Spotlight Artist: James “Jim” Hettler

by Elizabeth Kington

Jim Hettler is an animated twenty-four year old artist, musician and, from time-to-time, stage actor. The friendly, bright-eyed young man pursued a career in the visual arts at Mercer County College and produces his artwork from his New Jersey home.

Upon my arrival to the Hettler residence on a humid afternoon in early August, I stepped into the family room to find artist, Jim Hettler, leaned over a work in progress—a new self-portrait. Various supplies and a briefcase full of painting essentials littered the small dark wood coffee table. The only sound came from a bulky grey fan atop a piano bench as its blades spun to relieve the room of some of the sweltering summer heat. Seated on a worn, blue-striped sofa, Jim alternated his attention between an unassuming white-framed mirror and his canvas as his paint brush delivered smooth strokes of grey paint to the surface. Being made aware of my presence, the cheerful artist greeted me with a light-hearted grin and the wave of his paintbrush.

After some words of greeting and a few laughs, our interview commenced with the topic of his art–more specifically with a question regarding his preferred medium to which he replied with a mischievous grin, “My favorite medium is this lady named Paula down at the psychic…I’m just kidding; I like to work with oil and lead white.”

EK: When did you first recognize your love for the artistic?

JH: It was Pablo Picasso who said, ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.’ I’ve always liked to draw. My mom got me stuff to draw with in church before I can even remember. It’s just always been in my memory.

EK: What inspires your style of art?

JH: I do not like boring things, like flowers and flower pots and old rustic buildings. I generally like things that have life or animation, so I’ll tend to do people or even cartoons, just things that have an animation.

Jim told me later that once while browsing Facebook, he saw a man’s beard and was so overcome with the need to paint that he proceeded to abandon his errands because he “just had to paint the guy’s face.”

EK: Do you have particular artists who have influenced your style (living or dead)?

JH: Living: I’ve had several painting instructors, but Kyle Stevenson has been the most influential artist to me. As far as dead artists I like the old masters. As it were, I like Michelangelo, Raphael, and Rembrandt. I don’t like modern abstract expressionism. I don’t like Jackson Pollack.

To his last comment he added, “Put that in writing!” with a triumphant grin.

EK: When you paint, do you have a favorite color to work with—one that appeals to you above all others?

JH: Yes..ish.  It’s more than just the color—it’s the pigment. Certain colors look identical while their properties behave differently. There is this reddish brown which is amazing when you are painting with it. It is transparent red-oxide, and I love it.

EK: When you are working on your art, is there ever some kind of music that you listen to or some sort of routine you have to get yourself into the work or do you just pull things out and start painting?

JH: The art is usually triggered by a sudden urge to paint. Like I might be doing nothing and then I say, “I’m going to paint,” so there is usually no music in the background, but there was a time when I would listen to Russell Watson’s ‘Amore Musica’ several hundred times on repeat.

EK: Out of all of your work, do you have a favorite piece—a work of which you are most proud?

JH: Yes, I have several that I really like, but my all-time favorite is called ‘Fear’. It’s on my website…shameless advertisement here. There’s a deep story behind it which generally only means a lot to me, the person to whom I gave it and a few other people who know the story.

EK: What is the most rewarding aspect of using your artistic abilities?

JH: I don’t know; it’s cool. Some days I’m lazy, and I’m just sitting there not doing anything; and unlike other occupations or skills, I can be lazy and be like, “There’s my masterpiece on the wall. I’m still the man.” It feels rewarding to create. It’s fun when people come over and they’re like, “Wow!” and then you just kinda smile.

EK: You have many talents, including theatrical and musical, why did you choose to pursue art in college?

JH: Art has always been my favorite thing. Other aspects or talents I’m usually just sorta dragged into or I do them when I am bored, but art and drawing and painting I am actually compelled to do.

EK: If you could have your most dear and incredible dream for your career come true, what would you do with your artistic ability?

JH: I would like to teach. In an ideal world, I would actually go and get my masters and be a college professor of art.

When asked what he would consider the greatest compliment from someone admiring his work, Jim Hettler answered with three straightforward words and a little chuckle, “Buy. My. Paintings.” From there, our conversation shifted its focus to the musical pursuits of the multi-talented Jim Hettler.

EK: I know you consider yourself an artist above all, but you also write and compose songs, when did that begin?

JH: This is a great story. It was my junior year—the very end of the year. We were supposed to take a field trip to Liberty Lake day camp. I worked there so I didn’t want to go on this field trip. A bunch of other students came up with the idea to go to Six Flags. Perfect! The teachers caught wind of it, so they scheduled that day to be finals. The catch is, that day was my birthday, so for my 18th birthday I brought in a recorder to school and me and a hand full of other students put face paint on our faces and I led a little marching band through the hallways in retaliation to what the teachers had done to us. At the end of that day I said, “I am going to learn how to play this thing.” So at 18, I really went back into music. I had already had experience with the piano from younger years and so it just lead into a sudden music interest. Since that 18th birthday, I’ve been writing songs.

EK: What has inspired your song writing over the years?

JH: Usually it’s whatever has been weighing heavily on my heart. Hence most songs are sad. Because when you are happy you don’t need to get something off of your chest. Most songs are about God and (well, since He’s perfect) I guess my problems, but the songs will often make it out that they’re His problems. Um…but also girls.

EK: When composing your music, do you have the notes in your head and simply put them to paper or do you play around with the keys until something feels right?

JH: Um, I don’t know how to answer that because I usually zone out and sort of have a moment of inspiration and then a song is written. Then I’ll go through a long period of time without writing anything else until I have another sudden gust of inspiration and another song is written.

Our lively interview concluded with a request on my part that Jim describe himself in five words. He considered his response for a few moments before his azure eyes lit up and another grin took over his countenance when he replied with a nod in my direction, “My name is Jim Hettler.” Truly those simple words sum up the artist fairly well. Jim Hettler is beyond a doubt an individual in the best sense of the word. However, after spending time with this talented artist I have my own five words to describe him: sincere, gifted, dynamic, humorous, and humble.

By the time I left the jovial artist that afternoon, his newest self-portrait lay drying on the piano bench beside the hulking fan. I encourage anyone who values genuine art to look into the works of artists like Jim Hettler: A seemingly average guy with a humble spirit, fun-loving personality and a great artistic ability that is both worthwhile and unique.

You can see more of Jim’s artwork at www.jhettler.com

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