Think about the impact of their lives...".  I challenge you to do something I bet you have never done before:  spend a few minutes each week, thinking about the impact of the life of YOUR leader.  I guarantee he or she has been up to way more than you know about, and their impact goes farther and deeper than you have actively considered.

Don't let familiarity rob you of yet another season of advancement!  You cannot make headway, you will not expand, by imitating the Internet Famous, or seeking the stamp of approval of a professional credentialist.

It never ceases to amaze me and stump my logic, the way people will set out on an absolute tangent, pouring their time talent and treasure into imitating someone they met six months ago, or imitating someone who wants to sell them an idea or a product or a book.  If the person you are imitating, profits directly from your interest in them, then frankly all you are is a feather in their cap.

You can keep imitating that awesome, remote person.  I'm not the boss of you.  But.  Be prepared to risk making huge progress...in the wrong direction!  And that is worse than no progress, because that pseudo progress will deceive the daylight out of you.

You need to reaquaint yourself with that seemingly ordinary man or woman who tells it like it is, and who clearly is "yours".  You know who they are - they are the ones you've been attempting to avoid, while you've been trying to get the attention of that cool, charismatic crow in Nebraska.  They are the ones who lead, irrespective of your criticism or reward.

I'm all about my book learning.  Some of my best mentors have taught me from their graves, through their books.  But something was always missing.  Always.  This is my confession.

See...I've never made the sort of progress from a book, that I've made from imitating the faith of someone who God placed very physically and directly in my life.  Someone who spoke the word of the Lord into my situation.  Someone who I can watch her do her life.

Proximity does matter.  God has localized this whole process, because that's how He wanted it done.

I believe with my whole heart, if you yield to God's plan of imitating what is YOURS, you will see a lot of authentic progress, and a heavy load will lift from off your spirit...

you will...

feel light...

as a feather.