Focus explores the creative talent within the climbing community.
Hank St John’s work has a dark and fantastical nature to it. After studying print-making in his native Texas, the North Carolina-based illustrator and climber developed a complex style that encourages the viewer to explore the work, taking in the entirety of the image.
How did you first get into illustration?
I have always liked to draw, ever since I was a kid. I would get in trouble in my classes for drawing instead of doing my work; the edges of my homework and notes would be covered in doodles. I don’t think my teachers approved. I studied print-making at the University of North Texas and learned etching and woodblock printing which had a big impact on my drawing style. Now I mainly focus on ink drawings exclusively.
What was it in those processes you learned that helped you find your style?
Etching and woodblock are processes that traditionally have a heavy emphasis on line work, so I started drawing in a way that would be suitable for working in those mediums and it felt natural to me. I was also exposed to the work of print artist like Durer and Posada and realized that line drawings were the kind of art I was most attracted to. I don’t make prints anymore but I still draw in a style that would translate to that medium.
What process do you go through when creating a piece, from ideation to the final work?
Usually I make small sketches and when I stumble upon one I think would make a good drawing I make a bigger pencil sketch on nice paper and then dive in with micron pens. Depending on the size of the drawing it might take between eight to 20 hrs to complete.
Your images have a fantastical, darkish look. Where do you find your inspiration?
I definitely find a lot of inspiration in mythology and folklore. I have always liked to draw monsters and fantastical animals. I want to make drawings that seem like they could be from a myth or a legend that originates in some alternate reality. I never think of my art as being dark but I guess my taste just runs towards horror, sci-fi and fantasy—plus skulls are just fun to draw.
Your pieces have a wild quality to them; do you find that climbing and the environment have an impact on the type of subject matter you feature?
I have always loved desert environments and spending time in places like Hueco, Red Rocks and Joshua Tree. I draw a lot of inspiration from the plants, animals and landscapes of those places and find them popping up in my drawings often. There’s a line in Cormac McCarthy’s book Blood Meridian that says, “Those who travel desert places do indeed meet with creatures surpassing all description”. I think about that line a lot when I’m drawing. I moved to North Carolina a couple of months ago and it’s about as far as you can get from a desert, so maybe I will start finding the same kind of inspiration out here in the woods. But right now I’m still dreaming about Hueco and Red Rocks.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to follow a similar path in illustration?
Oh man, I’m not sure if I am one to give advice. I would say it’s easy to get discouraged by all the amazing art you see online; if you start comparing yourself to other people it’s a losing battle because there will always be someone better. You just have to keep your head down and put in the work and good things will come. I don’t know if that’s good advice but it’s what I tell myself everyday!
You can see more of his work and follow Hank on Instagram here