Nostalgia and Coping: An Interview with Artist David Hobbs

CO Art Content had an excellent chance to sit down and have a chat with Loveland, CO based artist David Hobbs. An artist who paints narrative creatures on wood cutouts that tell tales of nostalgia as well as therapeutic creation.

Pictured in the studio David Hobbs (left) and Claire Elise Lingle (right)

COAC: How would you describe your art? How would describe what you do?

David: A lot of the paintings wind up taking more realistic content and making something less realistic out of them. I guess I could be a wildlife painter that takes it a little off their beaten path, so if there’s gonna be a bird, it might have two heads. Or a squirrel that might have a wind-up mechanism implemented into its back. I don’t want to just take a traditional wildlife painting technique, I want to push it a little bit further than that and make it something more fun.

It’s hard to describe what I do. When I go to design a painting, like, when I come up with an initial concept I find the creature I want to do. Then I have a list of random objects that I’ve wanted to throw into a painting. I remember when I was a kid and my grandma had this drawer of junk. And it was my favorite thing, it was just full of interesting trinkets she had collected through the years. I guess I find it almost nostalgic to have these objects mixed into a painting. Some of my work might be based off of a nostalgic
experience or something that ignites a memory from my past!

Sometimes I will see an object, and I will tell myself, “I need to put that into a painting. This object will bring back some sort of feeling.” For example, I have a sketch that’s going and it has a sardine can in it. When I was a kid, I use to eat sardines with my grandpa. Because I wanted that connection to him, that sardine can has a weird nostalgic feeling.

Also, I have a lot of paintings where if I see something that bothers me, I have to do a painting of that to get it out of my mind. One day I hit a rabbit and I couldn’t get past that moment until I did a painting of a rabbit with its angel wings, and it got me through it. On another occasion I saw a homeless man walking down the road and he dropped a glove. It bummed me out so much, cause all I could think was how important that glove could be to this man! That image of the glove dropping as I drove by, was stuck in my head so I did a painting with a glove dropped in the snow with a bird sitting on it, and that’s how I coped with that.

COAC: Would you consider your artwork to be largely therapeutic?

David: I think it is, but I also feel that for me painting is almost like a need. There are also moments where I feel I need to create this to get things off my mind. There are times when I do paintings that have a deep meaning to them, there’s paintings that I do commissions and I enjoy those just as much, but there’s also times when I just paint to paint. It is the release of creativity that I want. There are times when I don’t even care if there is a meaning behind it, I’m just happy to be creating.

COAC: How would you describe your all-around process for your woodcut paintings?

David: It’s funny because I think a lot of it behind the scenes is the initial drawing is sometimes the hardest for me, to get a clear idea out. When I do a drawing, I put very little detail into it. Mostly a line sketch. For example, for a commission I will send out a drawing and tell them, “This is roughly what it will look like.” A lot of times I just need to get an idea down, but I don’t put any detail or work into it. It’s funny too because I do worry about how people will interpret it during the initial process. I feel like when I put my initial layers of paint in, it’s extremely simple. When I look at it from the beginning stand-point to by the time it’s completely finished, it changes so much that I don’t even want to show it causes it’s so simple in its first few stages. It changes so much by the end, it’s not until the shadows and fine details come in, everything works together.

It’s always exciting to see the drawing get cutout because then it starts to come to life and you can kind of see the direction it is going in. The middle stages are where something might just look a bit off, and I ask myself if I’m doing something wrong or if I should just start over, but I force myself to keep going. Each stage does have some excitement for me, and each stage has some parts that make me second guess the painting, but in the end it all seems to come together.

COAC: How would you compare your artwork now to what you did five or so years ago?

David: It’s insane, the difference! When I first started painting, I thought every painting needed to be like a super deep “You need to look deep into your soul to see these paintings.” As far as I knew, every painting needed to have a meaning. I was like, “If there isn’t a meaning to this, then I have no idea why I’m creating this.” And then, I’m not sure if I got stuck…maybe I wanted to put more color into things. I think I got inspired by a Jackson Pollock documentary, he was creating these super cool abstract and cubism pieces and I completely dropped the ‘meaning’ and I just started painting solid shapes with solid outlines, there was no depth. I was just painting shapes. I guess it was just the act of creating that point.

And through time, everything just started looking the same. I then started making animals out of shapes, making birds and fish out of shapes. It was really abstract. At that point, I kind of started mixing them with cutouts. The very first cutout, I whittled out of a piece of Masonite with an Exacto knife. Then I started straying away from the abstract point, were less and less it was part of my content. I started painting wildlife, and it started getting a little weird. I was just excited to create something a little “off”. I guess it’s like when you’re finding yourself as an artist, and you’ve found that niche that feels like it fits your style.

I was trying to survive strictly on artwork at that point, so I was just trying to push out as many paintings I could. I was pumped up on everything. But now I look back and I’m like, “What was I thinking!?” So, then it went from these unmounted cutouts that would just hang freely on the wall, one day they just stopped looking finished and something looked off on them. I went to a thrift store and bought a frame and figured how to mount them in that frame. That gave it that finished quality and from there I went through a stage where I was painting all people cause I felt as an artist you needed to be able to paint people. I did that for six to eight months and realized it was a subject matter that just wasn’t for me.

After that I just went to the approach that I guess I am taking now, where I enjoy creating creatures. I feel now it is at a good transition because I’m focusing on the technique of it. Everything was painted with house paint and India ink. One day I put a shadow in a painting and thought what was I doing before this? Cause everything was so flat, and adding this shadow added so much depth to it. But I was still doing heavy detail work with the India ink, if I wanted to do hair I overdid it with the ink. Recently I decided instead of doing a ton of the hair lines in black, I’m gonna mix five shades of color and do the hair. That changes everything, doing your detail work in paint not just in ink. The process is always changing, and it is really funny looking back at what I was creating five years ago to what I am today.

COAC: Everything in life feeds into the artistic ability, what are some other hobbies or interesting things that feed into your work?

David: My Girlfriend and myself are collectors of oddities which at times crosses over into my art but usually stays as something totally separate! It’s funny because there have been times people will come over to pick up a painting and they will be, “Wow, it is really happy in your studio! And really Colorful! …And there’s a lot of dead stuff in your living room!” Which is interesting, there are times where I want to paint something really dark, and I can’t do it. My style just doesn’t translate into some really dark stuff. I think it’s enjoyable to be painting a flower with a bee and then look up and there’s four human skulls sitting on our entertainment center. Our interest in collecting doesn’t exactly overlap as much with my artwork as most would probably think with how much it surrounds us in our home! I mean I love painting a human skull now and again but they make far less appearances than flowers in my paintings!

It’s just every day to day life inspires me. If you look through my phone, there’s tons of pictures of flowers, there’s pictures of leaves, there’s pictures of random objects. There’s pictures of random stuff I see and have to write down because it is something that would make an awesome painting.

COAC: If you had any key tips for others who are trying to evolve their art and get into the world, what would they be?

David: I think the main thing that I almost always see, is that people always want to be instantly famous. It’s crazy how many people that want that instant gratification that everyone loves their art and it supports their whole life. If I paint for another forty years and I’m not famous, I’m gonna be happy because I was painting. I feel like if that’s not the place that you’re creating from…if you are creating just to strictly sell art, if you’re creating strictly to just get popularity from it, I look at those being the wrong reasons. The past few years I’ve created about fifty paintings each year, and in doing so I’ve learned a bit from each one. I think about paintings I look back on now and I don’t like, but I still learned something important from that painting!

Anytime that I do a painting that I think people are gonna love this! It sits in my studio for years. Anytime I create something just to create it, people love it. If I create fifty paintings this year and they all end up in my studio, I’m fine with that. If nothing sells, I’m fine with that. At the same time, I love when people are able to find a connection with a painting, but that’s not my entire intention of creating it. I create it because I love doing it.

Take what inspires you and create something fun with it. Don’t be afraid to change up your techniques. Change it up so it’s something different. You don’t want to do the same artwork forever and look back and think, “Why didn’t I try something different?”

Alexander Baldoz Written by:

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