Whether it’s clean and simple or scratchy and detailed, Nate Hissong creates scores of compelling illustrations. His scenes are minimal in subject matter, but they always get a message across. Sometimes it’s just his simple little characters, giving you a fun quip to ponder over and other times it’s striking figures that address the plight of current social situations. The element that reigns through Hissong’s work, no matter the style he’s using, is that it provokes thought. It may be fun, it may be serious, it may be somewhere in between, but even in his simplest illustrations he’s giving you something to think about. To me, that’s what makes a good illustrator. A good image is the easy part in the grand scheme of things but if an artist can leave the viewer thinking and wanting more then that’s what pushes them to the next level and that’s what we see in Hissong’s work.
There’s a lot to digest in Hissong’s body of work and he’s a very young artist, so there’s certainly a lot more to come. I was thankful to get to chat with him about his work and also the current state of things. As a student at the University of Delaware, he’s in the midst of experiencing the confusing switch to online art school. So as well as his awesome work, we also talked a little bit about what’s going on with that and across the board he gave some really interesting perspective. Enjoy!
1. I always open with background, so what got you into art? What pushed you to want to pursue it at university? Big inspirations?
What initially got me into art was the copious amounts of animation and video game characters I grew up with. Not unlike many artists, instead of paying attention in class, I just drew the whole dang time. It's always been one of those things that I just can't help but do. I even tried being a business major here at UDel at first, but then in the spring of my sophomore year I just couldn't take it anymore I HAD to make art. Luckily it seems like it's been working out considering I'm here answering these questions! My end goal is to be a professor honestly, I just want to focus on helping others find their own voices with art, and to also have a small group of people forced to listen to my terrible jokes so I can get a lot of pity laughs.
2. You've got a very distinct illustration style, so how did you begin to build that and develop it from there? You repeat specific characters or styles of character in a lot of your work, is there a specific narrative or lineage to those characters?
My illustration style, oh boy... that is something I've been trying to understand myself for a while. The only artistic training I've had outside of the collegiate setting is from my mom since she was a public school art teacher, so she taught me my way around a pencil and paper. I think the moment I really started finding and developing my own style was after making an art Tumblr account back in early high school where I posted fan art for anime and video games (good luck finding that). There were so many helpful artists on there that gave so many useful and easy to understand tips to a young teen artist like me. My illustration style is a product from learning on the world wide web I think. Ultimately there is an overarching narrative with my characters, but it's something I still have to take some time to figure out naturally. I guess all these characters are just little parts of my personality!
3. Speaking of narrative, you tell a lot in your illustrations. Whether it's sharing emotion, telling fun stories, or even tackling current political/social issues. So how important is narrative to your work? Does the subject matter you're tackling alter how you approach the illustration or the style you use?
Art is communication between humans, it's something so powerful and universal, and through narrative I'm able to express even more with my work. It could be a punchline to a dumb joke, it could be an existential thought I had in a breakdown, or it could be just how I'm feeling looking out the window with my morning coffee during a pandemic! All of these moments bear a story in themselves, a part of the greater human experience. I'm starting to get corny so to answer your question - yes! Narrative gives an extra layer of my personality in my work, when needed of course. The decision of what subject matter I pick for a piece is immediately followed by the question of style for the piece. As an example, I recently made a 3D model comic instead of just drawing it due to the nature of quarantine where this small, clean space that we all have to stay in becomes like a reverse Schrödinger's cat. Is there still anything more outside our perfect little boxes that we're growing to hate? 3D modeling made it feel more in touch with what I wanted to make.
4. How important is diversity in illustration style for you? You've got two sides, one simple and clean, one more detailed but a touch looser. Do these two styles represent two sides of you as an artist? Or are they two different types of storytelling elements that you employ? Or something totally different?
Diversity is important in my illustration, but I think both of my two main styles represent me as an artist. While my styles of work tend to be separated by visual characteristics of the rougher ones being darker or more serious and the simple and clean ones to be fun or cute, I think they both are avenues of creation that I've grown so used to that I swap between them whenever I want. Somedays it honestly might just be I'm not feeling one style! I'm usually wearing black on the days where I'm drawing rougher, so I guess you could say I've been wearing a lot of black lately.
5. You're currently an art student, so how has this online art school experiment been going for you? How has the dynamic between you and your professors/other students shifted now that you're all remote? I'd love to hear about the experience so far.
Oh boy. I'm in four studio classes right now which have had either an easy transition into an online format like illustration and 3D modeling, but sculpture and printmaking are going to be interesting for sure, especially in my apartment over a webcam. Finding a balance with working on four different artistic mediums in a small living space will be the challenge that I, many other students and artists are going through right now. Professors have been nothing short of amazing during all this though, they've been reaching out and trying to keep us posted as best they can as they work this all out. Either way, this pandemic is tough on all of us. Our everyday world has become one of limbo, I'm sure you've felt it. Where we are now is not the same as before and it will be different after it's over. Nobody really knows what's happening overall and that's just what we're stuck in now!
6. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up? Anything and everything you'd like to share, fire away!
People can follow me right now on Instagram @nateomancy ! I check my messages there frequently so it's a good spot to check out my work and get in contact with me!