When it came time to paint John the Baptist, I really wasn’t that worried. I had been painting the image of Jesus, which holds many more expectations and preconceived notions. I remember some of the movies, and I looked through images of how other artists have portrayed John. I read the Bible, and other than the animal skin, his diet, and where he lived, everything else is left up to artist’s interpretation. No problem.
I jumped right in, and after a bit, I stopped, and was rather amused I had painted Saddam Hussein as John the Baptist. Uh, boy. I guess too much scowl, and the mustache and the nose. I made that smaller and went a more “mountain man” look.
The problem with that is that sometimes it needs to be less “realistic” and more artistic. My guess is a first century man living in the wilderness was probably filthy, and not the best smelling fella around. But my job as an illustrator is to deliver a picture that’s pleasing as well as in the “neighborhood” of possibility. That’s why when people ask what sort of artist I am, I usually go with imaginative realist. I paint what’s not there. I have little or no visual reference.
Ok, so less mountain, homeless man look is needed. I need to shorten the hair and do something different with the clothing. I give him a haircut. I feel like I’m playing play-dough barbershop with paint! Wait a minute, now he looks like General Ulysses S Grant. I then have to figure out why he looks like Grant. The hair and nose stand out most, so I change that.
The final image of John the Baptist, I can assure you, looks nothing like what John the Baptist actually looked like. It’s my picture. But it’s an interpretation. In the end I wanted it to look like the rough guy in your church, who is a deacon or usher, but is way out of place wearing that ill-fitted blazer and out of date tie. You can tell by his hands he’s more at home in the “deer woods” or working in the yard.