Monday, February 23, 2015

Making This Church-Wide Art Project Possible

Perhaps you're curious or perhaps you've seriously considered it yourself... "wouldn't a church-wide art piece be wonderful?" Group art projects are no small things, but they're not impossible. Need some tips? The key components for creating a large project such as this one include planning and a few hundred people. Like I said, no small thing. Up for the challenge? You may just get up the courage after reading this. At least I hope you do. 

“Is this possible and are you willing to do it?” were the first questions that se the stage to this piece. Be it naivety or downright arrogance, I didn't see why not. I had been told what assets I could look working with: several volunteers and a core creative team. My main question was: is this for me? Deep down I knew it was, and the rest felt like details; details that I was incredibly thankful to have others help me iron out.

As I wrestled with how this piece was going to go down (or up), I narrowed down some basic approaches to community art projects: 
  • Color in the lines or stenciled
  • Mosaic, tiled piece
  • Collective madness a professional wrangles in
  • Segments done by smaller groups or individual artists
  • Introducing mixed media

The greatest point of tension I found was the level of individual involvement of people from all levels of proficiency vs. the quality of the finished artwork. In other words, how could I facilitate much participation and still have a professional-looking piece? This painting--measuring 12 feet by 20 feet--had a prominent space designated to it before we could even take a look at it and decide its worthiness. No pressure.

The creative committee for this project landed at something involving about four hundred tiles done individually by church attenders. The consequent questions involved: 
  • would the main motif used in these individual tiles be stamped on, painted on or stenciled on? 
  • How much freedom did people have in choosing colors? 
  • Is there some way that entire families (including children) could be involved in painting as well?
  • How will this heavy piece be supported on the wall?

The main question, however, was what this thing was going to look like! Through God's providence, I was able to meld several ideas that had been initially posed: Connecting, a cross, the church's logo (a tree). The unifying design motif stands to the side of the stage. It is a cross, embellished with stained glass, that was a round stained-glass window in the church's original building. I sensed it rendering identity and continuity to the church. If you think of the shape of those four scallops that are inverted around the cross and draw a circle around them, you're left with four leaf-like shapes. Leaf-like shapes--it was the cross and the tree connected in one design motif! This is how we came to the tile image the congregation would paint. The other, large cross outlined in the 20x12 foot piece was incorporated as the connector of these shapes, serving as the trunk of the tree. 

If I know my audience, you like visuals! (Why else would you follow this blog?!) And if you know me, you know that I'm right there with you... and that I like lists. So let me bread it down picture-style!
  1. Much concepting. Once I landed on the main motif to carry the weight of resonance with this piece (more on that later), I spent a lot of time just simmering on some revolving concepts. 
  2. I found such beauty in the Revelation 22. The passage describes a tree in the new heavens and the new earth that is on either side of a river of glass that flows from the thrown of the God the Father and God the Son. It ends with beckons from the Spirit and the bride, saying "Come!" welcoming the hearer to the free gift of the water of life.
  3. Being that our church's logo prominently shows a tree, the key verse that stuck in my head rang, “and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” I find that it resonates with the heart of the mission of our church.
  4. I had two days to add finishing touches. It was my goal to make the piece look more like art and less like a community puzzle. I used a technique of slathering on paint and gel medium and then covering it with cling wrap. 
  5. I shaped the wrap to look more "bark-like" in texture and then peeled it off to dry.
  6. More layers of texture followed. I used my palate knife to scrape on. 
  7. I placed masking tape in bark groove patterns, painted, and then removed them before the paint dried.
  8. I employed water + gel medium + paint to create drips.
  9. A stamp was created with the tile design so that each participant had a clear outline already stamped onto the tile they would paint.
  10. Ten color groupings were formed: five monochromatic plus five combinations. Each tile had an assigned color group, and each color grouping had a station where the participants could paint.
  11. I created a grid with each tile accounted for like a mega battleship board game. These were nail-gunned onto the wooden panels that served as a canvas.
  12. Children were given square sheets of thin birch to paint in a solid color of their choice. These were later cut out as matching leaf shapes. I enjoyed praying for these children by name as I glued the leaves on with wood glue.
  13. Gluing on the leaves was surprisingly time-consuming. I placed most of them this way, with corners meeting. 
  14. Lastly, I painted more leaves in gold throughout the piece to grant continuity to the piece. Before this, the cross (tree trunk) was the only painted part. Not having much time to paint the rest, I incorporated the painted leaves to help the piece look more cohesive. 
I am proud of our final piece. But I am even prouder of all of those involved. I have never been a part of a project where each person was so responsible for their contribution. I was so fortunate to be solely responsible for the creative direction and final touches. It is a lovely picture of the body of Christ where each component has a specific job to do and they do it with pride. 

I began this project asking if this was for me. I ended it knowing that indeed my role in it was. And being freed to service the components that were my fortè, while watching others serve in their specialties as carpenters, administrators  volunteers, leaders, affirmers, and creative contributors was a lesson in splendor. This piece shines in my eyes as I consider the many hands that served in it and took pride in it. It truly was a foretaste of a Restored Eden as Revelation 22 describes. And that is something more beautiful than anything that I could put on a canvas.

Keep painting,