'Brush Stories' Show in Oakland: How an Introvert Does StoryTelling

Telling stories with my brush at 310 Gallery in Oakland: There are no rough drafts or under drawings in the tradition of etegami, or Japanese “painting letters.” Etegami are direct, thoughtful, personal letters intended to share. The shift in perspective when thinking of the recipient rather than the perfect line calls for a change in style—coming to terms with the imperfect human touch. 

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Eat, Pray, Paint

As long as I've known, art has been "shizen"—best translated as second nature—as natural as breathing. The tool, be it a paintbrush, pencil, or charcoal stick, feels like an extension of my hand.  Much like my hand, I can't necessarily make it do everything I want it to do. I'll never hold a basketball from the side or the top because my hand is too small. I can never open large jars because I can barely grip the lid with my fingertips. That's where community comes in (Page, who grips basketballs one-handed and opens all jars). There are certain limitations I have to struggle through in art life, and community is crucial to work through them. 

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I just made it through my funk, the deep valley period of the middle of a painting. It's that point after the unlimited potential at the start, and before the completed work is visible...when every part seems incomplete and mediocre. Tears are shed, ice cream is eaten, and I keep painting. Now that I see the light at the end of the tunnel, I've emerged and am once again excited to see the paintings and write about it. 

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The community, mainly close friends and family, were helpful to keep at it during the frequent ice cream break phase. Some who know how shizen (natural) it is for me to paint ask about it. Their enthusiasm encourages me far more than I ever tell them. Pride can get in the way of sharing about what I love. "Once I make masterpieces, then I'll tell them...then I can justify it." To be honest, that will probably always be a struggle. For a type A person that likes to efficiently complete tasks, how can it be that what I love to do most is exceptionally inefficient?? The other day I spent two hours on a few shades of dark shadow lines...just lines... in two of the paintings. It's almost comical how different the two sides within me can be, yet it makes perfect sense when teaching art. Methodical + inefficient = a surprisingly successful pair.

 

Like looking forward to a good meal, I'm looking ahead at which evenings this week I might be able to paint. Well, more like looking forward to breakfast in 8 hours (yes, really, every day), I'm counting down to my next opportunity to paint as I continue this shizen cycle of eat, pray, paint. 

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Speaking of eating, I can't help but include the incredible Japanese feast by my mom to celebrate my brother's new stage of life (MBA at Wharton) and an early Children's Day (we'll never grow out of it) on Sunday. My tiny contribution was a veggie dish and salad...I suppose we all start somewhere. I'm still daydreaming about the meal.  This doesn't even include the dessert spread! 

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 Plate #1 of 2  

Plate #1 of 2  

{Making Monday} Painting Party of One

This current stage is my favorite part of painting. To be specific, this early stage in color is the most exciting. There's structure from the planned steps (tedious work is done), but tons of potential (excitement of the unknown). That's probably a reflection of my personality. I like to plan, but I like flexibility and creativity within certain boundaries. Steps needed to get to this point:

  1. Idea : What am I going to paint?
  2. Image : Who/what/where am I going to paint from?
  3. Materials : What will I use to paint? Paper? Canvas? Paint medium?
  4. Prepare Surface : Several coats of gesso (white paint)
  5. Composition : How will this be laid out? How will I crop the image?
  6. Drawing : Careful attention to detail
  7. Outline : Painting over the drawing

This step: COLOR!


The paintings were outlined one by one up on my painting easel, but now I need to paint them all together to have consistent colors throughout since they are all part of one building. The scale of the paintings is a little more clear having them side by side by other objects. This order is how they will be laid out on the office wall. I'm starting with my darkest color first.

*A side-note to painters: Please, please never use black if you want any life in your shadows. These two dark colors are made of: 3 dark blues (ultramarine, phthalo, cerulean), 1 red (cadmium red light), 1 yellow (cadmium yellow).

My painting professor's voice is echoing in my ear as I paint.

  • Use more paint!
  • Use a bigger brush!
  • Warmer! (I tend to paint with cool colors so things look dead)

These steps needed to paint are really the steps needed to plan any activity. 

  1. [Idea] : What am I going to do?
  2. [Image] : Who/ what/ where?
  3. [Materials] : What things are needed for this? 
  4. [Prepare Surface] : What do I need to do ahead of time?
  5. [Composition] : Cropping; start/end time, budget
  6. [Drawing] : The tedious but necessary details
  7. [Outline] : Start activity

The step I'm on now: follow-through. The party. Party of one, in this case. As an introvert, I enjoy parties of one. Now that the paintings are set up and ready with my palette ready to go, I'm looking forward to many solo painting parties this week.

A cup of herbal tea in one hand and a paintbrush in the other...and I wonder why people call me grandma.


{Making Monday} From Pencil to Brush: Seville Wall Painting Progress

Finally some color! I recently taught someone how to paint with oil paints so I soaked my oil paint tubes in hot water to open them. I suppose 5 years was enough time to seal them shut. When setting up my palette, I was reminded why I hadn't gotten back into oil painting. The set-up alone took at least 30 minutes! Normally my painting sessions with ink and watercolor are about 1 hour total. BUT this is a special project for Page's office and is therefore a good reason to get back into oil painting. His office is currently white, grey, and black. The only pop of color in the room = bright stripes on his socks (that go with his dress shirt, of course).

The pencil drawing was completed many weeks ago. The next part for this project was the color outline. In the end, this green will be mostly covered up and won't be very noticeable but the pops of bright color coming through the rest of the wall painting will keep it looking fresh...which is exactly what a monotone office needs!

Mixing paint is best with one of these tools: a palette knife. Otherwise the paint gets stuck in the bristles of the brush and ends up riding up the brush handle, so it will waste time and paint.


This green has cadmium red light in it (that's the bright red, third from the end). Mixing opposite colors on the color wheel helps tone down your color, but adding too much makes brown so it's best to add a dab at time.

Mixing paint

Growing glob of green...

Oil Painting Outline


It's always an exciting and sad step to start painting because that means my drawing that I spent hours on will be covered up. It sounds dramatic but there is some kind of attachment especially when the drawing turns out well. Those detailed lines below that describe the old stone wall will covered by thick strokes of paint. But they serve their purpose, because without the detailed drawing there would be no variation of line in the painted thick outline.

Oil Painting

Aaaand here are the paintings below. These 3 will line up side by side. They're quite large though it's hard to tell. They currently take up the length of our kitchen... a very small kitchen, but the entire kitchen nonetheless! It seemed like the safest place to put them while they dry for the next 2 days or so since our meals are ready and I won't be cooking. 

I'm stuck on this one below because I wanted to photograph the paintings before it got dark, but knew I wouldn't have time to complete it since it has the most detail. I may switch brushes to a smaller one to get more detail in for the outline.

The main part I'm stuck on:

I love the casual dress code at work, but it's hard to beat slippers and spandex...and the green streak of paint in my hair. There was a time when I wanted to bleach and color my hair bright purple, but it seems like I get to experiment with all sorts of hair colors (in streaks and highlighted ends) through painting. When washing my hands in the bathroom, I saw  my reflection with a dark red mustache. I didn't even use dark red paint today. Green hair, red mustache, stretchy pants and slippers... It's probably a good thing this oil painting business is only on weekends.

{Making Monday} Creativity Without a Brush

After a few years of painting here and there, I started painting again most regularly in 2015. I had lofty plans to complete several paintings by this time in 2016, but this year has felt extra busy...and they still are in pencil-only form without a single splotch of paint on them. My creativity has been channeled in other ways out of necessity, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. For example, my most recent project was a bridal shower and bachelorette. These are part of the decorations I made for the shower.

It was a Pinterest idea on the bride's wedding board (for seating chart placecards ). Though I give credit to Pinterest, it was NOT a "best chicken in 15 minutes" (which is never the best), nor "easiest chocolate cake ever" (that takes 2 hours + cleanup). It actually was REALLY simple. I can't take credit for the idea but it was fun to do something with paint that didn't involve careful detail. It's also great for when you have colors for an event/party that may be hard to find...unless you want to drop $200 at Paper Source for the right hue of chartreuse green. 

The process was delightfully simple.

Here are the steps: 

  1. Cut the paper to desired size.
  2. Mix the color and water in a plate. (I mixed a few watercolors to get the right shade)
  3. Dip edge of paper in different angles to get a jagged colored edge. Let it dry.
  4. Repeat 2 more times, each time dipping a little less of the paper in so you get that 3-tiered effect. 
  5. Write with a calligraphy pen. (I typed it on Microsoft word first to look at and then loosely followed that font.)

two ways to avoid the handwritten part:

  1. Make it a shared project: do steps 1-4 and pass off step 5 to a friend with good penmanship. 
  2. It's the 21st century and printers work wonders. Find a cute font, type it and print it on card stock, and then do steps 1-4.

It was a tea party theme (I'm sure that's obvious by now) so the favors were lavender earl grey cookies & tea. I added some lemon extract in the batter to freshen up the heavier flavor of lavender and earl grey. The center sign was on the door to welcome guests. The pen on the right is my favorite for cheater calligraphy style writing!

When West Meets East & Falls in Love: "Looking East" Exhibit {Monet, Van Gogh & Japan}

The sunrise this morning took my breath away.  (I mean I actually forgot to breathe...) I chose not to photograph it because my iPhone camera couldn't possibly do a vast expanse of color wash in the sky any sort of appropriate justice!

Anyways, back on topic: my solo field trip. Sunday was the last day of "Looking East" at the Asian Art Museum about how Japanese art influenced western artists like Monet, Van Gogh, and others. It was also the week of SuperBowl City so SF was extra busy. I went to work extra early to get off in time to make it before the 5pm closing time at the museum. I really wish museums had hours outside of 10am-5pm so they would be more accessible to working people. To be fair, some are adding an evening event day including the Asian art museum (but only during warmer seasons?)

Clearly thrilled about starting the exhibit and my audio guide... I didn't notice that "Asian" lanyard until I saw the photo later— maybe not the best choice for a lanyard label. I assume they were thinking "deYoung" or another one-word museum name, but in this case "AAM" or "Asian Art Museum" probably would have been better. 

Since Japan had an isolation policy for 200 years, when it was opened to the West in mid-1850s, there was a huge influx of Japanese art and craft in the West. In many ways the goods were used out of context, like a formal kimono becoming a sexy lounging gown with a plunging neckline. 
This topic —the love of Japanese things in the 19th century—is well-studied and is called Japonisme. Since the east to west study is so common, for my Japanese Saint painting series, I took the opposite approach and used western art compositions for my Japanese ink paintings. Perhaps I keep coming back to this topic in some way or another because I relate with it. For grad school, I studied the Japan-Europe interaction (mostly focusing on Catholicism) before the seclusion, about 3 centuries earlier. I'm somewhat caught in between, tied to both but can't clearly define which culture influenced what part of me.
And now I'm a translator/Japanese copywriter working on making an American brand successful in Japan.

The exhibit was interesting, pointing out how Japanese art compositions at the time were very different than western paintings. Van Gogh painted the most directly from the woodblock prints, replicating them with oil paints and his unique Van Gogh hand. Other artists like Monet were less direct, like Monet's Japanese garden with the bridge or his haystack series looking like prints of Japanese rest stops (top right two drawings below)

 Quick sketches while looking around

Quick sketches while looking around

I wish I had more than 1 hour but I'm really glad I got that one hour! It's inspiring and refreshing to see different perspectives through artists and history. It never gets old.

Happy Friday! 

{Making Monday} Big picture goals from a weekly routine

One of the conversations that sticks out most to me was with my brother about goals for the new year, several years ago. When talking about things I would like to do in the coming year, my brother asked me, "what does your week look like?" I responded, "I guess I work, I exercise sometimes, I cook, I hang out with friends..." and he said, "Well multiply that by 52 and that will be what you do this year." 

That was a shocking reality check! I thought taking it a week at a time was fine, but when I realized that how each week is organized has a larger impact on the entire year, it made me rethink how I prioritize activities each week.

It's important to start in the big picture: What are your long-term goals? In other words: 

What are God-given gifts and desires that you want to use for His service over a lifetime?

That could be a 50-year plan, obviously impossible to know what it will look like, but we can figure out what kind of skills need to be polished to work in that direction. I was motivated even more after our retreat this weekend, being encouraged to work fervently, purposefully, and diligently in all things. We can only work hard with a specific goal in mind, so what am I working for? 

An ongoing tug on my heart since at least 10 years ago: the population is less than 1% Christian in Japan, so I want to share the joy and hope of knowing God. At the very least, so people will know God's love and can then decide what to do about it.  So, considering the family life I was brought up in and the skills I have now, that desire plays out like this long-term:

Two examples:

  1. Paint the history of Christianity in Japan 

  2. Teach kids Japanese language and culture

1. Paint the history of Christianity in Japan

What needs to be done?

  • Know the history
  • Improve painting skills
  • Know western art history to reference

For me, this means:

  • Study the history (--> I went to grad school)
  • Keep painting (--> I'm blogging and painting)
  • Know western art history to reference (keep looking at art books and going to museums)

Weekly (now):

  • Keep painting with different media so that I can incorporate western techniques into my Japanese painting... which is where this comes in: working on large oil paintings.

Now, breaking down the second example:

2: Teach kids Japanese language and culture

What needs to be done? 

  • Practice Japanese conversation so it'll flow better all the time at home
  • Read more Japanese to be able to teach
  • Keep up with Japanese culture
  • Know and practice Japanese customs

For me, this means:

  • Keep up relationships with Japanese friends
  • Read Japanese books
  • Watch Japanese shows, read news, look at magazines/websites
  • Celebrate holidays (& cook the holiday food!) and learn the background

Weekly (now):

  • Read the Bible in Japanese
  • Continue working as a translator and give it 100% effort

Basically it comes down to: *a notebook is crucial--write it down!*

  1. Big picture: long-term goal (not just a dream). Something clear based on the skills and desires God has given you.
  2. Talk it through: Pray first. Then, sharing and getting feedback is critical! People close to you can help identify your gifts and walk the journey with you.
  3. Break it down: Identify skills/components needed to see #1 (above) become a reality.
  4. Work on skills: Break down #3 into baby steps.
  5. Schedule it:  Subtract things in your weekly schedule that don't fit with the big picture goal, and add in things necessary to reach that goal.

Consider what is realistic for yourself now, but if the goal really is important then diligently work on at least one component!

Since those paintings are on my mind, I was thrilled to see the color palette I wanted to use on trees in Yosemite this weekend. The pops of bright green moss against the red bark with highlights of light mustard yellow was eye-catching. Bark is not brown! (Yes, I will die on that "nothing is brown" hill.) The outline of my paintings (photos above) will be bright green moss-colored, and the brick includes all these colors in the bark: 

It's no surprise that the Creator and Master Painter of the universe would have such a delightful color palette on a tree trunk. "The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." Psalm 19:1

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth...

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 

Colossians 3:1-2, 23-24

Let's work!!

Christmas Cookies? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly}

Christmas cookies tradition started from holiday biscuits in Medieval Europe. They included spices and dried nuts, like many of our Christmas cookies today. Apparently there were strict baking laws (presumably for safety reasons) but the holidays were an exception.

Some say that giving cookies to Santa started around the Great Depression to teach kids generosity. I know someone who was taught all along that Santa actually doesn't like cookies, he likes pizza and beer, so he grew up leaving pizza and beer out for Santa on Christmas Eve. Clever!

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We haven't decided about Santa and kids but I wonder what the Santa who comes to our home would prefer... maybe brownies. Edge pieces only-- extra special gifts for corner pieces. 

When did St. Nick move to the North Pole? {12 Days of Christmas}

The background of St. Nick is somewhat known- the monk St. Nicholas born in 280AD was known for giving away his inherited wealth and helping many people. St. Nicholas day was celebrated December 6th, when people feasted and gave gifts. Stories about St. Nicholas giving gifts continued on for centuries.

The name? A quick overview:

  • Saint Nicholas
  • Sint Nikolaas (Dutch)
  • Sinter Klaas (shortened, Dutch)
  • Santa Claus

Now the main question: when did he move to the North Pole?

In 1890, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew what is now our image of Santa Claus in the North Pole. He was positioned there most likely because the arctic was seen as a mysterious fantasy land that no one had been to (yet), plus Christmas was associated with snow. So this mysterious, jolly, kind gift giver came from the land of the arctic, the North Pole. 

It says: "Oh look, there's Santa."

[another bubble burster: apparently there are no penguins in the North Pole...]

Christmas Movies & Ewoks? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 6}

Why did we watch a movie on Christmas every year? Our favorite was It's a Wonderful Life. It never gets old! 

The top 10 most-watched Christmas movies in the states:

  1. A Christmas Story
  2. Elf
  3. Home Alone
  4. It's a Wonderful Life
  5. Love Actually
  6. Christmas Vacation
  7. White Christmas
  8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  9. Holiday Inn
  10. A Christmas Carol

DAY 6: CHRISTMAS MOVIES.

I suppose it's an obvious one that I never thought about. Families are together, there's often time off, and entertainment is nice way to relax. So, the last week in December is the highest grossing week of the year. It makes sense that if that's when people watch, making the story align with the holiday makes perfect sense! 

We don't go anywhere on Christmas but we will probably continue to watch Christmas movies at home. We will likely be watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens at some point during the last week of the year because I have that week off of work. In honor of the movie, here's a throwback to an Ewok painting that I painted for our biggest Star Wars fan friends:


Nutcracker? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 4}

As strange as it sounds and for no good reason, those funny little nutcrackers are my favorite Christmas decorations. Yet I have no idea where they came from or why they are around only at Christmas. If it's trendy to have a gold rhino on your stack of books as a paper weight, why can't it be a nutcracker?

 "I wonder if it really cracks?"

"I wonder if it really cracks?"

Day 4: NUTCRACKER.

How did nut-cracking pliers become a home decoration? The history goes back (at least) 300 years to a woodworking town in Germany. Dolls were given for good luck, and the same woodworkers made soldier dolls as well as nut-cracking tools, so the two were combined into one as a practical gift for good luck. The connection with Christmas may come from eating around this time since nuts are harvested in the fall and keep well.

Especially after Tchaikovsky's ballet, The Nutcracker Suite, premiered in St. Petersburg in 1892 the little figurines grew in popularity. They became common in America only since the 1950s after soldiers in WWII brought them back from Christmas fairs in Germany (which I would LOVE to go to someday).

My favorite random fact that I've gathered from reading about nutcrackers is "Nutcrack Night" also known as Halloween. In Scottish and Northern English tradition, October 31 was the night to sit around a fire and crack freshly harvested hazelnuts and chestnuts. Maybe our nutcrackers should come out on Nutcrack Night and stay through Christmas!

Wreaths? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 3}

Why have I been making wreaths from Christmas tree branches the past two Christmas seasons? Why did we hang one on our door growing up? Tradition, I suppose...

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DAY 3: WREATHS.

Christmas wreaths can be traced back to Ancient Greeks and Persians, who wore them as a symbol of status or victory. They may have been hung in the home or on the door as souvenirs. Wreaths were also hung on doors as symbols of the home to distinguish one home from another.

The specific use of evergreens most likely stems from celebrating Winter Solstice. Evergreens were chosen since they stay green year-round; a symbol of life overcoming- again, a victory. 

In the Christian tradition the circular shape represents eternal life- perhaps using evergreens as a symbol of victory over death.

Which reminded me of:

"Death is swallowed up in victory. Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?...but thanks be to God who gave us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Cor. 15:55-57)

Wreaths are a much more powerful symbol than I had expected... it gives me more motivation to form those branches sitting on the balcony into a symbol to remember Christ's victory over death.

 

 

Mistletoe? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 1}

We don't do a lot of Christmas decorating but we still have some basics including mistletoe, poinsettia, Christmas tree, branches for a wreath, nutcrackers... but if you ask me why? My best answer is: "It's festive (*add a big smile*)." So, here's my 12-day exploration featuring etegami to look at where these traditions came from!

Day 1: Mistletoe.

Why kiss under a mistletoe? Why not a holly? 

First, what is mistletoe: The name originated as "mistel"+"tan"= dung + stick

It's a parasite that is spread through bird poop. How romantic. 

Now a brief overview of the tradition: It symbolized love and friendship in European folklore, then in the Middle Ages was hung in homes for good luck and protection against evil spirits.

Kissing under it began in England, since mistletoe was attached to "Kissing Boughs"(basically a spherical version of a wreath) around wintertime . 

From England, the tradition migrated with people to America. Then fast forward hundreds of years, I'm giddy this year to discover preserved mistletoe at Trader Joe's! My first mistletoe! 

Hang your mistletoe, erase "dung stick" from your mind, and enjoy the tradition of love and friendship.

27/50 : Learning to Teach

This painting is from my last etegami workshop in November. It has taken that long to get back to writing! Since my translation and copywriting work is in the retail business, Christmas is the busiest season and it has felt like I'm just barely hanging on. In the middle of that, I got selected on a jury for jury duty! It was surprisingly very interesting, and for short cases I'd say it's a worthwhile experience (even though I was grumbling the whole time).

I daydream about painting these days as I walk to and from the stations on my commute. Since I'm explaining how I paint when I do workshops or demonstrations, I think more step-by-step. There's a lot that's just second nature now- when to apply more pressure, when to lift the brush, where to leave space white, where to add pops of color. I'm now having to trace my steps back to how I decide. 

 "Autumn is the season for pumpkin pie"

"Autumn is the season for pumpkin pie"

Some things I've learned that I can now explain:

  • To get better at composition, look at good photographs. 
  • Practice your writing style and perfect your signature. 
  • Boldly mess up. Those confident mistakes often turn into something great.
  • No more than 2 layers of watercolor...let the paper breathe!
  • Variety of strokes, color intensity and values is key to get eyes glued on the piece.

Things I'm trying to teach myself, talking to myself:

  • Stop comparing. (You'll never paint like them, and no one paints like you.)
  • Keep painting. (It's getting better.)
  • Be patient. (You've already passed the Michelangelo/Mozart prodigy age.)

I'm glued in the psalms during this busy season. I particularly connected with:

And I say, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest." (Psalm 55:6-8)

How comforting to know that there are others that want to fly away and become a hermit sometimes. BUT right after in the same psalm:

"Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved." (Psalm 55:22)

 

24/50: How about a pigeon?

My sister who lives in London told me about a Chinatown scandal in which a restaurant in London Chinatown was serving pigeon. Not the farmed kind for eating. I mean, free range and local-- rooftop local!

I suppose they were calling it "squab"-- a delicacy. Not just pigeon.

Street pigeons would never make it on my plate (by choice), much less my "want to draw" list. On a practical level, they're fidgety and hard to draw. But beyond that, I don't like the way they look or function so they're not worthy of study.

If I dig a little deeper: I don't consider their Maker.

But this guy did, and that left an impression on me. I took a photo of him when I saw this scene in Nagasaki, Japan. Is this elderly Japanese man thinking, "God created this creature so I should study it?" Statistically based on the religious environment in Japan, I doubt it.

There's a lot God can teach us through people-- through those who may point out things that are usually ignored. Maybe through artists who have "weird" perspectives.

So, how about a pigeon? Perhaps not for dinner at a restaurant in Chinatown in London. But maybe to draw, maybe to point me to their Maker. 

"Worthy are you, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and because of your will they existed, and were created." Revelation 4:11

If creation in general isn't enough of a link to the Creator, here's a bonus fact: 

Pigeons are in the same family as doves. 

As I continue with this painting, it'll remind me of seeing things as made-by-God, not based on my judgment of if it's worthy of attention or not. 

"You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you." Nehemiah 9:6

Progress on this painting to come (once I actually make that progress).