Tag Archives: art

Seeing Myself on the Canvas

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It’s not every day that I get to model for a famous artist. But today was not just another day!

Sir Roland Richardson is called “The Father of Caribbean Impressionism.” He’s one of Saint Martin’s foremost citizens, and has made significant contributions in the art, history, and literary aspects of the island. Internationally, he is best known for his vibrant oil paintings. He and his wife, Laura, run his art gallery out of a historic building in the French capitol, Marigot.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have read about the day that Roland painted Stacey. Today, it was my day to sit for the master. Last time I visited the gallery, I mentioned that my husband, Ben, is from Africa and I have a few sets of clothing from Tanzania. He asked me to wear one for a painting, so I chose a colorful dress and head scarf that Ben gave me for our first Christmas and a cowrie shell necklace from Ben’s mom. The outfit not only reflects the Johnson family heritage, it also represents the island’s African influences and the narrative of many of Saint Martin’s citizens.

The painting took about four hours. As he worked, Roland told Stacey and I about the island’s history. He knows more about Saint Martin history than almost anyone! If you’re around Marigot, French Saint Martin on a Thursday, stop into his gallery to watch him paint a portrait and ask about the island’s past. Roland is a wealth of fascinating information on the Caribbean.

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Don’t you love how the painting turned out? I can’t wait to see it displayed in the gallery! What a wonderful experience.

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You can see more of Sir Roland Richardson’s work at his website here.

Photo Credits: Stacey Culpepper

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Atlanta and the Importance of Art

Who are more important, engineers or artists? My answer: yes.

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There are few things as abysmally boring as being stuck in an airport layover in the early hours of the morning. For this reason, I am thankful for airport museums. Currently, I am sitting in the E terminal of the Atlanta airport, following a wonderful hour-long art excursion through each hall.

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Ceramic artwork by Sunkoo Yuh

The wandering visitor will find the Atlanta, Georgia airport a wealth of culture. My personal favorite display here is the Ceramix series, which is disbursed throughout the terminal.  Click on the photos below for information on each piece.

There is also a fascinating series on the African-American experience in Georgia. Some things cannot be explained in words; only in art.

I also found a variety of other art displays, ranging from flying vegetables created by (you guessed it) an Iowan artist to what appeared to be African tribal Jedi light sabers.

The presence of these displays reminded me of a children’s book I flipped through the other day. Frederick by Leo Lionni is about a little mouse who seems to do nothing important. While his friends gather food for the winter, he gathers sunshine and colors. Everyone thinks he’s a little crazy– until winter comes. Then, everyone is sad, hopeless and hungry. Leo gives everyone hope by sharing his sunshine and colors in vivid descriptions of summertime. The message behind the story is that art is important. It sometimes seems entirely impractical, but the reality is that our souls crave art and beauty. Without it, we shrivel up inside.

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“Dad of the Day Award” goes to the man teaching his four-year-old to appreciate art

 

Some of us are naturally gifted to solve math problems, and other of us can create fantastic worlds with a paintbrush. Some of us have the guts to save people from burning buildings, and others of us have the heart to coax forth music from ivory keys. “Let each man pass his days in that endeavor wherein his gift is greatest,” said Propertius. Even if that means inspiring others with giant mosaics made from business cards! This is exactly what John Salvest has done. His Atlanta display is a giant two-panel rendition of Propertius’ quote.

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Our culture tends to highly value the sciences. This is good and beneficial for our society, but we cannot forget to also value art. This morning, scientists give me the gift of flight. Artists give me the gift of joy. I thank God for both. Use your gifts, whatever they are!

 

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Fairy Tale Puppets

Art in the Park and Canada!

We’re bound for Canada! But first, we’re participating in Art in the Park right here at home. One of my favorite memories of my childhood hometown is Art in the Park. Flagstaff, Arizona held it this festival annually on the lawn of the library. It’s something I missed when we moved to Phoenix. Now that we live in Sint Maarten, Art in the Park is back on the agenda!

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Some of my paintings that will be for sale at Art in the Park 

The best of SXM Art in the Park for me is that I get to be a part of a booth this time. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I volunteer with a local Little League team that incorporates academics into its daily program. This summer, we all get to take a trip to Canada to watch the Blue Jays play! The Rotary Club is sponsoring the trip, but of course we are teaching the boys responsibility by having them fund-raise as well.

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The kids have been working on their merchandise for a long time. Coach Tom and his wife, Lisa, came up with some great ideas. The team has a rock tumbler, and they’ve polished a couple hundred rocks over the last few months. We’ll put magnets on these and sell them for a few dollars. The kids are also making lanterns with a Canadian maple leaf on the front. I’ll be contributing some of my paintings to the fundraiser, as well.

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K. shows off one of her favorite rocks

Here’s how we made the rock magnets:

  1. The kids ran around the baseball field, gathering various little rocks.

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2. The first week, Tom tumbled the rocks with some abrasive. They came out clean, but still pretty rough. The kids washed all the gritty gray liquid off and Tom added new abrasive.

3. The second week and third weeks, the rocks were tumbled again.

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A. found an amethyst!

4. The fourth week was the last week of tumbling. This kids washed them off and shined them. We put a little lacquer on them to make them even prettier.

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5. Finally, we glued the magnets on the back. They’re ready to add some natural beauty to your fridge!

The older boys worked with volunteers to drill holes in coffee cans for the lanterns. Then everyone had a chance to paint the leaves Canada red.

Stacey and I are working on an informational display for the festival, too. All the kids and volunteers traced their hands on the background.

If you’re on Saint Martin, come visit us this Sunday (February 14) at Emilio Wilson Park in Cul de Sac between 10 and 4:30! Just head to Philipsburg, take the round-a-bout north instead of heading east to Cost-U-Less, and look for the park on your left a little past the baseball field. Let’s send these kids to Canada!

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One of our boys and Fred, a real, live Canadian! Also, note volunteer Andrea’s enthusiasm in the background. We have fun here.

 

 

 

Thanks to Stacey and Tom for providing the pictures for this post!

The Perspective of a Painter

If you take a stroll down the Rue de la Republique of Marigot on the island of Saint Martin, you will find a tall, 200-year-old building with red gingerbread doors and shutters. On most days, the doors and windows are flung open to allow passersby to admire vibrant artwork within. This is the art gallery of Sir Roland Richardson.

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It’s a Thursday, the day when the gallery is most interesting. On Thursdays, Roland paints portraits. Today, my friend Stacey is the chosen model, and I have come to watch.

Roland welcomes us inside his gallery and begins to show us around. The first thing that catches our attention is the bright reds and oranges of the flamboyant trees in Roland’s paintings. As he opens the gingerbread shutters, sunlight floods the gallery and illuminates the artwork– a scattering of flowers on this canvas, a still-life print on the shelf, a field of sunflowers on that canvas. Roland tells us that every single painting in his gallery was done from life. “If I’m not looking at it, I don’t paint it,” he says. For Roland, a painting is a historical object. He doesn’t want to invent something that doesn’t exist; he doesn’t want to extrapolate on a photograph. He wants to capture a moment in time.

We can see that he captures moments in the most beautiful way.

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Roland continues to set up shop, and we wander into the garden. The back wall of the garden is perfectly picturesque; it is one of the island’s oldest buildings, a French barracks that housed the army while they built Fort Louis. The garden itself is charming. We admire the voluptuous tropical flowers and chat with some of the other gallery guests.

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It is late in the morning, and the tourists begin to trickle in. Roland welcomes them with his usual zeal and immediately begins to instruct on art and light. He sets a prism on the sidewalk outside and snatches up a blank canvas to capture the rainbow it throws into the room. Light is everything to us, he explains, because it defines everything we can see. Except for the things within our reach, the only reason we can know anything exists is because of light.

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He gestures to the rainbow on his canvas. While our minds think we see seven colors, he says, there are really only three: red, yellow and blue. In religion, there is the Trinity, and in the physical world, there are three dimensions. In the world of light and color, there are the primary colors. Light goes back, it goes forward, and it goes outward in a glow. Three dimensions, and three elements to light.

Roland’s wife, Laura, arrives to manage the gallery, and Roland takes leave of his visitors. Up the stairs we go. On the second floor, There is still more art– mostly portraits. Roland sets up his canvas and tries every combination of shadow in the room to find the perfect light in which to paint Stacey. We open and close all the windows and all the doors until he is satisfied with a soft, sunlit glow from one side of the room. He focuses for a moment on his subject and then on his canvas, tracing invisible shapes on its surface with his hands. “The first gestures to me are the most important, because it is the way the subject wants to appear in the space you have,” he explains. The canvas, he tells us, is a unique space. in order to create art on the canvas, you cannot simply determine what you want to put there. Part of the art of painting is the art of discovery. You must discover how the subject wants to fit within the space of the canvas; you must draw it out of the canvas. “A painting is not a picture of something. A painting is a thing in itself.”

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The first strokes of the master are light, but strong; purposeful, but free. I watch in fascination as the image appears on the canvas. Roland talks as he works, explaining what he does and why. He works on all the pieces of the painting simultaneously so that it can grow naturally. That’s how babies grow, he says– the whole foot doesn’t develop first and then a leg and so on. A painting can’t develop that way, either.

To Roland, painting is not just an art. It is not simply a form of self-expression. “Self expression is not art,” he states. No, art is something more than that. Art is something spiritual. “I believe that paintings are an essential aspect of humankind that is really unique and that an awareness of the importance of art…is intended to nourish our beings. Our spirits.”

My mind ruminates on this thought as Roland continues his work. Art really does nourish our spirits. Supposing that the universe is random and has no meaning, then what is the purpose of beauty, and why are we drawn to beautiful things? We inherently love sunsets and recoil from spiders. God placed something within our souls that craves beauty. And He created beauty all around us. Beauty in our lives is the thumbprint of God on the world; it is His signature. Every flitting butterfly and every turquoise hummingbird whispers to us that God loves us and that there is a meaning to life.

My thoughts are interrupted as a group of students from nearby school enter the studio. They are part of an art class, and they are here to interview Roland for a school project.

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“Why did you decide to become an artist?” asks one student. Roland turns from his work, fistful of brushes in hand. “You don’t decide to become an artist,” he says. It is not a decision. It is a calling. Being an artist is more than simply a job, he says. It is the purpose that the Creator made him for. He tells the story of how he became the first St. Martin-born professional painter, from the seventeen-year-old painting his very first piece to the successful artist he is today.

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The students finish their questions, say goodbye, and file down the stairs. The painting is becoming more and more lifelike. With every stroke, it becomes more Stacey. As he paints, Roland tells us the difference between painting a person and painting anything else. With an object, you can decide what you are looking at. With a person, you must discover what you are looking at. Painting through discovery brings respect to the human subject, he admonishes. This strikes me as profound, and I wonder if biographers and photographers also think this way. Perhaps if we all approached one another in this way– not just in painting, but in everyday life– we would have more grace and respect for one another.

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It is now mid-afternoon, and the shafts of light angle differently through the windows than they did when the canvas was still white. The room is airy, and I can smell the sweet fragrance of the garden flowers. Outside, the bells break through the sound of downtown traffic to chime three o’clock. Roland puts the finishing touches on Stacey’s blue eyes. He invites her to come see. A smile lights up her face as she sees herself in fine art on the canvas. It really is beautiful.

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We take in a few more quick lessons on art and color from the artist, bid him goodbye, and emerge from the cool of the studio to the warm sunlight of the West Indies. Time ticks on, the bustle of town swallows up the moments. The ferry pulls out of port, someone is born, and someone dies. But upstairs in the studio, a moment of time is forever captured and will never be forgotten.

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Sharpie Mugs and Good Friends

What’s better than a god cup of tea? A good cup of tea to enjoy with a friend. One thing I love about American University of the Caribbean is the people I have met! The spouses organization provides constant opportunities for the significant others of students to spend time together and build relationships. Last week’s activity was decorating sharpie mugs and sugar cookies! Every single mug was absolutely adorable. If you’ve never made a sharpie mug before, you should try it! They are cheap, easy, and leave plenty of room for creativity.

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First, gather your materials. You will need sharpies, a white mug (cheaper ones are better because the glaze melts easier in the oven), and rubbing alcohol.

IMG_9972Second, find inspiration! I posted several photos here to give ideas, and Pinterest has hundreds more.

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Designed by Emily! Visit her blog here

Third, wipe your entire cup with the alcohol. Try not to touch your cup too much because of the oils your fingers leave.

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IMG_9968Allow the sharpie to dry overnight

IMG_9967Bake at 350* F (175* C). Put the cups in the oven before you turn it on and leave them in until the oven is entirely cool. Otherwise the mugs will crack.

IMG_0022 (1)Repeat step previous step.

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Enjoy! Be careful with your cup. Do not wash in the dishwasher and be gentle when you wash it by hand.

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A Day in the Life of an AUC Spouse

After my last post, A Typical Day at American University of the Caribbean, I was encouraged to tell about my own typical day. This is a little harder than sharing a typical day for Ben, mostly because my days are never the same!

Here’s what my day looked like yesterday:

We woke up at 6:30, a little later than usual, because we had a late-night Skype call the night before. I made stove-top toast for breakfast, and Ben left for class at 7:20.

Making food has extra challenges here! I don't read Dutch...
Making food has extra challenges here! I don’t read Dutch…

I organized my laundry and took it to AUC’s dormitory laundry room. Our apartment’s washer and dryer don’t work well, so I always do laundry at school. One of the washers had leaked, so an AUC employee was mopping the floor. I stopped to chat with her for a while. While waiting for my laundry, I studied Swahili from a textbook I got a couple years ago in Kenya.

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At 8:15, I met a couple friends– other spouses– near AUC and went on a 3-mile run with them. The air is humid and warm, so two of us decided to walk to the beach after our run to cool off. My friend brought her dog with us, and it was hilarious to watch her play in the surf!

Sasha plays on the beach
Sasha plays on the beach

Around eleven, I went home and made lunch. I try to have it ready for Ben when he walks in the door. Today we had leftovers from a school-catered lunch we had on Monday.

After eating, the two of us spent a little time together. Then Ben studied his vital signs checklist while I cleaned up after lunch, blogged, and read my Bible.

At two, a friend picked me up and we drove halfway across the island to the little league field. We parked behind the field next to three containers. These containers look rather unassuming from the outside, but inside, they are filled with all the wonderful things we loved in our childhoods– a labeled shell collection, a train track running along the ceiling, a remote-control robot, science projects, books, a rock tumbler, and so much more! The little league coach has set up a player development and tutoring program for some of the island kids. Some of the AUC spouses come to tutor the kids and play ball with them. While we were there yesterday, I got to work on reading with a three or four kids, play catch with two little girls, and do warm-up exercises with the boys.

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We left around 4:30 and headed back to our homes in Cupecoy. I went shopping at the Asian market next to our complex and started a dinner of beans and rice. While everything cooked, I answered emails for my freelance art job. Want to see what I do for work? Check this out!

One of the T-shirts I designed for a client (copyright 2015)
One of the T-shirts I designed for a client
(copyright 2015)

At 6:30, Ben and his friend Matt arrived for dinner.

Dinner at the Johnson's
Dinner at the Johnsons’

At 7:05, I ran out the door, a little late for my Zumba class. I go to a free Zumba session twice at week at AUC’s gym. The class ended at 8:00, and I had a little time to talk with friends before going to band practice.

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At 9:00, I arrived at worship band practice. I’m singing and playing in our church’s worship band on Sundays– next week, I’ll be singing back-up and playing the drum. Some weeks, I’ll be helping out by playing guitar or piano as needed.

Practice went late, so it was almost 10:30 before I got home. Ben and I were both exhausted! We talked for a bit, set the alarm, and fell fast asleep.

Creatively Finding Work

The consequence for working for pay as a foreigner in St. Maarten is immediate deportation. However, I can apparently work online through American-based employers. While a two-year vacation on a Caribbean islands sounds lovely, a two-year vacation on a Caribbean island with a job to pay some of the bills sounds even better.

I hoped to get a full-time job this summer, but somehow or other nothing I tried worked out. I think it was by the grace of God, actually. It’s been lovely to spend these days with Ben, since it’s the last time we’ll be able to spend quantity time together for what seems like forever. Also, we’ve had a lot of moving preparations to do. We’ve actually been blessed with quite a lot of paid work, anyway.  We drive two awesome kids home from camp a couple times each week. I babysit two or three times a week, and sometimes Ben comes with me. Ben has a job as a tutor, also. We get to housesit twice this summer. The biggest blessing, though, is the work that will last during our time in St. Maarten. Ben suggested that I try freelance illustrating again. I did it a little before and during college, but he thought I could try to work into a full-time job. So, I bought Adobe Illustrator and started a Cafepress store and put myself out there on a few websites. I was discouraged at first, but not long after we prayed for a design job for me, I got an offer for a part-time job with a printing company. So, I am working for a printing company designing T-shirts. I just finished my first batch of sixty-four and my client loved them. Praise God! Looks like we’ll have a little income while we’re on the island.

Check out my Fiverr gigs and my Cafepress store:

https://www.fiverr.com/brejay

http://www.cafepress.com/thirdculture

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Above is one of my designs on Cafepress. I did the face with digital oil paints and added text with Adobe Illustrator.