Painting the Town With Levi Hastings

by Feb 25, 2016Interviews, Queer Arts

You may not know the name Levi Hastings but, if you’ve picked up a copy of The Stranger, the Mercury, or City Arts magazine lately, you’ve probably seen his work.

Levi’s art has graced their covers and interiors, along with other illustrious local and regional publications, with fair frequency over the last year or so. He’s a gay, Seattle-based artist. His spare, post-abstract style lends itself well to newsprint and other printed media.

“I would consider myself an illustrator, first and foremost,” explains Levi. “I kind of veer into comics and fine art as well, but I tend to start from an illustrative point of view in terms of getting an idea across or telling a story. I work primarily in watercolor, but that veers into different paints, digital stuff too.”

His work ranges from delicate landscapes, to colorful dinosaurs, to godlike fantasy creatures. Oh, and the handsome stars of HBO’s defunct series Looking.

“That was amazing,” he gushes, “that was a really great opportunity.”

Levi was one of a lucky group of five artists that HBO worked with as part of a social media campaign prior to the second season of Looking. They were all flown to San Francisco to meet with the cast and crew of the show, then asked to create a series of work based on the characters from the show.

The opportunity came as something of a surprise to Levi.

“They contacted me out of the blue,” explains. “I had no idea they were doing this.

“I was doing a bunch more work last year,” he continues, “and I’d had a couple of shows, and a lot of editorial work. I was sharing more portfolio level stuff. I had worked with the magazine Hello Mister on their third issue. I’d worked with the editor there, and been posting a bunch of stuff. When the HBO marketing team wanted to do this social media campaign, they had approached the editor of the magazine.

“It was a really great project. It was really fun to work with them. It was really cool.”

Not to mention getting to spend an afternoon with Russell Tovey.

“He’s very charming, and pleasant, and handsome in real life,” admits Levi. “Jonathan Groff, as well, is pretty delightful.”

But the project was more than just a fangirling opportunity for Levi, as it led to more great opportunities to show his work.

“I ended up doing another project with HBO, following that one,” he says. “That gig rolled into some other really great opportunities. I’ve been working with bigger clients, whereas previously I was very local. I was doing a lot of stuff for The Stranger, and Willamette Week, and the Portland Mercury, the smaller weekly newspapers.”

I’m sure The Stranger wouldn’t mind being called “small.”

“They’re not small,” he laughs. “They’re local, not national publications. It’s a little more steady and consistent work with them. And they’re really wonderful to work with, too.”

It’s that sort of work that’s the bread and butter for a working artist, of course. Gig like a chance to help promote an HBO series are the exception. But it’s gigs like that, along with persistent, dogged, self promotion, that help a working artist pay the bills.

Ask any artist, and they’ll tell you: If you want to make a living off of your art, you have to market yourself.

“I’ll send out postcards, and emails,” he agrees. “I definitely do a certain amount of hunting on my own. I feel like I do have to keep up that habit. Last year I was booked, and that was a really cool feeling.”

Levi also incorporates social media into his promotional activities, to some success. Especially Instagram.

“In terms of social media presence, that’s been the most successful in getting me work,” he admits.

“Somebody will contact me based on a cover I did, or a comic,” he adds. “As much as I would like to think that I was very strategic in putting this out there, and this led to this, and this led to that, it’s not that linear, or predictable. My best strategy is just to make sure I’m putting myself out there, and hope that some of it sticks.

Putting himself out there includes doing art shows, and attending comic conventions, where he’s also able to sell prints of his work.

“Particularly with the comic conventions,” he offers, “the dinosaur stuff has probably been my most popular, successful stuff. I’m doing several other conventions this year, so I’m going to focus on doing more of that. I did a coloring book last fall, and I’m going to do an expanded version of that. Definitely a couple of books that are coming down the pike this year.”

Levi Hastings

Levi Hastings. Photo by Robert Roth

His forays into social media have led to another fun project, though. He’s been working with a Brooklyn based writer on an Instagram series called The Prospectives, about 20 and 30-something New Yorkers.

“It’s a story that’s told in daily increments,” he explains. “Each week is an episode, and each episode is broken up into daily segments. It’s gay. He’s gay, he’s talking about romance. The story is his professional life, love life, interacting and dealing with life in New York.

“It’s a six month series. I’ll be working on that for another few months. That’s been great too, because he’s got an interesting audience and it’s a pretty collaborative process. I definitely want to do more narrative work in the next few years.”

You can visit Levi’s website or his Etsy shop to see more of his work. If you’re in Seattle during the Emerald City Comicon, you can also stop by and see him there, and maybe even pick up your very own dinosaur.