About the "St. Dominic's Mural"

I was commissioned to create the “Unity Mural” or “St. Dominic’s Mural” for Shrine of St. Francis Xavier & Our Lady of Guadalupe/St. Dominic’s Parish in Grand Rapids, MI. The finished mural was blessed by Bishop Walkowiak on Dec. 11, 2018. The arching ‘M’ shaped clouds in the painting were a symbol that resounded and deepened in my heart as paint-layers amassed, signifying the protective and guiding embrace of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Throughout history the saints have stood on soft or rough patches of earth in situations of good or ill but in the company of she whose soul does magnify the Light of the World (Magnificat)—the mural’s design began with that Light radiating from the bosom of the Virgin. I penciled the humble St. Juan Diego knelt before Our Lady of Guadalupe and reflected on God the Father’s presence symbolized by rays of sun.

In a previous blog post I touched on the idea of being a vessel for God to work through. Now I realize more deeply that what I go through: the emotions, ideas, and experiences in my life during the time I am creating a work of art can all be meaningful and can enable me to fill the artwork with that meaning. In walking with the sufferings and joys of life, the inspirations that may come from my experiences can be imbued into the art I create.

Sketching at the Cincinnati Zoo

Drawing animals from life is a great way to learn. The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens has a variety of animals to draw from and a pleasant grounds to walk around. This Wednesday I spent the morning sketching with many talented illustrators from the local area through an event hosted by the Cincinnati Illustrators Group. Afterward we enjoyed Vietnamese cuisine at Pho Lang Thang in Findlay Market.

After lunch I wanted to get in some more sketching so I returned to the zoo, beginning my studies with the Reptile House. One of the zookeepers was showing visitors a Yellow Rat Snake, and I had the privilege of "posing as a tree" for the snake to feel comfortable around.

My sketches began with the Chinese Alligators whose habitat can be seen in the middle of the Reptile House (the space surrounded by a circular railing in the photo of me with the Yellow Rat Snake). I began with these interesting creatures because they don't really move around a lot, and you can really get into studying their visual form and detailed texture.

With animals that move around more, I found myself doing series of sketches portraying the various positions. Some of these aren't flattering, but they're good practice nonetheless (for instance: a back view of an elephant).

The owl in the top left is a Spectacled Owl and a personal favorite of mine. They're located by an entrance, so the owl would often turn its head to see who was coming in, which offered me a chance to create a few studies at different angles. To the right of the owl sketches is a lemur, and I kid you not, the cartoon-like physique is what they actually look like when seated (such funny and cute creatures). Several animals were found sleeping, like the Crocodile Monitor, Aardvark, and Polar Bear, which offered me more time to get a likeness.

My brother and his wife got me a satchel bag for Christmas to put my sketchbook and drawing tools in, and I'm already thoroughly enjoying it! In the past I've used a backpack or a nylon stuff sack, but the satchel is the perfect solution for sketching in practicality and aesthetics. The strap slings across the torso, so that the bag can be swung around to the front to access supplies. I love it! Thanks to the satchel bag, I'm looking forward even more to my next sketch outing.

How to draw?

A written reflection on drawing from college:

Drawing is a recording process. It is best not to rush through it. Drawing is seeing. It is an engaging mental process, through which much is learned of the nature of visuality. Drawing can be a process to increase the ability to accurately perceive objects but can also cultivate the ability to more quickly and more accurately understand concepts that are true about the visual nature of objects, environments and people. Drawing is a manifestation of sight. Sight is supraphysical. Sight brings forth understanding and knowledge. Drawing may simultaneously be a process of mechanical recording and conceptual recording. An answer to a how-to question should find credence in a concept foremost. A reader is introduced and prepared for a direct answer by reading first an explanation of the drawing concept.

To draw, there are many possible processes to choose from. A person may choose to focus on one, or engage in many. Lower processes combine to form higher ones and all processes behave as parts of a whole that productively relate to one another. Additionally drawing is a collective and accumulative activity, and expertise is obtained through trial and error. A person attempting to draw, with the determination to obtain a long term prize, will have many drawing sessions. Each will provide unique insights to be collected in an experiential database. Experience gained is both physical and mental, in that the brain develops and nourishes concepts, and in that the body, eyes, arms and hands cultivate a 3-dimensional physical awareness. Both parts lend aid to each other.

To continue answering the question, a structure must be used, although structure is unusual to a process which should be called creative. The following area of the answer will be ordered partially to illustrate possible mental and physical drawing processes:

As well, the following list will be hierarchical in order to divulge truthfully:

Technical Drawing: Technical drawing is mechanical, though not internally methodical. The goal is to understand the visual nature of seen environment, objects, and people. Many concepts surround technical drawing, and have done so for a very long time. In most cases drawing is considered an activity which produces 2-dimensional results from 3-dimensional observations. The world we are in is 3-dimensional, and sprouting from this are the main concepts revolving around technical drawing. In short, many of these concepts support each artist’s growing idea of their 3d environment. The simplest tool to use, inherent to all people, is the grid. Many people think of it 2-dimensionally though ultimately it is a 3-dimensional awareness. Our brains are wired, for lack of a better word, to know verticality and horizontality. These innate tools allow us to balance and orient our bodies safely and properly in 3-dimensional space.

Thus, we all are born with a sense of the vertical and horizontal. Geometry is a concept that naturally follows. When these two senses cooperate, the grid is born. The grid can be visually/conceptually subdivided infinitely, and as a person's power to visualize and conceptualize increases they are able to make creative calculations, enabling them to project or superimpose the grid in their mind's eye onto the direct visual input they receive from sight. This activity is crucial and should be considered central to technical drawing. It's an ability that grows and advances; possibly a task the brain can run nearly subconsciously. In fact, it's an ability that greatly advantages the mind's ability to envision.  More or less, the grid allows an artist to calculate distances and procure proportions. Geometric understanding couples with the grid to allow for highly complex calculations.

A beginner in technical drawing may strain and practice to push these abilities to the realm of second nature; that is indeed what happens over the course of much time and practice. The grid and the use of geometry in technical drawing allows for an improved understanding of the visual nature of things, though it is not the only tool necessary. It helps artists to understand shapes, proportions, and dimensions, and gain the skill to represent them, but it does not do much for the other aspects of the visual nature of things.


Another aspect is broadly termed: Lighting. Technical drawing should include the practice of representing value (light and dark). If technical drawing is done with pencil or another media that allows for variable mark-making by the change of applied pressure, value can be represented with ease. The mind will do well to build a proportional understanding of the media, in that a low percentage of applied force will produce strokes of lighter value that may represent those viewed areas of lighter value that the artist seeks to recreate (light), and in that a higher percentage of applied force will produce darker strokes that may represent darker areas. The activity referred to is commonly called "shading".

Though all of the above processes and ideas related to technical drawing sound mechanical and invariable, the actual process should not be. In short, technical drawing should be an activity during which the artist seeks to grasp the nature of visual reality in every possible way and to represent it with mark-making most accurately. This is the strict definition of technical drawing, and by it a person can learn much. The actual process, however, is in no way predictable because the resulting experiences are highly difficult to explain, and surely appear to each person differently. The process and associated concepts are made elastic by the enormous breadth of potential visual information and by the unique perceptions and mind-shapes of individuals. To create a situational proof that situation must be made by simplifying many things. For instance, a cup, if separated entirely from its surroundings, can be observed in the round from endless degrees/points of view and at variable distance. Although the ideal concepts and processes used to explore the visual world through technical drawing remain somewhat consistent, the course of experiential learning for an individual is unpredictable and promising.