Back Porch Book Chat: Ryan Flanders, illustrator of Something Better Coming

Back Porch Book Chat: A casual, virtual conversation about books. Our guest today is Ryan Flanders, illustrator of the forthcoming picture book written by Megan Saben titled Something Better Coming. Interview conducted by Megan.

Getting to Know Ryan Flanders

Brother, our families have enjoyed a lot of fellowship since you started coming to our church a number of years ago. Sunday dinners, harvest parties, Christmas banquets, and bonfires. If it were warm enough to sit on one of our porches right now, what would you be having? Coffee? Latte? Tea? Chai? Hot chocolate? Cider?

Sister, I’ll take a cup of loose leaf Earl Grey.

I’ll go heat the water. Would you tell us a little about your background?

Ryan and his sweet wife, Nikki

For most of my youth and up until early adulthood I lived in upstate New York. I always enjoyed drawing, but it wasn’t until I reached college age that I decided I would be an artist. There wasn’t much else at the time that really interested me. I also had no interest in teaching or graphic design, so I chose the impractical path of studio art. After receiving my bachelor’s degree I made it my aim to get represented by a gallery and sell my drawings and paintings. I was so self-absorbed, and my art had become a real point of idolatry for me. I did get into a little gallery and I sold a few paintings, but I was a miserable person. Though I professed to be a Christian, the focal point of my worship was self, and that will never do.

It wasn’t until I reached the age of thirty, after spending years of comparing myself with others, that I came to see the darkness of my sin in contrast with the holiness of God. I had previously been so blind to the horrid nature of my quest for independence from authority and duty to God. Suddenly however, my eyes were opened to the fact that submission to the Lord Jesus Christ in every area of life was not optional. As I looked at much of the artwork that I had created up until that point, I found myself ashamed by what was clearly an outward manifestation of self-exalting defiance. I responded by burning as much of the work that I could get my hands on, and I put away my pencils and paints. It wasn’t until years later that I came to see that I had been given by God a certain measure of gifting in the area of art, and that I would eventually be held accountable for how I stewarded this gift. I took up my tools once again, but this time with the prayerful intention that all be done unto the glory of God.

What are you currently reading?

Currently I am reading a handful of books on the theme of God’s attributes by Charnock, Watson, Pink, Packer, Washer, and Johnson. These are fueling my teaching at our regular youth bible study.

The Whingdingdilly by Bill Peet

Do you remember any favorite picture books from childhood?

Unfortunately, for most of my youth, I was quite averse to reading much of anything. My mother even tried to pay me to read, but it was to no avail. To this day it can be a slow, and at times, laborious process for me. However, there was one author/illustrator that always captivated me: Bill Peet. I looked only for his books when we went to the library, and to this day I think I still remember the smell of leafing through those pages. One in particular that I recall was The Whingdingdilly.

I’ve never read that one! I’ll have to look for it in the library. We like Bill Peet.

Something Better Coming is the first picture book you have illustrated, and I gave you pretty free reign with the artwork and book design. How did you choose the limited palette? Were there any difficulties in developing the story visually?

One thing that I have come to learn in art as well as in carpentry is that oftentimes more can be done with less. Maybe another way of looking at it is that simplicity can be more inviting and easier on the eyes than extravagance.

Much of the storyboard came together with surprising ease. For me, there is the concern of depicting Jesus. What we have are his words and not his portrait; thus I would never want to distract from or alter his teaching. I therefore choose not to depict his face, but lean more towards essence.

You aren’t a full-time artist, but your days are very full. How do you practice art when you’re raising eight children in the home, manage a menagerie of animals around your home, keep a regular job, and study the Bible for preaching and teaching?

It’s only by the grace of God that anything is accomplished, and I lean quite heavily upon his providence in managing my affairs. That being said, everything has its place. The study of the Bible and tending to my family take priority. I will be held to greater account for these. On occasion I take up pencil and paper, recording ideas and remembering lines, but also just as important is the concept of continuing to observe. Line, form, shadow, color, composition, etc., are oftentimes in view even in day to day life.

You said in the Kickstarter video that you “entered into much worship while illustrating this book.” Could you elaborate on that?

It has been my experience, as I trust it has been for other Christians, that meditation upon the life, work, and words of Christ results in spontaneous bouts of worship. I find nothing so edifying as thoughts and words which focus on what Jesus has done for me and the grandeur of his glory. Who God is and what God has done are the subjects which occupy the very pinnacle of both human and angelic thought. There is nothing higher. So when you see him for who he is and what he’s done, and you respond with belief and thanksgiving you are caught up in the greatest of occupations, bar none. That’s what happened as I illustrated.

Are you envisioning your next fine art project?

I am. It’s actually another picture book which has been in the works for a number of years and has as its theme the primacy of God’s word in the shepherding of God’s people. I have a rough manuscript and a nearly complete storyboard. Now I just need a little nerve, and once again, the providence of God.

I look forward to seeing it! Thank you for collaborating with me on Something Better Coming. Readers, there’s a video on Kickstarter right now containing an excerpt of Something Better Coming and thoughts from Megan and Ryan on why it matters so much to get this book in print.

You can find the rest of our Back Porch Book Chat series here.

Ryan Flanders is the illustrator of Something Better Coming. He is a husband and father of nine who loves the Lord Jesus Christ and his body, the church. Ryan and his family live in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. You can find more of his work here. (I highly recommend a triptych with the horse and cart trio!)

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Megan Saben

Megan is Associate Editor for Redeemed Reader, and she loves nothing more than discovering Truth and Story in literature. She is the author of Something Better Coming, and is quite particular about which pottery mug is best suited to her favorite hot drinks throughout the day. Megan lives with her husband and five boys in Virginia.

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