Heber Pintos: Dialogue with an Adventist illustrator from Uruguay

Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1942, Heber Pintos has spent most of his life drawing, painting, and illustrating. He attended the School of Fine Arts in his hometown and studied theology at River Plate Adventist University in Argentina and at Brazil Adventist College. In 1969 he began his professional career as a free-lance artist, working on multiple projects for commercial and Christian publishers. During 1978-1979 Pintos taught at the Pan-American School of Art in Sao Paulo and in 1980-1981 at Instituto Adventista del Uruguay, where he himself had been a student.

One of the major contributions of Pintos to Christian art is his illustration of 179 episodes of the gospel story in The Life of Jesus, a three-volume work published in English and Spanish by the Pacific Press in 1983-1984. Since 1986 he has served as associate director of art at the Adventist Brazil Publishing House in Tatui,Sao Paulo. He has received several professional distinctions.

Heber and his wife Ingrid have two grown children: Fabio, a computer engineer for Microsoft, and Patricia, a mathematics student at the University of Sao Paulo-Campinas.

When did you first felt an inclination toward drawing?

Since childhood, growing up in Montevideo. I remember tearing blank pages from my sister’s school notebook and using them to sketch anything that came to mind. Then, in primary school, I began drawing caricatures of teachers and friends. Most of the time, although not always, they found them humorous!

Who encouraged you during your formative years?

One of the elementary school teachers told my mother that I had a very keen ability to draw with perspective, which she considered unusual for a six- or seven-year-old boy. In those years I was fascinated with the cartoon strips that appeared in newspapers and magazines and were collected in booklets. My mother did not let me spend money on cartoon stories. So I borrowed them from my friends and began imitating the different styles. Alex Raymond was my favorite cartoon artist. In secondary school I learned and received support from Omar Seco, an outstanding Adventist art teacher.

When I was 17, a decisive event occurred. The Sabbath school superintendent of my church in Uruguay asked me to draw, for public display, the portraits of 13 Bible women who were the subject of the lessons for that quarter. The project involved me in deep study and taught me to fulfill commitments on time.

Are you still attracted to cartoon-style drawing?

Although I studied drawing formally in art school and have branched into other types of illustration, I still like cartoon style. With photography and realistic illustrations, one can communicate a limited range of emotions. But cartoons and caricatures, which involve a certain degree of exaggeration in design, allow me to convey strong emotions—happiness, surprise, anger—and they can make a powerful impact on the reader-viewer.

How did your family come in contact with the Seventh-day Adventist Church?

My mother was a strict Catholic and quite active in parish life. One of our neighbors, a kind Adventist lady, shared the Bible truths with our family for 17 years. On Friday evenings she came to our home and told Bible stories to me and many of my friends in the neighborhood. At times she brought color slides to illustrate those stories and I helped her by operating the projector. When it came time for me to go to primary school, this lady insisted that I should attend an Adventist school and even gave my mother money to help pay my tuition.

What factors led you to become an Adventist?

Adventist teachers opened for me and our family a new way of looking at life and the world. In November 1955, during my first year at the Adventist boarding secondary school in Uruguay, I was baptized. The following year, my mother was baptized. As a 13-year-old adolescent, I did not know much about Adventist teachings, but I admired the way my teachers and other Adventists lived.

Did you grow beyond that initial understanding?

During my youth my main interest was having a good time, but as I studied Bible and theology in college I matured. I met Jesus as a unique Person. The thought that God had chosen to become like one of us and was willing to suffer and die for me was overwhelming.

What effect did this maturation have in your art?

I began doing more illustrations on biblical themes and Christian subjects. The art of Adventist illustrator Harry Anderson made a deep impression on me. His style, which avoids photographic hyper-realism but conveys powerful emotions in a free-flowing manner, was very attractive to me. I imitated his approach, combining it with a dynamic sense of movement and action.

How do you go about preparing to illustrate a particular topic or theme?

If my assignment is to introduce or complement an article or a book, I read the text carefully in order to understand the intention of the author. Frequently I do research on the cultural and historical context of a specific character or event. Then I start doodling with the pencil and slowly a design emerges. At times I spend hours sketching but without achieving what I have in mind. The only evidence of having worked is a wastebasket full of discarded, crunched paper! Then, after a short break, I come back to the table and in a few minutes the idea becomes a drawing.

Do you approach differently religious and secular topics?

In commercial assignments, one seeks to please the customer, keeping the honorarium as a goal. In doing religious illustrations, I always try to convey a spiritual message that, hopefully, will have an effect on the reader’s relationship with God and His truth. My formal studies in biblical theology were very useful in that respect. They helped me to abandon the popular caricature of a cruel God, ready to punish us for the smallest fault, and to experience the reality of an immensely powerful but loving God.

In The Life of Jesus, your most important project, you portray the Son of God in a rather unconventional manner. Why?

I don’t feel attracted by the languid and saccharine depictions of Jesus that have become popular in some Christian circles. Jesus was for many years a carpenter, a strong young man with powerful hands and a muscular body. The gospels present Him as a divine-human Person with a forceful personality, capable of courageously confronting evil and yet magnetically attractive to children and those rejected by society.

There are some who consider this realistic portrayal of biblical characters a vulgarization of the divine message of the Bible. But I disagree. Jesus Himself was accused of not respecting the religious traditions and of associating with the common people. He used illustrations of daily life to convey deep spiritual messages. He portrayed God as a loving Dad, always ready to forgive, welcome, and embrace the wayward sons and daughters who decide to come back home.

Do you have a preferred readership for your illustrated stories?

All through my career I have felt an affinity with readers in their childhood, adolescence, or youth. I enjoy their spontaneity, humor, and imagination. With two children of my own and having worked for years as a Pathfinder instructor and youth Sabbath school teacher, I can relate to their questions and emotional swings.

How would you define your style as an illustrator?

That’s a difficult question! An art teacher once told me, “Don’t worry about style. Draw as you imagine and feel.” A review of the illustrations I have done through the years shows considerable diversity of styles—from classic to cartoonish. The fact is that as I draw, I feel free to adjust to both the intended readers and the intention of the text I’m illustrating.

How have you adjusted to technical innovations in the field of illustration?

Computer programs have brought dramatic changes in recent years. They are a fabulous professional tool. However, knowing how to draw by hand is always an advantage. It helps to keep illustrations fresh and realistic.

What gives you satisfaction as an artist? What frustrates you in your work?

I enjoy completing a project. After struggling for days or weeks with the concept and its realization, it feels so good to deliver the illustration or the painting to the customer! Then I can turn my attention to the next task. My main frustration is to recognize that I am not a perfect illustrator. When I see one of my works printed, many times I wish I could have worked on it for a while longer.

What advise would you give to a young reader who feels artistically inclined and would like to become an illustrator?

The ability to draw and illustrate well is an uncommon gift. It is not simply a matter of studying art for a certain number of years and then suddenly becoming an artist. In addition to the talent, one must be willing to draw and draw and draw until achieving a certain level of skill. I would also suggest to imitate good models, try different techniques, and listen to the counsel of experienced artists.

How do you nurture your spiritual life?

I like to read widely. But I always come back to the Bible, which is a constant source of inspiration both for my work as an artist and for my growth as a Christian.

Humberto M. Rasi (Ph.D., Stanford University) is director of education for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and editor-in-chief of Dialogue. Heber Pintos mailing address: Casa Publicadora Brasileira; Caixa Postal 34; 18270-000 Tatui, SP; Brazil. E-mail address: heber@bitweb.com.br.