Sacred Heart for Kids

I've been asked to submit a sample illustration showing how I might approach a children's book promoting the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Here's my first shot:

What do y'all think? Just as important, what do y'all's kids think?

I am a BIG FAN of Abigail's style for young people, but I can't seem to imagine it for the Sacred Heart. Same thing with Theodore's work. So I went with what you see above.

I think some background imagery for historical setting is important to remind us that Jesus isn't just a theological concept, but a real flesh and blood person who walked in real places on the earth. Maybe there's a better way to get this across?

The art side of the project is in its first stage (I'd have over a dozen illustrations to do in the end), so any input is GREATLY appreciated!

A little progress...

Comments are still appreciated!


Anonymous said...

This is very nicely done.

Maggie Mayer said...

I like the simplicity of this Jesuit John. My daughter (7 years old) has a similar statue of the Sacred heart of Jesus next to her bed. She ask me why his heart is on the outside of his chest. I told her that Jesus heart represents his love of all of us and God. When she comes home from school today I'll have her look at this image and I'll tell you her reaction if you'd like.

Jesuit John said...

Thanks for the comments! Any feedback is great!

Ben Hatke said...

Hmm... I would suggest doing some work to the background. the cool green palm trees and light yellow sun, for me, evoke something more like florida or maybe a Hawaiian print.

I would suggest, even if you keep the palm trees, just giving the background colors warmer earth-tones.

nice modeling on the robes!

Maggie Mayer said...

My daughter says that she likes it!

Jesuit John said...


Now that you say it, the background does look a bit "minty" doesn't it? I'll play with it a bit.

Theodore said...

I agree with you, I hesitate to draw Jesus in a cartoony way at all. I got around this with one project by using a byzantine style. Kind of like Kevin (http://www.IlluminatedInk.com/index.php?page_id=winners_gallery_winner_viewer&winner_id=197) except not as successfully. :)

I agree with Ben about the background.

Your grasp of anatomy is very good. I imagine you sketch these drawings out first or do you just go right into illustrator?

Meredith said...

I'm sorry, but I don't find this image very "flesh and blood"; it looks too by-the-book and Sunday-bulletin to me. I can see that Theodore's style is too cartoonish, and Abigail's is slightly too cute for the Sacred Heart - but I would lean more towards Abigail if I were you. I have found only one image of the Sacred Heart that I've really liked - it seems to be difficult to express visually, perhaps because the heart is naturally what is hidden.

Good luck with the project.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the cartoonish look-especially the halo-too thick and hard of a line. Needs some gentleness and subtleties to make Jesus appealing.

Background could be simpler.

Good proportions.

Daniel Nichols said...

Must you portray Our Lord grinning? That runs contrary to the traditions of oh, a couple millenia of sacred art. So far as I can discern, such portrayals began in the 1960s in the wake of the confusion of the post-conciliar circus.
And all this computer-generated stuff just looks fake; why don't you use traditional media?

Jesuit John said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. I think they are all very helpful. I've made some revisions and I like what I see. We'll see what the bossmen think!

A few points...

Theodore: I usually work from a simple photo reference for this style. It keeps things in proportion when I get into Illustrator.

Ben: I really like the earthtones idea. I think the bright colors say "childish" more than they should.

Meredeth: The earthtones Ben mentioned give it a more flesh-and-blood feel. I'll post something up soon so you can see what I mean. It doesn't solve it 100% but I think its greatly improved.

Daniel: I hear you, brother. I have never been a fan of the smiling/grinning Jesus images. But, I went with this considering the audience will be so young. For the same reason, I went with the computer-generated style. It's not an image I'd choose to meditate on, but kids grow up with computer games, cartoons and comic books... unlike the couple millenia before. Maybe it's a mistake but I'll let the bossmen make the call.

Thanks again, everyone. The comments are VERY helpful!

Douglas said...

I am Jesuit John's "boss" on this project, though my boss is the real boss. I really appreciate these comments and agree with most.

I don't think Jesus is grinning. I think he looks pleasant and inviting ("let the children come to me"), but not like a smiling hippie Jesus. If others think he looks too happy, I could be persuaded.

Like John, I personally would not choose this Sacred Heart for meditation. I would find something in traditional media with high artistic value. John's image is kind of a cartoon synthesis of all the standard Sacred Heart images you might see in many media. Yes, it looks by-the-book and Sunday bulletin, but it serves its illustrative, pedagogical purpose.

I like the idea of warming up the background with a tone.

Another consideration, John is going to have to produce 14 images for the booklet by the end of the year.

Anonymous said...

I really like the updated version where you changed the background colors. That was a good improvement. I think your image of Jesus is beautifully done (considering it is computer-generated). I asked the kids a few questions as they viewed the image and here are their answers:

When you see Jesus like this, would you want to go and talk to him? "Yes"

Does Jesus look like he's up in heaven or on earth? "On earth - but after he was crucified."

Do you like this picture of Jesus? "Yes"

Maggie Mayer said...

I like the new version. I wonder if you might consider trying a version where the halo is more of an ellipse and you can see through it or maybe taking the white behind the halo to an earth tone? Just a thought... but really I hesitate to say anything because your audience is children and so simplicity (the way you have it)seems best. I like Jesus smiling.

Maggie Mayer said...

I meant to say...I like the face of Jesus.

Daniel Nichols said...

I have always taken issue with the idea that one must dumb things down for children and young people. It is the same logic that leads to pop and rock masses. Don't get me wrong; I appreciate (some) of this music for what it is, but what it isn't is suitable for worship. Similarly, a cartoonish Jesus is simply an inadequate religious image.
Any image of Christ ought by nature to be sacred art, and ought to be beautiful. When one encounters sacred art and music, one ought to be lifted to another realm, not exposed to some worked-over version of the products of pop culture.
That is why in the Christian East all visual art is two-dimensional, and all music is acapella: one is clearly on holy ground, removed from the world, encountering the heavenly.
And children and young adults are capable of comprehending this, if given the chance.

Kevin said...

I agree with you Daniel. Children are VERY bright. Us adults don't give them credit. We need to share with them the wonder and mystery of our faith, not "dumb it down" to what we assume to be their level. They are the ones who can see angels so much easier than we can! I disagree with Maggie about the "halo". It is actually a nimbus and should never be put in perspective. It is a SYMBOL of divinity. I'm sure Daniel could elaborate on its meaning.
John, your piece is nicely rendered. I would tone down the smile a wee bit.

Jesuit John said...

Daniel Nichols,

Are you the same Daniel Nichols of 8th Day Icons? I really like your work! What you do is a great service to the Faith! And I think you are on to something with Caelum Et Terra...

Here’s what I’m thinking about the style that I’ve gone with so far. I am not interested in “dumbing down” or “watering down” or any sort of “down” at all. What I’m hoping to do is simplify the image for easy consumption by very young children. Artwork takes into account many things. If this were liturgical art, for example, I’d be against the style I’ve gone with so far. But it is a booklet to introduce very young children to some concepts about the sacred heart that may not be immediately apparent. Think of it as somewhere between road sign graphics and DVD instruction booklet illustrations - but for children. This artwork (and the rest in the booklet) is supposed to make clear those symbols otherwise tangled up in more complex images. The tangle is GREAT for meditation. But it isn’t always great for quick recognition. If children who see these images think “Cool! Who needs those old fashioned images when I’ve got this drawing of Jesus made just for me!” then I think I will have failed miserably.

Your concerns do still ring in my head. I am very nervous when it comes to depicting Christ. I think there is a lot of truth to what you said: “Any image of Christ ought by nature to be sacred art.” So I am going to do everything I can to live up to that and not compromise the dignity that should always be afforded any image depicting Christ. I hope I’m talented enough to pull that off.

Daniel Nichols said...

Yes, I am the Daniel Nichols who is an iconographer. Regina posted a couple of my things here some time back. And thanks. I hesitate to criticize after you praised my work, and I am not trying to be contentious. However, I do think that those of us who choose to make images of Christ, the Mother of God, and the angels and saints ought to do so carefully.
It is not that I think the artist who chooses (or better, who is called) to do sacred art must limit himself to traditional iconography, though this is what I have done. There are artists doing what you are doing- books for children- who are doing very good work. The Roman Catholic Tomie de Paolo comes to mind, creating images that are winsome and attractive to children. And there is a Ukrainian Catholic catechism for children which uses de Paoloesque work to great effect, though this is marred by its use of images of God the Father, which is pretty authoritatively forbidden (Second Nicea) and also pretty widely done, both in the West and the East.
And there are Eastern Orthodox illustrators who do religious books for children with lovely drawings and paintings, influenced both by traditional iconography and Russian folk art.
What I object to is first, the cartoonish aspect of this image of the Sacred Heart, and secondly, the sterile feel of computer art. It is not that I object to all computer generated art; I am a great fan of Pixar, for example. But even Pixar, which excells at portraying machines, land and seascapes, and even animals, fails miserably at portraying humans, who all look like they are made of plastic, much less satisfying that hand drawn animation.
Similarly, I find your computer images lifeless, lacking the human touch. I can see that you have a gift for compostition, and no doubt I would like most of the images you have posted here- though I think your smiling Christ lacks gravitas- had they been rendered by hand.
Why don't you use traditional media for your work?
I hope this does not offend; as I understand it, artists post here for feedback, not just praise.

Douglas said...

As the person who commissioned John for this work, I really appreciate these comments and I know John does too. It relates to a wonderful question: how does the artist best glorify God?

I love the work of Tomie de Paolo too, and would love to hire him for this project. The Sacred Heart of Jesus deserves no lesser artist. But if I think about it for a second, I have to say that actually there is no artist worthy of rendering the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Every great artist and every great writer will tell you that they fail miserably to capture the glory of God, just as any theologian will tell you that any description or concept of God is always more false than true. Yet theologians go on, writers go on, and artists go on and do their best within their constrains.

John is no Tomie de Paolo, as far as I can tell, and as a writer I am no Dante or even Flannery O'Connor. Is it wrong for us to do the best we can within our limited resources to teach and honor the Sacred Heart? If a better artist stepped up and wanted to do this project (and could do it for free within the time frame), I'm sure John would step back and say, "Do it and may God be with you." I would say the same.

Sometimes perfection is the enemy of the good. I think what John is doing with the Sacred Heart is good. It is instructive. It is workmanlike. It is possible for him to render 14 such images in 4 months. And it will enable us to produce an illustrated booklet on the Sacred Heart for children that otherwise simply would not be produced. I pray that the final product will interest and engage children and lead them into devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. If I felt the final product would turn children off, scandalize them, and perpetrate false and sentimental images of Jesus, I would scrap the whole project, the sooner the better.

Maggie Mayer said...

I'm enjoying reading these comments. The one thing that keeps ringing in my brain is that all art is just a means and not an end.

Daniel Nichols, I agree with you, that any artist that chooses (or is called) to make images of Christ should do so carefully and reverently. Having said that, John, I hope you keep going with your project and I pray that you will bring many children to Christ in whichever means that you choose.

Personally, before I even attempt religious art, I go before the Blessed Sacrament. Somehow I come away from Adoration so confident in how to approach the canvas. I'd be happy to offer any graphic design advice but I have no training in iconography.

Have a Blessed Day!

Daniel Nichols said...

Douglas: I appreciate your comments, but fail to see how speed and expediency are important factors in making sacred art. So you can't do it in 4 months; take 14 months and ditch the computer.
And John SJ: Please explain how trying to "simplify the image for easy consumption by very young children" is not dumbing down. My very young children seem to have no problem accessing traditional iconography; indeed children no doubt have an advantage in approaching the sacred.

Anonymous said...

But art is not just a "means!" It is as legitimately transcendental as truth and goodness. Striving for beauty is as much an end as striving for goodness and truth, especially when addressing the highest "subject matter." It seems to me that artists always have to do a bit of "compromise" in terms of what is ideal and what is doable. If this is not raphael, or "Sic Deus Dilexit Mundum" . . . not everything can be or is called to be that. If it is not "high art," at least it *is* portraying Christ with reverence, and with orthodoxy. While a big fan of icons and art, sacred and otherwise, I do realize there is a place for other art . . . To some extent, too, ideal matter does compensate for less-than-ideal form.