Smoldering Wick, Part 2: the Photo Shoot

Smoldering Wick, Part 2: the Photo Shoot

In a previous post, I shared before how when I was going through a difficult time, God encouraged me with a verse in Isaiah 42 that inspired the painting “Smoldering Wick.” I sketched out the idea, and then the sketch sat around for a few years before I got the chance to actually paint it.

Isaiah 42, the suffering servant, sketch

Original pencil sketch for “Smoldering Wick” by Matt Philleo

 

There were many distractions–a part time job, painting commissions, and my own procrastination. I wanted the painting to be just right. Waiting for the ideal circumstances, I delayed starting the project.

But finally, one day I realized unless I actually just took some steps to start the painting, it would never happen. So I asked my brother-in-law, Zach, to come over to my house for a photo shoot. Why a photo shoot? It’s not like I run a model agency! Here’s why…

When you are trying to do a realistic painting, you can’t just “invent” the realism.

At least I can’t. Maybe some can. But I think history bears out that the best realistic paintings of all time–like Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” or Caravaggio’s “Conversion of St. Paul” were painted using real-life models posed specifically for the artists to paint from.

In other words, they didn’t just paint from memory. They used a reference.

I am not comparing myself to either Rembrandt or Caravaggio, by the way. But their work inspires me.

One day then, Zach came over to my house, which I transformed into something like a theater stage or movie set. Well, one room at least. My wife gave me permission to do that for a few hours, as long as I put everything back in its place when I was done.

The “set” for “Smoldering Wick”

 

In the Victorian times, they had writing tables, simple and elegant. This is where the main character would be sitting. To recreate this look, I used a folded up plastic table and then made a fake top for it out of a piece of hardboard panel, which I painted to look like varnished woodgrain.

 

Then, I got my oil lamp ready, and made a fake doily (the knitted cloth things underneath that kept it from scuffing a table) for it out of paper.

My trusty oil lamp with a homemade paper doily.

 

Interestingly enough, back during those kerosene-light days, the servant would come along and tend to the lamps in a house. He would bring a small foldable wooden tray on legs, carrying his supplies–a wick trimmer, a metal debris tray to hold the ash,  a cloth to clean the chimney, and a can of kerosene. The servant would carefully trim off the burnt edges of the wick, raise it up higher, clean the soot off the chimney, and fill the lamp with fresh oil. The result would be a fresh flame that burns longer and brighter.

 

The wick trimming tray used by butlers in the 19th century

This symbolizes how God allows trials in our lives to “trim” the rough edges off of us.

Sometimes we hang onto to things that are worthless and keeping us from our full potential, from shining our light brightly. The wick trimmer is like the trial that cuts away the sins, the undesirable traits in us, and God employs this tool with precision, and masterful, loving care. His goal is not to hurt us, but to conform us to the image of Christ. And Jesus is the true Light of the World.

And to top it all off, Jesus said that when He would leave this earth, He would send the Comforter to us, that is, the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, the Spirit is often portrayed figuratively by oil.

For us today, the Holy Spirit is like that oil–an oil of gladness and joy– giving fuel to run on.

Without that joy, we will eventually burn out, even if we are busy doing great things.

Now, for the kerosene can, as a prop, I grabbed an old metal gasoline can from the shed.

Old metal gasoline can used as a reference for a kerosene container.

I created this butler’s tray using a foldable TV-dinner tray covered with a cardboard box that mimics the sides of the antique tray. Of course, when I painted it in the painting, I made it look like wood rather than cardboard. But the cardboard structure was enough to paint by. The wick trimmer’s debris tray was cardboard covered with aluminum foil.

My brother in law had his tuxedo on, a perfect look for a victorian-era servant, and I had a dress shirt with a vest, and combed my hair in an old-fashioned style, and even shaved my beard to look like 1870’s style mutton-chop sideburns!

Next, we mounted my DSLR camera to a tripod and snapped a series of photos. In all, we probably shot about 200. It takes a lot of photos just to get a few that turn out. With a low aperature and slow shutter setting, we were able to capture the light from the lamp very well. As long as we didn’t move much.

Zach Couture and Matt Philleo posing for the photo references used in the painting “Smoldering Wick,” 30 x 40, 2016, acrylic on canvas

I tried to think of the sadness of this man, and how I felt when I was discouraged.

As I played the part, some tears actually formed in my eyes, and I knew that was just the look I wanted in the painting to convey the despair, the loneliness, the longing of hope that he experienced just before the light of the truth dawned upon him.

Matt Philleo posing for “Smoldering Wick”

Zach did a fantastic job in posing for the servant. He portrayed a genuine compassion in both his facial expression, and his body language. The servant was to symbolize Jesus Christ without actually looking like the typical long-haired Jesus that we are so familiar with in the Western World.

Jesus is the suffering servant.

He was tempted in all points like we are, yet without sin. He is acquainted with sorrows, and knew what it was like to have people reject Him, hate Him, and ultimately kill Him. And so He can sympathize with our weaknesses with true compassion and mercy.

Zach Couture posing in an interesting but unused photo reference for “Smoldering Wick”

We won’t discover the fullness of Jesus, though, just by looking at a picture of Him. Although that may help, the true picture of Jesus is formed in words–the Bible.

When we read about all that He did for us on the cross in taking our sins upon His shoulders and rising again to give us new life, it fills us with joy (if we receive it) and what was darkness and despair now turns to light and hope. I see my role as an artist to highlight, or draw attention to the truths already proclaimed in the Word of God. It allows me to speak and share with people that may never read a Bible or are turned off by institutional Christianity.

Zach and I spent the better part of the afternoon doing the photo shoot, and I ended up with some wonderful images to work from as references. The last step at this stage was to go through the images on my computer and select the best ones to use for the actual painting.

Smoldering Wick, Isaiah 42, Jesus, suffering servant

Main photo reference for “Smoldering Wick”

By the way, you may have seen already on Facebook, but I do have prints of “Smoldering Wick” available for sale now. If you would like to purchase a copy, I will sign it and put it in a distinguished black and gold mat, with a clear plastic sleeve. This is a special limited edition printed up locally by Eau Claire Printing Co.; I am only making 50 prints total. I would love for you to have one! Here is more information on how to order.

Jesus, Isaiah 42:3, Smoldering wick, suffering servant, painting,

“Smoldering Wick,” 30 x 40, acrylic on canvas, 2016, by Matt Philleo

Signing a limited edition print of “Smoldering Wick”

 

In my next post, I will share more on the process of how I actually painted “Smoldering Wick…”

 

 

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If you have any comments or questions about what I wrote, please leave me your feedback below at the very bottom of the page! 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 side or at the bottom of this page. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

A Smoldering Wick He Will Not Snuff Out, Part 1

A Smoldering Wick He Will Not Snuff Out, Part 1

What do you do when you feel like you are at the end of your rope?

I recently finished a painting called “Smoldering Wick,” which I’ve shared on Facebook a little bit, and many people have asked what it is about.

Even though I just finished the painting just at the end of last year, the idea came to me several years ago. I was feeling discouraged about certain things in my life that weren’t measuring up, my failures and mistakes glaring me in the face, and I wondered if God could forgive me.

Many times when I feel this way, I get on my knees, open up my Bible in front of me and ask God to speak to me out of His word. Although I know God is forgiving and that He also will help me in all my discouragement and difficulties in life, I want to experience this forgiveness and goodness from God.

I want to know He is right there with me.

Some people may be able to, but I have a hard time shutting of the floodgate of my feelings. When I feel down, I can’t just put a smile on my face and pretend everything is OK when, inside, I feel like I’m drowning.

And I’ve found from experience that nobody knows me like God, not even myself.

And nobody cares to listen to me pour out the bitterness of my soul like God.

And nobody has the answers that I so desperately need like God.

And so this is what I do. I seek the Lord until He comes and reigns His righteousness on me. I know if I spend enough time there before Him, sooner or later, He will break through the hardness of my heart, or mind, and unbelief will melt away, and His light will cascade down upon me, breaking through the darkness.

And this all comes through His word, in the Bible.

So it was that one day, that I sought the Lord in my time of need, and I came across this promise in Isaiah 42:

Isaiah 42, the suffering servant, Jesus

Isaiah 42:3 ” A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out…”

 

In another translation it says, ” a bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out…”

As I came across this verse, my heart was lifted up with joy. I felt the presence of God right there with me!

I knew that if I had even a flicker of a flame left burning for Him, He would not snuff it out.

In context, this verse, written by the prophet Isaiah around 700 B.C. was speaking prophetically of Jesus, who would be that suffering servant, God come in human flesh, the One would know what it was like to experience our pain, and could sympathize with us when were weak and beaten down.

And that’s exactly what I felt that day. It didn’t matter what I was going through, really. The trial that brought me up to this point, even if it was my fault. (Which it probably was) All that mattered was, God was in the house! God was in the room with me! And in experiencing that intimacy with Him: of His love, His faithfulness, His mercy, His gentleness, His kindness–I had everything I needed.

And so I wanted to commemorate this moment. Back in the Bible times, when God showed up, the ancient Israelites would put up a monument or a memorial stone to help them remember what God did for them. And so in the same way, I wanted to paint a picture to commemorate how God brought such encouragement to me! Also, I thought, “this may bring encouragement to someone else, if they get a glimpse of how kind, how patient God is with us.”

So I sketched it out. The title “Smoldering Wick” came right away. And then I thought, “I need to pick a time where they would use kerosene lamps to illuminate what they were trying to see,” so I picked the Victorian era.

Isaiah 42, the suffering servant, sketch

Original pencil sketch for “Smoldering Wick” by Matt Philleo

The servant would symbolize Jesus, who shows compassion on us when we are discouraged.

I wanted the pose of the man to communicate that feeling, with his hand on his master’s shoulder. The man would be obviously distraught, but reading the Bible for comfort.

Because I wanted this to be a large painting with a ton of detail, it wouldn’t be started for another couple years after doing this sketch. I was still working part time at delivering newspapers and later working at a local recycling facility, and between that and commissioned artwork, I didn’t have a lot of time to work on one of my own paintings.

But I had the sketch, and the idea was recorded. When the time was right, the next step was to get together the photography for the painting, so that it would look realistic enough to convey the emotion and the concept to whoever looked at it.

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The Light of the World Shining in Our Darkness

The Light of the World Shining in Our Darkness

Several times, I have wanted to give up being an artist. The end of last month was the most recent time.
After Thanksgiving, we had our “Small Business Saturday” sales event at Artisan Forge Studios.
But the day before I was very discouraged. The month of October and especially November were slow months, with not a lot of art sales or commissions.
Rent was overdue.  Our landlord called, after getting a partial payment on rent, and he wanted to know when we would bring our account up to date. I didn’t know the answer to that question. I didn’t know what to do–and I had already tried everything I knew. I felt like throwing in the towel.
Sharing these sentiments with my wife, she matter-of-factly and truthfully advised:
“God has always provided. He’s not going to stop now.” 
Feeling just a tiny bit better, I went to bed.
Artisan Forge Studios, a place of collaboration, painting, sculpture and more!

Artisan Forge Studios, 1106 Mondovi Rd, Eau Claire

The morning of the show I prayed, “God you’re a big God, so I am going to pray a big prayer. I pray that I would sell ‘Smoldering Wick’ (my biggest and most detailed painting, a 30″ x 40″ ) today at the art show.”

 

There was only a trickle of people that came in. But I smiled even though I didn’t feel like it and talked about the painting and the message behind it to whoever showed interest. During the middle of the show, two middle-aged men came in, and drawn to the painting, they asked me what it was about. They listened openly to the spiritual message behind it, and although they didn’t seem to quite share the same perspective I had, they loved the luminosity of the brushwork and the compassion portrayed by the people within the picture.

 

Then, out of the blue, one man said to the other, “So, do you want to get it?”

 

My ears perked up. And I thought, What did I just hear you say?

 

And they discussed where they were going to put it, and if I took credit cards. I told them I could take their card on the spot with Square. So we rang up the sale and it went through! “Congratulations!” I told them as I shook their hands.

 

After they left, I prayed “Lord, what did you just do? I asked for that painting to sell and you answered!”

 

Well, needless to say, my family had rent money.

 

I later learned that the collectors of this painting  just happened “by chance” to show up at Artisan Forge Studios that Saturday, the day of the show.
Acrylic painting of realistic figures in Christian inspirational art

“Smoldering Wick”, 30 x 40, acrylic on canvas, 2016, by artist Matt Philleo of Eau Claire, in collector’s home.


The Lord has done this many times for us. You would think I wouldn’t worry, but I still often do. But my faith is growing little by little, and I’m amazed at what God does. And so, yes, it isn’t easy being a full time artist in some ways, but it’s an exciting ride! This is what I’ve been called to do. So I’m just stubborn enough to stick it out (with some encouragement from the right people) when many people maybe think I should have packed up my brushes a long time ago, and given up on the fantasy of being a full-time artist.

Although I’ve already posted some images of the painting on Facebook, I’ve had a lot of people ask what the painting “Smoldering Wick ” is all about. I will share more about that and the inspiration behind it down the road, but for now, I want to say it has everything to do with the “the Light of the World.”
Jesus is the “Light of the World.”
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” (Isaiah 9:2)
All of us were in darkness before Jesus came. Darkness in our sins, darkness in ignorance, or even willful disobedience. In my predicament here with the financial problem, I was in darkness. Not just the darkness of not having enough money to pay rent, but the despair of the feeling of hopelessness.  A lack of faith.
I think Jesus may have said to me, like He said to Peter, “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?”
Nevertheless, He answered my prayer. I didn’t feel so confident when I prayed it. But God, in His mercy, answered it. 
Now, should I have had more faith?
Yes.
But, God still answered my prayer, even with the little faith I had.  And so it gave me more cause to thank God for how kind He had been to me, as I realized I got far more than my feeble faith deserved.
My wife, who teaches the children’s Wednesday night Bible class at church, used a line as a metaphor for faith. She shot out a line with a sticky end and reeled in the object she desired as the kids watched. As long as she continued to reel, she would get what was attached to the end of the line. But if she set down the line, because reeling it in (or trying to get the object to stick) was too hard, she would never get the object at the end.
This is a powerful picture of faith and I still remember it.
It doesn’t take a rope to reel in a big fish. You just have to keep reeling it in with the line you have and not give up.
But, now, I want to say more about the object of our faith: there are many objects we want to pick up at the end of that line. But whatever the object is–maybe a better job, a nicer car, a relationship restored, healing for a disease, even forgiveness of our sins–and these all  may be good things to desire–ultimately the goal of receiving these transient things is to receive the true object of our faith, Jesus Christ. In other words, when we see how good He has been in answering our prayers and providing for our needs in the midst of the struggle, we will see Him more clearly. His generosity, His kindness, His consistency, His love, His power to deliver, His glory will be unfolded to us. When we see Jesus for who He is, we will be amazed. Our natural response will be to thank Him, to praise Him. And I don’t think there’s anything that pleases Him more, than when we rejoice at who He is.
Smoldering Wick, Bruised reed and the suffering servant,

“Smoldering Wick” 30 x 40, acrylic on canvas by painter Matt Philleo, with Isaiah 42

“In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1: 4-5)
None of us have ever seen God, but we do “see Him” as we experience His truth in the Bible, coming alive as we read, believe, meditate upon, and live it out. We stand upon His promises and we watch them come to pass.
Jesus said as recorded in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jesus will breathe life into the smoldering wick: the soul with a flickering flame that still yearns to burn brighter.
May God’s riches blessings come to you this Christmas, as the Light of the World shines brightly upon your path!

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Getting the Message Out

Getting the Message Out

This Thursday, I was excited to see the copy of the local paper, the Leader-Telegram, and the article they did on the book I illustrated, “The Boy in a Tree.” They did a great job in highlighting the main message of the book: being content, trusting God like a child, and seeing the value that people with special needs can offer the world.

The Saturday before, the author and I held a book signing event at Artisan Forge Studios, and we had a great time chatting with people interested in the story, listening to their stories, and eating too many cookies.

Special needs childrens book illustration

Author Pam Boodle and Illustrator Matt Philleo sign copies of “The Boy in a Tree” at Artisan Forge Studios in Eau Claire, December 3, 2016.

 

Special needs children's book event at Artisan Forge Studios

“The Boy in a Tree” book signing at Artisan Forge Studios in Eau Claire, December 3, 2016.

It was also neat that I had a chance to see an old friend that I worked with at Sears from years ago and catch up with him.

Today, a woman who had read the newspaper article walked into my studio and  bought two copies of “Boy in a Tree” from me. We chatted for several minutes, sharing stories about the children in our lives who have special needs, and talking about how thankful we are that societal attitudes have changed so much in the last few decades towards differently able people.

Children's book on special needs with full color illustration

“The Boy in a Tree” at Artisan Forge Studios in Eau Claire

I can recall a few years ago, when I had take take my son out of the store because he had a meltdown and, while trying my best to keep my composure, someone looked me in the eye and said, “Good job, dad.”

Just those three words made all the difference.

I thought, “this person gets it.” It gave me just a bit more of a spark, and I think helped ease the tension a bit. What an encouragement that person was.

So now when I’m in a store or other public place, and I see a child misbehaving, and I’m tempted to give a disapproving glance, or maybe even say something, I remember I don’t really know the child or the story behind that child. And, although I hate to say I was that judgmental person (I never said anything, but I sure thought it, and maybe I did give that ice cold glance unknowingly) since I’ve been there myself…

…it’s a different story now.

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The Dreams of the Elderly

The Dreams of the Elderly

Ours is a society of youth. Technology is constantly changing; everything seems to be getting faster.

We’re constantly looking for the latest young celebrity, while the older ones are being pushed off to the side to make room for the new.

And those who are old are being propped up to look younger, so that they can still be an acceptable part of society.

Years ago, we used to appreciate and respect the grey-haired for their wisdom. The older people were the living links to the past: they could share historical events first hand, what they learned, and pass it on to the next generation. But recently, we have increasingly diminished their role in society, often leaving them in nursing homes with little to no contact with family.

Over Thanksgiving break, we went to see my wife’s grandmother in the nursing home. Although she didn’t remember us very well, I think she was thrilled to see her children, and especially her great-grandchildren. Our two year old daughter connected with her over a stuffed animal that she shared with great-grandma. Earlier, I visited my grandmother in the nursing home before she passed away a couple years ago. I am glad I did, and now I don’t have any regrets. Now my grandmother, too, at the end, was not very lucid and so it was a bit awkward to visit.

But even though she couldn’t communicate, who knows how much ideas, hopes, and aspirations were still circulating within her mind?

Here is an excerpt from the book I illustrated, “The Boy in a Tree.”  As I’ve shared in the past, the story follows Nick, a boy with special needs who loves climbing trees throughout his life.

At the end of the book, we read how, as an old man, he is still dreaming…

 

Elderly person, children's book, Matt Philleo

Excerpt from “Boy in a Tree,” by Pamela Boodle and Illustrated by Matt Philleo, featuring Nick as an elderly man

 

Interestingly, the Bible shares that sentiment with us–that the elderly are vitally important, and have great ideas. They have excellent, lofty ideas that have been founded upon wisdom and experience–perhaps dreams that never made it to fruition–and now they lack the strength to carry them out.

It is for us in the next generation then, to carry on this torch, to retrieve the baton, and keep the vision of the previous generation alive. 

We see that with Moses passing the baton to Joshua, who finally entered the promise land in his lifetime, even though for his predecessor, it was only a dream.

We see that with Martin Luther King, Jr., who we all know from history had a dream that the white man and black man would stand together in equality and harmony. We’ve made steps toward that as a society, but obviously, as we see in current events, have a long, long way to go. Although he was not elderly at the time he gave his famous speech, if he were still alive, he would be an old man today and his dream would still most likely remain unfulfilled. But the dream is good, and the hope of it lives on.

We see that with Simeon, in the New Testament, who was waiting the long-promised Messiah, the deliverer of Israel. He dreamed that one day He would get to see this child that would the change the destiny of nations in person, and for him, the dream became reality, when Joseph and Mary entered the temple to perform the cleansing and dedication ritual for their Son. The elderly Simeon held baby Jesus of Nazareth in his arms, and he knew that his hopes of the healing of the nation of Israel–and the world would be realized.

Jesus is the fulfillment of all good dreams. 

Peace on earth, goodwill to men, and everything good that we long for, is found and will be found in Him–this perfect man and God, in the form a humble human servant, who ultimately demonstrated this posture of service in laying down his life for us on the cross, to bring us forgiveness of sin, and the restoration of humanity.

Finally, God Himself promised, “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)

Hear the dreams and aspirations of the elderly. Maybe these dreams can become your dreams too, and even become a reality in your life.

 

Boy in a Tree Childrens Book by Pamela Boodle and Matt Philleo

Excerpt from “Boy in a Tree,” by Pamela Boodle and Illustrated by Matt Philleo, featuring Nick climbing a tree

 

If you live near the Eau Claire area, the author of “The Boy in a Tree,” Pam Boodle and I would love to have you come and visit us at our book signing event this Saturday, December 3.  More about that here.

As we get into the Christmas season, may it be a blessed one for you and your family. 

All the best,

signature_200dpi

Matt

Share Your Thoughts!

If you have any comments or questions about what I wrote, 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 side or below. Thank you!

 

 

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