More than Sparrows

First the Sparrows oil painting and the inspiration behind it, then a challenge for self reflection. Are you “worth more than sparrows”? Do you live like you are?

Watch me paint “Sparrows” in 2 minutes (time lapse)

“The inspiration for ‘Sparrows’ comes from Matthew 10:29-31 ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’”

from the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by my Christian Faith” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

After painting “Sparrows” I saw those birds in abundance. They seemed to have had a nest in the trees by the front door. Sparrows were in my line of sight day after day. I have since not seen many sparrows, but one returned yesterday and was sitting all alone on the trellis on our patio.

My first thought when I saw what kind of bird it was, “Oh, it’s just a sparrow.” I’d been hoping to catch another glimpse of the mythical Blue Cardinal that I told you about in yesterday’s blog post. So I didn’t run for my camera.

In the Biblical metaphor, the sparrows have little worth, yet they don’t fall to the ground without God knowing. I’ve noticed that the verse doesn’t say “without God saving them”, “without God preventing the fall”, or “without God regretting the loss”. If we were to take the verse at its word regardless of how many translations it has gone though throughout history, then God knows what happens to the sparrow and that is meant to be enough comfort to us.

I’m imagining this in two different ways. One, from the perspective of a king. The king has a vast kingdom with many treasures, including living assets. He counts them all. He knows the value of each, and the status of every living asset. He keeps watch over every asset in the kingdom, but some assets are far more valuable to him than others. We can imagine that his vigilance and investment into those more valuable assets would be far greater than the rest.

The second perspective I’m imagining is from that of a parent. A loving and dedicated parent knows what their children are doing, even as they grow to become adults living separate lives. One day, a call may come. An adult child is in the hospital and is in a bad way. The parent arrives at the bedside as soon as possible. The child’s response is not, “Why did you not prevent this from happening to me?”

The child is relieved to see the familiar devoted face of the parent who knows them, who sees their worth, who loves them unconditionally. This face brings the child comfort, regardless of how old that child is. For many blessed parents, a day will come when it is the child who arrives at the bedside, and the same comfort is in reverse. When an older person is dying, it is often their child who they want at their side.

What if we felt as free as the common sparrow? When I saw the sparrow yesterday, he seemed to have not a care in the world. He had easy access to food but was perched a few feet away from it, just looking around. He wasn’t jumpy, as if afraid of predators. Indeed, he had the place to himself. There was nothing to fear in that moment.

When we are perched in a space where our needs are met and there are no immediate dangers, why are we sometimes unable to let go of fear? If God knows what’s happening to us does that give us comfort, or is peace impossible without insurance that no harm will ever come our way? If we refuse peace we enslave ourselves, do we not?

I don’t have the answers, but I do know this… I’ve been at the bedside of the dying. In my experience, in those final days and moments, they don’t say, “Why is this happening to me? This is unfair!” They don’t rail at God or blame others. They seek out the faces of those who know their worth. Their gaze unmistakably says, “I’m glad you are here.”

When we know that we are worth more than sparrows, we live as if we are. We are a living investment that has the potential to increase the value of others. We can choose to let go of resentment over the times when there’s no divine intervention to save us. We can choose instead to accept the peace that is offered: we are known, valued, and loved.

We are worth far more than sparrows! Our best life is not to perch in the space where basic needs are met, where we’re temporarily safe from harm. It is not to rest in days of good weather. That’s a very small life, worthy of a sparrow.

When life hangs in the balance, what’s most important?  Acceptance of the limitations of humanity seems to come naturally to most dying persons. So many have this regret: “If only I understood this (what truly matters is love) when there was still time to live fully.”

We have time. We are worth more than sparrows. What will you do today?

Painting Action

Today’s “Compare 3” is about painting action. In the first example, “Sparrows“, we have a bird in flight; coming in for a landing, and a bird at rest; perched on the ground. The feathers on the sparrow in action are more linear than the rounded feather patterns on the resting sparrow. The claws on the landing sparrow look extended, while the resting sparrow’s claws- while also open- look relaxed. The action is shown through subtle differences in line shape, weight, and direction.

The next example “Wild Horses“, isn’t subtle in its representation of the act of running. The action is boldly shown through skewed perspective and heavy brush strokes, deep shadows, and contrasting highlights. This style of painting action looks almost like animation or cartooning. Because of this, the painting has a fun vibe. Compare “Wild Horses’“, carefree emotional weight to that to the rather serious, pensive emotion of “Sparrows“. How an artist depicts action depends on the story being told.

The following video of “Wild Horses“, session 1, is a tutorial about how to approach this type of painting, that depicts action. Skewed perspective, blurred lines, and the illusion of some parts of the body nearer to the viewer than others, are all effective means to paint action. The video is 13 minutes long and shows parts of the process in real time.

If interested in viewing more tutorials, you can see all of my free art lessons through the Classroom landing page. “Wild Horses” was a great project for illustrating action. So, we went from a subtle representation of action in “Sparrows” to an overt depiction in “Wild Horses“. In our final example, the swimming action of the dolphin is a blend between subtle and obvious.

The “Dolphin” action is shown through the bold water spray, but also through the subtle bend of the body and the gentle shadow changes in the water. In this way, the natural elements the dolphin interacts with support the illusion of action. When we paint connectivity between a subject and the natural world, action and stories are more believable.

Painting action is important to stories about drive, freedom, joyfulness, and passion. Moving is living. While a still life and a restful impressionistic scene are quite beautiful, balance is even more glorious. For all the days we sit, may we also splash, run, and dream that we can fly.