Lancaster, Pennsylvania, US
Religion Unplugged

Bespectacled with clear plastic glasses that his daughters picked out for him, Ned Bustard has an eclectic style that hints at his creative side. 

Bustard’s goal is to make art that glorifies God and provides for his family. His focus on craftsmanship has led him to build a publishing company, find his own artisanal practice and even to attend a meeting at the Vatican.

That’s because his small publishing company, Square Halo Books, will soon release a new book about how the Christian faith that has inspired great artists like Michelangelo continues to inspire artists today. The title says it all: Modern Art/Ancient Faith: A Conversation about Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collections of the Vatican Museums.

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Ned Bustard sits in his home office in Lancaster, surrounded by books and his art. PICTURE: Michael Rothermel.

In the family’s cozy three-floor row home in this small town, each room is painted a different colour with no bare wall. The entire house is covered in art. Bustard’s wife, Leslie, loves candles and has very strict rules when it comes to candle scents and the seasons. 

“Vanilla scents aren’t allowed until after Christmas, but by the time spring comes, vanilla is out!” Maggie, Bustard’s middle child, said. 

Bustard’s office is on the third floor, the statement piece of the room being his wide brown desk, made from an old barn door. On the desk sits two picture frames, one of Leslie from college and the other an engagement photo of theirs. The words, “I love you daddy” are carved into the surface by his daughter Maggie when she was young.  

A Pennsylvania beginning
Bustard’s childhood consisted of sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, visiting the family cottage on the Eastern Shore and drinking his favourite sweet tea. He attended a Christian high school with little appreciation for visual art. Recognising his artistic abilities and being an artist herself, Bustard’s mother signed him up for art classes at the local community centre. 

Bustard’s mother loved to do oil paintings while his father studied at Wheaton College to teach music. Both parents were artistic but neither pursued art as a career. 

In sixth grade, Bustard’s mother gave him his first sketchbook. “From then on, I just never stopped drawing,” Bustard said. 

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Ned Bustard. PICTURE: Michael Rothermel.

 

“Square Halo is a miracle. It’s so much more successful than I ever thought it would be."

- Ned Bustard, speaking about his publishing company Square Halo Books.

He’d make comic strips of his friends as superheroes, and started getting into figure drawing through an art-focused Explorers group affiliated with the Boy Scouts. By the time he was a senior in high school, he decided to pursue graphic design, applying and being denied to a program at Kutztown University. Then he decided to pursue business school. 

Upon attending Millersville University in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and failing college algebra twice, Bustard decided to switch majors once more, chasing his graphic designing dream and finding his now wife of nearly 30 years along the way. 

But he quickly realised that his newly learned traditional graphic design skills were already irrelevant in an increasingly computerised industry, forcing Bustard to be mainly self-taught. 

While in college, Bustard was transfixed with the idea of how to integrate faith and art. “At the time, I didn’t know how art and faith could coexist, so I read everything on the topic that I could get my hands on,” Bustard said. 

The relationship of faith and beauty
Particularly influenced by Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible and Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle, Bustard never imagined that most of his work would one day revolve around the very topics he studied. 

Upon graduation from college, Bustard landed a graphic design job in Delaware, but within the year moved back to Lancaster where he married his wife. He got another design job, but then a recession hit, and as he was the last one hired, he was the first to be let go. 

After losing his job, he helped manage a music store and moonlighted as the art director for Notebored - a magazine about alternative, metal and rap music made by Christians. 

Shortly after the birth of his daughter Carey Anne, he was hired by another graphic design firm, only to have it go belly-up a few years later. After being let go for the last time, he finally decided to do something he never imagined he’d be doing - he started his own graphic design and illustration company, World’s End Images.

 

Ned Bustard: Making Good from Cursive Films on Vimeo.

 

For the last 20 years, he’s been managing that business as well as his side business, Square Halo Books, a small publishing company where he serves as the creative director.

“Square Halo is a miracle. It’s so much more successful than I ever thought it would be,” Bustard said. 

His initial goal for the company was to have published eight books by the age of 80, and already at the age of just 52, Square Halo Books has published 22 books. 

In addition to his businesses, he is the staff graphic designer for Christians in the Visual Arts, the owner of an Etsy shop where he sells his art, a children’s book illustrator and as of the last two years, a professor at a local Bible college where he teaches an introduction to design course. 

Artist or entrepreneur?
For years he’s struggled with being called an artist, But he has grudgingly accepted the title in recent years, as he has become more well known for his illustrations. 

“Pretty much anyone can be a graphic designer these days, it’s more of a trade and less of an art,” Bustard said, “Plus, I’ve made art textbooks - I know what good art looks like, and I just know that I fall short.” 

The books he’s illustrated have been very successful, including his “ABC” children’s books, Every Moment Holy, Revealed and Bigger on the Inside

Revealed, a storybook for grown-ups, as well as Bigger on the Inside, exploring the relationship between Christianity and Dr Who, are preparing for their second editions. 

Every Moment Holy, Published by Rabbit Room Press and currently coming out with its third edition, is the book he feels most well known for, and it’s brought attention to his linocuts - a simple style of printmaking using linoleum. He has always been inspired by anonymous German woodcuts from the middle ages, as well as Ethiopian icon art and illuminated manuscripts, and he uses their inspiration when creating his prints. 

Every Moment Holy exploded, and suddenly people are buying things from my Etsy shop,” Bustard said, “Not only that, because of the exposure that Every Moment Holy gave me, I just got a call from a church asking me to make two giant pieces of artwork for the front of their sanctuary!”

Financial challenges to faithful craftsmen
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in their 2018 occupational employment statistics, in the industry of “Independent Artists, Writers and Performers", the annual mean wage was $US52,200.  

As Christians in a low-paying profession, Bustard and other artists say it is sometimes difficult to maintain the passion for slow, craftsmanship art alive when the passion isn’t paying. Bustard is grateful that unlike other artists who have been forced to make art a hobby because of finances, God has allowed him to provide for his family through his art. 

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing beautifully,” said Rob Petri, an architect and small business owner in Syracuse, New York. “If we have an attitude of seeking beauty, designing it and creating it, we must take care in the details and understand that our goal is driven by a greater purpose.” He paints watercolours in his leisure time.  

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Artwork by Ned Bustard.

Slow craftsmanship art may seem like it has a low demand, but according to Petri, in Richard Sax’s book, Revenge of the Analogue, he argues the opposite. His thesis is about how so many things have become digital that the value of things made slowly by hand, with passion and precision, are worth and appreciated more. 

“The value of things made by hand or analogue is all the more appreciated because there is something authentic about their presence; they have a story, they have something we can relate to and there is value in that,” Petri says. “We love our phones, but give someone a little sketch of their dog and they will frame it and always remember the selfless act. Craft has a depth of meaning that is difficult to fabricate digitally.”

Petri has been known at times for helping a small Christian school in Syracuse, Faith Heritage School, with their design and architectural needs free of charge by giving advice when it seems that the school is being scammed of money from local architects. Most recently, he helped to draw up a design for the school’s new student commons, constructed in memory of a student who passed away. 

Both artists are aware that they might be able to make more money or be considered more successful by the world’s standards if they focused more on commercial clients and less time on their own artistic passions. 

“I'm definitely not financially successful as an artist,” Bustard said, “But no one in my family has ever gone hungry, and for that, I thank God for his provision.” Bustard also finds ways to serve his community by creating the colouring pages for the Sunday School at the Presbyterian church he faithfully attends. 

Bustard’s daughter Maggie said, “We never had money growing up but I only learned that as I got older. He never wanted us to know that we didn’t have money, so he would go without so much to give us everything we wanted.” 

Reconnecting the American church to art
In his travels to Italy, Bustard’s been reminded of how disconnected the modern American church is from art.

“I think that the arts have been abandoned by the church. In Italy, people didn’t separate the two, like, ‘Oh, you make art and you’re a Christian? That’s totally normal!” Bustard said regarding the way religious art is embedded in Italian culture.

Bustard is saddened by how different American culture is in this regard.

“We were made in the image of God to create - it’s who we were made to be,” Bustard said. 

Meg Capone is a student journalist at The King’s College in New York City.