Creating For the Excellencies of Him Who Called Us Into the Light
Amy Grimes, a member of The Cultivating Project, is a painter and storyteller–-or, more precisely, a “Story Painter.” Her imagination is richly influenced in the words and work of C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald, and her work is rooted in light, joy, and grace.
“Somehow we human beings are never happier than when we are expressing the deepest gifts that are truly us,” says author Os Guiness in the classic Calling: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. While listening to Amy share her love for God and how this love flows into her days filled with caring for family and friends, as well as painting and telling stories, I experienced the reality of his statement exemplified through her.
Amy truly is an artist who brings light into her work because she is full of love and light. In the Spring 2020 issue of Cultivating, Lancia Smith wrote, “Painting childlike scenes portraying ordinary elements gilded with wonder, mystery, and hope, her work shimmers with a quality of beauty and light that is rare in this world.” Throughout 2020, Cultivating readers enjoyed Amy’s commissioned “Lighting Candles By Starlight” painting series: “Receiving Life,” “Entering Fullness,” “Gathering in” and “Going Forth.” These pieces epitomized the spirit of Cultivating while introducing us to this wonderful artist.
You can learn more about Amy Grimes by perusing her website and following her on Instagram. Lucilla and the Snarly Skein and The Light Comes In, her first two picture storybooks, will be joined in the coming months by a couple more books she has illustrated, one written by Ann Voskamp. We look forward to sharing with our are readers more of Amy’s work and words throughout the upcoming year.
LB: We are wrapping up the summer season of Cultivating, with the theme of “Identity & Calling.” Before I ask you questions about calling and making, tell us a little about yourself.
AG: I’m a dreamer and a wonderer. I love stories—especially good beginnings that fill my mind with brilliant colors and the feeling of possibility. My mom read the Narnia books to me when I was young and some of George MacDonald’s books as well, and all those stories went down deep. They stirred and led my imagination down a path that I never left.
LB: Also, who are the people and what are the places God has given you? What takes up your days and fills your heart and mind as you go about them?
AG: God has given me an artist husband who has exactly the kind of artistic skills that I lack. We’re a team. He’s designed my books and he’s the reason my website looks nice and all my products have a “brand.” Everything would look and be sadly different if it weren’t for his beautiful attention to detail and his determination to get my artwork out into the world. God has given me wonderfully kind-hearted daughters, who are so different from one another it’s amazing they’re sisters.
Friendship is one of my favorite things in life. People are the ultimate stories! I try keep in touch with people for exactly that reason. I’m always wondering what comes next in their story. I like for them to fill in all the gaps for me and tell me everything. I’m still friends with two girls who were in my four year old preschool class! Can you believe that? I’m nearly always at home or else close by and often have to push myself to get out. My days are full but slow-paced, with mornings spent upstairs in a messy office beside a window that looks out to tangled tree branches and sky. That’s where I read my Bible, wonder, pray, and plan. And that’s where I package up fine art prints, books, and paintings to send out to customers. And it’s where I write.
Then I go down to my studio—a basement room with big windows that never let in quite enough light. People often ask me, “Is there enough light to paint down here?” And the answer is, maybe not but I really love it. I love the quiet and the cold, and I keep all the ceiling lights, lamps and cafe lights on. It’s cheery! I listen to stories as I paint: audio books, podcasts, and my favorite—friends who call to tell me all about their kids, their lives, their funny or happy or sad stories. In between upstairs office time and downstairs painting time I like to take long walks, sometimes alone or with my husband or daughters or dogs. Any walk is a good walk!
LB: How would you define or describe “calling” and how did you come to this definition or way of seeing it, especially in your life.
AG: I tend to think of “calling” in combination with God’s design. He designed me to light up when I read or hear great stories, and when I see beautiful colors and pictures. So, in every part of my life those things naturally show up. I believe they’d show up no matter what job I held, no matter the circumstances of my life. It’s no wonder, as a mom, I read so many books to my children and constantly pointed out clouds and places that gnomes might like to live and old trees and mushrooms. God gave me children, so I know He called me to be a parent, but by design I believe He also intended for me to be a creative parent.
From scripture I know that God calls me to glorify and worship Him. I think that leaning into the way He’s designed me can be a means of doing that. I feel drawn into worship when I’m outside under trees and clouds and when I’m reading or writing stories or painting. So for me, those things seem to be built-in gateways to worship. I imagine that, according to God’s design, others may be more easily drawn into worship by other means. I know that God supplies what we need for anything He calls us to do—whether it’s worship, or a particular job we’re working at, or even a trial we’re suffering through—even if we feel utterly lacking. And in those instances He proves that He’s always all that we need. But He’s also so kind to remember who we are, and who He made us to be. He gives us the gift of design that serves our calling.
LB: Today, what callings weigh more on your heart or ignite your imagination or take up the time of your hands and mind than others?
AG: I once listened to a sermon where the preacher talked about all the artwork that was burned during the time of The Reformation. He said that so many of those paintings had been created out of a desire to share the Bible with those who couldn’t read. And the artists had intended to make their paintings “too beautiful to ignore.” Those last words pounded in my mind. I wrote them down even though it was unnecessary as I would never forget them afterward. I knew they exactly described the deep desire of my heart. I want to give my very best effort to create artwork that is too beautiful to ignore, with the intention of telling people about the astonishing love and wonder of God. His character is so trustworthy! His presence is so comforting and more solid than anything in this world. I think of the verse in 1 Peter that talks about proclaiming “the excellencies of Him who has called you out of the darkness and into His marvelous light.” Everyone who has met God has that calling, it just looks different with each of us. That’s the calling that inspires me the most.
“I want to give my very best effort to create artwork that is too beautiful to ignore, with the intention of telling people about the astonishing love and wonder of God.”
LB: How do you name your creative calling? How does this calling interact with and influence your other callings?
AG: I took a pottery class years ago and noticed that the skills I learned there made my paintings better too. I think that’s how it is with callings. Everything God calls me to, builds every other thing He calls me to. Nothing is wasted. And I don’t have to fear that it will be wasted, because God is trustworthy. For instance, I’ve found that I’m a better wife and mother if I paint often. And when my daughters were little, and I couldn’t paint nearly as often as I wanted to, God used that waiting time to build creative ideas and teach me to be able to paint in little snatches of time.
LB: I have known other Christians who have wrestled with being a believer in Christ and also being an artist. Was this a struggle for you as you grew as an artist.
AG: I don’t think I’ve struggled with that concept. Analyzing it now, I think I’ve always viewed those two things—artist and Christian—simply as things that I am. No matter what I paint or write, I’m a Christian and it’s going to come out. I would have to intentionally lie to keep it hidden. So, as long as I’m an honest artist I will have to be a Christian one, whether I paint landscapes, angels, or fairytales.
LB: As you look at who you are as an artist now, can you share a couple highlights in your life – events or people who God used to form you as a creative maker and artist?
AG: In my parents’ house, when I was growing up, there was this big, blue clothbound book full of Maxfield Parrish’s artwork. He painted a lot of pictures in the first half of the 1900’s. I could not get enough of looking at that book! I learned to draw by copying those pages in pencil as a child. And in high school I was still drawing those pictures in my notebooks. Even now, his book—old and faded—is sitting open in my art studio helping me choose colors for my current work in progress.
I’ve already mentioned the stories my mom read to me when I was little and how they had an enormous impact on my imagination. In addition to those, the forest behind our house had a similar effect. Our house sat very low off the road so that you couldn’t see the roof until you started down the steep driveway. And the ground sloped on down beyond the house until it came to a forest and creek full of mossy rocks. On the other side of the creek, a mountain rose up like a high wall. The look of the place was so perfectly matched to the stories my mom read to me, and I would play make-believe down in the woods and the creek every day unless it was storming. That beautiful place still influences my paintings today.
“Everything God calls me to, builds every other thing He calls me to. Nothing is wasted. And I don’t have to fear that it will be wasted, because God is trustworthy.”
LB: Another subject that I have talked about with other artists, especially is the question of success. How would you define success? What has been your vision and goals as an artist and how has that evolved over time?
AG: I always wanted to write and illustrate books. I remember at one point feeling sudden deep sadness, thinking maybe I would never get to do that. I was selling artwork at the time and writing little bits of story to accompany each painting, and I loved doing that work. I love doing it still! But the idea of not ever writing or illustrating a book felt like the death of a dream. I shared my sadness with my husband and he immediately determined to make my dream a reality. What a gift! He’s a graphic designer and he told me to get the illustrations and story ready, and we’d make a book. Creating our first book was such a leap of faith. And the leap in and of itself felt like success. So, I would define success as actively reaching (or leaping) toward something beautiful.
I look at beautiful illustrations by long-ago artists just about every day. And when I paint, I’m reaching toward the kind of beauty I adore in those old illustrations. The reach itself is a victory. I don’t need to achieve an outcome that could compare to Maxfield Parrish’s lovely work or Kay Neilsen’s or Jon Bauer’s (all some of my favorites). Because success isn’t determined by comparison. I really think it’s about stepping forward, and reaching in faith and hope.
LB: I do love looking at your artwork and thinking about what might be happening in each image that I have gazed at and followed the details of. For me, I see an invitation to joy, comfort, adventure, and love coming through. I am drawn to how you add in light to your work. The mysterious thing to me about artists sharing their work is that they have something to communicate to the viewers but at the same time each viewer may “get” what the artist is sharing but also see other things. Both the artist and the viewer bring something to a piece of art work, thus influencing how the work is done and how it is interpreted. How do you respond/interact with this mystery? What do you hope people looking at your work see in your pieces?
AG: Thank you for your kind words! I often paint pictures with the direct intention to “declare the excellencies of Him who has brought me out of the darkness and into His marvelous light”. But when it comes to other people interpreting my artwork, I trust God with that mystery. Sometimes I think about how incredibly small I am. I’m small next to a tree, I’m tiny in the world, and I’m unimaginably minuscule in history. That really takes the pressure off! God is perfectly enormous in reference to everything else; and amazingly He cares about people. I don’t know how He will use one thing or another to draw people to Himself, but I’m thankful He can use anything. I do hope He uses my artwork to stir people’s hearts to consider Him. But I’m glad, too, that He can as easily use anything else for his purposes!
“…success isn’t determined by comparison. I really think it’s about stepping forward, and reaching in faith and hope.”
LB: Please highlight one or two inspirations – artists or paintings or illustrators or stories. For me, your work hints at the illustrations of Barbara Cooney if she worked in the realm of fairy.
AG: The illustrations of Maxfield Parrish and Gyo Fujikawa are a couple of artists who have inspired my artwork. The writings of C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald have inspired my imagination.
LB: Share a Bible verse and a quote (from a writer or story) that have been meaningful and helpful to you as a person busy with different callings, one being a creative art maker.
AG: I love the description of God in James 1:17 where it says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” Such a wonderful picture of God’s character! I’ve painted many pictures with that verse in my head. I also love a certain quote from George MacDonald’s “At the Back of the North Wind.” At this place in the story the little boy, whose name is Diamond, is having a conversation with his mother. She tells him that their cupboard is almost empty. Near the end of the conversation Diamond reflects, “I think there must be a big cupboard somewhere, out of which the little cupboards are filled…” That line has always struck me as being profoundly true. That even when we think we have nothing left to offer to God, ourselves or others, we’ve forgotten where all offerings come from. God provides whatever we’re meant to give. He provides time, inspiration, and patience—and the ability to forgive or to take the next step or even the next breath, all the way up to Glory.
The featured image of Amy Grimes is by her husband Russ Grimes and used with permission for Cultivating.
The images of the “Lighting Candles by Starlight” series are (c) Amy Grimes and used with kind permission.
Leslie Anne Bustard takes great joy in loving people and places, whether at church, around her kitchen table, in a classroom, or traveling around. She delights in words, and marvels at the beauty found in the details of ordinary life. Reading, writing, teaching literature, baking, producing high school theater, and museum-ing are some of Leslie’s favorite things. Leslie is the host of The Square Halo, a podcast for Square Halo Books and is developing a book titled Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to the Best Children’s Books. She and her husband Ned have been married for 30 years and live in a century-old row house in Lancaster City, where they raised their three daughters.
A Field Guide to Cultivating ~ Essentials to Cultivating a Whole Life, Rooted in Christ, and Flourishing in Fellowship
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