The quirky illustrations of local artist Hiller Goodspeed are an interesting mixture of comical anecdotes, clever observations and personal moments of unfiltered introspection, depicted in a (deceptively) innocent aesthetic.
Perhaps it’s Hiller’s ironic juxtaposition of confidently drawn yet childishly simple lines combined with a sense of self awareness that makes his artwork so universally appealing — it’s definitely what got us! If you’re equally intrigued, read on to learn more about this special human being…
A sense of humour seems to play a very big part in your artwork, both aesthetically and topically. Why is it important to maintain a sense of humour and/or childishness in your art?
I have always tried to be a funny person, in my own way. I like the unexpected. I like dumb jokes. I don’t know if there was ever a time when I didn’t have a preference for those things. I enjoy humour in artwork because there is so much potential to turn into something regular and boring into something delightful.
My illustration style compliments my characters and their thoughts and lets me say things that are especially weird, things that might not be as funny if they were drawn in a more serious way. I still draw new things, and draw in different ways, but it’s important for me to maintain the dynamic that exists between my words and illustrations.
There’s often also an undercurrent of sadness to your drawings, even when they are silly. Is this a conscientious decision of yours and if so, why?
Humour pairs well with an honest kind of sadness. That quality naturally surfaced in my illustrations when I started to incorporate more personal, less-filtered thoughts into my artwork instead of only making jokes. I liked that I could take an honest thought, which by itself may be unremarkable, and turn it into something different by having it be expressed by someone in a frumpy sweater with a bad haircut.
A lot of your drawings incorporate relationships with food into their scenarios. What is your relationship with food like? What is your favourite food to draw and why?
Oh, I love food. Maybe I come up with a lot of ideas for drawings while I am hungry or eating something? I’m not sure. But there is a lot of humour potential in food and I’m always thinking about that.
My favourite foods to draw are snacks, the weird kinds you find in dollar stores that are almost appetizing but just a little…off. This is mostly explained by my love for Brad Neely and all the weird foods that appear in his comics. When I was young vending machines were also deeply revered which undoubtedly impacted me as well. I also like drawing fruit, who doesn’t like fruit?
How long have you been drawing in your current style and why did you gravitate toward a comic style?
I have been drawing in my current style for around 8 years. Before that I created mostly collage work, and before that I was a kid and drew all kinds of crazy stuff. When I first started drawing as an adult I drew simply because I wanted to communicate ideas and feelings that were relatively simple. I kept drawing that way and it seemed to work well and eventually my own style developed.
What was your favourite cartoon and/or comic as a kid?
When I was a kid my family would regularly go to Borders to sit in the fancy chairs and read. I would always sit in the humour section and read the Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, which were my favourites by far. Not only because they were funny but because I felt smart when I understood them, like I was in on the joke, which was a powerful feeling.
When I was in 5th grade my Dad got me my first issue of Mad Magazine, which was chalk full of weird and gross things that were hugely inspirational to me. I subscribed and was an avid reader for several years, eventually turning to the compendiums that featured the best content. When I look through those old issues now they appear to be fairly harmless, but my preteen brain found them to be incredibly subversive.
Who are the characters that you draw? What/who inspires them?
The characters are all myself, generally. I have a few different ways of drawing people and I like to mix them up, but the expressed sentiment is usually something that I have said or thought at some point. I spend a lot of time reflecting on interactions and feelings, sometimes those thoughts get distilled into a single sentence or idea and I use the characters to express them.
How long have you been drawing these particular characters? How have they grown or changed with you over time?
About 7 years. I didn’t start with the intention of drawing characters, just people. The more I drew the more I started to come up with distinguishing features so I could create more unique individuals, and they developed into characters. Every now and then I try to do something different, to help everyone evolve a bit, but they’re fairly established now and don’t change as quickly as they did at first.
You’ve done a lot of very interesting and unique collaborations with local and global businesses and creatives. What do you think it is about your artwork specifically that attracts and speaks to so many different people?
My characters are easy to relate to and empathize with which makes them good candidates for collaborations and freelance projects. Maybe people see a little bit of themselves in my characters? I’m not sure, but they do have a certain charm that sets them apart.
Who or what sort of project would you ideally like to collaborate on in the future, if you could do absolutely anything?
There are lots of things I would like to do. In October I released a 6-pack of letter-pressed matchboxes with M.C. Pressure in St. Augustine, Florida, which was something I had wanted to do for a long time but didn’t have the means to accomplish by myself. I also recently designed a wool sweater with Perfectly Acceptable Press, which will become available in December. That was something I didn’t even know I wanted to do but had a lot of fun working on. My ideal projects are almost always collaborations done with someone who has an idea and would like me to help make it happen. When we are each in charge of a part of the process and produce something together that neither one of us could do by ourselves. Those two projects are great examples of that.
I would like to paint a mural one day. There are these concrete arches at Britannia elementary, on the north wall of the tennis courts, and I have always thought it would be fun to paint something inside them.
Despite your portfolio of impressive and big projects, you continue to self-publish and embrace DIY culture. Why?
I like to keep things simple and within my control, and self-publishing allows for both of those things. I generally have an idea of what I would like to do, and if I have the capacity to do it myself I do. I enjoy working with other people, but the more personal a project is the more particular I am about who I am working with. So, if it’s not just myself, then it’s usually only one or two other people. I’ve found that the larger the project and the more people involved, the more creative restraints begin to surface which can make it difficult to work in earnest.
I have been lucky to have always lived in places with strong DIY scenes and have benefited from the guidance and support of those communities. When I had no idea what I wanted to do with my art or my life it was encouraging to be around like-minded people who were hosting shows and organizing events and making cool stuff. The DIY scene motivated me to continue trying to find something that worked for myself, and though it took some time I eventually figured it out. Creating independently is still my fave, though I do recognize there are times when I need outside help to realize ideas.
How does Vancouver influence what you do?
I love walking around Vancouver, there is so much happening here to look at and think about. Going on long walks usually refreshes my perception of things and helps me formulate ideas. One of my favourite walks is from the Commercial and Napier area to downtown (by way of the railroad pedestrian bridge on Keefer Street). Every time I walk that path I encounter something different or notice something new.
I ride the bus all the time too, which is really good for people-watching and getting a feel for what’s going on in Vancouver. Occasionally I’ll overhear something totally out of context and it becomes fodder for an illustration. It’s also nice to look out the window and watch people walk their dogs and do yard work. I am a major proponent of public transportation, for many reasons, but mostly because I feel closer to everyone in the city while I’m riding it.
What is your current obsession and/or source of inspiration?
Lately, I’ve been leaving my apartment to work intently somewhere else, which is not something I’ve really tried to do before. It’s helpful for me to be in a place where I’m surrounded by people talking and doing things, it lets me relax in a way that’s difficult to do when I’m at home by myself. My favorite spot right now is Delaney’s Coffee on Denman Street.
I used to spend a lot of time on websites like Fffffound! and thought that inspiration was looking at nice things that someone else made, but now I am finding that inspiration comes from a combination of factors and conditions. Books and music still affect me, but I try not to demand anything of them and let myself enjoy things for what they are instead of what I want them to be.
Imagine a hundred years into the future, someone is discovering your artwork for the first time. Without them having any backstory, what do you think that your art would say about yourself and Vancouver?
Oh, I have no idea. I guess that would depend on what they came across. It would be nice to think that, whatever it was they found, they would say “this is funny and weird but it was made by someone who cared about themselves and where they lived”.