Dabbling in the office of dreams

Andrew Fendrich | South Africa

OM Africa Area Graphic Designer Todd Overbeek has recently added a new skill to his missions repertoire: digital watercolor ducks.

When he and his wife, Meredith, moved from the United States to South Africa, Todd couldn’t have predicted where his role with OM would take him—especially since, at the time, the communications office already had a graphic designer, limiting Todd’s work to Web design. But as he now reflects on the progression of his time with OM, he understands that the ever-changing nature of media development means nearly limitless possibilities.

For example, ducks.

This year, the OM Africa media team’s Reading Holiday Club—a ministry designed to reach children in poverty through literacy education—reached out to Meredith, who has experience in creative writing, for a picture book project. Todd was called upon as an illustrator.

“I was always an artist, even from a very young age,” Todd says; but he decided at university that the “starving artist” life wasn’t for him, and he chose to study graphic design instead.

After university, engaged to be married and planning to begin a career, Todd began studying theology, intending to leave art for full-time ministry. While considering ways he could combine his skills and church-life, Todd talked with Meredith about the possibility of missions work.

“It’s not wrong to use graphic design skills to earn a salary and contribute to society and support your family, but I still had a desire to use it in a more direct way to help grow the church,” he says. “I didn’t really understand what that meant at the time, but I told my [fiancée], ‘I can’t get away from that thought.’”

His time with OM has allowed him the opportunity to make that connection, whether through web design, or now as OM Africa Area’s full-time graphic designer. He has completely rebuilt the OM Africa and South Africa websites; and in 2016, the media team produced their first animation project—a video promoting OM’s ministry to HIV/AIDS victims. The team has also experimented with app development.

“One of the things that makes this particular role fun and interesting is that it changes a lot,” Todd says. “I still do all the web stuff, so the future is more of the same, but also a lot of new projects.”

Along with the new projects come new creative challenges, as well. Todd had never done watercolor painting before, but as he began to research children’s books for the Reading Holiday Club project, it stood out to him as the best option. To take it a step further, he decided to create all his watercolor illustrations digitally on a tablet.

“This is the way this sort of job works: you get an idea, and it sounds great, and you have everything in place,” he says. “And then you come to, ‘Now, how do I pull this off?’”

Though he had experience with digital painting, he found the task of illustrating ducks daunting at first; in addition to researching everything he could about the types of ducks African children would recognise, he had to get creative with the ways he portrayed them in the book.

“I had to draw ducks that can talk and express various emotions like crying and joy and praying,” he says. “I mean, how do you illustrate a duck praying?”

Now completed, the picture book represents the kind of creative projects the OM Africa Area media team wants to pursue—all with the underlying purpose of building God’s kingdom.

“I look at what we do in a three-fold way: I want my work to inspire people to glorify God—and we do that through the stories we share; we’re also providing a way for people to pray more specifically into others’ lives; and finally, for people to get involved,” Todd says. “I don’t want to put any limits on what communication can do, whether it’s the web, or an image or a song.”

And while he may be done with all things duck-related, Todd is open to whatever the future holds.

“It’s just part of the job here in the communications office. I’m having a lot of fun, and now I can say I know a lot more about ducks than ever before.”

Published: Tuesday, 27 June 2017
Credit: Andrew Fendrich
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