Levi Hastings is an illustrator, artist and graphic designer based in Seattle. His content reflects his passions for travel, pop culture, comics, science and history – tied together through his unique mix of fine lines and watercolor.
His work has been seen everywhere from art galleries and comic conventions to editorial features and the social media pages of many notable brands. We caught up with Levi to discuss the magic behind his creative process, leveraging Instagram to keep fans engaged and the importance of an authentic voice in branded partnerships.
360i: How did you get into illustration?
Levi Hastings: “I’ve been drawing all my life, but wasn’t sure how to make a career out of it, so I pursued Graphic Design with an emphasis in illustration. I incorporated as much illustration as possible into my design work, and pursued freelance gigs outside my day job. Eventually the contract work gained enough traction so that I could pursue it on a more full-time basis. Now, I also exhibit in galleries, make comics and run an online store, so I’ve developed a diversity of skills and implement them in all my various pursuits.”
360i: What’s your creative process like? How does it differ from your traditional watercolor work to animated videos?
LH: “I always begin with loose brainstorm sketches and visual research, refining over the course of several versions. Most client projects will end up being scanned and edited digitally. Almost every project involves a combination of physical and digital media, particularly with any editorial or brand partnerships, which are increasingly delivered via digital platforms. I make lots of watercolor washes and scan them to create texture for my digital projects.”
360i: What criteria do you consider when evaluating brand partnerships?
LH: “I try to make sure the brand is aligned to my own values and interests. I ask myself: What are they selling? What do they stand for? What’s the message and do I believe in it? Is it something I want to be associated with? Do I have something to say about it? It’s important that we’re a good fit, and I’ve been fortunate to be paired with brands I already respect and use.”
360i: What do you think is the most important thing for brands to keep in mind about leveraging content creators on social media?
LH: “It’s important that the creator retain their own voice and authenticity. Once the content begins to feel like a traditional advertisement, the audience will quickly tune out. It’s a fine line, but I find the most successful partnerships tell an engaging story wherein the branding has a light touch that doesn’t alienate the viewer.”
360i: How important is it to have a personal connection to the projects you take on?
LH: “I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker, but I’m definitely more invested and passionate about projects with which I have a personal interest. I was very eager to work on the Absolut Pride and HBO’s Looking Artist Sessions campaigns. Both were great opportunities to speak to a queer audience on behalf of brands I believe in. Living in Seattle, I had a unique knowledge of the region that I was able to bring to the Enterprise Summer Road trip campaign. It was a privilege to share what I love about this area with a big audience. It’s hard to fake enthusiasm for something you don’t care about, and the viewers can sense when you’re not that into it.”
(Hasting’s work for Absolut Hoppr, HBO’s Looking and Enterprise Summer Road Trip)
360i: What kind of content do your followers react to best? What’s the secret to keeping them engaged?
LH: “People love work-in-progress series that result in revealing the finished pieces. It creates anticipation and reward, which is very gratifying for both me and the audience. Personal posts can often get as much reaction as creative shots, so I think it’s important to have a good balance. I recently started doing time-lapse process videos, which have gotten a great response. Posting consistently (at least once a day) is important to keep the audience engaged, but it’s sometimes challenging to come up with new content all the time.”
360i: Who are some of your favorite artists to follow on Instagram?
LH: “Definitely Justin Teodoro (@justinteodoro), Florent Manelli (@flomanelli), Richard Haines (@richard_haines), Gill Button (@buttonfruit), Lauren Tamaki (@laurentamaki), Lisk Feng (@liskfeng) and Dave Valeza (@dave_valeza).”
360i: What are you working on now?
LH: “In addition to client projects, I’m illustrating a 15-page comic story and cover design for the next volume of Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comics Anthology. The first volume won a Lambda literary award this past summer. I just launched the first issue of DECLARATION, a new queer romance comic about the American Revolution, written by Josh Trujillo. I’m also developing some comic travel essays and new illustrations for my Baggage Claim Travel series as well as a new set of seasonal prints and products for my online store.”