Saturday, September 21, 2013

 The Back Story

Harvest Psalter
24" x 24"
acrylic on canvas with gold thread
commissioned by Spark and Echo Arts
photo by Guy Gerrard
I'm always engaged in my art process.  The image begins in my head weeks before I apply paint to canvas.  This work, Harvest Psalter,  was no different with the exception that I got stuck several places along the way. 

I was commissioned early in the year as an artist for Spark and Echo Arts who have a vision for creatively illuminating every scripture in the Bible. Because that is my normal inspiration and I am a supporter of their mission,  I thought this would be easy. I had an image in my head after my usual research and reading and I enthusiastically began to paint.

But doubts soon took over.  I've never experienced so much opposition to what I thought I was supposed to do.   I ended up painting over and over the work and then  decided to abandon one piece and start on fresh paper. 

A still small voice said keep climbing the hill.  I started the second piece with only values of color, dark to light.  After some time, I stood back and began seeing the heads of wheat faintly appearing.  I kept adding subtle layers of color along the top until I stepped back and saw what I wanted. . . .a field of wheat ready for harvest! Comparing the two pieces and asking friends for critique, I had no doubt this was the one.

I began the process of adding the gold thread only to notice I did not have enough yardage to complete the width. I discovered the online site where I previously ordered the non-tarnishing thread no longer supplied it.  After research, I found a site in London that had it in stock and ordered it and waited for it to arrive.  In case you didn't count, there are 50 threads of varying lengths individually sewn into the paper! 

The next step was to adhere the paper onto a cradled board so it can be displayed.  I've done this often and had no problem gluing it on, weighting it down and waiting 24 hours for it to dry. However, .when I took the weights off I saw two small and two big air bubbles appear.  Now I was really questioning if I was supposed to do this.  I requested prayer from artist friends and one was kind enough to research and give me a possible solution.  I tried it and it worked!  I'm so grateful for my artist community and supporters.

Final step:  photograph in high resolution to post on the website by a certain date--no problem.   As hard as my husband and I tried,  we could not get good enough lighting to capture the color and gold threads in enough detail.  In the end, I was fortunate to find a professional photographer at our office that agreed to take the photo as shown at the top.  Finally complete, I could relax and truly enjoy this work!

If you've made it to the end of this long epistle, I hope you have a little more insight to the work an artist faces in the whole process of making art.  Some pieces are easier than others, but all the time it is a work of joy to serve humanity with my hands and the gift God gave me. 

To read the reflection about Harvest Psalter, visit and click on "Artist Reflections".

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Visual Haiku 

In January I posted on this blog my thoughts about the books I was currently reading. The Artist's Rule, and Haiku~the sacred art, have influenced my latest series.  Both underscore a process of taking time to see what is around me and holding it in my heart.   It reminds me of the Hebrew word, Selah that I pondered several years ago which means pause and think about that. 

The principles of haiku and monasticism complement my introverted temperament which needs time, silence and meditation to ruminate on what I have seen, heard or read. Margaret McGee writes that a haiku is a prayer of praise, celebrating God’s creation and reflecting back simply and clearly what we experience.  I have been intentional about saying more with less and leaving only the bones of the composition and/or finding the essence of the object or moment and leaving everything else out. 

This series of images captures the moment in a most economical manner and pasess it on; what I call a Visual Haiku. I can imagine this to be an ongoing series with pieces added throughout the year(s) as I become aware of those special fleeting moments. I have posted these images on my website, along with my reflections about each piece.  If you have a chance, please visit

The Artist’s Rule; nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom, Christine Valters Paintner, 2011

Haiku~the sacred art, Margaret D. McGee, 2009

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Art Retreat 2013

silvery morning concert
My Annual Art Retreat for 2013 is complete.  It’s sad and yet exciting for now I move forward with everything I discovered.  I’m never disappointed by what shows up in God’s creation and it is always something different. 

I try to get out of my routine while here. . . .stay up a little later, sleep a little later, mix-up my meal times, give myself permission to be.  I read scripture, art books and magazines, research books and previous notes from past retreats and make new notes in my journal of discoveries.   I sketch and take notes in my sketch book and make painting sketches for future works.  

I’m grateful I have a good imagination for that also plays into my time.  I walk the beach in the morning and evening without my camera until the last day.  On that day I record those inspirations I discovered the previous days.  This year I discovered the Songs of the Sea.

In high school I learned to love music partly because of my concert band instructor and his passion for excellence in music.  I played the clarinet and competed with my best friend for first chair, a position I managed to sustain for awhile.  I learned discipline in practicing and study of scores of music and the language of sheet music.  Those memories came back to me this week.

bright afternoon concert
I imagined the ocean in concert with all its parts complementing one another:  the roaring forte of the ocean as a whole; the crescendo undulating rhythm of the splish-splashing white caps, the leisurely adagio water coming forward to the shore with the final pianissimo cadence of the foam swishing onto my toes. I don’t know that I ever played Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words but that’s what I imagined the ocean to be playing; a song without words.

I've posted just a few photos for your enjoyment of some of my discoveries.  Stay tuned as I try to put on canvas a series that may be titled:  Songs of the Sea; an anthem.  (listen to Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words Op 19 No 1 (Gortier) on 

Then there were the other whimsical discoveries I always find.  It was a delightful three days of refreshment and inspiration.  I'm so grateful
Henry Moore sculpture

Friday, March 29, 2013

Life for Life
acrylic on paper and 24K gold leaf
38" x 12"
copyright phyllis thomas 2013

Meditations on Lent

Perhaps I've begun a tradition:  the last two years I've made artwork for my Lenten meditation. This year the piece was a surprise and turned out different than the image I had in my head.  Below is the reflection from making this piece:

The life of a creature is in its blood.  The Old Testament is full of writings that tell of the shed blood of goats and calves during the many festivals and ordinary sacrifices performed by the Priest in accordance with the Law of Moses.  The animal's blood was sacred and offered as atonement for sin.

These writings in the Old Testament point forward to the New Testament and the final, eternal redemption offered by Christ.  It's no longer necessary to sacrifice over and over for the forgiveness of sin; Christ died and shed His sacred blood once for all and ascended into the true heavenly sanctuary.

I painted this piece in response to the scripture references listed below.  All I could see was red for the blood.  As I started with the red pigment and added black, there were many surprises that happened and I finished quickly, leaving the unplanned textures.  When I stood back and looked at it I almost left it untitled because I could see many possible titles.  I finally committed to Life for Life but maybe you can see another title more meaningful for you.

Leviticus 17:1; Hebrews 9:11-12; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:13; Ephesians 2:8-9


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Beginning 2013

The new year always brings its challenges as I review the year before and make goals and plans for the year ahead.  I find January to be a month of more quiet reading, making journal and sketchbook entries and just looking at other artists' work which feeds my soul and makes preparation for the work of my hands that is incubating in my inner artist.

One of the books I've been reading besides The Artist's Rule that I mentioned in my previous post, is Haiku~the sacred art written by Margaret D. McGee.  There are so many quotes from this book I'd like to share, but for now, I'll share a paraphrase,  "A haiku honors the moment and passes it on."  

It's all about taking notice of the environment around me and pausing long enough to take it into my heart.   I think this mindset will be foremost in one series I'd like to do this year;  finding the essence of the moment and saying more with less.  I already have a moment I experienced last year which I'm working on as the first images of the series.  Who knows, maybe I'll even write some haiku.  Margaret says In haiku, it is the moment, not the poem, that really matters.  So I don't need to fear my proficiency in writing to try it.

Another part of the new year is my communication to you by way of my website and blog.  I have updated my website with images of the series:  Gold, Blue, Purple and Scarlet; a sanctuary.  Check out the menu link Galleries to view at   This work is still hanging at Manchester University but will be coming home in February.

I'll keep you up-to-date on my haiku art explorations and see what develops.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Always We Begin Again
Last year was so busy I neglected updating my blog in favor of being in the studio and making, packing and shipping art to shows.  I also read a book, The Artist's Rule:  nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom.   The title for this post is from that book that Christine Valters Paintner references from St. Benedict's Rule.  The assurance is that no matter what disappointments or unfulfilled goals are true for me, this year, this month, this day, hour and moment, always I begin again. . . .  

Though I usually rebel against rules, the thoughts expressed in the book actually gave me a lot of freedom to consider my inner artist and embrace my inner monk.  Though I've never lived in a monastery or been a monk, I identify with the contemplative temperament of that calling.  I have come to embrace my tendency toward contemplation and the need for stillness and quiet which enhances my artwork.  I have a fresh acceptance that my temperament is God-given and He delights in me.  

There is always a time, however, for moving out of the inward mode and back into the world. Last year was the year many opportunities opened for me to show my work in galleries outside my own locality. 

In September, White Stone Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, curated Unearthed and Revealed: ancient and contemporary discoveries.  This show references the unearthing of the Dead Sea Scrolls and illuminates the longevity, integrity and value of Scripture preserved under the earth. The Signatures in the Sand series, also included, was inspired by the neutral palette of sienna, black and grey sand that appeared briefly then washed away leaving impermanent brush strokes revealed on the shore at Flagler Beach, FL. I embraced their beauty and imagined them saying to me:  listen, simplify and appreciate the uniqueness of every moment in time. 

That show was held over and on December 3 was moved to Cairn University, Langhorne, PA, to grace the gallery where students and faculty from that institution could view the work. This  show hangs until end of January.

Concurrently, my Alma Mater, Manchester University, N. Manchester, IN hosted a combined show of three series of mixed media images titled, Visual Renderings of the Word. The artwork was hung alongside the display of sculptural crèche scenes from the university’s collection which complemented the Biblically inspired paintings and brought a spiritual presence on campus.

With these shows ending in January, and holidays passed, I begin again with new work. I've been in the studio since January 3, but am struggling with the work so far. When that happens I know I just have to keep painting and let it happen.  Perhaps going inward again in contemplation will bring  fresh inspiration and prepare me for the work yet to come in the new year.