July 31, 2019

Paint by Numbers by Katie Gerke

   Find Comfort Here

Black is not a color. As an artist it’s only a pigment of my imagination. As a person with obvious physical limitations, black signifies darkness which can overwhelm me at any time. By God’s grace, I have brilliant lights of joy, peace and hope within me that can, with all intents and purposes, extinguish it. 
Katie Gerke

My craft of choice was a 1980’s craze called “Papier Tole”. This involved cutting tiny pieces of paper out of identical printed designs and then layering these pieces on top of each other using silicone glue to create a three-dimensional effect of the original design.

In 2000, I was going to ambitiously make a picture for my new nephew, but was unable to keep a firm grip on the craft knife because my hand became too weak due to my multiple sclerosis. I was devastated beyond compare and my creativity went into purgatory for eighteen years until I settled into a long-term care facility.

 I soon discovered that an art class was being offered by recreation therapy. It was once a week, for two hours, had ten residents and an over-fraught teacher. This palette of many colors did not mix well and I removed myself from the class, purchased my own painting supplies, researched a sturdier stand for my palette, and invested in a well-made easel to hold my canvases.

I felt giddy at the insurgence of the endless amount of “blank slates” of creative possibilities afforded to me decades later. With each artistic endeavor, be it through painting, writing or advocating, I was able to refresh and clear my mind and focus on the fullness of the experience.


While immersed in such ventures, I would recognize paradoxical emotions of failure to determination and success; constraint and obsession to freedom and abundance. The emotion of the day would be translated through the wooden paintbrush, securely placed between my lips, digested by every stroke, and integrated into my happy medium of acrylic paint.

When I was painting a new project, I would either sit in the sunroom with the fireplace or outside the front doors of the facility.  Strangers take pictures, families and new clients are encouraged, and first responders take the time to reflect.

During one such occasion, the fire alarm went off, fire trucks arrived, and I was so engrossed in my painting I did not smell anything or watch the drama. When the "false alarm" was extinguished, a firefighter took the time to stop and congratulate me on my demonstration of inspiration.

In the next season, while experimenting with some techniques, I took the leftover paint on my palate and haphazardly painted a dark winter sky, a mauve Christmas tree sitting beside a snow-covered fence, and the Christmas star in the upper right-hand corner. I named the piece “Midnight Clear” and made Christmas cards.

Midnight Clear

The card's popularity prompted me to paint three more holiday-themed Christmas cards, note cards and magnets, that I sold in the subsequent years after launching my business, Oralart, into cyberspace.

As a result of my artistic endeavors, I became more well-known in the community and was presented with new opportunities to continue my advocacy with renewed vigor and optimism in the areas of accessible and affordable transportation and housing, among others.

I was commissioned to paint, “Midmorning Train” by a group who wanted to give a thank you gift to the Calgary City Council for approving the Low Income Bus Pass Program.  This picture seems to make an emotional impact on people, because it evokes fond memories, past and present, of riding the C- train when they were young or new to Calgary.

Midmorning Train

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

I can’t paint my pictures in broad strokes due to a kink in my neck, but I can keep my head still and concentrate on the smallest of details on a tree, a wheel of an old truck, a rock, or an eye of a wolf.

God never painted our lives in broad strokes, but has focused on the most finite details of our lives.  Even the very hairs of our head are all numbered (Matthew 10:30).   He is constantly arranging details to produce a bigger picture so that we may see His will, plans, and purpose for our lives.  


  1. Thank you, Katie, for this inspiring and uplifting story of your determination and your way of honouring God by using your God-given talents in spite of the challenges you live with. May you continue to find God’s blessings in your life each day.

  2. Katie, I do love your paintings. I especially like the Midnight Clear and the Midmorning Train. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words as well as your art with us today. As Sharon says, inspiring and uplifting.

  3. Thanks, Katie, for sharing the development of your art. This part was particularly meaningful to me: "God never painted our lives in broad strokes, but has focused on the most finite details of our lives. Even the very hairs of our head are all numbered (Matthew 10:30). He is constantly arranging details to produce a bigger picture so that we may see His will, plans, and purpose for our lives."

  4. Thanks for sharing your art and being a shining example of perseverance.

  5. There is so much to love about this post, Katie! First of all, I chuckled when I remembered also taking up paper tole during the 80s! Then, I connected with your description of how emotions can fluctuate from negative to positive and back again. finally, I am impressed with your paintings- they are so beautiful! thank you for joining our team and being faithful to write despite any disabilities.

  6. Thank-you Katie for this beautiful post ... I too see great beauty in your paintings. I have a sister with MS and have seen how very difficult life can be with the disease. Thank-you for your paintings and your words.

  7. Katie, I loved your insight that the dark “pigment of [our] imagination” is transformed by the “lights of joy, peace and hope” sparkling from the dynamic Presence of Christ within us. What a beautiful ornament of praise to our Lord! Thank you for sharing this wisdom rooted deep in your own difficult experience, and for your vivid word painting.

  8. I love the stories behind your paintings as much as the paintings themselves! So insightful!
    Pam Mytroen

  9. What an inspiring story. I know now that we need to use what we have rather than pine or rage against what we don't have. That charismatic house church told me it was my fault I wasn't healed. Now I know the Lord much better. He uses my poor sight for his glory.


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