Somerset County is a charming, bucolic section of Southwestern Pennsylvania. A scenic place of Amish farms and rolling hills, it provides beautiful vistas of inspiration for residents like oil painter Lynn Yoder, who makes his home in the village of Springs.
Yoder began pursuing art at a young age. “I gained a passion for drawing at the age of nine, when I discovered that I could draw animals from a children's magazine. A year or two later, I worked with my grade school art teacher who developed my gifting and pointed me in the direction of college. She introduced me to oil paint, which has become my medium of choice. She guided me through my first human portrait. The figure, applied to various settings, has since formed the bulk of my portfolio.
“After graduating from high school, I immediately attended a local college for two years, then transferred to Frostburg State University in Maryland, where I graduated (Summa Cum Laude) in 2002 with a Bachelor’s degree in Art and Design. Since then, I have developed my gifting through continuous studio practice, honing in on the particular style of realism that I seek to achieve. My childhood dream of creating highly realistic paintings has grown into a larger vision. Education and experience have provided me with a deeper appreciation for the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual qualities of my subject matter. Art serves my larger life experience, reflecting my development as an artist and person.”
Yoder’s keen eye for detail is evident in his well-focused paintings, which reveal more details with each new glance. In the nature scene “Swim Mates” (below), for example, he took painstaking care to recreate ripples on the water’s surface, the wavy light-play on the bottom of the creek, and details like the fishes’ scales and the tiny drop of water on the Canada goose’s bill. Likewise, note the stitching details and the rainbow sheen on blown soap bubbles in “Playful Thoughts” (above). The resulting pictures approach photorealism, but retain just enough character to show off his painterly touches.
Though he does not specialize in any one type of subject, Yoder does favor portraiture a bit. “People are the most intriguing subject for me to paint. I place figures in various settings which tell something about the subject's personality or what he or she might be doing, thinking, or feeling. Usually I plan and work out problems for a painting before starting the final canvas. I make small pencil sketches to understand details, or quick painted sketches to decide what colors are harmonious and create the mood that I want. This allows me to proceed to the final canvas with more confidence. My technique involves layers of paint with drying time in between. If I have derailed from the vision in one layer, I simply correct it in subsequent layers.”
Though there is always a strong element of realism in his work, Yoder likes to experiment with unusual elements, such as visualizing music on the canvas. “I sometimes imagine colors when I hear sounds. Higher notes are associated with cool blues and purples. Warm lower notes give visions of orange and yellow. (In ‘Sound to Sight’) I've indicated lower-range wisps of sound. The musician is lost in his magical world of vibrations and soundwaves in this fiddle painting.”
“I see many parallels between visual and musical artforms. Since I am a lover of classical music and am learning to play the piano, music has found its way into my paintings. In some instances, I've tried to match abstract colors and shapes to the sounds, feelings, and pitches that I experience in music. These wispy shapes float around realistic images of musicians and their instruments. In addition to the piano lessons which I have taken over the years, I enjoy writing. Most times this craft is used privately to journal my experiences or to state my Biblical gleanings.”
Yoder’s Christian faith plays a major role in his everyday life and creative expressions. “Art serves my larger experience of living and not the other way around. I am a believer in Jesus Christ, and my testimony might be that I need Him for my existence on a daily basis. My art making is more of an extension of that daily quest for God and finding how He relates to my life. I seek to do more spiritually-themed paintings in the future and am looking for a market focused on this type of work.”
Yoder’s church has provided an occasional outlet for his painting and other talents. “Currently, my musical gifting is used to direct congregational singing at the Mennonite church which I attend. The church holds a strong tradition of a cappella, four-part harmony. We have done some drama and choral programs at Christmas and Easter. I am glad to see other churches cultivating instrumentalists for musical worship, especially through the use of violinists, pianists, and other instruments from the classical tradition. The visual arts are not a focus at my church, but my painting, ‘His Tears’, was displayed over the pulpit for a period of time. I would like to see my church use creative people even more for the glory of God and for the development of people.”
One of Yoder’s passions – and professions – is sharing his artistic knowledge with the community. “I am currently the art teacher at the grade school where I grew up. I start by teaching freshman students the basics of drawing – proportion, perspective, light and shade, and a systematic approach to building up form by shading with a pencil. Only after they have drawn a still life arrangement do I allow them to attempt to paint. I suggest that they paint something simple at first, such as a sunset. Here they learn to mix colors and blend edges to match their reference photos. Understanding the color wheel is important.”
Despite coming up in a Mennonite community, Yoder has embraced technology to facilitate online marketing and production of giclée prints of his work. The internet has increased his visibility as an artist, but hasn’t exactly been a full-on boon for his career. “I have recently disabled my shopping cart because it hasn't been profitable enough. I still have an ordering page on my website that can be printed and mailed to me, but I can no longer accept online sales by credit card.”
Still, Yoder feels that the Web is indispensable as a 21st-century marketing tool. “I strongly recommend that an artist invest in creating a personal website, as it functions as an online portfolio and catalog of your work. Perhaps shopping cart functionality also would be profitable when selling in the right price range, or a style of art that doesn't need to be seen in great detail. If one wants to sell online, then he needs to be found. I am not an expert on this, but here is what I have learned. Get as many links to your site from external sources as possible. Also, use keywords (words that describe your particular work) within your site, as search engines such as Yahoo and Google use this information to categorize what type of site that you have. The obvious way to get word out about your site is to put your web address on your promotional materials and to tell your potential clients about it.”
Aside from the internet, Yoder has found several outlets to sell his art. “Prints of my work sell at small local galleries and stores. I have demonstrated my craft and sold prints at a local festival for a number of years. Most sales of my original paintings have been through personal contact with clients who have seen my work. Some work has been commissioned.” He has had exhibitions at the General Art Store in Frostburg, Somerset’s Philip Dressler Center for the Arts, Frostburg City Hall, the Stephanie Ann Roper Gallery and other locations. Yoder is active in supporting his local arts community, as a member of the Allegany Arts Council and Allegany Area Art Alliance. His honors include People’s Choice Awards and Best In Show at the Somerset County Artists Association.
When we contacted Yoder for an interview, he was happy to find that our group shared his vision for Christian artistry. “Artist's Work B.e.n.c.h. sounds like a very worthy cause. I didn't know such an organization existed. That is wonderful. Too bad you are not here in southwestern PA.”
Yoder is hopeful about the increased use of art as a means of Christian communication. “I pray that God is raising up artists of various art forms to proclaim the truth about His character, to bring Him worship and glory, and to get us in touch with His heart and what He is doing today. I believe that the creative arts have a way of communicating to us at a deep level and can solidify particular beliefs in our hearts about God. They are a way of romancing God, as we can be stirred to great passion and emotion for Him. I am overjoyed to see more professionalism in Christian filmmaking over the past several years. I believe that anointed, artistically talented believers need to be proactive and learn how to perform their craft with the professionalism that the secular world has long been doing. This opens up the door for our voice to be heard by a hurting world that needs to know Jesus.”