Yeah, that's mini-me, I’d guess around 4, making the Rancor monster from Star Wars. I’ve always been into art. My interest was greatly helped along by parents who are artists – my dad is a master jeweler, my mom was a commercial artist, then a fine artist, and now after setting aside her pencils for 20 years due to illness, has in recent years donned her pencil yet again to write and illustrate kids books (go mom)!
From very little, I’ve always loved the story-telling aspect of art. Designing characters, dreaming up stories, making awful stop-motion videos with the cam-corder…
Let’s be honest, artist friends, the only real things we looked forward to in school were art class and whenever we could make dioramas. I was typically all about the diorama part, but then when the teacher asks for the paragraph to go along with it, my eyes immediately start watching an invisible ping-pong match.
Fast forward to 5th or 6th grade, I walked into the magical store called the Games Workshop. Yes, the game that is so complicated, it practically takes a doctoral degree just to play. But I was more one of those kids who bought them just to paint the models and build terrain. Usually what would happen was that all of us friends would get together, spend all the time setting up and arguing, then when we were ready to play, the attention-span ship had long sailed.
Then came the stupid years. Come now, we all had them; mine were just a little dumber than yours. 8th grade hit and so came all that awkward teenage angst – punk-rock, smoking tea in a pipe made of Sculpey III (don't recommend), and trying to “bunny hop” on my bmx bike which usually ended in a flat tire. But the real game changer was that day that defined what I now classify as the “stupid years”: when I came home with that report card that said I had flunked… everything. Yep, not just a couple of bad grades, I had gotten straight E’s (they didn’t do “F’s”, they did “E’s”, kind of makes sense). My mom then did something rather unexpected – she decided to homeschool me.
This was the beginning of the things that would really shape me into who I am today. I remember her asking me that summer before we started (when I thought life was ending) if I was fine with using a Christian curriculum. I think I shrugged and said it was fine. Mwahaha, if only I knew the discomfort I would experience later!
There was a lot of butting of heads at first, but I eventually sank into submission, realizing, well, I wasn’t going anywhere, and my mom was much better at yelling than I was. As the year went on, something curious happened… I realized I liked learning. Fancy that! I could learn at my own pace, do my work, and be done in, like, 4 hours! Then I could go down to the dungeon (because most artists live and work in dungeons) and play with clay and draw for the rest of the day! Brilliant!
From the ashes, a fire awoke in my freshman mind – presenting The Fellowship of the Ring! (anyone catch that reference? No? hm…) I still remember sitting in the theater with my dad, just captivated as a simple hobbit set out on an adventure far greater than himself. Then I read the books - and I of course mean The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit, AND the Silmarillion (audiobook – no way I’d try reading that one through!). The stories Tolkien made, and the worlds that Weta Workshop produced, became a benchmark for me as an artist. It was fantasy for me!
I had to know more about this Tolkien and what inspired him. I learned of the mighty Beowulf and how he tore the arm off Grendel and slew a dragon. And then I learned about this other book that was important to him – the Bible. Not growing up in a very religious home, this book was unknown to me. It seemed interesting, like if I read it through, I’d become some intellectual – a learned man. I was, of course, getting little snatches here and there through my school curriculum, but I decided to listen through the Bible via audiobook. It’s a dangerous book – it turns intellectuals into fools and fools into wise men.
Then, one day, my neighbor/best friend invited me over to watch these videotapes… these creationist videotapes. They spoke of things I had never heard before: a young earth, the gospel, and also some really bad ideas that I’ve disowned today and I won’t get into here. But they challenged my worldview and caused me to look at things differently.
This same friend later invited me to a local youth group at church. I still remember how awkward I felt being in a group of kids praying out loud for each other - so utterly uncomfortable. “Why-oh-why could they not just keep this thing to themselves,” I thought. I think back to this experience sometimes, but now I look at it with beauty, as I see these people of entirely different walks of life getting together to pray for each other.
Throughout high school, I continued to create. I
particularly excelled in sculpture, making 6” figures of fantasy characters, biblical characters, and…well, fairies. Hey now, don’t judge. Sometimes you do regrettable things for money. There was apparently this eBay market for fairy sculptures. In the end, I think I made about $1.75 an hour, but it beat flipping burgers.
Later that year two awesome things happened. I came to faith in the redeeming God, and met my wife - well, wife-to-be. It was a miraculous day at youth group getting to talk to her for the first time – her students had canceled, clearing her schedule, and the youth pastor decided to have us play co-ed dodge ball. I had to pick a girl, and we had to hold hands and play dodge ball together. And I chose this certain blond girl that I had my eye on for several weeks.
In our early conversations, she wanted to score points by mentioning she liked to watch hockey… My disappointment was that I found the one girl that actually liked sports, and she was talking to the one guy who didn’t give a rip about them. But then she spoke the password – she said she had read and enjoyed The Lord of the Rings. I figured I could over look this sports flaw and marry her. Which as I later found, this sports thing was mostly just an ill-fated attempt to impress. Score!
As I was in my senior year and headed toward being a horrible history teacher, because I didn’t think I could make it as an artist, a guest speaker came to church. He talked about this “Creation Museum”, and said they were looking for people to help build the thing. Driving home from church that day, I knew I had to be involved. So I ended up driving down to Kentucky, showing my portfolio, and landing a job in the art department at Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum. Thanks, homeschooling!
Due to it being a smaller studio, and rarely having the money to outsource projects, I got to get my hands dirty on a lot of different things. I started as a sculptor making dioramas, but moved on to do relief sculptures, set design, costume design, illustration, metal working, leather working, and spent about 3 years-worth of my life making weapons and armor. I also had the opportunity to work with some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met, and learned from some incredibly skilled and seasoned artists.
After the Creation Museum opened in 2007, I worked on a graphic novel about St. George that I wrote and had been illustrating for over a year. I pitched it to a publisher, and they liked it, except the story… the story kind of sucked. Then I was faced with the hard choice of re-writing it, which would put me back to square one with the art too, or shelving it and calling it a good learning experience. Learning experience it was! And I got my first bad script under my belt and out of the way.
Then I got married!
As time went on, I realized I always had stories going through my head, and even on paper, ever since I was little. For whatever reason, I just always thought art was more of my thing, not writing. But a moment of clarity happened when I decided that stories were here to stay, and I needed to quit sucking at writing. It’s shown itself to be one of the most personally fruitful studies of anything I’ve ever done. (I will elaborate on that topic more in a later post.)
Around 2010, I switched from working on the Creation Museum to becoming a production designer for the Ark Encounter. This was pretty cool, being involved in the early stages of such a monumental project. Here I learned a lot about design, thinking through the guest’s experience, and about being a storyteller from a different perspective.
Early in the development, myself and another production designer built a set for a promotional video for the Ark. I got the film-bug. I love movies, and always dreamed of being a part of that movie magic as a kid, but it always felt so unobtainable. Like if you were to be a part of a film, you could only be a small part of this great big machine.
Later, I stumbled across these guys making a movie back in my hometown in Michigan. My wife had gone to school with a couple of them – the Burns and Co. I helped out for a couple of weeks on their sets for “Beyond the Mask” and got a glimpse into the indie-film world. Since then, I devoured anything I could on filmmaking (thanks to nofilmschool.com!), making some awful little films with friends, filming an interview with a very strange actor, and beginning a story-world that would develop into a real short film (currently under-way).
My early-on ideas were to do several episodic, 45 minute, low-budget films set in this story-world. I had written a few scripts over a couple years and sought out the blessings and help of a real writer. I stumbled across Nate Wilson (or N.D. Wilson, as his pen name.) After some months, I finally got ahold of him, and while he liked the story world, he pointed out some fundamental issues with my stories and invited me to Wordsmithy, his writing conference out in Idaho.
A buddy and I decided to go. We drove. And drove and drove. Once you get past Kansas into Colorado, it’s magic the rest of the way. It turned out to be yet another monumental event in my life that changed the way I look at life and storytelling. (And yes, I will write on this later.) We got to learn from Nate, his dad Doug Wilson, Aaron Wrech, and writer/musician Andrew Peterson. They were a great bunch of guys who love Jesus and think on similar levels to C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton.
This just about brings me to my current place in this on-going story that is life. Through miraculous circumstances, I now have a wonderful son named Madoc. And beyond just that someone would want to have a son with me – I mean we had a rough pregnancy. My wife’s water broke at 22 weeks, that’s 2 weeks before they consider it possible for the baby to survive. But by the graciousness of God, and I don't mean that as just a saying, God graciously allowed my wife to remain pregnant. They had given us a 5% chance of life with complications. Each day, I expected a phone call saying my wife went into labor and we lost the baby, but the call never came. We were blessed by tons of people from work and church supporting us and praying for us. People from across the globe asked God to bring us through this with a healthy boy. And again, by the grace of God, my wife’s amniotic sac resealed, which they only see in 2-3% of the patients, and she had our boy full-term - healthy and without any issues. He’s almost 2 now and I have tears rolling down my face writing this as I think about how God blessed us. We chose “Madoc” before this went down – it means “fortunate” in Welsh. We later chose “Eoin” for his middle name because it’s a derivative of “Yohanan” which means “God is gracious”.
Which brings us to the present. Right now I’m writing a script for a graphic novel, set in the story world I’ve been developing for years while still working full-time as a Production Designer (and sometimes more than full-time) at the Ark and Creation Museum.
So what’s next? Story. This is the mordant. Whether it is illustration, film, sculpture, or concept art - story is the conduit through which all the disciplines will be channeled. What specifically that will look like, only God knows.
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