Morgan Weistling: We are humans, and we don’t have it all in our heads to know exactly how something will look in nature, you know? And so I like to go right to God’s creation and see it with my own eyes and respond to it rather than try to create it. I’m not the creator here. I kind of respond to the creation. So that’s what I do. And so I wanted to see what God had in store, you know? Once again (laughter) – and every – every painting goes in with prayer, and so, you know, this painting had a lot of answered prayers as it went along.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Morgan Weistling describing how God has gotten ahold of him, his talent for art and how God’s using that today in some pretty incredible ways. And Morgan is our guest today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we’re doing something a little unusual today. We’re in a very different kind of studio. Uh, for our listeners, let me describe it. We’re surrounded by paintings and easels and probably more paint brushes than I’ve ever seen in my life. (LAUGHTER) There’s gotta be 300 paint brushes over here!
And um, all of this is to, um, help you better understand an incredible story that we’re gonna talk about today. This is where Morgan creates his award-winning artwork, uh, most often depicting scenes about early American life, the pioneer days, if we could call them that. Western scenes and lots of paintings about families and children doing all of the hard work they had to do to survive, when you read those stories and think about, uh, families crossing the prairies. Our goal is to introduce you to Morgan and his passion for serving the Lord through art. His story – he’s got an incredible story, a testimony of how God has equipped him and gifted him and called him into this wonderful world of art.
John: And you can see this, of course, on YouTube or hit our website, where we’re gonna have a whole bunch of details about Morgan and the various paintings he’s made – so many over the years.
Morgan has been studying and doing artwork since he was, uh, old enough to hold a crayon, according to what he said, and unlike most of us who began that way, he just kept going (Laughter), learning under some of the most famous and legendary illustrators and painters of the last century. For 14 years, Morgan was an illustrator in the Hollywood film industry, uh, creating movie posters and collectable artwork related to that. And in 1998, um, he transitioned to the world of fine art. Since then, he’s become one of the premier painters in the world today.
Jim: Morgan, that is quite a setup. Welcome to Focus on the Family.
Morgan: Thank you. And this is not fair. You have scripts, and I have nothing…
Jim: (Laughter) No, we don’t; we have guidance
John: We’ll toss those aside.
Jim: There they go. They just went on the floor.
Hey, um, what an incredible story. And for the folks that may be asking, OK, why are we doing this? I wanna say, for years at Focus on the Family, someone that you knew well, G. Harvey…
He would do a painting for Focus and allowed us to do a print. And, of course, G. Harvey passed away a while back. And what a wonderful family, Patty and the whole – whole extended Jones family – they’ve been so gracious to Focus. But through the connection of Peb Jackson, we are moving ahead, and we’re so grateful for you to say, “Yes, let’s do this together.” And, uh, we want to talk about your story so our listeners will get to know you a bit better. So that’s what we’re gonna do.
Let’s start with your family and, uh, what kind of family you grew up in.
Morgan: Um, I grew up in a very loving home and a very encouraging home. And my mom and dad were the type of parents you could only hope for. And, um, the thing that made them kind of unique, though, was that they did meet in art school. (Laughter) So, uh, they really set an atmosphere to grow up being encouraged to draw, encouraged to look at life the way an artist would look. So…
Jim: Yeah. I mean, this is an incredible studio. And for those of us as parents – you know, I was hoping I’d have a football player or an artist, and I didn’t end up with either. I love my boys, but they have different interests. How do we better appreciate the art world if we’re not immersed in it, if we’re not part of it? I mean, for the parent that hasn’t seen that in their children, uh, should we be trying to encourage them, even if they haven’t done it yet?
Morgan: Well, being an artist is the most important thing you can be. (Laughter) It’s the greatest thing you can be.
Jim: Sure, it is. (Laughter) But you got it…
John: It’s a high calling.
Jim: You got it from your mom and dad. That’s what’s so amazing. It sounds like – and I know your story – it just sounds like your folks were so good at encouraging you in this. Were they?
Morgan: Yeah. You know, I have an older brother and an older sister or – um, and I think they got out all the bad parenting on them. (LAUGHTER) And so when I came along…
Jim: That’s what they tell you.
Morgan: Everybody confirms it – that my dad, for instance, was a much better dad than the dad my brother had.
Morgan: And, um, he was just loving and encouraging. Whereas my brother, anything he tried to do, it was always wrong. He would – “You’re doing it wrong.” Whereas when I would do something – “Great job. Great job, Morgan.”
Jim: Wow, that’s amazing.
Jim: I want to talk about your dad and his experience as a young man in World War II because it’s so much a part of the story. What happened to him in World War II?
Morgan: Um, he was a prisoner of war in a German, uh, prison camp. And, um, he was in the Army Air Corps, and his plane was shot down on a bombing mission over Austria. Uh, and they landed in Germany. And, uh, they parachuted out, were captured, put into a prison camp, and he spent a year there.
Jim: Hm. And during that time, uh, he did something really unusual. In fact, for the YouTube watchers, they – you have a sample here of what he created while in camp. Uh, what was that?
Morgan: Well, he, uh – when he was a child, he wanted to become a comic strip artist. And so when he went into the, uh, Army Air Corps, that kind of put a hold on that thought. And then we’ve got a prisoner of war, he had an opportunity to actually live out this dream because he created a comic strip, a daily serial comic strip, that would get passed around the whole barracks of the camp.
Jim: That’s amazing.
Morgan: And it would keep the guys’ morale up because they had something to look forward to because it was – it was a lot of boredom in…
Morgan: …So my dad started this, uh, comic strip where he’d do one panel, and it’d get passed around the camp, finally get back to him, and he’d continue the story, on and on and on. And I grew up with that – you know, that story. And I just wished he had brought home some of those drawings so that I could actually, you know, see with my eyes whether this story was true, you know.
Jim: Right, so you heard all about.
Morgan: I heard all about it.
Jim: But then something happened where you got your hands on one of the originals.
Morgan: Years later – he had already passed away. I got an email about 10 years ago and – or seven years ago. And somebody had written me saying, um, “I think I have some drawings of your father’s that were in World War II.” And I sobbed uncontrollably (laughter).
Jim: Oh, man, that is amazing.
Morgan: It was more emotional than anything I could have experienced. I cried more about this than probably when he died. I was so emotional about it.
Jim: Why? I know, but connect those dots. Why do you think that struck you? I mean, this is a powerful piece of your dad’s history.
Morgan: The story was – put him as a hero in my eyes because it was something he did to, like, entertain the troops, as it were. And so it was one of those things where, as the years went on, and I had no evidence of it, you start to wonder if he embellished the story.
Jim: Right. Sure.
Morgan: Maybe it wasn’t so big of a deal. And then when that showed up, it was like getting my dad back again to tell me the story, only it was real… you know.
Jim: OK, so you’re 12 years old. You’re getting an interest in art. It’s firmly in your genetic coding, it sounds like, with both your parents going to art school, meeting in art school – that whole thing. How did it progress from there as a 12-year-old boy? I was thinking football for myself. I don’t know what you were thinking, John – radio?
John: Uh, no, I was thinking actually of art and photography. But it didn’t happen, so…
Jim: OK, here’s two great differences, right?
Morgan: I often have parents ask me if their – possibly their child should be an artist, uh, because they’ve seemed so interested in art, and I always tell them, “Every kid’s interested in art, until about the age of 12 or 13. And if you’re still seeing your kid do it at 13, 14, 15, there’s a real good chance maybe they should be encouraged to be an artist.”
Jim: That’s a great rule of thumb right there.
Morgan: And I continued. I was just like anybody else. I would draw, draw, draw. But I – I’ve seen all my, you know, friends of my – my children’s friends be the same way. But
my mom was so great about – she was amazing. She had the ear of God, and he would just speak to her, it seemed. She didn’t know it (laughter), but she would have the most amazing advice, like prophetic advice. And she was always that way. And she would say, “Hey, we should go check out this art school,” you know. And it was some little dinky school in Reseda. And we walked in there, and that changed the course of my career because I got a teacher that was incredible, and it was all because my mom just saw a little ad, you know, and she said, “We should go check this out,” you know. And in all my life, she would give me these little – “I think you should” – you know? And I listened.
Jim: And so that – yeah, and that led to early jobs when you were still a teenager where you were illustrating for Hollywood pictures, right?
Jim: You would do their movie posters.
Morgan: Again, my mom…
Morgan: …God telling her. She said, “I think you should go get a job at the art store, the local art store.” And I thought – she goes, “I think you’ll meet somebody important. That’d be the right place to go.” So I thought, “OK, I’ll go get a job there.” And I worked there for seven months. Nothing happened. I thought my mom was crazy. She…
Jim: How old are you at this point?
Morgan: Like 17, 18.
Jim: OK, all right.
Morgan: Something like that. That’s while I was still in art school, you know. And, uh, I kept my drawings under the table. And then this illustrator who I recognized his name – he came in. It was the first time he had ever come in in the seven months I’d been working there. And I go, “Oh, can I show you my work?” And I showed him some of my school drawings. He gave no reaction. He was very – “You think you could do this?” I go, “Yeah. It’s what I want to do. I want to be an illustrator.” And then he didn’t say anything, no reaction. Then he left. And that was, uh – I had actually given notice I was gonna quit that same day.
The next day I got a phone call from the art store saying, “Hey, they’ve been calling over here. Some agency wants to hire you to be a, uh, sketch artist.” Like, “What? What?” (LAUGHTER) So I call the number, and they said, “Hey” – and that illustrator had completely recommended me to an agency. And they hired me on…
Jim: Just in 24 hours?
Morgan: Within 24 hours. All of a sudden, I’m – I’m now – you know, I’m rolling in the dough (laughter) because I was working for, you know, like, $12 an hour, and then all of a sudden, you know, it was, like, uh, you know, $600, $700 a week. I was just sitting there…
Jim: As a high school student.
Morgan: Yeah – well, practically, yeah.
Morgan: I was out of high school just at that point.
Jim: Just barely.
Morgan: Yeah. But it was, like, a long history of sketching after that.
Jim: So you’re in that setting. You’re doing these, uh, movie posters and, um, video jackets and all kinds of things. But it wasn’t fulfilling. What was the Lord doing in your heart at this moment? How was he…
Morgan: No, I was totally fulfilled.
Jim: Oh, you were? OK.
Morgan: Yeah, my start.
Jim: So this is all you needed – was a lot of cash? (Laughter).
Morgan: All I wanted to do was be an artist, and I wanted to be famous, and I wanted to do well. And I was – everything was going great.
Morgan: You know, honestly. I..
John: So you were having fun and it was fulfilling and…
Morgan: I was having fun. If you had come up to me and said, “Hey, you need Jesus or something in your life.” I was like, “Hey, man, I got – my art is my god.” That was…
Jim: That’s what you would say.
Morgan: I would say, you know, “I don’t need a crutch. Jesus is a crutch. It’s fine for you, but I don’t need it. I’m fine,” you know.
Jim: But God had a different plan for you. I mean, you had your idea. But what was God doing around you? You met a woman, right?
Morgan: Uh, I met a beautiful girl, uh, who was at an art school. And I only went there to meet her (laughter). And she, uh – you know, she wore a little sweater that showed her midriff. And I was like (Laughter), OK, I’m going…
John: That worked, huh? (LAUGHTER)
Jim: You’re a young man at this point.
John: Visual artist.
Morgan: And, you know – uh, so, uh, I had an opportunity to teach her class as a substitute teacher at the art school she was going to. And I was already doing well as an illustrator, already well-known. And she said that she was interested, but I – she was a Christian and that she would never get serious with anyone that wasn’t a Christian.
And I’m thinking, you know, I don’t know what that really means. But – she said, “But if – you know, do you want to go to church with me?” (Laughter) And I’m thinking, well, I’ll go out with you if that’s – is that – if that’s what I need to do, I’ll go to church with you, you know. I mean, you know, she’s pretty beautiful, so I was like, “Yeah, you know, I’ll do that.”
Jim: And that’s amazing.
Morgan: And so for about six months, we dated, and, uh, I would go to church sometimes with her, you know, and, uh, um, argue with her afterwards. You know, like, it’s – I don’t really – I really don’t agree with anything this pastor is saying. And it wasn’t really hitting me. It wasn’t striking me, you know.
And then one day, you know, he handed out blank pieces of paper. And of all things, God decided that the blank piece of paper was gonna be the thing that he would hit me over the head with. No sermon did it – nothing.
Jim: What did he say, though, when he handed it out?
Morgan: He handed out pieces of paper to the whole congregation. He said, “If you’ve got a talent God’s giving you that you could use to help out at the church, put it down, put your phone number and send it back in.” So I didn’t have any intention. So I’m looking at the white piece of paper there. And everyone else is writing down stuff around me, and I’m just sitting there, and it was though my life was flashing before my eyes, one of those movie situations – of the words of, “If God’s given you a talent,” kind of started ringing in my ears because I always had kind of given myself the credit for having learned to draw and worked hard to do what I do.
Jim: Art was your god.
Morgan: Art was my God. But – but also, I made it happen. And in the end, as this little movie was playing over in my head of my life, I realized, you know what? There’s just no way I could take credit for a lot of the – the things that I’ve been able to see in my own – you know, growing up seeing that I can do. I obviously was given a talent outside of myself – that I didn’t create it.
And, um – and then all in this little moment, uh, it was like God was hitting me on the side of the head with a hammer. And He said, um, “Are you using that talent the way I probably would intend you – have intended for you to use it?” And I’m thinking…
Jim: So you really felt that that was what God was addressing?
Morgan: And at that moment, I’m working on posters – movie posters for B movies for things that are, like, you know – where – where you wouldn’t say I was really utilizing the talent that I had been given, uh, in the best way that God would – would want me to. And it was like…
Jim: So, really, it was, like, a conviction at this point. I mean…
Morgan: Yeah. Now, I’m starting…
Jim: …God’s convicting.
Morgan: Now I’m sort of, like, recognizing. And this is all going on.
Morgan: My – my girlfriend has no idea this is going on.
Morgan: You know, she thinks I’m ignoring this ‘cause I’m not writing anything down.
I realized, you know what? God seems to have given me something, and I’m not using it right. And at that very moment, I decided, um, “Well, God, if you’re real and this is all real, I want to give it back. I know I’m supposed to, like, offer what I can do. And maybe there’s something I can do, you know? Everyone else has things they’re writing down.”
So at that time, they gave a – kind of an altar call. I responded only because I figured that’s probably what I need to do to give my life to say, “OK, God. What do you want me to do with this?”
John: Uh-hm. Morgan Weistling is our guest today on Focus on the Family. Stop by our website to see examples of his artwork, of his dad’s artwork from World War II and to learn more about what he’s talking about right now, which is, what are you gonna do when God starts talking to you? focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: So Morgan, here’s this moment of truth. Um, not everybody listening has had that moment. And I’m sensitive to that because this is what it means to become a Christian. The Lord was pursuing you. And for you to go from art is your god to, God, let me give you my talent and use it for your good – in the meantime, in the background, you’re, you know, doing these really bad movie posters, things that – slasher movies and horror movies and things like that. That was kind of weighing on your heart – that you were helping feed darkness, right?
Morgan: Yeah. At that moment, all of a sudden, I felt it.
Morgan: I honestly didn’t feel any conviction up until that moment.
Jim: Right. It just – bang.
Jim: It all happened. It lined up.
Morgan: It’s just all of a sudden. Yeah.
Jim: So what was your next step? You put out a fleece. And you kind of said, “Lord, if I’m gonna move in your direction…”
Morgan: So I do the altar call.
Morgan: And I couldn’t even tell you exactly what I prayed, other than, in my heart, as I was saying the words they told me to say, I was also saying, “I just want to give my life over.” It was a surrender of sorts.
And so, then I went home, and I prayed, you know, OK. I’m ready. Like, you know, what’s gonna happen next? I don’t know. You know, it – it was a childlike faith of, you know, is something really gonna happen? If this is real, maybe something will really happen.
And, uh, so after having prayed, “What do you want me to do?,” I, um, got a phone call literally the next day, uh, from an art director. And what was interesting was, uh, he danced around the project a little bit for a while. And I’m thinking to myself, it just – this is normal. I get phone calls of art directors all the time about jobs.
Jim: And this is the next day after this event…
Morgan: This is the next day.
Jim: …At the church.
Morgan: So in my mind, I’m really kind of still thinking about, I wonder what God will do someday, you know – like, use me if this is real. And this guy’s jabber-jabbering about some video series for kids, you know? And I’m thinking, “Oh, that sounds, like, not even, like, you know, close to what I’m, you know, interested in at the moment right now, you know, ‘cause I’m wondering what God will do.
And then he – he convinced me to say yes to – to this series ‘cause I need to do work. And he goes, “Before we go, I’ve got to be honest with you because, um, we are a Christian company.” And right away, I’m like, “What?” (LAUGHTER)
Jim: OK. Now he’s got your attention!
Morgan: What? And he goes, “And we’re doing a video series with Christian values. And we have decided that we can’t really find any Christian artists that are of the quality that we want this to be that really give the effect. So we went – gone to a movie poster artist who’s, you know, in the world of this stuff and decided that we don’t have to have him be a Christian.” And I’m just there going, “What?” (Laughs) You know, are you kidding me? I – I prayed yesterday. I’ve never been called by a Christian company in my life and – for a job. And all of a sudden, the day after I’ve prayed that God would use me, this Focus – and he goes, “This is a company called Focus on the Family.”
Jim: (Laughter) That is great!
Morgan: “And we’re doing this thing called McGee And Me! and we need to do covers for it.” And, uh – and so I – you know, I was in such shock that God the creator cared about just this little person, you know, in this little apartment getting this phone call of, like, wow, you know, you really listened to my prayer? And is this real, you know?
Jim: It’s an amazing story.
Morgan: It was one of those things that nobody can ever take away from me.
Jim: You also, the other thing within your story that was so gripping for me is – is – like, when most people commit to the Lord, they just become a sponge. You wanna learn. That happened to me in college. I just stopped reading my textbooks and started reading scripture.
You also – the other thing within your story that was so gripping for me is – is – like, when most people commit to the Lord, they just become a sponge. You wanna learn. That happened to me in college. I just stopped reading my textbooks and started reading Scripture. I mean, I’d sit for four or five hours a day in my dorm room and read through the New Testament. You’re just – you have this appetite…
Jim: …That the Holy Spirit puts in you to learn.
Jim: You had that same experience. But you also augmented that appetite with Focus broadcast cassettes, right?
Morgan: Yes, I did. Well, um, as I was getting more and more involved with Focus and, uh, one of the, uh, art directors who I told my story to, you know, privately – and I said, “I just want you to know I just became a Christian. You’re not gonna believe it.” (Laughter) He was so excited. And when I came out to Pomona where Focus was, he, um, introduced me to everybody. And they said, “Hey, you know,” – knowing that I was a new Christian – “If you wanna just grab any of the tapes” – at the time, you had a huge wall full of the audio tapes, right?
Jim: I remember that wall in Pomona.
Morgan: “So if you wanna grab any” – I was like, “Yeah.” You know, and they gave me a bag. And I just started (laughter) grabbing them. [FYI: Morgan picks up cassette tapes] And so I have them right here. (Laughter).
John: Oh, my goodness.
Morgan: It was just a few of them. (Laughter).
John: So – so a box full of cassette tapes that broadcasts were recorded on.
Morgan: I have hours to spend by myself listening…
Jim: In the studio right here.
Morgan: …To whatever I want – right here. And, uh – and so I was listening to Focus on the Family broadcasts, learning what it meant to be a Christian through people’s testimonies because so many of these that I had grabbed were, like, uh, people who were telling their stories as missionaries…
Morgan: …And people that – extraordinary stories of what God did in their lives. And – and, you know, it was done in such a way where it was so compelling and – and still is, this whole broadcast.
And, um, it was – it was interesting to learn about the character of God through – through these tapes, you know? It wasn’t like, uh, listening to sermons. It was literally real people telling their stories. And it was just blowing my mind, you know, tape after tape. And my wife, uh…
Jim: Who was your girlfriend – you didn’t finish that part of the story!
John: You married the girl.
Jim: You married the girl.
Morgan: We got married. Yeah. So…
Jim: (Laughter) What a good guy.
Jim: And she was great. That was neat that she put the hammer down and said, “Listen. I’m a Christian.”
Morgan: I know you’re not supposed to do it that way. You know, they call that missionary dating and…
Morgan: But she was very, very upfront – this – this is not going to be a serious thing. We’ll just go and see movies or whatever, you know, kind of thing unless you were to become – it’s not like she twisted my arm to be a Christian. And she could see I wasn’t going to be.
Morgan: I was doing nothing but argue. So you can imagine her shock when all this was going on. (LAUGHTER)
Jim: Absolutely. Well, it’s a beautiful part of the story.
And right here at the end, Morgan, we need to talk about what we are doing together. Uh, you’ve agreed to work with Focus. And I’m so grateful, uh, to do this painting right here at the end of the year – Christmas time – which has been a tradition for Focus, as I mentioned at the top of the program.
You have created this piece of art. For those on YouTube, you can see it behind us. And it is stunning, first of all. The light…
Jim: …That you have pulled out of that, uh, painting is so amazing. It’s – it makes you breathless when you look at it…
Morgan: Oh, thanks.
Jim: …In real life. I mean, it is amazing. And you’ve called this Sharing the Light. Describe what you have created here.
Morgan: (Laughter) Sometimes the hardest thing to do is put into words what I put onto a canvas. It really is, you know – uh, because everything that was in my heart was put into the painting. Uh, but it was based on the scripture that first came to mind when we started talking, you know, about what I would wanna maybe do for Focus. And that was – right away, this image came to me. And the whole idea, uh, from, uh, the scripture referring to, you know, uh, that you don’t light a candle and put it under a bowl and hide it, but you put it on the lampstand so that the whole world can see it – and that light being the good news, sharing the Gospel.
Be children of light – that was the other immediately that came to me. And so children with light, it just – it was, like, instantaneous. I knew this was gonna be the first painting I wanted to do ‘cause it was just something that was, like, sitting there and my heart always to do. And then, all of a sudden, it was, like, this is – this is the time I was waiting for, you know, to…to do that.
Jim: Well, it’s beautiful
Morgan: So we’ve got, you know, uh, children that are lighting each other’s candles, you know? Uh, lot of symbolism going on here besides just the idea that you’re passing on the light through your life to others out there who are in the darkness, which the world is represented in a way because this is set in a twilight evening kind of setting – you know? Illuminating the – the darkness with the light.
Jim: Right – back into the village, even, where you’re seeing more light.
Morgan: Even in the village – which, you know, represents those that are, you know, already in the light – you know, uh, out there illuminating the darkness that’s out there.
Jim: It is great. And I hope the listeners, the YouTube watchers – I hope you catch this. Uh, you are gonna hear about this, uh, painting. And you can get a copy of the print. That’s what’s so beautiful. Uh, and we are looking forward to a long relationship, Morgan.
Jim: And you know, here’s the bottom line. We talked about the story of Morgan and how intertwined and how the Lord’s hand was in it from the ‘80s as a – a young man and all those connection points. And now, uh, being able to work together to save marriages, to save a baby’s life, uh, to bring hope to people who don’t have that light…
Morgan: Absolutely. Yeah.
Jim: …That’s what we’re hoping to do here together. And we are so grateful to you and JoAnn, your two beautiful daughters – all of whom, by the way, are incredible artists.
Morgan: Absolutely. Yeah.
Jim: So there’s something in the gene pool…
Jim: …With the Weistlings. (LAUGHTER) Jim: So thank you, and well, well done – amazing story.
Morgan: Well, thank you. And it’s a real honor to, you know, have this, uh, come full circle – you know, having my very first prayer be, God, what do you want me to do? And Focus on the Family calls me. And now, at the end of my life – I guess I’m gonna die after this! (LAUGHTER)
Jim: Hope not!
Morgan: You know?
Jim: In the second part of your life – let’s call it that.
John: Second half, yeah.
Jim: The second half. It takes us a while to pick up, you know (laughter).
Morgan: You know, I do nothing but support, you know, Focus’ mission and what you guys have done for so many years. And just to be a part of it in some small way, you know, is just an honor. So that’s – to me, it’s – you know, it’s a full privilege.
Jim: Well, I feel the same way. Thank you.
John: Well, there’s no doubt that, uh, what you’ve captured, Morgan, is gonna inspire so many people as folks get this print and display it. And it’s a reminder to share the light. And we want you to get a copy of this print. Uh, contact us and request yours today. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY – 800-232-6459. Online, we’re at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.