Friday, June 27, 2014

Creation in Hand – An Interview with Barbie Swihart about Art in Her Life

The first time I saw a one of her pieces, I was so impressed by the coloring, depth, and character that shone through. I was even more impressed to learn that her paintings were done by hand – and I mean, by using her hands as the implements to bring paint to paper – and that they were created in the midst of a worship service at her church as part of something called prophetic art.

Barbie Swihart is the author of Coffee Talk with Jesus and blogs at My Freshly Brewed Life. Married for twenty-five years, she works as a Pastoral Administrator at the Convergence House of Prayer in Southern California.

As I began collaborating with my co-leaders about who to talk to about Art in Your Life, Barbie was on the top of my list. She had recently blogged her way through A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman – a book that inspired our idea that art was more than a piece in a museum made by someone long ago, it becomes your life and the way you live it as you embrace the glory of creation around you.

In writing about embracing wonder, Barbie wrote,
Part of embracing the wonder of God’s creation is embracing our unique design as artists. It doesn’t matter how you make art. What matters is that you make it. We each have unique giftings and talents to use to display the beauty of God. Whether that is what surrounds you at your job, the day-to-day challenges of raising little ones, the stringing together of words on a page, or the anticipation that awaits you in a blank canvass, it is all wonder. 
It is a wonder indeed. Barbie is a keen listener; a gentle spirit who leans into the Lord to hear his voice; and an artist with vision and talent who puts hope and encouragement on paper. I hope you will enjoy this conversation with her as she answers questions from our (in)courage community group and talks about the art in her life.

Q: How did you get in to Prophetic Art (and how would you explain what that is to people who don't know?) 
I've been blessed to belong to a church community that embraces the arts, in all forms (worship, dance, writing, and painting). About 7 or 8 years ago we began doing 12Hops, which were twelve hours of worship and prayer, with the arts. Artists would paint during these sets and I was always amazed at the paintings. Having no artistic background, I never felt I could do it myself. But, I took a step and attended a class that didn't teach technique, but talked about how arts and worship can go together. After the class I began taking baby steps in allowing the Lord to move through me in this way. I've been painting during corporate worship services on the arts team now for about 4 or 5 years.

Prophecy, in simple terms, is a message from God meant to strengthen, encourage, and comfort others. Most often, prophesy comes through divinely inspired words, spoken to breathe life and hope into another individual, though it can also be expressed in various other artistic forms as well.

But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them. (1 Cor. 14: 3) Art is a universal language. I love that art can convey different meanings to each person who sees it. I have had the experience of walking by a painting and bursting into tears as God brought healing to me through it. I believe that God desires to use art in the Church to bring hope, healing, and encouragement. So how do prophecy and art work together? Simply, the Father desires to express His heart to His children. We serve a creative God who is always speaking. God desires to (and does) speak through art. As an artist, He desires to open our eyes and ears to see and hear what He is saying, and then transfer that onto canvass (or paper, blogs, decorating, design). We do this for the Glory of God first and foremost. If no one said anything about any of my paintings, it wouldn't matter. I do it for God. Do I want others to be blessed by it? Absolutely. But I do it out of obedience to what God has put on my heart, and leave the rest up to Him.
Abide in My Love, by Barbie Swihart
(this is one of the first paintings by Barbie that I fell in love with)
Q: What kind of paint do you use for your paintings? I’m curious about how you create them without brushes or other "tools." 
I use medium to heavy bodied acrylic paint on canvas. Because I use my fingers, it's important that the paint is not too thin. I use brushes or sponges for backgrounds or certain effects. But mostly I use my fingers and hands.

Q: Why don't you use brushes? Do you use other tools, or always just your hands? (Do you find that freeing or limiting most of the time?) 
When I first started painting, I used brushes, but always became frustrated because I had a hard time articulating on canvass what I saw in my mind. Not having an artistic background, I had no concept of blending color, shading, or any of the other artistic terms. One day, I heard God speak to my Spirit, "put down the brush and use your hands." At first I thought, "really, Lord?" But I can tell you that being a finger painter for God has given me a unique style and brought so much freedom to my creativity.

Q: How did you discover this technique? 
I remember the day that God gave me permission to put my paint brush down. I was trembling, wondering what people would think. But I did, and I've never gone back to using a brush. God brought the technique. I simply said "yes!"

Q: What other ways do you make art in your life (other than painting and writing!) 
I am on a journey to embracing life in general as art. I have been seeking the Lord, asking Him to open my eyes to the art that is all around me. Emily Freeman's book, A Million Little Ways: Uncover The Art You Were Made To Live, is really helping me. I am discovering that the way I raise my children and help them to see beauty, is art. House cleaning, now that's an art! I recently organized my spice cabinet and put them all in alphabetical order. I would call that art.

Q: I know you self-published your first book. Can you tell us about that experience? Would you do anything differently the next time around? 
Self-publishing my book was a thrilling yet emotional experience for me. It was exciting to see my words on paper, all in one place. Yet, going through the posts, the process of editing, wondering if anyone would buy it, wondering if I had made the right decision, etc. – it was all overwhelming at times. I would definitely choose to self-publish again. There was not a big financial risk involved. A lot more people are self-publishing nowadays and it's a great way to get your product out there. Plus, I had a big blogger support team who cheered me on and helped to make my book launch a success.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration? 
My inspiration comes from the Lord, from His Word, from the pictures He drops into my mind and heart, and from my family. On the days when I feel like I lack inspiration, that is a clue that I need to go deeper or just simply take a break and enjoy what He's placed in front of me.

Rooted and Grounded, by Barbie Swihart
Q: What does “being creative” mean to you? 
Being creative to me means using my God-inspired gifts and talents and partnering with Him to bring about something unique. We are all creative beings, fashioned by a creative God. You may be more of a creative writer than I, or you may have the gift of design. I'm a finger painter, a blogger, and a wanna-be-writer. When we partner with God and allow Him to use our gifts and abilities, we can't help but create.

Q: Can you describe a time when you realized that painting – or being creative – was something that you had to do? 
When I paint with God, especially during corporate worship settings, I can hardly describe the feeling I get while partnering with the Holy Spirit to release His presence into the atmosphere. I don't often have a concept in my mind of what I am going to paint. I pray over my hands, pick color and then ask God to move through me. I never really know what I will create. God will often ask me to put down the purples and yellows and pick up the greens and browns. I give Him full access to my expression. The process is exhilarating. I love standing back and looking at the finished product. When people comment on my art, when they share their stores of how a painting has touched them, I know that this is something I was created to do. But I would do it anyway, because it helps me to feel closer to God.

Q: Are there any creative patterns, routines, or rituals that you have in your art or writing? 
In my paintings, I create a lot of circular motions. I also have been known to paint hearts, eyes, and lately trees. I am an abstract artist, so what you will see in my art is a concept of the real thing. What I love about abstract art is it can be interpreted in different ways. If you turn a canvass a different way, you get a whole new look. What do you see?

Untitled, by Barbie Swihart
Q: What your favourite thing you’ve ever created? 
I have a lot of favorites. This is one of my most favorites. I was going through a really hard time when I painted this one. When I stepped back to have a look after I was done, I saw the appearance of wings and it reminded me of being under the shelter of God's wings. The scripture is also a favorite of mine.

Shelter of His Wings, by Barbie Swihart
Q: What do you strive to communicate with your art? 
I strive to communicate God's heart for His people, His love and acceptance, as well as healing. I give away a lot of my paintings in the hope that they would be a reminder of God's love and faithfulness.

Q: What creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet? 
Photography has always intrigued. I don't own a "real" camera, but have seen so many beautiful captures with SmartPhones. I would love to take the time to be still enough in my day to capture something beautiful. 

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever had about how to be more creative? 
Ask yourself, what makes you come alive? When I paint, I feel alive. Perhaps you aren't sure what makes you come alive. What is it that you feel passionate about? We are each creative in our own unique way. Find something you like to do, or something you'd like to try, and go for it!

Q: What are you reading now? 
I am considering reading Hinds Feet on High Places again and blogging my journey.

I hope you've enjoyed the words and images of this wonderful artist. Be sure to visit her blog, My Freshly Brewed Life, for more inspiration and encouragement.

I'd love to connect with you some more - stop on by the Three Bees Facebook Page or connect with me on Twitter @3BeesBlueBonnet. Let's continue the conversation!


  1. Barbie,
    I so love art and love your "Shelter of His Wings". I love that you do it for Him only, then He can take it to others, into their souls.
    How beautiful!!

    1. Thank you so much friend. You encourage my heart, always!

  2. Lovely! <3 This validates every sermon I ever spent industriously listening to (I promise I'm listening, Mom!) while also writing poetry :)

  3. Barbie, this is soooo interesting for me! I have heard of prophetic art before but didn't explore what it meant. Wonderful! And what an awesome community you belong to! I always felt that God partners with me when I paint! But I do not think I would be brave enough to paint during a worship service! God bless you!! Patsy from

    1. Patsy, your work is incredible and blesses my heart so. I have to admit the first time I painted during corporate worship it was weird. I didn't want anyone looking at me, taking their focus off of the Lord. Now, in our new building, the painters are on stage, and it's even weirder. But, so many have received healing as God has allowed them to watch a painting unfold. Thank you for stopping by!

  4. I love Barbie and her art! She has been such an encouragement to me as I have stepped out and into more Prophetic Art myself (and she is right... I have painted using just my hands after talking with her and I love it! It is so freeing and I do all my backgrounds like this now... I haven't given up my brushes completely - but I LOVE the freedom of not having to use them!) Great interview Rebekah!

    1. I love you my friend. You inspire me! Thank you for your encouragement.

  5. I love you and your art, and I love that one of your paintings hangs in my home office. What joy is brings me every single day. Great interview. Thank you, Rebekah, for sharing Barbie with us. Blessings to both of you.

  6. Barbie,
    Your painting of Shelter Under your wings...spoke to me....Thank you for sharing your gifts with us :) Thanks, Rebekah, for interviewing Barbie :)

    1. Thankful the painting spoke to you! Blessings!


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