George Whitefield- The Commissioning of an Oil Painting

The Story of Making a Book Unique

The publishing world is always interesting, but this last book on George Whitefield was especially interesting. It was definitely a lot of work, but rewarding, I must say. Many of you know I am a publisher as well as an author. I have an interesting publishing story to tell, so bear with me as  I veer from my normal posts on children.

This book was different in many ways from our more typical children’s books. But one difference was how the cover came about. This was a first. Never before he had I commissioned an oil painting for the cover of a book. We originally acquired this book because it had been in the hands of another publisher who was unable to complete the publication.

margo's whitefield 2_2 Before I continue, let me tell you a little bit about the book so you understand my concerns. This book is a complete biographical work on the life and ministry of George Whitefield, by Dan Nelson. Some of you may know who Whitefield is and some may have never heard of him, but you have all seen the effects of his ministry as some have referred to him as the father of evangelism. He was born in Gloucester, England and lived in the 1700s, about the time of John Wesley. Despite having an unusual eye that was dark and partially closed and a very atypical upbringing, his ministry was widespread with a reach throughout Great Britain and North America.

George Whitefield’s story is quite engaging. Even getting into college at Oxford was not the typical admission. He was the victim of ridicule, yet he ended up being one of the great communicators of all time. This is why we wanted to communicate carefully from the time the reader first laid eyes on the cover.

But back to our main topic of this blog, how we commissioned the painting on the cover. Did you ever wonder where the images on book covers and other designed pieces come from? They are usually purchased from companies that sell royalty-free images. Different companies may have different requirements for the use of these images, but it is definitely illegal to take an image off of the Internet and use it for a book cover because someone owns that image (unless it is old enough to be in public domain.) The owner is usually the person who created it.

I usually don’t design the covers for the LifeSong books, but I decided to design this one.

Because Whitefield lived in the 1700s, there are no current pictures of him, but there are many portraits and drawings from his time. Now, if you are familiar with copyright law, you know that a painting from the 1700s is in public domain. That means the copyright has expired and it is free to be used. So we settled on a delightful painting that seems to portray what we wanted for the cover of this great work and appeared to be a portrait from the 1700s.

Working on George WhitefieldThe book was ready to go to print. All seemed well, but one night this was gnawing on my mind and keeping me awake. The problem was that I had not been able to locate where this painting came from or who painted it. Of course, this concerned me because I knew I did not want to break copyright law. One evening, I sat at my quiet kitchen table and searched for close to three hours for this image. It was all over the Internet, but no reference as to where it came from.

Then Voila! The whereabouts of the George Whitefield painting and artist’s name popped up. It was located in the John Wesley Museum in London. In one sense, I felt relieved that it actually was an old painting, but in another sense, I was concerned because the museum declared ownership and there would be a fee to use the painting. I emailed the museum and never heard back from them. It is possible that if I had used the painting on the cover, no one would have cared. But I didn’t feel right about it. Plus, there are so many overused pictures of this man, the cover wouldn’t seem unique.

So, I shared this situation with my husband, Tim, and he asked me, “Why you get somebody to paint it?” I said, “Yeah, right! Like I know a museum artist that could paint a portrait like this?” Then I thought for a minute. I have a friend who was taking a portrait class and I had seen a sketch of hers and I was totally amazed at her ability to capture the emotion of the subject. The more I thought about this the more I got excited about the potential!

The next day I called Margo Ewing, and explained the situation to her and that I needed a painting of George Whitefield. After thinking about it, she got back to me the following day and said she would try, but reserved the right to not let it be used if she didn’t think it turned out well. I said, “Sounds like a deal.” So we settled on a price and she began to paint.

Every week she sent me the progress and I continued to get more excited each week. She did not copy the picture that I originally showed her but rather took attributes of his from several pictures. She was even able to put a candle in the picture which was meaningful since the title of the book is A Burning and Shining Light: the Testimony and Witness of George Whitefield.

Everyone who has seen the book cover has loved it, and it is great fun to have an original, commissioned oil painting that was turned into the cover of the book– a book that does not have a front cover picture that is in public domain. And, I am delighted to have designed a cover about such a man of purpose.

George Whitefield coverThe book has been out less than a month so this is all very recent. If you are interested seeing the cover enlarged, you can check it out at

We have discounted the books 20% which will be available for a while longer. But you can find them many other places as well.

A publisher’s life is never dull! Especially when you’re dealing with interesting authors and interesting book characters! And you never know what God will lay in your lap and see you through!


Laurie Donahue is an author and speaker who lives in Southern California. She has written or co-written 6 books for children and teens, including the bestseller, "God Should I Be Baptized?" She holds a California Community College Teaching Credential. Laurie's website is

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