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O Holy Night… Hey, Was That A Camera Flash??

January 18, 2016

Hmm. A little late for a Christmas post. The 12 Days Of Christmas have expired… 😕

I look forward to doing a Christmas cover for Eric Meisfjord every year. Eric is the editor of the Inland Register, the newspaper for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane in Washington State, USA.

Here’s the 2015 cover:blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
Christmas cover for Inland Register little boy sleeping dog iPhone on bed dreaming of Mary Joseph Jesus taking selfie in stable at Bethlehem

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highDid Mary and Joseph really have a camera phone? I have to admit, it’s not mentioned in the Bible… 😊blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
Christmas cover for Inland Register detail image Mary Joseph Jesus taking selfie in stable at Bethlehem

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highDo kids today check their cell phones one last time before going to sleep? I can easily believe it. Yes, that’s supposed to be the Apple logo on both phones. I’m betraying my Mac sympathies there.

That’s a rosary draped on the bedside table lamp. I used a cross to imply a softcover Bible on top of the digital alarm clock.

The time on the clock is a subtle reference to a famous Bible passage well known to Christians: Chapter 3, verse 16 from the Gospel of St. John. It’s a perfect fit for Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus Christ.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (Jn 3:16)blank vertical space, 16 pixels highblank vertical space, 32 pixels high

Christmas cover for Inland Register detail image little boy sleeping dog iPhone on bed dreaming on Christmas Eve

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highHow does a cover like this evolve?

I start every assignment by submitting ideas as rough sketches. Here’s the original rough, the third of six ideas.

You can see a lot of little details came later: the candle in the window, the bedside Bible, the rosary and candy cane on the lamp, the 3:16.

I hadn’t looked at this rough since mid-December. When I saw that sheep in there mugging for the camera, I busted out laughing. Why did I delete the sheep? Too over
the top
? I honestly can’t remember. I’m feeling regretful now– it’s a very funny bit!blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
Original rough sketch with differences Christmas cover for Inland Register little boy sleeping dog iPhone on bed dreaming of Mary Joseph Jesus taking selfie in stable at Bethlehem

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highI know: you think I’m perfect, and always get things right the first time. Alas, no… 😊

Here’s the original line drawing (below). As you can see, it’s pretty messy.BlankVertSpace.8pixels

The maroon arrows show my width guidelines. The note in upper righthand corner reminds me that the final has to be 7 1/8″ wide by 11 1/4″ tall.

The green arrows show I wasn’t happy with the Apple logo on Mary’s camera– so I redrew it a couple of times off to the side.

The yellow arrow shows that even at this point, I hadn’t thought of using 3:16 on the clock– which proves you should stay open to inspiration even while you’re working on the final.

Purple arrows: the column of the lamp looked too thin. I redrew it off to the side so I could patch in a correction.

The blue arrows show I was having “eye problems.” After inking the pencil drawing, I could see the dog’s gaze was wrong: he wasn’t looking at the boy’s face. I redrew the dog’s pupil, then redrew the entire eye off to the side– just in case I needed it.

Finally the red arrows: I was unhappy with the dog hair lines. There were too many. I wasn’t sure how to correct the situation, so I drew a number of “dog hair alternatives,” and decided to experiment as I went along.blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

Original line drawing with mistakes Christmas cover for Inland Register little boy sleeping dog iPhone on bed dreaming of Mary Joseph Jesus taking selfie in stable at Bethlehem

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highThe final had to be 7 1/8″ wide by 11 1/4″ high. When I was finished coloring the illustration, I added a rectangle with those dimensions on a separate layer. I used the rectangle to center the illustration to best effect, then cropped the illustration.blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
Before final crop image Christmas cover for Inland Register little boy sleeping dog iPhone on bed dreaming of Mary Joseph Jesus taking selfie in stable at Bethlehem

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highHere’s the final again. Guess I didn’t use any of my dog hair alternatives!blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
Christmas cover for Inland Register little boy sleeping dog iPhone on bed dreaming of Mary Joseph Jesus taking selfie in stable at Bethlehemblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

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    *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Is there anyone reading this who has not taken a selfie?? (besides myself, I mean)

Do you do a final message check on your phone before heading for Dreamland?

OK: Should I have included the sheep??

Hope you’ll leave a comment.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

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I also invite you to get updates. Just click the Get Updates button in the sidebar below the Portfolio Thumbnails, or click + Follow in the blog menu bar.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

If you’d like to buy prints or greeting cards, click on any of the large preview images in the sidebar below the Get Updates button.blank vertical space, 24 pixels highOther Posts You Might Enjoy:BlankVertSpace.8pixels

Is It Too Late To Wish Everyone A Happy New Year??

Gypsy In The Morning: Django Reinhardt Alarm Clock

Busker: Never Trust A Snowman
blank vertical space, 32 pixels highblank vertical space, 40 pixels highRecommendation testimonial for Mark Armstrong Illustration from Eric Meisfjord communications director Catholic diocese of Spokane

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2016 5:49 PM

    Happy new year Mark! Believe me, it’s always refreshing visiting your website, I love it! I wished I had your gift, but we can’t have it all. Now back to business, do you do book covers? I’m the editorial director of a publishing house in London, and I know we could do business together one day.

    Think about it Mark! 🙂
    Cheers. 🙂


    • January 19, 2016 12:22 PM

      My dear Seyi! You are kindness itself– and I believe I’m repeating myself on that point!! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks so much for your very kind words. 😊

      I knew you were an accomplished writer, but had no idea you were also an editorial director. I can see you’re like me: just too many talents… 😄

      Yes, I do book covers, and our working together is a lovely thought. Tell you what: I’ll drop you a line privately, and we can go from there.

      I hope your new year is off to a wonderful start, my dear Seyi. It’s always a delight to see you!! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 27, 2016 11:22 AM

        Thanks Mark, now I’m blushing! 🙂
        I’m addicted to the written word. I enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing.
        I’ll check my email asap, I’ve been busy with series of projects, but would love if we could put heads together on a book cover or covers. I simply adore what you do with illustrations.
        I’ll send you a PM soon. Take care of yourself my friend.
        Blessings to you. 🙂


        • February 2, 2016 9:48 AM

          Hey, we should form a Blushing Club: we could give each other outrageous compliments and see who turns the reddest. The one who ends up looking most like a beet, wins!! =>🍆⁉️

          Sounds good, my dear Seyi. Good luck with your projects, and I’d be glad to hear from you anytime. And now I must go peek in the bathroom mirror and check my cheeks for rosiness! =>😊

          Liked by 1 person

        • February 2, 2016 12:06 PM

          Now I can’t stop laughing. Love your sense of humour! 🙂 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. January 18, 2016 5:56 PM

    Mark … This illustration has to be my favorite. I love the 3:16 biblical reference on the clock, the selfie, the rosary and many of the other excellent points that draw you/me into the story.

    I have a drawing of Christ laughing and it makes me happy. I’d like to think there was a time in his life (and his parents’ lives) when there was joy and laughter. That’s a part of life we all experience and I’m sure he did, too. If cameras and selfies were popular then, Ill bet they would have taken a few. (I have one or two – but it’s with me and family.) 😉


    • January 19, 2016 12:54 PM

      I just saw some spirits and morale go soaring up into the stratosphere. Hey, wait– that was my stuff!! Well, who can blame ’em after reading your comment? My dear Judy! You are truly one of the most sustaining forces on the planet! I thank you from the bottom of my southernmost aortic valve… 😊

      I think I know that portrait of Christ laughing that you’re referring to. Yes, it’s a joy– very uplifting. I, too, am convinced that there was much joy and laughter in His life. Catholic teaching holds that He was both fully divine, and fully human– what’s more human than laughter?

      I came across a post the other day called The Comedy Of Catholicism. I sent the link to Eric Meisfjord, the editor I did the cover for. He wrote back and said: “I deeply believe that joy and laughter are divine attributes of and from God. (Not that anybody asked)” Amen, brother!

      When you and I finally get together someday, in a seedy bar in Utica, NY, we’ll take a selfie together. It will be a classic!! Thanks again for your lovely comment, Judy, and for all your support!! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 19, 2016 7:19 PM

        You’re entirely welcome, Mark. I believe that Christ was both fully divine and fully human. So, shucks yeah, he had to have a sense of humor. I do have to look that post up. It sounds hysterical. 😉


  3. Martes de cuento permalink
    January 19, 2016 9:22 AM

    Merry christmas selfies 😉


    • January 20, 2016 12:10 PM

      There are Christmas elfies, and there are Christmas selfies. And if an elfie takes a selfie, what have you got?? Right– an elfie selfie!! 😆

      I’m not sure that translates to Spanish very well. In fact, I’m not sure it makes much sense in English!! 😕

      Happy New Year to Spain’s most storied storyteller!! 😊

      Hay elfies Navidad, y hay selfies Navidad. Y si un elfie toma un selfie, ¿qué tienes? Derecha- un selfie elfie!! 😆

      No estoy seguro de que se traduce en español muy bien. ¡De hecho, no estoy seguro de que tiene mucho sentido en Inglés!! 😕

      ¡¡Feliz Año Nuevo a narrador con más historia de España!! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • Martes de cuento permalink
        January 21, 2016 2:49 AM

        It is well understood, Mark. The Spanish is full of English words and elfie and selfie are two of them: D: D: D
        Many hugs from Barcelona!


        • January 23, 2016 11:29 AM

          Hugs from Barcelona always have a special warmth. I guess I won’t need my hot water bottle today… 😊

          Abrazos desde Barcelona siempre tienen una calidez especial. Supongo que no voy a necesitar mi botella de agua caliente de hoy… 😊

          Liked by 1 person

        • Martes de cuento permalink
          January 25, 2016 2:25 AM



  4. January 19, 2016 10:33 AM

    Oh, Mark — this one’s sweet and meaningful and masterfully created! Every step along the way to the final result is terrific and I’m grateful to you for showing us how you made the journey. Want to hear a big lesson I just learned from you? Sometimes hints are perfect. You didn’t draw in every button on that clock. Instead, you showed the basic structure and the “time” (another wonderful choice!!!!). So…instead of a detailed clock, which would’ve detracted from the center of interest, you ended up with a hint of a clock that also was a message in itself, adding brilliantly and not subtracting. As someone who easily wanders down too many dark alleys of minutiae I needed to hear/see that. THANK YOU!!! (Yes, I’m shouting).
    The sheep! The little dog hairs! Choices! Love the candy cane/rosary combination on the lamp .Tells a story, right there. Even the side of the pillow (the striped pillow “ticking”) is important bec its diagonal leads the eye back into the image & toward the phone. I could go on and on! LOL!
    Selfies? Yes, I’ve taken a couple. I’ve also “encouraged” Pickles and Mila to take them, too. Theirs are better. 😉


    • January 23, 2016 12:40 PM

      My dear RK!! What a comment!! It’s raining Reeses Pieces here!! I’ve got all my 27 umbrellas opened and turned upside-down!! It’s supposed to be bad luck to open an umbrella in the house (an old wife told me that tale), but hey, there comes a time when a guy has to risk it!!

      That passage in your comment about embracing minimalism instead of minutiae should be required reading for any illustrator. It’s a pity it took me so many years to learn it. I think I learned it by osmosis. Years and years of obsessing with unimportant (and as you say, distracting) details, and wondering why the finished drawing looked hopelessly belabored. I really think it was a case of my persisting in ignorance, until enlightenment derived from painful experience was finally able to get the upper hand. No doubt about it: being self-taught often requires prolonged stupidity!!

      Your cats take selfies?? You know, when I consider what I see posted on Facebook, I’m not surprised. In fact, I’m ready to believe every cat takes selfies!! 😼😺

      Thank you again for all the kind words. Coming from an accomplished painter like yourself, it means a lot.

      Looks like it’s stopped raining. Gosh, lookit all the brown and yellow and orange puddles! Time to get down on my hands and knees and pretend I’m a vacuum!! 😋

      Liked by 1 person

  5. soul . to . earth permalink
    January 20, 2016 12:35 PM

    How very unselfie-ish of you to make us laugh so! 😀 Thanks!

    Yoe, man, why did ewe chop Mary’s little lamb from the picture? Baaa-w, it was so cute! Sheesh…..such a sheep-ish pun! 🙂 The dog reminds me of Snowy à la Tintin.

    Before hitting Dreamland, I read or ponder o’er stuff like this:

    1- As the ‘First Lady’ of Biblical proportion, would Mary (of mighty arm length as shown here) sing, Michelle, ma belle, tu as des bras qui vont très bien ensemble“?

    2- Would a pig think it a compliment when humans imitate its face (puckered lips et al) in most selfies?

    Ah! “Twas such pro’fund’ity that made the Loonie– sink. 😦


    • January 23, 2016 2:47 PM

      Unselfie-ish. That’s me, all right. Probably because I always hold the phone the wrong way around. Which explains why I have so many pictures of clouds… 😕

      Ah-ha! Yoe is a slang term for ewe, which is a female sheep. (I know because I just used your link to look it up.) That explains why Rocky Balboa was always saying “Yoe!” to his opponents. He was actually dissing them by calling them a lady sheep. Rude, but good psychology in the fight game, I guess. Yoe… huh! Who knew?? It all makes sense now… 😆

      My dear Radhika, aka, Lady Punster! Leave it to you to notice Mary’s incredible reach! Yes, her long arms give her a big advantage when it comes to taking selfies. She dun need no steenking selfie stick– nosuh! Your ingenious doctoring of that Beatle lyric (“Michelle, my beauty, you have arms that go together well”) made me laugh like a banshee. Must be my Irish heritage and some kinda gender disorder… 😄

      Pigs, puckered lips… gosh! I never made that connection, as the dead battery said to the light bulb. Guess I’ll have to stop blowing kisses to all my fans, en route to my next court appearance… 😘

      The Canadian dollar is called a loonie… Well! I can certainly sympathize, because I’ve been called that myself. Many times. Or am I thinking of loony? Pro-FUND-ity. “Fund” as in money. As in loonies. Ka-BONG! Hey, that’s a stretch almost as long as Mary’s arm!! 💪

      Thank ewe for another epic comment, my dear Radhika. Yoe is something else, definitely my kinda loonie. Vos mots sont calembours qui vont très bien ensemble, mon amie! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Lily permalink
    January 20, 2016 1:03 PM

    I don’t think it’s ever too late (or early!…) for some Christmas spirit! Besides, it’s been so icy here in the UK this week and the trees are looking quite “Winter Wonderland”… it’s like Christmas hasn’t left us yet! 🙂

    I love all the little references you added in there. The obvious, the not-so-obvious – it’s the kind of picture that makes you go “oh!” over and over, the longer you look at it!


    • January 23, 2016 1:41 PM

      Ah! ‘Tis the Christmas Spirit Herself– Hi, Lily! Icy?? Oh, dear– that sounds rather ominous. I prefer my icing on cupcakes, not sidewalks… 😊

      Thank you for that very kind comment. Little touches, yes, that’s my specialty. If you look at the dog’s collar tag at extreme magnification, it reads: “God made the beasts of the earth… and He saw that it was good. Gen 1:25”

      OK, sorry, that’s a big fat lie… 😄

      Always so nice to see you, and I hope your new year is off to a great start!! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. January 21, 2016 4:50 PM

    tienes toda la razon mi amigo…el mejor de los años para ti desde colombia

    you are right my friend … the best year for you from Colombia


    • January 23, 2016 11:46 AM

      Thank you for those kind words, Nel. It’s always good to see you. A belated Happy New Year to you, and glad tidings from New Hampshire, USA to Colombia! 😊

      Gracias por sus amables palabras, Nel. Siempre es bueno verte. ¡Un feliz tardía Año Nuevo para usted, y buenas noticias de New Hampshire, USA a Colombia! 😊


  8. January 23, 2016 6:47 PM

    Hello, my favorite illustrator in the whole world (yes, you surpass even my cover artist who doubles as my niece). I don’t get around blogs as much as I used to but am so glad I popped in here today. I LOVE this illustration. I noticed the candy cane right away – so cute. And that sheep! What a hoot. I want to bring *him* (only a guy would mug like that) home with me! Had you left him there, he would have stolen the show, and he needed to learn everything isn’t always about him … so, good move on making him sit this one out.

    You are a treasure, dear man. Will this be available as a Christmas card in your shop? Or is it exclusive to Inland Register?


    • January 28, 2016 12:21 PM

      My dear Maddie!! Always a thrill when you Breezy in for a visit! I’m saving the digital doormat where you wiped your feet, and I shall treasure it always… 😍

      Do excuse this late reply. Was there really a time when I answered comments promptly and gamboled from blog to blog visiting my friends every day?? Was I better organized? More responsible? Nah, that can’t be it– I’ve always specialized in bad character traits… 😇

      Thanks for your totally outrageous comment which I clasped to my digital bosom with cries of gladness. You know, I like your theory about the sheep: all mugging animals must be relegated to the back so the Holy Family can take center stage. It makes perfect sense, both psychologically and artistically. Yes, hiring you to be my spokesperson was the smartest thing I’ve ever done… 😄

      I’m so happy you liked the illustration. The Inland Register buys first rights, so yes, I’m free to sell the illo in my shop, as either a card or print. In fact, I just uploaded it, and you can find it here.

      Are you writing up the usual storm? What is it now– 12 books, and two different series?? If this comment is being monitored for quality assurance purposes, I just want to say that there are no finer Chick Lit Mysteries than Maddie Cochere’s Breezy Books— so there!! Great to see you, Maddie. Your visits enrich me– which probably explains how I got to be a treasure!! 😊


      • January 28, 2016 1:24 PM

        Mark! I already ordered some cards!! Thank you, thank you! I left them blank, so I can use them with gifts and simply write notes inside.

        I have been plugging away, trying to get book #13 finished. I should put a black cat on the cover – even though there are no cats in the book. Or maybe a shark. I might be jumping the shark with this book. You just never know what will make or break a career!

        Thank you for your awesome reply. And thank you for making the cards available so soon – while the thought was still on my mind!


        • February 1, 2016 8:41 AM

          My dear Maddie!! I’m overwhelmed, as the earthworm said during the buffalo stampede. Many thanks for your kind purchase, and again, I’m so happy you liked the illustration. To think of it actually being used to convey Christmas Greetings makes me feel humble and very happy. It also gives me a warm feeling like when I put on my water bottle vest right after I fill it… 😊

          Your 13th book… it seems incredible. Just to be able to say one had written a novel, period, seems– to me– an extraordinary thing. I don’t think you give yourself enough credit. Being a writer with 12 books and counting puts you in a very special class. When I go in a bookstore, I always ask for the Maddie Cochere section, because that’s where they have the most comfortable chairs, and complimentary champagne, and strange little cracker things that always taste better than the saltines I have at home. Like I say: Cochere: Special Class. 😊

          The expression Jumping the shark always makes me laugh. Years ago I drew a Catholic comic strip called Saintly Anthony. The main character was an altar server among other things, and in one strip the priest asks him what he thought of the sermon. Says Anthony: “You sure jumped the shark on that one, Father!” 😇

          Well, it’s not something you have to worry about, dear Maddie. Your writing is shark-proof! Good luck with #13, and thanks again for all your kindness and support!!


  9. February 9, 2016 11:22 PM

    Happy new year, Mark. The family of Jesus looks so happy. As it should be. 🙂


    • February 17, 2016 10:28 AM

      Well said, Jean, thank you. I’m not a big fan of selfies, but I don’t think I’ll be criticizing the Holy Family… : )

      A belated but very Happy New Year to you!! : )


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