catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 9 :: 2008.05.02 — 2008.05.16


Commissioned by God

Art is a way to live
Elmer Yazzie

God does not ask for our abilities; all he asks for is our availability.
David Ring

Born: 1972

Hometown: Sunnyside, WA

Education: BA 1994, Central Washington Univeristy; M. Ed. 2006, Dordt College

Occupation: Art and Bible Instructor at Sheboygan County Christian High School since 1998.  Previously taught at Hanford Christian School in Hanford, California from 1994-1998.

Home Church: First Christian Reformed Church of Oostburg, Wisconsin

Current Residence: Oostburg, Wisconsin since 1998

Married to: Jessica (Hofman) Van Der Pol

Children: Jocelyn (8), Sierra (5), Darin (1)


When did you first realize your love of drawing and making art?

The story starts when I was five years old.  My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Fultz, told my mother that she was especially impressed by the detailed Superman that I drew and colored. When I was eight years old I illustrated my first story.  I wrote and illustrated a short story about my Pake Timmermans (Pake is Frisian for grandpa) and my Uncle Wilbur and their adventures as livestock dealers (obviously not New York Times Bestseller stuff, but a classic in my opinion!).  My family heritage and my farming upbringing were influential in my early drawings.

I did not have any formal art training or schooling until my sophomore year at Central Washington University.  I came from a very small Christian high school which had no art program.  It was Dr. CJK Papadopoulos, my drawing instructor for two years at Central, who really “taught” me how to draw.  In fact, my years at Central were key training in my current understanding of how to draw in charcoal and pastel which I still use in my larger drawings and illustrations.  


Who has influenced or encouraged you, from the people around you to authors, artists and philosophers?

People often ask me if my artistic inclination runs in my family.  My uncle William Timmermans was an adept amateur painter.  My Great Great Uncle Weibren Vierzen was an accomplished craftsman and artist in Friesland, the Netherlands.

Two of my greatest influences in terms of artists would have to be Vincent van Gogh and Elmer Yazzie, a Christian Navajo artist and art educator.  Van Gogh’s early work depicting the Dutch commoners and field workers were striking images to me.  His rough application of charcoal in his drawings and paint on his canvases were influential. 

Elmer Yazzie, a friend and colleague of mine for almost fourteen years now, has been the greatest influence and encourager to me in my understanding of how to live as a Christian artist.  Elmer taught me the story of Bezalel in Exodus 31 and 36.  Bezalel was called and commissioned by God to lead a design team to decorate the holy tabernacle.  The verse from Exodus 31 that serves as a theme verse for me in my work as both a Christian artist and Christian art educator is verse 3 and 4a which says, “…I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs.”   I believe firmly that God has called me, commissioned me, and committed me to artistic work for the benefit of his Kingdom.

In my readings on Christianity and the arts, two books that have been especially an inspiration to me have been Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves by Calvin Seerveld and At Eternity’s Gate: The Spiritual Vision of Vincent van Gogh by Kathleen Powers Erikson.  Other authors such as Hans Rookmaaker and Nicholas Wolterstorff have also been inspirational. 


When did you start doing sermon illustrations?  What kind of feedback have you gotten on those illustrations from people in your faith community?

My first attempts at faith illustration occurred in 1997 at a Christian school teacher’s convention in San Bernadino, Califiornia.  Both Elmer Yazzie and I illustrated the theme of “grace” from that day’s keynote address.

But it wasn’t until April of 1998 that I drew my first sermon illustrations.  I illustrated a series of sermons (on the back of bulletin inserts) in the Hanford Christian Reformed Church in Hanford, California. I soon moved to illustrating in sketchbooks.  This year I am celebrating my tenth anniversary of sermon illustration.  I have just completed my ninth sketchbook and now have completed an estimated 700 sermon illustrations over those ten years.

Over the years I have had very supportive church and broader community support and interest in my sermon illustration work.  In November of 2002 I was one of 15 artists from the Greater Midwest invited to speak on the topic of sermon illustration at the Worship and the Visual Arts Conference in Appleton, Wisconsin.  I have also had several invitations to draw large scale illustrations at local churches during their services. 


What purposes do sermon illustrations serve in your own faith journey?

Illustrating the words that I hear each week spoken from the pulpit allows me to think visually through the words that I am hearing.  This process of visual interpretation is exciting to me as an artist, but humbling at the same time.  I believe Christian artists must be humble in their calling as they have an incredible responsibility to portray, interpret and serve in their Kingdom work.   Nothing that I do on my own power as an artist is of any worth.  It is a recognition of the Holy Spirit’s work in my creation of art that allows me to portray and symbolize my faith in a way that praises my Lord. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Sermon illustrations serve as visual reminders of my faith.  They are a kind of a log or record of my personal visual journey of my faith and devotional life.  They can also serve as inspiration for future projects.


Apart from sermon illustrations, what other projects have been particularly memorable and challenging for you?

I have had the privilege of completing four murals in the last 10 years in local schools.  The 2007 mural project at Sheboygan County Christian High School was definitely a highlight of my artistic career.  This mural was very challenging as the dimensions were odd (four panels in the elevated ceiling of the Media Center.  Each panel was 30 inches high by 16 feet long.).  I told the story of what our school stands for in terms of its mission.  I portrayed four major aspects of our school’s mission statement: our scriptural foundation, providing the biblical understanding, the necessary tools, and the proper heart, to serve God in his world. This mural took almost 110 hours to complete.

Each year, I have the opportunity at my school to illustrate the messages given by Spiritual Emphasis Week speakers.  I draw large scale, often 30” x 48” most often in a combination of charcoal and pastel which allows me to work quickly.  These drawings are always challenging as the messages tend to be 30 minutes or less.  I often find myself not finished by the end of each chapel session and continue to work on the drawing during any spare moments during the morning.


As you've created and shared your art, what thoughts have you developed on why humans are inclined to be artists?  How do you understand the relationship between an artist, his work and his audience?

I wrote my Master’s Thesis on Faith Integration in Christian School Art Education.  Art is a process of making and interpreting visual reminders of God’s creation.  A Christian philosophy of art education begins with fact that God created us in His own image as aesthetic beings, able to respond to and appreciate the visual world.  He also gave each of us the desire and inclination to create in our own right. 

I also believe that there is a contemplative relationship between the artist and his work, and between humans and art in general.  One should never take for granted the ability and opportunity to contemplate what is created, the process of creation, the product of creation and even the message of the creation. 


Besides basic skills, what are some things you hope your students learn about art in your classes?

  • an understanding of both the philosophical & biblical basis as well as the importance of the art process
  • a more aesthetic approach to reflecting on both the process and end product of their art making
  • the sovereignty of God
  • humility as an artist
  • a passion for art

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