Plaid shirts, vintage apothecary bottles and early American iconography fill the walls of Ward Hooper’s downtown gallery. The space features prints of and a myriad of merchandise incorporating the artist’s work, as well as a curated collection of antiques. Artists often struggle with finding balance between making and marketing. Some also grapple with fundamental questions about what art is and at what point it becomes something else. Unlike other career paths, those in the creative sector frequently don’t have a pre-scripted formula for success or a trodden path to follow. Ward Hooper, like many artists, is a sort of pioneer. The trajectory of his art making career has twists and turns in the search for personal success. Starting as a painter, he then moved into illustration and graphic design, which evolved into public art commissions. Now primarily a commercial artist, Hooper has found a formula that works for him.
What is your preferred medium?
For quite a few years, I’ve basically done all of my work digitally. It’s all computer generated. I hate to say that though, I generate the work and the computer helps me.
What are you working on right now?
Gosh, I’ve got several things going. I’m always trying to do a fine art piece, no not fine art piece, but something I can hang on the wall here and possibly sell. I’m always working on other projects independent of what goes in this gallery. I get commissioned to do work as well. I was recently working on an illustration for a real estate company, but besides that I’ve been commissioned to do a lot of rock posters and gig/event posters, which is fun for me and more interesting because you can be avant garde and more experimental with the imagery. That work has taken me into more music oriented and rock and roll and more work in that vein. I’ve been working on some Beatles stuff and stuff like that. Basically I’m working on my own wanderings in that area and people seem to like it, so I keep doing it.
What type of work do you do outside this gallery space?
I’ve done over 500 images created in this style, since I started in 2013. I have enough images that I can keep the walls filled with the ones I know people are drawn to; I also hang other things I like on the wall as well. It gets a little overwhelming sometimes, but it keeps me on my toes. I used to do a lot more commercial work; I don’t do as much now. By commercial, I mean logos and pamphlet design, but it’s not something l love to do. It’s not as creative as doing posters or event images. I also do private illustrations for people, like memorializing things for loved ones, a favorite place, or a pet or a dog. It’s a whole wide range of things. As a creative person you have to do a lot of things to pay the bills.
Can you talk about your process?
My process is to come up with an idea; hopefully it’s a good one, then play around with that idea. I then draw and keep drawing until I get something I like. I work that up into a full size image and then print that out as a proof. Generally, my proofs are pretty close and I’ll live with that proof. I will hang it on the wall and look at it and then I might decide to change it. I could have a proof that I’ve printed out and done two years ago and decide that I want to change it because I don’t like how the colors work or something that I don’t like. It’s usually something minor, but I’ll change it again. Then it’s finally an edition and I can print it out.
Generally, the hardest part is the idea. It gets harder and harder. If you have a successful piece, and everybody loves it and its commercially successful, then it’s just like the music industry, I imagine, you have to have a hit number two. People always expect something equally exciting the next time around, so it puts a lot of stress on your creative mind to try to come up with something. I’m not chasing the dollar or chasing the approval of the person who comes in here, I also want to please myself, but also make something that other people will find interesting too. It’s tough, it’s a tough thing to do.
What’s your typical art making schedule look like?
It isn’t typical. I work here at the gallery, a lot. In the mornings there aren’t a whole lot of people here. I spend the morning working on art or doing other things that are art related. I will change things on the wall, or apply the artwork to different things, like magnets, stickers or t-shirts. These are all marketing one of the images that I have created. If I do get really locked into an image, I will push everything aside and work 24/7 until it’s done. If I lose interest, then I move onto something else. That’s the reason I got into digital. I may come back to it later on, but later on could be 3 years later, and I’ll generally change it. Your taste and interests change over small amounts of time. Something you did a year ago can be something you’re not even interested in today. For me, I have to keep moving along.
So there is no schedule?
No, well it is a schedule. I arrive here at around 9 and work until 5. Within that time frame, I am submersed in myself and doing something creative. As far as sitting down and doing something purely creative, like a piece of artwork for myself, that’s kind of sporadic.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find it everywhere. When I was younger, I would clip stuff out of every possible thing I would find, anything that struck my eye. Nowadays, you can find anything in a second on the computer, especially as an artist. It’s great if you want to know what an armadillo looks like. Also, I find it just walking around this town. I do a lot of Boise stuff. I kind of feel like I’ve done everything Boise related, but I still see stuff.
I was fascinated for a while with these little linoleum blocks that were dropped on the asphalt. They had tar paper covering and as cars drove by, it wore off the tar paper, and there was some sort of political message or underground street message. It was kind of cryptic, you couldn’t understand it there was one right here on the corner forever, and one farther down and I saw the information on it. I think it was a website or name of a group, but it was really cryptic. I went online and found out it was this guy doing it in New York or Philadelphia. He was making these things out of linoleum and putting them on the street. He cut a hole in the bottom of his Pinto car and driving around and dropping them on the street. The cars would drive over them enough where you could see the picture or the message. That got me, just seeing that, got me into this whole street art thing.
So Inspiration comes anywhere.
What are your thoughts about the art community here?
There is really no gallery scene here. You can find a coffee shop or a smaller gallery that’s willing to show your artwork. The galleries are getting fewer and fewer. Now there are tattoo shops that have galleries. There are so many non-gallery businesses opening up that want to show artwork. If you hang artwork in a coffee shop or any business, they’re getting a free service from the artist and the artist is generally getting zero sales. You might sell something every once in a while. I’ve done it, but it’s generally not good for the artist, because the artwork just becomes background noise.
I think things like the music scene, which is thriving, kind of helps the art scene. Along with music come artists doing stuff with, or for the musicians, so that’s cool. The art community is the same as it was when I started. I don’t really think it’s growing. There’s more of it, but has it grown? Maybe some opportunities have grown because of public art. It helps to fund the artists, but is there more opportunities gallery wise? No, I don’t think so. There are more opportunities to do things like the Modern Art and other First Thursday events, but you have to have the nerve to do it. Being an artist is always tough.
Are there any resources missing here to make the community more appealing to artists?
It’s kind of a dumb question, or not the right question to ask me. I generally have all of the resources that I need. If you’re going to be commercially successful, you have to go out and sell yourself. There are just as many ways to sell yourself, as there are types of art. You don’t have to be a hard sell. You can just educate people about what you do. Find out where you can get involved, find out where to apply for shows and do stuff for free. If a band is playing, ask if you can do the poster. It’s amazing, you never know what will come from it. You have to put your name and email and website on everything. No opportunities can come if they don’t know how to contact you. Opportunities are where you make them.
Any inspiration, tips, or advice for other artists out there?
It really is about your personality. You have to find an art style that suits you, that you are excited about, and that is different, then go out and talk to people about it. You have to sell yourself.
Creators, Makers, and Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.