We had the good fortune of connecting with Mitchell Hawley and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mitchell, what habits do you feel play an important role in your life?
When I was a teenager I came across this Dutch artist who kept sketchbooks and uploaded them to a personal site he made. It was an instant, gut attraction for me to want to do that too. I remember daydreaming about when I’m an old man and having a room full of bookcases full of sketchbooks. There is a story by the late Hippie surrealist Richard Brautigan about a library that is entirely composed of just regular folks who write and make their own books. I always loved this imagery. I’ve always appreciated and romanized folks who are creatures of habit. I love the idea of committing to a craft and growing alongside it. I think keeping habits is a way to help make life less confusing and chaotic. You feel in control, and for me I find habits help with my mood and feeling anxious. It definitely contributes to a good self-image. I like to think keeping up with small habits helps build a strong foundation and a sense of momentum. I think people really admire folks who can be self-motivated and stick to a schedule. It’s motivating for others to see that. It’s also fun to think how everything in nature sticks to a schedule, and me participating and keeping up with my habits is my way of doing what everything else in nature does too. Outside of the habit of creativity in visual art, I also keep to a pretty straight schedule. Throughout this year and being out of work, I still go to bed around 10:30pm and wake up at 7:00 am. Once I’m awake I’m out of bed immediately and I make breakfast and coffee. I exercise and run three times a week.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My illustration project, called Snail Club, has been a way for me to express the best me and get in touch with a part of myself that I wasn’t able to access for a long time. For many years I felt uncomfortable with anything cute, wholesome, and good natured. This was because I struggled to see all these positive traits in myself. My attitude about myself and my art process has changed a lot. When I look back at my older work, which is much more weird and dark, it still has something innocent, fun, and cute in its cartoony style. However much I let my creativity venture into weird thoughts and feelings, the core of who I am was still there. I just wasn’t able to see it in myself yet. That’s not to say there aren’t great things I like about my older work. It has a dreamy, surreal, adventurous, underground comic-style spirit to it. I wanted to explore the unknown, the subterranean, and the otherworldly in myself. When I moved to Austin almost six years ago, I checked out a book of Texas outsider artists from The Washington Carver Museum. I was reading about the artist Frank Jones. When Jones created these devil figures on paper, he made them happy and pleasing, but in reality, in his thoughts, these devils were mean and unpleasant. He said in this way he feels like he has control over them. This moment aligned so perfectly with my new developing attitude about myself and consequently my art. For a long time my process relied on anxiety, self-doubt, and depression for inspiration, and that caused me to feel my identity was stuck in these feelings. I wanted out. I began copying his process. Whenever I wasn’t feeling good, instead of drawing characters or worlds which were shaped by anxiety and depressive thoughts, I drew happy and pleasant faces. When I looked through my sketches later, I was literally so surprised how genuinely happy and pleasing these faces looked. It honestly made me feel better about myself. It became a cognitive strategy. I realize however much anxiety and awkwardness I felt internally, it wasn’t reality. I recently watched some home movies. Seeing myself as a kid reminded me of who I am. In one scene I’m talking about how beautiful my childhood back yard is, how beautiful the trees are. In another scene, in turquoise windbreakers with my white t-shirt tucked in, trying to do cartwheels in my front lawn, I comment about a neighbor kid playing violin outside. He lived across the street and he spent a lot of time practicing in his garage. The whole neighborhood could hear him. I made a comment to my sister about “how cool it is that he loves playing the violin. Isn’t it SO COOL he LOVES to play it?” I feel like the sentiment in my kid enthusiasm is really saying: Isn’t it a miracle we can love things? To make meaning for ourselves in this world? Isn’t it so cool it’s possible? These scenes really hit home for me. I’ve been keeping them as a point of reference for encouragement. Who do I want to continue to be? Oh yeah, I want to be that kid in turquoise windbreakers doing bad cartwheels in the grass, who loves the Oak and Pine trees in his yard, and hearing the neighbor kid play violin. Which is to say, I just want to strive to be as happy, content, and enthusiastic with myself and the world around me when I was a kid as with being an adult. What I’m most proud about right now is my persistence in my craft, how I’m learning more about what I want, and how I feel I’m slowly getting closer to that goal. It hasn’t been easy, but the more I put myself out into the world, the more encouragement I receive and the more I learn about how I fit. The artist and painter Leanna Hicks told me once, after I received a grant from the city to paint a mural, how cool it was that all my efforts before this achievement enabled me to make this happen. It was like, little did I know, that after working in obscurity for so long, something would actually bloom! That comment was so insightful. I think it’s a really good habit to take into account how our immediate decisions enable us to have what we want in the future. It makes the uncertainty of the present moment not feel so overwhelming if you choose to believe that your present goals and challenges do contribute in good ways to future happiness. However, this also entails its fair share of anxiety. What if the efforts don’t turn out to be what you want them to be? There is a bit of faith in this pursuit, but there is also action that is grounded in practical thinking too.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I think starting out your morning at Flitch Coffee would be a great start. It’s a coffee spot operating out of an old 1950’s trailer. It’s quant, tucked away, and nestled against a residential neighborhood and a warehouse, and there is a beautiful Oak tree that canopies over the trailer too. On the weekends be sure to grab a delicious donut from Andy K’s Donuts! After coffee you can walk a couple blocks north to Eastside Succulents and browse their huge collection. I like looking at all the strange, alien-looking succulents they have. From here I would recommend driving to Holly Shores at Town Lake for a stroll along the River. This spot has a great view of the Longhorn Dam. If you take the trail west towards downtown, there are a couple beautiful murals along the way that I love. For Lunch I would check out Tyson’s Taco’s on Airport. Very fun covered patio with great tunes. For Dinner I recommend Patrizi’s Italian food truck at The Vortex bar. It’s another outdoor space that has a very rustic vibe, and great ambience especially after dark. If you love live music and Honky-Tonk I would definitely check out a spot some friends recently recommended to me, The Sagebrush on South Congress. A couple miles down the road is another music venue called The Far-Out Lounge, which is outdoors and very spacious. Some other notable spots I like are: The Central Downtown Library, The Washington Carver Museum, Deep Eddy Pool, and South Congress Books, and of course The Green Belt!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are quite a few. I’ll start with my best friend Heather. We’ve been friends for like 17 years and she’s seen the full transition and development of my art process. As a teenager my art process was all about exploring everything weird and surreal. I remember she told me once I was capable of making something timeless and I never forgot that. I looked up to her a lot so that really meant something to me. And now, 17 years later I can see I’m closer to her insight more than ever. She’s pursuing her PHD in genetics right now, and I’m pursuing my career as a commercial artist. It’s been encouraging to have a friendship where our pursuits share a long-term path and we can both offer support. My friend Waleria Petrushenko. She’s an extremely talented illustrator and also makes felted dolls now. I came across her dreamy and surreal ms paint drawings on flickr in 2009 and felt such kinship with them.. They were so fun, and had this very whimsical and witty dream-logic to them that I found so inspiring. Her compositions always involved her friends, her dog Lucky, or one of her cool knick-knacks. I was inspired by her balance of incorporating personal moments and elements into a composition that also explored imagination and world building. My friend Danny Espinoza, who’s a designer and visual artist. I met Danny through Waleria and we became really good friends when I moved to Austin 7 years ago. Danny has always offered non-stop encouragement of my work and has pushed me to be better. We became friends because we both liked classical / finger-style guitar and we both liked to work-out and exercise. We used to go lap-swimming at Big Stacy pool and bring his classical guitar. We would swim laps, take a break and pass the guitar back and forth, and then swim more laps. We were always talking about ideas and art and music. He moved to Australia years ago to start a family and we still keep in touch. I value his friendship so much. Also shout-outs to Natalia Rocafuerte, who helped make my dream come true of finally being able to paint a mural; Kidd Tommy who casted me in my first indie feature film ‘Cold Blooded’, Christina who is a speech pathologist and has given me more insight into art and education, my old coworkers and regulars at Opa who always made me laugh, and of course my parents and family who have always been supportive of my journey so far.
Natalia Rocafuerte, Stacey Knupple