Nathan Yoder — Interview with an Illustrator

There isn’t a formula for finding your voice just like there isn’t a formula to becoming friends with someone. It just takes time and honesty. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t, work with the tools that come natural to you and be inspired by your surroundings.

How did you develop artistic the style that has become so uniquely identifiable as that of Nathan Yoder?

I’m not sure I can ever quite answer this one. I’ve often liked to compare the question of “how do I find my voice?” to the dynamic of friendship—if a stranger asked us how they would need to act in order to be our best friend, that would confuse us a bit. We love those whom we love because of who they are, not because of who we want them to be. We find people who connect with us and share our interests and therefore we become friends. No one can tell us how to be ourselves, it just happens over time as we understand ourselves more and more. This is how we view friendship and every other human interaction so I don’t think we should view ourselves as artists any differently. There isn’t a formula for finding your voice just like there isn’t a formula to becoming friends with someone. It just takes time and honesty. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t, work with the tools that come natural to you and be inspired by your surroundings. That’s how I came to find my voice.

How does craftsmanship and skill interact with personal meaning and message?

I think craftsmanship, skill, personal meaning, and message is all tied into one. I don’t really consider those individually too much. I think the best work happens when all factors are considered from beginning to end just like how in baking all ingredients are considered from the start – leaving out the eggs then deciding to put them back in once the cake is already out of the oven is going to cause some real issues. If the message isn’t tied in directly with the craftsmanship of the design then you’ve just got a flashy piece of artwork that won’t work. And on the flip side, if you’re message heavy with no craftsmanship then you’re left with the work of local news stations and small town billboards – The message is plastered all over the thing, but it looks hideous. I do my best to consider all of these things every time I sit down to work.

What is your process in deciding what to depict in these small but profound drawings?

I guess they do tend to be a bit depressing at times eh? Haha, I think for most people, I definitely feel it in myself at least, we’re constantly teetering on a knife-edge of pain and joy. I think we all want to be happy and so we’re always looking for ways to be so but it doesn’t change the fact that life is hard and we all have scars both new and old that are in a constant state of healing. I’ve never been the best at masking my emotions so generally whatever I’m working on is going to reflect, in some way, what it is that I’m feeling and more and more I’m learning to not be afraid of simply being honest both with myself and outwardly. I think there’s a lot of honesty in pain because who want’s to be in pain? So for me, creating artwork that lives in that place while pointing people towards some kind of hope feels a bit more honest than always creating art that pretends like I’ve found pure happiness. I don’t find that kind of artwork to be super relatable though it is fun, uplifting, and definitely needed in the world. I’ve been working on a side project that I’m hoping to steer in the direction of a children’s book someday. All of that stuff is definitely brighter and plays into more of the simple joys in life so I recognize that there is definitely a place for it but through my main pool of work, I hope to relate to people who are feeling the same things I’m feeling and those things aren’t always happy or light. So in choosing what to depict in those drawings, they generally spur from journal entries or thoughts that I have been wrestling with. I try to sum all of those thoughts up into one image, almost like a logo for that thought. Sometimes the message gets across and sometimes it’s just vague enough for me to know what I was talking about haha

How do you think the message of art is portrayed through different mediums?

As human expression, I think art portrays in a myriad of different ways, just as all of us are so very different. That’s the beautiful thing about art – it’s so complex because people are so complex. There’s no real, right way, to interpret art though I think it does help to check the pulse of the culture you’re a part of and try and create art that they can relate with and understand to some extent otherwise you’re going to be left with a bunch of confused people who feel like they’ve been toyed with – paying to see an exhibit that they don’t get. We have to speak people’s language in order to connect with them, we can just make up our own then be frustrated when people don’t understand it. At least give us some context that we can work from to understand your perspective. That’s how I feel about a lot of modern art but then again that’s just personal opinion, I guess.

In regards to your second question, I think drawing for me is just a tool. By no means do I think it’s the best medium for communication but it’s the one that I’m most comfortable with so that’s the tool that I use. I think every artist should use the tool that they’re most comfortable with. That’s the danger of social media and trends – people get exposed to one specific, hot item, tool and decide to use it rather than the tool they’ve been crafting their whole life, whether they know it or not. If you grew up around woodworking and you’re proficient with a saw and chisel then use that to say what’s on your mind! I think the most powerful medium an artist can use is the one that he or she is most familiar with. 5. What is one of your favourite pieces you’ve ever done and why? I’ve been enjoying writing more and more lately, and so if I had to pick one, I would say Dark Water is my current favourite, more for the writing than the drawings. I’m sure it’s mediocre writing compared to people who write for a living and I’ve heard near next to nothing about the writing from those who have bought the zine but I enjoyed putting it together!

There are glimpses scattered throughout your work of interactions with God and Biblical imagery. How does God influence your view of art and the actual drawings themselves?

He influences everything I do. I’m constantly trying to find ways to communicate that in a way that doesn’t shut people off because he’s rarely brought up in a relatable, approachable, way but I’m finding it harder and harder not to bring him up. It’s like falling for someone and the more in love you become the harder it is not to bring that person into every conversation you have with people. I believe in God, so therefore I believe he created all things, and therefore, I believe he created me and so rather than using the world to understand God I’m trying to understand him in order to understand the world and the more I do that the more I am able to sympathize, relate, and love people. I genuinely believe, that if most people actually sat down and tried to get to know Jesus Christ, they would fall in love with him. He’s just gotten a bad rap by people using his name as an excuse for their bad behaviour. Forget North American Jesus and get to know Jesus. North American Jesus tends to be represented by Christians as standing at the door of people’s hearts with a battering ram, forcing people to follow his ways. Jesus in the Bible is represented as standing at the door and knocking, his kindness being the thing that leads people to repentance. His kindness and love is the biggest inspiration behind my work. 7. If you could say something to the artistic community at large, what would it be? (Hard question, I know) I would say, “Hello!”