As we mentioned last month, we're going to make more of an effort to highlight artists coming out of Utah County, mainly because there's awesome stuff coming out of their art scene that doesn't get highlighted enough. --- Take for example the illustrated works of Nate Hardyman, one of the more unique illustrators to come out of BYU in recent years, who has been gaining attention in the area for his detailed yet abstract style. Hardyman nearly snagged the Zankel Scholar back in 2012, which put his art in high profile and turned him into a must-see at group exhibitions.
Today we chat with Hardyman about his career so far, coming out of BYU and into the art scene, his style of work, thoughts on local art and a few other topics. (Pictures courtesy of Hardyman.)
Gavin: Hey Nate, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Nate: Hey Gavin. Hey everybody. Well I don’t know how much there is to say, I’m actually still a student at BYU (this is my last semester), and the bulk of my time is spent in that capacity, doing work for classes and whatnot. I come from a town in Idaho called Rigby, which incidentally is the birthplace of Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television. I’m a huge music fan (who isn’t?), and the music I listen to really informs the art I make, not to mention my life in general. Lately I’ve been listening a lot to the old Delta blues guys: you know, like Robert Johnson, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf... And even more recently I’ve been getting into jazz pianists like Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck. Great stuff.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art and what were some early influences on you?
Nate: I can’t even remember when I first got into art. My mom has drawings stashed away that I did before I could talk. I can remember always loving picture books. Especially if they were about pirates, knights, or dinosaurs. Some early influences were Calvin and Hobbes (Of course, basically everyone was influenced by Calvin and Hobbes.), Dinotopia by James Gurney, and anything by Maurice Sendak. I was also really inspired and influenced by my dad, who is a closet illustrator, and was constantly drawing pirate maps and monsters for me. He and my mom are still incredibly supportive of my quest to become an illustrator, which makes me really happy.
Gavin: You received your BFA in illustration from BYU. What made you choose BYU and what specifically drew you toward illustration?
Nate: Well, like I said, I’m still a student here, albeit in my last semester, and it still feels like the right place for me. Also, all of my high school buddies came to BYU, and I just kind of floated down here with them. I left BYU for a couple years to be a missionary in Brazil, and I didn’t apply for the Illustration program until after I returned. Illustration attracted me because it felt like a continuation of what I had always done, which was to draw weird pictures. Illustration wasn’t an easy choice for me though. I also felt a real pull toward the Graphic Design program, because I’ve long loved typography and design; but I just couldn’t refuse the opportunity that Illustration gave me to draw my heart out.
Gavin: What was their program like for you and how did your style develop during your four years?
Nate: I have nothing but good things to say about all my professors and the program itself. They do a fantastic job on focusing on fundamental skills like drawing, narrative, and composition. I’ve received a first-class education at BYU. I hesitate to say that I have a style, per se. I still feel very exploratory with pretty much every new piece I do, but there’s no doubt that my time at BYU has made me a much smarter illustrator and designer. And sometimes I make a piece that I’m proud of!
Gavin: While you were there, how was it for you breaking into the local art scene and getting your work shown both on campus and around Provo?
Nate: Oh man, it’s always been hard for me to put my work out in front of the public eye, and I still feel really nervous about it. Heck, I feel nervous about doing this interview! (Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m happy to do it.) I feel lucky in that I know lots of great people and artists that tell me about opportunities for displaying my work, and that’s made all the difference for me.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in creating a brand new piece, from the initial idea to final product?
Nate: Lots of times, as an illustrator, the subject is given to me by the client, which gives me a starting point. From there, I’ll hash out a ton of really rough ideas in my sketchbook. I might choose two or three of those that I take to a more finished state, adding value and color. Sometimes they’re all awful and I have to start back at square one. When I finally have an idea that I like, with working values and colors, I’ll make a finished piece out of it. The hardest part of the process, for me at least, is the brainstorming; thinking of a concept that’s visually interesting and that has a dynamic composition. I think I spend more time just sitting and staring at my paper than actually drawing on it.
Gavin: Considering the medium, do you change up what you do while you create you do you try to hold steady to the idea you first thought up?
Nate: Yeah, I think you really have to strike a balance between holding to an idea and accepting changes to it. I think it’s really important to have faith in your ideas, and to finish them. Invariably, you’ll have lots of opportunities to modify your idea during the creative process, and you have to be smart about which changes you make. Some changes will aid your idea and make it stronger. Others may be interesting, but ultimately will ruin your idea. It’s important for me to note every idea I have, because even if they don’t apply to my current project, they may be helpful in the future.
Gavin: During your time at BYU you were nominated to be the 2012 Zankel Scholar. What was it like for you to be nominated for that honor?
Nate: I was really grateful that my professors nominated me. It’s always nice to be recognized for your work, especially from your mentors and peers.
Gavin: Now that you have your degree, are you focusing more on freelance work and contracting material, or are you trying to be more of an independent artist just creating work for shows?
Nate: Even though I don’t technically have my degree yet, I’ve already set my sights on a freelance career. It’s a tough field to enter, but I’ve enjoyed the freelance work I’ve already done.
Gavin: For those interested in commissioning you, how do they get in contact with you?
Gavin: What's your take on the local art scene, both good and bad?
Nate: I’m optimistic about the art scene around here. I’m not very familiar with the SLC scene, but Provo is a really dynamic place to be, and I can definitely see its artistic growth over the past few years. There are just so many high-caliber, creative things going on around here, whether it be music or theater or visual arts or anything else. I really can’t think of anything bad to say about it. I mean, it is Provo. It has its quirks. You won’t find the breadth or depth of art here that you will in, say, Los Angeles or NYC, but I wouldn’t expect to. I think that Provo offers an artistic environment that can be found nowhere else.
Gavin: Aside yourself, who are some local artists you believe people should be checking out?
Nate: A lot of my fellow students do work that blows me away! Hayden Davis has some really awesome design work. Chad Danger Lindsay works miracles with pen and ink. Soljee Lee’s work is amazing as well. Seriously, guys. Check them out. They’ll all be famous soon.
Gavin: What differences have you noticed between the art coming out of Provo compared to SLC or other cities?
Nate: Good question. I don’t know how qualified or knowledgeable I am to comment on the fine art or gallery work coming out of Provo, SLC, or any other city for that matter. Of course, a lot of work coming out of Provo has a strong religious, specifically Latter-day Saint bent to it, and I think that very much distinguishes it from art being produced in other places. With regards to illustration, I know that BYU has had a lot of successful illustrators and designers come out of its program in recent years. In a purely technical sense, I feel the illustration here is fantastic.
Gavin: For those artists who are coming up and looking to break out, what recommendations do you have for them?
Nate: Well I’m still working on that one myself. Lately I’ve been focusing on simply creating the most amazing work I can. I think that’s the most important thing that anyone can do: have a quality product. Also, get a website or a blog or some sort of online presence. If you’re looking to get freelance gigs, it’s important to send out mailers or emails to as many prospective clients as possible. And just keep working and putting yourself out there. That’s my plan, anyway.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Nate: A lot of new work! My best work yet, hopefully. Right now I’m working on a series of portraits of Robert Johnson, one of my favorite blues artists. They’ll be on exhibition at BYU campus in August, and all you guys should come check ‘em out. I also want to keep experimenting with alternative processes and mediums. I just tried screen-printing and loved it. So maybe some more of that.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Nate: There are always plenty of great student art exhibits at the Harris Fine Arts Center on BYU campus. Always worth checking out.
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