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Sky Paintings

By: Ellyn Siftar

I’m a 45-year-old mother of four who has spent the past two decades of my life running a household, raising my kids, and working with children and youth in both educational and religious settings. 

Several years ago I discerned a call to complete my bachelor’s degree so that I could better serve my community.  I began taking a class or two a semester and then enrolled as a full-time student.  Writing papers and studying for exams was exhilarating but I also felt like I needed another way of learning, so I decided to take a drawing class.

While I had attended an art class or two as a teen, I knew little of the contemporary artists and had minimal experience with formal artistic practices. While the drawing class was lead by a fantastic artist who made each assignment intriguing, I found I was spending more time agonizing over my homework in that drawing class than any other class.  The work created a space in my brain and my spirit so that I became more attentive to the world around me.  I began to notice that I often take so many things for granted, like the texture of a fern or the shadows under the table at dusk, and the color of the sky. This summer, after realizing how intimidated I was by oil paints, I decided I was going to woo them into a loving relationship by making a daily rendezvous with them. 

Each day for forty-five days I selected a few colors and tried my hand at mixing a hue which seemed to match the sky at that moment.  In three colors or less, I painted with a brush or palette knife, on one small patch of canvas.  This color represented the spit of sky between the neighbors’ garages observable from my window.  I found myself slowing down. I noticed things about the sky I hadn’t been aware of since I was a child laying in the grass staring up at the clouds.  The daily act of loving attention changed my outlook for that day and beyond.  I carried this practice until classes began this fall.  The pressure of completing work for my senior thesis consumed me, and around the holidays I began to feel choked, so I felt a little nudge inside telling me to get back to painting.  I did a fourteen-day series and this time I was more methodical about cutting the paper and placing an undercoat before the sky colors.  This time the process flowed more easily. 

After the recent death of a dear friend, I began carving stone in his memory.  The stone was heavy and smooth.  I cried when I placed it in the bucket of water in my studio several days ago.  The weight of the loss was too much to bear.  I felt another nudge.  Five of the sky paintings were calling to stand above the memorial and make a place to which I could look up.  I am grateful for God’s voice in these moments, guiding and steading me along my path. 


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