Jonah and the Whale by Doug E. L. Haynes

The process of creating the design for this woodcut began with the dimensions. I had a block of wood 28” x 60” (71cm x 152cm) and so I set out to draw an image that would fill that size. When I contemplated the subject of Jonah, I was tempted to include as many parts of the story as would fit on the block. I tried sketches that included Nineveh and Jonah being tossed off the boat. The story of Jonah includes a worm appointed by God to rebuke Jonah, so I tried adding that. As I evaluated all these sketches they seemed overly complex. So I distilled it down to what you see here: a storm, a boat and Jonah in the whale.

I was attracted to create this image of Jonah in the whale because like many other bible passages it permits the artist to depict nature in its fiercest state. As someone who has illustrated hundreds of bible passages, I have found numerous passages where wind, fire, or water play a central role. Frequently the wind, fire, or water are used to show the helplessness of humans before God’s power. Modern humans would like to believe that they are a dominant species on the planet and can place everything under their control. Within the bible the power of nature is an instrument of God that overwhelms human power over and over. The flood of Noah in Genesis is one example. In that story the rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights in such a deluge that only Noah who had been guided by God could withstand it. In current times we think we can tame nature, but as global climate change shows our control of nature continues to be illusory.

Jonah has been avoiding the call of God which he sees as burdensome, but now that he is in the belly of the whale he has realized that God cannot be avoided. Jonah’s predicament is moving. Few of us can claim to have been swallowed by whales, but the trouble we find ourselves in often mirrors the helplessness of Jonah’s state. Life can feel like a wild roller coaster ride with no way to get off. Like Jonah, Much of the drama in our lives is something we have created ourselves. Jonah could have responded to God’s call to speak out about the sinfulness of Nineveh. Instead Jonah takes steps to avoid it. As the text says, “He was fleeing from the presence of the Lord.”

We can find parallels in our behavior and Jonah’s. If we try to avoid our call we may not have as dramatic an experience as Jonah, but the pull to be who we are called to be can be just as strong. When I was in college, I often felt pressure to turn away from majoring in art as it would not have the income potential of other majors. These external voices had good intentions, but there were deep invisible forces that pulled me to who I was meant to be. Each time I would turn away from that call, I felt an emptiness opening up in my heart. In a similar way, when I followed the inner voice calling me to create art, I felt validated and affirmed even when it was difficult.

I printed this image of Jonah and the Whale at a printmaker’s gathering over the course of three stormy days. At night I slept in a small tent on the shores of an enormous lake. In the day other printmakers and I worked quickly to finish before the arrival of the storm. As we worked our printing paper was blown by powerful gusts of wind. Each night my tent was flooded by rain and raided by mosquitoes. Rather than feeling deterred by these obstacles I felt as if I was being reminded of the reason I had come. I was creating a print to remind people of the power of God even as I tasted a small measure of that power myself.

Doug Haynes is an artist living in Madison Wisconsin. He has been illustrating bible passages since 2008 and has completed over 600 pen and ink drawings in that genre. His work can be found at and

Works by Doug E. L. Haynes