Mormon artist’s shift from mythical creatures to religious art fulfills dream

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It’s important to have a dream, but it’s even more important to achieve it, according to award-winning religious artist Howard Lyon and his wife, Shari Lyon.

Howard said his passion for art began at a young age while playing card games and video games with friends. He realized that someone was making a living by creating the artwork in those games.

He took classes, practiced his skills and went on to study illustration at BYU after realizing he wanted to pursue art.

Howard married Shari Lunt when he was in school. Shari said she knew art would always be part of her family’s life.

“It was never a question,” Shari said.  “At our wedding reception I had one of my family members come up to me and say, ‘That’s great that he likes to draw, but what’s he going to do to support you?’ I said, ‘He’s going to draw to support me, and he’s really good at what he does.'”

Howard accepted the unexpected opportunity to work in the video game industry and became the artist of thousands of mythical creatures, elves and dragons.

Shari said Howard worked for the video game company for a number of years until Shari said she felt a “major shift” was about to take place in their lives.

She felt the need to do something quickly to provide for her family. Shari suddenly found herself enrolled in a massage therapy program although she had never received a massage herself.

Shari received a phone call during her program’s final exam from Howard stating the video game company he worked for was closing.

Howard Lyon's "From Fear to Faith" is one of his most well-known paintings. This painting was Howard's first religious piece. (Howard Lyon)
Howard Lyon’s “From Fear to Faith” is one of his most well-known paintings. This painting was Howard’s first religious piece. (Howard Lyon)

The family was left with no source of income other than Shari’s new massage therapy skills and a holistic nutrition practice she later opened.

Howard said he felt the need to focus on his own art rather than seeking a traditional occupation.

“I realized how hard I was working for other products and other people and I thought ‘Well, if I work this hard for myself, then I could do my own thing,'” Howard said. “So I started doing freelance art and I haven’t look back.”

Eventually Shari said she felt another shift coming and Howard felt drawn toward religious art.

“He said, ‘The world needs more light and goodness, and I can add to that.’ He felt that was where he needed to spend his energy,” Shari said. “And he continues to feel that pull to create beautiful images that inspire.”

Shari said switching from video games to religious art was a leap of faith for her and Howard and a “huge jump off the cliff,” but she knew it was what they were supposed to do.

Howard’s first religious painting was one of his award-winning pieces, “From Fear to Faith.” This painting came at the request of his brother and gave him the skills to launch into an entirely different line of work. He said this switch was exciting but challenging.

“Switching over from fantasy to religious art is almost like a career change, because it’s a completely different clientele,” Howard said. “You’ve created all these relationships and now you’re starting over, but it didn’t take long.”

Some of Howard’s most popular religious pieces include “From Fear to Faith,” “The Light of the World,” and “I Am a Child of God.”

Howard’s paintings have appeared in numerous issues of the Ensign, as well as other religious magazines. “From Fear to Faith” also won a Merit Award in the 26th Annual Spiritual and Religious Art of Utah Exhibition.

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‘I Am a Child of God’ by Howard Lyon. This painting is one of Howard’s better known works of art. (Howard Lyon)

Howard said his motivation for his art comes from deep thought, working through the message he wants to convey and searching for stories in the scriptures to support the message.

Howard typically works out of his in-home studio in American Fork. When creating a new piece, he follows a process of doing thumbnail sketches to get a feel for the composition of the piece. He draws a larger, detailed version of the sketch and stages a photo shoot to photograph the elements.

He then utilizes Photoshop to combine the elements into a composition and completes a larger drawing, generally the size of the canvas. It can take a week or a month to finish the painting, depending on the painting’s complexity, the type of paint used, the size of the painting and the amount of space to be covered.

Howard hopes people will “pay attention to how they feel and ponder the message or principle that might be behind it” when they see his art.

Shari and Howard found themselves in need of a coordinator as Howard’s career took off. Shari decided to close her practice and fill the role herself rather than hiring someone to manage Howard’s schedule and travel with him to various events.

“That was hard, but it was worth it because we have had so much fun working together,” Shari said. “We wouldn’t do it any other way, but it’s just not always easy.”

Howard said he and Shari’s ability to overcome challenges and work creatively has made a “beneficial and viable” impact on their family.

“The way we see it, if you’re willing to work hard and strive to excel at something, and if it’s something you love, then even better,” Howard said. “Whatever it is the kids choose to do, as long as they work hard to do it, we’re there to support them.”

Howard’s niece Lexi Lyon is a BYU art department graduate. She said Howard’s success in following his dreams has inspired her to follow her own dreams as an artist, musician and pastry chef.

“If he hadn’t done art and been successful at it, my parents wouldn’t have been cool with me doing art,” Lexi said. “I was frightened of it too, but after hanging out at the studio every day, I can see this is fine. This is totally a job.”

Shari said the family has always felt blessed with successes regardless of the challenges they have faced.

“We’ve had such distinct circumstances in our lives that were only brought on because of following that still, small voice,” Shari said. “It’s always been situations that are scary and hard, but we go into it with faith. Then we see the blessings roll in.”