The word illustration is derived from the Latin word illustrare meaning, to enlighten. Fitting etymology to consider after meeting Salt Lake City-based illustrator, Isaac Hastings—an enlightened artist with a succinct vision and artistic philosophy. Hastings draws hands in a way that bequeaths a certain grace to his characters, many of which are entirely madcap creations spawned from the never-ending depths of his imagination—an imagination that appears to be in high demand. Hastings explores various hand gestures within much of his work and ponders that “hands are essentially the ultimate tool we have and our hands open up a realm of possibility and options for creativity.” The graceful positioning of hands that can be seen in many of Hastings’ illustrious characters lends an entirely human dimension—perhaps Hastings’ own sense of humanity to his often un-human characters and to much of his work in general. Ralph Waldo Emerson once mused, “In art, the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can imagine,” a sentiment that suggests that creations from the inner depths of experience and feeling are essentially superior in how they tap into the psyche, opening a world of expression and self-narrative that reveals much about the artist.
Hastings moved from the Guthrie Studios in downtown Salt Lake City to Poor Yorick Studios four years ago, and works out of a small but charming space. Primarily self-taught, Hastings reflects back to when he began to pursue art in a serious capacity at the age of seventeen. “I thought that in order to be a true artist I needed to be a painter and I tried for a very long time to be a painter before coming to the realization that I just wasn’t—my medium had always been a pencil and paper.” Shortly after this epiphany, Hastings admitted to himself that his niche was illustration and he came to embrace that reality and immersed himself into the world of illustration and networking locally to cultivate business, while learning all he could about his field and defining his distinctive style.
Hastings grew up quite literally in a wood shop, which to this day allows him access to an abundance of unique wood. His family owns Wood Revival Desk Company, a local business that produces handcrafted furniture. Everyone in his family has worked for the business at one point or another. Hastings talks about being introduced to the loveliness of wood and recalls, “My dad is the one who introduced me to the intricate beauty of wood and the natural symmetry that occurs within the grain when wood has been split and bookmatched.” This term bookmatched, refers to the process that involves sawing one wooden board in half, through the center, which allows the two pieces to be opened like a book, revealing two almost mirror image pieces of wood which Hastings then connects, lining up the grain and knots to create a symmetrical design. Hastings has taken this idea and developed an ongoing series cleverly entitled Knot Art, the original concept for which was passed along to him by his father, Charlie Hastings. The series resembles the psychological inkblots associated with the Rorschach test, opening up wide variations of interpretation as to what is seen by the viewer. “Every piece of wood that is split has a one of a kind design, so to find a unique piece of wood with the right kind of knots and grains allows me to create designs that resemble faces and animals.” Hastings is currently working on a collaborative project and inviting other artists to create their interpretive paintings and drawings based on what organic life they perceive within the various Knot Art works.
As an independently working illustrator, Hastings’ projects change week to week. He talks about his commissioned work, ranging from album cover design, illustrations for festivals and publications (he’s currently working on the December cover for SLUG Magazine), to custom tattoo designs. Often he will receive an email from someone who is looking for a custom tattoo design and has seen his work online. Hastings will create renderings and after the client has selected their favorite he will produce a tattoo line work stencil that the tattoo artist then uses to transfer to the skin. “I’m so anxious about the permanence of tattoos,” says Hastings. “I could never be a tattoo artist, but I have so much respect for the artists I know and the amazing work they do.” Clearly, Hastings is building a solid portfolio, which is clear from the impressive range and versatility of projects on his website, which incidentally, he designed and built himself. “I have an obsession with learning things,” he says. “Basically my life is about trying to get that warm fuzzy feeling which manifests when I feel like I’ve discovered something new and satisfied that desire for knowing as much as I possibly can.”
Hastings is fully committed, he works hard, really hard. A reminder to his work ethic is written on the floor of his studio: less talk, more work. Regardless of what commercial projects he is occupied with he commits to spending two hours a day drawing, with the goal of completing one illustration a day. “I see the most artistic progression within this specific goal setting and after ten days of doing something for two hours a day, I gather incredible momentum and am flooded with new ideas.” This flood of new ideas often manifests into what Hasting refers to as “passion projects,” those concepts and ideas that he creates for himself, driven by a desire to artistically project his responses to a constantly capricious visual world.
Hastings has some exciting things on the horizon. Check out his website at www.ihsquared.comto stay tuned to his happenings. This guy is going places.
Anne Cummings is co-owner of (a)perture — a Salt Lake based creative agency — a free-lance writer, curator and photographer who has always possessed a passion for narrative photography and has focused on social commentary that reflects the human condition.