Good for nothing, you might think. It’s the end, it’s done for.
I need this. I actually went to a store and paid for it. This small burnt vine is just what I need to begin an oil painting.
I use it to cover a page of tissue paper with blackness. It’s a mess. There is charcoal and ash on both my hands, on my cheek where I scratched an itch, on the floor, and all over the tissue paper. Artists have worked the same way since the cave paintings of Lascaux. In a mess.
I shake away the extra dust and flip the charcoal covered sheet upside down onto my new canvas. Just a moment before, the canvas had been pure, white and clean. But I’m not worried about smudges. I place a traced outline of my initial sketch onto the tissue paper, and retrace my idea over the layers of tissue, and onto the canvas. Smudges are easily cleaned up.
What is left is a perfectly prepared canvas, with the image intact. Iconographers for centuries called this the “cartoon”. A simple charcoal line drawing, the beginning of greatness. With this humble beginning, they could paint windows to Heaven.
Some days my life feels just like a mess of charcoal and ash. But I’ll take that. I will embrace the ashes, let them cover me. I’ll hold on to the faith that God has a plan. He is the Artist, after all. He can take care of the smudges. And he can make something beautiful from a beginning of ashes.