Hiller Goodspeed’s illustrations may look very straightforward at first, but don’t let the rudimentary graphics fool you. The beauty of his work lies in its apparent simplicity, as the meaning of his drawings may seem to be very direct and clear to most, but it probably is different to each person, depending on what the viewer wants to see. For instance, the phrases his wayward characters are spewing, like “Be nice to other people and yourself” may seem a-okay and charming to some, but to others, it may be a piece of self-care advice. That’s what makes Hiller’s work so special. Not too shabby for a full-time librarian, huh?
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Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Hiller Goodspeed. I am an artist and illustrator from Florida, currently living and working in Vancouver (Canada). I live in an apartment in the West End with my partner Erin, where we like to explore the neighbourhood and ride bikes to the beach.
How would you define your style?
My style is kind of rudimentary. I draw mostly with regular and coloured pencils, and usually with a limited colour palette. I draw most of the time but also use gouache, collage elements, and Letraset in my work. My drawings most often depict wayward characters who putter around and get into trouble. I use simple colours and shapes in my work, mostly because I think I can communicate what I want to say most clearly with them. The meanings of the drawings themselves can be quite complex, depending on how the illustration came to be, if there’s a story behind it, etc., but they’re also easy to just look at and appreciate for what they are.
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What is your creative process like? How does it differ when doing illustrations or a long-format, like a book?
I take a lot of time to think about things before actually physically working on them. Some drawings consist of ideas I’ve been thinking about for months, though some drawings, I get an idea for and I draw it within a few minutes. It really depends on what the drawing is and what I think I have to do to make it successful.
I have made quite a few small books, and generally, it’s the same process for those. There are times when I have an idea, execute it, and make an edition of eighty books within twenty-four hours. There are also times when creating the content is somewhat arduous and the book takes me a long time to finish. Each approach has its own benefits though and I appreciate the variety.
What kind of reaction do you want to get from your drawings? Do you want people to find them amusing and comforting, or are you looking for something else?
I don’t think I’m trying to evoke any one response from my work. It is always charming when people have a strong reaction to the things I’ve made, though. Because my artwork is open to interpretations people take away many different things from it and I enjoy hearing what they think. Most often I am attempting to make some kind of joke with my drawings, jokes about myself and things I experience that I think others would recognise. Those jokes paired with my drawing style can result in an oddly comforting image, which is what I think resonates with my audience.
By having an illustration that says “Good but not the best”, on top of a drawing of a person wearing a celebratory hat that says #2, are you trying to encourage and motivate people no matter what, although they may feel like second best at times? Or is this a piece of criticism?
It’s a little bit of all of that mixed together. I thought the image of someone who is perfectly content with not being the best was funny, sweet, and a good way to be. There is always someone better, probably, and as soon as you can accept that, you can continue on with whatever you are doing. There isn’t generally a lot of criticism in my work, it’s mostly just for fun. I don’t like creating work that relies on a dig or sarcasm to be successful.
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Do you feel that as a society we are rewarding mediocrity? And should we be doing so?
It’s hard to say. Ultimately, people like what they’re going to like and if what people want is mediocre, then that’s their choice. I would not recommend mediocrity though. It does take more effort to find the most interesting stuff, so maybe it’s just that people don’t have enough time to search for all of the good things that are out there.
You have a tattoo section on your website where we can see photos of people with tattoos of your illustrations. Why do you think people like to get them? Is it an honour for you to see people wear your designs on themselves 24/7?
I think it’s incredible. I am always honoured when someone shows me a tattoo they’ve gotten of something I’ve drawn. I think people get them because they see something in the drawings that reminds them of themselves, which is very sweet.
Which tattoo would you say is your favourite?
I don’t think I could choose a favourite, every time someone sends me a photo of their tattoo, it becomes my new favourite.
“There isn’t generally a lot of criticism in my work, it’s mostly just for fun. I don’t like creating work that relies on a dig or sarcasm to be successful.”
I’ve seen that some of your early works include self-deprecating humour, but currently, most of it is very positive. How do you stay so positive? Don’t you ever get tired of it? Do you feel that it is your duty to convey these positive messages?
When I was younger, it was easier for me to communicate what I wanted to say by making fun of myself and others. I think it’s that way for a lot of people. It was certainly more difficult to express something genuine and sincere. As time has passed though, I’ve realised that if I have something meaningful to say, I better say it while people are listening, and that changed my outlook a bit. I don’t think of creating positive work as an obligation though. And I also still make self-deprecating things on occasion.
You share messages like “Still trying despite everything”, “I found a reason to keep sleeping, to keep riding, to keep listening, to keep looking” and “Double okays over here doing pretty okay at the moment”, which at first glance might seem simple and straightforward. However, I believe that they can be very meaningful to some, especially those dealing with mental health issues. Is this your way of helping those who really need to hear these kind of messages? Also, by doing so, would you say that you are destigmatising these issues?
When I create artwork, it’s almost always for myself. It's something that I'm feeling or need to hear or want to express. The benefit to keeping the meaning of my illustrations somewhat elusive means it can be interpreted in many ways. I don't think I've ever started out wanting to make a comic about mental wellness, but when I step back and look at everything I've done, it certainly seems to be a continuing theme. Talking about mental health is important, and though I'm not addressing it head on, I’m happy to be a part of the conversation. If my artwork provides some kind of cathartic release for people who subscribe to it, then that is a good thing and I support it.
What are your influences? Not only when it comes to other illustrators, but TV shows, movies, musicians etc. that may have influenced your work?
Oh, there are so many! On a really deep level, the friendships and media I had and was exposed to as a child were highly influential. More recent influences would include music from artists such as the Magnetic Fields and the Elephant 6 Collective, and the books and artwork of Tove Jansson. A lot of ideas come from reading books; some current favourite authors of mine are Truman Capote, Isaac Asimov and Byrd Baylor.
I am always learning from so many contemporary artists and illustrators I follow online. There are so many people out there doing incredible things in ways I’ve never even considered before. Every time I browse feeds and read through graphic anthologies, I become overwhelmed with the variety and greatness of work out there. I am also influenced by the things I come across in my daily life: dreams, conversations, things I observe while walking around my neighbourhood, and things like this. Inspiration comes from new and unexpected things all the time.
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Would you ever give up your job as a librarian to become a full-time illustrator?
No, I don’t think so. I studied to be a librarian because I’ve already tried doing full-time freelance illustration work and it wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be. I also genuinely enjoy working in libraries, answering questions and showing people how to use computers. I get to have conversations everyday with curious people who are in search of things, which I love. Also, librarians are cool as hell and are good people to be friends with.
What’s in store for you?
Oh, lots of things! I just recently had two books come out, In The Grass published by Ryan Cecil Smith, and Simple Things published by Perfectly Acceptable Press. I also participated in TCAF (Toronto Comic Arts Festival) and VanCAF (Vancouver Comic Arts Festival) this year, which were both very exciting. There’s a lot of stuff that I want to do and things in the process of happening. I myself don’t really know what’s going to happen for sure but I know there will be future things to look forward to.
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