Palettes of Prayer

Creative pursuits of all types allow us to express thoughts and feelings that can sometimes be difficult to put into words. Color, form, texture or sound can take us to a place beyond language as we continually seek transcendent experiences that elevate, challenge and inspire.

Many Sisters of the Precious Blood make art and crafts, and while the forms of their creations vary widely — carving, painting, quilting, singing and many more — they share in common a means of communion with others, and a way to reflect the beauty of God.

Over the past decade, “paint-and-sip” studios have become popular across the country — participants spend an evening with friends, learning how to paint while perhaps also enjoying a glass of wine, and go home with an original work of art. For Sister Judy Niday, an evening at a local paint-and-sip studio was the beginning of a longtime interest in painting that continues to grow and evolve.

Sister Judy first visited a studio in 2014, on an evening out with co-workers from Siena Woods, a nursing care facility in Dayton where Sister Judy served as chaplain for 11 years. “I’ve been dabbling in it ever since,” she said.

Not long after that first paint-and-sip visit, Sinclair Community College began offering painting classes at Siena Woods. While her first foray into painting had utilized acrylic paint, the Sinclair classes used watercolors, providing a somewhat different experience.

Regardless of the medium, Sister Judy embraces different types of artwork with enthusiasm. “I’m a person who loves to learn new things. Whether or not I’m good at it doesn’t make any difference,” she said. “I’m a lifelong learner; there’s nothing that I won’t at least put my hand in.”

In addition to acrylic and watercolor, she’s worked with pastel oil; painting on aluminum foil; ceramics; crochet; and embroidery. Using a current work-in-progress painting as an example, she explained how she layers colors or alters lines to transform mistakes or small imperfections — or changes shading to bring about a different feel. “I like learning the different skills and techniques, using different brushes, different strokes,” she said.

While most local art classes were suspended through the pandemic, Sister Judy has enjoyed gathering with friends to resume her interest as the world begins to open up again. She and Sister Mary Garascia currently take a painting class at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center; Sister Judy was also looking forward to learning diamond art (a type of jeweled mosaic) in an upcoming gathering with other residents of her apartment building.

“It’s something you can do with other people but still wear your masks and stay socially distanced,” she said. And while working on art projects allows her to get together with others, she said she also enjoys the activity as a meditative practice.

“The process of art takes me out of myself and allows the creativity to flow and free me from the rigidity that I probably place on myself. It gives me peace; I find myself not thinking about anything ‘out there,’” she said. “My focus is on the piece in front of me, which reminds me that my focus is on God. So God is with me when I am doing this. Especially if you’re painting a nature scene — that’s where I find peace.”

Story by Mary Knapke

Top, Sister Judy participates in Pinot’s Palette in 2014; remaining photos, Sister Judy and some of her paintings; contributed photos. Sister Judy explained that the watercolor of the windmill in the field was created with only three colors of paint.

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