From the principal’s office to drawing Pope Francis

(Journal Sentinel) Jason Seiler’s high school history teacher was not amused.

Seeing a caricature Seiler had drawn of him, the Eau Claire Memorial history teacher sent Seiler to the principal’s office for punishment. Instead, the principal, noticing Seiler’s artistic talent, hired him to draw caricatures of teachers retiring at the end of the school year.

Who knows how Seiler’s career as a highly sought-after illustrator and artist might have turned out had he gotten detention instead of praise.

“She was my first commission,” said Seiler, whose portrait of Pope Francis was chosen for the cover of Time magazine’s Person of the Year issue in December.

Based in Chicago, Seiler, 36, has slowly built his business over the years until now his illustrations grace the pages and covers of the world’s largest magazines and newspapers — Rolling Stone, Der Spiegel, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, AdWeek, The New York Times and others.

Last year he created a half-dozen covers for popular German magazine Der Spiegel, including one of the new pope. He had done some illustrations for Time several years ago but never a cover. Last fall Time editors asked him to paint a portrait of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Then they asked him to paint Pope Francis.

Seiler was shocked to see his pope painting on the cover.

He usually watches videos of his subjects to get a sense of their personalities. After all, they’re such famous people they’re not going to come to his studio and sit for a portrait. Time art directors sent him numerous photos of the pope and gave him a few instructions.

“They wanted him to look humble and very kind,” Seiler said in a phone interview shortly after finishing a caricature of Chris Christie for the cover of the New York Observer. “That was pretty much all they said. They didn’t want just a head and shoulder portrait, they wanted more. They liked how in Der Speigel I included his hands. I wanted to make his hands look sort of like those old religious paintings.”

But there were no photos of Pope Francis that looked like the portrait Seiler created. And in every photo the pope’s mouth was open. He wanted to paint the pope with his mouth closed.

“The biggest problem was I pretty much had to make his face up. There weren’t any pictures of that same expression,” Seiler said. “I restructured his jaw. I sort of made up his eyes. I wanted his eyes kind of looking at the viewer.” [More]

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Journal Sentinel