Instagram: @nathanhackett_illustrator

1. What’s your story? Where are you from?

Hello, how are you? You well? I’m an illustrator represented by the Anna Goodson agency. I have an unspectacular amount of arms and legs from Birmingham, in England, although that is vague enough to almost be untrue. In actuality I grew up in quintessential suburbia in an area outside called the ‘Black Country’; a sort of rectangular region that got its name for its heavily industrialisation and furnaces in the 1800s: ‘black by day, red by night’. There.

shopping supermarket

2. Tell us about your aesthetic.

Laborious. There is an emphasis on drawing, so I like to preserve the evidence of craftsmanship in an image when I can. Part of that is I worry and I want to reward my viewer rather than cheating them by a one-dimensional trick or a neat idea all the time. That’s sort of obvious I suppose; otherwise, there wouldn’t be an aesthetic because there are much quicker ways to present information or meaning without. Actually, I think it is harder to convince modern, complex ideas in an image that is coming from a sort of typically conservative defence of craft romanticism. I’m demanding a lot in my images so I think the whole idea is to have a lengthier, parting memory to the viewer by intrigue. And so, typically, I feature multiple micro-melodramas within one image to create a more wholesome spectacle and overarching narrative that visually represents both the smaller ideas and broader themes. I play around with size a lot; and characters and composition too in urban-influenced, sometimes surreal, sometimes banal, settings. I’m sorry, I’m bad at this answering questions.

3. What is your favourite medium and why?

Undoubtedly, I spend more time actualising digitally now when illustrating but I try to start on paper. It’s good to find a balance and resist being too comfortable with one medium. Traditional and digital mediums can be wrongly seen as imposing depending on which camp you fall but it just takes a little less preciousness to adjust. For the longest time, I was an exact hybrid between the two, where I drew everything in pencil and ink, collaged it together on screen and digitally editing on a crappy mouse pad on a stroppy laptop prone to tantrums. It’s hard to sustain for the images I wanted to make, so I’ve adjusted some for brief time constraints and to work quickly. It’s just a tool like any other but I think my favourite, a favourite is an old-fashioned pencil. There is nostalgia and magic in the pencil. It’s tactile, honest and I think it’s the loyalty I like the most. It’s a good company to keep.

4. What is your artistic process like?

Pulling teeth. I like to keep things loose and organic, to begin with, so I get treated with surprises as I go, although sometimes there needs to be an accurate draft. That’s fine too. It’s still all constant playing and poking. So if I have a brief, I’ll write, make diagrams, notes, thumbnails, visual cues, scribbles. Anything. Everything. Then I’ll start to refine that, compile some ideas together and then in stages I’ll start constructing the illustration either onto paper for scanning or directly on the screen. Bit of refinement, wrestling and a bathtub of coffee later: easy peasy.

5. Who and/or what inspires your work?

It’s happenstance mostly but I think I find text very motivating and I latch onto passing phrases very easily to kickstart an image. I exorcising everything onto paper before an image and that is the real engine to finishing an illustration,. That methodology is stolen from the writer Georges Perec who playfully exhausted a study in exercises to work out what he thought. I like architectural shapes and the psychological impact of modern urbanity, which is a recurring theme I suppose. Comic books, comedy and satire are what I am most engaged by.

6. What role does art play in your life? How does it change the way you view the world?

Oh, it’s horrible. An all-consuming, thankless parasite that won’t leave me alone. I’m sure it wants to spit me out when I’m all spent and I am as frustrated with it as it is with me. I do love it though, and my preoccupation with it is the only viewpoint I have of the world. Anything that takes a lot of time is good because if you are going to lose the time anyway it’s better to dedicate it to a craft. I really like getting better and it’s the only thing I see as worthwhile really. It’s an inevitable thing I can’t help but do. I think I must be hardwired as an illustrator otherwise I wouldn’t be willing to suffer the hardships of it. I really enjoy the process and problem solving, but because creating is the only thing I take seriously now, I don’t think I afford the same luxury of fun as people who can draw for kicks. When I was younger there wasn’t any judgement and self-expression came really easy because it’s how I made sense of everything, and now I’m trying to bare responsibility and make sense of things for everybody else. I’m more doubtful since I was a kid because of that, but I still organise my outlook through my drawings and I think I’m getting closer every day to being as content with what I am doing as I was in the single digits. It might sound tragic but I really like the torture of it. It’s rewarding.

keep the noise down

7. Where did you study?

It was Illustration down south at the Arts Institute in Bournemouth, by the sea and Mary Shelley’s grave. Vintage year, actually.

8. Where do you see yourself in five years?

I don’t know. Fully grey. Busy. Illustrating. That’s a world cup year; Ireland won’t qualify and England will lose out on penalties so probably miserable. Also, it would be my Dad and Nans’ birthday. My girlfriend will be studying her final part to her architectural degree and I’ll have a dog who is a Border Collie and a very good boy. I can speculate otherwise but these are the facts. Beyond that, my imminent aims are to develop and get better all the time but I think it would be great to publish something more substantial with a long narrative. I’d like to be writing much more and I want to try out a lot but I feel reluctant to confess some. I’d like to be more involved with the theoretical side of the industry.

9. What about in ten?

It will be my Dad and Nans’ birthday. My dog is still a good boy. I hope I will be happier with my work and pushing the boundaries of my practice.

10. What do you hope to achieve with your art?

Affirmation and Immortality. That’s not true. My immediate concern is if there is a brief I hit it and that I’ve done a good job illustrating the point professionally. I try to balance my portfolio now with surrealism with a strong conceptual pivot simply and also ordinary snippets that act more subtly because they are a little less heavy-handed and demonstrate a tone when it calls for it. I don’t want to limit myself reacting to a thing inauthentically one way or the other because my portfolio is dictating me to. It’s not healthy to think one way and refuse to experiment a little because you are a slave to one method. I also want the piece to be appreciated, honestly, alongside all the noise. Preferably I want my images to work fast and slow; I am trying to insist upon the viewer attention by taking the time with smaller dramas in an overall piece that further emphasises a point and garners value. I think its a victory when the viewer has properly explored an image. I’m just a circus really.

Be Card Smart

11. Now, tell us a little more about you as a person: what is your favourite food?

I have the same annoying compulsion as other vegetarians to mention it, but I think i’m most happy with coffee and chocolate. I spent Christmas in Northern Italy 2 years ago and that has been the unattainable benchmark since.

12. Favourite book?

I don’t know, but! My favourite writers are George Orwell and Georges Perec. For other illustrators and artists, I would recommend ‘Narcissus and Goldmund’ by Hesse. If you are like I was, and feeling uncomfortable or out of place because your identity is a contradicting tussle between the extremes of thinking creatively and thinking logically, it’s a revelation to realise you don’t have to be exclusively one or the other. In fact, being at ease with the two hemispheres of your brain makes creating a lot easier. David Foster Wallace essays I think is essential reading for image creators too, particularly his thoughts on irony, although It’s a hard-earned meaning and takes some mental acrobatics and dictionary pillaging.

13. Favourite genre of music?

I never knew the answer to this question until I started listening to the band called The Fall. 

I like composing themed ‘mixtapes’ too, so while I’m not that dogmatic with genre tastes, category wise, my favourite has been horses I think.

14. What are your hobbies?

I try to be an autodidact, and accidentally develop mini-projects. I am a fidgeter and probably predisposed to exhausting a thing if I take a liking to it. Right now, it’s mainly climbing and bouldering and I have to keep on top of my running training too. I suppose cycling and cooking take up a lot of time, but it’s not as trivial or terrific as my juggling. 

This feels braggy so I should say I am shamefully monolingual and awful at dancing and whistling no matter how much practice.

15. If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?

I recoil a little when I am called that. I don’t think I’m really an artist. I don’t know what I would do with my time if I wasn’t always thinking about work either. Obsessing is a brilliant pastime to idle through life by. I like talking and I imagine I would be alright at teaching. I’d probably be rich too.

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