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The tension line — it’s all relative!

I knew the answer I wanted to hear before I asked, but I wanted Al’s thinking on a tension line.

Al pondered for a moment and answered, “Its like when I want to go turkey hunting and you have things for me to do. It’s like walking a tight rope. Where are you going with this?”

It’s not the answer I wanted to hear. It’s getting close to turkey season, I surmised he’s clearing the way. I’m not going there at the moment, I decided. Instead I read my freshly written article on the tension line to him. He said,

“It’s too heavy, keep it funny. People like funny. It’s too much information and people don’t want to know all that.”

With a half grin I narrowed my eyes, lowered my head and looked at him and said, “If you act up, I’ll write about you and then you will read funny.” We both chuckled and Al continued to dream of turkeys and I went back to my computer.

As you can see, over the years Al and I have proven to be a worthy tension line for each other. As different as night and day, we have finally learned to embrace our differences as valued strength.

For artists a tension line sounds like restrictions, rules and boundaries. We do not want any kind of a line drawn around us, especially a tension line. We feel trapped. It’s contrary to our temperament.

I can’t believe how opposites attract. The colorful artist outside the box is attracted to the black and white accountant in the box. The outgoing personality who thrives on people is drawn to an introvert who dies around people. Go figure!

Have you wondered how two who are so opposite get together and miraculously stay together? It’s actually a tension line, seen or unseen that is working and balancing and holding the relationship together.

I painted for years before I heard the artist term, “tension line.” Artists might not be familiar with the term but their creative eye just knows when the painting is out of balance or something is needed to hold the painting together. They go with their gut instead of the rule. They follow their instinct, but really they are establishing the rule.

Whether in a relationship or a painting, until we understand how a tension line works, we fight it, we bow our neck, we try to stretch it, we stress over it and we try to cross it. It seems like an enemy working against our creativity. It holds us down. We can’t move forward. But quite the contrary! It saves us from ourselves and moves us forward.

In a painting for instance, a tension line is used as an opposite line to the subject. It is used in many of Norman Rockwell’s paintings. Such as his familiar painting with the old man falling down; the baby on his back is rearing back. The baby keeps the man from rolling out of the picture. It deceives the eye and pulls the man back. It’s a contrary line used to bring balance into the painting.

In a painting with one ship with tall masts in a vast ocean, the horizon of the sea becomes the tension line and balances the boat and keeps it from falling over. It is a line that crosses the subject. It plants the ship into the sea. It gives substance to the painting.

The problem of a tree leaning to the right which takes the viewer’s eye out of the painting can be solved with a strong limb growing in the opposite direction. The limb has to seem as strong as the tree in order to bring the tree back into the painting. It solves a problem.

So the tension line in a painting works the same way in a relationship? When we are off centered, something else needs to come into our space and pull us back. If it doesn’t we keep toppling in our own demise. Just as a limb has to look as strong as the tree in order to bring balance to the eye, so the things or people around us must be as strong as we are. Talk about a tug of war until we learn the value of how opposites work, not against us, but for us.

Oh me, I have always said Al and I were like two wild horses that had to be bridled. The strength in each of us could have crushed the other. But by God’s grace we are becoming a perfect fit under the same yoke, which ties us together and causes us to function as one. That tension line is becoming an ornament of grace about our necks.

In the second law of the Old Testament it reads, “Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.” You can see where I could go with this, I’m tempted, but I won’t. These two beasts of burden are of different natures. They would never fit together. Just like a painting must be balanced with what is compatible to the subject. It’s all relative.

Artists easily get off balance. It just comes with the territory. It’s our passion, our drive, and our temperament. We need people and things and problems in our lives to serve as a tension line. They push against us; they don’t understand us; they don’t relinquish. They hurry us up and they slow us down. We fight for who we are and all the time our gift is being developed inside of us.

Sometimes it feels like a noose around our neck, a yoke on our shoulders, a bit in our mouth, or a chain on our ankle, but call it as it is, it’s a tension line and we need it.

As I finished writing this article, I looked up from my computer to find eight turkeys crossing our property. I called to Al, “There are turkeys by the fence.” Al grabbed his binoculars and anxiously yelled back, “Where, where, where?”

All is well in the Slade household. I wrote this article the way I wanted to and Al saw turkeys this morning.

Final brushstroke: Embrace your tension line. It solves problems, balances, gives substance and is relative. Learn from it. It will keep you from falling out of the picture.

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Dear Betty:

The article on Finding Your Voice, you have to write a lot to find your voice. Experience is a major contributor to voice, but then, some people never find it or develop it.


Tehachapi, Calif.


How timely ... can a sigh on paper capture the affirmation I feel as a writer.  Always looking, yes, always searching in the eyes of others has been my plight, until now.  I looked inside, deeply, and liked what I saw and heard — in the quiet, opinion-less space I heard two voices cheering, mine and the Lord’s. What a lovely duet He makes with you as well.

Bless you.



Dear Betty:

In the “Timing” column, I loved the “here kitty kitty” part, that was highly clever! That wasn’t “Dave Barry” from Florida, was it? Ha ha I’d die if you said it was. And after I died, I’d want to know how you got him to read your column! Your columns are a great inspiration to me. I appreciate them so much. Where do you find your quotes? They are always so perfect. Keep up the inspirational work. I would have never guessed that you were less vocal in your younger years — that was interesting to find out about you.



Dear Betty:

To me, voice is that part of me that I couldn’t seem to express — or possibly didn’t feel confident expressing — until it popped up unexpectedly in my writing one day. Suddenly, the words flowed smoothly, my characters’ dialogue seemed brilliant, scenes played out with a touch of humor mixed with emotion, and I couldn’t believe what I’d just written! Happens more and more, the more I write.


Farmington, N.M.


“What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity? It’s our attitude toward it. Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity.” — J. Sidlow Baxter, author and theologian.