The Way We Learn

Everyone learns differently.  One of the often criticized aspects of traditional public education is that many students have difficulty because they don’t necessarily learn the way a teacher prefers to teach, leading them to believe that they are just not as capable, when they truly are. Art is no different.

“I learn better by hearing,” Nancy declares while in class today.  With a sideways smile, Steve responds, “That’s interesting because it always seems to be that you learn best when I show you something.” 

The conversation struck a chord with me.  Steve is particularly good at this, understanding precisely what his students need, even when they don’t.  He’s right, of course, Nancy really responds when she is shown something.  Meanwhile, I ask for him to do something for me on the canvas, and he gives me a sideways glance, knowing it’s better if he just explains it to me and I stumble around for a bit, it’s how I learn. Other students in the class are no different.  It seems Steve finds exactly how they learn and, even when they think they need one thing, he gives them what will truly benefit them in the long run and improve their painting.

As with most of our art classes, the interactions today made me think of my relationship with God.  How often do I expect him to approach me a certain way, and then become frustrated when it seems that doesn’t happen? 

So often I hear someone give a powerful testimony, and a small part of me is sad, “God doesn’t speak to me that way,” I think.  Then, somehow this becomes an indication of God’s love for me, or lack thereof.  I know I have heard others say, “Well, God just doesn’t speak to me.”  Maybe the truth is, God speaks to us differently.  Just like an art class, he gives us each what we need, infinitely wiser than ourselves.  Perhaps we can trust him to love us and have our best interest at heart? He did send his son for us after all, how much more love can he demonstrate?  

Steve has been painting most of his life, he’s sold paintings all over the world, maybe I can learn to trust the way he approaches me too?

Posted on October 19, 2016 .

Advice to the Aspiring Artist

“What advice would you give to someone just starting out as an artist? Or, someone who isn’t sure if they definitely want to pursue art as a career?”  The time came for me to ask Steve a random question, disguising my need for advice with a question I hope will lead him to the answer I am hoping for.  His response startled me, “I would never suggest to someone that they choose art as a career.” 

The answer came as a shock, because only moments ago I had asked him if he could do it all over again, would he still be an artist. His response was, “Yes, definitely!”  Yet, now he was saying that there is no way he would suggest that path to anyone else. 

He explained, Steve would never advise someone to choose art or painting for a career, because the career is more something that chooses you.  It’s something that you can’t not do.  It’s something that you are called to, and despite what you may choose, you need to do it.  Then he says, even though if he had to go back and do it again, he would, if he had known all the sacrifice that would come with being an artist he is unsure if he would have the courage to do it.

“That’s the thing about culture today,” he says “everyone wants to know what the future holds. Whether it’s through intellectual prediction, fortune telling, or even through God, everyone wants to know what is in their future.” 

I thought about it.  I know this is true for me.  Particularly with the political climate of today, it seems anyone’s guess is as good as anyone else’s as to what will happen tomorrow.  Things seems so unsure, so unpredictable.  Yes, I want to know.  I want to know who wins the election, what the weather looks like tomorrow, if I will ever make it as an artist, if I am doing the right thing for my kids, and how long I have left on this planet to make an impact.  It almost seems that trying to understand what the future may hold has become synonyms with living in this world. 

Then he says, “Where is the fun in that?”

“If we know what the future holds then there is no reason for faith.  And, a life without faith, already knowing what is to come. Where is the fun in that?  What is the point?”

I suddenly became very aware of my paintbrush.  I thought of my preoccupation with how my painting will turn out, rather than appreciating each stroke as it’s made, enjoying the process. 

He’s right. 

So, what I have learned from today, to those aspiring to be artists, or really anyone, do whatever it is that you can’t help but do.  Do what God created you to do, and put your faith in him that he can get you through whatever it is you need to sacrifice in order to do it.  

Young Steve and his Family

Young Steve and his Family

Posted on October 12, 2016 .


"The experience of creating a portrait of another human being is a lot like falling in love."   - Stephen Sawyer

Stephen Sawyer is a master portrait artist.  Who else would God entrust with the painting of his son?  As I believe Steve was entrusted.  

Take a look at Stephen’s portrait commissions here.

I’ve been learning portraiture from Steve.  It’s not easy. Capturing someone’s likeness is much more complex than capturing a sunset or a flower.

People see and experience so many things in their lives, and somehow these things are held within their outward appearance.  Especially creating a portrait for someone others may know better than yourself, capturing that likeness can be tricky.

I asked Steve today what his favorite thing is about portrait painting.  “Becoming part of the family,” he responded.  “Every so often you will capture the likeness of someone so well, you will become a close family friend, and that’s pretty special.”

He received one letter particularly touching from one client where in it he says, "Finally he exclaimed, "That's it, That's you." I was still not a believer...until I saw the finished portrait..... I saw me, the real me."

It’s letters like this that make me grateful I am learning from Steve, hopeful that eventually I will receive a joyfully written letter or become a new family friend. 


Posted on September 14, 2016 .

Fear and Love

“There’s no fear in Love…” It is a song I have grown to love recently.

“Perfect love casts out fear” it is a scripture I know pretty much everyone has heard.  In many Christian circles this is reduced to nothing more than, because Jesus loves us, we don’t have to fear hell.  While this is a lovely reality, there is so much more to it.  

Art is love.  God in his infinite capacity to love created.  He created the heavens and the earth, and you and me.  He created out of love and in his love gave us the capacity to create, like him.  As I paint, I feel so connected to the creator, like I am tapping into something eternal, something pure.

It doesn’t always feel this way, especially when I began taking classes with Steve.  When I started classes at Art 4 God, I was afraid.  I had been painting for a few years, but I was completely self taught and while I was able to create some things exactly the way I intended, my execution was sporadic and my technique was inconsistent.  In short, I could create the perfect brushstroke in the perfect place, but, I didn’t have the confidence or the understanding to create that same brushstroke again. 

I walked into class excited, but nervous about my ability, or lack of ability, to keep up. I also wasn’t sure how to properly use oil paint. So, of course, I choose the most complicated thing to paint, a portrait.  I was definitely afraid, and my painting suffered for it.

My drawing was inaccurate.  I would carefully look at each piece of the painting, sacrificing the whole for each individual part .  Steve always tells us, “Anything you mess up, I can fix,” with the attention of alleviating our fears from the process.  You just can’t create when you’re afraid. 

A funny story that comes up anytime someone is struggling with something in class painting is about that first portrait.  I worked for hours on this ear.  I just could not get it right.  Every so often I would have this “perfect” brushstroke, so I would try to work the rest of the ear around that one stroke. It just wasn’t working. Finally, desperate for a way to get the rest of the ear to cooperate with the one or two bits that I was happy with, I asked Steve for help. Steve saw the struggle for what it was.  I was afraid.  I was afraid to let go, I was afraid of what I was capable of, I was afraid of missing something. I was operating under the subconscious belief that I had no clue what I was doing and anything that came out well was pure accident, and I had to do whatever I could to protect that accident, and if I did it enough a painting would come out.

Steve approached the easel and I felt the tension leave, he picked up the brush, placing it gently on the canvas, and I watched fully prepared for him to work his magic.  Then, he erased it. He swished the brush around, pulling the carefully applied layers of paint off its surface.  My jaw dropped and without intending to I sucked what felt like all the air in the room in one giant gasp.  All of my work, it was gone, in a flash.

In the back of my mind I wanted to grab my canvas right then and there, and fend for myself at home. The only problem was, Steve was the only one I knew who could fix it, and I didn’t want a portrait with no ear.

Steve explained “It wasn’t right.”  There was no way to finish the painting and finish it well with the ear that was there. He could have worked to incorporate what little bits were okay into the rest of the piece, but it would have taken longer and it would not have looked as good.  However jarring it was, it was the right and gracious thing to do for me to remove the ear entirely and start anew.

After recovering from my initial shock, I gave my full attention to Steve as he, in mere minutes, completed the perfect ear.

You can’t create a good painting when you’re afraid to paint.  You can’t do anything well when you are motivated by fear. Maybe that is why the Bible says not to fear so many times. 

I feel like sometimes God does exactly what Steve did.  He blows a bit to rattle our house of cards to show us just how fragile the construct of our lives is.  He does not do it to traumatize us or break us down, he does it so we can build the confidence to do it ourselves, to watch him move on our behalf, and to let us see where the brushstrokes belong. He does it because creativity and love cannot live in an environment of fear.

I love Stephen’s painting of Jesus laughing. I feel it represents who God is so well.  We like to imagine him as serious and angry, but I believe where we are afraid, he is just waiting for us to trust him and enjoy the ride. 

Posted on September 6, 2016 .

Happy Birth Stephen Sawyer

Today is Steve's Birthday.  To celebrate the occasion Steve would like to offer a rare discount.  25% off everything here at, until midnight tomorrow, 8/31.  Use the discount code: BIRTHDAY

Posted on August 30, 2016 .

How Do I Love Thee?

“This reminds me of a time when I was a child…”  Steve was about to retell a story.  It is one he has told several times in class, because a lot of things can remind you of it.  When he was a child he went to Mammoth Cave and they turned out all the lights and it was very dark.  Young Steve gasped, and the tour guide encouraged him not to be afraid.  To which Steve responded, “I am not afraid, I am just scared.”  It is a funny story; it’s adorable.  However, having been in class for over a year now, I have heard it a few times. 

This time was different though, because Cindy was in class.  Cindy is Steve’s wife.  I am SURE Cindy has heard this story several times as well.  My husband and I have been married only five years and we are constantly unintentionally retelling stories to and in front of one another.  Our five years is nothing in comparison to decades Cindy and Steve have been together, raising 5 kids into adulthood together.  Even so, when Cindy heard the story, she laughed.  Not only did she laugh, she guffawed.  She laughed more loudly and more genuinely than anyone else in the room.   And Steve, he came alive.  He told the rest of the story with more life and more vigor than I’d ever heard him tell it. 

It. Was. Beautiful. 

I think there is something particularly special about the love shared between two artists.  One can’t help but think of the great love stories when looking at Cindy and Steve.  Often I’m reminded of the love between Elizabeth Barret Browning and Robert Browning, the type of love that created the infamous poem, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

Cindy has been gone for about two weeks now, and she came home today.  I am not sure there is a synonym for the word “miss” that is powerful enough to accurately describe how Steve has been longing for Cindy.  All through class today he couldn’t help but mention her and look at his phone to determine exactly how long it would be before she arrived.

About a month ago I remember asking Steve the question, “What is the greatest thing you have ever done in your life?”  I was digging with the question, fully expecting to hear about an accomplishment of his as an artist.  I was expecting to hear about some of the notoriety received from “Calvary” or having his art on the cover of the New York Times, there is a plethora of things he could have chosen from.  Instead what he said was, “Marry Cindy.”

He explained that marrying Cindy is what made the rest of his accomplishments possible, that having her by his side has given him the courage to step out and the freedom to be an artist.  At the time I felt it was a bit of a cop out, a sweet one, but still.  However, watching Cindy laugh uncontrollably at a story she’s heard many times and watching Steve pace through the studio today, I think he is right.  

Posted on August 24, 2016 .

Ode to Versailles, Kentucky

Steve Sawyer has lived all over the place.  Despite his Lexington, Kentucky upbringing, he is lived many places, from New York City to LA, and he has visited places all over the world, from Paris to Beijing.  Being an artist, a place of residence is a strategic decision.  Living in a place that both inspires you artistically and provides you with opportunity can be a difficult line to walk.

Versailles, Kentucky.   I have always wondered why Steve chose to have his gallery here.  His work is known worldwide, so a Versailles, Kentucky art gallery and class location seemed odd.  Although, being in the space and coming to class every week, it makes sense. 

It’s perfect. 

Art 4 God is located just off Main Street Versailles.  Driving past it, one can see the courthouse and a large church just ahead.  Across the street is the First Christian Life Center.  The window in the upstairs studio overlooks Sassy Nails and everything just feels, small town.  It feels small town, but it feels… historic.

What I asked Steve what he likes about small town, that is one of the first things he said, he loves history.  Versailles, Kentucky has a lot of history, and with the building being at least 100 years old, Art 4 God certainly feels a part of that.  The front door is chipped, with layers and layers of paint showing through, almost a work of art in and of itself.  Areas of the building show the original lath and plaster making the walls.  The woodwork is all original.  It is the perfect backdrop for the beautiful large canvases that are showcased there.

There is a chalkboard in the student studio that is covered with “Steve-isms,” interesting or funny things Steve or one of us have said in class that we just have to write down.  Being in class really makes you feel a part of something, I think part of that is the fact that the class is in a small town.

This past class we talked about the religious aspect of Versailles.  Kentucky is definitely in the Bible belt.  There is a church on every corner here, in most of Central Kentucky.  However, it seems, from what Steve has observed, most of the churches in Versailles are cooperative and friendly with one another.  Steve said that he has a lot of respect for that, for being comfortable enough in what you believe that you don’t speak poorly of or look down on others who may have a different view. Being most well known as a Christian Artist painting Jesus paintings, I thought this perspective was interesting and insightful. 

Having an art class in Versailles, Kentucky is really the perfect setting, there is history, there are horses, there are historic buildings, there’s culture.  I guess if it is the perfect place for an art class, it would make sense that it would be a perfect place for an artist. 

Posted on August 10, 2016 .

A Summer Intensive

“I hate it!”  My classmate Nancy was having some trouble with the still life she’d been working on.  “I’m gonna quit. Don’t tell Steve.”

I watched in horror as she took the cloth she had with her and wiped away the paint on the canvas, rubbing it in, destroying the image she’d been working on for the past 4 hours.  I gasped, “What are you doing?”

Nancy doesn’t like still lifes.  She is comfortable painting other subjects, skilled and familiar with a horse or a couple of dogs, but a teapot on some fabric, forget it. 

This is the beauty of art class, the intensive in particular. Typically our work in painting class is focused primarily on subject matter we choose.  We work on our paintings to the best of our ability, and when we find an area where we are completely lost, Steve skillfully rescues our painting while instructing us on how he does what he does.  Nancy has been coming for two years, and her skills are undeniable, her growth as an artist is astounding, and from an outsiders perspective it would seem that it would be difficult to derail her.

Our Summer Intensive was… intense.  There was something to challenge any artist, at almost any level.  Something to work on, and a weakness to identify.  Nancy was in the throes of it, but I think at some point everyone in the room felt like wiping their canvas. 

The greatest part, we all walked away with a painting. I walked away with two!  Despite the frustration of never having painted glass, or a reflective surface, or flowers for that matter, I walked away with a painting of all of those things.  I learned so much.  I looked my fears in the canvas and painted them out.  It. Was. Wonderful.

Nancy eventually walked away with a painting too.  Rather than rendering the still life with her all too familiar brushes, Steve suggested a pallet knife.  Using an unfamiliar tool allowed her to step away from her expectations and focus on learning what she needed. 

During the exercises Steve said something that stuck with me. “Art is a metaphor, if you can do it on the canvas you can do it in life.” 

If you are in the Lexington/ Versailles, Kentucky area, I really encourage you to take a chance at an art class.  Because, like any challenge, when you find you can overcome it, you become stronger overall.  

Posted on August 3, 2016 .

Art Class

It is hard to convey how far I have gone as an artist since I have begun taking classes from Steve.

Painting can be an intimidating thing.   So many, who may even have the desire to paint, hold themselves back with the notion that “I can’t even draw a stick figure.”  As someone who teaches beginner painting classes myself with a local “have a drink and painting a painting” sort of place, I can say that is a phrase I have heard way too many times in my life.

Beginning a class can be intimidating, how do I clean my brushes?  What kind of paint thinner do I use?  How much paint do I put on the pallet? What colors do I mix?  What colors should I even buy?  Where do I get my brushes? Is the canvas from Hobby Lobby just as good as other canvas? Am I even good enough that it matters?

The questions are overwhelming.  I have personally spent hours on YouTube, gleaning information from the experts, and still, it is difficult to get started without some real face to face instruction

I am so grateful that I can get some real instruction right here in Kentucky, without having to go back to college.  I enjoy being a class filled with hobbyists, other aspiring artists, and even a ten-year-old, from time to time (she’s adorable by the way).

As I have painted, I have realized, life is too short.  It is too important to discover your passion and pursue your love for something.  I don’t want to take a back seat in life, I want to drive, that is what painting class is for me.  

I have also learned that painting with real instruction is an invaluable experience, and I am years ahead of where I would have been without Steve’s instruction. 

My Latest Painting, "Laundry Day"

My Latest Painting, "Laundry Day"

If you are in the Lexington, Kentucky area and you are looking for some real painting instruction, I highly suggest you contact Steve.   I can truly say that he is an art instructor that truly cares about the success and satisfaction of his students. 

-Allison Strickling 

Posted on July 25, 2016 .

Jesus and Drugs

Jesus and Heroin

“How is your son?”

The question came as a surprise to me.  Part of managing someone’s social media, as I do for Steve, means having access to their account and occasionally coming across messages meant to be to them, or from them to others.  This helps me to know that people are being responded to promptly, etc.

However, this was a response to a conversation that had ended December of last year.  Steve remembered, and was checking in on, the mother of a drug addict who had reached out to him months ago. 

Today, in art class, I was surprised again as that same mother stopped by Art for God’s Versailles, Kentucky location to be gifted a large print of Calvary, the piece she had written to Steve about. 

Typically, when you think of Christian Art or paintings of Jesus, you don’t think about drugs.

Upon first seeing Calvary nearly everyone has a different response. Depending on your experiences in life, the way you view, what seems to many, like an image of Jesus taking a shot of heroin for a man, could produce a variety of emotions, and Steve has heard them all.  The responses have varied from, “F**K off Jesus, get your own heroin,” to several testimonies of people that were nearly in the grave from heroin use who stopped immediately after seeing the painting.  The positive responses are something he attributes completely to God and his love for that person, and the negative responses just cause him to sigh. 

As I understand it now, the image was intended to represent the identity of the heroin addict.  Despite his current circumstance, Jesus lives inside of him, and his current situation acts contrary to his very created nature. 

Today  I was able to see someone genuinely touched by art. Heroin addiction in Kentucky has reached record numbers.  Lives are being lost and destroyed every day because of drug use, and the drug problem in Kentucky is nothing short of an epidemic. 

Drug use effects not only the user, but their entire family.  And, although Steve has not personally experienced this, his compassion astounded me.  

When writing this I went back to read the message he had written to this drug user’s mother when she first reached out. 

“The suffering your son endures from addiction; he does not endure alone.  Beyond your pain God endures the suffering on an entirely different level of compassion.  Even for decisions far less debilitating Jesus still says, “Father forgive him for he knows not what he does.”” 

I spoke to this mother today, her son has been clean now for 3 months, but she has to take each day for what it is, and be grateful for each day and what it brings.  Who knows what tomorrow will hold, but she is grateful for today.

It was once easy to assume that drug addiction only affected a small percent of the population, but the recent heroin crisis in Kentucky has proven this theory wrong.  However, God is with all of us, in everything, Not only does he not leave us, he is in us, even in the midst of darkness.


Posted on July 18, 2016 .