Dan Phyillaier ’99

Dan Phyillaier

  • Artist, Sight & Sound Ministries (PA)
  • Awards/Honors: Winner of two CGChoice awards for digital illustration

A colorful 115- x 30-foot backdrop, a 30-foot whale balloon, intricate 3D-printed models—these aren’t parts of a holiday parade; these are just a few of the day-to-day creations of artist Dan Phyillaier (’99). Sitting at his computer, Dan works behind the scenes to create designs that will be larger than life.

Dan Phyillaier

“It’s pretty incredible to see something from your screen come to life 30 feet tall,” said Dan, referencing a gigantic promotional statue he created of a whale jumping out of the ocean to swallow Jonah.

Over seventeen years ago, Dan began working at Sight & Sound Theatres, the largest faith-based theatres in the country, which put on elaborate productions and performances of biblical stories on a grand scale. Dan has used his art skills to bring well-known Bible stories to life, creating set designs, renderings, and models for over ten productions. Through his designs, people have experienced biblical accounts of Jonah, Daniel, Moses, and other heroes of the faith.

Yet Dan is modest about his abilities, knowing they are not his own but a gift. “God seemed to have given me talent and a temperament well suited for being an artist,” he said. “So I kept pursuing art, and the Lord kept opening doors.”

When the door opened at Sight & Sound Theatres, Dan knew very little about designing a dramatic set for a stage; but he did have a strong foundation in the fundamentals of art. The other designers at Sight & Sound wanted someone who would be part of a team and was willing to learn on the job.

Dan fit their needs perfectly. “The techniques that I use to create art now are very different from the way I was doing things at PCC; however, that reveals one of the great things about my education,” he said. “Instead of focusing on the latest trends and techniques which always change, PCC focused on the fundamentals of art and stressed the importance of hard work and being professional.”

Dan Phyillaier

His foundation in traditional painting, drawing, and illustrating serves him well as he uses cutting edge digital tools such as Photoshop, Maya, ZBrush, and MODO to create the finished work.

Because Dan had practiced his craft so well, he knew how to bend the fundamental rules of art to create strong set designs. Often, he uses forced perspective to make sets appear deeper than they are, allowing the set to take up less floor space for easier storage.

As Dan works on a show, he meets with the playwright and director to gain a feel for the mood of each set design. He might create 6–20 different drafts before gaining the director’s vision for the piece, and that’s no simple feat with one draft taking anywhere from several days to a full week to draw. “We try to interpret the vision that is in the director’s head and draw it into something that can be seen and built upon by other departments,” he said. While most of his designs are for sets, Dan also works on iconic artwork and media drawings for promotional advertising. His favorite show thus far has been Moses. “Every new show at Sight & Sound, we improve on so many different levels,” he said. “I think Moses benefitted a lot from this technically and artistically; however, Sight & Sound was also able to capture both the epic nature and the personal, relatable quality of Moses.”

Dan Phyillaier

Sight & Sound’s goal is to immerse audiences in biblical accounts so that they feel a part of the story. The 300-foot stage that wraps around the 2,000+ audience brings the viewers into the very heart of Noah’s ark or the midst of the Red Sea. In fall 2016, Dan brought a little of that interactive experience to PCC when he came to guest lecture in the visual arts department. As he shared renderings and models of set designs he had worked on, he engaged with students, answering questions and giving advice on how to improve as an artist.

Studio art major Kayla Gaither (Fr., FL) thoroughly enjoyed Dan’s interactive session. “To know that Mr. Phyillaier is a PCC graduate encouraged me to know that the school I have chosen produces artists of such high quality,” she said. “The process from sketch pad to stage has always been a special interest of mine and getting to hear a professional describe it from a Christian perspective was very exciting!”

Andrea (Orr) Clague ’06; ’09 MFA

Andrea Orr

  • Professional Painter (OH)
  • Awards/Honors: Painting featured on cover of Southwest Art magazine (Sept. ’10), and one of 21 artists featured in the magazine.

“You will get no better art training in a Christian environment than you will at PCC. I think the most important part of the program was finally seeing the importance and value of the visual arts. And the Master of Fine Arts program helped me catch the vision that the Lord uses artists when they give their talents back to Him.”

Danny Simmers ’00

Danny Simmers

  • Art Director, High Resolutions graphics production (TN)
  • Owner, Upscale Advertising—specializing in hand-rendered residential and commercial architectural renderings, portraiture, and illustration/design

“My day-to-day responsibilities include taking clients’ information and creating promotions and campaigns. My favorite part about working in the art/design field is constantly being able to take someone’s idea and exceeding their expectations. I know that my talent is God-given, and that this is where I’m supposed to be.”

“PCC’s program taught me to meet deadlines and the basic skills to build upon. The most valuable training to me now is learning to be structured and disciplined.”

Brian Neher ’94

Brian Neher

  • Professional Portrait Painter (NC)

Premier portrait painter Brian Neher (’94 grad, NC) recently brought several of his commissioned portraits to PCC for informal question-and-answer presentations with senior and graduate art students. During the two sessions, students listened intently as Brian shared insights of his artistic development in PCC’s art program.

“I consider PCC’s art program to be on par with most well-known art schools in the country, but at a fraction of the cost.”

When considering colleges to attend, Brian visited PCC and was immediately drawn to the quality of artwork on display. He said, “I was impressed by the strong representational approach to art taught by the instructors. During my visit, a faculty art show was on display, and I was amazed by one of Brian Jekel’s paintings. When I found out he was one of the instructors I could study under if I enrolled as a student, my decision was made.”

Neher Teaching Brian discusses with graduate art students how he achieves the effect of natural sunlight in his portraits.

“I had no formal art training before attending PCC, but desired to learn,” Brian said. “The foundational drawing classes played a vital role in my development as an artist. The instructors not only talked about art, but had the ability to put their knowledge on paper or canvas to demonstrate what they were teaching. They encouraged me greatly and motivated me to try harder on each new project.”

Brian’s interest in portraiture began during his junior year, when art faculty Brian Jekel showed a demonstration video of renowned portrait painter Joe Bowler. “During the demonstration, Joe Bowler invited any young artist who needed his help to come visit him in his studio,” Brian said. “So that night in my residence hall room, I talked to him on the phone for over an hour, and we arranged for me to visit him at his studio when the semester ended.”

Brian’s meeting with Bowler inspired him to pursue portraiture professionally. He said, “When I returned to PCC as a senior, I was determined to paint portraits no matter what. I expected to use the skills I learned at PCC to paint portraits full time.”

Neher TeachingBrian Neher portrait studies
Used with permission

Through dedication, and the mentorship of both Brian Jekel and Joe Bowler, Brian has painted portraits professionally for over 15 years. His work has been featured in national art magazines, most recently in the Nov. 2009 issue of American Artist. “I get to make a living at something I love to do,” Brian said. “I look forward to each day of painting and can’t wait to get started.”

While Brian Neher chose to pursue portraiture, PCC’s art program prepares students for a variety of art careers. Courses in drawing, painting, and illustration (using both traditional and digital media) give students a broad range of skills, with projects covering a variety of subject matter. This allows students to develop their artistic interests and equips them with versatile skills for their chosen fields.

Angela Sekerak ’06; ’09 MFA

Angela Sekerak

  • Professional Painter (IL)
  • Awards/Honors: Drawing featured in American Artist Drawing Magazine (Summer 10); paintings featured in At Home in Central Illinois (May/June10) regional magazine.

“The undergraduate program in Commercial Art gave me training in painting, illustration, graphic design, and even education. I knew the value of my undergraduate training, and I also wanted to pursue in-depth training that allowed me to focus solely on developing my painting ability. The MFA program allowed me to do that. From my teachers and classmates, I learned not just to be passionate about painting, but to stay with it. Being in the MFA program taught me how important it is to keep growing and honor the Lord with my work. That’s the mental and spiritual preparation I received. Practically, the MFA program brought me to a point in my art where I could begin pursuing art professionally.”

Tim Doby ’98

Tim Doby

  • Marketing Art Director, BB&T

After finishing his studio art degree, Tim Doby started as a graphic designer in a small North Carolina print shop. Though he had planned to work there for only 2 years to gather experience before moving on to another design agency, God had different plans. “God’s plan was for me to stay there 7 1/2 years, get a good foundation, and learn to trust Him,” Tim said. After 5 years of praying and actively waiting, God opened the door at BB&T, a bank with over 1,800 branches, and He has continued opening other opportunities within the company.

As the marketing art director for BB&T, Tim works with an internal and external design and marketing team to develop and maintain BB&T’s brand through marketing, printed advertisement, and digital media.

“Working in a corporate environment and being creative can sometimes feel like oil and water,” Tim said. “One moment you’re in a meeting discussing regulatory mailings and the next you’re designing a three-dimensional countertop tent card.” Though the flexibility can be challenging, it also has benefits. “Seeing a project go from concept to final production is very rewarding.”

Tim’s department designs most of what has BB&T’s name on it: lobby brochures, billboards, direct mail, magazine ads, basketball arena displays, and even cycling racing jerseys. Recently Tim has been working on projects such as the exterior wrap to a BB&T bus and floating window fixtures with advertising panels viewable from the inside and out.

“The diversity of PCC’s studio art program gave me the opportunity to also pursue graphic design. Those design skills are what I use most today,” Tim said. “But I think who I am today is a more powerful reflection of PCC than any one thing I learned at PCC.”

The goals Tim had in college are the same goals that brought him to his career at BB&T. “Simply to do God’s perfect will for my life every day. To walk close enough to feel the slightest tug of His will in any direction at any time.”

Jon Stasko ’06; ’08 MA

Jon Stasko

  • Independent Fine Artist (NY)

“I show and sell my work in local cafes and restaurants, participate in regional and national competitions and exhibits, and offer portrait services. I also create spiritual and historical art with the goal to soon make reproductions. The longer I am an artist, the stronger I feel God’s calling on my life to present His message of truth in visual form. I am humbled and captivated with the responsibility of observing and depicting the truth and majesty of God and His creation.

“When I was enrolled in the Art program, it was the dedication and expertise of my instructors that, I eventually found, gave me a head start in the professional art field. The training I received cultivated technical excellence with traditional time-tested methods, while promoting creativity and an analytical approach to art. I believe this combination to be a major factor in why so many young and emerging artist friends of mine from the program have attained such national notoriety in the fine art world, and hold such prominent positions in the commercial art and design industries.

“In addition to my training, I value the lasting friendships I made with other artists who passionately seek to reflect God in their work. The encouragement I still receive from them pushes me onward in my pursuit of excellence.”

Christian Hemme ’10

Christian Hemme

  • Professional Painter (FL)
  • Awards/Honors: Second-place winner in Southwest Art magazine (Sept. ’10) “21 Under 31” artist competition.

Having completed PCC’s undergraduate art program, Christian believes the classical art training in painting and drawing compares with prestigious art colleges in the United States, and completely eclipses large state schools.

“I consider the classical art training at PCC under the direction of Mr. [Brian] Jekel to be absolutely paramount to my success. I am actually a first- and second-generation student of Mr. Jekel; it was ’01 MA grad Marit Guild who actually instilled in me the desire to be a career artist and taught me many of the fundamentals of representational art. I studied art under Marit for six years through middle and high school; once I graduated she recommended I continue my education under Mr. Jekel at PCC. Which I did.”

Jennifer Himes ’09

Jennifer Himes

As a ten-year-old, Jennifer Himes (’09) watched an artistic presentation at church one Sunday that would change her life forever. “I knew that being an artist was my divine calling,” she said. “That experience was what made me realize that art, specifically visual art, could be used to serve the Lord.”

In high school, her interests in visual art became more focused on puppeteering as she studied Jim Henson’s Muppets. “I decided that being a puppeteer had to be the most exciting job ever,” she said. But in college, puppetry turned into more of a hobby than a career choice. Although she still performed puppets with the Campus Church puppet ministry, she began to pursue a wider array of art forms.

“Drawing, painting, and design classes at PCC laid a solid foundation that I have built on over the years,” she said. “Learning sculpture unlocked a lot of drawing and design concepts that I had been struggling with for a long time. Without it, I never fully understood form, particularly the human form, and composition. It was as though a light clicked on, and I found myself improving in those areas.”

Beyond the Sock Behind the Scenes

After earning a commercial art degree and a master’s in studio art from PCC, she began working as a production artist but soon realized it wasn’t the job for her. “I found that I didn’t enjoy the work as much as I thought I would,” she said. “After some soul-searching, I began to pursue puppetry as more than a hobby.”

In 2015, she attended Beyond the Sock Puppetry Workshop for Television and Film, a special seminar taught by professional puppeteers including Muppet performer Peter Linz, who believed Jennifer had talent. “At his recommendation, I auditioned at the Jim Henson Company Studios in Los Angeles,” said Jennifer. “That experience, and a whirlwind of events that happened after, solidified my decision to make puppetry my career.”

Throughout her journey, Jennifer has found herself returning to what she first learned. “PCC teaches art from a biblical perspective,” she said. “In Art History class we learned what the Bible says about art and God’s purpose for it. It helped me shape my own opinions and ideas about what art is and why it is a critically important part of our society.”

The more Jennifer learned, the more doors opened to her. “Sculpture, design, drawing, and painting came together to create creatures that came alive. In making puppets, I used it all!” she said referencing the skills she learned in college. At first, she worked as a freelance designer and puppeteer, launching a website and YouTube channel.

“One of the essential skills PCC’s art program taught me was how to give and take constructive criticism,” she said. “I use that practically every day. In any art industry, it’s important to have an attitude of learning. PCC taught me that.”

Because of her willingness to learn and apply herself, she now works with Universal Studios as a puppeteer for the Superstar Parade. As she uses her energetic spirit and skills to bring the Universal puppets to life, Jennifer becomes a part of something bigger than herself.

Filming with Beyond the Sock

“The experience of watching and performing puppets is one of inexplicable joy that perhaps comes from the act of creation,” she said. “A puppet performance is an unspoken agreement between the performer and the audience that an inanimate object is alive. We are creating something together, and that brings us joy.”

Another recent endeavor is a job with nonprofit Michelee Puppets, performing shows for schools to encourage respect, responsibility, and positive choices.

Aside from working with Universal Studios and Michelee Puppets, Jennifer has also been asked to build and perform puppets for Jane Henson’s Nativity Story this holiday season. The late Jane Henson, wife of Muppets creator Jim Henson, created a lifelike nativity scene re-enacting Christ’s birth with a Bible-come-to-life narration. Being asked to tour with this group is a dream job for Jennifer, who has admired Jane and Jim Henson’s work since high school.

“It is a great honor to be asked to add to the work of such a remarkable person. It is everything I’ve ever wanted to do with my talents put together in one beautiful work of art,” she said. “I believe God has called me to be a light in the puppet community.”

As Jennifer continues to use her talents in puppetry, she finds herself drawn closer to the Lord. “What a magical gift God has given us!” she said. “Not just in puppetry, but in all of the arts, we are capable of implanting truth in people’s hearts in a way they will never forget.”

Grant Trowbridge ’13

Grant Trowbridge

  • Image Specialist, Bass Pro Shops (MO)

Expansive murals, wildlife exhibits, trophy fish, and life-size trees—these are just a small part of the impressive interiors of Bass Pro Shops. While some items are donated from local outdoor enthusiasts, many of the decorations are crafted and assembled by a team of specialized employees who travel across the U.S. and into Canada to help open stores.

Recently, studio art graduate Grant Trowbridge (’13) became one of these employees.

“Being led to this position was all in God’s plan,” Grant said as he remembered his transition from the Alaskan oil fields to Bass Pro Shops. For weeks, Grant had known that his job in the oil fields was on the line as coworker after coworker was laid off. Wanting to be prepared for the inevitable, he used his free time to send out applications. Soon, he was the last to be laid off, and he went home wondering what God had next for him and his wife, Jaqui (’13).

“The night I got laid off and went home, I got a call a little over four hours later. On the phone was Bass Pro public relations wanting an interview that day,” Grant said. Bass Pro Shops’ job opening was the only art-related position Grant had applied for. Even though another oil company contacted him the same day that he received an offer from Bass Pro Shops, Grant believed that God was leading him to accept the position as an image specialist.

Image specialists for Bass Pro Shops are expected to meet several qualifications dealing with artistic ability and organizational skills. Looking back, Grant is thankful for his education at PCC, which helped prepare him for his new position. “The studio art program taught me the design skills I needed to fulfill my daily tasks,” Grant stated. “The attention to detail that was taught to us at PCC has given me an edge compared to other artists that are coming into the field.”

Although his responsibilities vary day by day, one of Grant’s main tasks is building life-size dioramas* that customers see in stores. Preparing the dioramas requires competence in carpentry, sculpting, and painting. Other daily responsibilities include “sculpting life-size trees and making the unreal…real,” Grant said. Fighting against time, Grant tries to add as many details as possible to make the dioramas and other art pieces as lifelike as he can. Each of these figures must then be positioned to create a realistic outdoor environment within the store.

Grant’s goal for the near future is to become the best artist he can in the job he is confident God led him to. He knows he still has much to learn, but he isn’t too worried about that fact since he is gaining great experience each time he helps open a new Bass Pro Shops store.

* A three-dimensional scene with lifelike figures set before a background

Learn More

Check out PCC’s visual arts department for the studio art concentration.

PCC graduates and students use their training in remarkable ways. Read about how God is using them in their field of study.

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