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Mistakes happen - Ink artist lets his pen lead the way

Daniela Cirone

A Batavia artist uses his pen to tell unique stories, but not in the format you might expect.

Chris Hodge is an art teacher and ink artist. His art journey started when he was a child. He works with different art mediums, including pencils. But Hodge said he prefers using ink because it dictates the drawing’s destination.

“Ink’s a permanent thing, you know. When you put down a line of ink, there isn't really much going back from that,” Hodge explained. “And you have to think of a creative way to incorporate all those mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes just stay there too.”

The mistakes may not be apparent to the everyone. What does seem apparent are the stories he tells through his works.

Hodge said he thinks of a story and then he transforms it into art. He explained that sometimes the planning and narrative of the story is developed before he sits down to draw. Other times it happens during the process.

"And sometimes, I'll actually look at old work and realize that there's a message there that I missed the entire time,” he said.

Old Man of the Earth
Chris Hodge
Old Man of the Earth

He explained his work “Old Man of the Earth.” In this drawing an older gentleman is coming out of the ground with trees growing out of his back. The character looks weary. Hodge confirms that observation, saying that the "Old Man" feels misused, and is awaking to address the issue.

For his drawing “Pollution,” he wanted to show the relationship between humans and the earth. He said sometimes humans are not good stewards of the earth. The roots of the tree look like human lungs. In this piece, he incorporated an old childhood memory about his aunt.

“And she had this device that she put in this hole in her neck, that would help her talk and I was terrified,” he remembered. “She was a very sweet person. I'm sure she was a sweet person, but as a young child, I'm hearing this voice and it was very terrifying. And so, I kind of hid from her.”

He said he added this wound to the tree as a tribute to his aunt. He said it represents the trauma humans are inflicting on the earth.

Hodge started using a ball point pen to draw in high school and said using the tool brought him comfort. He put it down for a few years but said when he became a high school teacher, anxiety pushed him back to the old friend.

“I had to supervise students who were working on homework, and I brought some paper with me and some pens,” he said. “I had some pens with me, and I just wanted to do something that felt comforting. And the ink felt very comfortable.”

While working as a teacher, he decided to go back to school but art wasn’t the focus.

“I just couldn't make that commitment, you know, as much as I wanted to pursue art and like really continue with the art. A friend of mine had applied [to] North Central College for their curriculum instruction plan. And that just worked really well with the schedule.”

So, he enrolled in that program. He’d already received his bachelor’s degree in art education from North Central College.

Hodge said his students inspire his personal art.

“I'll hear things and I’m like, ‘oh, you know, well, if you're not going to use that idea, I'll do it.’ But you know, it's a bit of a communication, like kind of a visual communication," he said.

Some of Chris Hodge's work at the Batavia Fine Arts Centre
Yvonne Boose
Some of Chris Hodge's work at the Batavia Fine Arts Centre

His works have been featured at several local venues. The latest is the Batavia Fine Arts Centre, where his works are on display through April 27.

Hodge said although he likes to dabble in ink, he doesn’t think he is cut out to be a tattoo artist. He has a couple of friends who do this, and he said at one time he considered it. He watched his friend ink a Marvel tattoo down the length of someone’s arm and he realized that wasn't something he wanted to sign up for.

“I make mistakes, and I make them work but like, 'you're working on a human body,' you know, like, there's not much room for mistakes,” he said. “I don't want to like fly by the seat of my pants on this. No, I'll be honest. It kind of freaked me out a little bit.”

Instead, Hodge will continue to plaster his ink creations on paper and share them with his class and community.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.
Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.