Tuesday, November 30, 2010

HCSBSB: Iron Age Israelite Home

I confess that, as an illustrator, I’ve never really gotten into doing cutaway views. In the right hands, they can certainly be quite engaging and done in a way that is both informative and beautiful, but I’ve also seen plenty of examples that offered the worst of both worlds, so to speak. For my part, I prefer whenever possible to stick with a more “straight up” depiction that most powerfully captures the aura of the thing and leave the other details to accompanying charts or diagrams. (That’s my aesthetic preference, but it also has to be acknowledged that the technical demands of creating a really good cutaway view will almost certainly multiply the labor involved by a significant factor as well.)

Be that as it may, I knew from the get-go that this was probably going to be one of those illustrations for the HCSB Study Bible that would indeed demand some sort of cutaway view, and so I girded up my loins and got down to it. Drawing upon my own research of domestic architecture from the region and the time period (which basically encompasses the time immediately following the Exodus and conquest of Canaan, ca. 15th century B.C, up through New Testament times), I submitted the initial sketch below.

Although I dare say that there probably existed at least one or two residences in ancient Israel that looked almost identical to my first stab (just a touch of wry sarcasm but no gall intended here), the archaeological consultant for the project suggested a more “typical” layout, and so the illustration was revised along those lines.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rhyme of November Stars

The noiseless marching of the stars
Sweeps above me all night long;
Up the skies, over the skies
Passes the uncounted throng,
Without haste, without rest,
From the east to the west:
Vega, Deneb, white Altair
Shine like crystals in the air,
and the lonely Fomalhaut
In the dark south, paces low.
Now the timid Pleiades
Leave the shelter of the trees,
While toward the north, mounting high,
Gold Capella, like a queen,
Watches over her demesne
Stretching toward the kingly one,
Dusky, dark Aldebaran.
Betelgeuse and Rigel burn
In their wide wheel, slow to turn,
And in the sharp November frost
Bright Sirius, with his blue light
Completes the loveliness of night.

—Sara Teasdale

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

HCSBSB: David's Jerusalem

This was the earliest of several views of Jerusalem which I did for the HCSB Study Bible. I spent quite a bit of time poring over other maps and images from various periods in Jerusalem’s history. Google Earth (my favorite time-sucking software) also proved to be a very useful tool. The satellite imagery is modern day of course, but its 3D rendering capabilities are enormously helpful in providing an accurate representation of the topography, from virtually any angle imaginable! Choosing the most ideal vantage point was a big concern, especially given the fact that the city would be growing as shown in the subsequent illustrations, and we wanted to strive for consistency from one to the next, as much as possible.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

HCSBSB: Israelite Encampment

The arrangement of the tribes of Israel encamped around the Mosaic Tabernacle in the wildernes is described in Numbers Chapter Two of the HCSB Study Bible. This is one of those Old Testament foreshadowings that is just sort of concealed within the text, but really bowls you over when you see it worked out visually. I had Jamie Soles’ song Sign of the Cross in my head pretty much the whole time I was working on this one.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

HCSBSB: Tabernacle Furnishings

This next illustration for the HCSB Study Bible features a montage of the various items contained within the Mosaic Tabernacle: the ark of the covenant, the bronze laver, the bronze altar, the golden incense altar, the golden lampstand and the golden table of shewbread. (See Exodus 25-30; 36-40 for descriptions of their appearance and construction.) Although this illustration as a whole underwent very little transformation or development following the initial sketch (below), there was a good deal of thought and research put into each of the individual elements prior to that point.

In terms of general aesthetics, it is generally agreed among scholars that the tabernacle and its items would have been highly influenced by Egyptian art, since this would have been the only style that the Hebrews would have had exposure to for over 400 years. Furthermore, it is likely that the superintendent Bezalel and some of his fellow craftsmen would have been formally trained in the Egyptian canons and techniques. (Of course, God gave Moses very specific directions for the construction of each item, which probably went beyond the measurements and simple descriptions mentioned in the text itself to include detailed visions of the items in toto. These fully-realized visions could of course have employed any style whatsoever, whether known or unknown to the Israelites, or to any other people, prior to that time, and could have guided Moses as he in turn guided the craftsmen. Nevertheless, it seems likely that an Egyptian style prevailed, and the whole question of employing or importing a “pagan” style or aesthetic heritage into the worship of Yahweh makes for some interesting theological discussions, and has been treated by Francis Schaeffer, Gene Edward Veith, and others.)

At any rate, fabulous examples of Egyptian art from the time period abound, especially among the artifacts from the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, which include several items of similar construction to some of the tabernacle furnishings. Some items posed greater and more interesting creative challenges than others to my attempts to both faithfully and imaginatively represent them. The laver, for instance is scantily described (Ex. 30:17-21; 38:8), but it seems to have had a supporting base that was distinct from the basin itself, though the two presumably functioned and were transported as a single unit.

The ark of the covenant was of course an object of special attention. While it was tempting to make it look just like the version in the Indiana Jones movies, which I think is a splendid and probably a reasonably accurate representation, I did have a few twists of my own that I wanted to lend to my own interpretation. I worked some of these out in a larger sketch (below). First off, it seems that cherubim are presented, both biblically and extra-biblically, as winged, sphinx-like creatures, with the head of a man and the body of some four-footed animal, typically a lion or a bovine. (Parallel examples abound in the art of numerous cultures, including Egyptian, Phoenician, Assyrian, Babylonian and Greek.) The Bible speaks of the lid of the ark as the “mercy seat”, and a seat is actually what it was: the cherubim spread out their wings to serve as a throne upon which the presence of Yahweh Himself was seated. (Perhaps the cherubs’ wings surrounded or enveloped an actual throne or seat, though I did not include one.)

The question of the ark’s orientation (did the carrying poles go in the long or the short side?) is particularly consternating, as I’ll explain in more detail when discussing the sketches for the Temple of Solomon, and I’m still not settled on the answer to that one. (You can see that I actually switched the orientation even here.) The relief-sculptured motif on the ark’s front is purely my own imagining, but is an exploration of how the exodus event might have been captured in visual terms. You have the parting waters of the Red Sea, re-birthing Israel as a nation, and the two tablets of the Decalogue, overshadowed by pyramid-shaped mountains. These recall both the land of Egypt that had been left behind (pyramids are stylized, man-made mountains, after all) and Mount Sinai (with the glory of God streaming from the top), where Israel’s identity as Yahweh’s Covenant Nation was formally established.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


It isn’t too often that you see the labels Film and Typography juxtaposed is it? I finally got around to watching this one last night. (My wife is out of town for a few days. No way I would have gotten her to sit through this one.) I have to say it’s a really well-made and fascinating documentary—I daresay even non-graphic designers or typographers would find it interesting if they gave it a chance. (But maybe I’m just kidding myself.) Being one myself (a graphic designer, that is) I will confess that I’ve never really felt a strong attraction for this typeface, to say nothing of the adulation which it, being the ubiquitous and quintessential typographical encapsulation of the modernist movement, arouses within so many in my field. In fact, that goes a long way toward explaining why I found the film so pleasing: far from being the sort of one-dimensional encomium that I rather expected, the featured interviews with respected designers and typographers encompass the extremes of “love it” as well as “hate it”, with glimpses of the varying gradations of ambivalence which lie between. For my own part, I’ll say that in many respects my own reasons for not being in love with it were largely confirmed. (The virtual paeans offered on its behalf by the avowed disciples of modernism, lauding it as the consummately “neutral” and formless conveyor of pure and unsullied content, brought a simultaneous smile to my face and furrow to my brow. Associations with characters from C. S. Lewis’ novel That Hideous Strength kept springing to mind as I listened to some of these guys.) At the same time, and somewhat paradoxically I suppose, I have to say that my appreciation for it in some regards was enhanced. It definitely has its strong points and its place. So maybe, when all’s said and done, even as I eschew those principles which animate it, I might actually have to start using it here and there…every once in a while, at least.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

HCSBSB: The Tabernacle

This view of the Mosaic Tabernacle was actually the first illustration I completed for the HCSB Study Bible. The inclusion of all the tents in the background, which needed to look pretty numerous and vast, presented probably at least as much of a challenge as the tabernacle and associated items and persons in the foreground did. And, as is typical, I got just as caught up in rendering the sky, clouds and smoke as I did in any other part of the illustration. (That’s actually the case with a number of these. Sometimes the clouds and swirling smoke and flames wound up being my favorite parts of some of these scenes when all was said and done, oddly enough.)

This is also one of those scenes (there wound up being several) for which I built a crude model of which I could take some reference photographs from key angles that would serve as the basis for the final drawing. I felt a pretty heavy burden for making sure the relative scales and distances for all the components were accurately represented, and this was often the easiest way to accomplish that.