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The Bible Illustrator
Recently I came across a fascinating new website, The Bible Illustration Blog, run by Graham Kennedy of Manchester, England. Graham is a full-time Bible illustrator, and at the blog he writes about the challenges of his work. I asked if I could do a Q&A with him, and he kindly agreed.
How did you become a Bible illustrator?
I became a Christian 30 years ago while training as a cartoonist for D C Thomsons in Scotland, on the Beano & Dandy comics. I got involved in illustrating Bible stories almost straightaway. I became a full-time Bible illustrator about five years ago.
Who do you work for?
I work for Visual Impact Resources, a company set up by Jem Hudson and Adrian Flowerday to produce quality resources for those involved in children's work. Jem is a full-time children's worker who travels the UK with Bible exhibitions.
Is there a big demand for Bible illustration?
Yes, there certainly is. We get emails from around the world, from people who have been searching for years for good Bible pictures.
Is Bible illustration feasible as a full-time job?
I'm not sure how many full-time Bible illustrators there would be. Most free-lance artists would tackle illustrating the Bible as a one-off freelance job. The problem with that is that you are working to a deadline, which allows little time to do the research that is so important for work like this.
What are the particular challenges of the job?
When I started illustrating the Bible, I rarely used references. Now, I don't start a story until I've done lots of research. I like to try and gather as much info as I can before I start a story. The challenge to me is for the pictures to be as visually accurate as possible, but also “attention grabbing” to children.
I noticed on your blog a reference to the problem of gathering references. Please tell me about this.
Yes, I find gathering references the hardest part of my work. You need good figure reference for starters. But the best figure reference is photographic, and finding photos of people in Bible dress is of course difficult! You need good references for buildings too, and these are also hard to find. As I mention on my blog, the dome-topped buildings that we see in every children's Bible didn't actually exist until after New Testament times.
One of the difficulties I have is that we produce around five-to-six pictures per Bible story, which means that I need references of the same people/buildings from different angles. Most Bible illustrators need only to produce one picture per story. References are also needed for particular Bible landscapes, Bible customs, Bible plants, pottery, etc.
Which Bible illustrators do you admire most, and why?
I suppose Frank Hampson (who is better known for his work on the British comic strip “Dan Dare”) would be my first choice. His work on “The Road of Courage”, which is a re-telling of the New Testament story, is superb! His attention to detail, his draftsmanship and line-work are unequalled. There are many others who deserve a mention too, but space doesn't allow. You'll have to wait until I add them to my blog!
How many Bible pictures have you done already?
I've done around 650 pictures so far. All hand-drawn in brush and ink, and digitally colored.
How much of the Bible have you illustrated so far?
I'm about halfway through the Bible now, having done just over 100 stories! There are roughly 200 stories in the Bible. This has taken five years!
Who uses your pictures?
All types of people - teachers, missionaries, youth pastors, Sunday School workers, home-schoolers, whoever has the job of presenting the Bible message. When we launched our new website in August, our first customer was a missionary in Greenland!
What will you do when you've finished the Bible?
Probably start again at the beginning! Over the years, my Bible pictures have become more detailed. I look at some of the earlier ones now and cringe! I want to re-do them in the new style. Then, by the time I finish re-doing the first half (God willing), I'll probably want to re-do the second half too!
Graham, thank you very much.