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It’s the How!

June 17, 2024

Jordan Durbin

Cultivating a Maker’s Life is a column that explores creative living expressed in a whole life. Generous, creative living is not something that is confined to a studio or workspace. It is conceived in the garden, gestates on hiking trails, is nurtured in cinnamon-scented ovens, and matures at family dinner conversations. Come with me while we explore all the stages of making and living.

I can still see his untamed eyebrows dancing on the wind his wild gestures created as he tromped about the studio. Prof. Timothy Young was the embodiment of passion, and one of his favorite encouragements to us poor art students still rings in my ears and heart over twenty years later.

“It’s the ‘how’! It doesn’t matter what you draw or paint. It’s how you paint it! Draw a tree or a rock or one blade of grass, but draw it with meaning!”

Week after week, through damp but radiant Indiana falls, eternal winters, and brief but glowing springs, he would push the boundaries of academia, insisting that we not only paint what we saw, but also the way we felt it. His enthusiasm for the most ordinary things—“SOCKS!! I’m so glad there are SOCKS in this world!! GOD!! Thank you for SOCKS!!”—was infectious and made us see the world differently. 

His words about “the how” continue to change my life. I repeat them to my kids more times than they would like, I’m sure, and now, dear reader, here they are for you.

“The how,” friends, is everything. It changes a slightly scummy pond into a Monet, a piece of rock into a Michelangelo, and a lump of mud into a masterpiece.

Lest you think I’m being a bit self-exalting of my own creative art form with that last example, I refer you to Genesis 1 where God breathes life into an Adam-shaped pile of dirt. 

Last week, I threw a batch of round-bellied mugs. They have a small foot and turned-in lip, and I added four pinched alterations just to give them a bit of personality. The handles are simple. I was tempted at this point to leave them—let the final glaze be their defining feature. I had roughed out the form in my little sketchbook that alternately lives in my purse or my studio, and it was completely unadorned in my drawing. I liked it well enough. But then I thought about “the how.”

I will never preach the false gospel of “to thine own self be true,” because my own nature is bent toward evil, prone to wander, and a factory for sin’s DNA. BUT! I will hold fast to the true gospel of “to your Maker be true” until the day I die! The One who formed my inward being designed it to love details and texture and a little wildness. I see more beauty in the untamed than I do in the perfectly manicured and measured. Dandelions grow in my yard, much to my neighbor’s chagrin. I love a clean slate for its possibilities. 

“The how” doesn’t happen without courage. “What if I mess it up? What if no one else likes this? What about the people who want clean and simple? Shouldn’t I offer something for them?” Questions of doubt breed like mosquitoes in the swamps of decisions. 

That mug? It now has sweet honeybees flying across it and is speckled with stamped dots and swirling slip trails reminiscent of acanthus leaves. How that particular mug was finished sets it apart from the ones I see at Target. It says, “This was made by a created being, seeking to honor her own Maker in the art she in turn creates.”

I am so glad, however, that everyone isn’t me—that others honor Him with restraint, refinement, purity of form. In courage, they say no to my beloved details and wild tangles of raspberry canes. In courage, I say no to modernist styles and perfectly placed coffee table books. The apostle Paul so beautifully put it this way:

“There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.” (1 Corinthians 15:40–41, ESV.)

Even the heavens are defined by “how” they display the glory of God, and none of them are wrong! The glittering majesty of the stars is pure and holy because they are stars! Our elegant moon adorns our night sky in a way that the sun with its warmth and brilliance never will! Each performs its celestial dance in season and to perfection night after night, day unto day.

I give far too much mental and emotional real estate to what people think of my day-to-day choices. I made a blouse for myself for Easter this year. It’s linen with magnificently embroidered songbirds and roses all over the fabric like the blackwork garments of Tudor England. With my love of medieval everything, I crafted the blouse into an English smock, smocking the back and sleeves, adding a ruff at the neckline. The sleeves are absolutely enormous. Anne Shirley would swoon over them. I love it so much, but each time I pull it out of the closet, I enter a riotous battle in my head. “This shirt is ridiculous. People are going to think you’re even weirder than they already do. How are you even going to get through doorways with those sleeves? Just wear normal clothes. You look like an inflated peacock! Nobody this side of Henry VIII would wear this.” 

I summon my meagre courage to wear this garment, but oddly, once dressed, it seems that seed of courage grows into something more. This is the mystery and majesty of courage—it multiplies with even the smallest acts on its behalf. I now feel like the shirt is a gift from a Prince given to a common peasant maiden to remind her that He is coming soon to claim her as His bride. I suppose even clothing is about “how” it is worn. It reminds me that others don’t have to understand, and that I simply need to remain faithful to my Maker.

The featured images are courtesy of Jordan Durbin and are used with her kind permission for Cultivating.


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