I play music by ear. It didn’t occur to me until I sat down to write this that I’m also an artist by ear in a lot of ways. Let me explain what I mean by sharing some of my past.
I distinctly remember hearing my classmates in high school talk about their college acceptance letters in economics class during junior year. It was a vivid recollection, because I had a very real epiphany sitting there that I was one of the few in that classroom who had no real goals. I felt hollow, and invisible, and foolish that I had no discernible dreams to feed my steps. I had interests and I read a lot, but my parents had always been hands-off with me. They gave me very little advice or direction growing up. Looking back, I am so very thankful that what I did have was a conscience, and that kept me from being lazy or rebellious. But I hadn’t yet understood that God loved me and needed me, or that He had a plan for my future. I hadn’t yet been taught that my conscience - that inner knowing - was actually Holy Spirit.
After I had that epiphany in high school, I immediately began putting more effort into my studies, and eventually I won a partial scholarship to a local community college. I decided to focus on pen and ink and biology, and pursue a career in illustrating medical textbooks. I hadn’t even taken an art class in high school. I just had an inner knowing starting to stir - Holy Spirit again - that my DNA was in the arts.
I can't say that everything fell into place at that point, because I was back to being self-guided at college. Most of my art professors were absentee instructors. Because I had to work during the day, I had to switch to night school. When I came into class, there would be a note on the blackboard with the assignment, and we'd be completely on our own. My art classes were silent, monotonous, and very lonely. And that’s where I began doing art by ear. I listened. I felt. I drew.
I ploughed through almost 2 years of community college. In the fall of my second year, my father was unexpectedly diagnosed as terminally ill. I went into denial, but I continued to push on. He passed away 30 days after he was diagnosed. I kept up with school and work, but I was becoming more numb and disconnected. And then in the spring, as I was finally figuring out a strategy, my college guidance counselor told me that if I were to try to transfer to a 4-year university I’d have to start all over. He believed there was no future in illustration because it was too competitive. I felt like I was kicked in the chest. Just like that, I was back to zero. I was now fatherless. I didn't know how to work through the loss. I walked myself into a dark spiral of despair, and I couldn't function enough to finish out my last year at the college. I couldn’t show my face. I failed. I wasted my scholarship. I thought I was on the right track, but I didn’t believe in myself, so I gave up. I packed all my art supplies into a box and shut the door to being creative for the next 17 years.
It wasn’t until 2008 that I started painting during worship at church (that’s another God story altogether that I’ll share when I post my paintings.) A short while later I felt the stirring again to draw. With still no formal training outside of what little I learned in college, I continued working by ear. Only now, I knew Holy Spirit. I was coming out of my shell. Now I knew God was my teacher.
But there was this one thing. I never drew faces. I couldn’t. I tried, but I was terrible. I told myself that my faceless drawings and paintings represented every face. It wasn’t a lie, but I was about to discover that being faceless was only for a season. After the hundredth time of Tripp and the kids kidding me about not drawing in my faces, I had another epiphany. I never asked God for this skill. Not once. Hmm.
So, in the fall of 2016 I asked God for help. It was that simple. I said, “God, help.” Our prayers don’t need to be fancy. They just need to be sincere. He knew what I was asking, and that I was hungry to see with new eyes. I didn’t beg Him in my prayer. I just said thank you, and waited.
THE OUTCAST STORY
Nothing changed for a couple of weeks. But then in October, it happened.
I started seeing faces EVERYWHERE I looked. It didn’t matter if I was looking at the tile floor. I saw faces. It didn’t matter if I was looking at the wall. I saw faces. It didn’t matter if I was looking at the trees outside. I saw FACES. I was so excited. I was seeing the answer to my honest, simple prayer. The next thing I did was buy a brand new sketch journal - a clean slate. A ready recipient. A map. I had it embossed with a declaration, “Nicki Black - With Eyes To See”. I knew to prepare, because God had been showing me during our quiet talks for a long while to trust Him and keep moving forward, even when the fruit wasn’t visible. With my new journal in hand, I opened up to the first page and scribed this,
“And so it begins, the new thing. October 27, 2016.”
For many months I drew the faces God showed me. They bubbled up right from the pages of my journal, like watermarks. It still literally feels like I am tracing what I see in the spirit, and it’s glorious! And so I drew, and I drew, and I drew. Then on May 28, 2017, I heard Him speak, as I was sketching (SKOC06, to the right.) He said, “These are the outcasts. These are MY outcasts.” He began to download to me the people He was showing to me in the spirit. These were the ones He was calling home, into His intimacy. These are the sons and daughters that have walked away, the ones who are turned away by Man, the ones who are hurting, the lost prodigals. And then God took me deeper into His heart. He said He wanted me to put these images of His outcasts onto jewelry and other wearables, because these wearables were supposed to be walking billboards. So I'm working on those pieces now, and trying to make them in excellence and in the right way. He told me people would see these faces and know who they are in real life. God told me I would see them with my own eyes, too. And I do. Every time I look in the mirror.
But! Beyond the mirror,
I’ve already seen a handful of the faces for myself. GOD DOES NOT LIE!
Please, if you recognize any of the people I draw in this Outcasts series, I'd be honored if you'd tell me. And share Jesus with them. Love them. Tell them God is good and that He only wants the best for their lives. Tell them to call upon the name of the Lord! He will hear them. He's waiting. He's calling them in their destinies.