Helpful Tips: Painting During Live Worship

Nicki Black

Nicki Black 06/21/2018

June 22, 2018: I wanted to pass along some things I've learned over the fifteen-ish years of scribing worship through painting and sketching in a public setting.

I've painted in a variety of venues. My husband and I served at a large worship center for many years, and I was the in-house artist for events and conferences that were held there. I was really blessed and thankful that I got to minister not only with the center's fantastic team, but alongside a diverse community of anointed speakers, bands, and ministries. I had many amenities and artist comforts in that season that I'll never take for granted. God gave me the opportunity to create my own space, so the center became a small extension of my home studio. I could leave my gear set up in a safe and secure environment, and I had access to what I needed. But on the flip side of that ideal situation, I also did, and still do, a lot of worship scribing at other venues that have limitations, in addition to plein air painting that can often be particularly challenging because of the weather, location, or iffy surroundings. During one conference, I had to put my brushes down and pack up and leave in the middle of the event when things went in a spiritually unwell direction. It was a difficult but necessary decision, and I hope that situation isn't something you'll ever face.

I never had anyone show me the ropes in the worship arts when I started out, so everything below is what I've had to navigate on my own. It would have been a lot easier if someone had taken me under their wing, imparted wisdom, and given me the encouragement that I needed. But since this wasn't the case, it's even more of a reason that I'd like to be able to sow this insight in the hope that these pointers will help you as you pursue your own artful worship journey.

Helpful Tips When Painting During Live Worship

1. Worship and talk to God as your paint. It sounds elementary, but really, it's a game changer of getting out of your own head, relaxing, and staying in His presence as people watch you minister through your art. Ask Holy Spirit to be your eyes, hands, and ears. Don't over think what you're doing. Let Him lead you.

2. Make sure you're set up where you can actually hear a decent house mix of both the worship and anyone on a mic. You'd be surprised what you may not hear if you're placed outside that cone. I prefer to paint with in-ears and my own personal mixer, if it's available. That way, I can adjust my own mix so I hear what I need to hear, particularly if someone gives a prophetic word on the mic. If a personal mixer isn't available, then #3 below...

3. If the venue or band isn't using a drum cage and the drummer is on a full kit, I suggest you set up opposite the stage from the percussion, as well as, any large monitors or speakers positioned in your direction. Decibel levels at that close of a proximity can be loud, and will usually result in you developing a headache or ear ache in a short amount of time. At one event, I didn't have a choice of where I set up, and the drummer refused to use the cage we provided. I was wearing my in-ears and Aviom with the volume turned off because I just wanted to block as much sound as I could and still be able to paint comfortably. When that didn't work, I finally decided that I was not going to paint anymore that night, as I didn't have the option to set up anywhere else. To me, saving my ear drums was more important. So keep that in mind. I think it's a great idea to be proactive, and bring inexpensive foam ear plugs with you in your paint bag to help you manage decibel levels, if you're put in an less than ideal sound situation. It's also a good idea to protect your hearing and respectfully stop painting, if necessary. Ideally, the venue will let you set up and assess during practice. Use that time to get a good gauge of any necessary repositioning.

4. Bring everything you'll need, including an extra canvas or art pad, your lights and easel, pochade box, travel chair (if you need to sit), table coverings/tarps, and even a small table or cart. Don't forget an extension cord for your lights, as you can never be sure you'll have good access to an outlet. If you're outside during the day, an umbrella for your easel will be your friend. Bring duct or painters' tape, in case your easel or something else breaks. This happened to me when I was setting up for a worship night at a church, and the leg of my lightweight aluminum plein air easel snapped. Thank goodness I had tape! Also bring a plastic bag or two to use for your garbage, or to wrap brushes you're not washing at the venue. Don't assume your venue has any supplies at all, and/or that the supplies will be archival, in abundance, in good shape, the colors/brands you like, etc. Being self-sufficient with your gear gives your venue and host the peace of mind that they won't be responsible for things outside of their expertise or ability, and it gives you freedom to use your supplies as you want, without having to worry about damaging items or using up materials that aren't yours.

5. Make sure you have somewhere at the venue to safely store your work until you can return later, or you have the provisions necessary to transport it home if your art isn't dry after the service. A lot of the smaller pochade boxes have a slot or two for wet panels. If you're painting large, especially on canvas, you might consider building a wet box for yourself so your vehicle doesn't get damaged.

6. If you have a heat gun, you can use it to dry your canvas quickly after the event (please don't use it during worship.) Just be very careful you don't get too close, as the (acrylic) paint will bubble. I've never tried it on oils, but I'm pretty sure it will work on watercolor if you're super careful not to burn the paper. But also, watercolor dries quickly on its own, so no heat gun should be necessary.

Holy Spirit gave me this revelation about my heat gun late one night as I was trying to get a whole bunch of my canvases edged in order to bring to a conference to sell the following day. Holy Spirit said to me, "Hey, why don't you use your encaustic heat gun?" It only took a few minutes to paint and then dry each edge with the gun. Brilliant! What a time saver! Speaking of heat guns, I'll share what I use in an upcoming post.

7. Bring business cards with you. You never know if anyone will ask you for your information. Keep your cards within easy grasp, so if someone wants one while you're painting, you can get to them quickly and neatly.

8. Sign your work on the front of your piece near the beginning of the event, before you finish. There will be people who take pictures of your work and you, and if you've done your signature early on, you are accomplishing 3 things: (a) You have established a clear copyright, (b), the people who have taken photos will have your name in their pictures so they can give you proper credit if they post or share those pictures, and (c), they can remember who you were if they want to search for you online, at future events, etc.

9. Take pictures of your work, even as you progress, for your own record and/or portfolio. Even if you don't have a website or show anyone else pictures of your art, you get an ongoing timeline of how much you're growing as an artist and hearing prophetically. 

You also have a snapshot of what God was doing in that special moment in your own life. It's a visual journal.

10. Take a moment and take some pictures of what's going on in the spirit around you - the worshippers, the band, the way the lights ebb and flow on the walls, etc. Be in the moment of creating your art, but don't isolate yourself from being a part of what God is doing in the room, whether He prompts you to observe with your eyes, or just listen in the Spirit without looking at anyone.

As an example of this, I want to share a really awesome thing that happened to me during another conference in 2015. I was painting on stage, and I had my back toward the audience throughout the worship. I could feel that Holy Spirit was touching people throughout the sanctuary, but He said I shouldn't turn around just yet to look. Near the end of the worship I heard Holy Spirit tell me I could turn around. At the base of the stage behind me was a woman who was dancing across the front with several different sets of worship flags. The colors in her flags, and the movements she was making, matched the colors and movement in my painting. I had absolutely no idea we were dancing in the spirit together. It was amazing and powerful! (Per first picture, upper right.)

11. Put your brush down and walk as far away from your artwork as you can, as you go along. God will often show you details you can’t see from up close, or areas you need to adjust. I even turn my canvas 90 degrees, 180 degrees, 270 degrees as I'm painting. Sometimes God will show me a picture from another angle than the one from which I started. That's exciting. I like those unexpected moments. 

12. Don’t feel like you have to finish the piece right then and there. Holy Spirit may only be showing you a portion of the picture in that moment, and you’ll get the rest later in His timing, and/or through other people or encounters you’ll have. 

13. It’s ok to undo what you’ve already painted midstream, even when you’re painting in front of people, if you believe strongly that you’ve either heard Holy Spirit wrong, or if you’re struggling to capture what you’re sensing.

I'll share more personal experience to illustrate what I mean. I remember a conference years ago where I was on stage painting for a large crowd for a well known musician and speaker. I just couldn’t translate anything onto my canvas the way I wanted or planned. I asked God for help, and He gave me comfort and confirmation to stop what I was doing and start over. Someone ran up to me, confused as to why I started to redo my painting, and why I wasn’t flustered. I explained that I had sought God for advice, and He gave me the peace to do what I did. I can't emphasis it enough - If the grace lifts from what you’re painting and God says He’s with you as you take things in a new direction (or even after the event and you just have to walk away), follow His prompt. He knows what you need to finish your work, and He’s already anointed the perfect timing. No condemnation, no shame!

 And honestly, this should be a life lesson in all aspects of life, and a good illustration that making mistakes is ok, and shouldn't disqualify anyone from starting over to regroup to reach their goals.

Another personal story, but this one transformed my belief that you could actually have a real and true encounter with Jesus:

Back in 2014, I was painting for a large conference that spanned a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I knew I wanted to paint the Lion of Judah before I started. Over the course of those three days, I had a really difficult time putting my vision of Judah onto the canvas. Not sensing I should ask for a do-over again, I kept going hoping my abilities would improve, but they never did. At the end of the conference after everyone had left the building, I asked God if I could take my hands and flatten out Judah's face by moving the paint to the edges. That way, I could bring the canvas home the following week and work on it back in my studio with sort of a fresh start. God said yes, so I did just that. I left the canvas on the easel on Saturday night, and went to church on Sunday, like normal. During worship at church, I had an encounter with the Lion of Judah Himself, and got taken up into the heavenlies.

I first saw the expanse of the deep universe and all the stars. As I was hovering there, a "black hole" looking portal opened up in front of me. At the center of the opening, my husband's head lifted up for a moment, and then went back down toward the opening. At the rim of the portal, my husband's head melded into Judah's head. Judah came back up like a face breaking the surface of water. Judah's face was both surrounded and connected to an uncountable number of illuminated, pulsating, undulating colors in the most beautiful of combinations. The colors intertwined and danced together like music, going around and around in and out of the opening of the portal. And then the colors became Judah's body and mane. In an instant my face was near His face. He beckoned to me to breathe into His mouth like lions do to identify other lions in their pride. I breathed into His mouth, and Judah did the same back into my mouth. We exchanged our breath several times. He then spoke directly into my spirit, saying "Look at me. Find me! Find me!" He lifted his paw, and it turned into thousands of different human hands. Next He told me to look into His eyes. I immediately looked and saw a filmstrip of different eye shapes of people from different nations, tribes, ages, and colors. Everything was going so quickly, and yet, time stood still and I could study each minute detail of the eyes and hands. Judah then told me to come into His mane. I was immediately standing in one of His hair follicles. I was infinitely small. The follicle swallowed me up in its exponential size. I was swept into the follicle like I was sliding down a water slide at great speeds. The same colors and pulsating lights were all around me. Was this was what it was like to be standing in the center of the universe inside a portal or light tube into the heavens? I began to slide back into my own dimension, and I became aware of my earthly surroundings again.

I have no idea know how long I was in the encounter during worship that morning. It was timeless - both but a moment and forever. It was the most intense encounter I've had, still to this day! So when I returned to the worship center the following Tuesday morning, I walked into the foyer and opened the double doors at the back of the sanctuary. I stopped. I could not believe my eyes. On the stage on my easel was my painting, quietly illuminated by the overhead lighting. (Per second picture, upper right.) The painting was EXACTLY as I saw Judah in my vision. I left the paint nothing like that! His eyes didn't exist before. His face wasn't there, and now it was! I titled this painting "Come Find Me". Every time I look at it, it brings me great comfort, exhilaration, and joy.

Back to the tips...

14. If you feel led to do collage work during the event, prepare your material, paper especially, before the event. It's distracting to the worshippers and worship team/band if you're being loud or creating a mess around you tearing or cutting up paper.

15. Thankfully I've never had to learn this the hard way, but dress appropriately. Wear loose-fitting clothes and undergarments that don't show. NO CLEAVAGE, NO EXCESS SKIN SHOWING, NO TIGHT ANYTHING, and especially no exercise pants. Is this prudish? Absolutely not. You were invited to scribe for an event because you are trustworthy to usher in the flow of Holy Spirit with reverence, not distract from Him. As much as you may think others are not paying attention to what you look like, they are, and you certainly do not want to embarrass yourself, your hosts, or those around you. Make absolutely sure you have proper skin coverage if you're bending forward, crouching down, or stretching overhead. Ladies, please don't wear any kind of skirt or pants that are shorter than mid-calf. I really advise against wearing shorts that are above the knees at all, even if you're painting outdoors in the summer. If you're on an elevated platform I strongly advise you stay away from wearing skirts and shorts altogether. Even if you're on the floor, your skirt needs to be long and have an adequate slip. You may think you can't see through a dark skirt or blouse, but the lights going through your clothes will reveal otherwise! Leave the chunky jewelry at home, it just gets in the way and speckled in paint. Also, wear comfortable shoes that you can stand in for a long time. If it's helpful, you can bring yourself a foam mat to stand on. To protect your clothes, you may want to consider using an apron or painting smock, which will cover your backside. If you're careful when you paint, that's great. But what you can't always control is splash up from the water when you clean your brushes afterward, something that accidentally gets knocked over, or anything else that might come up.

Bottom line: Don't be a hindrance for anyone else, and remember you are an ambassador to the inner courts, so prepare yourself as such, and always respect those around you.

16. What you leave behind is really important. If you're washing brushes or supplies out in someone else's sink or on their property, be sure to clean up after yourself. Leave no residue in the drain, on the counter, in the grass, on the sidewalk or concrete, or in the wash basin. If you're cleaning up indoors, check the floor and mirror to make sure every surface nearby is free from your paint. Check around your area where you painted, and gather up your garbage, even if there are designated others cleaning up, too.

17. Inevitably, someone along the way will be critical of your art, or strangely possessive. They may even be rude, and violate your personal space. They may tell you what they would do differently (had it happen to me more than once.) They may tell you how you can improve your technique, when you weren't looking for input (also had that happen to me.) They may try to convince you it's "God's will" to give them your art (one lady got on stage with me when I was painting for Heidi Baker, and literally grabbed my canvas and tried to walk out with it!) Conversely, they may even tell you what you've painted was not "of God" or not what they were seeing in the spirit (sadly, I've been told one of my paintings was demonic, but I knew this person and her friends were there to cause rift, and had been trying to divide others against the move of the Holy Spirit the whole night.) My advice is this: Establish healthy boundaries, be discerning, polite, but also firm in telling them that your focus was on listening to what Holy Spirit was saying. Don't be a doormat and don't take offense. Really, what God is showing you in those instances are hurt areas in that person you can pray into if you're so led, and then release that critical person back to God. It's not your job to defend your art. Neither is it your job to be an impromptu counselor, unless you really know God is giving you a clear open door to speak into their life to break something off of them. It is, however, your responsibility to be an ambassador for the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Establish healthy boundaries, steward and salt your words with graciousness and love, and move forward.

18. This last one is big to me - be approachable and be kind! Truly. I've worked with and observed way too many other artists who won't let others watch them paint, or refuse to simply connect with people when they're working or selling their work. As a prophetic artist, you're not "just painting" and you're also not a celebrity. You are an active member of the worship and ministry team, even if you're a guest. You are not a one-man show, and worship and prophetic art, especially when it's done in a live setting, should never, ever be about entertainment or bringing attention or drama to yourself. What you're doing is capturing the heart of the Father, and being His hands to change lives. Worship art is scribing a picture of the sounds of worship lifting to the throne room, and the sounds of worship coming from the throne room. It can radically transform someone who's watching you unfold and unpack what they've been walking through. It can be a catalyst for breakthrough, even your own. And it can pour out and confirm what other people have heard prophetically, or seen in their dreams. I especially love it when small children come up to me when I'm painting. If they ask me questions, I absolutely take the time to stop, kneel down or lean over, and engage them. I am never too busy! Be intentional to interact, inspire, be authentic, and encourage someone else to step out in their giftings, too.

I hope I've helped you by sharing these tips. I'll talk about what paint and drawing supplies and brands I've found to give good, quality results in an upcoming post.