Lighting Up the Circuit Boards


Nerd alert: the following post is about drawing/painting pictures with hobbits, wizards and dragons. Thus, I dig it.

Justin Gerard, probably my favorite illustrator, joined in this discussion with several visual artists about the ways each of these works sizzle their creative juices differently. As a reader and writer, I like Lord of the Rings better, but I’ve never wondered which would be a deeper visual well. Justin’s answer is insightful.

If you’re like me, pictures like this tickle the story muscle in your brain. Few things make me feel boyish like a well-drawn picture from an adventure story. It makes me want to pack my things and hit the hobbit-trail.justingerardgorbagg05_e

Nobody’s ever asked me about it, but the bridge of the song “Little Boy Heart Alive” is a true story:

I met a kid at the railroad tracks
He had a stick and a nylon sack
I ran to the house to pack
I wanted to follow

Down at the tracks near my house I saw this teenager with a walking stick and a bag slung over a shoulder. I was fascinated. It was like he had stepped out of a storybook and onto my street.
I don’t remember much of our short conversation, but I remember him telling me vaguely that he was “just walking”, and he gestured down the track. He was a little bit dirty, but he seemed happy, even without an Atari 2600. I rode my bike home thinking I’d throw a few clean pairs of undies in a book bag and slip into the viny Florida wilderness. When I got back, the boy was gone.

But I’ve never forgotten that kid, nor the trembly feeling I had while I pedaled to the tracks with my bag of Underoos (Captain America, if you’re wondering). The Brandybuck in me was wide awake and kicking, and to tell the truth he’s never stopped. I couldn’t be happier about being a dad and a husband. The romance of the open road has lost much of its power over me, and I have come to learn that there’s just as much (if not more) adventure in staying put. Each human I interact with is a universe of mystery, and my wife and children are often God’s clearest voice in my life.

The pictures Justin paints nudge the sleeping boy awake. The stories Tolkien and Rawlings and Enger and Lewis wrote knock on the door and swing it open. Art is a kind of daybreak. It wakes me up and reminds me of the Kingdom at hand and the battle worth fighting.

I digress. The reason I’m linking this post is that these artists work hard to capture some of that waking wonder. And for me, it works. I nerd out reading about their approaches to creativity, story, and the things that light up their circuit boards.

Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.


  1. Susan

    Little Boy Heart Alive is one of my favourite songs. It reminds me of my boys who still have hearts full of ‘wonder’ and heads crammed with wild imagination.

    I have always wondered what the context of the bridge was and had actually been thinking about it over the weekend! I concluded the ‘boy’ must be a character from a book, and that you wanted to ‘step into the book’ with him. Clearly, it was the other way around..he was the one stepping out of a book! I love memories like that, that hearken back to the ‘Heart Alive’ feeling.


  2. Laura Peterson

    Just spent 15 minutes (at work) poking around the Portland Studios website. 🙂 Oops. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  3. kelli

    i actually found out about Justin a few years ago after poking around on Cory Godbey’s blog (who is currently my favorite illustrator and whose art adorns our walls). both artists have such a gift of drawing us into their work and making us part of it.

    true art always calls us to worship…for it ultimately gives us a deeper glimpse of the Maker and evokes our longing for Him.

    thanks for bringing more awareness to these illustrators!

  4. Lanier Ivester

    Andrew, the first time that my husband heard the bridge of ‘Little Boy Heart Alive’ he was like, “Did that really happen?” There is such spirit and life in your music that you manage to sweep your listeners right into the very heart of your story. Thank you for taking us along for the ride.
    Many of my ‘circuit board’ moments result from music: a deep chord that strikes and reverberates in a place where even words may not reach. To this day I cannot hear Mozart’s 40th without being overcome with the joy of being alive and in Christ…

  5. DrewP

    Andrew, I met you at your concert back in May at the Cove in Asheville and I was struck at your writing. I appreciate so much your ability to bring the feelings I had as a child back to my mind. “Little Boy Heart Alive” is a perfect example of this. Just wanted to say thanks, can’t wait for the new record!

  6. DrewP

    Andrew, I met you at your concert at the Cove in Asheville, NC and just wanted to write and say thank you for writing songs that make me remember how I felt as a kid. “Little Boy Heart Alive” is a perfect example. Again, just a quick thank you!! Looking forward to the new record!
    Drew Petrey

  7. Karisa

    The bridge of “Little Boy Heart Alive” is one of my all-time favorite AP lyrics; thanks for the story behind the story, Captain America and all.

    Your ruminations put me in mind of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s stirring poem, “Travel”. (Could one of you musician-people put that to music, please? Something slow and haunting, with a cello.)

  8. Leanore

    Andrew, my eyes nearly popped out when I saw the shout-out to one of our local artists! I am married to another one of the local artists and know quite a few more. (Leanore is not my real name; its just a fantasy name…)

    Justin Gerard and Corey Godbey have a shadowy, dream-like fantasy style; some of the other artists have bolder styles, as does my husband. Most of them are doing un-fantastical commercial work to support their families, but they love God; they live in their fantasy heads populated by dragons, monsters, and aliens; and their little boy hearts are still very much alive. Every last one of them, even the one who’s in his eightieth decade.

  9. Leanore

    Good point, Pete – you may be right. 🙂 That artist (who is not my husband) has a long list of credits and is still doing quite a bit of fantasy art. He’s one of those with a bolder style, rich color, and a lot of high-tech renderings instead of a medieval feel like Gerard and Godbey.

  10. Dan Foster

    I finally saw “Up” this weekend and this post reminded me of the climactic scene, which brought me to tears (and even more when recounting it later), in which we are reminded that the faithful married life is indeed a wonderful adventure which doesn’t need to be topped by some fantasy.

    But sometimes there’s other adventures to take too.

  11. Matt

    Are you implying that I would be happier without my atari 2600? I’m not sure I can imagine a world without frogger and pitfall . . .

  12. Jaclyn

    I hit the rainy hobbit trail on foot today to pick up lunch. My sandals and fuscia umbrella took a beating, but the warm chili was so worth it. It’s comforting to know there are little local adventures to be had without having to pack underwear.

    Can’t wait to look at more of Justin’s artwork when I get home where the website’s not blocked!

  13. Canaan Bound

    Matt, Frogger is my forte and Pacman, as well. And I’m amazed that you played Pitfall, as well. My friends didn’t own that game. Sheesh. All this talk makes me want to go dust off that Atari and give it a go.

  14. Canaan Bound

    All this gushing over Andrew Peterson reminds me of a post of mine from long ago…

    You’ve heard it said, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But a picture in my mind’s eye makes 1000 words worth reading. And that is the gift of God through the art of Andrew Peterson. In lyric, in prose, and in fiction, his words have the power to conjure up such strikingly vivid images of the sweet, the sentimental, and ultimately, the spiritual…It is truly a gift.

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.