Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saint Lucia’s Day Blessed Me with Light

I paint not by sight but by faith. Faith gives you sight—Amos Ferguson

Saint Lucia
Do you believe in miracles?

On this day, some twenty-odd years ago, after over 12 hours of hard labour, I rejoiced in God’s miracle of creation.  I gave birth to a beautiful son. A soul of brilliant light. My son was born on Saint Lucia’s Day, named after St. Lucy of Syracuse—the saint of light. A day celebrated as a National Day on the tiny island of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, named after its patron saint, St. Lucy. While I was laboring all night in a Vancouver hospital, the island of Saint Lucia gleamed in the brilliance of the National Festival of Lights and Renewal.

Saint Lucia is one of the earliest Christian martyrs. She was brutally killed by the Romans in 304 AD because of her religious beliefs, refusing to consecrate her marriage to a pagan. Lucia (which literally means light; lux, lucis) secretly brought food to the persecuted Catholics in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She wore candles on her head to liberate both hands so she could carry more. You can read more about the story here.

St. Lucia’s Day is a festival of lights primarily celebrated in Sweden, Norway and the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland on December 13th in honour of St. Lucia. The day is celebrated by choosing a girl to dress in a white dress with a crown of candles on her head as part of a carol-singing procession. The girl’s crown is made of Lingonberry branches, which are evergreen and symbolize new life in winter.

The festival marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Scandinavia and brings hope and light during the darkest time of the years. Scandinavian families celebrate the day with coffee and baked goods such as saffron bread (lussekatter) and ginger biscuits (pepparkakor).

In earlier times, when this festivity coincided with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, huge bonfires were constructed to scare off evil spirits and alter the course of the sun. Since the calendar reforms, her feast day became a festival of light. Celebrated most commonly in Scandinavia (with its long dark winters), Saint Lucia’s Day is a major feast day. The Italians also ostensibly celebrate this day, but emphasize a different aspect of her story. The devotions to light predate Christian times with pagan midwinter elements, centered on the annual struggle between light and darkness.

So, on this day, twelve days before Christmas and eight days before the shortest day of the year (the Winter Solstice), I celebrate my miracle.  The miracle of light, but also of chiaroscuro, where light and dark play to create enlightenment. Because, just as you cannot have “up” without “down”, you cannot have light without dark.

“At the place of darkest dark, the light in contrast is the most noticeable,” Marianne Hieb, author of Inner Journeying Through Art-Journaling (2005) tells us. She tells us that it is in the places of greatest contrast … “grace is waiting there for you.”

When my son was born, I was born too. So was my art. I was already creating. I had written some   
My little boy...
short stories and had published a few articles. But it wasn’t until my son was born that my creativity exploded. Became galvanized. Achieved meaning. Just as light helps define texture and form, my son helped me define my balance, movement, rhythm, contrast, emphasis, pattern and unity.

Marianne Hieb tells us that these are the very principles of design. Like the fabric of a fine tapestry, they hold aspects of creativity together and define our art.  Just as they define us.

...grows up
Balance: you find balance when you first walk, ride a bike, skate and ski. In art, balance refers to the distribution of visual weights. It is the visual equilibrium of the elements that comprise the entire image. Symmetrical balance is achieved when elements or sections of equal quality mirror each other. An example of asymmetrical balance with unequal elements would be a painting where one small intense color can balance a grouping of less intense and larger things. This provides excellent metaphor in journal representations and life-journeys. Think of the balances between irregular and simple shapes, intense and subdued colors. Think color, shape, size, texture, value when creating balance or showing the opposite. Balance can indicate movement and can also radiate out from a single point of focus.

Movement: A balance of movement and stillness exists in all works of art, in dance, in music, in painting, sculpture and literature. Says Hieb, “Shapes and colors move the eye most easily through the work. Lines provide visual passage or linkage. Your eyes follow the edges of darkness or edges of light. Visual movement leads your seeing through the work, to a point of focus.” Horizontal, vertical and diagonal are the three main types of visual movement. Horizontal movement usually conveys a calm or restful sense. If you use vertical movement, you may be expressing a feeling of firmness or stability or even growing. Diagonal movement often reflects action and swiftness.

Rhythm: Rhythm is the repetition of visual movement of color, shapes, lines, values, forms, spaces and textures. Movement and rhythm work together, says Hieb. Rhythms are present in all natural things and can be regular, irregular, staccato and progressive. Rhythm has the power of uniting and energizing images and themes, through implied connection and relationship.

Contrast: contrast is delivered through color, texture, and shape. Contrast creates visual excitement, drama. Says Hieb, “at the place of darkest dark, the light in contrast is the most noticeable … [in] the places of greatest contrast … grace is waiting there for you.” Contrast can exist in many forms: smooth vs. rough; light vs. dark; dry vs. wet; playful vs. dour; anger vs. forgiveness — just to name a few. Contrast is drama. It is a place of potential conflict, tension, and great enlightenment.

Emphasis:  Emphasis creates focus. You can emphasize color, shapes, direction or other art elements to achieve dominance, says Hieb. Given that each of these elements is significance with the psyche, what elements you chose to emphasize in your drawing or selection of art can give you additional insight to what was important to you or affecting you at the time. For instance, colors can reflect mood: red emphasizes and reflects passion or danger; green reflects nature and healing; orange is fun and warm; blue is cool and calming, etc. Shapes can be very symbolic. Researchers have shown that angular shapes are less apt to elevate feelings of comfort and well being then circular shapes, which engender feelings of safety, unity and harmony. Squares can reflect conformity and equality; triangles can suggest self-discovery and revelation; spirals can express creativity, and so on.

Pattern: A pattern is basically a recognizable series of elements. For instance, you experience patterns of activities and behavior. Patterns are the planned or random repetitions that occur in nature and in your life. They increase visual excitement. Patterns that occur in nature exhibit unique and exquisite beauty. Pattern — in shape, color, texture — can relate to one’s history, personal experiences, and choices. They can similarly reveal our reactions, reflections and feelings.

Proud Mom...
Unity: the use of a dominant color scheme or overall surface treatment creates a strong sense of unity. Unity provides the cohesive quality that makes an artwork feel complete and finished, says Hieb. “A subjective sense of oneness is the felt experience of the principle of unity,” she adds. Unity is achieved through the harmonious integration of the previous elements I named. What unity looks like will be unique to each individual and to their stage in their life journey.

Happy Birthday, Son. You are my light. 

My miracle.


Hieb, Marianne. 2005. Inner Journeying Through Art-Journaling. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London. 176pp.

Munteanu, Nina. 2013. The Journal Writer: Finding Your Voice. Pixl Press, Vancouver, British Columbia. 172pp.

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