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Drawing the Bible -- Verse by Verse

  • Published Nov 03, 2003
Drawing the Bible -- Verse by Verse

The son of a Southern Baptist minister, Patrick Hambrecht learned to draw Bible stories in Sunday school. Today, Hambrecht, who's 29, still loves to draw Bible pictures. Except now he does them in art galleries, comic books stores and even the occasional biker bar.

And Hambrecht's no longer working on just one Bible verse at a time. He's trying -- with a little help from his friends and the Internet -- to draw the whole thing. All 36,665 verses of the King James Bible.

Hambrecht, the lead singer of the performance-art band Flaming Fire, came up with the idea for the project last year as a way to get people talking about the Bible.

"I love reading the Bible and talking about it," he said, "and I wanted to do it in a way that seemed like sharing and not like I was being preachy."

The Flaming Fire Illustrated Bible project kicked off last year with a marathon, 18-hour drawing session at the house of band member Lauren Weinstein. It was an unusual party for Brooklyn, says Hambrecht, who moved to New York from Nebraska six years ago with his wife, Kate. There was music, and some beer, but "the lights were on and there were a whole bunch of people with sketchpads, which is not your typical Brooklyn party," Hambrecht said.

By early October, Hambrecht had collected 1,262 illustrations (with 35,403 left to go). The illustrations are scanned and then posted at the project's web site, FlamingFire.com. Some were collected at Bible parties in New York, or during the group's visits to Chicago and Nebraska on tour. A growing number have been submitted by volunteers who logged onto the web site.

Visitors use the site's simple navigation system to select a verse, then view the illustration or upload one of their own.

Genesis, Revelation and Matthew have been the most popular books so far, with the illustrations ranging from paintings done by professional artists to simple line drawings. Some have even been composed on the simple Microsoft paint program found on most PCs.

Despite his years of practice, Hambrecht says he's still not much of an artist. "There are artists on our site who are world-famous," he said. "I mainly do it to say, `Hey, anyone can do this.'" And his pictures do have a sense of humor. His illustration of Genesis 4:4, in which God chooses Abel's offering of sheep over Cain's produce, shows a white-bearded God smiling at a cooked lamb. The caption reads, "What does God like to eat? Meat!" It's a dig at his vegetarian friends, said Hambrecht. "I am definitely not one," he

Farel Dalrymple, author of the acclaimed "Pop Gun War" comic book series and editor of the Meathaus comic anthology, is illustrating the book of Jude. Dalrymple, a friend of several members of Flaming Fire, said he "liked the idea of illustrating an entire book of the Bible." Jude was a perfect choice -- at 25 verses, it's the shortest book in the Bible. "I think it's got some imagery to work with," Dalrymple said. "Plus I don't have to be literal so that makes it more fun."

Dalrymple got involved with the project even though he says he's not "a very spiritual person in general."

Some of the other contributors, like 19-year-old Brian Smith, a college student from Indian Harbour Beach, Fla., want to express their faith in their art. Smith, a graphic design student, has illustrated several scenes from the crucifixion of Christ. "It's awesome to be able to take what the great writers of the Bible have written, such as David, Paul, Moses," Smith said, "and be able to turn that into some type of artwork."

Jim Pinkoski, a 53-year-old Christian illustrator, has contributed more than 130 pieces. His illustration of Genesis 2:3, the first Sabbath, shows a calendar hanging in space, with six days marked "Work," the seventh, "No Work."

Some of Hambrecht's favorite pieces have come from artist Gwendolyn Bakker, who's been illustrating parts of the book of Esther in a "classic fairy tale style," he said. "It makes you think that what Esther did (in saving her people from the king of Persia) was very scary. It kind of puts the humanity back in her."

By organizing the Scripture drawing parties, Hambrecht says he's discovered something surprising about the Bible -- it's fun.

Many Christians, he says, try and organize a fun event to attract newcomers -- a volleyball game, perhaps -- and then "make them listen to sermon and have a little prayer.

"The Bible is fun. We like reading it. Why shouldn't it be fun for other people?" he says.

And he offers a simple explanation for basing the Illustrated Bible on the King James Version. "It's true the King James Version is hard to understand," he said, "but it's also a very beautiful book. The Bible isn't exactly like a phone book, where you look up facts -- it's also a book of beautiful poems and beautiful stories and I think the KJV is one of the best at communicating that."