Thoughts from Scotland

Today, while touring through the Edinburgh Castle, I came across some words inscribed in the entrance of the Scottish National War Memorial, located in the old church on the top of the fortress.  The words stood out in the somber memorial to the fallen men and women that have fought for freedom around the world:

Our soul is escaped even as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; The snare is broken and we are delivered.

The Above quote is Psalm 124:7 according to my dear friend Reuben.

I’ve been traveling around Scotland with several members of my extended family (there are 15 of the Kerr Clan on this trip) and another 30 other individuals on our tour bus.  We’ve been traveling around Scotland, learning the history of this majestic land and visiting sites of battles fought long ago, ruins of places that once were, and castles that hold together the stories of tales long ago.

This is the land of mystery, fairies, and legends.  The landscape is one of fantasy and of awe inspiring mysticism.  There are stories here that have been forgotten, and you can feel them in your bones as you move through the lands.

This is a land of lost wonders.  Of nature reclaiming the land that has been abandoned and the walls that can no longer hold back the siege of time.  Ruins litter the landscape, revealing a past of warriors and nobles, the reign of kings and lords of the land.

This is the land where faith lives.  While the runes and ancient ways have been lost throughout time, we find that the land moves to the drumbeat of a rhythm that moves the soul.  It is the land of religion and faith, knowledge and wisdom.

Scotland is a beautiful place, from it’s rolling hills to the highland peaks, lochs (lakes) and rivers to woodland forests that are scattered across the land.  It consists of castles and ruins, light and shadows that dance across the face of the mountains.

As we entered onto the battlefield of Culloden, where the last of the Jacobite rebellions fell alongside the hundreds of warriors who lost their lives within hours of the fighting, a quote lined the wall:

‘S i’n fhuil bha’n cuisl’ ar sinnsreadh,
‘S an insgin a bha nan aigne …

It is translated as “Our blood is still our fathers, And ours the valour of their hearts.”

This is the land of the clan of my ancestors.  And somehow, I feel like the warriors of the past are still walking through the knee high grasses and over the purple hills of the highlands.

Our tour guide shared with us a story of the creation and of how Heather, the purple flower that covers the highlands, came to be:

In the beginning, as God was creating the world, he looked over the land and all was good, except for the grey highland hills that covered Scotland.  He frowned and decided to seek out the great plants of the world to grace the rocky mountain slopes.

God first approached the great, wise Oak with his deep roots, and asked if he would cover the mountains with his branches and leaves.  After some time, as the Oak was very wise and not quick to make a decision, he declined, telling God; “The soil is not good for these roots of mine.  It is too shallow and I will surely topple when the winds come across the mountains.”

God next turned to the Rose, the most beautiful of the flowers.  When he asked, the rose quickly replied: “The mountains of the north are too cold for my delicate petals; I would surely wither and die.”

God then turned to the Honeysuckle, with its fragrant scent and spreading vines.  Surely it would grace the mountain sides.  After peering into the distance, the Honeysuckle turned to God and responded: “I’m sorry, God, but if I were to move up to the mountains, the wind would surely sweep away the beauty of my offerings and it would be lost.”

Out of options, God turned to the Heather and asked if she would be willing to grace the mountains of the Highlands.  The Heather bowed and answered: “If you wish for me to grace the mountains, I will go.”

So, the Heather spread over the rocks and peaks, and for her willingness to serve, God gifted the Heather with strong, deep roots that hold fast to the mountainside, a strong, robust will to survive the cold winters of Scotland, and a fragrance that is pure and strong that fills the wind of the mountains with its sweet scent.

There are lessons that we can all learn from the history, myths and legends of the mountains.  I know I will be taking these memories back to the States with me, as inspiration, encouragement, and lessons to pass on to those willing to listen.

God Bless and PEACE


Tutorial on Constructing Canvases

Part of my painting process is the creation of my canvases.  It always has been and always will.  I’ve never been fond of traditional stretcher bars, they’re way to thin for my liking (and flimsy) and they don’t have the sharp edge that I enjoy (there are some that are not rounded, but they are hard to find).

At Anderson University, during Painting II, one of the Seniors showed us underclassmen how to create our own stretcher bars.  I believe that all painters should have knowledge of creating their own canvases, so I pass on my knowledge to all the developing (and other) artists out there.

One of the things that I’ve learned is that it takes time to perfect the art of making canvases.  I’ve made a good number of stretcher bars and canvases and I still mess up from time to time.  More realistically, every single one of my canvases have some type of flaw, it’s part of the art process.

So, without farther delays, lets begin.

Step 1: Preparing Your Stretcher Bars

Step 1a

Supplies needed include (can be found at Lowes or Home Depot): Hammer, Wood Glue (optional), Nails (at this stage, 3d 1-1/4″), 1×2″ and 11/16″ Quarter Round (I use 8 foot sections of each).  I use pine because it is relatively cheap and sturdy enough for my needs.

You want to make sure you get the straightest pieces of wood you can find.  Due to the way hardware stores display their wood, it warps easily near the ends.  As for the Quarter Round, it’s not all that important as you can manipulate it easily as you attach it to the 1×2.

Step 1b

So, the goal here is to attach the Quarter Round to the 1×2 to get the base of your stretcher bar.  I don’t use wood glue, but a little extra support can’t hurt.  I put in a nail every hands-with or so (4-7 inches, depending on how big of canvases I’m creating).

You want to make sure that the edges line up evenly.  Push and/or pull the Quarter Round until it lines up and nail it into place.

Step 1c

In the end, it should look somewhat like the above.

Step 2: Cutting to Size

Step 2

At this point, what you need is a miter saw to cut your stretcher bars at a 45 degree angle.  At this stage, you will be cutting down to size your stretcher bars.  If you already know the size of your paintings, bring a measuring tape.  I do everything by eye and fly by the seat of my pants (aka: I don’t measure anything).

Step 2b

It is simpler to have a powered reciprocating miter saw, but in the change that you do not have access to one, a cheap alternative is a miter box.  For about $12 you can still cut your stretcher bars at a 45 degree angle, though it will take more of an effort and more work.  Trust me, it can be done.

Step 2c

So, you want to cut each piece twice, so that they will fit together in the corners of your canvas.

Step 2d

I measure by cutting the first piece, then putting it up against the next piece and making sure it is equal in length.  Even if you measure it out before hand, I’d suggest doing this to ensure that you make each piece equal in length.

Step 2e

By the end of a couple of hours of work, you should have a small pile of scraps, a dusting of sawdust, and a collection of stretcher bars.  I find that I can get about 6 canvases out of four eight foot sections of wood.  Above is what came out of eight lengths of wood.

Step 3: Construction of the Stretcher Bars

Step 3

Supplies needed at this point include: Wood glue, corner braces, hammer, and nails (I use 8d 2-1/2″ Bright Finish, though my father claims that it is overkill).  I only use one corner brace per canvas, I now have two, so now I construct two canvases at a time.

Step 3b

Coat the inside of the corner piece in wood glue.  Extra glue can be wiped off with a wet paper towel or left in place like I usually do.

Step 3c

Put the corners pieces into the corner brace and tighten down.  Make sure that the corner edges line up evenly.  Put in the nails as far as you can while the corners are in the braces.

It is easier to figure out a way to brace the whole set up so that everything doesn’t move as you attempt to hammer everything together.  Let it sit for a couple of minutes until the glue somewhat dries before taking everything out to the corner braces.  This is where constructing two canvases at a time works well.

Once out of the corner brace, hammer in the nails the rest of the way and continue to work your way around the canvas until all four corners are connected.

Step 3d

I was always taught to put in three nails in each corner, but two seems to work in most cases.  If you want extra support, put in the extra nail.  It can’t hurt to be extra secure.

Note the extra hole in the side of that corner, I had to remove a nail due to the fact that I messed up (see below).

Step 3e

Things you don’t want to do includes this, putting a nail in and having it come out the side or back of your stretcher bar.  Remove the nail and put in a new one without making the same mistake.

What’s really frustrating is having to remove several nails from the same corner.  My record is currently four.  Trust me, it sucks.

Step 3f

And this is why you want to make sure you put enough nails into the Quarter Round at the very beginning of the process.  You want to have enough so that each side has at minimum of two nails.

Or you can use wood glue and this wouldn’t happen.  But I’m stubborn.

Step 3g

Soon, you will have a collection of constructed stretcher bars waiting for canvas.

Step 3.2: Support Bars

Step 3h

For larger canvases, support beams are required to brace the stretcher bars to prevent warping and distortion when you stretch and pull the canvas around the stretcher bars.  What you need is a saw and an extra piece of 1×2″ without any Quarter Round attached.

I usually do not use support beams unless one of the sides is more than two feet (24″) in distance (again, I eyeball it and know from experience when I need it).  Most of my canvases are smaller in size, but this recent batch included two that needed the extra support.

Step 3i

You will need to measure the inside distance between the two sides.  An easy way to eyeball the distance is to line up the support on the inside of the frame to ensure that your measurement is not crooked.

NOTE: If your canvas is 30″ by 12″, you will want to put the support beam between the two 30″ pieces, so you would measure the inside of the 12″ side.  Kinda common sense, but I’ve done it before (don’t ask).

Step 3j

Next, you want to position the support beam in the center of the tow sides (note that in the picture above, the beam is not centered and it is crooked).  Glue and/or nail in place.

I usually do not put the beam flush against the back, but somehow raise it 1/8 – 1/4 inch before securing it in place.  I do this for preference, there is no real reason why.

Step 3k

Now you should have a pile of frames and stretcher bars ready to become canvases.  These are the twelve stretcher bars that came out of the 8 lengths of 8′ 1×2.

Step 4: Stretching your Canvas

Step 4

Once you have your stretcher bars assembled (either constructed yourself or prefabricated), you need to stretch your canvas.  To do this, you need canvas (duh) and a staple gun.  You may need a hammer in the event that the staples don’t go all the way in (this is the case if you use heavy wood).

First, make sure you have enough canvas by folding it over your stretcher bars and ensuring that you will be able to secure it to the back.

Step 4b

Start in the center of each stretcher bar, pulling the canvas tightly and attaching via staple gun.  I stretch the canvas with my hands, but there are nifty tools to help you grab the fabric and stretch it.  I find that there is no real difference between using the specialized tools and all by hand, but that doesn’t mean that you will find the same results.

Step 4c

Once you have the first staples in, work your way out from the center, one staple at a time.  I usually follow the following pattern:  Long side, flip, Long side, Short side, flip, Short side, repeat.  On each side, I put in the next two staples.  Each staple is usually 1-2 inches apart from one another.

Step 4d

Continue working out towards the corners.

Step 4e

Above is an example of how I grab and pull the fabric over the stretcher bars.  Yes, it takes a lot of force, but I enjoy the challenge.

Step 4f

When you get close to the corners you will want to fold the canvas over in a way to make the corners clean.  I use hospital corners so that the folds are semi-hidden and concealed.  Find what works best for you and finish off the canvas.

Step 5

Once you are finished, relish the moment and bask in your work.  If you choose to use gesso, now would be a good time to prime your canvas.  I use a single layer of extremely light gesso (1 part gesso, 1 part water) which is why the layers of paint directly on the fabric show through.  This is my style.

Unless you are really skilled in carpentry (or really lucky) creating your own canvases will never be easy.  It takes a while to learn and many of mine still look like [edit], even after several years of making my own stretcher bars.

Continue to learn and make as many as possible.  Practice makes better.

I hope this tutorial has helped and inspired artists to continue to produce their works.

God Bless and PEACE


While spending time with my FEMA Corps team, Ocean 7, we spent several hours one day talking about and discussing the Ten Lenses of Diversity.  The article we were discussing stated that each of us interpret society through one or more of these lenses.  We worked our way through Assimilationist, Colorblindness, Culturalcentrist, Elitist, Integrationist, Meritocratist, Multiculturalist, Seclusionist, Transcendent, and finally Victim/Caretaker.

The conversations became intense at times and my team discovered something interesting about me; I have the unique ability to see both sides of an argument and accept their beliefs, even if I do not personally believe it myself.  In our discussion of Seclusionists, the Mennonite and Amish communities came up and members of my team became frustrated that I could defend their stance, even if I didn’t believe in it myself.

The trick isn’t arguing for arguments sake, but to train your mind to learn and acknowledge other points of view that are different from your own.  You do not necessarily  have to accept them as your own, but you have to accept the truth that they are out there.

My team would tell you that I am one of the most frustrating individuals to argue with.  I play the devils advocate and pick at both sides and many people don’t know where exactly I stand on issues when it comes to debates and intellectual conversations.  Many times, I do this on purpose.

My faith is my creed.  I feel very strongly about issues, but I understand that God calls me to love first and foremost.  I don’t let people know my opinions, not because I don’t want to convince people of what is important to me, but because in doing so would inhibit me from loving to the fullest.

In seeing and acknowledging both sides of an issue, I understand that it is no longer about me and my opinions.  Be it the issue of abortion, gun control, gay rights and marriage, or the global presence of a single nation whose troops are spread across the world (all of which I have strong opinions about) it isn’t my purpose to convert people to my point of view.

In my faith (and religion), God called us to spread the word and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).  We have been called to love and teach, but learn how to trust in God to change the hearts of others.  I cannot convert anyone, I can only be a catalyst through my words and actions so that God can change the hearts of others.

With this same philosophy I approach the delicate and volatile issues of our society.  All I can do is love those around me and live my life as a beacon for all those I come in contact with.

Do I mind if people know my beliefs and opinions on everything?  Not at all.  I just don’t see why it is relevant.  My opinions are my own, I wont force them onto someone else.

With Seclusionists, I understand the need to preserve ones culture and society.  I don’t let my  own experiences with the multicultural of travel and missions that have shaped me to be who I am force my hand to say that someone else is wrong.  Even if I believe that there are better options, it’s not my place to say someone else’s beliefs are wrong.

Just some thoughts and a rant…

God Bless and PEACE

Why Not?

Over the past four years I’ve answered thousands of questions about my adventures in Uganda, aboard the M/V Africa Mercy, and my time with AmeriCorps*National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and FEMA Corps.  People always want to know what I did in my time of service both in Africa and across the United States.  They want to hear the stories of adventures throughout the Dark Continent, chasing disasters, and serving others.  But they never seem to ask the most basic question:  Why?

Earlier today, one of my former Corps Members (CM) from AmeriCorps*NCCC – FEMA Corps shared with the world her reasons for serving.  Her words got me thinking about why we find ourselves serving.

Casey is an amazing young woman who I had the honor and privilege of having on my team.  She, like me, is crazy enough to return for a second year as a Team Leader (TL).  I’ve included her blog on my links so everyone can follow her adventures.
:::END NOTE:::

Unlike her, I was not born and raised in a small town, but traveled around the country as my family followed where the Army sent my father.  This constant movement has fed a wonderlust that has defined my life ever since.

My first ventures out of the country landed me in Honduras, serving alongside members of my youth group with Crossing Boarders as we helped dig trenches and lay down pipe to supply running water to the local villages.  I returned the following year alongside my brother and found it satisfying to experience the culture of others and see life from a different perspective.

From that moment, I have been wondering ever since.  From Upper New York State with Young Life’s Saranac Village to Southern Spain, Uganda with Akia-Ashianut to Togo and the M/V Africa Mercy with Mercy Ships, and into my experiences with AmeriCorps*NCCC and FEMA Corps.  Even now I prepare to head to Scotland with family and another year of service alongside AmeriCorps St. Louis.

I’ve never really taken the time to ask myself “Why?”  It’s never been important to me to know.

I serve because my parents taught me to care for others.  When the tornado hit Ft. Steward all those years ago (1996 if I remember correctly), I watched my mother’s simple gestures of sharing coffee and learned that simple acts can change the world.

I travel because it’s in my blood.  Well, to be honest, that is an excuse.  I travel because I’m not tied down to a single place.  My roots have been spread across the country and across the globe and my family (ie: relatives, friends, teammates, etc) is spread to the four winds.

Home has always been where the heart is.

We can get consumed by this simple question: “Why?”  I hate it because I cannot explain the calling of the heart.  I can’t explain the adventure, nor the journey.  I just go, following a calling in my life.

I guess the question we should be asking is “Why not?”

Is it money?  Security?  Complacency?

I learned years ago to live with reckless abandon.  To follow God with every fiber of my being because the alternatives scare my [edited]-less.

I know I’m afraid of settling down.  I haven’t tried to hide the fact that I will always be a nomad at heart.  Serving allows me to continue this adventure.  Chasing disasters, helping people, and that good feeling I get when I pass out from exhaustion after a long day of work are all part of this adventure.

I keep going because I don’t want to find myself looking back at my life and questioning why I didn’t take that chance.

I may never be able to answer these questions, and I am perfectly fine with that.  I guess, in the end, we follow our hearts or let something within us wither away.

Just another rant that I’m gonna blame on my CM.

God Bless and PEACE

Hello, My Name is Sean … and I Am A Photography Snob

As a traditional artist, I pride myself in the works that I produce because they define who I am.  Each piece tells a story in the lines and colors on the surface.  From my rough, dark drawings confined to the pages of sketchbooks to paintings that displayed on walls and stacked not so neatly in my room, each piece reveals part of who I am.  A part of who I have become.

When I pick up my camera (commonly referred to as my ‘baby’), I am still an artist trying to tell the story in a split-second captured in time.  It’s a different medium, but I put the same level of dedication into my work.

I call myself a photographer because I manipulate the camera to capture the image that becomes the photograph.  I take pride in the fact that I capture what I see and rarely manipulate the image afterwards.  So when I see others claiming to be photographers when they are not, the snob comes out.

Several years ago I wrote a rant on the difference between a picture and a photograph, and I continue to stand by  my words.  Anyone can pick up a camera, be it a point-and-shoot or a high-end SLR camera with all the fancy settings and buttons, and take a picture.  You click a button and BAM! you’ve got yourself a picture.  Just because you took it with a camera or consider yourself a photographer doesn’t make it a photograph.

The trick isn’t having the best equipment and a beautiful subject, it’s knowing how to manipulate what you have to bring out the story behind the image.

For starters, do you know the basics of what your camera can do?  How do you manipulate the focal depth to best tell the story?  Do you know how the aperture and/or shutter speed will affect the image?  ISO?  How does capturing the same image with film differ from digital?  This doesn’t even begin to cover color theory, balance, and composition.

With the rise of the digital camera, everyone and their mother is snapping off pictures.  Now that we have cameras built into our phones and tablets, it becomes worse.  We are bombarded by pictures that we have forgotten the differences are.

Gone are the days of great photographers.  The revolution has taken place and I fear that photography has become a lost art.  Almost like the Latin language.

I, in fact, studied Latin in high school for two years as my foreign language requirement.  I make this reference due to the fact that the roots of the Latin language are still evident to this day.  Traditional photography has become a lost art, but the remains and roots of it can still be found to this day in digital media, contemporary advertising, and artwork around the world.
:::END NOTE:::

We now comb through hundreds, if not thousands of pictures to find a handful that we took by chance that are worthy of being called photographs.  Instead of learning from those images, figuring out what made them special, unique, we continue to flood ourselves with image after image, chasing something just out of our grasp.

Photographers learn from each image that they capture.  What made it successful?  Why does it work?  And the question that we find ourselves asking more and more as time goes by; Why doesn’t it work?

I take being a photography snob one step farther as I consider myself a purist as well.  My opinion is that if you can’t capture the image you are looking for with just your camera, then it is no longer a photograph.

It’s easy to edit your pictures now that the digital era is upon us.  With a click of a button you can adjust the saturation, colors and feel of your image.  It no longer matters what you capture with your camera, it’s about what you produce with that said image.

I feel that the instant you edit an image in any way, it is no longer a photograph, but a work of art.  Digital art.  Mixed media.  Whatever.  It is no longer a true photograph.  It is no longer pure.

Harsh?  Yes.  I know it is and I accept that fact.

I understand that there are things that you can do in a traditional darkroom to edit your image, but I challenge myself in asking whether or not to call some of it photography.  As art, it is beautiful.  But is it photography?

I’m open to others opinions when it comes to art and photography, but understand that I do not want to argue.  I am like an old man, set in his ways.  If I offended you with these words, my advice would be to run.  The world of art critiques is a harsh reality that forces you to roll with the punches and learn from each blow or to learn how to pick yourself up.  A lot.

God Bless and PEACE

Please note that my opinions are my own.  Feel free to disagree with me.  That being said, most of the pictures that I take never see the light of day.  Most of my pictures are just that, images.  Only 10% of what I take I consider keepable.  Of those, maybe a handful I consider photographs.  That is the nature of the Digital Age.  (slightly different for my film, which I take more time on).
:::END NOTE:::

Red Skies and Lost Words

Four years ago I watched a little girl die from Malaria before my eyes.  At the time, there were no words that could describe the feelings that flooded through me as I stood there in shock, the echoes of a mother’s scream piercing the air.  Even now, years later, the words to describe it are still lost to me.

There are times in life we will find ourselves face to face with situations where there are no words.  There will never be words to describe how we feel.

Two weeks ago I found myself once again speechless as another great light of my life was taken from us.  A second mother.  A friend.  A survivor.  And, more importantly, one of the most beautiful individuals who touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of military families with her presence.

She was more than just a woman.  A wife.  A mother.  Grandmother.

Words cannot begin to explain how much she meant to all of us, so when we heard the news of her passing, it felt like a part of who we were, who we have become died as well.  And for some unknown reason, we protect ourselves by shutting down.

Earlier this week, the nation watched in horror as the Yarnell Hill Fire consumed hundreds of acres as the wind shifted, killing 19 brave young men.  I woke Monday to the news, but I didn’t realize how close the fires burned until later that evening.

One of the young men who passed away in the flames, one of the heroes that put his life on the line every day protecting lives and properties of those he would never know, was more than a firefighter.  He was more than a hero.

When I became a part of Sun 3, while serving with AmeriCorps*NCCC Class XVII out of Denver, I found myself alongside the members of the Crown King Volunteer Fire Department in the mountains north of Phoenix, AZ.  It was there that I met a young man whose passion drove him to learn and pass on his knowledge to others around him.

Always smiling, he did what he loved and I never once heard him complain about the long hours or the tough conditions in which we worked.  He joked around and carried himself with pride.

He taught me so much in those four weeks that I had the privilege of working beside him.  And I never realized it until he was no longer with us.

I should have written earlier, but how do you find words when your heart cries out in anguish?

How do you tell them what they taught you when you didn’t know?

Looking back, we know now.

These young men were more than brave firefighters who passed away in the line of duty.  They are more than brothers.  More than sons.  Husbands.  Fathers.  Family.  Or Friends.

Each of them were, and still are, an inspiration.  A teacher.  Instructor.  Role model.  They changed peoples lives without knowing it.

And the words to describe the loss are lost to us.

Someone once told me that heroes never die, but they live on in the memories of those left behind.  Even if we cannot find the words, we still carry them with us.

God Bless and PEACE