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Thursday, March 28, 2013


It is Spring. It is also Holy Week. So you'd think I'd have put a Scripture passage with this classic image, rich with Paschal significance. Nope. That's not where my muse took me this time.

My mind was a mixture of thoughts and feelings as I shot this tiny crocus...tentatively, bravely, humbly rising up on the first day of spring in a little urban garden in northwest Denver. I saw it as a sign: of spring. And hope. And new life. You know, the usual stuff.

But the more I thought about it, the more I sensed something deeper within this iconic image: the cyclical, repetitive nature of it all. And how it is tied to God's unending mercy. We can count on the return of spring, heralded by this tiny little flower, no matter how bleak the winter preceding it...every year. And we can count on God's loving mercy, no matter how bleak our situation...every time. Again and again, we stumble and fall. Again and again, He forgives and absolves...when we accept His mercy.

Fitting this image with a caption was the hardest part of this post. I knew what I was looking for, but I couldn't quite put it into words. It was more a feeling than a thought. After searching in vain for much of the day yesterday nothing seemed to say what I wanted it to say. I almost gave up on the whole thing. Then I googled one more time: 'spring quotes.' Almost magically, a 'secular' bit of prose from a favorite poet appeared...to illustrate - to me at least - the seemingly cyclical, repetitive nature of God's loving mercy that is at the core of Christianity. This is our path to Eternal Life, which Christ died for, and then rose again, showing us the way...

An artist's highest calling is allowing God to communicate through him. The gift of creativity. I immediately saw it in Her Rilke's little verse. I can only hope that I accomplish it through my own work.

According to His great mercy,
He has caused us to be born again
to a living hope
through the resurrection of
Jesus Christ
from the dead.
1 Peter 1:3


Linking up with Beyond Beyond and Texture Tuesday. I texturized with Kim's kk_naturally, coolgrunge, and musiclight, and used one of my new favorite fonts, Matilde.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

how does one become a butterfly?

mouse over to see the original

Dear "Enna," on the brink of your hope-filled journey to health:

You are my little butterfly, with elegant wings tattooed on your delicate porcelain skin, right between your shoulder blades...where logic would dictate they would be attached.

I never really thought about it until recently, but sometimes it takes courage to hope - especially in a dire situation. It is so much easier to give in to despair. It's safe there. No risk of disappointment.

It also takes an iron will. To persist. To persevere. To get up after you stumble and fall...and to keep going.

You've got what it takes - already wired into you from birth. Also known as Stubborn in other situations. Hard-headed. Single-minded. Determined.

Don't forget...I have known you longer than any other person. Twenty-two years + nine months to be exact.

Only God knows you better. You are my child...and His. And whether you believe it or not, He is still right there with you at every turn. Always.

Hang On. Pain Ends.


Next Tuesday I will accompany Erin and her fiancĂ© to L.A., where we will meet with  Dr. Matia Brizman, who will be treating Erin in the coming months.
Linking up with Beyond Beyond and Texture Tuesday.

This silver butterfly brooch belonged to my maternal grandmother, Edna Swanson Toomey. When I saw it among my mother's jewelry, I chose it for Erin, who has for years been attracted to butterflies - both for their natural beauty and for their philosophical significance.

I had a real time of it with this seemingly simple still life. It was fun...but challenging. Initially I shot this from above, with not much thought of light, beyond adjusting my camera settings to get a 'good' shot. After playing with the image in Lightroom, following Kim's tutorial on a matte finish, and applying some textures in CS6...I let it go for a day, planning to upload and write the accompanying blog post. 

The image was okay. Just okay.

Then I happened to be reading in David duChemin's Photographically Speaking how to both be aware of and consciously use light to make a stronger image: an image that communicates my intent, my vision. I realized that I had dropped the ball: my image was flat and lifeless...because I had not asked what David says are "two of the most important questions you can ask - mindfully, intentionally - as you look throught the viewfinder:
     1. What is the light doing in this frame?
     2. Is it doing what I need in order to create the photograph I want?"

 Definitely not what I had envisioned for this photo, or this subject: Hope in the midst of darkness.

As they say: back to the drawing board. I set up the shot again, this time determined to better communicate my intent instead of just 'taking a picture.'

photo taken with my iPod Touch

After setting things up with the ceiling light on, I turned off the light and played with assorted slow shutter speeds, ISO (all the way down to 100 so that I could play up the light-dark contrast and use multi-second exposures) and shining the flashlight in different directions/angles to play up the luminous, dimensional qualities of the brooch, as well as moving the light source during the long exposure to try and imply a sense of fluttering movement (I stumbled upon this effect accidentally and liked it.)

At some point in all this it dawned on me that I was being true to my One Little Word Challenge...that word being 'Light.'

I again played around in Lightroom and CS6 as before, with my vision and intent in mind, choosing a much more subtle texture - kk_storm - and finally adding a pastel rainbow Gradient Fill Adjustment Layer (14% opacity) to bring in some color and life. I loved what the matte finish did for the image, but my efforts at chalk lettering were not fruitful...some tools/settings were grayed out or didn't function. Another time maybe. No worries...Kim's prompts are always a good starting place.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


mouse over to see the original

Diligence is a very great help,
even to a mediocre intelligence.

There was lots to play with this week in our Beyond Beyond class (nicknamed 2B). Shooting from above; Kim's brand-new Cloth & Paper Collection of textures (I used Bamboo, Cameron, and MagicFilm); another preset in Lightroom; and Kim's own brand of heartfelt wisdom. I am being sufficiently challenged...and enjoying every minute of delightful diligence!

You gotta make art with what you've got around...with what's in your heart and what's on your mind. At least that's how it has always worked best for me, whatever the medium. I had to remind myself of this yet again as I tried to make something happen with this assignment. And then I slowed down, stopped worrying about what it was finally going to look like (i.e. what other people might think), and just went with my own instinct.

So, I dug into a box of my father's old school books, and chose three Latin primers. Young Aldo's photo was tucked in amongst them (honestly...that part was true serendipity!). I included his old typewriter, and rounded it out with some artificial greenery that provided a little "organic" contrast...and just felt right. I arranged everything on a piece of white foamcore board, got out my camera and a stepladder and the rest is history.

The precise arrangement of it all was a process that I found meditative, relaxing and oddly rewarding: achieving just the right compositional balance via the placement of elements, the amount and use of negative space, noticing every little nuanced line, shape and color. I learned this years ago by studying - and imitating - the work of British textile artist Janet Bolton. You know you're having fun when you look up at the clock and realize that it's been hours - not minutes - that you've been playing around with this stuff...and that you'd better wrap it up or you're gonna be late for work.

All the while I was remembering Dad, the diligent scholar, and his love of languages, especially Latin and Greek. As I paged through his Latin books, I remembered my own high school Latin class back in 1978, which I took just for fun my senior year. It was the best class ever. Far from a "dead" language, studying Latin helped me learn much about the roots of my own language, got me translating bits of wisdom from Cicero, Virgil, Seneca, St. Augustine.

Tell me again why we stopped teaching Latin in our schools?

I am linking up with February's Photo-Heart Connection 'cause I did most of the "work" last week. Thanks Kat for reminding me what it's all about.