As well as working as a communication designer at IDEO, Zach Hobbs creates experimental, abstract, and satirical artworks that resemble the sharpie rendition of a bad acid trip. I was lucky enough to interview Zach recently and wanted to share with you his insights into realising his own creative style, masculinity, and working for one of the coolest design agencies out there. He also shares some valuable advice for young designers starting out and wanting to contribute to the world without losing their soul.
Note, the following article contains some explicit content.
Tell me a bit about the background of your drawing style. When did it all start?
Ok, so I used to go to church. Like, every Sunday morning and night and sometimes on Wednesday — my parents were and are quite into their church community, and as a kid, I didn’t really have a choice. Anyway, my first memory of drawing was definitely in church. My mum would hand me papers and pens and I’d just start. I have no idea where this thing came from — the weird faces just kinda came naturally. Later on, I got into really bad comic books — like dumb superhero shit and it really just fucked my drawing game up because I thought I had to draw GOOD, know what I mean? I knew I could draw pretty good because all my kid friends were always stoked on my drawings but then I thought I had to really draw well, with some sort of really stupid ‘style’ or whatever. Little did I know that was just the dumbest idea ever but who knows anything when they’re young. Later on, I started getting into graphic design and I drifted away from drawing as my primary practice. I’d still use drawing here and there but I also got interested in collage, assemblage, typography and all that radical mid-century graphic design history. Luckily, I met an amazing partner about 6 years ago who had a strong contemporary art background who kept saying “hey, your really dumb drawings are your best thing, you should just draw more”. That was a huge turning point. I just had no confidence in my drawings prior to those conversations. Luckily I listened to Jessica Caponigro and just threw myself into the BAD drawings, trying to capitalise on my inabilities, instead of worrying whether or not something was good. Now I just try to do the best version of a shitty drawing. That’s all I can do. I’m just happy anyone is paying any attention to a dumb drawing with all of the crazy shit happening in the world.
Your drawings tend to have a satirical tone of voice to them, is there a subject you feel passionate about expressing through your artwork?
I think the world can be a pretty dark place, and I tend to carry a lot of these feelings in my body all the time and that leaks out into the drawings. For the record, there’s very little plan involved in any of this. Most of the time I just start drawing and whatever comes out is what’s coming out of the pen. You’ll notice some themes — politics, masculinity, sex, work. I draw A LOT of really fucked up masculine forms. I think I have a hard time with the concept of masculinity — I think our culture is really fucked up and forces a lot of bullshit on young people no matter the gender, race, class etc. This is how you have to exist, this is how you dress, this is manly, this is girly, that is not the way you’re supposed to act, these are the rules for people like you, etc. Fuck that noise. I get so bummed thinking about these things. Millions of men are really fucked and need to get their shit together. Myself included. So I draw a lot of really disgusting naked male forms, you might call them monsters because I really feel like “men” are monsters. We’re just terrible trash humans, and I identify as a man. A cis-white-heterosexual man. I carry that shit and realise the privilege that comes with it. But goddamn it, we have to do better. I feel like everyone should see the world like I do and I don’t understand why people are so fucking terrible to each other and why we can’t just try to exercise a little empathy and compassion with each other. It’s all gonna come out in the work. And it should!
“I thought I had to draw really well, with some sort of stupid ‘style’ or whatever. Little did I know that was just the dumbest idea ever but who knows anything when they’re young.”
I see that you work at IDEO, which blows my mind, as it’s an organisation I really admire. What is it like working there?
Well, it’s the fucking best job I’ve ever had and I’m 6 years in and I’m still stoked on it. It’s hard, it asks a lot from you as a human, and it’s work, so it can get hard sometimes, but it gives back to you exponentially. IDEO has allowed me to travel the world and meet people who are amazing, intelligent, humble, and caring, and that includes my co-workers, our clients and most importantly the humans we meet when we’re in the field for research. I greatly appreciate that shit. I feel lucky that I work for an organisation that says bring your true self to work and we will reward you for it. And it’s not a place chock full of freaks, haha. Let’s be straight up it’s a design consultancy, not romper room. But my people at work are super supportive and curious, and I’ve never felt like I couldn’t live whatever truth I’m trying to live. I’m all “hell yeah I like my job”.
“I’m just happy anyone is paying any attention to a dumb drawing with all of the crazy shit happening in the world.”
What are some projects that you have enjoyed working on?
Everything from professional soccer to women’s walking shoes to bed bug detection to branding innovation spaces and NGO’s. It’s all secret cool shit!
What would be your advice to a young designer wanting to do some good in the world?
Ok, this is hard. When you’re in the early phase of your career you are walking a pretty tight line. You want to be yourself, do work you’re proud of, and figure out how to earn a living. That’s certainly not the easy road. I spent 9 years in a design job that was not fulfilling creatively, had a really shit group of clients and sucked at my soul every day. But I stuck that shit out and used nights and weekends to create things that I was passionate about. I think the real challenge to a young designer is finding that time and energy to do things that make you happy and give you that good karma while also working what might be entry level design or production jobs. My best advice is work hard. It’s easy to put in extra hours as a younger human. I spent years staying up to 1am and getting up at 6. I did it because I wanted to be great at this thing. And I still have that desire even 15+ years into my “career”. But I got a good little home life established and I’m getting older and need a bit more sleep nowadays haha. But you want to do good in the world? Fucking do some good in the world! Find partners, make posters, make zines, make buttons, figure out your path. It is NEVER easy. But it’s worth the work!
Also, find your tribe! Find your culture! Create your own versions of things. BE YOUNG and BE WILD. Don’t spend all day on the Internet. Make shit with your hands!!!! Do it all with fucking LOVE!!!
Your Instagram stories occasionally feature a couple of feline friends, what are their names?
Oh, that’s my Oscar cat and my Loretta cat! Oscar is the bigger one!
Zach’s lively, and colourful artworks on Instagram will pleasantly break up the sponsored ads in your newsfeed with aliens, skulls, abstract collages, handwritten type, and all-around wickedness. Get around it at @zachhobbs. Take a look at some of his work below…