Refueling Your Artist’s Soul

Do you know what fuels you? I am an introvert, which means for me that quiet, time alone, and forms of art are some of the best ways for me to refuel.

I love movies and I enjoy reading books, but looking at fabulous art is one of the best ways for me to juice up the artistic batteries.

The art of Makoto Fujimura, introduced to me by a colleague, inspires me greatly. Take a moment to browse through his website. One of the world’s foremost contemporary artists and a member of the National Council on the Arts from 2003-2009, Fujimura employs an ancient form of painting called Nihonga in unique, contemporary ways.

I was especially inspired by the connection between art and his faith in his 400th year commemorative illumination of the Four Holy Gospels.

Makoto Fujimura - Four Holy Gospels

Makoto Fujimura – Four Holy Gospels

When I lived in Rochester, NY, one of my favorite artist outings was a trip to International Art Acquisitions, Inc., a fine art gallery in the Pittsford suburb.

Joan Miro

Joan Miro

How do you refuel?  Share some examples below.

Devotions for the Artist

The word “devotions” has gotten a bad rap.  “Devotions” are often tied to boring rituals of Bible reading and long prayers, when the “boring” piece is usually the fault of the person doing the Bible reading or praying.

God is certainly not boring; he is anything but.  So how do we resurrect the practice of devotions, and how can artists make this essential discipline a unique expression of their gifts and calling?

Bible

I have had the blessing of growing up in a Christ-centered home with parents who value and pursue a relationship with God.  Since my childhood I have heard and seen them listen to and read the Bible, pray, and do ministry.

My own experience has followed theirs.  I have never second-guessed the need to read the Bible or pray, but I have often missed the opportunity devotions provide to me as an artist.

I remember many sessions of prayer and Bible reading where my mind would go wandering through a to-do list, through a movie landscape, or into a concert hall.  That is, if I had not fallen asleep already!

My dad speaks of the reality of joy in a discipline being on the other side of perseverance, but I often had difficulty finding that joy.  I seemed to get lost in the perseverance stage.

Recently, however, I have found a new joy and peace in my relationship with God, and that joy and peace has filled my devotions more and more.  Here are a few things to consider if you are looking to improve your time with God.

General Considerations

  • Find a quiet place by yourself and away from distraction.  I find it best for me to use an analog Bible (read: paper and cover book) but I do sometimes use my YouVersion app.  The less electronics the better, which will take some discipline at first.  Eventually your heart and mind will crave that silence and freedom from being “plugged in.”
  • Set your heart on knowing God.  I do not mean knowing as in going to the library, but knowing as in knowing his heart and knowing how he looks at and reaches out to you.
  • Ask him to reveal himself to you before you read the Bible or pray.  He usually doesn’t show up in a vision, but you may find your heart and mind drawn to particular words in the Bible passage you are reading.  The Bible promises that if you seek God with all your heart you will find him.

For the Artist

Here is where devotions become really fun.  The options are endless.

Just a note for the perfectionists among us: Don’t judge your devotional art harshly.  God is not looking for perfection in your relationship with him; he is looking for your heart.  

  • Write a song based on a trait of God you find in the Bible passage you are reading.
  • Paint a picture to represent your prayer to God.
  • Write your prayers in poetic form.
  • Build something out of Play-Doh or Legos to represent your response to God.
  • Rewrite a Bible passage in your own words.

Today

This morning I wrote a song based on God’s pursuing love.  That phrase set in my heart yesterday and showed up again in the Psalms I read this morning.  Since I said that God is not about perfection, I am going to post the lyrics here.  They are only an hour old.

Pursuing God

Verse 1
Love of God so great and strong,
triumphant over fear;
reigning over hope and faith
you sing salvation’s song.

Chorus
Pursuing us through sin and death
and climbing Calvary’s tree,
I will sing my whole life long
of how you rescued me.

Verse 2
Leaving heaven’s throne and crown
for swaddling clothes and hay,
laying down his kingly rights
redeeming love came down.

Verse 3
Love exchanged a golden rod
for rugged wood and nails,
set aside his purple robe
for clothes of dust and blood.

Verse 4
Love destroyed the chains of death,
escaped the tomb of stone.
Power of God and Son of Man,
your love has rescued us.

Do something artistic during your devotions and post the result below.  Remember, perfection is not the focus; responding to God is what matters.

How to Create a Music Video

In today’s world anyone with a little bit of creativity and the right tools can create a video.  All you have to do is upload photos, choose music and effects, and there you have it.

Here are just a few of the online options:

OneTrueMedia
Animoto
Stupeflix

Here are a few apps:

ptch
Socialcam

If you want to create a music video and craft every piece of it yourself, however, have no fear; iMovie is here.  I am certain there are similar programs, but this is what I use.

Not long ago my pastor and I were planning for upcoming services and he mentioned a particular song that highlighted the exact points he wanted to emphasize.  I am not a video expert by any means, but I said, “Wouldn’t that be great as a music video, with still pictures to highlight the key themes in the song?”

He jumped on the idea and before I knew it I had been drafted to create a music video for the services.

I love video, I love music, and I love the music videos that my volunteers and employees have created in the past.  I, however, had only created one brief music video up until that point, and I barely knew the capabilities of iMovie.

Incidentally, by music video I mean a single song accompanied by appropriate pictures and snippets of the lyrics in order to heighten the effectiveness of the song.

I dove in and I loved the process, so I thought I would share some pointers and resources here in case you are trying this for the first time.

  1. Begin with the music.  This is the obvious step, but we can miss it all the same.  In my case I imported the song into Garageband and trimmed off the long gradual introduction.  We wanted to end the song before the final chorus, so I trimmed that off, too, and then looped a final phrase to make an echo effect as the volume died out.  Then I exported the final track.
  2. Import the music track into iMovie (or your preferred software).
  3. Listen and take notes.  Next I listened to the song.  A lot.  I imagined what emotions were happening between the lines and what circumstances might lead to a particular lyrical image, and then noted what obvious images were stated in the lyrics.
  4. Find images.  This step will take you the most time.  After taking good notes as you listened to the song you should have a general idea of what kinds of pictures you need.  Finding just the right photo at the right resolution and for the right price is the challenge.
    1. If “free” is your necessary price, here are two sites I found greatly useful (thank you, Frank De Luccio!): www.morguefile.com and www.sxc.hu.  Both of these sites feature free high resolution photos.  Warning: be careful as you search for images.  You can run into inappropriate images if you are not careful in how you search.  Also do not just pull photos off of the web; purchase photos or use clearly free photos.
  5. Import and place images.  Once you have found the images and imported them into your iMovie project you will need to do several things:
    1. Order the pictures to match the lyrics they represent.
    2. Adjust the timings of the photos to transition on the beat of the music.  Transitions feel “off” when they are not synced to the beat of the music.
    3. Choose the right transition effect.  Some effects are more attention getting and time-consuming than others; choose the transition that fits the situation.  Usually a simple dissolve is best in the middle of a verse or chorus, while something more dramatic can accent section changes in the song.
    4. Fine tune the Ken Burns effect.  Ken Burns is known for his use of zooming in on a still picture to create the illusion of movement.  iMovie naturally sets this for you, but you may want to adjust the start and stop frames to highlight a particular feature in the photo.
  6. Insert lyrical snippets.  The final step is pulling key phrases out of the lyrics to actually bring into the video.  At some points I pull out a single word.  One photo I used was a washed out black and white image of a woman with her head down.  As this photo came up the singer talked about the first lie he told, so I had the word “lie” slide in and out of that picture.  A following lyric spoke about healing, so the single word “heal” slid in and out of the next photo of two children embracing.  iMovie has many different ways of showing words over images; just choose the one that fits your picture and the mood you are trying to convey.
  7. Export to DVD.  You are not finished until the project has been rendered to an actual DVD for viewing.  I made the mistake of missing this the first time I tried using iMovie several years ago.

You do not need a college degree to make a music video; all you need is time, and lots of it.  Please on spend 5-8 hours per minute of final viewing length.  If your final video is 4 minutes long, expect to spend a minimum of 20 hours to get a high quality result.

I felt a huge satisfaction when my pastor used the video I created as the culminating point in his message.  The video enabled him to say more clearly what he wanted to say, and that was my goal.

Have fun with it.  Recruit colleagues and friends to research photos for you.  Take a chance.  You can do it!

What video editing tips do you have for newbies?

When the Bold and the Beautiful Collide

The world is full of beauty and beautiful art, and transcendence and beauty somehow feed my soul.  I am also drawn to bold and daring statements, even if I would not be apt to make the same statements myself.  Rarely do I find the two combined.

Dive off of a cliff

Most of us are like this.  Whether or not we are bold, daring people, we love stories about overcomers and underdogs, mountain climbers, and base jumpers.  And whether or not we are painters, sculptors, or musicians, we appreciate beauty in each other and the world.

When beauty and boldness collide the result is extraordinary art, experiences, and relationships.

Just the other day I once again came face to face with bold, beautiful art.

Rowland Augur (Collin Rowland and Dan Augur) blend multiple mediums into one-of-a-kind imaginative expressions.  Their work is refreshing in a day of cookie cutter, one-of-a-million, assembly-line art.

I enjoy their art because it inspires me to think differently and bend artistic boundaries I once thought were rigid.  Their art reminds me that God cannot be boxed in, that while we can learn to know him personally (and we should) there will always be something mysterious, something other about him.

I also enjoy their art because Collin Rowland (the “Rowland” in Rowland Augur) happens to be my brother-in-law.

How about you?

Where have you seen the bold and the beautiful converge, and what was your response?

How God Partners with the Composer and Songwriter

A year and a half ago a friend of mine asked me this question and I have been thinking about it ever since.  How does God partner with the composer and songwriter?

Electric Guitar Bridge

I’ve been writing music since I was a kid.  In high school I had lots of black and white composition books chock full of lyrics.  I was into heavy metal and I had rock-n-roll lyrics for everything.  My writing had all the fine literary style of a high school student high on emotion and experiencing the world for the first time.

I don’t know what happened to those books.  I think I may have thrown them away.

When I got to college I studied music composition as well as poetry composition, and in the 12 plus years I have worked in churches I have done quite a bit of arranging for everything from choir to rock band to orchestra.  In the past five years I have once again started writing pop and rock worship songs in addition to writing classical music and poetry.

I have a real passion for setting the written word to music.

So how does God enter into the songwriting and composition process?

Idea 1: God enters into the songwriting process through his creative image in you and me.

God is creative; he created everything.  He is the ultimate creative power.  Part of the evidence that we are created in the likeness of God is the fact that we can create new things.

For the longest time I thought as Solomon did, that “there is nothing new under the sun.”  This idea led me to a very defeatist line of thinking:  “What’s the point?  I’m replicating things that have already been.”

Solomon was wrong.  He was depressed.  If I met someone in that state of mind I would send him to a psychiatrist.

There are new things under the sun every day.

Not long ago I heard Erwin McManus of Mosaic say in relation to this passage of Scripture, “I am quite certain that the wheel was brand new at some point in time.  In fact, I think Jesus walking on water and rising from the dead were pretty new.”

When we create something new we are demonstrating the image of our Creator God.  Even someone who does not know Christ can be extremely creative and, without knowing it, express the image of God through what he or she creates.

God enters into the songwriting process by the fact that we are made like him: to create.

Idea 2: God enters the songwriting process through our minds and preferences.

When we begin to create something new there is always a nucleus of a thought, an idea that takes hold in your mind.  When that idea takes hold in your mind and catches your attention like never before, you have just experienced a taste of God working through you.

God makes new things out of nothing.  He spoke the world into existence out of a void.  He spoke the sun, moon, stars, and all things into existence out of nothing.  God breathed life into man; without God we could not draw a breath.

In the same way I believe that without God we could not think a single original thought.  When we express a new idea or thought God is revealing himself through us as Creator God.  He is using our preferences and abilities to give fresh expression to himself.

Partnering with God

We have been talking specifically about composing and songwriting, but, in reality, God partners with human beings in every single creative activity in exactly the same way.  Sometimes we twist the pure ideas he places in our hearts, and other times we hear clearly and express his ideas well.

Before you begin the day, thank God for what he has done and ask him to guide your thoughts and ideas, actions and motives.  During the day, when you begin a new project or a meeting, ask God to partner with you.  Ask him to create something out of nothing through you.

How have you seen God partner with you creatively?

How to Stop Creativity

Anyone can stop creativity with a little intentionality.  If you are searching for ways to turn off the creative juices that keep you up at night and that interrupt your carefully planned meetings, these ten steps should be very helpful.

  1. Be Practical.  The creative process often involves exploring impractical ideas.  Nip that tendency in the bud; insist on only entertaining ideas that make financial and logistical sense.
  2. Be Correct.  Make certain to correct creatives often.  Their statements are often off the wall and completely devoid of scientific reasoning.
  3. Be Realistic.  Never suspend reality.  Keep imagination within the bounds of the five senses.
  4. Be Cautious.  Creatives like to break the rules and kill sacred cows; ban all ideas that might offend someone somewhere sometime.
  5. Be Structured.  Make certain all meetings strictly adhere to a set agenda and never wander.  Rabbit holes are the devil.
  6. Be Respectful.  Only one person make speak at any one time.  Period.
  7. Be Present.   Absolutely positively do not allow technology into your meetings.  No one should be surfing the net and crowdsourcing your ideas.
  8. Be Reverent.  Irreverence is a sign of immaturity and has no place in adult discussions.
  9. Be Quiet.  Insist on silence or quiet conversation only.  Raucous laughter should be kept out of the work environment.
  10. Be Still.  Hand motions should be reserved for indicating information on charts, writing, and drinking coffee.  All other hand motions are distracting and should be avoided at all costs.

If after implementing these ten steps you still are encountering large amounts of creativity, quit your job and find a more reasonable place to work.

Of course, if you wish to encourage creativity for some reason, you could simply do the opposite of everything I mentioned above.

How do you stifle or encourage creativity at work or at home?

How to Become the Most Valuable Person on Your Creative Team

This Sunday Geoff Talbot’s blog Seven Sentences: Creative Inspiration for Daily Life will post my take on How to Become the Most Valuable Person on Your Creative Team.

Each post on this Seven Sentence Creative Blog is roughly seven sentences long, which generally communicate more than many of us say in seven paragraphs.

How have you made yourself a valuable creative team member?  Check out the blog on Sunday and leave a comment.  I would love to chat with you.