More Coffee

See oil painting “Breakfast with Friends” come alive in 2 minutes (time lapse)

I last shared this one with you in my June 1 blog post “Are you my Friend?“. Today, I’m sharing it for a different reason: the warm coffee and breakfast. Now, this is a good breakfast (egg and bacon), but I look forward to tomorrow morning’s treat, the coffee cake I made today. It’s a from-scratch recipe that I used to make throughout my young married days, and while the kids were little. I hadn’t made that cake in a long time, it’s been years. 

I never had a bundt pan, except for a brief frustrating experience with a cheap one that made my cakes stick to the bottom (or actually the top in the case of a bundt pan). I’d make the cake in a regular pan, which was a bit disappointing because the streusel didn’t turn out looking fancy. I finally bought a nice bundt pan and I was excited to make my old coffee cake in it. It turned out beautifully! And it looks fancy too! Well, it did before I cut it all up and my family devoured most of it.

When I wake up tomorrow morning, I’ll stir resentfully until I remember my coffee cake. Then my eyes will fly open and I’ll spring out of bed, anticipating how wonderful it will taste with a cup of coffee. Or tea. I drink more tea than coffee these days. 

The cake tastes the same as I remembered, but having been baked in the special pan feels symbolic of progress. Funny how we can go through most of our lives without having the right tool for the job, and when we finally try the same task again with the right tool, suddenly it call comes together with the finishing touch, like the experienced professional that we have become. My fondness for metaphors brings me to this: the act of living is like baking my coffee cake. 

We begin with a desire for something good, something to share with others, something that makes us happy. And we bake a delicious cake that everyone loves, and we think it’s the best that life can be. But we haven’t seen the best of us yet. The best is yet to come.

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Worn

Watch this “Armor of God” oil painting come to life in 2 minutes (time lapse)

There’s a lot going on in the world today, and I feel worn. Do you? I’m sharing this “Armor of God” painting again, a metaphor for spiritual strength, as I talked about in a blog post called “Are you wearing armor?” I could use some spiritual strength today, so I’m focusing on things that restore my spirit.

There is much evidence of wrong, but little justice, enforcement of laws, or deliverance from evil. These things can wear on the soul. It’s good to focus on what we can control. Strip everything down to the simple acts that keep us alive from day to day, minute by minute. Eat good food. Drink water. Rest. Sleep.

Each day we are still here is a day that we were destined to be here. Why? Why are we here? We don’t always know why we survive when others do not, but we honor them when we are grateful to breathe another day. When I am worn, I don’t listen to “news” or let the malice of noise drown my inner voice. I choose gratitude.

Gratitude is what raises us up, because we are empowered by what we already have. At this moment, I am looking forward to eating a fresh salad. It’s a simple thing, but good food matters to this moment. Living moment by moment is what gets us through when there’s not much we can do to change the weight of the world. All we can be is who God made us, but one small act can help another. I hope that my blog posts encourage you. Stay strong, and know that if you’re feeling worn, this too shall pass. No season lasts forever.

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The Unusual

Watch this oil painting of the mother of Jesus “Mary of God’s Favor” come to life in 2 minutes (time lapse)

This oil painting was inspired by a statue I saw in Savannah, Georgia (and was for the art collection and book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia”). It turned out a bit odd, but just like I talked about before, in the blog post “Art I Don’t Like“, once I share my art it doesn’t belong to just me anymore. Art is a language and what it means is left up to the viewer. The meaning can even change depending on the mood, perspective, and time that the viewer sees it. Something we saw in it yesterday, may look different today.

When I shared this art inspired by a statue of Mary, someone felt a strong connection to it. He had an emotional response to this piece that I must respect, even though I personally think this art is unusual and even awkward. That’s definitely not how this man saw it. He felt that this painting resonated with his spiritual connection to Mary, and to his faith in general.

I’m going to keep on painting, always working toward my lifetime goal of 1k finished works, and along the way, there will be times when my journey isn’t about me. Instead of dismissing ideas or chucking my work in the bin, I will be generous about sharing paintings that I don’t feel a connection to, knowing that someone else might. What is unusual and off-putting to one person may be special and emotionally important to another.

May this be a metaphor for our lives. We may not always know when our inner light shines brightly for another person. Never hide yourself away from others. Even when it’s difficult, intimidating, awkward, or humbling, let us pledge to be generous about sharing who we are. Our energy is a language and a gift that is meant to be shared. We may not see what others see in us, but what they see may be exactly what they need. This is a hurting world. May our light shine even when we don’t feel worthy or special. We are a work of art that has value when shared.

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Unfinished

If you missed my new painting video that I shared yesterday, here it is again.

I did something different this time… I took pictures at the end of Session 1, Session 2, and then the final finished oil painting. Sometimes people like the minimalist look of my unfinished work. They see stages of my progress in the videos and like points along the way. So, this time, I decided to offer a couple of those progress points. The effect is like a storyboard, a collection of three paintings that tell the story of this cardinal becoming finished art.

I’m offering these images as prints if anyone likes the idea of having a set of three prints to display like this as a collection. I don’t think every painting lends itself to this idea, but this one was well suited for the concept. It slowed me down a little bit to do extra photography along the way, but I’m willing to do it again for future projects that seem like they’d make good “storyboard” sets. I also thought that some might prefer the sketch-like quality of the first image, the photo I took after the first session. Usually I don’t offer a way for people to choose an earlier version of my paintings, as I don’t have photographs of the progress, only the finished art.

Sometimes “unfinished” has a raw appeal that is passionate and interesting; as a metaphor for life, we are often endearing when we are in our unfinished state of being. Many of us fall in love when we are young and scattered, not yet settled and sorted out. The humble energy when we are seen while “in progress” is beautifully human. When we allow someone into our unfinished state of being, into our private space, we share our hearts with others.

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New Painting

Are you enjoying autumn treats? My daughters love the specialty coffee and snacks that come out this time of year. They especially love their sister

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Autumn in 2021

Watch oil painting “Autumn Tree” come to life in under 2 minutes This short project began with an abstract background. Next, while it was still

Read More »

New Painting

Watch my new painting “Pumpkin Carving” come to life in just over 2 minutes (time lapse) Father and son enjoying an autumn custom of cleaning

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Is your life fruitful?

Watch me paint this grape vine art in 2 minutes (time lapse)

What is the “fruit of our labor”? Are our lives a fruitful vine? Grapes can take several seasons to produce any harvest, but once they do, the fruit may be plentiful, beautiful and delicious! Not only this, but grape vines provide shelter for plants that need shade. They are great for covering areas that are unsightly, barren, or can otherwise benefit from a large leafy expanse of visually appealing vegetation.

This is a pleasant metaphor for our lives. It may take us a few seasons to start seeing the fruits of our labor, but once the rewards start rolling in, we may be in a position to inspire, help, and benefit others as well. What ARE the fruits of our labor? We are short sighted if we think only in terms of financial prosperity.

While financial prosperity is certainly a blessing, and can bless others as well, the word “prosperity” is not limited to money. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, prosperity is known as “the condition of being successful or thriving”. While the definition goes on to say “especially economic well-being”, prosperity is not exclusively financial. Good fortune and success can be defined many other ways.

The pursuit of happiness is critical to thriving. We can measure the fruits of our labor by the presence of happy outcomes in our life. Money is a tool for achieving happy outcomes, but it’s only one tool of many. How profoundly we connect with fellow human beings in our relationships, our communities, and even random encounters with strangers online is an indicator of our ability to thrive. Connection is “fruit” on our spiritual grape vine.

Other signs of thriving may be in the small details. When we have a clean, organized, and pretty space to live in, it’s a healthy sign that we’re thriving. It means we’ve managed to keep up with the daily tasks and chores of our lifestyle, while achieving a pleasant home environment. This can be true of a tiny mobile home, an apartment, or a rental. Small and modest doesn’t have to mean dirty, shabby, and miserable. 

The same goes for our physical appearance. We don’t need to pay for expensive hair cuts or designer clothes to feel confident and healthy. We just need to take good care of ourselves even when we’re stressed, tired, and anxious… ESPECIALLY when we’re stressed, tired, and anxious, as that’s when we need to take care of ourselves the most!

It’s no small thing to keep ourselves going in a healthy and positive way when the world feels difficult to handle. “Fruits of our labor” might mean that we’ve managed a shower, clean clothes, chores done, a decent meal, and a good night’s sleep… all so that we can tackle it all again the next day. One day at a time, every day, every season, until one day we notice that our harvest is beautiful.

A fruitful vine is evidence of a happy life. What that means to you is highly personal and individual. Perhaps we define a happy life as having family and friends, productive work that we (mostly) enjoy (not always, or it wouldn’t be work!), hobbies that make our time here on Earth feel fun, good health, faith that gives us hope and something good to believe in, the beauty of nature, good food and celebrations. Goodness, in other words.

I have spent time with people who are dying. They don’t talk about prosperity in terms of money. They talk about goodness. They talk about the good things from their life, their cherished memories from childhood and the people they love. Money seems unimportant at the end. Perhaps it shouldn’t be so important now?

So when I ask you- and myself- “is your life fruitful”, we need not wait until the grapes are in harvest years from now. Before the fruit appears, a grape vine is quite pretty. It layers green leafy patterns over anything it climbs. There’s something so peaceful about a grape vine, as it ascends to higher places and spreads its shade to other plants.

The fruits of our labor may be more about what we do BEFORE the fruit appears. How do we make our time here pleasant and peaceful for ourselves and others? How do we protect others? Are we growing and climbing? Fruit appears only after the vine has changed and grown.

The grape vine metaphor is on my mind because I’ve developed a special fondness for the grape vine I rescued from near death. It was clearanced out and then left to die. I took it on and nursed it to a large leafy green healthy state. But it’s yet to produce fruit. It will, one day. Until then, it is sheltering my other plants and attractive to look at. I wonder how big it will need to get before it finally bears fruit? I wonder the same about myself sometimes.

But rather than get discouraged, I feel inspired to get more grape vines and start again from the beginning. I’m imagining a (small) vineyard in my future. The vineyard produces beautiful grapes that we can make jelly, jams and wine from. There’s a house at this vineyard, where I one day live happily, busy in the kitchen with my family, working in my garden, painting my pictures, and talking to you, my dear friends.

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New Painting

Are you enjoying autumn treats? My daughters love the specialty coffee and snacks that come out this time of year. They especially love their sister

Read More »

Autumn in 2021

Watch oil painting “Autumn Tree” come to life in under 2 minutes This short project began with an abstract background. Next, while it was still

Read More »

Growing or Thriving?

Do you remember when I first posted “Strawberry Flower” (when I painted it in April)? At the time, the strawberry wasn’t actually ripe yet. Indeed, it was barely a strawberry when I chose to paint my daughter’s strawberry plant that hangs outside. I painted into the future a bit, by imagining the strawberry as already ripe and ready to eat. Shortly afterward, my amazing prophesy came true! 😉

This morning I checked on my patio garden and I was alarmed to see that the cucumber vine had found my beloved new peach tree! ACK! I will need to end that monstrosity! I’ll unwind the coiling tendrils from it’s grip on the young peach tree trunk and attempt to “train” the vine to go where I want it to go. Diverting the vine from grabbing hold of random things nearby has been an ongoing battle with this crazy cucumber plant, which now looks like Jack’s beanstalk. Suppose I shall climb it someday to see what’s beyond the clouds?

On a happier note, I’ll soon have a bumper crop of cucumbers, most of which I plan to make homemade pickles with. They’ll make sandwiches taste delicious! I’ll also include other vegetables when I make pickles, so there’s plenty of flavor. The nutrition is better than buying pickles from a store, but not as good as eating cucumbers raw without any added sugar. The ones we eat straight from the garden will offer the best benefits.

And now for the vine metaphor that this blog post is leading to… thriving vs growing:

The cucumbers and strawberries are both are big success. My oldest daughter and I were wistful after seeing my youngest’s prized project, so we now each have strawberry plants too. Ours are also thriving. All three of our plants have grown vines that suspend below the pots. It’s possible to grow more strawberry plants from the vines if they grow roots. So, not only do we have delicious strawberries today, but we may have more plants for the future. And as I’ve already mentioned, my cucumber vines are sprawling endlessly. 

However, my wisteria vine is merely growing. The first year, we had plenty of beautiful, truly gorgeous, draping purple blossoms swaying from the expanse of its vine. The following two years, we had no flowers at all. The vine simply grew and grew, winding itself around and around and around, teasing us with leafy foliage, some of which would then die off and leave a mess behind. 

This season, the wisteria vine produced a single flower. That’s it, just the one. Then the vine continued to grow, spiraling around everything in its path. Before I caught it, it had wound itself around my dear red roses and snapped one of the established budding stems, severing it! It killed one of my roses! That got my Irish up, so I was quick to yank the wisteria vine and move it to the “naughty corner” of the garden where it is now sentenced to winding itself around an ugly post. It has beautified the post, and it has no roses to harm. From there, it’s fine that it may do nothing more than grow and grow, without ever producing the flowers that it is capable of.

With my metaphor firmly rooted, let’s ponder this philosophical question: Are we growing or thriving? When we simply muddle through life, adjusting to the changes in seasons by adapting and surviving, we may grow without thriving. We may even be a harmful influence on others, as our energy overpowers those who were flowering or producing fruit, suppressing them or even breaking their spirits. 

When a vine grows and grows without producing much, it may be more invasive than beneficial- like the wisteria. Even if a vine will one day produce a bountiful harvest, like the cucumbers, if the initial growth is a vine that latches on to everything else to pull itself up, it may harm the garden as the vine gets itself where it wants to go. The method to our success matters. A truly thriving spirit doesn’t need to pull others down to raise themselves up.

The strawberry plant has dropped vines that are not only producing fruit, but are floating below the plant, swaying in the warm breeze like it’s dancing. My daughter has placed a window planter box on a table below her plant (the plant I painted in the video at the top of this post), and the vines are gently hovering over it, nearly sweeping the soil now. Soon, they will land and we’ll see if she can grow more strawberry plants from these pretty vines.

A person who is thriving will dance through life without hurting anyone. When they succeed, they will drop their vines to inspire others to grow and thrive as well. There is a big difference between growing and thriving, and it also matters greatly how we get to where we want to go: if we keep climbing without ever reaching down to lift others up, or if we remember where we came from and look back to help those who are left behind.

Whether an underachieving and toxic wisteria, or a successful but overpowering cucumber, if we are a vine who goes on whatever path we want, with no regard for others, we aren’t thriving. We’re just growing, until one day we are no more. In the end, we’ll have nothing to show for our time here, but a withering coiled vine that eventually fades away.

But if we are a strawberry vine, we leave behind the ones we’ve inspired. We are never truly gone, as our energy carries on into the future. This is a life that is not merely growing, but thriving.

Maybe we’ll remember my wisteria-cucumber-strawberry metaphor when we feel too lazy, tired, or discouraged to work and invest in others the way that we know we should. I include myself in this. Whenever I come up with these metaphors for you, I put these seeds into my own mind as well. I feel instantly hypocritical if I don’t practice what I preach. So, I’ll strive to be a strawberry plant. And it just so happens that my favorite color is red!

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New Painting

Are you enjoying autumn treats? My daughters love the specialty coffee and snacks that come out this time of year. They especially love their sister

Read More »

Autumn in 2021

Watch oil painting “Autumn Tree” come to life in under 2 minutes This short project began with an abstract background. Next, while it was still

Read More »

New Painting

Watch my new painting “Pumpkin Carving” come to life in just over 2 minutes (time lapse) Father and son enjoying an autumn custom of cleaning

Read More »

Worn

Watch this “Armor of God” oil painting come to life in 2 minutes (time lapse) There’s a lot going on in the world today, and

Read More »

New Painting

Watch me paint this “Autumn Leaves” oil painting in 2 minutes (time lapse) No matter what is happening in the world or in our personal

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Lion of Judah oil painting by Natalie Buske Thomas

Quiet Lion

Watch me paint this lion oil painting in 2 minutes (time lapse) I changed the music for this video today. Whatever you’re experiencing, you probably

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Not Again!

Watch this oil painting about the dark side of the animal kingdom come to life in 2 minutes (time lapse) I don’t have a painting

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Happy Grief?

Watch this hedgehog oil painting come to life in about 1 minute (time lapse) You might remember when I painted this one and shared it

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Melancholy

Watch this lighthouse painting come to life in 1 minute (time lapse) I share this one when I’m feeling melancholic, flitting back and forth between

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History

Watch this oil painting of the day (July 23, 2020) that the Statue of Liberty in New York City looked to have been struck by

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Things we See

Watch this jellyfish oil painting come to life in just over 1 minute (time lapse) You might remember when I shared this one in April?

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Inspiring

My oil painting of my daughter reading in the butterfly garden… this one doesn’t have a video because I painted this before I started filming

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Painting Allegories

Allegorical paintings represent abstract concepts through pictorial symbols and extended metaphors. Artists paint one thing, while meaning another, or might literally paint allegories- as in, the painting depicts well known literary allegories. In which case, perhaps the art is a “double” allegory. Allegories are stories and symbols of moral importance, generalized truth, messages of warning or encouragement, and philosophy found in writing, theater, and art.

Narrow Way” was inspired by the allegory of a narrow difficult road to spiritual enlightenment and true happiness, while the road to destruction is wide and easy. The addition of an apple tree that produces poisonous fruit on one side, and life-sustaining fruit on the other was my own artist contribution and alludes to another well known metaphor for “good and evil”, “temptation”, and “free will”. Abstract concepts, conveyed through symbols and extended metaphors, may push an artist to paint in a different style.

Rather than painting a more natural incline in the two roads using perspective, skewing, distortion, and variation of hues, the paths are painted nearly flat, as if pictures on a map. A break from traditional techniques and approaches tells the viewer that this is a different type of painting. Why is it different? What does it mean? In this way, the artist succeeds in the goal of an allegorical painting: inspire the viewer to ponder the meaning of the art.

Narrow Way” is an allegory representing generalized truth about the human condition (the difficulty man sometimes has in choosing good over evil, resisting temptation). This type of allegory is shared by diverse scholars, playwrights, screenwriters, artists, musicians, educators, and leaders of world religions. While likely in disagreement about the analysis, moral responsibilities, or solutions, generalized truth itself is fairly universally accepted. In the next painting, “Predator and Prey Alike“, the allegory is philosophical, moving beyond generalized truth.

Predator and Prey Alike” depends heavily on painting techniques to convey action.  The extended metaphor is philosophical, proposing that the animal kingdom is treated equally by God, regardless of whether an animal is the king of beasts or his helpless prey, and the same is true of mankind. In the circle of life, all will die. None will reign forever. This allegory represents the concept that no human is higher than another in the eyes of God. All will eventually meet the same end. Tyrants with power to enslave others and their downtrodden peasants alike will meet the same fate.

Painting a generalized truth metaphor (like “Narrow Way“) may be depicted by a clean simple composition, while painting a philosophical allegory (like “Predator and Prey Alike“) may be represented with a complicated composition, containing many subjects, action, and busy storytelling elements. Of course those rules are made to be broken. When I throw out suggestions and strategies, they are merely meant as ideas; sharing what I’ve experienced in my own work.

In this last example of an allegorical painting, “Armor of God“, the intention is to provide a meaningful experience to the viewer. Painting for emotional impact relies on powerful contrasts and bold lines. The oils go from the darkest darks to the lightest lights, and the only spark of color is through the gold armor and radiant light. This painting relies on illusion to create a suspenseful and stirring composition.