Story by Stephanie Reyes; Photos by Alyson Perkins
Like bright lights that attract bugs at night, Greg Lewallen’s eyes shine when he talks about drawing and collecting insects. He can spend hours talking about the many exciting and memorable trips around the world he’s taken to get a specific bug.
Lewallen’s bug story started as early as his first grade class, when he became known as the “kid who could draw.”
“I remember at the end of the year before summer vacation, the teacher was just trying to find ways to keep us occ
upied, and so I drew,” Lewallen said. “For the last two days, I drew 21 pictures to give to all the students in my class of a tyrannosaurus rex fighting a stegosaurus with a volcano erupting in the background.”
Lewallen began collecting insects at the young age of five.
“I cried the first time I killed a bug to put in my collection because I didn’t want to kill it, but I knew if I wanted to keep it, I had to kill it,” Lewallen said.
After discovering his two passions early in life, Lewallen’s career path took quite a different turn while pursuing his undergraduate degree from Baylor University. He started out as a music major, but realized that he wasn’t a very good pianist and didn’t love playing. One day, after Lewallen neglected to practice once again, his piano instructor asked him what he liked to do. Lewallen replied: “I draw.” It was that conversation that changed his college career because, the following semester, Lewallen switched from music to drawing and painting.
When Lewallen got his undergraduate degree, he didn’t immediately get a job as an artist. Instead, he worked for 18 years at a construction equipment dealership in the parts department. It was during this time that Lewallen rediscovered his love for art.
“[My job] had nothing to do with art. It was crunching numbers and selling parts and I hated it,” Lewallen said. “It was a job and it provided a living, but it wasn’t the passion God gave me.”
Lewallen remembered sitting in a movie theater watching “Chariots of Fire” and hearing a line that truly resonated with him.
“[Eric Liddell] said, ‘God made me for a purpose, Jenny, but he also made me fast and when I run I feel God’s pleasure.’ Those words, to me, exactly describe how I feel when I’m drawing,” Lewallen said. “It’s like I’m doing exactly what God made me to do and that’s motivation to draw.”
Throughout his life, Lewallen remembers countless times working on a sketch at his drawing table when hours would pass without him knowing.
“I may draw till three or four o’clock in the morning before I even look up for a breath and then I realize, ‘Oh, my gosh! It’s four o’clock, and I go to work in a couple of hours,’” Lewallen said.
While drawing is a major part of his life, Lewallen also likes to spend his free time insect collecting. He’ll plan trips across the world just to get a handful of particular species he wants. These collecting trips will often require a lot of specific research on the bug such as location, the plants with which they’re associated and when the bugs are “on the wing:” a term often used by bug collectors, referring to the adult form of the flying insect in its natural habitat.
“In 2001, I spent a whole year researching a beetle from South America called Titanis giganteus and it’s considered to be the largest insect in the world by body mass,” Lewallen said. “We planned that whole trip around this one beetle, but we caught thousands and hundreds of species of stuff we’d never seen before.”
After collecting the insects in the wild, Lewallen carefully exterminates them in order to keep them in pristine condition for drawing. The artist said he most enjoys drawing moths, grasshoppers and beetles.
“I look at them, but I can’t look at the bug without associating the story that goes along with it,” Lewallen said.
Ironically, the drawing of which Lewallen is most proud is of a façade of the Alamo with a seashell floating in the center. He spent approximately 160 hours stippling (a technique that incorporates many tiny ink dots to form a image) in order to prepare the drawing for his first faculty showing at Baylor. Lewallen used 24 Micron .005 pens, which make the smallest stippling dots, to achieve the look he desired.
“I’m proud of it because I did it, poured myself into it and it was successful,”Lewallen said.
Lewallen has been an artist for quite some time, but he didn’t get the opportunity to have an art showing until last November at the Art Center of Waco. He said growing up in Waco, many people knew he was an artist, but very few have actually seen his artwork.
“It was awesome. I was blown away that people would take their Friday night off and come look at my artwork,” Lewallen said.
One of the pieces on display at Lewallen’s show was a drawing of a moth with words in the background telling the story of how he caught it. He was amazed that people actually took the time to stop and read the entire story of the moth.
“They actually stand there in front of my artwork and spend fifteen, twenty minutes trying to read my handwriting,” Lewallen said. “That’s an artist’s dream, to try and capture somebody.”
Lewallen wants people to look at his drawings and know that he finds joy in the work God has done in his own life and in the natural world.
“One of the things I’ve begun doing along with telling the tale of where I caught the bug and how I caught the bug is opening up my soul a little bit to expressing my personal faith,” Lewallen said. “It just amazes me that [God] would use me.”