Hanging Out in Galilee: Past Work, 1984-1986
by Waitsel Smith
In 1983, after three diligent years of trying to establish myself as a fine artist in Charlotte, NC, I accepted a job as an illustrator for a Christian publishing house in western Ohio. Those were idyllic years: living in the country, riding my bike on flat roads, hobnibbing with other artists and creative people, actually enjoying winters... Most of the pictures I did were of scenes from the Bible. At first I had a friend from college, who was doing Biblical research for the same organizaton, advise me on the historical, anthropological and archiological details of my assignments. Then I became enthralled with the research and began doing it myself. The whole experience was a lot of fun - almost like being a resident artist and having the time to draw and paint what I liked, with some limitations.
During this same period, some friends and I began taking art lessons from a teacher named Frank Liljegren. Frank specialized in still lifes. So, every Monday night, when we would show up at his studio, there would be a new, and usually very interesting, still life he had assembled for us to draw. He let us work in whatever medium we liked. I would usually draw in pastel or sketch in my sketchbook. It was a breath of inspiration that I believe took me to the next level in my art. Frank was a very generous, under-appreciated artist who had once lived in New York and had left under somewhat mysterious circumstances. I felt he was a diamond tucked away in a very rough part of mid-America.
All the pictures in this article are available as prints. For information on how to purchase, go to the bottom of the page.
The company I worked for published books and magazines with Biblical themes. When I would get an assignment, the first thing I would do is research the subject. Then I would have one or more of my buddies pose for me. From the photos I had taken, I would draw sketches and, in the process, add background and costumes out of my imagination.
These are some of the sketches for the watercolor painting above. The subject is the scene in Christ's life in which He tells Peter to go catch a fish in the Sea of Galilee and find in its mouth a coin with which they can pay the tax collectors. This was obviously a miracle; but there was also an ancient custom of people throwing coins into the sea as a sacrifice to God. The fish, attracted by the color and sparkle of the coins, would swallow them. So God had prepared for this miracle in advance. :)
Not all the projects I worked on were Biblical. This is a pencil drawing of a bald eagle for the cover of a newsprint magazine called Heart. Prints of these drawings are for sale. See details at bottom of page.
This is another cover for Heart Magazine. Obviously the subject was marriage. Notice all the symbolism. I did this in an India ink wash, using only a photo of the back of the car for reference, and making the rest of it up out of my head as I went.
I love this image. I love it because it's simple and, even though it's a picture of Noah, it has no animals. I think the animals have upstaged the faith of this great believer. The story isn't about the animals; but that's what we've made it about in order to entertain our children. The real story is about how Noah trusted God to do something that had never been done before: build a boat. And not just a boat: an ocean liner, miles away from any ocean, and at a time before it had ever even rained on the earth. He was a genius, an inventor, an organizer, a visionary... You just can't attribute too many appellations to this great man. And it was all because he trusted God. So I say, "Nuts to the animals." :) By the way, this is done in watercolor. You can buy a print of this by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I did this pencil drawing to illustrate an article by John Lynn in The Way Magazine. It's of Jesus saving Peter, when Peter got out of the boat that he and the other diciples were using to cross the Sea of Galilee at night. Jesus hadn't gone with them. Instead, he chose to walk - literally - across the sea by Himself. When they saw Jesus walking on water, Peter asked if he could join his master, which he did. But the sights and sounds of the storm got the best of him and he began to sink. His faith was diminished by his senses. This is one of the great events in the Bible, in my opinion, for which no artist or cinematographer will ever do it justice. But it's certainly worth trying. My next attempt will be to do it in oils.
This is a watercolor of Abraham and Sara, now elderly, giving birth to their first and only son, Isaac. Again, friends posed for me and I added the costumes and background. This picture could almost double for Mary and Joseph, if you just darkened their hair. There are many parallels between the two births. Note the two jars on the left and how they echo the two people behind them. The fire represents God's presence - a standard Biblical symbol.
This is a picture of Jeremiah confronting the prophets of Baal. At this time in Judah's history, Israel (or Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom) had been carried away captive to Assyria. Babylon, the next kingdom in line with aspirations of world domination, was asserting itself, both militarily and socially. So, the fashions in Judah, the Southern Kingdom, would have reflected that influence - at least among the unfaithful. Thus, the prophets of Baal in my picture are sporting the latest in haute Babylonian couture.
Jeremiah, on the other hand, has just been released from prison, where he has been kept neck deep and naked in a pit, the contents of which could have been human excrement, but at least was some kind of mud. So I probably made him too clean; but, hey, it was for a family publication. :) Once he got out, Jeremiah lit into these guys, the ones who had put him in there. So this is a great, heroic moment. Thus the resemblance to other heroic, classical art. Prints of these drawings are for sale. See details at bottom of page.
This is a simple colored pencil drawing of Jesus teaching his followers about the lilies of the field. Someone had written an article about how those lilies were probably poppies; so this is the supporting illustration.
This is another of my favorites. Again, three buddies posed for me. The one on the left is Jamie, a very close friend, a sketch of whom I did below. I love the colors, the lighting and the feel it has of a classic children's illustration from the early part of the 20th century. But notice the sheep: they're all lined up! Sheep are never that regimented, even with fastidious sheep dogs. So that was something that escaped my attention, and which I would correct if I ever redid this piece. You can buy a print of this by emailing me at email@example.com.
I wanted to capture the moment when God was speaking to the Apostle Paul as he dictated the Epistle to the Ephesians, while under house arrest in Rome. He was chained to a Roman soldier and would have been dictating to one of his faithful assistants - perhaps Tychicus, who is mentioned at the end of the letter. Notice that the soldier is listening to Paul, although he does not acknowledge him. I believe that soldier ended up as a follower. How could he not! The tree visible through the window in the background represents God's spirit.
This is the final painting, done in oils. It was very large. I did not have room for it in my office, and I did not have an studio, per se; so I ended up painting it in a warehouse that was connected to my office. People coming and going found it very interesting. You can buy a print of this by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This and the following are some of the sketches I did, inspired by the lessons I was taking from Frank Liljegren. I don't remember where I came up with this. It's done in pencil.
This is my friend, Jamie, who posed for the shepherd picture above. This was done from life..
This is one of the still lifes I did in Frank's art class. I call it "Western Still Life." It's actually a very smal drawing, done in my sketchbook, as were the previous two drawings. The medium is colored pencil. Frank was often very clever in the way he put things together. This picture reminds me of my dad, who was a cowboy at heart, loving horses and guns, and loving to watch westerns.
I lived in Ohio for three years; then came back to North Carolina, where I pursued a career in furniture design. That took me on another remarkable adventure, which I'll write about later.
Prints of these drawings are for sale. If you'd like to buy one, just email me at email@example.com
I also do commissions. If you'd like to see more of my work, go to www.creativeillustrator.net
Waitsel Smith, March 14, 2013
COMMENTS FROM READERS LIKE YOU:
[Send me yours and I'll include them on this page. Let me know what you think.]
I like the drawings. One thing I did notice is that most of your men do not have any hair on their chests, arms, legs etc. Just an observation. You would think that these brawny guys would have along with their beards etc. chest hair. - Alice, Atlanta
Love it. Great work that I hope my daughter gets to do one day. It's now my desktop background. Thanks!!! - Mike
I really do not know you so you continually fascinate me with you talent, your knowledge and your communication skills. Have you ever considered becoming a minister? The art and description is great - Jamie preached on Peter walking on the water either this past Sun. or the Sun. before that - your mom and I sat together this past Sun. You do have one classy mom!!!!! - Phyllis, North Carolina
Wow, I had not even looked at that article until now. Great to see your work again, some of which I still have. I have the Jesus and Peter hanging near my desk and look at everyday. BTW, you did do that picture of me live - no photograph. I remember that day posing for you. - Jamie, Virginia
Thanks for all your great comments!
Text & artwork © 2013 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.