Monday, January 21, 2013

Robert Hatem



How did you become an artist?
I sort of chose my career when I was 4 years old. I've drawn to make sense of my world as long as I can remember.
Did you go to art school?
I graduated from the Columbus College of Art and Design with a BFA in Illustration (my minor in Fine Arts was really mostly figure drawing). Working at Hallmark was an extension of school in a lot of ways: all the talented artists working there, all the in-house and guest artists' presentations and workshops.
Were there one or more individuals that were an influence in your path to art?
My parents and teachers and friends through grade school and high school encouraged me. My brothers and sisters would save paper and cardboard for me to draw on. Drawing was the thing I was good at. When I was in grade school I remember loving a big book of Norman Rockwell's illustrations at the public library. The oversized books were on the bottom shelves, and I'd just slide it off the shelf and study it there on the floor in the aisle - I can't remember checking it out so it must've been a reference book, or too big for my Mom to trust me with. I loved his sense of humor and the specific faces of individuals he painted, the details. I always get lost in details, still.
 As a professional, I came across the work of an artist, Stephen Johnson, who lives in Lawrence, KS, now, through his beautiful paintings for Alphabet City, one of his first picture books. I may have seen found letters before, but never in a way that caught my eye like that. His work has a subtlety and sophistication that inspires me to this day to look for letters and numbers hidden in architecture, in nature, everywhere. That practice helps me continually rediscover the world I see everyday, because it forces me to look and look again.
I remember a presentation by another artist, Ivan Chermayeff, who showed the photographs he took of peeling posters, splashed and chipped paint, layered colors and textures he found on walks, that continues to inspire me in the same way. Part of what I liked was that he wasn't just showing slides of finished illustrations and designs. He was showing part of his process and what you might call his "discipline" but it looked more to me like his passion for discovery. My work doesn't look anything like theirs but they changed the way I look at the world.
What inspires you now?
My sons, everything I see that surprises me, that makes me look again, see something I'd never noticed before. A million different artists, past and present: sculptors, painters, illustrators, graphic designers, children's book art, caricaturists, cartoonists, animators, outsider and folk artists…and on and on. Finding stuff on walks inspires me. I have a big collection of smashed gloves and eyeglasses I've found on walks. I guess Stephen's book made such a lasting impression on me because I've always looked for stuff.
                                                       propery of Hallmark Cards
Is there anything you would like to share regarding your technique or style of work?
As for my approach to work, a lot of it grows out of my sketchbooks and responding to the stuff I see and stumble on. I work in the extremities of my house, in the attic and basement. The basement is full of all that stuff I find and that finds me, that I combine and rearrange into 3D works. As far as painting goes, I think the technical word for what I do is scumble, with a c, not stumbling with a t, but that's another good word for it. I just keep scumbling until something looks OK. I work most often in acrylic, sometimes color pencils, whatever it takes. I like the technique to be invisible. 
I'm most interested in communicating an idea and try to do whatever serves the idea. In my sketchbooks I will use different tools to draw with - carpenters' pencils, ballpoints, the kind with 4 colors of ink are fun, whatever - and work at different scales to try to surprise myself. And of course, I do a lot of digital illustration, too, scanning sketches onto the computer and finishing them in Photoshop.
What types of market do you do art for?
I have to confess I can be been pretty clueless to marketing. I get some good reactions to my site name, lovemhatem.virb.com, from the dozen or so who've seen it, because it helps them with how to pronounce my name, and, I hope, remember it. But years ago, to help people with my name, I would say, "it's 'hate' with an m." Or I'd say I have two aggressive verbs for a name: rob and hate 'em. It somehow never occurred to me that might come across as a little threatening, or distancing. 
For most of my professional life I worked for the greeting card market. Sometimes that meant trying to make something you thought the person who might buy this particular card would like, but more often it was trying to figure out what the person responsible for art-directing thought the marketing people who developed the strategy for selling to that person thought that person would like - it could be a lot of tail chasing. 
I'm still trying to find the best markets for my stuff, some mix of galleries and commissioned illustration and design. I've tried prints and calendars. I've been working on a few picture books. I tried for about two years to sell cartoons to The New Yorker - not easy - there aren't really many paying venues for cartoon drawings anymore. My most interesting work is self-generated or has come by word of mouth: somebody knows someone who wants something I can do.
Are there any links to your work you would like to share?
My website and blog are at http://lovemhatem.virb.com. Someday I'll probably show more of the things I used to do, the cards, on my site. And figure out how to get people to check it out. After 2 years I just realized how easy it was to add a 'comments' feature, but now there are a lot of posts with '0 Comments' so it looks like almost nobody looks at my work. My kind and funny friend, kid's book author/illustrator Laurie Keller, broke the ice and wrote a nice comment after a post. Bless her sweet heart.
Do you do other things regarding art?
Last year I taught art at my son's middle and high school, Kansas City Academy, while the school's art teacher, the wonderful Kendall Kerr, the most popular person in the school, was on maternity leave the first semester. It was more educational for me than the students. During that time, Wes Benson, a friend who was teaching at Kansas City Art Institute, asked me to speak about my work to the Illustration Department. After my presentation the Acting Department Chair, John Ferry, said he might have a class for me to teach 2nd semester. He actually gave me two classes. Friday before my first classes, my wife broke her femur. Right in two, the biggest, strongest bone in the human body. Because I'm an illustrator, I work to deadlines, and my deadline was to have my class plans ready by Monday. My wife's totally selfish, over-the-top ploy for my attention, threw off my carefully planned schedule. I wasn't crazy about how those two classes went, but I enjoyed interacting with students, and I hope to teach more. I will be teaching a 2nd semester class at KCAI again, starting in late January 2013. It's still early January as I write this, so of course, I still have more to learn about that. My wife's walking very carefully.
Do you currently have art for sale?
I want to write kid's books, but it's hard. When you're eking out a living, raising two boys, leaning on your wife as the primary income-earner, it's hard to write and re-re-rewrite, without any assurance there's a paycheck on the other side of happily ever after. And there's always another load of laundry to do.
I just had a fun exhibit of 18 caricatures of classical composers at a friend's barber shop -"longhair" musicians in a barber shop - too clever, eh? Most of those pieces are still for sale as of this writing. I still have some prints of images from a fun calendar I did (for another friend), and a t-shirt I designed, and I have 4 illustrations in the Andrews McMeel Universal book, Team Cul de Sac, a project to raise funds for Parkinson's research. A lot of the 3D stuff on my site is for sale. Scroll over an image and if it doesn't say somebody owns it, it's probably for sale. 
I should probably make some things I could sell - is that a good marketing idea?

What is it that you love best about what you do?
Making discoveries, finding connections, being surprised, making the work, getting good responses, maybe a smile or a laugh. Sharing my passion for this work.

22 comments:

  1. Enjoyed the interview and the delightful art!
    Thanks,
    Beverly

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  2. Love your work Bob! Great to hear about you and what you're up to. Always love when my CCAD classmates are still chasing the dream.

    I do laundry too,
    Dave Herrick

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    1. Thanks, Dave! Laundry, dishes, and carpool, and all the art that I can squeeze in - seems to keep my days pretty full!

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  3. Great stuff, Rob. I really enjoyed reading the interview. Your work is so creative...you rock!
    Your friend, Tim

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    1. Thanks, Tim! I feel like I'm in select company with the likes of college heroes like you and Mr Groff!

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  4. So proud of you Rob!!! ((hugs)) Cindy Ross

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    1. Cindy, you keep spreading news about me and I'll feel like I'll have to pay you a commission! Many Thanks!

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  5. Rob I always thought of you as one of the most creative and skillful artists in our class...your work is incredible. I also remember your smart sense of humor which I see you continue to infuse in your work!

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    1. I remember I was always running just as fast as I could trying not to fall too far behind! Thanks, Salli! Whenever I get on FB I always enjoy seeing your posts, admiring your work.

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  6. always so fun to look at your work, rob! miss you!

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  7. Love your work, Rob! Glad I found this!

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    1. Thanks, Steve! Long time, no see! Hope you're doing well

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  8. Rob! Such amazing talent. I love your work and sense of humor. The interview was fantastic! Thanks for sharing your thoughts
    Becky

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  9. Really great work Rob, very fun and engaging!
    Super interview as well - its rare when you read an interview and really sense the sincerity of the person sharing their thoughts.
    Very cool.
    Doug

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    1. Thanks a lot, Doug! It's cool to hear from so many people I don't connect with very often-I really appreciate it.

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  10. Hey Rob, Intriguing and insightful interview and awesome work! You rocked as an illustrator at CCAD and continue to do so now. Especially loved the 18 caricatures of classical composers – 'Longhair' musicians – exhibit in your friend's barber shop. I know most of the classical composers – being a classical music connoisseur – hopefully you included and featured American composer Samuel Barber ;-) Thanks to Cindy for sending me your way...
    ~Bob Brocke

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    1. many thanks, Bob...I haven't included Barber, not yet anyway. My lame criteria: faces I like and names I know - and my knowledge is miniscule. I'll look at SB

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  11. Great interview and love the images, even the ones I've already seen. I've been impressed over the years we've known each other at the creative spark the runs around inside of you. First memory I have of your art were the gloves you picked up on your many jaunts around the city. Still remember you bringing the bag full to the youth group on Sunday morning many moons ago. Copied Cowboy images you sent to Doc. How do you feel about me, or you, passing them on to Cowboy? Let me know Sunday.

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  12. This interview was tremendous. Your creativity explodes on the page, as does your compassion for people and your passion for connecting with people through your work. Bless you!

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  13. I really enjoyed reading this interview. I own a home in Coleman Highlands (unfortunately haven't lived in KC for over 10 years), and saw your name on the neighborhood website. You are a true asset to our community, and an amazing artist. I am still laughing at your comment near the end..."I should probably make some things I could sell - is that a good marketing idea?" ha ha
    The best of luck to you and your family.

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