Today I'd like you to meet artist and author Deryn van der Tang. I first 'met' Deryn through the Facebook group Christian Writers of Southern Africa (CWOSA), of which we are both members. Deryn signed up to contribute to last year's writing project In All Things, for which she shared seven devotions about the beautiful landscapes of southern Africa where she has grown up and travelled extensively.
Deryn and I found we had much in common and have maintained close contact ever since. Most recently I approached her for her artistic talents, asking if she could create some artwork for some postcards I wanted to accompany my historical novel Given Lives. With only a couple of photos and a vague idea from my side, Deryn came up with two stunning designs.
So, without wasting any more time, let's get on and chat to Deryn!
Hi Deryn. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background
Hi Anna, thank you so much for inviting me into your parlor for a chat. I grew up in Rhodesia, a former British colony, just after WW2. I come from pioneering stock who had already immigrated from England with the 1820 Settlers. Our family history was always important to us, and I inherited the pioneering genes. I started my career as a Geological Cartographer at the Geological Survey and loved it. My career spanned 56 years progressing through Exploration geological cartography, housing management and eventually retirement living management. I have moved through three countries and am now on my fourth!
You started out as an artist. How come you decided to start writing?
I have done a bit of both for most of my life. I loved literature when I was at school, and my grandfather encouraged me to submit letters to the newspaper. In fact, he was the one who said to me that I will be a writer one day, he also taught me to write poetry. I had my first published letter at about nine years old, for which I was paid 5/- and won the Class award for my Anthology of poetry. I was also entering the Annual Eisteddfods with my artwork, for which I also won awards. I took a break from writing and art during the years I was raising my three children. After I left Rhodesia and was living in Johannesburg, I was writing the newsletter for my local church Singles Group. Later, living in Cape Town, I was editor for my church’s Mission’s Messenger. As part of my duties in my company in Cape Town, I had to illustrate technical Reports and learn a bit of DTP. I started writing in earnest while I was working in the UK as I knew that I would need to do something in my retirement. I did the Writer’s Bureau Course and joined the local Writer’s Circle and the local Sketching Group. I also contributed articles and did reviews for my employer’s Quarterly magazine. I made lovely friends during this time in my ‘tribe’ – the creatives!
Tell us about the first book you have published. How did you come to write it? What do you hope people will gain from reading it?
The first three published books I was featured in were anthologies, so I was one of several contributors. I was invited to contribute to “In All Things” Anthology. Some of these devotions I had already written for the Tuesday morning meetings at the Retirement Home I was running, as there were several ex- African missionaries who lived there. My
section “Sunrise to Sunset” I republished as a separate book of Devotions based on the landscapes of Southern Africa. I was able to expand and write some others to fit the theme, as it was also a good way to showcase my land of birth during a trip I had made with my son’s family from Finland. My greatest desire for people reading it is to be able to connect with God wherever they are, it does not have to be in a church or meeting place, it can be in a landscape somewhere. I am quite passionate about God speaking through nature.
You have recently published a book of devotions from Psalm 139. Tell us about it.
My first solo book was “Who am I? What has God got to do with it? Does it matter?” This started out as drawings! I was visiting my daughter in Australia at the time Flight MH370 went missing, as well as another Malaysian aircraft crashing. At that point I did not want to ever fly by air again, but as I had to go back to work in the UK that was not an option. I then drew a picture of the airplane flying into a storm with God’s hand beneath it, quoting Psalm 139 vs8. I visualized that all the time I was flying back to the UK, that drawing then set off several more drawings depicting verses from Psalm 139. When I was asked to lead a Bible Study Group in Psalm 139, I used my illustrations as well as the text. My group encouraged me to do the rest of the drawings. While I was in lock down in Australia last year I decided I would write as well as finish the drawings, and so my book took shape. My greatest hope that people will gain from this book, is that they will know they are uniquely created by God. Who they are, where they were born and the times, they are living in were all set by His hand. When we fully embrace who God is and who we are, it makes navigating the complexities of this life so much easier. I am hoping that it will grow the reader’s faith in a good God who has planned their lives for joy and fulfillment and His ultimate glory.
Click on the image and get your copy of Who Am I? by Deryn
How have you found the transition from artist to writer? Are the creative processes very different?
I have had to transition to writing mainly because of my circumstances. I do not have the room for a studio where I am living right now, so really it was just pivoting my creativity into the space and season I am in. I still enjoy sketching and participating in artistic opportunities when I get them. My Gallery Amazing Gaze is online now, and I use sites like Art of America to promote my work instead of exhibiting. I think the creative process is pretty much the same. I love the contemplative life and prayer, and it is though meditating and looking at nature, I am inspired. Verses from the Bible may come to me with pictures and so it is very much a similar process for both, just finding the structure and focal point on which to concentrate and bring the message through, which is really about God’s goodness, in whatever form I find it. I try to help people connect with their Creator through art and nature, be it a painting, poem or story. I try to help them navigate through life’s different landscapes knowing that their Creator is with them.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to do something similar?
Finding out who God created you to be, is probably the starting point. What is your gifting and your greatest desire? He will help you forge the pathway. Be prepared for a lot of hard work and research. Join like minded people on the journey, you will really learn from them., you will see your strengths and weaknesses, and know where to grow more. Trusting God with your design, and letting Him mold you into your unique place, takes all need for competition and striving out of the equation, allowing your gifts to thrive in the place you were set.
What projects are you currently working on – both art and writing?
I am currently working on some sketches of the Southwest of America, after a recent visit. I love this rugged landscape. At the same time I have written a blog on the same landscape How deep are the Canyons of your Mind? This is an indication of how I use both art and writing on the same subject! I have several books I am currently working on. I want to complete a workbook that I have had going for some time. I started off with drawing a map –Hero’s Journey Through Transitions (going back to my career of cartographer) I developed a course to go with it, but really want to turn it into a Self-Help workbook so people can buy it and work though at their own pace. I am also working on a Memoir and some other Family History Stories. On the horizon is also a book about the Challenges of Immigrating. But I am pacing myself according to my season of life. I need to have fun and smell the roses along the way too!