My creative process is hard to define since I often don’t know what is going to come next. A doodle of swirling lines in a sketch pad could transforms into a magical creature for a painting. In general I am in the dark to what the end product will be. I remember an early art instructor saying to my parents “I never know where Doug’s art pieces are going”. Initially I thought this was not good, but over time, I’m realizing it is how I work, frustrating as it may be.
These individual images sometimes want to become a series of paintings and if I’m lucky they may turn into illustrations for a book. A good example of this is a book I wrote and illustrated called “How Color Created the World”. It started with a series of abstract pieces I called “I-Candy”. As the series developed, the pure geometric shapes and saturated colors wanted to become figures and tell a story. After a couple years went by these abstract/figurative works developed into a Creation Story about how color gave shape to a new and exciting world. BrushtoPen.com
I have had to become somewhat comfortable with not knowing what it is that I am working on. Sure, it's a painting or a theater piece, but where is it going, that’s up for grabs. I follow my intuition and trust that at some point ‘IT’ will reveals itself. Even then, there still is a lot to be discovered along the way.
Another example of this is my tarot deck called, “Journey of the Bearded Tarot”. In my exploration of conical and paisley shapes I started developing little bearded characters. They found themselves in many seemingly unrelated paintings. In my attempt to figure out the Story, I explored some narratives and heroic journeys. An adventure through the 4 basic elements seemed to be the answer until it became obvious there was something even bigger unfolding, an all-encompassing Tarot Deck project. Journeyofthebeardedtarot.com
This movement from the chaotic unknown to something tangible is also practiced in the creation of my theatrical pieces. I will let the costumes, props, puppets, masks, sound and lighting inform the direction of the piece. The elements become the director of the performance. This is an improv dance between known/unknown, thinking/feeling, and abstraction/narrative.
The development and performance of the pieces are unpredictable like an unruly dream. These quirky pieces tend towards psychologically charged adventures on stage. The wild cast of characters and wacky objects that pop up along the way, are reminiscent of those found in “Alice in Wonderland” or “The Wizard of Oz”, because I have allowed for the unknown to help shape their existence.
This process of following the muse can be tricky because the Mind wants to know what’s going on right away and ‘Carve it in Stone’, hence forcing a relationship through logic. Spirit or Intuition, on the other hand, wants to be entertained and surprised with the unknown. My job as an artist is to find a balance between logic and intuition in creating the pieces so the ever expansive energy of the mysterious is fed while I am somewhat grounded in this world.
As a painter and performer, I need to get out of the way and allow the energy of the Muse to guide me through unexplored territories. This may mean doing something that may ruin the piece or be too cute. Who knows what will come around the corner and shift everything. Self judgement is something to hold at arm's length during those times of second guessing oneself. I try to remember that it’s just a painting, and to have fun, even if that feels like I’m dying or in an endless loop with the Mad Hatter.
Doug Hammett, born 1963 Pasadena, CA.
BFA from the University of Redlands 1985
MFA from Art Center College of Design 1989.
Currently lives and works in Pasadena, CA.
1963 - 83 “Childhood”
A few glimpses into my childhood. I remember playing with marbles in the schoolyard around a huge tree that had a nasty smell. I remember my sister putting mud on my neck during a little league baseball game after I was stung by a bee (I was the pitcher). I remember being woken up to a flooding tent in the back yard because my father forgot to turn off the sprinklers. Listening to my mother sing in the choir at our Lutheran church in Pasadena. Father standing up to a bully while leading our boy scout troop to Cherry Valley Camp on Catalina Island.
My father’s mother, who was a skilled painter, said that I would be an artist because she saw how I held things and by the shape of my thumb. My grandfather, a house painter, who had a skill set to prepare faux marble surfaces, had a wonderful workshop in his garage. I can remember my uncle’s handmade glider hanging from the rafters in all its delicate engineering, paper stretched around the balsa wood frame. Little did I know this would be my direction in life; inventing, creating and engineering objects to fit a vision in my head. These were some of the creatives in my blood who inspired my creativity to blossom.
Although I would win art competitions during grammar school, my attention was drawn to music. Going to Saturday Conservatory and playing in the city's youth orchestra pushed the edge. Diving right into a competitive marching band in high school pushed me even further. Luckily, I found my people with all the band geeks and theater kids all in the same auditorium building at Alhambra High. I was inseparable from my skateboard, and if I was unruly my mother would say “I’ll take your board away if you don’t, blah blah blah…”
1983 - 87 “Coming Out”
I was a math whiz, maybe because reading was difficult due to my lazy eye. While at the University of Redlands, my natural ability of Mathematics and numbers was slowly overtaken by the magical world of the Visual Arts. The abstract world of numbers wasn’t enough anymore. Color, expression, gesture became my new passion. I am reminded of a quote from Anais Nin, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Needless to say, there was no turning back.
This was the time I was about to come out as Gay. Although I knew I was gay, way back in grammar school (4th grade to be exact), I would take many years to finally admit it to myself and the world. To me remaining in the analytical world of numbers was not going to be the environment for my re-birth. I might as well go full force into the colorful and expressive world of the arts. It worked! I blossomed, big time.
1988 - 1998 “Body and Play”
I continued my education in the MFA program at Art Center in Pasadena, which heavily emphasized design and the conceptual arts. I took on the topic of the body and its relationship to the surrounding environment, as my main focus of art. This may be due to the fact that we were at the height of the AIDS epidemic and the threat to one's very existence was right around the corner. It was affecting many of my friends, and to not bring it into my work would be a disservice to my community. Some powerful pieces came out of this time.
To lighten the heavy load of my social conscious work, a new body of work took shape, made primarily of Cake Frosting and Fondant. For the next decade I rode this sugary wave into the art world, showing in galleries and museums around the world. The pieces ranged from intricate sculptural pieces to immersive installations delighting the ‘Art Consumer’ senses. It was time to play and celebrate life.
1999 - 2019 “Theater of Healing”
All good things must come to an end, including this frosted phase of my work, yet the topic of the Body was still of interest. This time I was ready to dive into new waters away from the visual art world through the Healing/Somatic Arts. Here, the relationship between Mind, Body, and Soul could be further explored. This world was rich with new perspectives of the body and an endless array of healing modalities and psychology. My days were filled with bodywork, shamanism, men's gatherings, gay spirituality, ecstatic dance, and traditional sacred arts. The Bodhi Tree in West Hollywood was my favorite place to hang.
This seemed to be the answer, yet I still needed an artistic expression, a way of giving physical form to these energies. All it took was a chance meeting with a mask-making workshop leader who pulled me aside and said “You need to start taking moving theater workshops with Camille Maurine” to redirect my course. From that point on the magic of theater has been center stage of my life.
During this time of my life, I have performed self-scripted works and abstract improvisational theater with these various companies: “CommiT” (Camille Maurine’s Moving Theater), “The Invisible Theater” (Men’s Theater for Men), “Yes And…”, “Fauve Conspiracy” and “TOHUBOHU! Extreme Theatre” (under the direction of Rachel Rosenthal).
Often the images I created for stage found their way back to my art studio, an alchemical laboratory focused primarily on painting and sculpture. From this place new ideas of costumes and props would come to life for the stage. It is fantastic when an idea can take shape in private, then brought to a public stage where it is moved and explored, and then returns to the studio with insight and energy for further exploration back in private. The play between artistic disciplines is a fascinating journey, although at times it can be crazy making when I find myself one more time in uncharted territories.
2016 - current “Illustrated Stories”
I have noticed over the years that working in a world of pure abstraction goes flat over time. I need a story to hold my attention in the long run. Lately my focus has been directed towards storytelling through written words and painted illustration. I have spent months to years letting a series of paintings develop before the narrative reveals itself. I stand back and let the images direct the story, and before I know it a book is being birthed.
This is the process I have taken in designing my own tarot deck. My years in the healing arts and improv theater has helped shape my visual arts. I have learned to listen to my inner and outer landscapes and let it inform my next steps. There is always something that wants attention and opportunity to be revealed. With an open mind and willingness to listen, something eventually emerges. I’m not saying it is easy, but something cool usually comes out on the other end.
Hopefully my sharing of my story may inspire you on your unique journey.