I wanted to take her a special gift, something from my heart, so I thought I'd paint something. I thought of a fruit still life with her favorite grapes, watermelon and 'lopes, plus adding a scripture, but that fell short of inspiring me. I thought of doing a Zambezi River scene since she loves the deep colors of her African heritage. But the photo of the river did nothing but make me say, "Oh, that's pretty." It wasn't like she'd been there or talked of the Zambezi River. However, the photo I found did lead me to want to paint a seascape for her, and the first thing I thought of was Sandy Cove. It's a Christian camp/ retreat center on the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay where she and I went for an impromptu prayer retreat overnight a few years ago. Marilyn is the "prayingest" woman I know. A true intercessor.
She is also in great shape, being a runner and loving the track and field events (and still competing at her age!). So our prayer retreat of course included her idea of relaxing before midnight prayer: a 10-minute "burn session." (This was not something she had discussed when were planning our getaway. She's a wise woman.) Picture doing a cardio workout in a hotel room with an Olympic trainer when you're really thinking some decaf coffee and a donut would be a good segue into the throne room of heaven. Marilyn took out a stretchy rope with handles and made me step on it and stretch muscles in my arms. Muscles I didn't have before I got to Sandy Cove. She made me do knee lifts to my chin, which is all of seven inches. She made me run sprints in our hotel room, back and forth from window to door. I'm sure the people below were asking for their 99 bucks back. Actually, there was no "below." We were on the first floor, at sea level, with a beautiful view. But someone, somewhere, must've been saying, "I feel the earth movin' under my feet."
When that was over, we caught our breath, got our showers, and resumed prayer. Marilyn kept moving; she paces when she prays. I, on the other hand, didn't want to make God nervous, so I sat on the foot of the bed. We prayed about everything we could think of, starting with me being able to walk the next day. Mercy! We prayed about everything from children to church to marriage to spiritual gifts to the purchase of a home for her family. We cried. We laughed. We took potty breaks because we're women of a certain age. We prayed some more, and then, at last, around 1:15 a.m., we finally fell asleep.
The next morning we slept till past the breakfast service so decided impromptu to fast till lunch. (Not a spiritual decision, mind you. Our choices were vending machine and McDonald's.) We went outside to find a quiet place to sit and talk and pray while watching sailboats on the water and hear gulls overhead. There was a lone, shiny green bench at the crest of a knoll just a few feet above the tiny beach, somewhat under a shade tree. The leaves were full and green, the grass was green, the water was blue-grey, and the sky at midmorning was yellow and pink. We agreed to pray with our eyes open because it was just too magnificent a view to pray with closed eyes. God would hear us either way
Fast forward to Saturday night. I drew a quick sketch of the scene I best remembered--that of the morning view of the bay at Sandy Cove from the bench. (If you open the photo you'll see an aerial view of the campus. Look at the cluster of trees near the main walkway toward the water. Under one of those sprawling oak trees is a green bench where Marilyn and I sat for morning prayer.)
Then I painted the scene with acrylics (Grumbacher brand). The only artistic license I took was to change the bench from green to red. A green bench under a green tree on green grass would not have drawn the eye in nearly as much. I learned from a seascape painter in Maine that he often puts red doors on seaside cottages in his paintings for that reason. Gathering tips from pros hither and yon has become a hobby all its own. Gotta love getting knowledge for free.
Another tip I read Saturday was to combine all the colors from the painting into the sand--tiny hints of blue, green, grey, yellow, brown, orange, whatever. It's so subtle amidst the dominant sand color, but doing this trick brings all the colors together in the foreground. The eye perceives a unified painting.
Yet another painting tip is to ask for critique from a 10-year-old artist who happens to be your son. I asked,"Tell me what time of day this scene is."
He first said, "6 a.m."
I told him it was supposed to be 9 or 10 a.m.
He said, "Easy, then. Add more yellow."
I did, and asked him 10 minutes later, "So...what time is it now?"
He said, "Turn around and look at the clock."
" No, no, smarty pants, what time is it in the painting?"
Now, you're probably wondering Marilyn's reaction to her birthday painting from me. I was really hoping she'd instantly recognize the scene. If not, I'd never paint for another person again.
She opened my painting and said, "Hey! You know what this reminds me of? Our prayer retreat at Sandy Cove! Remember? Just you and me? That was such a great memory!"
But guess what? When you paint until midnight, your brain gets foggy. I forgot to take a picture of
the painting I titled "A Sandy Cove Memory." Nonetheless, I won't soon forget the power of prayer, friendship, and stretchy ropes applied to flabby arm muscles.