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Shine ~ A Painting about Identity


Shine  by Sandra Martin Acrylic on 6x6 canvas

I recently completed this painting for an online course called “Unlocking the Heart of the Artist”, lead by Matt Tommey and Pattie Ann Hale of The Worship Studio. I took this course in 2012, but I wasn’t always able to connect or complete projects. Now I am encouraging others in the third season, but I’m also starting fresh as a student myself! I feel I am revisiting old ground where God began began a work of inner healing, but He’s also leading me into unexpected places as well.


Part of this assignment was to ask God to reveal a time in my life where someone did or said something to attack the core of my identity. As the painful memories were unearthed, I expressed the feelings in art. Since I am a visual artist, I chose to paint. But others could use their giftings in music, writing, poetry, etc. to express themselves. I knew it would be a difficult assignment and I wrestled with it for days. There were several attempts to focus on it, but also a resistance as well. I recognized that it just wasn’t the right timing, but I was anxious to begin.


The week before last, I was able to have a mini retreat, house-sitting for my bro-in-law and caring for his urban chickens. The house was peaceful and I had lots of quiet time during the day when my husband went to work. I felt a flow of creativity beginning to open up since there were less distractions, and so I worked on some simple projects unrelated to the assignment. This loosened me up and before I knew it, I felt God gently steering me towards the project. I looked at a stack of scrapbook paper laying next to the laptop.


The glittery butterfly paper with crackle finish lay on top. A scrap looked like a bodice on a gown and rested on another sheet. I quickly drew the rest of the gown first with my imagination and then a pencil. I cut the pieces out, shaped the bodice a bit more, and laid them aside. I knew they could be used on something…I just didn’t know what.


Later I took 4 canvases, 6×6 inches that had been languishing in the corner of my studio, plastic still on, for months. Somehow I could bear to open them. The thought of filling even a tiny canvas scared me. I was going through a creative block, paralyzed by perfectionism. I knew I was going to change that during my retreat.


I put some soaking music and worship on shuffle. The first song to play was 7×70 by Chris August. I silently thanked God for this song which I had never fully listened to before. It was so fitting as I allowed my mind to be prepared for dealing with past issues. (View lyrics here)


I lay all four canvases down and made a palette with pretty oranges, yellow, and pinks that I really loved. I began laying down color on each, not caring what the final project was going to be. Just prepping and covering up the scary blank white void. The creativity began to flow, and before I knew I was absorbed for several hours on a spontaneous painting I later named Aslan’s Symphony No. 1.


Next I wrote several promises and declarations of truth over my life in the wet paint using a bamboo skewer as a stylus. I knew that even though most of this wouldn’t be visible in the final piece, it was still an important layer of truth. 


Then I remembered the dress I cut out previously. Quick as a wink, I grabbed it and attached it to the canvas. Then I realized this would be an exploration for class. I began praying and asking the Lord to reveal incidents and memories related to an attack on my identity.


The pain surfaced first, and I began to express that on the canvas. I mixed an ochre yellow glaze to give the dress an aged look. It looked nice, but God wasn’t done. I remembered how I was always attracted to bright colors and patterns growing up. I had that desire to dress like an artist with creative flair, but I was also self-conscious and sensitive to the teasing of others, especially at school. People particularly made fun of me when I wore yellow, and somehow the yellow symbolized the brightness that God placed inside of me , but others didn’t necessarily appreciate or value. So I began to wear yellow or bright colors less and less, and choose earth tones and drab clothes to fade into the background at school. I didn’t want to be noticed. I wanted to be invisible. I also had people say things like “you smile too much”, and I sometimes would try to hide my smile around them.


So I began to add different colors to the dress, and it began to look very soiled and looked as if someone had waded through several feet of mud, especially around the bottom hemline. I resisted wanting to paint the dress ugly and soiled, but I knew I was simply filling the canvas with the feelings colored by my experiences as I felt those wounds fresh.


This took some time to process. I also began focusing on the background. I painted flowers, leaves and seed pods which looked like pomegranates (mentioned many times in Scripture). Pomegranates come up often in my work and symbolize fruitfulness because they contain many seeds. I look at pomegranates as all the treasures God deposited within my heart…His secrets, His wisdom, His revelation. I began feeling a sense of darkness though, on the left side, which represented all the experiences I’ve had so far in life. The ghostly dress seemed to be pressing forward, away from the past. I felt the despair of not feeling fruitful, both due to infertility issues as well as creatively. And yet all the while, I’m painting flowers and fruit that symbolizes fecundity. Golden healing leaves were falling from the sky.

Detail "Shine"

Detail “Shine”

At some point, I began feeling the pain lift, and I felt God releasing me to paint the dress beautifully, in rainbow transparent colors. The soiled garment no longer remained. She was dressed in the splendor of the bride in Psalm 45:13-15


The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold.

She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee.

With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the king’s palace.

Shine  by Sandra Martin Acrylic on 6x6 canvas

At my feet, beautiful things were growing underground. In my past, there were even good things and important lessons that came out of the painful experiences. God wastes nothing. I saw the precious seed being sown in the ground or waiting in the fruit and seed pods, stored up for harvests in the future.


I noticed a rainbow spectrum appearing to the left, so I added the green and blue to make the spectrum complete. Then I heard the song by Chris August play again. I entered in to worship and let the tears and forgiveness flow. I wrote 70×70 below a leaf, knowing that forgiveness is the key to healing the past, no matter how painful and traumatic or even how small an incident.


I thought is was interesting that the dress was in two pieces, but that is they way I felt led to glue them down. It showed a bit of the fragmentation I’ve felt in my identity…not feeling whole is some areas. I added a bright yellow “sash” to the middle to “connect” the two pieces symbolically. A few more details and adding the word Shine, and my painting was complete.


Afterwards, I reflected on the painting, and remembered a poignant passage in Zechariah 3. The prophet Zechariah had a vision of the high priest Joshua standing in filthy clothes. All the while Satan was hurling insults to further damage Joshua’s reputation and ultimately, his identity.


Zechariah 3:3, 4

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.


After restoring him and giving him promises concerning the priesthood (even related to the coming Messiah), another promise is given in v. 10:


“ ‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”


In this promise is a restoration of community as well as abundance and fruitfulness. In my painting, I believe that was the journey I took as well. From feeling soiled and rejected to being made clean and beautified in shining colors, a new sense of confidence and even sunny optimism restored. I believe I will walk in a greater sense of community as well…less isolated and having the ability to make new friends more easily. Through this restored sense of well-being and friendship, there will be an abundance of creative and spiritual fruit. I thank God for taking me through this healing process through art. I’m hopeful about the future.



*Note about the class: Unlocking the Heart of the Artist is currently in its third cycle (August 19 – December 8, 2013). A new class will most likely start up in Spring 2014. Check the website for more details.

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