One True Light

by Daniel Ambrose on October 30, 2014

One True Light study, plein air

One True Light, first study, plein air oil painting. Daniel Ambrose

I once saw lightning strike a house out of a clear blue sky and set it on fire. Sometimes, that’s how inspiration hits. I have a feeling this plein air study is the flash of a new tempera painting. One True Light.

Late Sunday afternoon on Pawleys Island. Previous visits bathe my memories in warm light. Bittersweet. I come here alone this time, emotions raw as the earth pigments that I grind into paint. Kicking a broken oyster shell into the grass, its other half missing, my mind is 393 miles south of here on this pretty, autumn day. A snowy egret glides into the marsh and disappears. Though yours in me may have waned, I have not lost faith in you.

A strong faith that will not falter through life’s hurricanes, as this weathered, southern church extends bravely over the salt marsh, like a dock to eternity. Birds scatter in the southern sky, then vanish into the light. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns . . .  All that remains, is supreme light. Light beams from the sky, gallantly flowing over golden grasses like a bridal train spilling over the chapel floor. Translucent light pours through the window. Luminous shadows float, pale, pregnant with possibility.

Various types of light illuminate the vagaries of life. Out here, it’s all from one source. An honest kind of light you can see and feel. A light you can believe in. A light you can depend on.

One true light.

I carry this light in my heart, bring my questions to this land. Out here, love filters through the yellowed glass of time, flowing, like tidal water through an estuary. At my easel, I offer up my remnants, lay out my colors and begin to paint. And the priest of creation marries the two; weds the love in a human heart, with the light connecting all living things, into an everlasting, luminous union we call Art.

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House by the Sea

by Daniel Ambrose on October 22, 2014

Sunlight fell upon the wall; the wall received a borrowed splendor. Why set your heart on a piece of earth, O simple one? Seek out the source which shines forever. – Rumi

House by the Sea, plein air oil, 8 x 10 in.

House by the Sea, plein air oil, 8 x 10 in. Daniel Ambrose.

I hear your voice…talking low. Lavender, the scent of your bath soap. The sheets are soft and warm. I open my eyes, focus on your classic profile discovered by the moonlight slipping through a crack in the curtain. A hint of blue in your oceanic eyes. Your lips are moving. I roll over closer and tenderly trace the contours of your cheek with my fingers.

“Do you want to live on the river or the ocean?”

Naively I reply, “the river.”

My heart whispers the ocean, but my practical head said the river. Salt spray is hard on a house. Stained windows, steel corrodes in the concrete, constant maintenance … you drift off.

I wake up—dreaming again—it’s 2:08 a.m. The moonlight dissolved into harsh sodium vapor.

At 7 a.m I head to the beach for sunrise service. Chairs are assembled facing the sea in the semi-dawn darkness. A guitar player begins strumming and singing a praise song called Beautiful.

The sky is turning fiery pink, teal-blue streaks flail this way and that, the work of an impassioned abstract expressionist. Lavender clouds float serenely in front. The sea, a pale silvery green, a chorus of pelicans glide into view, while a crescent moon gleams like a smile. A regal silence prevails.

The pastor is speaking, something about 1 John and love. Instinctively I reach out to squeeze the knee, forgetting it’s not there in the empty chair beside me. I smile at those around me. Foolish painter, dipping in the turps a bit much – eh?

Words, I hear more words, the sky is turning orange, waves are beginning to form. The unfolding colors gloriously drown out the sermon, saturating the air with their own sublime truth.

I feel like I am 300 feet west of where I need to be, close to the water. Feel like I am an oceans breadth apart from you—away from home. I’m compelled to leave, go down to the shore, raise my brush in honor, or just stand in reverence of the tremendous silence.

Later I head south to New Smyrna, for a vegan meal and then to paint the sea. A yellow house catches my eye. I’ve seen it before. Seagrapes, white trim, metal roof, Adirondack chairs on the porch. A glimpse of the ocean beyond the dunes, all awash under an impossible October blue sky.

Setting up my easel, I want to capture it all, the feeling of a house by the sea.

The ocean, I want to live on the ocean. I’ve been practical long enough.

I want to rise and bow with the sea oats in the golden sunrise. Bathe my soul in sea spray and sing a eulogy to the last dusky seaside sparrow. Shiver in the ionic atmosphere, when purple clouds of summer storms rumble and flash. Leap into the moist light each morning and become baptized—renewed in the awesome wonder of it all.

Back in Ormond in the evening, I take a long, prayerful walk on the beach. The air is balmy and the surf pounds in the darkness guiding my way. Stars appear, and two shoot over the sea. I hear your voice in the message.

A heart can only bear so much.

Solitary, in a house by the sea.

A steadfast heart paints the colors of dreams.



by Daniel Ambrose on October 15, 2014

gratitude, plein air oil painting by Daniel Ambrose

Gratitude. Private collection.

Maybe it was the winter night alone in Death Valley when I was seventeen and lay shivering under a sky so laced with brilliant stars that it made me surrender my arrogance. Or the solitary moonlight hike in a deep Alaskan night through spruce trimmed trail, powdery with new fallen snow, sparkling, as if a great hand had strewn stardust at my feet to guide my way. Certainly it was not that snowy February night I curled up in a lone sheepherders wagon on a Wyoming plain.

It was never the shiny new things consumed because I thought they would satisfy my unquenchable hunger. With the acquisition complete, I was hungrier than before, still left with the void. It took years of soul searching painting—giving of myself, and listening to others stories, to learn where happiness dwells. It’s living in the house of thankfulness, of attention to what I have instead of what I don’t. As poet-painter William Blake tells, “the road to the palace of wisdom is paved with excess.”

Memories are lovely and financial security is fine, but freedom from fear is divine. Magnificent experiences deepened my appreciation of life, but it’s the minute moments often unnoticed by everyone that gives me gratitude. In times of distress they are especially appealing.

It’s the breath of a doe, made visible in a cool mountain morning, the innocent laughter of my children when they were babies, sunrise reflected in a dewdrop clinging to a flower, a dog blissfully rolling in the grass—the smell of new mown grass—of salty air upon the water. A warm touch upon my shoulder, a friend who sits silently beside you in sorrow, and belly-laughs at your lame jokes. It’s coffee or tea on a sun-dappled porch surrounded in birdsong.

It’s the subtle things that ring true.

It’s a million things, and it is no thing, it’s the unseen movement of precious life—innumerable miracles coursing through our bodies and in the world around us every millisecond that drops me to my knees in humility and gratitude.

I can never repay in full this gift of the grace of life. Still, perhaps, in small ways, in my art and being…

Yeah..I can practice gratitude.