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Do You Hear Somebody Singing Alleluia, Or Is It Just Me??

December 17, 2013

One of my favorite year-end assignments is for the Inland Register, the monthly news publication for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane in Washington State. Editor Eric Meisfjord always asks me to do a Christmas cover.

This year’s features a sheep who wonders if he’s hearing things. He knows it can’t be the shepherd’s iPod, because shepherds couldn’t afford iPods back then… : )

Spokane Inland Register Christmas cover with bishop's message, shepherd and sheep on plains of Bethlehem with heavenly host in sky singing praise to Christ's birth, one sheep asking another if he hears music

Here’s a detail image:detail image from Spokane Inland Register Christmas cover with bishop's message, shepherd and sheep on plains of Bethlehem with heavenly host in sky singing praise to Christ's birth, one sheep asking another if he hears music

The bishop’s Christmas message is at the top. Here’s a close-up which makes it easier to read.Bishop's Christmas message appearing on Spokane Inland Register Christmas cover, shepherd and sheep on plains of Bethlehem, heavenly host in sky singing praise to Christ's birth

I roughed out several ideas for the cover. Eric made his selection based on this sketch.rough sketch for Spokane Inland Register Christmas cover showing shepherd and sheep on plains of Bethlehem with heavenly host in sky singing praise to Christ's birth, one sheep asking another if he hears music

I was curious to see what the illustration would look like with a full night sky, so I did this variation, deleting the bishop’s message, and expanding the heavenly host (Lk 2:13).

If you look closely, you’ll see that some of the angels are duplicates, with different skin and hair color.

Spokane Inland Register Christmas cover showing shepherd and sheep on plains, with light beaming down on Bethlehem from sky, and heavenly host singing praise to Christ's birth, one sheep asking another if he hears music

There’s a little sleight of hand in the musical notation. Anybody spot it? Any music majors out there?

(Don’t waste more than ten seconds on it– it’s pretty obscure.)

musical notation appearing in Spokane Inland Register Christmas cover illustration showing shepherd and sheep on plains of Bethlehem with heavenly host in sky singing praise to Christ's birth, one sheep asking another if he hears music

The question mark is actually a reconfigured bass clef.

I created the clef with Photoshop’s Shape tool. I narrowed it, moved the dots aside, and reshaped it slightly using the Warp tool. I deleted one of the dots, enlarged the other one and repositioned it.

Voilà!– a musical question mark.

music notation sequence showing how bass clef was converted into question mark

The musical notes are also Photoshop shapes. The original stems were thin, and I worried about their visibility.

Solution: I created a new layer and used the Pen tool to draw over the stems, making
them thicker.

sequence showing how Pen tool used to give thicker stems to Photoshop music note shapes

Here’s the final again.Spokane Inland Register Christmas cover with bishop's message, shepherd and sheep on plains of Bethlehem with heavenly host in sky singing praise to Christ's birth, one sheep asking another if he hears music

Have you ever tried to imagine the night sky filled with the heavenly host singing praise?

Did you know shepherds took coffee breaks, and that sheep can speak musical notation?

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2013 12:39 PM

    Brilliant as usual, Mark! 🙂


    • December 20, 2013 7:47 AM

      Sincere thanks, Dean, I really appreciate your cheery support. Hope all is well in good ol’ Dublin– how’s that illustration course coming along? I do hope you’re enjoying it– onward!! Merry Christmas and best wishes for success and happiness in 2014! : )


      • December 20, 2013 7:51 AM

        All is well thanks and the course is going strong! Many happy returns to you and yours!


  2. December 17, 2013 1:37 PM

    ♪ ♫ ♩ ♬ Happy Christmas to you Mark ♪ ♫ ♩ ♬ You can be so glad that you don’t need to hear me singing!
    Hey this cute single sheep is most clever! The only one who get’s the message. Thanks a lot for painting the evidence – also many people can be wrong! 😉
    The shepard has no I-pod. Poor dude. My dog owns a house, the sofa and a lot of toys (or at least he thinks so..)
    Do you play the song? Applause!!!!


    • December 20, 2013 8:20 AM

      Wow!! A Christmas carol from Tutti– now my Merry Christmas is assured! I’m sure you’re an excellent singer, but I’m going to keep these earmuffs on just in case… : )

      Yes, sheep are often much smarter than humans. Sometimes I sat next to a sheep in school, and during exams, I’d always try to copy his paper… : P

      If I were a wolf, I’d give iPods to all the neighborhood shepherds– that way, I could carry off all the sheep while the shepherds were having their ears punched by guitars, drums, shrieks, and howls. Yes, I’m thinking all the time… : )

      No, that’s not me playing the music on this blog post, but I shall accept your kind applause anyway– thank you, dear Tutti!!


  3. December 17, 2013 2:07 PM

    Oh, the brain is obviously not functioning properly as I was hearing notes form Handel’s “Messiah” and Beethoven’s Pastoral!!! None of them seemed right though! Duh, so much for my musical perception! 😦 BUT I can happily say that I can hear “Alleluia”!!!!
    Bravo, my friend, not only did you please your friend [moi!] but I hear that both Popes raised their glasses to cheer you! Oh, and yes, I knew all about the sheep…
    Happy Holidays, my dear Mark! 🙂


    • December 20, 2013 8:44 AM

      Hmm. Well now, the angels could have been playing Handel, or Beethoven, or possibly one of Marina Kanavaki’s exquisite compositions, it’s possible, I suspect they’re privy to the future somehow… : )

      The new pope and the retired pope both raised their glasses to me?? I wonder what they’re drinking?? If they’re sitting around a wassail bowl, I wish they’d invite me over!!

      You knew all about sheep speaking music notation? Well, I suspect that’s because you’re such a lamb… : )

      Καλά Χριστούγεννα, my dear Marina, and I wish you much happiness and success in 2014!!


      • December 21, 2013 5:10 PM

        A lamb with a concealed tail! 😆
        Have a very merry Christmas, Mark! As for the new year, well, may all your wishes come pouring down on you [gently!]!! 🙂


        • December 23, 2013 10:36 PM

          What a sweet, sweet lamb!!

          She doesn’t say “Bah, humbug!!”– she says “Baa, baa, have you any wool? If you haven’t got a wooly. then a fleece jacket will do, if you haven’t got some cotton socks, then God bless you!!”

          Bless you, dear Marina!! : )


        • December 25, 2013 5:12 PM

          😆 😆
          and here comes the funnest part: just after reading your little song I went on singing: “One ha’ penny, two ha’ penny, Hot cross buns! If you have no daughters, Give them to your sons…” Ah, don’t ask!!!!
          Bah bah should be my language from now on!!!! 🙂


        • December 28, 2013 9:49 PM

          Delightful, my dear Lambikins! If this is the language of Bah, everyone should learn to speak it!! : )


        • December 29, 2013 4:59 PM

          Bah ba ba ba bah baaahhhhh! 🙂


        • December 29, 2013 5:55 PM

          What a sweet sound– so musical… : )


  4. December 17, 2013 3:28 PM

    Once again, Mark, I smile at the mention of Spokane.

    I’ve also received help and support through Catholic hospital networks, services, and charities, so I greatly appreciate Cupich’s message. I have personally seen how Eastern Washington has been helped by good Catholic people.


    • December 20, 2013 8:50 AM

      I’d forgotten about your Spokane connection, Jak. It was very gratifying to hear your testimonial. “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 13:34) Yes, indeed– imagine the kind of world we’d have if we could all put that into practice.

      Thanks as always for your support. Merry Christmas, and I wish you good health and happiness in 2014! : )


      • December 20, 2013 5:43 PM

        I appreciate the wishes of health very much, Mark, as I am undergoing a “trial period” spinal cord stim surgical procedure on the 30th. That’ll be an interesting way to go into 2014 for sure… I hope your holidays go well too, Mark, but hopefully with a little less spine-tingling adventure (yes, full pun intended)!


        • December 23, 2013 10:25 PM

          Ha!! My kinda pun, Jak– excellent! And you shall be at the top of my prayer list on the 30th. Hang tough, amigo!


  5. December 17, 2013 7:58 PM

    Love the message, the music and your excellent illustration. If I were a shepherd, I couldn’t think of a better place to take a coffee break than under a star-filled night sky while listening to the angels’ heavenly music.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours, Mark.


    • December 23, 2013 10:16 PM

      Thank you, dear Judy! One of these starry, starry nights, you and I shall have to pull up a sheep, sit around the fire, have a cup of Starbucks of Bethlehem coffee, and reminisce about dear old Upstate New York!!

      Wishing you and Dave and all your family the merriest of Christmases, and much happiness in 2014!!


      • December 23, 2013 10:19 PM

        Thanks, Mark. That sounds like a wonderful way to pass a cold Central New York evening. A toast to you and yours.
        I posted a message from Facebook on your blog. Hope it makes it thru. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your lovely wife.


        • December 29, 2013 5:06 PM

          Thanks, Judy! Got your wonderful FB message, and it warmed my heart faster’n hot mulled cider and a blazing Yule Log combined!

          Just back from a trip to Rochester, NY, and I saluted you as we passed the Lights On The Lake along the Thruway. Happy New Year to you and Dave– wishing you smiles aplenty in 2014!! : )


  6. December 18, 2013 2:56 AM

    Wonderful illustration, Mark! I love the feeling it conveys. I didn’t get the bass clef, but it’s easy to see once you point it out. Such a nice job all around. Love the coffee pot! 🙂


    • December 23, 2013 10:22 PM

      Thank you, dear Maddie, breeziest of authors, and most charming of scribes!! The bass clef has to be the most obscure bit of business I’ve ever injected into an illo– and I’m a master obscurantist, as you know… : P

      Thanks for digging the coffeepot!!– one of my own favorite bits. Your kindness, comments, and wonderful self are all enormously appreciated– Maddie Christmas!!!


  7. December 22, 2013 9:05 PM

    Ah ha! I have finally found the source of the music playing on my reader! Wonderful post Mark, I hope you and yours have a very Merry and safe Christmas! Thank you also for all your supportive comments about my art over the year, I have really valued them….


    • December 23, 2013 10:40 PM

      Oh, no– you discovered I wasn’t sitting behind your computer screen, playing that music myself?? Dear me! Ah, well– I suppose you had to find out sometime… : )

      Thank you, Jen, for all your cheer and support. It means a lot, I’m glad I know you. Your talents are wonderful, and wonderfully diverse. I shall look forward to your posts in 2014. A very Merry Christmas to you and yours!!


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