Spotlight: David Owen Hastings, Graphic Designer and Fine Artist
Growing up in a household full of creatives, David Owen Hastings learned to sew on his grandmother’s 1950’s Singer – but David made clothes for his GI Joe platoon. His ever-evolving portfolio combines print, collage, photography and stitch.
Tell us a bit about you and what you do.
I create organic abstractions, inspired by nature and the elements, working primarily with print and collage techniques. Although lately, I’ve become entranced by the world of quilting: both modern quilting, and art quilts. This kind of makes sense, as I have stitched my paper-based artwork for more than 20 years now. I guess I’m becoming more “traditional” by working with fabric, in addition to paper.
Were you a creative kid? What is the first piece of art you remember creating?
I have created things my whole life, and have always had a love of textiles, sewing and knitting. I learned how to knit in grade school, and haven’t stopped. My grandma taught me to use our 1950’s Singer sewing machine so I could make clothes for my G.I. Joes. I still have that same Singer, and it’s my go-to machine for stitching my paper-based artwork. I was also fascinated by puppetry and built a number of marionettes and a stage for them to perform in. In high school, I made a puppet inspired by Japanese Bunraku theatre, as a special art project.
I believe the first drawing I ever sold was when I was in grade school — we had a substitute art teacher (yes, we had art teachers in the late 1960s), and she loved a drawing I did of a roly-poly boy with snake-like arms. I can still picture the Crayola colors in his striped shirt.
My dad was a psychiatrist, but also had a passion for photographing steam trains. We had a darkroom in our basement, so he could develop and print his own photographs. I learned photography with a view camera, and used the darkroom to make my own prints. My sister has been a life-long artist, and she has been a constant inspiration, especially when it comes to working with textiles. One brother is an actor, and another brother is also a visual artist. My third brother has made some amazing furniture. It was pretty special, growing up in a household where making art was definitely OK.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?
I love nature and how weather creates beautiful patinas in all kinds of surfaces. I’ve also had a life-long affinity for Japanese art and culture. The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, or beauty in impermanence, seems to be ingrained in my brain from birth. Another big love of mine since childhood is science, especially microbiology and unicellular creatures. The imperfectly rounded shapes you see in my artwork are definitely inspired by critters I saw when looking a pond water through a microscope, back in grade school. One of the overarching concepts I try to instill into my work is a sense of peace: I want the viewer to take a minute to slow down, breathe, and just be.
How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the art you produce? Do you visualize a completed piece before you begin, or does it evolve as you add layers?
My approach to making a piece is usually very intuitive. Sometimes I will make a tiny, rudimentary sketch to divide up the space. Or, in some occasions I make a maquette — a term I borrow from sculptors. It means that I basically make a tiny version of the piece, to work out my ideas. But most of the time, I have an idea of color, pattern or texture, and run with it… see where it takes me.
Technique(s)? What do you do differently? What is your signature?
For my paper-based artwork, I work primarily with monotype printing and various collage techniques. Many years ago, I started to have some health issues from being around the solvents used with printing inks, so I developed a way of working with water-based acrylics exclusively. Now my studio is totally water-based, with almost no waste generated (except a small amount of dirty water). The water-based monotypes, plus stitching my work, are probably what set me apart. I also mix in my own photographs, printed on archival paper. The mix of textures, depth, opacity vs. translucency, and hard vs. soft are all players in my visual work.
Has stitch always been a part of your work? What does it add to works on paper?
I almost always stitch my paper during the collage process — I love the little regular lines created by stitching. Stitching is also very immediate: no waiting for glue to dry. The stitching has both a structural function as well as adding a linear element that I like.
Now that I’m working more and more with quilting and fabrics, I’m exploring ways to bring my art approach to the table. I’ve played with monoprinting and block printing on fabric, and also mixing in some photographic imagery through fabric that is digitally printable. I have also done some indigo dyeing, and am traveling to Japan for a shibori workshop. I have so many ideas, and am trying to maintain my signature look as I traverse the mediums.
Many of your pieces begin with a photograph. What do you look for in subjects to photograph?
Pattern. Texture. Structure. Decay. Patina. Color. Shadow. Light. These are all themes in the images I photograph, and they often make their way into my work, either as little elements or big star players. I also love to travel, especially in Asia, so photographing elements of other cultures inspires my work and color choices.
Do you digitally manipulate your images? How does that enhance your work?
Not very much. Like so many people, I work at a computer in my “day job” — I do graphic design and branding for nonprofit organizations. When I make my art, I like to unplug as much as possible. But I do sometimes enhance contrast or create more abstract images from the things I photograph, before using them in my artwork.
Explain the monotype process and how it produces unique, not-to-be-duplicated images.
A monotype is basically a painting that is printed. I apply paint to a hard plastic surface, and while it’s still wet, lay paper onto it and roll it with a rolling pin. This transfers the paint to the paper. You may ask, why not paint directly on the paper? Well, I get some wonderful accidental textures and patterns that would be impossible otherwise. I also tend to get 2-4 images from one printing plate: the original pull, plus the “ghosts.” The textures I get from this process add to the ancient, weathered appearance of my work. I have to work very fast, since the paint is acrylic, but that keeps me moving and not overthinking the process. The resulting pile of monotype prints get sorted into colors, and I pull from my large stash when I’m ready to make a piece.
You work on paper, canvas and wood panel. How do you decide which substrate is best for a particular piece?
This may sound funny, but it just depends on my mood. I will ask myself, “What do I feel like making today?” and go from there. My purely paper-based work is faster and more immediate. When I work on canvas or wood panel, the process can take weeks, and there may be days between applying layers, because of drying times. Now that fabric has been added to my repertoire, I think about how I want the finished piece to be seen: as a functional object, or as a piece of visual art? I am going to explore mounting some of my quilted pieces onto canvas frames… that could be cool, too! I have also done commissions where the patron requests a certain substrate.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
The Singer sewing machine that I inherited from my family is definitely an old standby. I also use a lot of kitchen tools in my monoprints: my printing plates are plastic cutting mats (they have just a little tiny texture that is great for holding the paint), and I have a wonderful silicone rolling pin that is indispensable to my printing process. Since getting more into quilting, I’ve purchased a more modern sewing machine for piecing, plus a sit-down long arm machine for quilting. If it’s one thing I’ve learned about the quilt world, they are plenty of new toys to try out!
What brought you to working exclusively with nonprofits in your graphic design business?
I’ve been working independently as a graphic designer since 2001, and in the early years of my business I did a lot of work with nonprofits I cared about. That grew into a passion for helping people indirectly, thought my design work. I can’t remember the exact year, but over 12 years ago I decided to make it the focus of my business. Now I have the best job! I get to be creative, and help nonprofits in our area thrive. People in need find help, and sometimes my work plays a part. It’s work I definitely feel good about.
How do you balance the demands of designing for clients with pursuing your own art?
That is a tricky one! Firstly, I am only in my design office from Monday through Thursday. The rest of the days are mine to make art. Of course, the lines blur, but that is my goal and I’m actually pretty good at maintaining it. I also do a lot of my personal artwork in the evenings, or even on days when my design deadlines are on hold. The toughest challenge is that both my body and my creative mind need a rest — I wish I could work more, but coffee only gets you so far. It’s very important for me to take good care of myself, and so I work out about 5 days a week, do lots of stretching, and get a massage regularly.
How important is mentoring in your development as an artist?
I’ve been so lucky to have some wonderful mentors in my life. One of the best investments I made is that I worked with a life coach, nearly 20 years ago. She helped me gain the confidence and skills to be both an artist and a designer. I also was one of the early graduates of the Artist Trust EDGE, a professional development program for artists. Because of my wonderful experience with EDGE, I came back for quite a few years as a volunteer to give a presentation on branding for artists. For about 10 years I was a member of an artist salon — we met monthly to provide feedback and encouragement to each other. And then there are all my unofficial mentors, like my sister and other artists in my circle who have been wonderful friends, cheerleaders and mentors.
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
Sometimes the competitive nature of being a creative person is very wearing. To get your work seen, shown and sold, it takes and enormous amount of energy and time. I think many artists are surprised by the fact that they can spend more time on marketing themselves/their work than they do on making art. For me, my truly biggest challenge is having enough energy to do all the things I want to. But, I try to focus on what really makes me happy, and pursue that.
Where can people see your work? Do you have advice for other artists on how to gain more exposure for their work?
I am currently represented by Cole Contemporary, an online gallery: www.colecontemporary.gallery/david-owen-hastings-images . Denise Cole, the owner, also has a brick and mortar gallery in Edmonds, WA. Over the years, I have both curated many shows and been a part of juried and non-juried shows. You can see more examples of my work on my own website: davidowenhastings.com/art-galleries. And, follow David on Instagram at davidowenhastings.
Don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to ask! Be a shameless self-promoter, to get your work seen. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is that other people want to help, and want to help you succeed. And above all, create what you love.