When a man loves a woman…

…he renovates the main bathroom as a Christmas present while she’s traveling around the world to adopt a daughter. 


New paint, rearranged lighting and towel fixtures, new faucets and drains, and new caulk and sealant on toilet, tub, and sink. New moulding top and bottom, new registers and venting, and a deep clean (wire brush, etc) of everything.

I always try to do a household project for my wife when something huge happens in our lives. Bringing FangFang home is a huge Christmas gift for our family. I wanted to have something special for my wife on her return. Adoption trips are so tough emotionally and physically. It’s nice to have a bright, clean, and cozy space for a shower or bath at home… 


So thankful to my wife and all of the others who have worked to bring this beauty home. 

Becoming the Student #29: Aarik Emerging

SMALLbecomingstudent-aarikAarik Emerging. Oil on canvas on panel, 13 by 84 inches. 2014-2016. Click the image above for a large version.

My friend Aarik Danielsen is a writer, a preacher, a father, a reader, a thinker, a worker, a lover of his wife and of his life and of the small joys that can pass between people who strive to connect. He’s a willing participant in art and music and making of all kinds. He wants to tell the truth about time and meaning and God. He wants to be thoughtful and honest in all that he does. He is a gentle, genuine soul.

aarik-lipdetailAarik Emerging, detail. Click for large view.

Two years ago I began a project to bring Aarik into my Becoming the Student project. He was willing to go along with my strange request to turn off all the lights in my studio and press my ancient flatbed scanner against his head… for 30 minutes. These scans became the basis for the painting that you see here.

Above: A shot of Aarik from the studio when I was making the scans…

aarik-plaiddetailAarik Emerging, detail. Click for large view.

aarik-detailhairAarik Emerging, detail. Click for large view.

Usually I have an interview to go along with these posts. The thing is that it seems to me that an interview – short, minor, without range – would minimize who Aarik tries to be. This observation isn’t meant to degrade my other Becoming the Student posts. I know they are limited. But I guess with Aarik’s what I wanted to do was focus on his emergence as a father. This painting is a celebration of his transformation – a chosen transformation – into a father. All that being a dad entails is strange and hard. None of us who are dads really know how to do it. And we all deal with issues we never thought we’d have to. So this image of a man appearing out of thick darkness, his characteristics manifesting in tenuous and tenebrist ways, is symbolic of every father’s attempt to become what he believes he ought. The multiplicity of it; each situation bringing about change and instantaneous adaptations… It’s where I find myself and where I imagine Aarik finds himself. It’s a holy discombobulation, fatherhood. One in which we fail moment by moment. By grace we try again.

Thank you for doing that, Aarik – trying and trying again. By grace.

“Making something is one way to say ‘I love you'” – Daniel Tiger

My kids love Daniel Tiger. One of his ditties has a line they love to sing to themselves (and anyone else who’ll listen) that says “Making something is one way to say ‘I love you’.”

It’s obvious, but also something that we all need to be reminded of. It’s been on my mind as little Mr. Atticus is set to arrive soon… and as Alison is so, SO, SO ready to have that kiddo out. My wife tends to feel loved much more by actions than by words. Living out love is way more believable and significant to her than merely saying some words or going through some trite motions. For her, making something really is one good say to say ‘I love you’ to her.

We have been planning to have some fairly significant home projects/repairs and upgrading done before Atticus arrives. At first it was as simple as taking off some 30 year old wallpaper and painting the dining room, making a bunch of freezer meals to have during the first couple months post-Atticus-birth, and a few other general upkeep items. Once we got into those projects I started getting a head of steam going… I felt like hitting one of our dream projects: Built-In Bookshelves.

Alison and I have wanted to DIY some built-in bookshelves for over a decade. I decided we should go for it. I wanted it to be my pre-Atticus ‘thanks for all the hard work’ gift to Alison.

So I made some plans and even a balsa wood model…

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Thus prepared, the work began…

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Alison contributed painting and oversight skills.

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Almost complete…

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BOOOM! Finished. Made of Birch Plywood (a bit of mounting substructure), Oak (main, weight bearing horizontals), Poplar (vertical attachments), and Aspen wood (main shelves) with pre-fab crown and  base molding. Eight feet high, thirteen feet wide, and one foot deep. Took us about 2.5 weeks from start to finish, but combined with our other projects we’ve put in about 6 weeks of effort. In some ways this was hard stuff to do, work that required serious thought and follow-through.

It’s good to do hard things for the ones you love.

But I don’t want to over-romanticize this. It’s just a bookshelf. We have access to so much more than most of the world. We have a place to live and love in. We live in a safe area. We have jobs that help us have an historically unprecedented quality of life. So much of the world can’t say this. But given what we’ve got we need to live honorably. Whether that’s through adoption or committing to the vocation of a teacher – or through taking 6 weeks out of my own work to do work for my wife (who has put in 39 weeks on building a son for us!) – then I want to do that with passion and thanksgiving.

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Doing this project reminded me of how concentrated effort can translate into love. When I took a week to paint the interior of my mother in law’s home, that work catalyzed my love for her. When I create a painting for a family who is starting out on the adventure of adoption, that’s a way to know my own love for them. When I look at my built-in bookshelves, I’ll always think about the work my wife does and how hugely important she is, how lovely she is, how worthy she is.

And I’ll be thankful.

Every Brushstroke An Opportunity to Help Change a Life

il_570xN.276209062Situation and Circumstance Overcome, Oil on Panel, 16 by 20 inches. 2003.

Eleven years ago I created this painting. Over the years many people have asked me to create copies of it for them. There are more than 15 versions of this piece scattered across the US. Now you have an opportunity to get one of your own AND help support the adoption process for two of my good friends, Aarik and Brooke Danielsen.

il_570xN.276129237Detail of Situation and Circumstance Overcome.

The original piece is one of the most important artworks I’ve created. Its quality of construction, unique place in the story of my art making, and the personal significance it holds cause me to value it highly. For $400 you can have your very own version of this painting. I will donate every cent of the sale price to the Danielsens’ adoption fund.

I am taking up to 10 orders and I will deliver the finished works by July 2015. If you want to have a beautiful, evocative work of art for your home and help give a child a home they deserve, please consider ordering one here. I love the Danielsens and am excited to give anything I can to their adoption journey. If you follow my blog, you know how close adoption is to my heart. I hope you’ll give me a lot of work to do; every brushstroke will be done with love and joy, and in the knowledge that each one is making a real difference to a real person.

To find out more about the Danielsens’ adoption and learn more about how you can help, check out their blog here.

If you have questions let me know.

il_570xN.276209106Detail of Situation and Circumstance Overcome.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE SAMPLE IMAGES ABOVE ARE EXAMPLES OF THE ORIGINAL PAINTING. Copies that I create will have variation, but will maintain the overall composition, color, and general surface structure of the original, and will be created exactly to the scale of the original.

A Year Ago Today, Part Two

Well, it has been a year. A strange-yet-beautiful, tearful-yet-joyful, amazing-grace kind of year.

How do you mark that time? In stories that bear witness to the hard things as well as the sweet moments? With lines indicating growth? In snapshots of little girls becoming sisters or ecstatic family gatherings?

I think I’ve been more eloquent in the past. Today I’m just thankful and blessed. I’m not the best dad, but I’ve worked hard at it. And I think being a dad to two amazingly epic daughters has made me better – more – than I thought I could be. In all of this I’ve gotten to see my wife gloriously work divinely-appointed magic as a planner-of-life, kisser-of-wet-cheeks, and encourager-of-all.

How do I mark this time? I think I’ll go left-of-center:

chinamoneyClick on the image to see these up close.

These are four pieces of “Chinese money” that my daughters have payed with a LOT in the last year. They are, obviously, not real currency. Instead, they are three wet-wipes that came from various hotel rooms or restaurants we visited while in China. And that one covered in duct tape? That’s a strawberry Nutri-grain bar in there; it’s seen better days.

There’s something about their play money that’s joyous and fun. We’ve worked to keep the memory of our time in China alive,  as well as the anticipation that we’ll return again soon. Little indicators of that hope are all over our lives, even seemingly-insignificant ones like these playthings.

So here’s hoping for many, many more years to think back on what has been and look forward to what will be. What a good year to be a family of four.

~

PS: We’re celebrating over at the Etsy shop with super-discounted artworks – maybe you’ll find something you like?

Multiples of 18 Celebration

In just four more days – February 18 – we’ll be celebrating the year anniversary of becoming a family of four! It’s hard to believe that on this day a year ago we were walking the streets of Beijing and taking in the sights and sounds of China! The time has really flown and so much has happened! So many people helped us get to that adoption day and then continued to support us over the last year. It’s truly been a year of serious joy and strange challenges.

To mark this event with some art I decided to have a Studio Sale – and everything is going to be priced in multiples of 18 (February 18, multiples of 18… see what I did there?)

Anyway, stop over to the Etsy Shop to see what’s new over there. All the work will go back up to “normal” prices next month, so get some glorious imagery while you can!

Below are a few of the pieces you could be hanging in your place for next to nothing – click them to see their Etsy listing.

IMG_8181Lewis County, NY. Pastel on paper, 16.5 by 22 inches. 2013.

CAL-workshopUntitled Pastel Workshop Demo. Pastel on paper, 30 by 22 inches. 2013.

Becoming the Student, #2: Glendy

Today, during a visit to some old friends of ours, I had the opportunity to draw a quick portrait sketch of a wonderful young artist named Glendy. I was also lucky enough to sit for her to draw me as well.

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Portrait Sketch of Glendy, Graphite on paper, 8.5 by 11 inches. 10 minutes.

Here’s Glendy drawing me:

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Originally from Guatemala, she’s got the classic, royal features of the Maya. I love that open-eyed, focused observation. It resulted in the portrait of me below. I sat about 20 minutes for this drawing. I think it’s pretty great.

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I also had the chance to sketch Glendy’s younger sister, Larissa. She was a picture of pensive thoughtfulness as she sat for me. Though she couldn’t sit as long as Glendy, I think I actually captured a better likeness. Graphite on paper, 8.5 by 11 inches. 7 minutes.

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I asked Glendy to give me some word of wisdom about drawing. She said that drawing people was “just fun!” When pressed for additional information she seemed defiant, as if to declare that obviously “fun” ought to be enough. I think that confidence is an amazing part of her personality. Glendy’s got the clarity of her mom and the practicality of her dad. Good traits to have. Thanks for drawing me, Glendy, and thanks for letting me draw you!

PS: One of my favorite portraits I’ve ever attempted was of Glendy’s and Larissa’s older sister, Natalie. I made this piece back in 2006. I really love it, and was glad to see it again while visiting with the family. Natalie Reading. Oil on linen on panel, 26 by 24 inches.

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She Knows What She’s Doing…

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…even though I usually don’t. There’s a lot behind that sentiment, a lot of innate ability and hard-won skill. And there’s grace and faith working in her – so much going on beyond the surface. I’m so thankful for this woman. To think that on this very day 6 months ago we were standing in a government office in China and meeting CaiQun for the first time. In that 6 months Alison has fully become mom to two. In spite of all of my failings, she makes this family run.

 

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My daughter Madeleine CaiQun is 3 years old today. From north central China to the middle of America, she’s had a huge life journey so far. What a strange, beautiful, inspiring blessing you are, Mei Mei. XOXOX

First Morning Home

There will be other days to write and reflect on what we have done, how far we’ve traveled, and what is sticking with us… But today, just a simple sketch of my new daughter sleeping in her new bed in her new house.

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