All we need is to know we are wanted and loved. It is in that place we mature in our calling, in our purpose.
Kathleen McElwaine, KMcElwaine® and Keep the White Space® 1951 -
In my early 20’s I could dedicate 2 or 3 hours a week to my art. Painting first with watercolor working through and planning the composition I wanted, I would then paint in pastel or oil and paint the painting I had discovered with watercolor.
At the end of a year, I had completed 4 or 5 paintings. My custom as a painter/artist was to find representation in a gallery or furniture store. I had been taught about this side of being an artist by my mentors, Jay O’Meilia and Virginia Rodecker- Jarboe, yet, still the same, my conversations were short and unfriendly because frankly my stomach could not handle the stress. It was the business side of art, something I had to have but dreaded.
Yet if they gave me an opportunity, if they said “yes” they would add my paintings to their gallery wall, I would shine. Not so much with confidence, but with hope for my future. Dressed for show and success, standing in front of my art on the wall, I could field any questions asked by someone curious about me or my art.
I loved to talk about the process of painting that painting…, the what, when, why, how and possibly where, regarding a painting, painted in En-Plein Air.
I discovered the conversation is the key to selling art.
But still, the sell left me feeling empty and alone. It was not so much that I was attached to that painting, it was just this was not the right world for me. Yet I continued in the world. For 25 years of my art career, I never questioned this system, I never thought I could be an artist and do things differently.
From here the story becomes long and cumbersome, lots of highs and lows and all of them mattered.
In 2004 my husband and I moved to Texas for Rob to finally finish his education; the green light ticket needed for him to become a minister of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1978, the day Rob asked me to marry him, he told me he was someday going to seminary for this very purpose. People in Texas told us how happy they were to meet us, and they wanted to get to know us better. With this comfort I found representation in a few art galleries. 2006 crash in the real-estate and stock market. I received phone calls suggesting I might cut my prices in half. This went against everything I had been taught about the value of our art. I responded, by bringing my art back home and I would wait out the financial times the crash had created.
Our small apartment, in close proximity to, Austin Theological Seminary and my employment, became a glorious gallery. It was “just right” to live with my art this way.
The small apartment gave a place, just enough space, to paint an occasional custom oil painting, but primarily I painted at the end of the kitchen table with watercolor.
Always planning a painting and loving every minute. In my mind, I was teaching myself how to paint what I could see clearly with my artist eyes, developed over time.
2008 Rob graduated and became the Pastor, Reverend at Leander Presbyterian Church. We bought a house in Leander, Texas and I started riding an express bus to my employment in Austin. 3 hours a day, hour and a half each way I set on this bus. I had visions of paintings to teach and custom paintings to paint and NO TIME to paint them. Hope turned to despair. Three weeks into making this change in our lives, Sunday afternoon, not wanting to nap as customary for Pastors families across the globe, I gathered my watercolor supplies and began to paint. As I took things out of the container holding my supplies, I saw all I needed coming together to paint each day on the bus. A Pentel Water Brush, an 8x10 canvas board normally used to hold a taped sheet of torn Fabriano Artistico Watercolor paper, and several small plastic palettes. A trip to a fabric store and home again. I had created what I would call a “Lap Palette” for Bus Painting.
The next day I boarded the bus in Leander, took my favorite seat right behind the bus driver, took out my lap palette and realized, I was prepared, but had no idea what I would paint. I also realized my seat of choice was in a place that each person boarding the bus, would see be sitting there with my palette. I thought of the gaining popularity of performance art on the internet.
Stress mounted turning into the drama of my emotions, imagining I would give up and never again be able to call myself an artist.
I knew to change my life to what I wanted, I had to paint!
Instantly in my mind, I pictured my beautiful mother carrying a clay pot of geraniums and I was off to painting.
It was glorious! Arriving at my destination, I quickly tucked the small painting inside of a journal and stepped off the bus a new woman, again with great hope for my future. All day long I felt good each time I thought about that lovely little geranium I had painted. My life had been changed.
The stories I can tell from the vantage point of painting each day on the bus are my happiest stories. The time I spent with each person wanting to join me, “just to ask a question” or “watch me paint” is the most satisfying time in my life.
A byproduct of being a middle child, I have a constant need to be a better person. More patient, more kind and constantly practice self-control. A lot of pressure comes with this character trait. And on the bus, my perfectly peaceful studio space when I am painting became face to face with this middle child.
My art has always taken me into a less stressful state of mind. My art mentors would point to one of my watercolor paintings and say, great job “Keeping your White Space. They in fact, were referring to the negative space in a painting, but I intimately understood the white space as a place of peace.
Scripturally speaking, it is the place our Lord Jesus calls us to, to “be still and know that He is God”. When a person is talking to me, the middle child shows up.
The middle child is a good listener. I show up for you, I work hard at being a better person, for you. Patience, kindness, self-control is my goal.
On the other hand, painting is negative space, the only thing that exist in my mind is what the painting will look like. What a wonderful place to be able to go to, to leave the stress of all that interaction to the peace of negative space, keeping the white space in my day and in my paintings is time spent with my Lord Jesus. One and the same.
Well, now on with my lap palette and painting each day to and from my job on the bus, and hour and a half time these two worlds became one in a very strange yet satisfying way.
For instance, one day a man I had seen every day, yet he had never made eye contact or said good morning back to me set down next to me with an air of gusto and ask me what I was painting. I told him of seeing a couple of blackbirds outside my window at work carrying on with each other in such a way that I pictured them like people working through a disagreement. I told him I wanted to capture that moment with my paint brush. At this point I had a black bird on my paper that looked a bit like a fat black robin…
not where I was going but I had been perfectly happy in my “keep the white space” moment to paint him. The man said, well that bird does not look like what you described, the birds need to be facing us and he began telling me how to paint the picture I had described. I asked him, as I kept painting,
are you a painter? Are you an artist? He said no, he worked at a bank in downtown Austin. Both of my worlds and my ways of handling them felt to be crashing and I did not know who I was. I felt that I needed to set this man straight, the nerve of him to sit down in my white space and tell me how to paint, and yet the middle child needed for all I was worth to show up for him to listen to him…the middle child and the artist won. Patience, kindness, and self-control and art, I painted Walking and Talking right there with this man telling me how to paint.
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