Brunch with Winslow Homer and Whatever Else

 Brunch with Winslow Homer and Whatever Else

By David Costello


One of my favorite quotes from Winslow Homer is tacked to the wall in my studio, it reads; “When you paint, try to put down exactly what you see. Whatever else you have to offer will come out anyway.”

That quote from Homer has lodged itself in my spirit and it surfaces often at the oddest of times. It popped up recently as I was ordering breakfast at one of my favorite restaurants. When you find a place that makes great Eggs Benedict, on a consistent basis… well, you just keep going back. I’m not entirely sure why the quote came to mind at that moment, but this writing may serve as an explanation.

The “whatever else” in my opinion, is the heart of the matter. Of course as a visual artist “seeing” is important. But what one sees depends entirely on where one’s focus lies.

In the past five years my attention has turned to creating Landscapes. I am inspired by the beauty of nature that surrounds us here in Maine but my vision is not entirely directed there. I am convinced we can see more through the eyes of our hearts. The landscapes that shape our “whatever else’s” reside deep in the heart and can only be accessed by focusing there. What makes us uniquely us, is seen and experienced there.

Through the eyes of our hearts we sometimes see more clearly… for it is in our hearts where we find the substance of all our hopes, where we discover the evidence of things not seen. In essence, when an artist draws from this place, he is sourcing from what is invisible and making it visible – it’s the “whatever else” that makes the artwork unique and elevates it from being just a picture – it becomes an expression of the heart, and thus it reflects the essence of it’s creator.

Everyone has “whatever else” within them. Getting in touch with it though can be scary… often painful. The very phrase “whatever else” is descriptive and scary; It is all inclusive. Bundled there together are all the joys and all the painful brokenness - the victories as well as the failures of a human life.

“Whatever else” doesn’t just randomly show up in the work of an artist. Homer makes it sound easy, but its not. The artist must pay his dues by spending time embracing all that is found in that place where “whatever else” resides. It takes a lot of time and courage but healing can be found there. Regardless the subject matter, a successful work of art will always reflect the time spent in that place. In that sense it is natural and effortless even unintentional, but it is a matter of being, not doing.

So why is Homer in my head when I order eggs? Perhaps “whatever else” is like Hollandaise sauce. The sauce transforms plain old poached eggs into Eggs Benedict. The sauce can be tricky to make, but the effort and time spent making it is well worth it. The sauce elevates the eggs from mere poached status and places them squarely above all egg dishes. It changes everything… breakfast becomes brunch and brunch includes exotic drinks that cause one not to care so much about the exorbitant bill.

An Egg becomes “Haute Cuisine” - A picture becomes “Fine Art.”




Eyes of the heart

“ Eye has not seen, nor ear heard

Nor have entered into the heart of man

The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”


But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.

I am convinced we can see more clearly through our hearts then through our eyes. We can see things with the eyes of the heart that we’ll never see with the eyes of the head. Because His Spirit lives in us, our hearts can see. We can see with our hearts what is invisible to our natural eyes – we can see into the spiritual realm.

The Lord has been teaching me recently to really look and not just with my eyes. To draw from my small faith tank, believing there is more in front of me then just what I see with my natural eyes.

I recently finished a drawing entitled “Wings of the Morning”. It’s been a long time since I heard the Lord’s voice that clearly while working, and what happened while working on this piece, excites my spirit yet baffles my mind…

There was a wonderful flow to the process of the work but having completed the foreground and the sky, I felt there was something missing in this landscape – something living. While pondering this dilemma the word “Geese” dropped into my spirit.

As the sky was already done I was now presented with a technical challenge. If this was an oil painting I could simply wait for the paint to dry, then paint the geese into the sky – but I was working with pastels. I needed to somehow get an outline of the geese onto the finished pastel sky. The only way I knew to accomplish this was to do the geese on tracing paper and then rub them down. This method of transferring images works good on clean paper but I’ve never had any success with it on paper already saturated with pastel. But for the lack of a better way, I gave it a try. The result was what I expected –  nothing. There was not a single trace of the geese in the sky. While considering my options I heard one word from the Lord; “Look”.

I looked and saw nothing. I looked closer. Now with my face six inches from the paper, I continued to look. What happened next defies reality, I was beginning to see the shape of one of the gooses heads, just that tiny portion, nothing else. I started to lightly trace the outline of the small head and as I progressed, more of the body outline was revealed to me until I had a complete outline of the goose. This process continued with all the geese one by one (except 2 would not materialize) leaving me with 12 geese, not the 14 I had on tracing paper.

Looking with my natural eyes, there was nothing there, but the eyes of my heart could see. With childlike faith I took the Lord at his word and simply looked, kept looking – until the eyes of my heart were opened to see into His realm. To see what was not visable.

What happened to me is exactly what Hebrews 11:1 speaks of concerning faith being the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The world has an expression: “Seeing is believing”. I think it is better said; “Believing is seeing”. If we believe in our hearts, we’ll see with the eys of our hearts. As his children we are called to do the impossible… see the invisible.

Keep looking – the view is magnificent!


Some thoughts on creativity...

What I share here is based on personal experience; it is what I’ve found to be true – for me. I am not suggesting that it should be true for everyone, or that there is some “formula” that will work universally. True creativity is birthed in freedom, free of all constraints and preconceptions – it is personal and individual.

I find that creativity is often linked to productivity. In my opinion one has nothing, or little, to do with the other. Pressure to produce can stifle creativity more effectively than any other influence. I’ll choose quality over quantity any day. I find that my most productive times are spent in waiting. “Receiving” is an integral component to “pouring out”, I find it impossible to do one without the other. I call my waiting times “soaking.”

The key to producing artwork that touches peoples spirit is found in intimacy with God - seek first His presence, spend time with Him. If we make knowing Him intimately our priority, the creativity will flow – its unavoidable. We are all gifted and talented to various degrees, but gifting and talent are not sufficient on their own to touch the spirit of a man. Gifting without Presence produces empty works. For a work to minister on a spiritual level, it must originate in the spirit. In this sense, I see myself as a translator, a facilitator so that God’s heart can be expressed. Time with Him… listening, is 90 percent of the creative process for me. Not crying out, but quietly listening. I find he is fond of speaking in whispers and I am hard of hearing.

Time. We live in a “drive thru” world expecting instant results. Don’t be in a hurry. God is not. Value the process, not the product. The benefits of my soaking times far out way any value of any artwork produced. The benefits of these times spent with him are in fact the gifts of the spirit spoken of in Galatians 5:22, Love, Joy, Peace… etc. These gifts will carry us further and take us to places unattainable by fame and fortune.

I remember working on a piece entitled “The Promise”; it is a picture of an angel standing in a wheat field. A wheat field sounds simple enough until you start actually drawing it and you discover that God cares intimately about each individual wheat kernel. There were times when I found the work tedious and I was often frustrated by the time consuming aspect of it all. What made matters worse was that there was a house being built across the street and I could see their daily progress from my studio window. They had framed the whole house, and I was still in the wheat field! But then God’s presence would come and time would simply disappear. Under those circumstances, I lost sight of the “end product” and simply reveled in the process. Most of the things we deem “important” have a way of fading into insignificance when His presence comes. By the way, when that happens, we need to throw out the rulebook and our agenda… things will flow better for us.

Fear. Imagination is a gift from God, do not fear it or dismiss it. What starts as a small thread, when followed, often leads straight to the heart of God. After all, we are the result of God’s greatest imagination. If our heart is set on things above, there is little chance of our imagination being hijacked.

It is human nature to want to know how things work, to have a plan and to follow it. We like to feel comfortable in our proficiency – forget about it. I have found that God works very differently than I do (thank goodness). He’ll show us what we don’t know about what we think we do… if we let him. There is a freedom in not knowing, opening a pathway for the creator of the universe to work through us – with us. I’m not saying one shouldn’t study and perfect one’s skills. By all means do! I’m simply saying one shouldn’t become so confident in ones own ability as to shut out “divine intervention.” The divine interventions are the best part, it’s where God puts his signature – we need to leave room for that! Trust in his leading. Wait for him to lead you with his gentle whispers and don’t get ahead of Him.

True creativity exists in freedom. Freedom can be scary… there are no double yellow lines, no GPS. As human beings we are not accustomed to such freedom, we are not comfortable with it and tend to want to box things in, make it familiar. We want a road map and “how to” instructions. I have found that just when I think I’ve “figured it out” God changes things up on me. What worked on the last drawing, simply won’t work on the present one. He has never asked me to do the same thing twice in the same way. I believe this is to keep me reliant on him. I wish I could supply the reader with some practical methods… the best I can offer is to stick with the Holy Spirit like glue, keep an open mind and an open heart – expect the unexpected. Creativity is a difficult thing to define really, I’m not sure it can be. Like God, I believe it is infinite. Creativity resides in the spirit, permeating every area of our lives. I don’t believe the evidence of creativity need necessarily take on a visual or audio form – it is way bigger than that. In that sense, I think it’s a lot like Love.

Identity. Finally, I would suggest becoming more childlike. All children are creative. Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Have fun! Let not what you do determine your identity. We are first and foremost all children of God. Our Father in heaven is the creator of creativity, simply stay close by His side - some of it will rub off. When my focus is solely on my art, I limit my vision – it becomes myopic. I try to keep my focus on creation and its creator. All my artwork flows from that relationship.



Having a gift is not enough...

Gifting without "Presence" will always produce empty works. The key to producing artwork that touches peoples spirit is found in intimacy with God. Seek first His Presence. Make knowing Him, and knowing His ways your priority - the art will flow...


Life is like a box of chocolates