Two canvases ─ both bare and tightly bound by cellophane ─ lay in John Smith’s home office, the first of the pack used by his daughter who recently painted a portrait of the family dog, Savannah.
Today, no one’s home and Smith, whose artistic background solely includes helping with his children’s art projects, sits down at his L-shaped cherry wood desk and clears the canvas of the remaining packaging. He’s always loved to draw, but has never gone as far beyond a few sketches on the back of an old receipt or napkin.
An hour and a half later, though, Smith is staring at a transformation ─ a fresh oil painting of an ocean wave crashing down, swirling in deep blue and sea foam green. He’s shocked. And as if it were a fluke, he reaches for the second canvas to try again.
“My wife kept asking me and encouraging me to take an art class,” Smith says. “But for months I kept saying ‘no,’ because there was no way I thought I could do it.”
Smith didn’t take the advice, and after presenting the painting to his wife and children, he was left amazed by how he possessed a talent that for years he never believed to have.
“The truth of the matter is that I’m a Christian guy,” he explains. “And I think it’s funny how God has had a way of revealing this kind of talent through an average guy like me.”
When art, family and work intersect
Smith lives in Murfreesboro along with his wife and three daughters. During the week, he commutes to Nashville and works as the general manager of Mt. Olivet Cemetery, a historic confederate burial ground located two miles east of downtown.
After a long day of work, he comes home, helps his children with homework and sits down for a family meal, something he says is one of the most important aspects of his day. It isn’t until later in the evening when Smith has the chance to break out his oil paints and start working again.
“I usually paint until my eyes give out,” he says. “After 50 to 60 hours of work each week, I still make time to do this.”
Most of the paintings take four or five months to finish, so Smith says he fills in the rest with more simple paintings while working on the complicated and time consuming pieces.
“I [paint] a lot of pictures that I can knock out in in a relatively short amount of time,” he say, referring to the ocean scene paintings. “The hometown collection is what seems to take the longest, especially the one of City Cafe.”
Smith isn’t exaggerating. The painting he’s referring to is one of the first of his 10 paintings dedicated to local attractions in Murfreesboro, and he says he spent around 250 hours on this particular painting before its completion.
“It takes time,” he says, “I don’t know how long a piece will take when I start on a clean canvas, but overtime, everything falls together.”
More than a signature
John Smith says it himself, his name is simple and “doesn’t quite stand out.” When faced with the personalization of his signature, he says he prayed about it, ultimately reaching a conclusion that mirrors his faith.
“This is my testimony,” Smith says, pointing the signature on his first painting. “In my eyes, God gave me this gift, so I want to give him the glory in return…That’s when I started praying about how to sign my name.”
Like most artists, Smith signs his name on the right-hand corner of each painting. However, because of the simplicity of his name and faith, Smith signs it in red, which he says represents “the blood of Christ,” and he intersects the “J” and “t” to form a cross figure.
Finding passion through spirituality
Smith has painted close to 160 paintings in just over two years. It’s his true passion, he admits, and every painting takes him back to his “and then suddenly” moment, a instance his mother promised him provided he abide by one stipulation.
“My mom used to tell me, ‘You need to grab the word of God and run into the darkness as fast as you can, son,'” he recalls. “She said, ‘If you live life with God, you’ll have an ‘and then suddenly’ moment one day’ and as it turns out, I did.”
He says his hobby-turned-passion is gaining a lot of attention, but it’s not the attention on himself that fuels him. It’s the opportunity he’s been granted to spread his faith in an artistic form, a way that can be appreciated by others.
“I don’t know exactly where this is going to go,” he says. “It may lay flat, and it may never go anywhere, but it’s happening right now and not by any doing of my own … I’ve given God all the credit for it.”
From the pinnacle moment he picked up the first paintbrush, Smith has seized his gift and now realizes it’s his true passion. He says he will continue to create works of art for as long as time allows and is “forever appreciative” of his loving support system and “the grace of God.”
“I can now say I know what ‘passion’ is,” he says. “There’s a big difference between enjoying something and having a passion. It took me 45 years to find it, but I can now say I have one.”
Robby Ker contributed to this report