Why We Do It

Why do we do it? The sketching—oh, the sketching—and the forever wondering how to show something familiar in a fresh way? Especially in an age when a Canva template or a Pinterest page or even generative AI is reminding us that we’re still amateurs, why do we do it?

And it’s not just us wondering why. We’re not hearing as often from the perpetually positive people about our last great visual for worship. The requests from the worship team are coming less frequently or not at all. Unsplash.com appears to be doing most of the creative work these days.

What’s an artist to do? Throw up our hands (or brushes or pens or computer mouse) and admit defeat? I think not—even if not doing what we were made to do was an option. But maybe we just need to work harder—well, not necessarily harder, but differently.

Create Differently

If you’re like me, when given an assignment or commission, you immediately drop keywords into a web browser search field and see what comes up. We tell ourselves we’re just looking for inspiration, but what search algorithms serve up is the most common solution to a problem—not helpful if we’re after a new approach.

Here are a few ideas to refresh our imagination:

  • Begin not with an internet search, but with a blank piece of paper and some time. Throw down on the paper any and all ideas that come into your head, be it words or pictures or phrases. Continue this practice for a few days, reviewing what you’ve done so far and adding to the mix. Quantity is more important than quality.
  • Brainstorm with your pastors. They’re in the same position: needing to come up with a fresh approach to Advent or Christmas. Perhaps you could bounce ideas off each other from your respective perspectives: words or visuals.
  • Ask a child or middle-schooler to describe what they see when a Bible text is read to them. It’s amazing how narrow our adult brains can be.
  • Make your browser work harder. Rather than typing “Ideas for Christmas worship visuals,” for example, try “mother child travel tired.”
  • If your pastor’s plans aren’t settled yet, make up a sermon title or series that you know would stretch you. For the visual above, I assigned myself “Christmas: Personal Pain” to bump me away from the overly sweet visual interpretations of the Holy Family; instead I depicted the confused and exhausted Mary and Joseph witnessing the birth of a Savior whose pain was only beginning. (Images from Unsplash.com, of course.)

A creative mind is often able to connect seemingly unrelated things to solve a visual problem or artistic need. But that could mean getting out from behind your computer and walking through a gallery, taking a trip to an unfamiliar place, or maybe taking a class in a medium you’ve never worked with. The original ideas will come.

Dean Heetderks is a member of Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Cutlerville, Michigan, and art director of Reformed Worship. Show and tell him about your experiences at dean.heetderks@gmail.com.

Reformed Worship 149 © September 2023 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.