Stonesteps Surfing Contest Artist John Hester – Feb 2020 (Encinitas Magazine Stories of Encinitas CA)
Embodiment of Neighborhood Soul
An old-time Encinitas local historian whose family has lived on La Veta Street for close to 100-years, told me recently that, “On any given day you can go to Stonesteps and see at least one person wearing a classic John Hester t-shirt.”
The art of Hester has now become as much a part of local Encinitas culture as the mythic Stonesteps Surfing Contest itself, where once, and only once a year, and with great anticipation, you may acquire the latest collectible Stonesteps Longboard Invitational Contest t-shirt and poster designed by Hester, at the surfing contest awards-party.
Hester’s deep connection to the Encinitas surf and beach community has influenced and shaped his art deeply, which gives him the ability to express the neighborhood soul vibe shared and felt by so many that have grown up in or live in Encinitas, in a unique way that few other artists could capture. Hester is inextricably a child of Encinitas and a favorite child at that. And for that, we would like to thank, honor and recognize him here.
Encouraged to draw at an early age by his mother who herself was an oil painter, Hester’s personal journey into the world of art began in earnest during his 7th-grade year of 1974. Being inspired by Tales from the Tube surf cartoons illustrated by Rick Griffin and R. Crumb, and then after seeing the 1975 Surfing Magazine ads for Oak Street Surfboards illustrated by Bill Ogden, Hester will tell you, “It Blew my mind and made me want to get into surf cartoons.”
“Sunday comics were a big factor to draw cartoons, followed by TV cartoons & comics,” says Hester. “Especially MAD Magazine! I loved the humor and jokes in cartoons and since 4th grade onward I always wanted my cartoons to tell a story and see someone get my jokes and laugh like I gleefully did with what I watched on TV and read.”
Hester confesses he was also greatly influenced and challenged by his San Dieguito High School art teacher David Newcomb, who much to Hester’s consternation was told on his first day of class that “Nobody is allowed to draw waves, seagulls, dolphins, palm trees, or surfing scenes.” WTF!?
“Newcomb got me thinking outside my little box of imagination,” reflects Hester, “about feeling and expressing through color in art, and that was not received well by me, in his 12th-grade class of my ’79/’80 Senior year. He constantly challenged my comfort go-to zones in art by expressing or pointing out my need to expand my artistic base by developing through different styles of art historical periods and techniques, to build my bag of resources and to go to through life, but to also keep adding to it as well.”
As a result, Hester says “I now look at all forms of artistic expression that I come across to learn something from it and of it, whether or not it’s up my alley or my cup of tea. I now challenge myself to find the value that can be applied to me as an artist, learn and feel the mood, absorb the colors used to create the vibe so to speak and duly note that in my head and heart too, rather than dismiss it.”
Cartooning, however, was by now inexorably in Hester’s blood. He explains, “As I got into really exploring the poses & placements to kind of give it 2D ‘life’, I find myself trying to nail down the anatomy of how real life can be mutated into a usable cartoon life more and more.”
“Like finding the ‘Secret Sauce’ to certain ways real-life artists get their poses on canvas or paper. Analyzing then transposing, and what I love about cartoons is the ‘UN-restraints’ that cartoons are ‘allowed’ to have… exaggerations only limited by one’s imagination, versus real-life constraints if that makes sense?”
Hester has devoted considerable time through the years wood-shedding by continuing to fill sketchbooks with studies and explorations of what he considers essential cartooning-artist skill elements that bring his main cartoon surf character Rusty, to life.
Hester explains, “I love to nail down all those poses, facial & hand expressions, and feet placement perspectives to give the viewer a visual ‘validity’ in the 2D character as ‘believable’ to the eye and accepting of what it is going on within the artwork. So, in one way I tap into real-life but use the unlimited array of cartoon dynamics. Best of both worlds, for me at least.”
Enter the Stonesteps Surfing Contest poster period for Hester. His first poster for the contest was 2006 and most recently 2019. The evolution of Hester’s art, from skilled cartooning to include the blending of powerfully stylized and detailed graphic design with his mastery of explosive color will blow da mind.
“The new generation that’s getting in the finals, placing and even winning the Steps contest the past few years are big fans of my artwork,” acknowledges Hester. “l was doing artwork for the contest before many of them were even born. They dig the art and connect with it. That resonates with me and I feel good about passing down some old school inspired hippie ‘soul art’ to the young that are receptive to that vibe.”
Hester’s strong emotional and artistic connection to the neighborhood is clear as he openly shares, “My Stonesteps contest obligations have really helped me stay ‘in the light’ art-wise, and I am so thankful for every opportunity of being asked to be a part of this event. Truly healing for me.”