One of my favorite storytellers doesn’t write books. He doesn’t write songs, either. But his stories quicken my imagination and teach me about beauty and light and the mind of God. He’s an artist and illustrator named Justin Gerard, and I’m pleased to let you know that he’s our official artist-in-residence for Hutchmoot 2011.
I discovered Justin Gerard years ago via his involvement with Portland Studios, an art studio in Greenville, South Carolina. He painted the cover of my 2005 album The Far Country, the cover painting for On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and has illustrated two of the three Wingfeather Saga books. Yes, ladies and germs, that makes me a fan.
It’s not just that his pictures are amazing. It’s that they flip on a light switch deep in my heart, in the room where the ten-year-old boy inside me sleeps. Justin’s pictures yank back that kid’s covers and tell him to get outside and play. More than once, I’ve looked at a new painting or sketch on his blog and had my mind flooded with unwritten stories, stories about wise old monsters and epic battles fought astride giant saddled birds.
It takes a special gift to do more with a picture than illustrate a scene. You could be at the top of your game as an artist in terms of skill and craft, and you could inspire admiration—but it’s another kind of artist who can inspire wonder. It’s a true artist who can make you hungry for beauty the way a the chef in the kitchen can make you hungry for dinner.
Here’s what I mean: imagine a painting of a forest with gnarled, beautiful old trees and beams of light angling down through the leaves to puddle on the deep green grass. Can you see it? Now imagine the same picture, but with a worn footpath winding from the foreground and into the trees, around the fat trunks, to disappear in the distance, where you think you might see a clearing. It’s no longer just a picture of an ancient wood; now it’s a picture of an adventure. That’s what Justin does with his images. He invites you into what’s behind the picture. It’s what I mean when I say that he’s one of my favorite storytellers.
Next weekend at Hutchmoot, Justin and Russ Ramsey will be presenting a session called “Interview with a Dragon Maker”, and Justin will be working on a painting from Tolkien’s Silmarillion over the course of the weekend. We’re honored to have him. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll wake up your inner ten-year-old and peruse his website for a while. Then sit down and write.