Podcast: Faith, Family, and the Creative Life (Ruth Chou Simons)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Reflecting God’s Beauty

In this episode, Ruth Chou Simons discusses her life as an artist. She digs into what makes her tick, including her passion for creating beautiful pieces of art that reflect the beauty of our Creator, shares her journey from doing watercolor paintings in her kitchen to starting GraceLaced Co. and becoming well-known around the world for her artwork, and she shares what her day to day life looks like as an entrepreneur who also is a wife and a mother to six boys.

ESV Single Column Journaling Bible®, Artist Series

The ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, Artist Series is a collection of journaling Bibles meant to celebrate the treasure of God’s Word. This Bible features commissioned cover artwork designed Christian artist Ruth Chou Simons.

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Topics Addressed in This Interview:

01:59 - The Creative Life during COVID

Matt Tully
Ruth, thank you so much for joining me today on The Crossway Podcast.

Ruth Chou Simons
Thanks for having me, Matt.

Matt Tully
You’re a well-known artist, you’re a writer, you’re an entrepreneur, and you also homeschool six boys of various ages. Would it be fair to say that you keep pretty busy these days?

Ruth Chou Simons
I do. But to be fair, my husband and I are full time together with the work of GraceLaced, and so as an educator by trade, he carries the majority of the homeschooling. So I will not take credit for that!

Matt Tully
What’s it been like as a family over these last twelve months or so in the midst of COVID and the quarantine? Speak a little bit to how this season has been for you.

Ruth Chou Simons
Like everybody else, it took a lot for us to learn a new rhythm. Just because we homeschool or run a business from home, we weren’t necessarily expecting to spend as much time together as we ended up spending. A lot of my—all of my—speaking engagements and travel got cancelled, and I got to tell you, Matt, it was the sweetest, sweetest year. For me, it helped me reset some things and make some decisions about how busy and how much travel and how much speaking I want to do in the future because sometimes you need a moment like this just to say, What am I missing when I’m running hard after things I’m saying yes to? Those are good things and those are things that God has given me an opportunity for, but I can also make some choices about how much I want to stay closer to the home front. So, it was a really, really wonderful season for us. We got on each other's nerves and there was a lot of confessing and repenting and forgiving, and too much food. When you’re feeding seven guys, that’s a lot of food that we’re going through. People think we’re hoarding, but that’s just how much toilet paper we really have to buy! It absolutely was a sweet and really interesting year of us just hunkering down. My oldest son was supposed to be overseas for the school year as a college sophomore—he was going to study abroad—and it kept him home. We just felt like that was a borrowed year of just sweetness of the six brothers having time together: playing games, discovering new things, and starting new traditions. It was wonderful.

Matt Tully
You mentioned that the last twelve months or so has helped you reconsider your priorities a little bit. Are there certain things that you realized that you want to change long term moving forward?

Ruth Chou Simons
I don’t think that there was anything that I felt over 2020 where I said, This was wrong for me to engage in, or, I was travelling way too much. It’s more that I learned something about my own rhythm of creativity in that, as an artist and an author—someone who is continually writing, continually producing, continually putting out creative work—you have to have a strong rhythm and commitment to rest and a commitment to being recharged and energized and inspired by other things outside of your work if you’re going to produce at the level that I produce. I have a new book regularly on the docket, I have products through GraceLaced.com constantly coming out, you just can’t be at the helm of that much creative work if you’re just producing out of a need to produce. You have to produce out of the overflow of your heart. Schedules that are running you from one end of the continent to the other just won’t afford you that. So, sometimes that recharging means that I need to have time on the couch to read to my kids. Sometimes that means that I need to try a new recipe, and that is inspiring in itself. It’s okay that it took two hours to prep all the veggies for a meal. That doesn’t feel efficient, but inefficiency sometimes is the gateway to having more creative ideas. When you’re learning to express yourself and you’re learning to fail at things and you’re learning a new skill, those are things that jog your mind in terms of how God’s at work or what to see that’s beautiful outside of just what you’re used to studying everyday. So, it’s stuff like that that for me, I wouldn’t say it was like, Okay, I will now cut this out, or, I will for sure only travel eight times instead of twelve times. It’s not so cut and dry like that; it’s more just an internal rhythm that I realized, Okay, before I say yes, I’m going to go down the checklist of things that I really need in order to steward well what he’s already given me to do, rather than run after new things to do.

06:55 - The Motivation behind Creative Work

Matt Tully
That’s so good. It sounds like it was a good reminder of things that you already knew, but sometimes we need those reminders. Let’s dig into your art in particular. You recently partnered with Crossway to create this beautiful custom Bible cover in our brand new Artist Series of Journaling Bibles, and a question I love to ask artists—and creative types in general—is simply, Why do you create art? If you had to answer this deceptively simple question: Why is it that you feel this need to create art?

Ruth Chou Simons
For many years I actually didn’t explore this part of my life. I thought that art, or creating art, was kind of a luxury, was more of a hobby, was superfluous. But I think God creates all of us to experience beauty and inspiration everyday. I think all the time about how he could choose to bring the sun up everyday and call each day to order without it being as beautiful as it is. A sunrise is really stunning, and he didn’t have to do it that way. Or he could have called each day to a close without it being cotton candy skies. We don’t have to stand outside and marvel at the stars. Those are things that God chose to do that we would inherently say, That is beautiful! We’re all wired differently. We’re all wired to create and reflect that differently as imago Dei, but I think that for me, I create art because I’m so taken in by the beauty I see by his hand that it’s really hard for me not to somehow respond to it or reflect it or even to emulate it.

Matt Tully
What do you think it is about that for yourself where you see the creative beauty of God and then your response is you want to sort of mirror that beauty back—what is it about that process of responding by being creative yourself that is so attractive to you?

Ruth Chou Simons
I think there’s a humility when we really see ourselves—with the finite, short life that we have—before this infinite God who day by day is faithful. The seasons are perpetually going. He’s creating and making such beautiful changes happen all around us. I think for me, standing outside and seeing creation is not spiritual in itself. It’s that when I read God’s Word, when I’m humbled by God’s faithfulness in the work that he’s done and how he is the God who brought his children out of the wilderness. When I read that and then stand outside, I’m overcome with, Wow. Life feels really complicated, but here’s the sunset reminding me how in control he is. There is this connection for me, visually, that the God that I’m reading about in Scripture is the God that is still in charge everyday of my entire life. Then, when I go home and I’m back inside, whether I’m plating up dinner—sometimes it’s not all that colorful or all that fun—but whether I’m plating up dinner or I have a moment to grab a pencil and a sketch pad, what comes out is kind of a response to the fact that I got to participate and experience something that reminds me that God is bigger than me. So I think that everything that flows out of my brush and the words that I type or the sketches I sketch are not really from me. At this stage in my life—in my mid-forties—I feel really differently about my creative process and the work that I do. I would say that in my twenties I probably would have been like, What can I create that would cause other people to be in awe of me? That’s probably what I was thinking when I was in my twenties. Like, Could I sketch something so beautifully that somebody would say, ’She’s so good!’? But right now, my mindset is so different. Now, I can honestly say that everything that I draw or paint or write, I really want people to be in awe of God. I don’t really need or desire anyone to be in awe of me. So, the motivation really changes, but it changed because of my maturity and growth in my interaction with the Lord and realizing that even the skies that I see out my window are a reflection of him conveying his faithfulness day by day.

Matt Tully
Is that something that you find that you have to be diligent about, trying to remind yourself and cultivate that humility and that God-centeredness in your art rather than sort of drawing attention to yourself as the artist?

Ruth Chou Simons
If I’m honest, the real challenge of being an artist, a social media “influencer,” or known speaker or author is that you constantly think about yourself, because that’s what the Internet does for you. Your social media-curated images, even for somebody who loves beauty—I have, in the past, loved Instagram; it’s getting a little old—but overall I love the platform for what it is because I’m an artist. I love beautiful images, I love connecting beauty and truth. That’s a good platform for me; however, it can make you really self-centered. So I would say, Matt, the way that I persevere in that is actually not to start with just, Is this piece of art, or this post, about me? I just have to start with a different mindset with everything, including how I read God’s Word. If I open God’s Word every morning and sit there and think, What can I use out of today’s reading for my next painting? Or, How can I teach this? then it’s always really about me producing more of me. So, I think it has to start as a paradigm shift altogether—when I talk to the boys, when I share the gospel with my child who is disobedient, when I’m speaking to my employees, whatever I’m doing. If I start with saying, The words that are coming out of my mouth and the words that I’m reading from Scripture have nothing to do with me bettering myself, but everything to do with who God is and what he’s doing in and through us, that will change the words I say, the way I share the gospel with my kids, and how I go about my business and the work that I’m trying to do.

13:33 - The Medium of Watercolor

Matt Tully
Let’s jump in a little bit to the art that you create specifically. I think you’re probably best-known for your watercolor art pieces. Speak a little bit to that: Why watercolor? Why is that such a compelling medium for you? Why did you choose that compared to all of the other types of painting that you could do, or even other forms of art?

Ruth Chou Simons
I love that question. I used to hate watercolor, actually. When I was in my last two years of college, I suddenly—and it’s a whole other story—I suddenly switched majors from biochemistry to fine arts.

Matt Tully
Wow!

Ruth Chou Simons
I actually write about it in my book that’s coming out in October, but we’ll wait on that topic—it’s crazy, right? I’m an Asian-American, so there was some pressure to be a straight-A student and go into the sciences. Out of some rebellion, out of some burn-out, I changed my major to fine arts. Initially, my medium was oils and printmaking—not watercolor, for sure. I remember graduating college, my husband and I were at seminary, I still took my paints with me, I still wanted to engage in these things, but I never had learned how to paint real small, so everything I painted was like 4 feet, or larger. At the time, I did not have much access to paints that weren’t toxic. This was before the 2000s—I’m old enough that I graduated in 1998! I just didn’t have access to as many things as we do now. So, as a young mom several years later, I wanted to just stay in the game—not that I was selling any art, I wasn’t doing anything professionally, it was more just for myself. After the kids went to bed, sometimes I would paint a little, but who can set up a giant easel with a giant canvas? It’s just expensive to do all that. I remember starting off with a slightly-better-than-Crayola, student-grade set of watercolors. It wasn’t that simplistic, it was a little nicer than that, but it was still an amateur-grade palette of watercolors. What I love about watercolors—for anyone who is looking for something to try out—watercolors dry so fast. I could have a baby on my lap and paint. Some of my earliest Instagram photos were of my sixth son with his little hand on the table. He couldn’t ruin it because he couldn’t dip his fingers in oils that take three months to dry. I could paint something and it would be quickly done and I could dry and clean off the whole kitchen table in time for dinner. The whole thing would only take me 30 minutes or so, versus the hours and the Don’t touch this or Don’t breathe this or Mamma needs this whole space. I didn’t have that as a young mom. Now, I can start exploring more mediums because I have access to more space and my kids aren’t going to touch things that they’re not supposed to. The other thing about watercolor that is both daunting and wonderful is that it takes the perfectionism out of you a little bit because it’s something that you can’t paint over, over and over again. You can do some small corrections, but unlike acrylic or oils, you can’t change your mind and paint over the painting that you already painted. You can’t keep working it over and over. So, both for a young mom who barely has time to paint, to somebody who might be a recovering perfectionist, watercolor lets you learn to just let the water take some charge and for you to think through what you want to do, but then count happy accidents as enjoyable things where you go, Wow. I didn’t realize that’s how it could turn out. All in all, it’s funny that I’m known for watercolors now because I’m really self-taught, it’s really only been in the last 7 years that I started working with watercolor, mostly because of blogging and using Instagram where I just needed to post something quick to go along with my words, and that’s how the watercoloring started.

Matt Tully
You mentioned that watercolor is great for those recovering perfectionists. Would you consider yourself in that category?

Ruth Chou Simons
Absolutely! I used to lean heavily towards canvas paintings because I could change my mind after three months and say, I want to start all over with this. There’s a sense in which it’s a good thing because there’s layers upon layers, but sometimes you never find the finishing point because you always think it’s going to get better. I actually do a lot more oils and acrylics these days, and I love that my painting style has changed since that time when I was such a perfectionist about it, but now I love that sometimes I say, I only have twenty minutes; let’s see what we can come up with in twenty minutes. I can let that be good enough because I can trust the process and allow what comes out in twenty minutes be good enough.

18:43 - The Story behind GraceLaced Co.

Matt Tully
Speak a little bit to how this art that you were doing in the spare moments of your day after the kids went to bed, how did that progress into being something that you started doing professionally and that you made into a business? What was that process like?

Ruth Chou Simons
Just for a little context, for my first fifteen years or so of marriage my husband was a church-planting teaching pastor, so you know what that entails. That is a full-on counseling, preaching, training kind of job—and we were also setting up chairs. So all that was going on, and in the same ten years we had six boys, started a church, and then started a school. He was the headmaster of a classical Christian school that was a hybrid model, so part school at home and part accredited school. Wonderful model, wonderful experience, but our decade was very, very full. That was a time where I was learning to be a mamma and I was pregnant every other year and thinking I was just literally going to lose it all the time. And that’s where GraceLaced, the blog, started from. This coming summer it will be fourteen years since that blog started, and it was in the throws of early motherhood that I was like, The grace of God has got to lace in and out of my life. If it’s real, the gospel intersects my daily life. It’s not just that it’s on the mission field that it matters; grace is not only important to talk about in the church or on the mission field or when you’re leading a Bible study. What about the mundane moments of my life—the life that I didn’t expect to have? I was expecting to go do big things for God across the pond. I expected to maybe be a professional artist, but instead, I was literally sweeping up crushed Cheerios under my feet and disciplining my kids and going, Why did you hit your brother? That was all day, every day. In the quieter moments, we were counseling young couples and I was discipling young college girls while I was prepping dinner—that was my life. That blog became GraceLaced.com, and all the blog posts are still archived there. The reason why I didn’t start a business in that season of my life was because I knew it already took everything I had to steward well what he had given me. What God had given me were six boys, a pastor husband, a headmaster husband, and a community of believers who needed my time to disciple and study together. And so, when my youngest was born—praise God, if you raise some older children who change diapers and help with dinner, my job was easy by number six! I was really, really grateful! But during that season, I had been blogging for some time and had found a rhythm to blog. It was the choice I made, and just because I know that somebody out there listening will be like, How did you find time to write a blog? I always like to tell other women this: I made a choice not to watch “The Office” or “Downton Abbey.” It’s not that there’s anything wrong with those shows, but my answer is always that we just make choices. I cannot tell you a single thing that happened on “The Office” or “Parenthood” or whatever else that all my friends were watching during that season. So, that’s just the choice that I made. When the kids went to bed, once we had them sleep-trained, I was writing or painting because it’s what gave me life. It helped me process what was going on in my life as a pastor’s wife, as a mamma, as somebody who went to seminary for a year and then found myself doing nothing but counting to ten with my kids. So, I was really asking, How does this matter? And I worked that out through the blog.

Matt Tully
That’s so encouraging and helpful to hear you recount that story along what sounds like a gradual, one step at a time type of story. It can be so easy for us to maybe look at somebody who has, by God’s grace, achieved a level of “success” or notoriety and think, I would love to get there; I would love to do something like that as well. But just hearing you speak a little bit about how this whole idea for GraceLaced started as a way for you to see God’s grace in the mundane things of life, not just in the speaking and writing and selling stuff.

Ruth Chou Simons
Initially, nothing I was writing or doing was for profit at all. Right now when you see the business thrive or the brand expand and there’s all these different products, at this point we’re really aware that the business funds all the missional work that we really want to do. So, it’s still very much the same mission as it was when it wasn’t a full-blown business. I’m still writing very much so, on Instagram, nuggets of truth that lead, especially women, back to the awareness of how God’s grace is at work in their everyday lives. My number one goal is never for any woman to feel the pressure to be just like me, or to do the things that I’m doing. My only goal is that my artwork and my words and my photographs or my social media presence might cause them to be more aware of God’s presence and purpose in their lives right where they are. That’s essentially what I learned from those years of obscurity and what I brought into the years of notoriety, I guess you could say. Now, that’s the content that I’m bringing into this space today.

24:45 - Adorning the Gospel

Matt Tully
I love that you’ve got this line on your website where you talk about the purpose of GraceLaced and the art that you create. You write that your hope is that the art would “adorn the gospel through collectible, meaningful, and truth-filled products.” How did you come up with that language? And how do you view art more generally as having the potential to adorn the gospel?

Ruth Chou Simons
I’m borrowing it from Scripture—adorning the doctrine of grace. Ultimately, when you think about the word adorn, it’s really to make beautiful, or make attractive, or I like to think of it as also making accessible. So, I can’t make the gospel anymore beautiful than it is, but I can cause my generation to see it more clearly. I can cause someone to turn their gaze from their cell phones and perhaps pick up my book instead. I can, perhaps, cause somebody to turn their gaze from the sink full of dirty dishes that is so annoying and so perplexing and frustrating to deal with, and just look up for a second and see a quote or a verse that I’ve painted in a beautiful way that helps reset and remind them that God has purpose for them right where they are. So, in that way, I think our products—in the prints, the journal, or whatever it is, and even in the books that I’ve written—they adorn the gospel by making the truths that are already beautiful and make those beautiful to the viewer and accessible to a much-too fragmented and distracted world.

Matt Tully
Earlier on you were talking about how, even in those early days when you were creating art, you were doing it at your kitchen table, trying to keep kids away perhaps, and now you are fortunate enough to have some dedicated space. Can you tell us a little bit about your studio? What is that like? What’s your favorite thing about your studio that you currently have access to?

Ruth Chou Simons
I love this question because at this exact minute, I don’t have a studio and I’m working out of the hallway. It’s hilarious. I gave up my office/studio space to be a music room for the family because, as the boys got older, we wanted to have more contact points where we can gather around, rather than just always go to the basement and watch TV. The TV should not be their only point of gathering. So having instruments, and having them close by near the kitchen, somewhere where there might be music going on in this room and a conversation in another room. And so I gave up my specific room and space, and we’re remodeling and doing another part of the property as my office and studio space. Currently, I don’t have this dedicated, amazing space. But, the thing is, even when I had that space, I actually spent a lot of time painting at the kitchen table still. We live on a lot of acreage here in Colorado and we chose to buy a fixer upper property (that has about killed me) and it has studio space and barn space and product space, and so we run parts of the business out of this property here. However, the choice that I made early on was that while my kids are still at home, I could either choose a lifestyle that takes me away constantly, or I could choose a lifestyle where they realize no matter what the legacy of Ruth Chou Simons or GraceLaced—I pray there is a legacy there—but whatever that legacy is, they won’t look at that someday down the road and say, My mom was an author. I’m so glad she made a mark on the world, but I didn’t see her very much. My goal has always been, if I get to influence and change others lives or be a part of somebody else’s transformation, it’s got to start right at my kitchen table and right with the people in my life. And God’s given me seven people to steward. It doesn’t mean that I’m there for every little thing; it doesn’t mean that I read all the phonograms and do all the spelling lists. But it does mean that my presence is really felt and the work that I do is very understood by the boys. Meaning, if I’m painting new paintings for our yearly calendar, they know. They say, Oh, what’s going on? What’s the theme for this year’s calendar? They’re really aware and they have a buy in. They feel the ownership of what we do at GraceLaced. That’s a choice I made. Not everybody gets to do that, and I understand that we have a unique set of circumstances with choosing. It may not always be this way, but currently, we’re choosing to homeschool and run schooling from home, and we have employees that come to our property. We’ve chosen in this season to do it this way. But I also think that there’s a joy to not being able to hull away into my studio for umpteenth hours a day. I actually have to clean up and get dinner going. Right now, at least in this season before I have a whole brand new studio, it’s been a joy to write my books and paint my paintings within earshot of kids, sometimes with them pulling up their paints at the same table. That’s happened a lot during the pandemic. We share the same space. That’s been sweet, and I think it humbles me and keeps me grounded in the work that I do so that I don’t think of myself as an Internet influencer, or a speaker that speaks to thousands, or a best-selling author. I don’t think of myself that way. I think of myself as the mom who’s painting and making messes at the table alongside her boys.

30:39 - To the Sister Struggling with Contentment

Matt Tully
That’s one of the things I feel like I’ve picked up even in this conversation is a real intentionality on your part to (and maybe this is a non-Christian way of phrasing it) to see the silver lining in whatever situation that you’re in and kind of make the best of your current situation. But maybe a more biblical view is just to see God’s grace at work in these different things, even when they maybe aren’t ideal in some respect, or they don’t feel as easy as they could be. Speak to the person listening right now who would have to say, I’m struggling with that right now. I feel like there are things I would love to do, or that there are things that feel especially hard right now in this season. Maybe it’s a young mom with kids who is dealing with, like you talked about, crunched up Cheerios on the floor, and that’s their life right now. They’re struggling to feel encouraged in this season that they’re in right now. What advice would you give to someone like that?

Ruth Chou Simons
To the sister out there who’s got her degree in something she thought she would use in a professional way; to the gal who’s out there not getting the paycheck or the affirmation or the promotion that feels like would really affirm that she’s got giftings in these areas; or if she’s like me where there’s these creative juices going and it’s like, I see all these other women starting Etsy shops or creating good artwork! I like calligraphy too! Or, I paint too! Or, I’ve always wanted to stitch these things and sell my wares, but I can’t because my husband’s job is too demanding and somebody’s got to care for the kids. Or, We just don’t have the finances to be able to invest in a start-up. Or, for whatever reason, maybe you’re caring for an elderly parent or you have a child with special needs. Whatever the situation, there are times in our lives when we just go, God, why did you give me this desire or this gift or this inspiration if I can’t use it the way I imagined using it? I see, all of a sudden, the whole world—they’re all doing it, and they’re all successful at doing it—I could do it just as well, or better, and I feel like my ship is passing me by. If those words sound familiar, it’s because I said those very words to myself in another season. Even for the listener who might know my work and go, It’s easy for you to say; you’re where you’re at now. I would say well, sister, if I’m being honest, there’s a version of ideal for me even right now. That ideal might look like the next level; the ideal might look like this 3,000 square foot office building that I lease and have done up the way that I want. The ideal for me might look different than what you might expect. And so, we all have our versions. We all have our versions of, Lord, why did you bring me to this stage of my life if I can’t go to the next step, if I can’t do it the way I want to do it? What I would really say, and I say all the time to people in my immediate local community as well as to any young woman I meet online—and it doesn’t have to be a young woman, because I think we struggle with this throughout our seasons—is ultimately, because you don’t know what God is going to do around just the very next bend, around the very next year. Our lives could change so quickly. Nobody saw 2020 coming, right? You never know what God is going to do, and so steward well what he’s given you right this minute, because whatever you are faithful in right now, that will overflow into what you get to do for him in future seasons. Meaning, in the 10 or 15 years that I was wrestling with motherhood and asking, Am I even cut out for this? I’m the most unlikely person to have six children! When I was wrestling with those things, that very season taught me so much about leading a team, about the content that I’m writing, it gave me compassion and the ability to see beyond the hustle and to know what really matters. I don’t know that I could minister to the women that I minister to now through writing or through social media if I didn’t have that obscurity in that season. So, the point is, don’t aim for a season or for an objective that he’s not given you. Literally steward, right now—it’s like the talents, right?—steward what he’s given you right now, knowing that God doesn’t waste a thing. He doesn’t waste anything. It may not make sense why you have to clean out the fridge today. That does not seem eternally minded or kingdom building, and it certainly doesn’t feel like anything that you can grow an Internet business with. But where you apply yourself to do it unto the glory of God will—absolutely, I promise—affect the next assignment he gives you.

Matt Tully
Are there any other artistic mediums or methods that you are currently exploring and you’re hoping to try your hand at in a more intentional way in the future?

Ruth Chou Simons
I’m kind of returning back to my original obsession with printmaking. It’s just not something I quite have time or energy for right now, but in college I spent a lot of time doing woodcuts or linoleum cuts. Linoleum is an artificial material and woodcuts would be on cherry wood or whatever. And there’s just beautiful printmakers on social media that I’ve seen. I think it’s just a beautiful medium that compresses—it’s more graphic. The work that I do isn’t usually very graphic, but with the iPad and the Apple Pencil, I’ve gotten to experience a little bit more of a graphic side of my design work. In the book that I have coming out with Thomas Nelson, it’s my first trade book, as in chapters, hardback, with a jacket book with more of my story in it. That’s coming out in October, and the art is going to be different there. Unlike my other books, it’s not full color, it’s not full watercolors; it’s actually going to be more reflective of that printmaking or single color line art. So, I’m excited to be just trying some new things out.

Matt Tully
Have you made any of your woodcut prints available for sale yet, or is that something that’s still not yet been released?

Ruth Chou Simons
No. I live by this, and you didn’t ask, but one of my mottos in life is always I want to go deep, not wide. Just because I can doesn’t mean I should is what I say all the time to myself, to our team, to the family, because I am a dreamer. I can constantly think of new businesses, new things I want to do, let’s start a retreat, let’s do this and that, let’s travel the world. I’m constantly thinking of ideas, but that’s not necessarily stewardship. Sometimes yes, but if I can’t do well what I’ve already been given, I can’t take the next step. So, even in something as simple as, Do I start a new medium? Do I offer new things? Yes, we could offer all sorts of new things, but something I’ve learned, for anyone who’s listening who’s an entrepreneur as well, we’ve not learned this the hard way because I think everything we’ve produced through GraceLaced has been successful, and God’s been really gracious in that. We’ve never had a bomb of a product or anything like that, but it’s taught us that we’re really content-focused. While we could create apparel, or while I could make place mats, and we do have enamel keychains and beautiful pens—those things matter and I enjoy little things that we can take throughout our days and add to our lives—but the heartbeat of who I am and who we are as a team is content-based. We are primarily not about stuff; we’re primarily about content. So the constraint teaches us that just because I can make something really beautiful that somebody might want to buy doesn’t mean I should. Just because I can expand and offer all sorts of things, doesn’t mean that that’s God’s best use of my giftings for what he’s given me to do. So, that’s a long answer to that question.

39:05 - How to Get Started with Watercolors

Matt Tully
No, that’s really good. What advice would you offer to someone listening right now—actually, I would consider myself in this category—who thinks they might enjoy watercolor painting and would love to try their hand at that? What are some practical steps for getting started?

Ruth Chou Simons
I would say find inspiration by watching some other artists paint, but don’t find so much inspiration that you are replicating somebody’s artwork, even when you watch a tutorial, because it can limit your ability to discover how God’s made you uniquely different. Maybe you find it completely satisfying to do abstract artwork, but you keep forcing yourself to paint a tulip exactly the way Ruth does. That’s not good for you! So, that’s not so much me saying don’t copy my style of artwork; that’s me saying God made you unique. You have a voice, even in the way you hold a brush, even in the way that you love the way that water and pigment comes together, and nobody else will. So, watch my tutorials—I don’t really have tutorials—but watch my videos, watch some other tutorials online, and get the basics of what it is to use the medium, and then play. I think as solid, biblical Christians, sometimes we don’t like that word. Play sounds like some kind of superfluous, silly word. We’re usually quick to use words like study, discern, be disciplined. We use all those words, but we don’t talk about playing. Think about what it is. Does God put wildflowers up in the mountains so that we might just study them? Or should we frolic through them and run through them and be like, Oh my goodness! How is this valley covered with wildflowers? This is gorgeous! In the same way, do we just study the way we should use watercolor and then follow the exact paint by number lines and spots and do it exactly the way somebody else tells us? Or do we play with it and say, Wow! This is a creative medium, and I’m going to explore what gives me joy. Maybe that means, Matt, that you just start with painting solid lines, one line after another. Maybe it means that you make little check marks. Maybe it means that you just play with the medium and see what happens when there’s a little more water or a little less water. But as a practical tip, I would say start with one or two brushes. Don’t go crazy. You can go to Hobby Lobby and you don’t have to buy the most expensive brush, but buy something a little bit better than your Kindergartner’s little kit. And get a paint set that’s medium grade, semi-professional maybe. And just for the watercolor nerds out there, semi-moist as a palette is really helpful. You don’t need to start with the tubes of paint because that’s a little harder to control. Start with a palette that’s not so dry—it’s called semi-moist. It just means that it’s a little bit more intense pigment. That really is a good way to start. If you start with your kid’s Crayola palette, you’re going to be frustrated because there’s no pigment.

Matt Tully
So it’s very different?

Ruth Chou Simons
Absolutely.

Matt Tully
So, real stuff is going to be significantly different.

Ruth Chou Simons
Absolutely, yes. Even the watercolor discs that you find that are round, they’re fine for Bible journaling. For example, with the ESV Journaling Bible I’ve seen a lot of people use those. I’m actually not a Bible journaler, as in painting in my Bible, but some people use that kind of paint, and it’s just right for that kind of work because you can use it dry and it’s a little chalky. But if you’re going to get into watercolor painting, then buy a medium grade paint and let it be something you can explore.


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