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Life on Canvas

Leah Gebber

“Go home and paint,” a trusted advisor told Yaeli Vogel. Since then, her days are spent daubing paint on canvas, and capturing spirit and heart

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

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FLYING COLORS “People hear my story and they say, should I leave my job? But I can’t tell people how to conduct their finances. What I can tell people is to take the time to think. I think that some people live mediocre lives because they’re so busy that they don’t take the time and space to reflect. A lack of satisfaction, an inner void, are telling you something. Explore that mysterious space inside you”

I t started as an escape route from the kitchen. Succos preparations were in full swing when Yaeli Vogel decided to abandon menus and clothes shopping, and paint something to grace the walls of her succah. She settled on the Shivas Haminim; vibrant paintings of dates, grapes, and figs.

“I thought they were pretty good, but when people walked into the succah, their eyes popped out of their heads. They were like, ‘You should sell these.’ ”

Yaeli mentally filed away the idea and continued with regular life, teaching special ed and raising her children. “But I didn’t feel satisfied. One day, I walked into the classroom and said, ‘Does anyone here want to do something more?’ They looked at me blankly. ‘We’re doing everything we can.’ ”

By the end of that year, matters reached a head: The Board of Ed informed Yaeli that they had no cases for her. “My husband told me that it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was time to make the leap.”

The year before she left her job, Yaeli had divided up her day: the morning was spent in the classroom, the afternoon was spent studying technique and exploring different mediums.

“I learned everything. Oils, figure drawing, abstract.” At the time, Yaeli wasn’t planning for a future in art — but an inner drive pushed her to dive into that world and develop her own style. Eventually, Yaeli settled on acrylic paints, which allow her to introduce streams of light and shade into her work, ideal for the many dancing figures she creates, leaping toward the light.

Ironically, it wasn’t the first time Yaeli had studied art. She’d taken a college class, years before, in which she had been told to divide the canvas into grids, and copy the picture, box by box.

“I hated it. It was so mathematical. I had zero interest. Even when people told me that I should go get an art degree, I fought it. I was totally not doing this.”

When it comes to art, it’s all about practice: teaching the hand to reflect what the eyes see, teaching the eye to look. Practice doesn’t mean half an hour a week, Yaeli explains. It means at least two hours a day. And that’s just for a beginner.


Even with the prior preparation, the first year dedicated to painting was “brutal.” Yaeli recalls: “We had a little financial leeway, but I had been bringing in a salary and suddenly, nothing. I was trying to establish myself and I had to constantly draw on my emunah and bitachon — that Hashem would provide for us. That He was there for us.”

Yaeli used the Internet to market her finished products — and was surprised and thrilled by the interest she received. “I’m naturally a confident person, I was always confident — I think that’s what got me through life and some tough struggles. I therefore didn’t mind sharing my paintings and setting up an online platform. But when I heard people’s reactions, I realized that part of my confidence, then, had been sheer determination. And suddenly, I had something different — the feeling that others believed in me and appreciated my work.”

Yaeli works on large canvases, enjoying the opportunity it gives her to move. But when it comes to applying the paint, she often has no idea where each stroke will lead. “Sometimes I have a distinct idea — I want to draw a landscape of Yerushalayim, for example. But often, especially when I’m feeling very emotional, I have no idea where the picture will lead.”

Yael doesn’t do preliminary sketches; instead, “I take anything that’s on the brush and do a few strokes. I force myself not to be specific.” Colors and shapes form slowly, as if on their own. Yaeli covers the entire canvas, and then goes back and adds more details — layer after layer after layer.

Yaeli muses, “It’s a great metaphor for life — that as people, we’re all made up of so many layers.”

And the process works both ways — painting forces Yaeli to uncover the hidden layers of her own soul. “Painting arouses a lot of emotions, good and bad. It’s the best therapy — I think about everything when I paint. But I like to think that all of this, all of the crazy, complex things called life, is something that doesn’t happen to you, but for you. To help you bring something out of yourself.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 554)

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