A Word for the Mark-Makers

סַבְלָנוּת – Hebrew for “patience” or “longsuffering” (pronounced: sav-lah-NOOT)


Already stressed after working on a very taxing charcoal assignment, cramped in my Dad’s office-turned makeshift studio, I told my professor during my critique session that I hadn’t completed our last time-consuming drawing assignment. I intended to use my last homework skip and move on with my life.

“Do you think you could still finish it by Tuesday?” she asked.

“I started it, but I can’t promise, really. I tried experimenting with one pattern but ended up hating what I tried.” I shrugged, embarrassed. “I think I ruined it.”

She gave an enthusiastic smile over the video call. “Ohhh, you know what that means?”

Another shrug from me.

“If you don’t like how it looks now, you don’t have anything to lose by adding on and finishing it.”

I sighed and smiled, annoyed that she was right.

Despite enjoying my drawing class, I had planned to use a homework skip finishing this particular piece because it was originally intended to be completed after spring break—that intention was before I moved back home amid a pandemic and switched to online classes.

Realism and still-lifes are far from my forte or preference, but I was working hard at them in class. We’d been learning to draw what was in front of us without identifying things in our minds as just a chair or an apple. Professor Samuelson trained our eyes to instead see an interesting curve or line instead of the whole object. We’d done this assignment already once, long before spring break. Each of us chose a spot in the massive pile of objects we’d set up, sketched outlines of it, and then filled in every blank nook and cranny with inked textures and patterns, until the initial still-life was unrecognizable and otherworldly. I liked the result, but the process takes time, especially when you’re avoiding repeated patterns or you’re getting bored of doing the same thing for hours. Right after spring break, with motivation already lacking, I was supposed to finish this same process all over again.

texture drawing2 HeidiMelo watermark.jpg
The still life I set up, featuring my stuffed dog, Rudolph.

So I finished the last assignment by Tuesday. Do I absolutely adore the end result of the drawing I did?

No. But here’s why putting in the effort and completing it was still worth it: I sit down to draw for fun now, and I’m able to draw realism with less strain than ever before as someone with a naturally cartoony, inaccurate style. I’m now able to sit longer with drawings at a time and get more accurate results. I’m able to notice more minute details, something I already enjoyed drawing before class. My hands learn new ways to move my pen or brush across the page, new shapes to form, and new curves to recognize in a subject. I discover how a button nose is different from a downturned nose by one little line. I learn that darkening one spot in pencil will give a completely different effect than if it were a shade lighter—the darkening could go from a shadow under a person’s chin to a full-on beard with just a little extra pencil pressure. Professor Samuelson told us once that drawings often feel like a miracle. I think I understand that now, because as I focus more on the contours and lines running along my palm, I am amazed at the hand that materializes on the page in the end.

hand blue ink-HeidiMelo watermark.jpg

I know this isn’t a miracle—it’s various small actions (or lines) at a time, slowly forming something. Drawing doesn’t even always yield a beautiful result—but the process does. The process is the true miracle, and the result evidence of the journey.

Similarly, in life, maybe God’s grace and help to us amid slow process is the miracle, and the end result is the evidence of the miracle of grace. God desires more than the result for us; He desires us to yield the process, and the process is the walking we do with Him. He calls us to the good work of trusting, of waiting in tension for His will to be done and His kingdom to come. That all takes a good amount of patience. In my first texture drawing, I wrote the Hebrew word for “patience” about thirty times for one of my patterns because that’s what I needed in order to complete the drawing (It was also a joke about myself for choosing a difficult foreign language requirement and sticking with it. Hebrew saps my patience much faster than art, I can tell you that).

texture drawing1 HeidiMelo watermark.jpg
My first texture drawing. To quote Prof. Samuelson, “Oh that rope looks awesome. It’s like a candy rope I would want to eat at the movies.”

While home from college because of the pandemic, I’ve been having to learn and relearn the concept of patience (in all senses of the word):

Patience to love others well.

Patience to listen, even if I’m wanting to rush forward with my own words.

Patience with myself, when I fail to follow God well.

Patience to wait.

In the end, the results may not always be what thought I was walking towards, but the patience itself will have made me into someone more longsuffering (which, might I say, is a much better definition of “patient” than just “someone who waits a lot.” How good it is to be willing to suffer a while). The longsuffering nature equips us to keep trying and keep living in God’s grace when we fail. The longsuffering nature teaches us to keep believing, despite everything we feel and see, because we hope in the unseen. The longsuffering nature equips us to keep serving others even when things aren’t easy or convenient. The longsuffering nature equips us in short, to keep being willing with God.

Our lives are turned on their heads every day. Each day we recognize injustice and learn to combat racism; each day we remember we cannot hug loved ones for fear of sharing illness; and each day we feel wearier of conflict in this world, we will learn we are waiting in tension for something beyond better. This is hard truth to hang onto when every encouragement feels like a cliché, but if Christ is all we have, let’s act like it by writing and reading and drawing that thought amid the aches. Jesus is all we have. Jesus is all that pushes us on. Jesus is the greatest example of longsuffering and endurance. He knew what was coming at Golgotha and He kept going. He gathered all endurance from the Father in prayer so that we could do the same and believe in a completed, healed artwork.

Thus, I keep drawing on paper. I keep creating with the intention of remembrance, the driving force behind endurance. We need to remember God’s truth and things already taught us by the Spirit in order to keep pressing forward with patience—in order to keep loving, to keep obeying, to keep trusting, and to keep doing the hard, good work. Though I cannot understand the drawing as a whole at times, and I am only following His lead in the tiny markings I make, I know that God sees the greater picture. I see the beautiful curves of inked lines and dots, but I do not yet see the textured quilt of marks God has shaped into a more beautiful story. And that is okay. I will keep learning to be patient, because He is patient with me and my humanity. He offers me a heavenly mindset in order to trustingly picture the grand artwork yielded from the small markings. This is the only way I can take in the fullest textures of this life, each day and marking at a time, trusting there is more in His hands: I keep drawing.

Extra Encouragement

All my dreams have been weighing me down
Like an anchor to my bed–
I could live my life instead.

  • This episode of the Instrumental podcast with JJ Heller and Sara Groves as guest – She talks a lot about art-making in times of heartache and why it’s important. Sara also mentions her album Floodplains and it’s very good listening in these times, especially the track “This Cup.”
  • A podcast episode of Let’s Talk called, “Battling Discontentment” – A great talk with Jasmine Holmes, Melissa Kruger, and Jackie Hill Perry on discontentment (something that I think definitely hinders me from patience at times).
  • Pick a practice or craft that takes time this week and work at it, even if the result isn’t perfect. Learn a new song, spend 45 minutes drawing something slowly, line-by-line, or try making a new recipe. I’ve been trying to learn this dance routine (I most likely won’t ever nail it as it’s so hard, but it’s fun to try, and I get a good workout in the process).

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