Sisters Rene Imboden and Vicki Moix, along with her daughter Madeline Beck, brushed their paint across a pre-drawn picture of a field and barn, filling in the white spaces with vibrant greens, yellows and oranges.
It was a chance to mix more than just water and paint, but spirituality and artistic expression during the “Paint, Paper & Prayer: Awaken Your Inner Artist” workshop April 30 at the St. Joseph Spiritan Center in Conway.
“It was a good girls day to relax, for prayer, fellowship and art,” Moix said.
The group of 15 meditated on prayers written by artist and parishioner Sandra Ake, who led the spiritual reflections before the morning and afternoon parts of the workshop, with a break for lunch in between.
They began the day with thanking God, the “Master Artist,” as Ake read in part from the prayer she wrote: “It is sometimes hard, if not impossible, to express how we feel in words. It occurred to me then — that is why when we see a sunset only our tears can express our sheer awe at this wonder you have created; it is also why we sing; and it is why we paint.”
Artist Jay Ewing taught basic skills of watercolor and in the afternoon, guided them while painting on a pre-drawn image he provided to create a finished watercolor painting. He provided double mats and plastic sleeves to display their finished product.
Ewing, a Christian who moved to Conway from California with his wife Carole about a year and a half ago, has put on watercolor workshops several times, recently in Hot Springs. St. Joseph adult faith formation director Christy Trantina said she was told about Ewing by parishioner and spiritual author Debbie Eckert, who learned about him from Moix. Eckert thought it could be an opportunity to blend art and spirituality with an event at the parish, Trantina said, adding she prayed about it, as she does before considering any new offering.
“The Lord speaks to everyone through different mediums. Just because I’m not an artist, it’s still important I provide an art event where the Lord will speak to people through that medium,” Trantina said.
Ewing began as an illustrator, breaking into the movie industry as a set and costume designer, eventually transitioning to a storyboard artist. He owned a graphic design business for 22 years.
“I love being out in nature, and it astonishes me the different varieties of color, the greens you get, the different flowers you get in nature. I find that enhances my faith. I used to love to go down to the beach in California and sketch the waves coming in,” he said.
Ewing said he was intrigued by the idea to add the spiritual elements to the workshops.
“We’ve been around Catholic churches, I've done paintings of Catholic chapels in the past and so forth. I just love the Catholic faith even though I’m not Catholic myself,” he said.
A lifelong artist, Ake worked 37 years in computer animation and graphic design at the local PBS affiliate AETN, before retiring.
For about 10 years, she has been big into watercolor journaling, which eventually incorporated her Catholic faith.
“You just paint whatever moves your heart in your life; it could be anything. Maybe you write a little bit about what it is, why it moves your heart, why you painted it,” she said. “That kind of led into my spiritual watercolor journaling. … I kind of started in that with painting my favorite psalms or favorite Bible verses … just how it made me feel, how I was moved by that verse, what it meant to me. I’d paint something that reflected the joy of that.”
One of her favorites, which she incorporated into her morning prayer to open the workshop, is Psalm 5:3, “In the morning, O Lord, you will hear my voice; in the morning, I will order my prayer to you and eagerly watch.”
In her journal for this psalm, she painted a sunrise filled with yellows and purples.
For both Ewing and Ake, their art is intertwined with spirituality, though not in the traditional sense of painting religious scenes, but in the acknowledgement that God is the creator.
“The art expresses my spirituality and my love of God and the beauty he is in my life and in everything,” Ake said. “That same spirituality drives the art; they are intertwined. They are two different things, but intertwined like a vine. There can't be one without the other. To me, art is prayer. It can be prayer, if you invite God into it.”
Beck said her favorite part of the workshop was Ake’s spiritual guidance, and the reminder not to compare their art to others.
“Letting it flow and appreciate what you’re able to do,” Beck explained, adding that “connecting it to the faith aspect, that he (God) is an artist … set the tone.”
Trantina said some participants had never been to a faith formation event, another reason why parishes should consider events a little out of the box.
“The Holy Spirit is so full of surprises. In my job, I try to offer a wide variety of things to allow the Holy Spirit to reach people,” she said.
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