Beauty and joy at the heart of priestly portraits

Sketch of Fr Mike Schmitz. Photo: Supplied

With his Apple pencil and iPad, one Sydney artist is turning divine inspiration into priestly portraits.

Charbel Bousamra, 32, is drawing on his faith to produce quirky caricatures of local and international religious figures on his Instagram page @boullustrate.

His light-hearted sketches include Bankstown’s Fr William Chow and Broken Bay vocations director Fr Sam French among others, delighting followers and the priests themselves.

The parishioner at St Raymond’s Maronite Church in Auburn has honed his skills since graduating from Qantm College (now SAE Creative Media Institute) and has also illustrated a children’s book by Sr Josephine Mitchell RSJ to raise funds for an orphanage in Timor Leste.

He says anything from a homily or video might spark inspiration, and while the process from idea to final product can be arduous, the payoff is always worth it.

“With Fr Sam French for example, instantly I take note of those golden red locks. They’re unmissable. Then I try to get the general shape of the person,” Charbel explained.

priestly portraits - the catholic weekly
Draft of a Fr Sam French sketch. Photo: Supplied

“From his videos I’ll take mental notes of hair, face shape and try to picture all these things to really get the essence of who he is.

“Then I start drawing away. And it takes like a million bad drawings just to get one good drawing.

“People get a little disillusioned when they see the final product and realise it wasn’t done straight away. You need to get through a lot of drafts.

“Once I’ve done the initial sketch, I make a new layer and new outline. Basically, the clean-up. Then there’s a new layer underneath, which I fill in with colour.”

The artistic gene certainly runs in the family, with Charbel’s father an architect.

“One of my earliest memories is of the picture of Jesus he drew on the wall of my bedroom,” he said.

Charbel was inspired further to draw at a young age by his saintly namesake after going through old family albums and finding a photo his aunt had taken of the tomb of St Charbel in Lebanon.

“I remember being so enamoured with this image, and I had a desire to draw the tomb. From there my passion became a blend of my interest in religion as a young kid and illustration.”

Now a pathology courier, he has never let his artistic side leave him and credits his talent as a gift from the Holy Spirit.

priestly portraits - the catholic weekly
Sketch of Fr William Chow. Photo: Supplied

“Recently I read Pope St John Paul II’s God is Beauty. It struck me because when I was trying to get into the animation business, I think I was really focusing on myself and not on God at the time,” Charbel said.

“I know now God has given me this gift for a purpose, so instead of focusing on myself, I thought maybe I should start bringing joy to others.

“Even if a post only receives one or two likes, it might be something that someone appreciates and sparks a bit of joy in them.

“As an artist, my vocation is to use beauty to bring God into the lives of others, even in the smallest way possible.”

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