Prayer Painting: How to Meditate and Pray While Doing Art
Prayer painting is a way of meditating and praying while doing artwork. In this article, writer Lisa Tomarelli describes how she prays while participating in a painting class where people of all skill levels follow the step by step instructions of a teacher to create artwork. Each person is given the same size canvas, the same brushes and the same paint colors on a palette. They each paint on the same subject yet there are always unique variations according to how each person executes the painting.
Prayer painting has long been used as a means of prayer and meditation. Prayer painting has its historical roots in the ancient art of icon painting, where artists used similar subjects, compositions and symbolism to slowly and prayerfully create a painting of Christ or one of the saints. Fortunately these days you don’t have to be an artist to enjoy prayer painting as a form of meditation. You can attend a group art session like the one Lisa describes in this article.
Painting with a Prayer
Find a painting class in your area.
Painting with a Twist in my local area is a fun and relaxing painting class and party in one. Guests bring their favorite snacks and beverages to enjoy while creating their own paintings as taught by the local artist. I’m a little addicted, having participated in eight of these sessions so far. The creativity fires me up and tethers me more closely to God. For me, it’s more like Painting with a Prayer.
Starting with a clean canvas and a clean heart
We start with a clean white canvas, a paper plate palette containing blue, white, black, yellow and dark pink puddles, and two brushes. The first paintbrush is larger and wider, for broader paint strokes, and the second is thinner and pointier for the details.
When I pray, my clean heart and mind provide the canvas for the variety of colors God has given me for the day. My paintbrushes are made up of Bible verses I’ve studied over the years, with the broad strokes reminding me of God’s character, as in the Psalms and the Old Testament stories, and the smaller strokes fine-tuning the details of what I need to know for the day, as in the gospels and New Testament letters.
Let the rhythm of the brush strokes still your heart and mind for prayer
We cover our canvases boldly using the broad brush. I find it therapeutic to remember familiar verses likes “Be still and know that I am God.” Or “Do not fear, I am with you wherever you go.” Soon I’m breathing in the crisp scent of the paint, focusing in on the colors and relaxing to the rhythm of my brush strokes. Swishing the brush back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, as if I am enveloped in a warm, hand-crocheted blanket of my youth, cuddled into the corner of my sofa, calm yet engaged. The glistening shine of the paint promises new opportunities as my white canvas is slowly transformed. God, the foundation of my creativity, helps me to see new ways to use color, and new ways of tapping into my own character and purpose.
Learn the necessity and wisdom of waiting
Our next step at the painting party is to wait.
Waiting is hard. It’s necessary, though, since the first coat of paint needs to dry completely before proceeding. Eventually, I extract myself from my seat and take the time to walk around the studio. I stop focusing on the single rectangle of my canvas for a little while, and start to notice the world around me. I see the other painters, their paintings, and the studio. Walking around gives me a chance to see my painting from another perspective. My painting always looks better when I stop staring so closely.
Use painting as one of the endless possibilities of ways to pray
My color palette is limited but the possibilities are unending. Likewise, I am unlimited in finding ways to pray. I can choose a nature walk or yoga stretch, or use devotional books, Bible read-through plans, online sermons and so much more to guide my prayer focus.
Follow God’s step by step directions as you fill in the details of life
Next, it’s time to use the skinny brush to fill in the details. This is where it gets more interesting. At times, I don’t know what we’re trying to draw, but I continue to follow the teacher’s instructions. Step-by-step, we’re guided on how to finish the rest of the painting. “Use your four fingers from the right of the canvas,” to measure where to start the edge of the flower vase, and “two fingers up from the bottom,” to indicate where to finish painting the shadow. Shapes serve as visual tools, too; the instructor might suggest we paint a triangle, or rectangle, or football-shaped pattern. Soon I can see the bigger picture come together.
Similarly, when my pastor shares guidelines for biblical truths, I am given helpful perspectives to understand how to apply them in my own life. Stories shared from my pastor’s life also give me a better shape from which to understand his message more clearly.
Don’t try to be perfect. Instead thank God for your uniqueness.
The best part? We are often reminded in our painting sessions that it’s not about being perfect, but about being unique. My faith tapestry is unique, too. Many backgrounds and beliefs fill the room. While we are each creating the same painting, the outcomes will vary because of our individuality. It’s okay to be the same yet different.
At the end of the night, we each take a moment to sign our paintings. What a perfect reminder that there’s only one version of this painting with my name on it.
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Copyright Lisa Tomarelli 2017. All rights reserved.