Illustrating the Overarching Story of Scripture

We recently spoke with Gail Schoonmaker, illustrator of the Big Picture Story Bible and the ESV Big Picture Bible (July 2015), and got a behind-the-scenes look at her work illustrating both of these projects.

In this post, Gail explains how she worked to tie her illustrations together so as to communicate the overarching story of Scripture throughout both the Big Picture Story Bible and the ESV Big Picture Bible.

Illustrating the Overarching Story of the Bible

The Big Picture Story Bible attempts to tell the overarching story of God’s redeeming work, which moves toward the goal of the Kingdom of God, articulated by theologian Graeme Goldsworthy as “God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule.”

As the book's illustrator, I tried to visually reinforce the tracing of this understanding of God’s Kingdom through Eden, the Promised Land, the Davidic monarchy, and the Old Testament prophets, ultimately culminating in Jesus Christ.

Here are some examples:


On the left are pictures of Adam and Eve in Eden, and on the right are intentionally similar scenes from the Promised Land.


In these illustrations, Abraham’s growing family is drawn within circles of increasing size. When the family of believers begins to grow following Pentecost, I place them in similarly growing circles.


In these illustrations related to Genesis 3, Isaiah 9, and Romans 5, Adam and Jesus look very similar, highlighting Jesus's identity as the “second Adam.”


After the flood, Noah and his family gather around a stone altar to worship God with a blood sacrifice. I used the same composition to draw the remnant of Israel, pausing while rebuilding the temple to gather around a sacrifice. The crucifixion scene is also drawn in the same way, this time with Jesus himself in the place of the sacrifice.


Here, the blood of the Passover lamb on a section of door frame is drawn in such a way so as to foreshadow the blood of the Lamb on the cross. This idea appears again when the resurrected Jesus explains his “once for all” sacrifice.


Many illustrations are drawn from God’s point of view, demonstrating the nature of his relationship with his people at that point in the narrative. The crucifixion scene is drawn from Jesus’s point of view on the cross in such a way so as to evoke these previous illustrations from God's perspective, thus equating Jesus with God.


The illustration of Jesus’ eleven faithful disciples embracing him following his resurrection calls to mind the way Joseph’s eleven brothers embraced him when they received him “back from the dead” in Egypt.


When Elijah prays that God would reveal his power with fire on the altar, he foreshadows the work of Jesus, who prays a similar prayer before raising Lazarus from the dead.


I illustrated Ezekiel’s words about God’s people receiving new hearts the same way I drew Jesus’s words to Nicodemus about being born again and Peter’s words to the crowds about repentance and belief.


After Jesus clears the temple and stands worshipping his Father, the temple items behind him are all Old Testament pictures that point to him: the bread of life, the Word of God, the light of the world, the lamb that was slain, the Way to the Most Holy Place, and the foundation of the church. After his resurrection, Jesus explains many of these concepts to his followers, and the illustrations draw from more Old Testament imagery.


The New Testament writers often reference the Old Testament, explaining, proving, and expanding on it as they go. The Big Picture Bible's New Testament illustrations are full of Old Testament characters—all of which remind us that this is one, single story.


The cover of ESV Big Picture Story Bible shows the world, created, sustained, and ruled by God. The cover of ESV Big Picture Bible brings the previous cover to mind with its arcing skyline and bright colors, but this time with Jesus as the focus. People gather to him for instruction, healing, and hopefully salvation.

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