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Painting the light

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Posted: Saturday, July 9, 2005 6:57 am | Updated: 9:18 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Prolific American artist Thomas Kinkade was painting his first landscape of Michigan’s Mackinac Island, his hands freed up for the telephone interview by a headset. "I find that I think more creatively when I am painting," he explained from his studio in Saratoga, Calif.

Earlier in the day, the renowned "Painter of Light" had worked on a fanciful scene he calls "Golfer’s Paradise."

"The premise is that if there is a golf course in heaven, what would it be like? So this is an imaginary setting," he said, quipping that maybe the "sand traps will be smaller."

With more than 10 million copies of his paintings sold, Kinkade notes that "more people wake up to one of my paintings than any other living artist." His idyllic scenes of cottages, seascapes, garden gazebos, stone bridges, mountain valleys and rainy streets can be found in about 5,000 galleries worldwide, including 200 Thomas Kinkade Signature Galleries.

Kinkade, 47, shares his faith in a new book, "The Art of Creative Living: Making Each Day a Radiant Masterpiece" (Warner, $19.99). "For me, each painting is a message — a message of love from the Creator himself, funneled through my hand and shared with others," he writes in the book that calls for all people to make creativity a part of their everyday lives. He urges the reader to "open your inner eye right now to that blank canvas that is the rest of your life."

Finding and attaining that creativity is not meant to be easy, he said. "As he formed us in the womb, God placed eternity in our hearts, so that we would be restless, uncomfortable and unfulfilled until we had connected with our divinely ordained calling — until we had lit the creative spark within."

The reason God gave people talents, he argues, is so they can reflect his grace and love. "What we create with our hand often can be a reflection of God’s love that is very tangible for other people." Everybody is creative, he said, and that becomes a means to imitate God, whom he calls "the all-time creative being."

"Art is a creative profession, and it is also a faith profession," he said. "You are taking a blank canvas and some smeary kinds of pigments, pushing them around and hoping that out will come his world, which hopefully can be embraced by other people and can touch lives." Kinkade said he takes the process seriously and regards it as his ministry and calling. He prays before he begins any painting.

And when a project feels stymied, he will say, "Man, this thing looks horrible. Lord, what do I do next?" In more than 30 years as a professional artist, Kinkade said God has never failed to answer his prayer.

His halcyon scenes — such as Foxglove Cottage, Valley of Peace, Hometown Morning, Cobblestone Christmas, Lamplight Inn and Summer Gate — create the sense that all is well. Amid those gardens of flourishing flowers and quaint spots along rushing meadow streams, there are always light and shadow. Warm light bursts from windows or is celebrated in rich sunsets or streetlights during a night rain. Kinkade calls light his obsession. He trademarked "Painter of Light" when he began publishing his prints.

His works represent an "army of light," Kinkade said. "It extends into rest homes. It extends into prisons and psych wards and hospitals and pain clinics and burn centers and everyday, average, middle-American homes." Together, "the message really is the same: The world is filled with beauty. Don’t believe what you see in your evening news. That is only part of the story. . . . There is good news all around if you take time to notice it."

"The Art of Creative Living," illustrated with dozens of his works, is divided into seven days, each with a theme like "the art of solitude," "the joy of work," "the cauldron of conflict" and "the spirit of worship." Kinkade weaves much of his life’s story in the themed sections. He tells of his mother escaping with her children from an abusive husband, how drawing and painting consumed him from his earliest memories, his passion for motorcycles and the "accidents" of encounters with people who helped transform his life.

In a chapter called "Accidental Dad," Kinkade tells about how three or four landscapes and seascapes painted by his often-absent father hung in their home.

"I suppose it wasn’t an accident that I was with my father the day I discovered the power a painting possesses to communicate feeling," he writes. At 7, he spotted a painting of the Golden Gate Bridge in a gallery on a trip to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. He was mesmerized by the original oil painting. "My mouth fell open. How could a human hand craft such a wonder?" he would write.

"I don’t sell my originals anymore," he said. "And I don’t buy my originals because I can’t afford them." He said he donates his originals to "nonprofit usage" while reproductions are sold. "We have a nonprofit foundation to maintain and control the originals into perpetuity," although he is selling "Salt Lake City" by agreement that it be permanently on public display.

Kinkade travels to get inspiration. "I am always going back to the real source," he said. "God is the ultimate artist. I just like to get back to nature and see what he has created."

He keeps his work vital by working from nature. "It keeps me in contact with the real world even though what I create is highly imaginative."

He sketches his ideas immediately when they come to him, even while in church. "The pastor thinks I am being pious taking notes on the sermon, but in fact I am getting an idea for a painting and I’m sketching it," he said.

Kinkade said his "life verse" is Matthew 5:16: "Let your light shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

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