Nathan Hackett Illustrator Interview

Nathan Hackett

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Can you recall the first time you realized you were going to be an illustrator? What were your earliest impressions?
It was inevitable because I am obsessive and have a compulsion to draw.
If I were a more practical thinker, I would have known sooner. I have always preferred abstraction. Restlessness, and perhaps scattered thinking, made this visual language appeal to me early on. It was not a calculation, knowingly becoming an illustrator. If I had consulted my logical self, I would have chosen an easier profession.
I was very lucky knowing early on that I was hard-wired to be an illustrator. When I was young, I drew naked people because I thought that was what illustrators do. My mother found my sketchbooks and I waited nervously for a judgement of biblical proportion but she was fine with what I’d drawn.
When I was ten, my teacher caught me doodling in math class. He stopped the lesson in order to show the whole class. The teacher told us about a drummer he knew who was also an illustrator. I decided I wanted to be a drummer and an illustrator after that.
I remember being told my work was good. My work must have needed improvement which is probably the reason I carried on.

Who or what influenced your art when you were young?
Urban landscapes influenced me; that, and my fascination with looking up. I enjoyed film noir for its disorientating compositions, uncompromising treatment of light, and visual impact.
Comic books were a big influence too and they led me to books. I write almost as much as I draw. Illustration, for me, is an interpretation of text; an elaboration on meaning. I was a carnivorous reader. I think reading Georges Perec and his philosophical approach to writing was a huge influence.
I’m a fan of comedy. I think an unexpected turn of phrase or an absurd flip helps develop what I call, illustrative thinking.
There are things that deserve credit for shaping my tastes. Terry Gilliam and his graphic fluency comes to mind. Similarly, old cinema, and any photographic trickery appeal to me. I had a book of Bosch paintings; I remember my dentist had M.C. Escher prints pasted on his ceiling. That impressed me.

Do you remember what your first artwork looked like? Do you still have it?
No. I’m sure my parents didn’t keep it either. There were too many drawings and not enough refrigerators in my house.

Why did you choose illustration as your life’s work instead of, for example, filmmaking, law, or even medicine?
I wanted a profession that would excite me every day. Illustration can be difficult. My passion stems in part from frustration. I guess, I enjoy the torture. I have a drive to be better and an aversion to being content with what I create. It’s fuel for a lifetime and enough to power galaxies. I get excited by ideas, creative solutions, and visual language. I guess that makes me kind of a cliché.

Did you study art in school?
I took an art foundation after college. I studied illustration at the University of Bournemouth in the south of England.
At the arts institute, it was great to belong to a broader community of creative individuals from so many disciplines. I was given the freedom and resources to develop and study a theory on the use of satire in postmodern illustration. That course of study allowed me to explore a fascination with urban psychology and helped shape my outlook on illustration.

Where does your inspiration come from; your impulse to make art? Do you have a source for your ideas?
Just absorbing and filtering what’s around me is my source. Ideas come when I put pen to paper. Before I start an illustration, I exhaust every idea by writing notes, drawing diagrams, and creating visual cues before choosing the best of my ideas.
I really enjoy a puzzle. You have to be investigative to deduce a solution concisely. Then, know the thrust and function of an idea by creating a thumbnail. When I draw a larger draft, the drawing is still quite loose. I continue to improvise until the very end.
Most often there is a phrase in the news or on the radio that I scribble down. I think reading George Orwell and Bill Watterson made me want to be earnest about content. They provided inspiration and the impulse to create.

How would you describe the process of creating art?
Drawing is about balancing two opposing ways of thinking: knowing when to be cold and analytical and when to be unrestricted and a little flighty.
First, I drink a cup of coffee because I know there is a blank page in front of me. After the first sip, I feel a little more reckless and put pen to paper. I start to enjoy myself, but there is still self-doubt. Somewhere along the way, I stop wrestling, flailing, and pleading. Doggedly, I get to the end only to regret everything. Rinse and repeat.

Do you have a favorite illustrator? What is it about that illustrator’s work you like?
I think there is a lot to be admired about working illustrators today. I like an illustrator for being different more than anything else.
Chris Ware, Will Eisner, Frans Masereel, and Winsor McCay are my favorite cartoonists because they have an absolute command of visual storytelling.

If you could do something else, other than creating art, what would it be?
I like to talk and sell ideas so I think I would enjoy teaching. Or I’d tell jokes, or be the person who creates crossword puzzles for a newspaper.
Sitting at my desk for so many hours, I sometimes forget the conventions of normal conversation and end up overcompensating with my poor postman who is less than enthusiastic about my chatter.

Do you remember your first set of paints, pens, or markers?
I’ve bent pen nibs, eroded pencils, and used desert dry pens. I’m too sentimental to throw them away. Soldiers deserve an easy retirement after all that hard work. I still have my first ink pen in my pencil case which was given to me by my grandfather. I think that pen is lucky but that’s how luck works. You just decide if something is lucky or isn’t.

Do you have a favorite illustrator supply, a favorite method, or favorite location, where you like to create artwork?
When drawing for illustration, I prefer monochromatic marks, scanned in, then digitally manipulated and collaged together on screen. I like mechanical pencils for architectural drawings. I prefer softer graphite for darker marks. I use a Pentel brush pen for quick studies when I am away from my desk.
I keep two sketchbooks at a time. One, for sketches from direct observation just to keep in shape, and the other for ideas. That sketchbook is a hybrid of writing and sketches.

If you could give a viewer clues to understanding your art, what would you say?
There is normally a narrative and the visual clues are signifiers. I can be very subtle. The game requires a viewer to unpack an image. I use unnatural scale and paradox as tools to project a theme.

Do you think illustration has the eye of the public or could public awareness of this field be improved upon?
I think illustration has the eye of the public because it’s so ubiquitous today, although the public are only passive consumers. Utilizing illustration properly enhances meaning and inspires dialogue.
If you are an illustrator, you’re probably more aware of illustration than the average person. Illustration should look outward. To improve awareness, it’s the duty of an illustrator to be more aware of the public.

Why does art matter to you? Why might it matter to the world?
I don’t think art needs to justify itself. I feel I have achieved something when I finish an image. It matters that I belong to a discipline in art that is striving to engage and interact. Illustration is an honest medium and I am a proud advocate of it.
Art isn’t ordinary and it’s the color we need in an otherwise beige existence. Theoretically, I think art exists to stimulate. Cultural value is what gives the world an identity, worth, and life. Without art, we would see the death of progress. It is an unstoppable force. Art exists and is unapologetic for it.

If you could look back or forward a hundred years, do you think the life of an illustrator was or will be better than today?
The sci-fi fan in me wants to invent a wild prediction for the future. There is a risk I’ll go off on a tangent.
Broadly, the conversation changes and language can be reinvented or cast aside, but in the grander narrative, art was, is, and will continue to be discussed. When the world changes, so does art. We’ll keep prattling on. Life can change, it can get harder but art is unflinching in its lack of compromise.