Sunday, June 22, 2014

Anniversary at the abbey

We spent our anniversary at St. Andrew's Abbey, an anniversary destination that has immediately become a tradition.  Why didn't we think of it before?  It is a place we both like to be, for the prayer, the quiet, the monks with their ordered, present, happy lives, the bookstore (for Bob), Seth's grave (for me), the dry, grey-green beauty of the high desert, and the chance to go striding about in the hills.  I can paint there undistractedly, small desert landscapes that have no purpose except as exercises in putting on paper what I see.
This little painting was done in one of those 5 1/2" square Moleskine knock-off books, with a tiny watercolor box, and a couple of paintbrushes that hold water in a reservoir in the handle. Lightweight and easy to carry about, and fast to get started and clean up.

I started the first afternoon and went back to finish the following morning.  Bad to do if you are an Impressionist, but I'm not, and I was quite satisfied with the colors.

As I sat in the sand, I was accompanied both times by a small creature rustling about in a cluster of dry bushes nearby. It could have been a family of quail, or possibly a squirrel, though usually both of those appear at some point as they dart about doing their housekeeping. Whatever it was, it scratched and scrunched in the brush the entire time I painted, with noises so regular that it seemed as though it must be building something: maybe a palace just the size and form to suit the builder and its family.  I kept hoping it would appear, but it was evidently as consumed with its work as I was with mine, and had no interest in meeting a large intruder from the world of humans.  So the small creature and I concentrated on our work, side by side, each perhaps dimly aware of the other, but each with our own project to complete before the time came when it had to be finished now or never.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

St. Seraphim, second round

St. Seraphim needed a better picture than the last one, and he needed another post.

Regardless of how this picture looks, he was more than a guy who had a bear for a buddy. The reason for the bear's interest and lack of normal animal-human antipathy was that St. Seraphim had immersed himself in prayer to such an extent that his soul had lost its odor of corruption, if I may put it that way.  He seems to have purified his soul so that he was able to live as in Eden, in harmony with the natural world.  The famous passage in Isaiah says that "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,...the cow and the bear shall graze,...and the lion shall eat straw like the ox."  Fierce creatures will be gentle, and they and humans will not fear each other.  These prophecies seem to come to fruition in the lives of people who devote themselves entirely to prayer.  And St. Seraphim was one of those.
A quotation from St. Seraphim:
"You cannot be too gentle, too kind.  Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other.  Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.  All condemnation is of the devil.  Never condemn each other."

Ah, that is the kind of world I would like to live in.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

St. Seraphim

We spent last weekend on retreat up at the monastery that we love: St. Andrew's Abbey.  While we were there, I told someone about my plan for a book about saints and animals, and she said, "Well, there's Saint Seraphim and the bear..."  So when I got home I looked him up.
Saint Seraphim was a Russian monk who lived in a monastery, but in order to spend more time alone in prayer, took to staying in a small hut in the forest near his monastery.   He died in 1833, so he began going to the forest about the same time that Russia was at war with Napoleon.  Now Bob and I are reading WAR AND PEACE, and the War in this case is that war with Napoleon.  The Peace in the novel is a story of the social comings and goings, loves and trials of some fictional  Russian aristocrats.  For me there is something of a cognitive dissonance in the realization that this peaceable, prayerful man is the historical person, and the scheming, hoping, worrying, planning, good and bad motives and activities of the Bolkonskis, Rostovs, and Bezukhovs is fiction.   Tsar Alexander (who makes several appearances in the novel) was one of the people who visited St. Seraphim at his forest retreat.
The account of the bear is not really a story; it is just that while St. Seraphim lived in his hut in the forest, he was visited by many forest creatures whom he welcomed, as he welcomed all beings created by God.  An abbess from a nearby convent came to visit him one time and was terrified to see a huge bear with him.  But Seraphim told her not to worry, the bear wouldn't hurt her.  The bear was seen with him on various occasions.  He fed the bear with his bread, and was brought gifts of honey from the bear as well.

This little picture is a 5"x 7" card that I painted to send to Tofu, to tell him about this lovely, holy man.  His feast day, it turns out, is today, January 2.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

St. Gerasimos, the Lion, and the Donkey

This is a lovely old story, a legend about a saint who is a favorite in the Eastern Orthodox church.  St. Gerasimos is out walking in the Jordan River valley, when he comes across a lion, limping and holding one paw up pathetically.  The lion holds his paw out to the saint, who sits down, examines the paw, removes a large thorn, and binds up the paw with a clean cloth.  Then the lion follows him back to the monastery and stays there, whereupon the monks give the lion a job.

I won't tell the whole story here, (You can read about it here.) but I retold it, painted three illustrations for it, and it has been published (with one illustration) in a small Catholic children's magazine called St. Mary's Messenger.  The story is in the Fall 2013 issue, which just came out.

Monday, July 8, 2013

More English reading lessons for Tofu

 As Tofu's Japanese reading gets better and better, it becomes harder and harder for him to put himself through the effort of reading English, in which the pronunciation of the words is not necessarily obvious, and the content is necessarily somewhat elementary, since his reading vocabulary is so much smaller than his speaking vocabulary, and smaller yet than his thinking processes.

And of course eventually he will learn to read English in school, since Japanese schoolchildren do learn.  But he will learn from someone whose English skill is far less than his own.

So I think that it is a challenge well worth our effort, Tofu's and mine, to keep working on English reading. My challenge is to make lessons that are fun, not too simplistic, that he will enjoy enough to look forward to--not dread--letters from Grandma.  His challenge is to read them.

This particular rule, about how an "e" on the end of a word makes the vowel say its name, is one that he actually already knows.  But occasionally he stumbles over it, and so I thought it was worthwhile to make a whole interesting lesson on the subject.  Besides it was quite fun to find words that worked for this exercise.                                                                      

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

John 14:23--29

This drawing was done for the Sixth Sunday of Easter gospel, in which Jesus tells his disciples that he is going away, but he will send the Holy Spirit to be with them.

It is meant to go on a folded sheet of letter-size paper, and printed 5 inches tall.

The readings for the season of Easter are all from Jesus' discourses in John's gospel.  They are all rather non-visual, a challenge to find an image for.  For this one, I decided on showing Jesus with the door through which he is going, though his hand could be reaching out in a gesture to his disciples as well as to the door handle.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Good Dog

The Chinese (not Japanese) characters behind the boy say "Good dog" (at least that's what I hope.  The left hand one is Good and the right one is Dog.  If they would use a different way to say it in Chinese, I wouldn't know.).  This was the initial painting for a book that I am hoping to finish the illustrations for this year.  It's a true story of finding a puppy lost and cold on the streets of China, and bringing her home to America.

In fact, however, I don't expect to use this picture for the book.  I'd like the actual drawings to be somewhat simpler and flatter.  Also, the format will be different from this, with square pages.  So the image to illustrate this page, where the boy explains to the now grown-up dog that she came from China, will be a double page spread, twice as wide as high, and the text will be incorporated in the picture.  

But I liked this image.  I used my former next door neighbor boy Tate as a model for the boy in the picture.  He patiently posed for me, holding a stuffed dog and talking to it to try & get in the mood.