When My Art Isn’t Deep, But I Am

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“I still don’t understand proper techniques like underpainting, layering or glazing. But I understand the way white oil paint always smells a little like buttered popcorn and red is slippery and thin and brand new brushes get messy faster than I’d like to admit.”

Create-Sars-800I’ve always been a creative sort of person.

But I joke that I’m not really an artist. At least, not in the way other members of my family are. Don’t get me wrong, I’m handy with a paintbrush and I can wield a mean crafting knife. But my skills can be mostly attributed to a steady hand and an unabashedly wild imagination.

It’s just that I’m not terribly emotional about the pieces I create.

I meet artists who FEEL SO MUCH in their art. They have brush-strokes of sorrow crossing lines of excitement and dripping with their own sins and celebrations. Their gift comes from a place deep deep in their gut.

But my art just jumps from my fingertips all willy-nilly. It’s not deep. It’s not painful. It’s just some smooshes of paint filling in a rough canvas.

And when I’m done, I’m done. No tears. No feelings.

I’ve always had this idea that artists are something … something more.

My older brother could write a four-movement symphony—every part, every instrument. Each sound, a piece to a grand tale—probably about humanity and suffering and Christ’s redemption.

My younger brother could paint something vibrant and wild and confusing and as I’m blinking back at it, he’ll explain that it represents conflict and heartbreak or something like that.

Meanwhile, looking at some mess I dumped onto a canvas, a friend asks, “Sarah, what were you feeling when you painted this?”
And in snarky-Sarah-style I respond, “See the rain there?”
They nod.
“It was raining that day.” I inform them.
“Why did you make the umbrella red?” they prod.
“I had red paint.” I reply.

You see, I’m not deep. Not in that way. If you want me to paint a peacock feather, I’ll paint a peacock feather. I don’t feel imperialism or tragedy or royalty. I feel paint swishing between my fingertips and mineral spirits wafting toward my nostrils. I feel accomplished when it is finished and bummed when I get paint on my new jeans.

But the art? I don’t know how to feel that.

I don’t even know how to paint. I mean, I can do it (sort of). But I don’t know how. I never took a class and I don’t understand formal technique.

I tend toward the practical more often than the spiritual, but can I tell you a secret?

I can almost guarantee my creativity is a God-infused gift. I was always—as far back as I can remember—creative, innovative, clever. But I stumbled into artistry in a time when I really needed my life to be something more.

I lived alone in a one-room brick house in New Orleans and I was lonely and the place was quiet. I poured my life out every day into construction sites and outreach in the housing projects and came home tired of giving so much of me.

Then I started to paint. Images I never thought I’d create spilled out all over the place. Lilies and doves and saxophone players. A couple dancing, a woman’s hair, an African tree.

Create-Sars2What I discovered was that I couldn’t paint when I wanted something to hoard for myself. It didn’t work that way. The things I wanted to paint for me came out looking like preschool art. But when I just let myself paint what came up in the moment, then it worked. And at the last stroke I always knew, this one isn’t for me.

I only own one piece of my own art. The rest have each been given away to its rightful owner.

And I still don’t understand proper techniques like underpainting, layering or glazing. But I understand the way white oil paint always smells a little like buttered popcorn and red is slippery and thin and brand new brushes get messy faster than I’d like to admit.

I’m not the best. I’m not even great. But when I paint, my heart is peaceful.

Maybe that’s what God had in mind for me in the first place.

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Sarah Joslyn
I’m more likely to answer to Sars than Sarah. That’s because years ago my brothers started calling me Sars and, as the name implies, it was infectious. I’m a self-proclaimed writer-photographer-Jesuslover-painter-adventurer-foodie. I have a near obsession with ending injustice and I’m a sucker for a good cause. I blog about life and building a tiny house at sometimesscreaminghelps.com.
Sarah Joslyn
Sarah Joslyn

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Sarah Joslyn
  • Bev Murrill

    Well Sars… I LOVE both these pieces of … ART… the couple huddling under the RED umbrella… and the beautiful silhoutted girl with the beautiful hair. I love them both.. but then I’m not deep either. xxx

    • Sarah Richardson

      Aw, thanks Bev!

  • fiona lynne

    Sars, I love that your art is nearly always a gift for others. What a blessing your own gift then becomes! I’m sure so many friends of yours are feeling grateful you’ve never become someone who gets too attached to their pieces 🙂

    • Sarah Richardson

      Fiona, thank you. It’s a weird thing, but it’s good too. Plus, how would I move as often as I do with all that art crammed into my car? 🙂

  • O, Sars! I love this.

    “What I discovered was that I couldn’t paint when I wanted something to hoard for myself. It didn’t work that way….”

    Oooh that is G-O-O-D.

    Freeing ourselves to paint deep brooding art or intuitive pre-school art. Art that we give away.

    “The rest have each been given away to its rightful owner.”

    I’m struck by the idea that art is for The ONE. The one person. Who cares if no one else gets it?

    So much goodness here to mull over.

    Love you sweetie!
    Teen
    P.S. So sad to miss out on this month’s meeting. #boo

    • Sarah Richardson

      Teeeeeeeen,

      Your words always fill me with warm fuzzies. You know when you’re girl-crushing and then it’s reciprocated? This is that moment.

      I’m going to miss your face this Saturday.

      xoxo

  • abby

    Sarah, as always, you inspire, comfort and intrigue me. Oh how I’d love to meet you and mingle our memories of loneliness, the costs of contentment and the praise of His promises. Your art is lovely and invokes passion in those who see it. I know that each “rightful owner” has their own heart touched – that’s how God planned it when He guided your fingers. 🙂

    • Sarah Richardson

      Abby, thank you for being such an encouragement to me and so many if the writers here at SheLoves. Your words are like butter melting across a fresh-baked croissant–perfectly delicious.

      • I agree, Sarah! Abby, you are a gift …

  • I love that you create and express and do and flow and come up with beautiful pieces like these … I like that you are uniquely you. These are gorgeous paintings, by the way. Love them.

    • Sarah Richardson

      Thank you, fearless leader. xoxo

  • I think sometimes the beauty of art or creating is that it just bypasses the thinking brain. I think too much about everything, but sometimes when I sing (and I’m not feeling self-conscious about doing so) – it feels like I’m soaring or gliding and the sound is coming out my mouth, but it’s not from ME, it feels like a gift TO me from God, because I’m not really in control.

    • Sarah Richardson

      Yes. Exactly. Amen.

  • Oh this was nice to read today. I’m a writer and have the same type of feelings towards my writing. I don’t write deep and I’m not sure it would be ME if I tried to make it so. Instead I like to think of it as art with a lowercase a. 🙂 Still art, but maybe it whispers in your ear instead of hitting you over the head with deep meaning. Lovely paintings!

    • Sarah Richardson

      Oh I love that. With a lowercase a. Brilliant.

  • Megan Gahan

    Sarah, this is a weirdly awesome topic. Thank you for writing on this, because it’s an aspect of ‘create’ I never really thought about (and I’m sure many others haven’t either). Not everything I create garners some sort of spiritual epiphany either . . .and If it did, I would just be flat out exhausted all the time! Your paintings are as beautiful as your writing . .and just I love that each one is meant for someone specific – too cool. Can’t wait to see you!!!!!

    • Sarah Richardson

      “Weirdly awesome.”

      Megan, you get me. Gosh I love you. And you’re right, we’d be wiped out if everything came by epiphany (which is why artists need so much down time). xoxo

  • Artist is such a loaded word, but I think what you do here – being you, making art, is such a beautiful thing. And I love tie between art & generosity. So good. Thanks for this.

  • mercynotes

    Ahh, Sarah, I totally agree. I’m definitely not great at painting but I love it. I’m writing about this and other creative matters this month for 31 days.
    I love your writing….and your heart.
    “The things I wanted to paint for me came out looking like preschool art. But when I just let myself paint what came up in the moment, then it worked.” — I get this, and am also learning this…

    • Sarah Richardson

      Ooooooh, every day for 31 days ?? That’s quite the undertaking.

      Thank you for your encouragement. Love it.

  • mercynotes

    P.S. Kudos for putting your art out there. Loving it.

  • I love this message. And all the different ways art makes our lives better… it doesn’t have to be mysterious or “deep” to add joy! 🙂

    • Sarah Richardson

      Thank you Sarah !

  • Kelly Greer

    Oh Sarah – what a gift God has given you! So blessed to have found you here. And I’m a sucker for a good cause too and fighting injustice, well, I think I was born that way!
    Hugs,
    Kelly

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  • Beth Watkins

    I paint portraits. Because I like painting and I like faces. They’re the best thing I can think of to paint, so that’s what I paint. I get a little flutter whenever I finish one, but that’s because I’m always never sure finishing will come. No deep meanings, no thoughtful color choices. Just people. Because they’re great. And creating brings joy. And maybe that’s what the Creator feels about us, too.