Bushed is what I was. Physically and creatively bushed after four days of loading and unloading our van with rolls of fabric, river rocks, glass stones, masks, paper sculpture birds and fish, and painted water bottles to be morphed into the creation story, a well and river of living water, the raising of Lazarus, and the tree of life. Plus a suitcase of art examples and bags of art supplies for three extended art workshops. It had been a glorious week, but by this last Thursday evening I was beyond tired.

I had served as the artist/theologian in residence for the Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry held in Santa Barbara, a role I will be reprising back at Princeton in April. But, to tell you the truth, I’ve been a bit anxious about the gig back East. It’s not like I can pack my van with all my usual “goodies” and drive home for more stuff when the inspiration hits. I’ll be shipping some stuff, and making requests for other things. But mostly I’ll have to rely on the as yet unseen resources that will be on hand.  That’s all a little unnerving for someone who likes crossing her “t”s and dotting her “i”s. That’s what made the collage art retreat I attended so spot-on enjoyable this weekend.

Taking the instructor at her word that everything would be provided, I arrived Friday afternoon nearly empty-handed. The sum total of my art supplies consisted of a silver Edwardian hair pin case belonging to my grandmother and a set of used guitar strings given to me by Scott, one of the extremely gifted Forum musicians with the comment, “See what you can create with these.” Coming to an art event empty-handed was a new experience for me, but I was so tired my creative tank was on empty, and there was no other way to arrive than with two totally unrelated treasures in hand. And the hope that something inspiring might happen over the next two days.

Reconnecting with friends, delicious appetizers served by Connie, our C Gallery owner/hostess, lovely poetry, wine tasting and more fabulous food at Camp Alamo 1 revived my soul considerably, but I was still fairly brain dead creatively when we settled into our evening session at the art studio. I sorted listlessly through papers and bric a brac collecting a little of this and a little of that. Mostly I sat watching others and marveling at how uninspired I felt.  Dessert revived me briefly, but really, this was so NOT me!

Even after a so-so night’s sleep, I was raring to gather papers and paste and begin creating. By late morning I was putting the finishing touches on “Arabesque” and contemplating my next composition using the left over scraps from the one just completed. Mid-afternoon I was out of creative steam again, but still had enough time to create a third bricolage – a three-dimensional work created from a diverse range of things that just happen to be handy.

The thought of combing through possible papers and assorted odds and ends seemed daunting so I turned to the dear friend who’d come with me and enthused, “Trudi! Let’s play Chopped. You know, the cooking show where the participants are given four weird ingredients to combine with other items from the kitchen pantry to create a winning dish in hopes of becoming the Chopped Champion and walking away with $10,000.” Trudi cocked her head with an inquisitive look. “You give me four different things and I have to use all of them in my bricolage.”

Items flew over our work tables – painted and stamped paper toweling, randomly painted sandwich wrap paper, green and white tractor feed computer paper, an old newspaper article and photo of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr’s secret wedding, and a stencil of round dots. Amazingly, I knew instantaneously what I would create with these bizarrely random items at hand! Beyond the black stenciled dots, the final touches added included a doily from the dessert tray at lunch, rusted, crushed bottle caps and a copper water lily – a flower symbolic of rebirth.

The image “Spot-on” at the top of the post  has been just that. While I certainly experienced a “rebirth” of creativity over the weekend, it has been a spot-on opportunity to experience creating something out of almost nothing. And perfect preparation for the Princeton Forum in April. No more anxiety about going empty-handed. Just looking forward to the “chopped challenge” of creating visual worship with whatever surprising resource get thrown my way.

Have you ever gone into an experience empty-handed? If you experienced an element of rebirth, how would you describe that? If you were to create an art piece of that experience, what would your spot on image of emptiness and rebirth look like?  What would be the title of your creation?

Looking forward to your “spot-on” comments.




4 comments to Empty-Handed

  • One of the most memorable messages of impact for me, was at a Biola Writer’s conference where David Kopp spoke on
    “Writing Empty Like An Open Hand”. He grew up in Africa and used monkeys as his illustration. If you want
    to catch a monkey you take a gord, make a tiny hole in it and fill it with tiny rocks of whatever is at hand.
    The monkey will put his hand in the gord, swoop up the stuff inside his fist and close his fist, thus he can’t
    get his hand out. When he tries to run away from you, the gord slows his pace and you catch him.

    David’s point was that we have to let go of the stuff we assume is valuable, and offer to God an empty hand. We are vulnerable to capture when we have our fists closed around something, anything.

    Creativity often comes by offering God an empty place to fill with Himself.

  • Robin Rice

    I have experienced the pressure to “create on demand” when at a workshop. I found a way years ago to give myself permission to NOT CREATE, but to experience. The creation is just an object which is a visual icon of the experience. It may become unwanted at home. So why stress over it? If I am in this kind of “mood,” I spend the time looking at what others are doing, feeling their energy and being happy with my time. Works for me! (But I have to say, Lynne, I love your creation).

  • Deanna Bowling

    I love the pieces you were able to create without a ready supply of artistic product. I think I’ve said this before, but I often find that my “creations” often take on a life of their own.

  • Erin Thomas


    I was witness to your creativity in Santa Barbara. I will admit, that when you (and others) were putting together the Tree of Life, I was not really interested in it. Yes, it was beautiful, but I was seeing it out of context. And I was tired too, so my creative brain was not working well.

    But, when all the elements came together, it was amazing. I could FEEL the river flow and imagine the birds going in and out of the Tree of Life. Fantastic.

    Creativity on demand is a challenge. But going with empty hands, brain, inspiration is a gift…truly for we are completely dependent on the Creator to re-fill us and re-shape us and re-make us once again.

    Thanks for sharing this post.


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