By Cecily Markland
Seated in front of his canvas, artist Howard Lyon, of Gilbert, spent 10, sometimes 12 or more hours a day, six days a week, for seven months.
His finished work, two large murals, will hang in the baptistry of the Gilbert Arizona Temple.
“They were certainly the largest paintings I’ve worked on,” Howard says.
Unique in size alone, the paintings were new territory in scope as well. He admits that knowing they would be seen by thousands and, more importantly, recognizing they would adorn the House of the Lord, could have combined to make the project overwhelming.
“A person could easily be distracted by feeling inadequate or by thinking their work was not up to the standards of the temple or the quality expected,” he says.
Instead of being derailed by that, Howard said it moved him to “get into the work. At the end, I wanted to have the feeling of knowing I’d put in the time and done everything in my ability to make sure it was successful.”
Howard says the 4’ x 15’ murals “depict scenes from Christ’s life.” He believes the selection committee liked the concept he submitted as well as his overall style.
“I think they like my use of the figure,” Howard says. “I love painting people. It’s the most challenging, but the most rewarding, to paint people and to tell a story through painting.”
Howard worked out of his home studio in Gilbert, where he and his wife, Shari, are raising their three children.
“I definitely approached it with prayer and contemplation, but, much of the time, working on the murals was work.” As with any job, he managed the mechanics, setting goals of what he wanted to accomplish each day to stay on schedule. At the same time, he did things like listening to uplifting music—particularly “The Lamb of God,” by Rob Gardner, which Howard says, “made me feel close to the spirit, while I worked.”
While having to maintain confidentiality as far as letting others see the painting, “It’s just been a great experience to have that in our home,” he says. “It has made the temple more personal, and we feel a part of the process. The kids are tied to that temple in a way they wouldn’t otherwise be.”
Howard says he knew early on that he wanted to pursue art as a career. His parents, Gary and Rita Lyon, of Mesa, were supportive then and continue to be today.
For the murals, Howard’s father, an engineer, “used his brilliant mind and came up with a mechanized easel, a cable-pulley system,” making it possible for Howard to move the large canvases into more favorable painting positions. “He also visited me probably 30 times while I was working on the murals, to lift me up and tell me how excited he was about this project.”
A graduate of Brigham Young University’s Illustration and Design program, Howard worked for 13 years as art director at a video game company.
“It was like getting paid to improve my work. I learned better use of color and composition and my drawing skills improved,” he said.
He ultimately transitioned into working fulltime as a freelance science fiction and fantasy illustrator.
Yet, he says, “I kept thinking about my work and felt I needed to do something that would be an inspiration to others in some way.”
Then, his brother and sister-in-law, Grant and Jill Lyon, approached him to do a religious piece for them.
“It gave me the opportunity to jump in and do religious art. It was really life-changing. It opened the door, and almost felt like a career switch,” he says.
Howard appreciates the opportunity he has had to share his testimony through his art.
“I love the hope of Christ’s gospel and the knowledge that we can be made perfect through Christ,” he says.