Saturday, September 5, 2020

Revealing the beauty of God's creatures in art

This is the latest pet commission I completed. 

For some reason, I really struggled with this one. Halfway through and still unable to get the fur to look right (I’d never actually drawn a short-haired dog), I was seriously thinking I might need to issue a refund.After lots of panicky prayers and many hours of reworking later, it miraculously came together and now it’s one of my favourites. 
When people see my art, they like to tell me it’s a gift, which makes me a little uncomfortable and here’s why: often, I feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing. I don’t have a secret formula or a special technique. Sure, I watch a lot of YouTube videos but it’s not like you can become an artist from watching YouTube. It’s not paint-by-numbers. Every drawing is different with different considerations. Even if they’re similar, I often don’t remember how I achieved a certain effect. So when I tell people I’m not sure if I can draw something, I’m not trying to being modest. I really have no idea if I can.
Part of this uncertainty is because I’ve only been drawing for three months (animals for two). Sure, I didn't start from ground zero, but it still sounds pretty improbable, even to me. I wouldn’t blame you if you suspect that I’ve been secretly drawing for years. (I haven’t). So how did I do it? Short answer: It’s not me.
When I embarked on this art project to raise funds for charity, I told God I really wanted to do this to benefit others and could he please help me. That’s when I found my skills improving exponentially. When I started drawing animals two months ago, I was just experimenting. I wasn’t even that keen on realism. So many times, I felt hopelessly stuck and asked God for help. Inexplicably, I would find myself trying something that to my amazement, ended up looking great. (Sometimes, I’m so mystified I actually ask my kids to confirm if it looks as good as it does to me).

I remember drawing a golden retriever and telling God, “God, I’ve never drawn tongue or teeth, that looks impossible.” I just copied the reference photo as best as I could, stepped back and was shocked to discover that it looked realistic. No one was more excited than I was! I’m convinced God’s hand was guiding mine.

After successfully drawing ONE dog and ONE cat, I audaciously decided to offer pet portrait services to fund-raise. That’s pretty reckless, if you think about it – I guess I kinda assumed God would come through for me. “God, I offer my service, you bring the customers, k?”
I got my first commission almost right away, from a complete stranger. She didn’t want a cat or a dog. She wanted two rabbits. “God, I’ve never drawn rabbits!” I prayed. “Someone’s paying good money for this. You gotta help me.” Yes, me trying to emotionally blackmail God. And he was gracious enough to acquiesce as the drawing turned out well. 

Next commission was a hibiscus. A hibiscus!! I’ve never been good with plants (both artistically and in real life). I sweat a bit over this one, yet it also turned out ok and the customer was so pleased she commissioned another piece. And then another first – a poodle with curly fur. Which also turned out fine.
You might think this means I’m very confident. On the contrary, whenever I start a drawing a commissioned piece, I get a little nervous because I really have no idea how it will turn out. In EVERY single drawing, there’s a moment when I think I’ve ruined it. So when it turns out well later, I’m always grateful (and relieved). It’s teaching me how to trust and surrender.
Sometimes I watch Youtube videos of fantastic artists who say, “I’ve been painting for 20 years”. I would squirm and think, shouldn’t I need to put in my 20 years? Then last week, I suddenly remembered that the speaker at our 2018 church camp, Pastor Tsukahira from Israel, had spoken about using our gifts for God. I was so inspired then that I had told God I wanted to dedicate my gifts to him (and promptly forgotten). I went back to read my notes, and this was what he said, verbatim: “When God sees you using your gift for Him, it pleases God so much He reaches out and every now and then, touches it with supernatural power. You dedicate yourself to using your gift and find that someone gets touched or inspired by your gift, that you know didn’t come from you. That’s the anointing and the pleasure of heaven.”

So this long post is a testimony and explanation of sorts for my art ability. People tell me it’s a gift and I agree, but not in the way they think. It’s a gift not as in a talent, but a present. I’m finding this art journey incredibly fulfilling, and I believe that because I dedicated the gift to God to bless others, he’s blessing me in ways that I cannot fathom. As another famous pastor, Edmund Chan, once said, “You can’t outgive God.”
This latest pet portrait is a gentle reminder that it’s not by my strength but his. Incidentally, drawing animals has given me new appreciation of the sheer beauty of God’s creatures. I can see their souls through their eyes, which I try to capture in my drawings. “I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.” – Psalm 50:11
Afternote: The funny thing is I always thought the “gift” I was dedicating would be writing. I never imagined it would be art! 

If you wish to follow my art journey of faith, please go to my new blog and follow me there. You may also commission a pet portrait or buy art pieces to support charitable causes.

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