Conveying pope’s character was Time artist’s goal

Categories: Nation/World

December 20, 2013, edition
By Sam Lucero
Catholic News Service

Chicago artist Jason Seiler, who created the illustration of Pope Francis for Time magazine’s Person of the Year cover, said his goal was to convey his impression of the pontiff as a genuine, compassionate spiritual leader.

“My goal when painting him was to capture this man’s character and essence,” he said. “He is a beautiful person and I hope my painting captured that.”


Time, Inc.

While Seiler is not Catholic, he said he has “great respect for who (Pope Francis) is and how he uses his influence.”

“From what I have seen of Pope Francis, he seems real and genuine,” added Seiler. “He does not abuse his power.”

Seiler made the comments via email in response to questions from The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay. The artist was born in Green Bay, moved to Rice Lake with his family around age 5 and later to Eau Claire, where he graduated from Eau Claire Memorial High School in 1996. After high school he studied fine art illustration at the American Academy of Art in Chicago for two years.

Honored by the assignment

Seiler’s illustrations, paintings and caricatures have graced the covers of dozens of newspapers and magazines, including Billboard, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Der Spiegel, The New York Times and Business Week. He said Time’s 2013 Person of the Year was a first for him.

“I have never painted the Person of the Year before,” he said. “Not many artists have. Most times it is a photograph, so the honor I feel is tremendous.”

Seiler explained that Time first hired him to paint the Person of the Year runner-up: National Security Agency whistle lower Edward Snowden. “The art directors were extremely happy and asked if I would like to also paint Pope Francis. I said, ‘Of course.’ I had recently done a drawing of Pope Francis for the cover of Der Spiegel,” a German magazine.

Trained to paint on canvas with oils and acrylics, Seiler used a 21-inch LCD display and digitally painted Pope Francis. It took him more than 70 hours to complete the project.

“I wanted to push it further and capture him in a more realistic way, focusing on subtle things to capture his character,” he said. “It was important to me that it really feels like him. I only had four or five days to paint the cover.”

According to Seiler, he did not know that his illustration of Pope Francis would grace the cover of Time until the night before it went to press.

Helped by YouTube

In researching projects, Seiler said, “I gather as many references as possible and watch YouTube videos, if there are any. And then I just draw.”

Seiler spent a lot of time creating the eyes and mouth of Pope Francis. “I (first) showed him with his mouth open and I wanted a closed mouth and softer eyes,” he said.

Seiler said he has received “tons and tons of feedback” on his Time cover illustration.

“It has been a little overwhelming,” he said. “It is great for my professional career. . . . A lot of letters and interviews including TV and magazine, but mostly hearing from my friends and family — that means the world to me!”

Seiler said he has painted only a few religious figures in his career, but nothing tops his most recent project.

“I am just so honored to have been asked to do this,” he told The Compass, “and I hope the pope sees it and is pleased with my work.”

Lucero is the news and information manager at The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.