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Ink Slingers

A Catholic Sistas Interview with Artists Daniel Mitsui

This past month I was fortunate enough to interview artist Daniel Mitsui. With stunning and unique Catholic artwork, Daniel is an artist to notice. His meticulously detailed ink drawings are made entirely by hand on paper or calfskin vellum and are held in collections worldwide. Since his baptism in 2004, most of his artwork has been religious in nature.

Daniel was kind enough to answer my questions and share a little more about himself and his art…

For starters, your art is stunning. I knew this when I asked for the interview. However, I didn’t expect to find such enlightening lectures on your website. They are a treat to read. I particularly liked your lecture titled Heavenly Outlook.

In light of that work, I was wondering if you could more generally comment on the differences between secular art and Catholic art. How should a faithful Catholic approach and appreciate art found both inside and outside of the church?

Thank you.

I do not think that art can be cleanly divided into categories of Catholic and secular. I think you need to consider at the very least three categories. First, there is sacred art that is used in the formal worship of the Church, or that is at least appropriate to be used there: musical settings of the Mass ordinary, vestments, stained glass windows, illuminated Psalters, things like that. Second, there is religious art that is about the Old and New Testaments, or the lives of the saints, or Catholic doctrines and morals – but is not really meant to reside inside the sanctuary. That includes things like Christmas carols and picture book illustrations. And then there is art that is not explicitly religious. But that art might very well present a religious worldview, or teach some important lesson, and thus still be considered Catholic art.

Although most of my drawings are commissioned or bought by individuals and used for private devotion, I try to uphold certain principles that would place them in the first category. What distinguishes sacred art is that tradition and beauty have a special, glorified meaning. I wrote in the lecture you mentioned:

To make art ever more beautiful is not to take it away from its source in history, but to take it back to its source in Heaven. Sacred art does not have a geographic or chronological center; it has, rather, two foci, like a planetary orbit. These correspond to tradition and beauty. One is the foot of the Cross; the other is the Garden of Eden. -“Heavenly Outlook” by Daniel Mitsui

So tradition is more than a matter of respecting old ways; it is about carrying Divine Revelation forward through history. Sacred art is akin to the sacred liturgy and the writings of the Church Fathers. It is one of the means by which the memory of what Jesus Christ said and did in the presence of His Apostles was kept. For example, in sacred art, sacred liturgy and patristic exegesis, comparisons are constantly made between events of the Old Testament and events of the New Testament that they prefigure. This is not just poetic fancy; it is a way of thinking that Jesus Christ Himself taught: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

And beauty is more than a manner of pleasing the bodily senses. The appreciation of beautiful art and music is a vestige of our prelapsarian experience; it is a nostalgia for Paradise lost and a means of elevating our minds toward blessedness. Hugh of St. Victor, Suger of St. Denis and St. Hildegard of Bingen, three of the outstanding thinkers of the twelfth century, articulated this theology of beauty especially well.

In sacred art, both tradition and beauty are necessary. To neglect the former is to make sacred art into little more than a showy display.

To neglect the latter – to contend that so long as the art is traditional, it doesn’t really matter how beautiful it is – is a terrible diminution of its holy purpose. Very often, this is justified by a humbug idea of prayerfulness, an idea that to pray means to close your eyes and think pious thoughts to yourself, and nothing more. If this is the idea, then sacred art gets described as prayerful just for being easy to ignore. Any art that is especially beautiful, excellent, elaborate or interesting gets condemned as distracting because it actually compels you to open your eyes and ears and pay attention to it.

I really find this idea offensive. The backs of your eyelids are not windows into Heaven; they are mirrors back into your own imagination! Sacred art is supposed to lift you out of your own imagination, toward the spiritual realm.

Pulling from your lecture Invention and Exultation you are quoted saying, In our time, tradition is not a thing that is handed down so much as a thing that must be excavated. And once an artist begins to dig, he finds, in a different sense, altogether too much.

With this in mind, what do you think the contemporary Catholic artist’s role is in restoring or protecting the traditions of the faith? Do you think there are places for growth or renewal?  

What I was trying to say in that lecture is that tradition has an objective content, a content that anyone can discover. Elsewhere, I have written:

It is an all-too-common error for the faithful in the present day to confuse tradition itself with its legal enforcement by ecclesiastical authority- as though tradition were nothing more than a stack of documents bearing the correct signatures. This is an epistemological absurdity; the bishops who are tasked with writing these documents need to know what they know somehow! –“Heavenly Outlook” by Daniel Mitsui

A pope or bishop has no privy religious knowledge that is hidden from the rest of us. Insofar as he knows what is actually traditional, he knows it the same way that you or I do: based on evidence in the agreement of the Church Fathers, the law of worship and the ancient, universal practice of the faithful. The necessary keys to understanding it are the gifts of the Holy Ghost received at Baptism and Confirmation.

I think that a many of the Catholic faithful who are frustrated by bad art, bad music and bad architecture in their churches see no way to fix the problem except by having a pope or bishop write and sign and enforce a document condemning it. I don’t expect any such document to be forthcoming. If I did, I honestly would be terrified. A magisterial attempt to regulate sacred art can do far more to impede the creation of good artwork than bad. I am remembering especially the ruinous efforts of the bishop John Molaus in the late 16th century.

Hopefully, more and more of the faithful will realize that they do not need to wait for official permission to discover, preserve and restore what is actually traditional, or to make beautiful artwork that honors it – whether contributing as artists or patrons. Sacred art is one of the few endeavors that the Church has entrusted to laymen for a very long time, and that is today an advantage.

Your art is incredibly complex and detailed. What is your process? What tools do you use? How do choose the different symbolic pieces for your overall composition?

My preferred medium is ink drawing on calfskin vellum. I do not usually make rough drafts. I work out a composition in pencil on calfskin, then ink over the outlines using a metal-tipped dip pen. I use the pen to apply dark colors, and then paintbrushes to apply light ones. A knife is useful both for correcting mistakes and scratching additional details into the ink once it is dry.

Because calfskin is translucent, I sometimes draw details on the opposite side, in reverse; these can be seen faintly through the vellum, or more clearly when the drawing is held up to a light. Thus, the drawing has a different character depending on the angle and time of day that it is seen.

As for figuring out the appropriate symbolism, that is mostly a matter of preliminary research – into patristic commentaries, art historical writings and older works of art. A useful reference is the Biblia Pauperum, a book from the late Middle Ages that presents forty events from the life of Jesus Christ, each juxtaposed with two events in the Old Testament that prefigure it, and four prophecies.

Admittedly, I am quite a novice when it comes to appreciating and understanding both the devotional purposes of Catholic art and the regularly occurring symbolism that can be found around a church. Where should beginners start? Are there any resources you would suggest?

Some of the very best books for an introduction to the symbolism in sacred art are the trilogy written by the French art historian Emile Mâle, Religious Art in France of the Middle Ages. There is one volume on the 12th century, one on the 13th, and one on the late Middle Ages. All of these have been translated into English. The volume on the 13th century, sometimes titled The Gothic Image, is the most comprehensive, and the easiest to acquire. It has its flaws, but it holds up remarkably well for a scholarly work written a century ago. Another very valuable resource is The Golden Legend, a collection of saints’ lives and commentaries on liturgical feasts that was compiled in the 13th century by Blessed James of Voragine. An English translation by William Granger Ryan is in print.

Full transparency, I am a huge fan of your rosary coloring book. I have often used it as part of my own devotional practice. I am excited to share it with my children in the coming year. As a father, what is your advice when it comes to exposing children to Catholic art?

My purpose in teaching my children about art is not for them to appreciate art just so that they can one day sound smart talking about it! I rather want them to think of it as an ordinary and necessary part of their lives and something that they can themselves make. So in my home, we present holy pictures as familiar things: my kids kiss them goodnight and carry them in household processions. We place pictures around the yard for a little pilgrimage on All Saints’ Day; we hide a handwritten Alleluia sign before Septuagesima; we cover the statues with cloth during Passiontide.

My publisher is marketing my three coloring books (Mysteries of the Rosary, The Saints, and Christian Labyrinths) to adults, but I always thought of them as being for children also. My four kids all love to draw, and don’t need any special encouragement; but for kids who are less inclined, coloring books can be a way to encourage them to participate in art at an early age.

A lot of coloring books marketed to children, especially religious ones, have really insipid artwork and that, of course, defeats the whole purpose. Children appreciate artwork that is made with care and detail; they don’t actually want to look at things that look like they were drawn by other children! I hope to offer an alternative, both with my coloring books and the individual coloring pages available for download on my website,

I advise parents to keep an eye out for picture books on religious subjects that have especially fine illustrations, ones influenced by manuscript illumination or other traditional sacred art. Some favorites in our home include Mikhail Fiodorov’s Bible Stories, Maurice Boutet de Monvel’s Joan of Arc, Heidi Holder’s The Lord’s Prayer, Pamela Dalton’s The Story of Christmas, Barry Moser’s Moses, Tomie de Paola’s St. Francis and Gennady Spirin’s Creation. I care more about my children appreciating these illustrations and copying them than about their knowing the big famous names of art history.

Where can people connect with you?

My website is www.danielmitsui.com. This is where I display recent drawings, prints, and writings. I have accounts (Daniel Mitsui, Artist) on Facebook and Pinterest, and my e-mail is danielmitsuiartist@gmail.com. I am accepting commissions now.

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A Beautiful Woman Anni Feminine Vogue Ink Slingers Proverbs 31 Catholic Woman

Love As Christ Loved (Part 1): Recognizing Our Own Love, Light, and Goodness

Love As Christ Loved (Part 1): Recognizing Our Own Love, Light, and GoodnessGod is Love.

God is Light.

God is Goodness.

God’s arch-enemy, is determined to destroy all of God’s Creation – determined to destroy God’s love, His light, His goodness.

Humans are made in the image and likeness of our Creator. Therefore, it would stand to reason we are Love, we are Light, and we are Goodness.

And, Satan can’t stand that!

So, he’s been busy… trying to send us messages that we aren’t love, we aren’t light, and we aren’t goodness. He tries to convince us we aren’t able to be loved, aren’t able to shine lightness toward others, and that we can’t be good.

Nowhere is this more clear than the covert messages Satan sends women. Using media and social pressures, he tries to convince us that we are no good – to ourselves, to each other, and to our families. He creeps into our psyches, grabs hold of our insecurities, and illuminates them – to others, and more importantly, to ourselves.

We begin to doubt our Love…

 

  … our Light…

  …our Goodness.

We begin to doubt our own self-worth.

In his “Letter to Women” Pope Saint John Paul II stated, “Thank you every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman.” This came after he thanked women in every vocation of life. Pope Saint John Paul II recognized the inherent beauty of all women – the beauty and strength that too often, we have difficulty recognizing on our own.

And, as a culture, we have overlooked these messages of positive qualities women bring to their homes, their families, their lives.

St. Thomas Aquinas is credited with saying,

Love As Christ Loved (Part 1): Recognizing Our Own Love, Light, and Goodness

As Christ hung on the Cross dying, He despised the sin we would be tempted to commit. He despised the choices we would be tempted to make. He despised the messages we would internalize about our self-worth, and our contribution to this world… to our homes, to our families, and to our lives.

He despised how we would doubt, even for a second, His love for us.

As Christ hung on the Cross, dying for our salvation, He was doing so out of love for us.

He was dying for us because

He believed in us;

He had hope in us;

He loved us.

Over two centuries later, He still despises the sins we are tempted to make. He still despises the messages we internalize.

And yet, more than two centuries later,

Love As Christ Loved (Part 1): Recognizing Our Own Love, Light, and Goodness

There is no past-tense with God. Every morning, He begins His love for us fresh and renewed. He eagerly awaits for us to see the beauty He sees in us.

He waits for us to recognize the Love He sees in us.

He waits for us to recognize the Light He sees in us.

He waits for us to recognize the Goodness He sees in us.

We can buy into Satan’s empty promises and his attempts to overlook God’s Love, Light, and Goodness shining through us. We can buy into the messages that we aren’t worthy or good enough for our homes, families, and lives.

Or, every. single. day we can commit to reminding ourselves of a quote often attributed to St. Teresa of Avila – may we trust God that we are where we are meant to be!

We are made to see God’s Love, Light, and Goodness shining in ourselves!

We are also made to take God’s Love, Light, and Goodness to others – to let Him shine through us!

Christ saw our Love, Light, and Goodness shining forth as He gave His life.

So, whenever we are tempted to buy into Satan’s lies that we are not worthy of our homes, of our families, of our lives, remember,

Love As Christ Loved (Part 1): Recognizing Our Own Love, Light, and Goodness

For we are all beloved daughters of a most beautiful, merciful, gracious King… we are all beloved daughters of God!

Categories
Faith Formation Ink Slingers Sarah Spiritual Growth

God: The Ultimate Artist

I don’t consider myself an artist, but I am a creative and a lover of beauty. As such, I have a hard time seeing the arts marginalized today. Especially in the school systems and with our children, the arts are pushed aside, defunded, and are slowly disappearing as the cornerstone of a well-rounded education that they once were.

Our family had the opportunity, earlier this summer, to drive across our beautiful country. If you haven’t done an adventure like this, I highly recommend it. One amazing thing about such a trip, is coming face to face with awe-inspiring beauty. There were times I was literally struck speechless (a rarity for me!).

The wonders and beauties of this earth are beyond the scope of human scale. When you walk up onto the Grand Canyon, you can do nothing but stand in awe. In awe of God and all He has created.  

He created us – in His image. He could have created us and plunked us down on barren land. But He didn’t. He chose to give us the most beautiful land His perfect imagination could create. In its wonder, it is vast and varying. As you drive across the country, heading towards yet another canyon or vista, you think “surely I’ve seen it all.” And then you get there and realize that, no, you haven’t seen it all. He has a new surprise awaiting you. His artistry has created yet another bit of wonder for you to behold.

And so, this begs the question. When we devalue the arts, do we devalue the divine life in us? When we steer our children towards lofty careers and hefty resumes, when pen and paper call their names, we may be steering them from God. If He felt it so important to create incredible beauty, merely for us to behold and if He made us in His image, then surely He delights in our creations.

Beauty – both creating it and witnessing it – lifts the soul and brings us closer to God. Encouraging children to create beauty, no matter how crude or rough it may seem to us, draws them closer to God and closer to that spark of divine life that is in each of us. Bring children out into nature. Show them the awe-inspiring artwork of Our Creator.

Natural wonders draw crowds of people from all over the world. As we hiked the Grand Canyon, we heard countless accents and languages, we passed hikers of every age and demographic. Yet, when explorers came to the Grand Canyon, many of them declared it desolate and useless. Some were even so bold as to say that none would ever visit this vast nothingness. And yet today, it sees millions of visitors each year.  

Why?  Why do people travel hundreds of miles simply to experience a beauty that offers nothing of monetary value? Because we all have an intrinsic love for and need of beauty. We need beauty – God – to fulfill our human-ness. Nature is God’s art. And whether we are acutely aware or not, we have a deep desire for His art, His beauty, His creation.

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Ink Slingers

Collateral damage- Ugly

“Collateral damage—is that all I am,
adrift in the wreckage of your sleight of hand?
Is there a reason why I can’t heal, I can’t heal?”
(Collateral Damage – Levv)

Ugly. A word that looks and sounds like its own definition. Ugly, repulsive, vile, offensive, despicable, appalling, ghastly, revolting– words that trigger in us the immediate desire to pull back, afraid we will be contaminated by the source of that produced the reaction. Drawn to what is diametrically opposed, our human nature almost idolizes its opposite– beautiful, alluring, ravishing, stunning, glamorous, appealing, lovely, gorgeous, etc. We spend hours and hours trying to ensure that the things, events, and people in our life will fit our pre-conceived ideas of what beautiful looks, sounds, feels, tastes and smells like. On the contrary, we rush to hide anything or anyone that even faintly resembles that which we deem ugly. And when we can’t manage to stuff it neatly away, it becomes the object of freakish attention to the point of a bizarre attraction.

Relationships, to varying degrees, bring out the best and the worst in us, the beautiful and the ugly. All relationships, especially those that are worthwhile, challenge us at some point to go deeper, to be more vulnerable; to allow the other person to see more of who we are. While I was discussing something with a friend the other day, I began to realize we had reached one of those points. To not share what was on my heart, a difficult experience I had many years ago that was pertinent to our current discussion, meant I was choosing to shut out a part of who I was from our friendship. I prayed about it, decided the next day to share my experience, and once I had finished, I said, “So, there it is… the good, the bad, and the ugly.” My friend’s response was startling, “Okay… first… nothing about you is ugly.” Of all I had said, my friend homed in on the one thing my story had been full of– self-condemnation, shame, guilt, remorse. Despite the years that had passed, I was still wrestling with the demons hiding in the darkness who were screaming out, trying to convince me that that part of me was ugly. My friend only saw the beauty behind it, that I had been able to still choose to be a good person despite the difficulties, when it could have very easily gone the other way.

What if we truly saw the beauty behind our ugliness? If we could do so, we would be seeing with the eyes of Christ. Lepers, demoniacs, paralytics, the deaf, the lame, the blind, the mute, a man with a withered hand, a woman with a bleeding disorder. Jesus saw their beauty and saw them for who they were; beyond what the world would have called ugly. He saw their desire to be healed of their physical “ugliness,” but He knew their greatest desire was to be healed of their separation from Him.

“Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” (Mark 5:34)

As long as we hold on to those parts of us we deem ugly, we are our own collateral damage. So, what is holding you back from letting Him heal what you cling to as ugly? What is blocking you from seeing the beauty behind it waiting to be revealed? Because nothing… nothing about you is ugly.

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A Beautiful Woman Ink Slingers Misty Proverbs 31 Catholic Woman Series Spiritual Growth

Ode to Feminine Genius: Discovering Her Feminine Beauty

10628607_10152640958795540_2185798387826798527_nThis is the ninth installment in the series of Ode to Feminine Genius: Proverbs 31 Catholic Woman. Today’s topic will cover A Beautiful Woman.

A few months ago, my oldest daughter turned thirteen. Having my firstborn become our first teenager seemed almost anticlimactic; an especially precocious child, Honor has always seemed far older than she is. On paper, she’s in the 7th grade, but most of her homeschooling is from high school and college textbooks. Her height (5’5″), poise, and ability to hold conversations on complex social and political subjects tend to lead most who meet her to assume she’s in her late teens. They’re usually stunned to find out that she’s just starting that journey.

Eyebrow threading sounds less painful than waxing...but isn't.
Eyebrow threading sounds less painful than waxing…but isn’t.

But being so emotionally mature can have its drawbacks. Last year, our youth group leader was so impressed by Honor’s emotional maturity that she skipped her into the high school group. And while Honor could handle the discussions on gay marriage and contraception (we’d had them years ago, when she’d asked about them), she wasn’t as prepared for the social dynamics of being among teenage girls. She stopped being excited about youth group, and began finding reasons to avoid it. When I pressed her, she would complain vaguely about how she “didn’t like” a lot of the kids in the group.

Show of hands--how many of us wish we'd had someone teach us how to put on makeup?
Show of hands–how many of us wish we’d had someone teach us how to put on makeup??

I talked privately to the youth group leader, who immediately knew what the problem was. “This is an age when girls are starting to discover their own feminine beauty,” she said. “They’re going from jeans and T-shirts and ponytails to caring more about their appearance. They’re starting to use makeup, fix their hair, and wearing trendier clothes.” The leader said that when our daughter would walk into the youth group meetings, she’d watched her visibly shrink into herself; she clearly felt dowdy and downright provincial compared to her female peers.

Then she said something profound.  “Your daughter is smart and everyone knows that about her. But she needs to feel beautiful, too. Every pretty girl wants to be told she’s smart and every smart girl wants to be told she’s beautiful.” She advised me to take my daughter out and actively guide her into discovering her own feminine beauty. “Don’t let the culture teach her what’s beautiful; YOU show her how to feel confident and beautiful as a young lady.”

So that’s what I did.

About two months later, my daughter and I drove six hours to the “big city” of Anchorage. While there, we spent three hectic days transforming her from an athletic tomboy to a young lady. We had her eyebrows shaped. I hired a professional makeup artist to teach her how to apply cosmetics–complete with a lesson in the difference between classy and trashy makeup. We had her hair styled at a salon. We also updated her wardrobe at the mall with a few modest yet fashionable outfits. Our last stop was Nordstrom, where she picked out a lovely formal dress to wear to a Right to Life banquet with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar as keynote speakers.

The hairdresser made her promise never to change her auburn hair color.
The hairdresser made her promise never to change her auburn hair color.

The effect on my daughter was incredible. She kept staring at herself in the mirror after we had her eyebrows shaped. “Mom, it’s like my eyes have frames now!” She smiled continuously and kept telling me how happy she was that I had planned the trip for her. We had a great time at all her “treatments,” not to mention the banquet, where both of us were giddy about seeing the Duggars in person.

There were big changes at home, too. In the two weeks since the trip, she’s requested to go back to youth group again. She put on a new outfit and a little makeup and confidently walked into the group. When I picked her up, she’d had a great time talking about her love for Jesus and was looking forward to next time. She’s joined SeaScouts, too, a marine-based scouting group for teenagers. And it doesn’t bother her that she’s the only female among six teenage boys.

She’s smiling and laughing and holding her head up again when she’s around her peers. She’s always known she’s smart, but now she’s found her inner beauty, too. And that’s given her the ability to go into social situations with confidence. She confessed to an ironic outcome: now, she can better concentrate on the relationships and the discussions, because she’s NOT focusing on her anxiety about her appearance. She said: “Now, I don’t think about how I look at all, Mom.”

That trip was worth every penny.

En route to see the Duggars!
En route to see the Duggars!

My daughter knows that her physical beauty is meaningless if it’s not reflective of the goodness in her soul. She’s still mostly a sweats-and-T-shirt girl at home. But now she understands that God gave her more than just a vivacious mind; He gave her a genuine feminine loveliness that she can righteously adorn for righteous purposes. We would never fault a bride for wanting to feel beautiful on her wedding day–and aren’t we all the Bride of Christ every day of our lives?

The reality is that if we don’t guide our daughters through discovering and adorning their feminine beauty, the culture will teach them to profane it. What are YOUR ideas, dear sisters in Christ, for helping our precious daughters to recognize and foster their feminine beauty?