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Interview: Ned Bustard – Illustrator for Every Moment Holy

Since the conception of the Every Moment Holy project, we’ve always known it would be illustrated. We wanted to find a way to capture the style and look of sacred images but infuse them with “ordinary” scenes and subjects. Author Doug McKelvey and I both had clear ideas of what direction the illustration should take, and so finding the right artist for the book was a source of a lot of discussion and hand-wringing.

Enter Ned Bustard. When we saw the work he’d done in Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups, we knew we’d found our man. Ned caught the vision for the book right away and I’m anxious to show you how he’s bringing Doug’s liturgies to life visually.

Though his name might not be familiar to the Rabbit Room audience (yet), he’s cut from familiar cloth. He’s an author of children’s fiction and historical fiction, and he’s the editor behind two books that get at the root of what the Rabbit Room is all about: It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, and It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God. He’s the creative director at Square Halo Books, a board member at ASCHA (The Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art), and on staff with CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts).

And beyond all that, he’s just a downright nice guy. I’m so glad I have the chance to introduce him to all of you through this interview in which we discuss Barry Moser, printmaking, Christian symbolism, the creative process, and plenty of other stuff. Say hello to Ned Bustard.


PP: So Ned, Let me first say how happy I am that you’re gracing Every Moment Holy with your work. The book is going to be great, and your illustrations are a big part of the recipe. It was important for us to find an illustrator who would catch the vision of the book and I feel like you’re doing just that.

NB: I’m extremely excited about this project. Earlier this year when Andrew and I were talking about upcoming book projects that our companies were developing, he described EMH and I nearly fell on the floor. I’ve been a huge fan of Doug’s writing since he collaborated with Charlie Peacock years ago. And I grew up with a love of prayerbooks because my grandfather’s church used them. I have a large collection of them and often pillage them when writing the liturgy for my church’s worship services. And on top of all that, the inspiration for my printmaking is medieval woodcuts. Combine all those influences together and it’s no surprise that I shamelessly asked Andrew to be considered.

PP: But let’s start at the beginning. I’m a huge fan of Barry Moser, and when I first saw some of your stuff, I thought to myself, this is a man who loves Barry Moser. Was I right?

NB: I must say it’s quite an honor that you would connect me with Barry Moser in your mind. He’s an amazing artist whose work has kept me spellbound for years. I have his illustrated Bible sitting on the book shelf right next to me as we’re talking. His work is magnificent. His craftsmanship is superb, and his work has such deep passion in it. Years ago I had the good fortune to design a book of Gregory Wolfe’s writing that was accompanied by Moser’s engravings. In the process I got to hold the works in my hands to scan them, and I felt like I was holding mithral. Ah, forgive me… I’m geeking out. The short answer is: yes, I love Barry Moser’s work.

PP: Can you explain how you create your work? This stuff is all a mystery to me, and it’s fascinating. Are you carving linoleum or wood or what? Take me through the process from conception to print.

NB: Relief printmaking is a very simple method of making art. And its simplicity is what I love about it. The connection this technique has with early Bibles and prayerbooks makes it a perfect visual medium for Every Moment Holy.

My day job is offering people illustration and graphic design services. When I started in the field it was all work done by hand, but the industry changed, and now nearly all I do is computerized (not that this is a bad thing, generally). One aspect I like about printmaking is that it is so gritty, earthy, and non-computerized. There is no copy/paste or save-as. And there is something that feels more “real” to me than what I do with my computer.

The basic process is that I draw on a block of linoleum, cut away everything that I want to be white, roll ink on the block, lay a piece of paper on it, rub it hard to get a clean impression, and pull off the paper and hang it up to dry. Then I ink it and apply paper again and again until I have as many reproductions as I desire.

I usually use a printing press to make the impression, and I almost always use the computer to work out my compositions before transferring them to the linoleum. For example, the first print I completed for this book began as a doodle I scanned into my computer over which I laid in a photo I had my daughter take of me with a laptop and cell phone (to get spacial relationships correct). Many decisions were made on the fly as I was cutting the block, but the basic image had most of the kinks worked out on the computer, allowing me more freedom as I cut the block.

PP: Can you talk a little about that image in particular? I know you love Christian symbology. How does that find its way into your work?

“New Creation” from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups

NB: I love designing logos. I’m passionate about communicating meaning and giving the viewer as much symbolism as I can. This love of telling a story through icons is apparent in my printmaking as well.

An extreme example of this is the piece I made called “New Creation,” in Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups. In that piece symbols for the 12 Apostles and 12 Tribes swirl around a new Earth full of things representing Christ, the Church, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Trinity, martyrs, New Jerusalem, and more.

One of my favorite books is Signs and Symbols in Christian Art by George Ferguson (it sits on a shelf next to opposite Moser’s Bible). In that reference book there are oodles of animals, plants, colors, and more that I regularly draw from for my artwork. Certainly I load my pieces with more symbols than most folks have the education or inclination to decipher, but I enjoy knowing that they are in there for the person who cares enough to spend the time decoding it.

Print block for “A Liturgy for Those Who Consume Media”

This first piece for Every Moment Holy isn’t overloaded with symbolism, but there is plenty there to tell the story. In that print a man in the boat sits, preoccupied with with his various electronic devices atop the crest of a wave while the wind blows and a raven looks out intently towards the horizon. As a good pilgrim he should be rowing his boat to shore, but instead he is “surfing” the dark seas of the internet without any care for where he is going. The raven/blackbird is a symbol for sin, and he is at his post looking to guide the oblivious traveler. The wind is blowing the opposite direction, and possessing three parts is a symbol for the Trinity.

PP: I love that. Our vision for the book is that the illustrations capture the holy inherent in the ordinary, and that image is a perfect example. How long does it take you to to carve a block once the artwork is up to snuff?

NB: I’d guess an hour for something like that. Maybe more. I try not to keep track of how long it takes me to cut a block because it would depress me too much if I factored that time into what I’m able to charge for a print. Even if you only include paper, ink, and the time it takes to pull the prints, my hourly rate ends up well below minimum wage. I know the “New Creation” print took over 40 hours to cut, because I was curious, and made it a point to keep track.

Obviously, it would be much easier and quicker to create these images on the computer, but like I said, the prints feel more real than a computer illustration, and the cutting and printing process always gives me happy mistakes and irregularities that add to the charm and grittiness of the final pieces. My friend Matthew Clark (an amazing printmaker who everyone should know about) once said that those unplanned anomalies in the process had been described to him as “gifts from the printing gods.” Of course, as a good elder in my church, I would have to describe them as good and delightful markings predestined to be in the artwork “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

PP: I wish someone would come up with something wise to say that would make me feel better about typos in published books. Authors, I guess, are doomed by perfection.

A collaboration between Ned Bustard and Matthew Clark

I love that you work in such a tactile medium. The physicality of the final piece is what makes block cutting and printing such a compelling form of illustration. The inherent flaws in the process are part of what make the work beautiful. Which makes it so fitting for this book. Do we need to add a liturgy “For Those Who Create Block Cuts On Small Publishing Budgets?” I’m joking, but now that I think of it, a liturgy for “Those Who Create Images” might be something to consider.

NB: I’m often reluctant to open the books I design when they arrive from the printer because I know as soon as I do I will find a mistake. Never fails.

PP: Are there any liturgies you’re particularly looking forward to illustrating?

NB: The liturgy for a Husband and Wife at the End of the Day was very moving to me when I first read it. I’m eager to work on that one. I also am eager to work on the liturgy about home repair. I had my little brother pose for my reference for that piece and I think it will be fun to cut a block depicting him. More than a specific liturgy, I am looking forward to making a bunch of them so I can see the visual themes that emerge and listen in on the conversations between various pieces in the series. I dont have plans for them as a whole, but I am sure motifs will emerge and symbols will tie diverse prints together across the book.

PP: I’m so glad you brought this up. I have a similar experience each year when I edit together The Molehill, the Rabbit Room’s literary journal. I get submissions from writers all over the country and it’s always fascinating to watch for the themes and images that emerge to form a cohesive whole. Having read what Doug has written for this book so far, I’m already seeing how it’s coming together and it’s beautiful. I can’t wait to see how his work informs yours.

NB: One of the great blessings for me, personally, about having the privilege to be part of this Rabbit Room book project is that it affirms what God has been doing in my life for many years. Early on in my career as an illustrator I found my work developing in a style i dubbed “faux gothic.”  I worked and worked at it out of my passion for celtic and medieval art. I really saw no place for it, but it seemed to spring naturally from who God had wired me to be.

Then I added to that aesthetic a passion for printmaking. Still not knowing why I was doing it or having any idea of where it might find a home. And now Every Moment Holy has been laid in my lap! I’m not saying folks should keep following their creative passions and one day the Rabbit Room will affirm all of their efforts with a cool project like this, but what I DO believe is that we should work hard to grow in our disciplines (writing, music, art, bee keeping, etc) as a way to give glory to God—and then not be surprised when we see the Lord bless us.

There is no way to say what “success” will look like—soli deo gloria—but we need to be faithful, work hard, and see what fruit comes from it all. And we may not see the fruit. For example, I have heard that many people have been positively affected by my book It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, but I’ve met only a few here and there. I just need to trust God that he is raising the harvest he wants to see grow from the seeds we have planted in faith.

PP: Amen. I think that’s the perspective all of us have with this book. And I think that’s the way we approach so much of the work we do at the Rabbit Room. We plant seeds. And then we trust God to make it grow.

Thanks for the conversation, Ned. I look forward to seeing the rest of your work on this book.


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