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North Carolina man illustrates Hagerstown blues

June 03, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Self-portrait by Nathanael Roney
Courtesy of Nathanael Roney,

Nathanael Roney, 28, is the artist who created this year's Western Maryland Blues Fest poster. You can meet him tonight at an opening reception at Washington County Arts Council's downtown gallery, where his artwork will be on view. The reception is from 6 to 9 p.m. today at WCAC, 4 W. Washington St., downtown Hagerstown.

Quick bio: Roney was born in Hagerstown and graduated from Williamsport High School in 2000. He studied graphic design at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. For a couple years, he played in a rock band called The Family Swaggards before he eventually settled down in Asheville, N.C., where he lives with his wife, Kimberly.

Roney is a full-time designer and illustrator for Mountain Express, an alternative weekly.

He doesn't look to others for artistic cues.

"I never got that close with people in general," Roney says. "I still don't. I look at art, but I don't identify the relationship that closely with other artists or other artists in history. I have a general appreciation for it. I see what I like, and I like what I like. Music has always inspired it. I don't want to come across as too uninvolved, but there is a sense of that, I think."

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Art happens out of convenience.

"I kind of build the creation process in a way that I can pick it up 10 minutes before I go to work," he says. "I don't typically do big, large paintings because I don't have a big, huge space. I need something I can pick up and put away really quickly. Ink drawings on pieces of paper are relatively no hassle. I can stay up all night, hunch over my coffee table and work there."

His works lead double lives. Sort of.

They are both ink-on-paper drawings in black and white or have colors. The Blues Fest poster is an example:

"A lot of the aesthetic of the drawing lends itself to design -- throwing it into a computer, slapping in color and making it more of a functional piece as opposed to a drawing on a piece of paper," Roney says. "It just took natural flight into that direction. It can find its energy still, post production. It can be put to use. It's a living tool, no matter what you do with it or do to it."

Yes, the Blues Fest poster is not happy-go-lucky.

"I was going for something a little less literal than I had seen in the past," Roney says. "Not so much eye candy. Try to give it some sort of existential breath or maybe a little narrative."

Why not something a little more upbeat?

"That's my general sentiment really," he says. "I wouldn't necessarily say negative. Not cynical, either. Maybe a little sly or a little skeptical, I guess. Suspicious. When I first got tasked with it, I didn't want to do an old blues guy on the corner with a guitar in his hand. I didn't want to do a simple picture, a pretty picture. I wanted to infuse an odder element into it, I guess."

He enjoyed having Doris Hoopengardner as his art teacher in high school.

"We called her Miss Hoop," Roney says. "She's great. She let us be kind of our own thing. It's very exciting when you're a teenager in high school. We took photography, extended painting and drawing classes. In high school, when you keep going, it just means do what you want to do. You're excited to work within your own rules and then you build a confidence because you have that luxury."

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