Interview by Uriah Young
QFTD: Tell us a little about yourself. Who is J.D. Hillberry?
JD: I was born on June 17th, 1958 in Riverton, Wyoming. By the way, I share the same birthday as MC Escher - although he was born in 1898 and died in 1972. I went to school there until I went off to college in Greeley, Colorado. Growing up, I was known as "the musician." I played drums professionally at the age of 12 in my Uncle's band on weekends all through junior high and high school. I went to college to become a music teacher. As a music major, I had to learn to play every instrument in a short amount of time, and consequently sucked at nearly all of them! (I didn't like learning to play cello bad so I could try to teach kids to play the cello...bad). I quit after college my sophomore year and went out on the road, playing in various clubs for the next 10 years. Everything from Jazz to country to rock. This was back in the day of lounge bands playing in large hotel chains. I actually lived on the road in hotels over 45 weeks a year. I played music at night and drew in the daytime, making a little money selling portraits. While touring the country, I met my wife (the groupie I couldn't shake), and we both realized that this kind of life was not conducive to raising a family.
After we got married she gave me one year to make a profit at selling art, and if I didn't, I'd have to get a "real" job. I've never had one of those, and that was my incentive to do everything I could to make it work. I barely made any money that first year and was literally a starving artist. My wife won't let me call myself that anymore since I'm getting fatter every year! So I guess the incentive to being a successful artist was to avoid getting a real job!
QFTD: You're a very talented individual, with multiple gifts. What made you focus solely on your artwork?
JD: I was very interested in drawing from an early age as well. My parents used to say, "Put down the pencils and go play." They wanted to make sure I was well rounded and not a very shy introverted artist.
QFTD: Who are some artists that inspire you?
JD: The main artist is probably M. C. Escher. When I was about 10, my parents bought me a book of his work, and it literally opened up another world for me. I was (and still am) interested in playing around with the paradoxes that can happen with the representation of 3 dimensional space on a 2 dimensional surface. My other art hero was William Harnett (1848 - 1892). He was the first American tromp l'oeil artist of note. I feel my work is sort of a combination of both of them. In some of his work, Escher experimented with the idea of 2D becoming 3D, but he didn't ever try to fool anyone into thinking that his 3D representations were actually real 3D objects as a trompe l'oeil artist would. These days my interest lies in creating a good tromp l'oeil illusion but having an added "Escher like" twist to it.
QFTD: I flew 1,500 miles to take your class, and it was worth every cent. How have you managed to attract so many students from all over the world?
JD: It is probably a combination of the internet and the exposure I've received from art shows, nationally published magazines, and books. This has gotten my name out there. I think people decide to travel to take my workshops because I'm teaching techniques that add texture and realism that I've come up with myself. It's what many pencil artists struggle with. If you want to learn how someone is doing a particular thing, the best thing to do is go to the source.
QFTD: What kind of subjects do you enjoy drawing most?
JD: The trompe l'oeil illusion type thing I mentioned earlier. I really enjoy the process of drawing, so I like to draw virtually anything.
QFTD: You published a book, Drawing Realistic Textures in Pencil, that is extremely helpful.When people buy your book, why is it still beneficial to visit your workshops?
JD: The book can only get you so far. I've seen remarkable progress with people just using the book, but it is invaluable to watch a teacher describe and demonstrate all the techniques rather than just try to follow along with step-by-step pictures. I get to watch each student try the techniques also and give personal feedback to help them.
QFTD: What's next for you in the world of art? Conventions? An institute?
JD: I'm working on video tutorials that I think will be the next best thing to attending one of my workshops. Not everyone has the means to travel so far to take a class, so being able to see me demonstrate techniques through my video tutorials will be very helpful. I'm also traveling more with my classes as well. I've gone to Hawaii twice to conduct workshops, and next year I plan on traveling outside the country to do them as well.
To see more from J.D. Hillberry, click below.