Thanksgiving…to Whom?

Thanksgiving…to Whom?

It’s that time of year again.
The trees have shed their leaves, the cold and frost have settled down on our lawns, the hunters are busy. The cooks in the kitchen are getting their turkeys thawed out, the sweet potatoes ready, the pumpkins prepared for a lavish meal fit for a king.
I love it.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. I love the food, I love the family get-togethers and great conversation. I love the fact that it’s a time of year especially set aside to give thanks.
If you can get past the constant barrage of Black Friday ads, you’ll hear people right now urging us to stop and be thankful for all the things we have.
That’s great; we should.
But the question is not so much what are we giving thanks for, but rather…
Who are we giving thanks to?
Let’s face it: God is not popular in our popular culture today. We’ve become self-sufficient,  we say we don’t need Him, He doesn’t exist, and pushed Him off the side. Or, we’ve reinvented Him, despite the fact that He already tells us who He is, right out of the pages of His word, the Bible.
But the tradition of Thanksgiving, founded centuries ago in this country remains. And we like our traditions. So, if we slow down enough to reflect on our lives, we pause and give thanks, because, well…it’s Thanksgiving…it’s what you do.
Let me ask you a question: Fast-foward a few weeks and let’s say it’s Christmas. You give me a nicely wrapped, meaningful gift. What would you expect me to say?
“Thank you,” of course.
Now imagine this: You give me the same gift. This time, I take the gift, without one word of appreciation to you.
Then, later on, I unwrap the gift. It turns out to be a really nice scroll-saw. I use the saw, create an elaborate piece of woodwork, and boast to my friends about how much time and skill it took to create this masterpiece.
And then one day out of the year, because it was the popular thing to do, I tell my friends, “I thank my lucky stars I was able to create this masterpiece.”
How would you feel?
It would be completely insulting to you.
But, as a culture, this is what we do with God. We have received everything from Him: life, health, resources–the stuff we use to create a comfortable living.
Instead of thanking him for those things, acknowledging that they came from Him, we congratulate ourselves for being clever enough to use the substance He made, again failing to recognize that He gave us the strength and intelligence in the first place to manipulate those raw materials into beautiful, functional amenities.
Thanksgiving must be directed first to the person who should receive the thanks, or it’s pointless.
In the past, I’ve written out thank you cards to people and forgotten to send them out.
Wasted time.
Until I put the address on the envelope, stamp it, and put in the box, it does no good to the recipient.
Sure, having an overall thankful, positive attitude is beneficial psychologically and physiologically; I won’t argue that. But, can I say this? That attitude is selfish. Thanksgiving really isn’t true thanksgiving until it is actually given to one who should receive it.
However, true thanksgiving does us good too. And on the flip side, failing to do it, does us bad. The apostle Paul wrote in his book to the Romans and he said this about the culture at large, “who, although they knew God, did not glorify Him as God, neither were they thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Every wrong and wicked thing in this world can be traced back to a lack of thanks to God. A lack of appreciation, a lack of contentedness causes us to wither inside and say and do things that we later come to regret.
Having too much and not being thankful for it can cause us a world of hurt. When we’re comfortable and all our physical needs are met, a spirit of complacency can take hold. We take our blessings for granted. That’s when, if we’re not careful, those blessings can be taken away from us, or even worse, our hearts can grow cold.
Surprisingly, it’s often in the low, dark places that thanksgiving rises up.
Yesterday, at church, I listened to a sound clip from a radio talk show commentating on the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquakes. The talk show host interviewed several doctors that were there in middle of the calamity trying their best to provide some measure of relief. They described feeling worthless as physicians, working over 30 hours straight to help in any way they could. Over 250,000 were dead and over 300,000 wounded. The smell of dying bodies, urine, bloody bandages, and filth assaulted their noses. The picture of mass human suffering was almost intolerable.
Then, during the despair, one lone person grabbed his guitar and started singing a song.
Soon, a few joined him, and then more. It caught like fire, and soon the whole crowd joined in the chorus. It was a song of joy, a song of exuberance.
“What were they singing?” the doctors wondered. “We found out,” they recounted,  “it was a song about Jesus. They were singing, ‘Thank You, Jesus, for loving us!'”
I could hardly hold back the tears as I listened. The song was so celebratory, so joyful. And to think, in the midst of this incredible suffering, people were thanking and praising God–for Jesus loving them!
Now, that’s Thanksgiving!
When you can thank God in the midst of a tremendous trial, that’s a true heart of worship. It’s beautiful.
"God is the Strength of My Heart", a concept sketch by pencil artist Matt

“God is the Strength of My Heart”, a concept sketch by pencil artist Matt Philleo.

The image shown here is a sketch I did that will be used for a future painting. The man is reaching out to God, in the middle of suffering, and offering thanks and praise to God. The idea is: “My flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)
I love that verse.
You want a good portion of turkey and stuffing this year? I know I do! But even better than that is a good portion of God.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good! says the Psalmist (Psalm 34:8). When you experience the presence of God through a thankful, joyful heart–there is nothing better than that. All the gold in the world seems like the dust you wipe off your shoe by comparison.
So this Thanksgiving, let us give thanks…to God. And then to each other.
It all starts with God.
Every breath, every heartbeat, every morsel of food, every sip of water, and ten-thousand blessings in addition to that, culminating with His greatest gift–the Lord Jesus Christ who came to bear our sins on the cross and restore our broken relationship with God–all have come from Him as a gift.
God has been so good to us!
All He wants, is the same thing we want when we give. Acknowledgment that it came from Him, and a genuine “Thank You.”
This is something we can do. It will touch God’s heart and enlarge ours. Let’s do it!
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
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Time to Move On

Time to Move On

I‘ve been doing art from my home part time for the past ten years and full time for the past two. It’s been great in many ways to work from home, to be available to help with household tasks from time to time, and get that tax break, but it has its limitations.
Sometimes clients would like to visit and see my studio. I’m glad for that, but when your studio is a small bedroom up some narrow, winding stairs in a small apartment, it makes it difficult to have visitors. Not that I’m complaining. I just went with the flow and worked with what I have.
My current 9' x 13' studio.

My current 9′ x 13′ studio. 6 1/2′ high; my head almost touches the ceiling!

But about a month ago, an opportunity for a more adequate studio space opened up.
I got an email from Jackie Boos, facilities director of the newly formed Artisan Forge Studios here in my city of Eau Claire, asking me to check out their new studio spaces for artists. A successful metal fabricator and sculpturist, Greg Johnson, bought the old MidState Trucking building on Clairemont Avenue recently and began converting the 20,000 square feet space into a potential melting pot of creativity where artists could work, hang out, meet with each other and people in the community.
I thought, “well, I should at least meet with Jackie, and if nothing else, at least I’ll learn about the place and get to know another person in the art world.”  In the back of my mind, though, I was thinking, “How much is studio rent going to cost me?”
Most studio/ office spaces in Eau Claire start at $1,000/ month.
Artisan Forge Studios

Artisan Forge Studios, 1107 W. Clairemont Ave, Eau Claire, WI. This is where I plan to open my studio in January 2016!

It was time to use my imagination.
Jackie was super-friendly and showed me the vision for the place, which Greg had bought about a month ago. (It still looked pretty rough.) But we artists know how to visualize things! Each artist would have their own private walled-in 12′ x 12′ studio space, WiFi and utilities included. There would be a coffee-shop style meeting place for artists and visitors to hang out. In addition, there would be spaces for artists to exhibit their work and other rooms available to teach or demonstrate.
I listened to her talk, and was very interested in the possibilities. “Great,” I was thinking, “but what’s the rent?”
“So the rent is $200 a month,” she said, as if answering my thoughts.
“Well that’s really affordable,” I replied.
“It’s also month-to-month leasing, too.”
Even better, I thought. Definitely gives you peace of mind that you’re not locked in for a year.
Yet with all of this–and I was very impressed with the potential space and possibilities to meet more customers and expand my art business–I still needed to be certain I was making a good decision. I don’t like to do things hastily.
So I prayed about it. For over a week. Even though it almost seemed like a no-brainer…
 
…I still had to check with God and make sure it’s what He wanted me to do.
 
Another consideration was: although the rent was super affordable, an extra $200 a month would still be tough to swing on my budget.
I got some direction through reading the Bible. I often ask God to speak to me through His word, and He does so many times. Several verses seemed to challenge me to walk in faith. However, I didn’t get the clear answer I was looking for, except a verse in Proverbs (24:6) that says you should ask for advice when making a decision.
Proverbs 24:6

Proverbs 24:6

So that’s what I did. The people I asked thought it was a great opportunity and I should go for it.
That was more confirmation I was heading in the right direction, but I needed a little more. Sometimes I think God has to hit me over with the head with stuff before I’ll act! But He is so merciful to me, even when I walk around in hesitation and ambiguity.
 
When God shows you the way, He will make a way.
I said, “Lord, I need to pay a down deposit on that rent. If this is your will for me to join Artisan Forge, please provide it for me by Wednesday.” I had to get back to Jackie by then and let her know if I was ready to commit. Well, I got a couple payments for a commission and a print on Tuesday and then Wednesday, almost down to the penny of what I needed. That was a green light!
Wait, not so fast.
The last thing that had to line up was my wife being in agreement on this. I told her a week prior that I wouldn’t sign on if she objected. She had some concerns about it and didn’t seem in favor of it originally. (The Bible says, “Can two walk together unless they be in agreement?”)
So I told her on Wednesday after the provision came in, “I think God is leading me to join Artisan Forge Studios.”
She gave me the nod. “Ok.” My wife is the more logical one, I’m the more emotional one in our relationship. So that reaction means she’s with me on it.
Now, with my wife on board…it’s a done deal.
I am so excited to be moving into my new studio space! I plan on moving in the beginning of January, after all the Christmas commotion has settled down. I’ll be sharing more about the space later, when I begin packing things up and start the process of moving in. In the meantime, I thank God for this new opportunity!
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New Drawings and the Encouragement of Companionship

New Drawings and the Encouragement of Companionship

The dog is a man’s best friend. We’ve heard that saying so many times that we don’t even think about why it’s true. What is it about dogs that make them such great companions?
Over the years, I have been commissioned to do many pet portraits. Every single one of them was of a dog, by the way.
Sorry, cat lovers. I’m sure there are a lot of you out there, but it seems that across the board, dogs win this contest, hands down.
( If any of you cat lovers would like to tip the scale onto your side, you can always commission me to do a portrait of your cat for you… )
Oh, and by the way, I like cats too.  😎
Here’s 3 reasons why dogs make great companions, and I think that why, as a portrait artist, I’m often asked to draw or paint them.
1. They are smart
Without question, dogs are extremely intelligent creatures. The things they can learn are amazing.
I believe God created dogs specifically for the purposes that we see them being utilized in today–friend, house protector, police work, assisting the disabled, therapy, hunting partners, even carrying things up in the frozen North.
This wasn’t just the product of chance or evolution. Their brains are wired to learn.
Blue Merle Pet Portrait

“Close to Chance,” a pet portrait of a Blue Merle, 16 x 20, colored pencil on paper, by artist Matt Philleo

2. They are accepting
One of the reasons why many feel so close to their dogs, is that these animals become very attached to their owners. They show affection primarily to one person–usually the one that brought them home the first time.
I remember my mom had a little Chihuahua/ Terrier named “Candy.” When my mom left the house, Candy would be sad, distraught. Eagerly, she would wait for mom to return home. Any time a car would slow down when passing by our house, Candy would get excited and go by the door, thinking any moment, it could be my mom.
When mom actually returned, you couldn’t contain the excitement! She would be jumping up and down, her little nails click-clacking on the floor, even whimpering little sounds of delight at the fact that her beloved owner was finally home again.
Somehow this makes me think of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, rose again, and is in heaven now, “away for a time.” But He will return and will live here on earth forever!
As a Christian, how eagerly am I waiting for the return of my Lord? How excited am I at the possibility that He could return at any moment? I have to say, our old dog Candy has me beat in that regard!
3. They are fiercely loyal
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous point about how dogs will often become attached to one person in the household. They stand up for and protect that person.
As some of you already know, I used to work for FilterQueen several years ago as vacuum/filtration service technician. I would be on the road all day long, traveling to customers’ homes to service their machines. I had a fear of dogs before taking the job, but the job cured that in a hurry!
I went to many country homes where the dogs roamed free. I learned quickly that you don’t approach a dog on his turf. You open your car door and wait for him to come to you and sniff you and make sure you’re OK.
One time, a bunch of mastiffs came out to greet me. These dogs have the kind of jaws and teeth that make you think of a bear trap. They sniffed me, jumped on me a little, and seemed really friendly. Once inside the home, the owner told me matter-of-factly, “They liked you. If they thought you were bad, they probably would have attacked you.” 
“I’m glad they liked me,” I said.
On a different occasion, I went to a country home where the dog would not come out to see me. He just stayed on the porch and barked. Nevertheless, I had to knock on the door, so I prayed a quick prayer and started approaching.
The dog growled.
I said, “Dog, it’s either you…or me!” I walked up the steps and the dog whimpered and ran under the porch.
“I guess it was you.” I thanked God and went up to knock on the door. I had to give the dog credit, though, for holding his ground as long as he did!
And now, about these drawings…
I did these series of portraits for a local client. She’s a former dog trainer and now has a kennel. I met her at the Falling Leaves Art Studio Tour that I’m a part of every year.
After a lot of back and forth discussion about how to get some good photos of her dogs to send me, I finally traveled out to her house for a photo shoot. She had two dogs, a beautiful Blue Merle, and a black lab.
Blue Merle pet portrait drawing

“Chance” a portrait of a Blue Merle, 16 x 20 colored pencil on paper by portrait artist Matt Philleo

It was a rainy day, and I was thinking, “how will I get any decent photos now?” We ended up going under the giant eaves of her garage, large enough to completely shelter us from the rain. But still, there was the problem of getting the excitable dogs to hold still.
My client knew what to do.
Black lab colored pencil portrait

“Spider,” a portrait of a black lab, 16 x 20, colored pencil on paper

She stood behind me, holding a doggie treat just over my head. The dogs fixed their attention on the treat, and I snapped a series of photos! With those excellent photos, I was able to capture enough detail to do two 16 x 20 colored pencil drawings, and an 8 x 10 closeup.
 
When I was finished, the client loved the drawings, especially the one of the Blue Merle. The black lab is older and may not be around too much longer. So doing these drawings commemorate two dogs, two companions that are very important to my client, and it brings her great encouragement to have these portraits in her home, where she can see them always!
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Be There

Be There

I want to talk today about taking time to enjoy the scenery around you.
How often are our minds actually present when we’re doing something? We usually think about the next place we have to go, the next meeting we have, the next person we need to meet, the next thing on our schedule, but how often do we actually interact with with what we’re doing at the time?
This is a painting I did–a mural for the Montessori School District in Eau Claire in their IMC,  their library. They asked me to paint a picture of these kids sitting on a bridge at the Rod and Gun park here in Eau Claire, and you can see they’re just enjoying themselves, their legs dangling over the edge, as they just look into the river and just take in the scenery and enjoy being with each other and being in nature.
The boy is scooping his hand down in the water,  trying to grab a frog, or touch a rock, or pick up some slimy piece of moss–but whatever this boy is doing–he’s just having a good old time.
He’s not worried about what’s going to be going on in the day– if he has any cares at all, he’s totally forgotten them, just sitting there looking at the scenery taking it in.
And I have to say I’m probably preaching to myself here… how many times do I sit at home when I should be totally engaging with my kids, spending time with them? Instead, I just work on something on the side–a project on the computer, something I think needs to get done. It’s seems so important, but it’s not nearly as important as spending time with my kids.
Montessori School IMC wall before mural

Montessori School IMC wall before mural

I think this is the American phenomenon…this phenomenon of being overworked, over-stimulated with technology–just having too many distractions that take our focus off of things that matter most in life which is relationships with people, relationships with with God. We try to multitask and do too many things at once.
And now I have to be totally transparent here: I am actually dictating this blog post, because I am working on a project that has a tight deadline and I am literally speaking this and transcribing this on my phone as I’m here sketching and working on this drawing that has to be done by tomorrow.
Fortunately, artwork for me is a right brain activity so I can literally draw or paint and talk and carry on a decent conversation all at the same time. Throwing in chewing gum with that I might not be able to handle it!
On the flip side, even though I have this super tight deadline; (at the time of creating this post) this drawing that has to be done by tomorrow– I still plan on going out to dinner tonight with my family to a mutual friends place, because I know that is that’s very important. I could justify it and say I have to get this done and, you know, I just have to get finished because it’s a tight deadline. But it’s much more important to put people and relationships first.
And you know, I can burn the midnight oil tonight.
That won’t kill me to do that for one night.
And when I get there and I’m enjoying that dinner I am NOT going to worry about getting this deadline done. I know it’s going to get done. But I’m just going to enjoy myself at that dinner and enjoy being with the people that all I’ll be with.
Now just to tell you a little bit more about the mural project–that took me about 2 months out of the summer I started it in the mid in mid June and got it done August 1st. But anyway, I had some challenges while working on the mural. Putting up the base coats didn’t turn out quite as I expected.
"Be There:" Mural, 8' x 34', Acrylic on masonry, by Matt Philleo, located at Montessori School, Eau Claire, WI, in progress

“Be There:” Mural, 8′ x 34′, Acrylic on masonry, located at Montessori School, Eau Claire, WI, by Matt Philleo, in progress

You know when you get your paint can mixed at the store and the color swatch on on the can looks a certain way but then when you actually put it up on the wall, it looks totally different than what you expected? Well that’s what happened to me–my base coat ended up being just a just a few shades off from what I wanted it to be– well, more like several shades off, and I found myself wanting to skip past that stage of where I was at– the in between stage of not looking so good.
 
I found myself not quite enjoying the process as much as I could have. But there were a few points where things really took off and I was really just enjoying being there and just painting the image and watching it come together, getting kind of involved in my technique. And eventually it did all come together at the end.
"Be There:" Mural, 8' x 34', Acrylic on masonry, by artist Matt Philleo, located at Montessori School, Eau Claire, WI, detail

“Be There:” Mural, 8′ x 34′, Acrylic on masonry, located at Montessori School, Eau Claire, WI, by artist Matt Philleo, detail

So I guess the point I’m trying to make is this…
 
Wherever you’re at,  just enjoy being there.
If you’re at work, find a way to enjoy being at work, to do your best job for your employer. I mean he’s paying you after all, so be there. Do an excellent job. And if you’re in nature and you’re you’re outside hunting camping or hiking,  shut off  your iPhone for a little bit.Just take in the scenery, enjoy it, because by shutting everything off you’re going to have a chance to be recharged in a way that you otherwise couldn’t, having that technology runningIf you’re home then be home and spend time with your family. Get to know them, engage with them, love on them, because at the end of it you’ll never regret that time you spend with your family.
Wherever you’re at, be there.
I think Jesus said this best: I’m going to paraphrase this, but He said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. You don’t know what a day is going to bring forth. Don’t worry about what you’re going to wear, what you’re going to eat, because your father knows you need those things, and he provides those for you. So don’t worry about tomorrow. Each day  has its own trouble to worry about. And then finally Bible says, “cast all your cares upon God because He cares for you.”
Share Your Thoughts!
If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave me your feedback below! I will personally get back to you. Can you help me spread the word? Please share this post with your family and friends by using the social media links on the left side or below. Thank you!
Just be there!
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