The fading light of the late afternoon darkens Bryn Hobson’s view of the paint palette and torn piece of paper in front of him. His right hand, decorated by a red, threaded bracelet embroidered with the word “SELFLESS,” reaches to switch on a desk lamp, illuminating the swirling, splattered mess of oranges and yellows on the palette. He looks up, and his light blue eyes gleam against the backdrop of his faded blue-gray walls.
“I sort of go through phases of being obsessed with different things, visually,” Hobson says, dipping his paintbrush into the water-filled mason jar he was just drinking out of.
“In the fall it was like, everything red,” Hobson says. “Now I’m Matisse-focused. I want to know everything about Matisse.”
The corners of his mouth pull into a wide smile upon saying the French artist’s name.
His brush travels back and forth four times between the water and the paint before settling on a consistency.
“Ink is fun because, once it’s down, there’s nothing you can do,” the art and design junior says, focusing on the bold, black strokes he’s forming into letters.
The first word he paints: “MAKE.”
Hobson identifies as a “compulsive maker” — of all art. Even his Twitter bio says so.
On Dec. 1, 2009, he began “The 365 Project,” a self-motivated mission to create one piece of art every day for a year. On Oct. 15, 2012, he debuted his first solo art show in Sally Loo’s Wholesome Café. He now works for Robert E. Kennedy Library, where he designs and produces display installations for the special collections department, along with any freelance work that comes his way.
At any given time, he’s working on a dozen projects. But for most of his life, Hobson never imagined he’d be an artist.
When Hobson was a kid, he was convinced he couldn’t draw. He didn’t have the same patience as his twin brother, Jared, who could sit down and recreate the “perfect frog” from a National Geographic photo.
“I kind of decided I was no good at art and didn’t want anything to do with it, really,” Hobson said.
But looking back, he can see he manifested his creativity through Lego-building and 3D paper projects — the latter of which, he still makes.
“It’s interesting to notice that I had an inclination for design and a sensitivity for making things, it just wasn’t typical drawing,” he said.
Hobson’s mother, Janet, recalls one poignant moment of foreshadowing in her son’s childhood. Her twin boys were creating handmade birthday cards when she noticed a difference in their artistic approaches. While his brother would spend hours reproducing an image, Hobson was “impatient” and “in a hurry” — a product of his lack of confidence. But the result of his half-hearted attempt surprised her.
“I took one look at that card … and told him he had an eye for design,” Janet said. “I remember saying that to him, and I don’t know how much I realized, ‘This is the path you’re going to follow.’”
Hobson accidentally stumbled upon his path in high school, when he took his first art classes as a freshman.
“I really enjoyed (art) and it came pretty naturally to me,” Hobson said.
His mother said he “just flew with it.” Neither of them attribute this discovery to coincidence.
“We have that fundamental belief … that God can guide our path,” Janet said. “He does lead us. I believe that God wires us for what we are supposed to be doing … and I look at the way that He’s wired Bryn … and I believe that he’s placed where he is to be doing (art).”
Both Hobson and his mother lean on their faith during moments of uncertainty or difficult decisions.
“I believe there’s a plan for my life and that I don’t have to worry about the future in so many ways, because it’s already taken care of,” Hobson said.
This trusting disposition, combined with an innate sense of adventure, have opened up opportunities for Hobson to work and volunteer across the United States — and travel all the way to Uganda.
Coinciding with the discovery of his natural artistic ability, Hobson found and quickly became involved with Invisible Children, an organization that works to end the conflict surrounding the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa. The Lord’s Resistance Army is a militant group that is internationally notorious for its infringement upon human rights, specifically its practice of forcing children into violence. Invisible Children shares its messages through digital media and design, which allowed Hobson to package his two passions into one cause.
“It really shaped my high school experience and encouraged me to use the skills I had to do something, to give,” he said. “I started designing shirts and would teach myself the software as I needed it. I didn’t have any graphic design classes or anything, but connected the desire I had to create with a cause … and that’s what got me interested in graphic design and seeing it put to use for social justice causes.”
The sale of Hobson’s shirts, along with other volunteer work through his on-campus club, raised more money for Invisible Children than any other high school in his region of the country. Their reward was a trip to Uganda the summer after he graduated.
“I got to go and see the school that we helped fund the rebuilding of and meet students there,” he said. “It was a crazy experience.”
In an off-handed comment, Hobson mentioned he was born in South Africa. “So I’m legally African-American,” he laughed, brushing dirty-blonde bangs out of his eyes. His trip to Uganda brought back memories of the first few years of his life — it was either five or six; Hobson says six, but Janet insists he was 5 years old when they moved to California.
But beyond noticing the “funny food” similarities between Uganda and South Africa, Hobson realized he could make a career out of his “creative edge,” as his mother puts it, and compassion for others.
“(Invisible Children) got me into researching, like, I can do this professionally, and it kind of fits with the art classes I’m enjoying,” he said. “From there, I just continued pursuing that and that’s why I came to Cal Poly.”
The 365 Project
Hobson began his freshman year at Cal Poly and got bored. His high school education had covered many of the basic fundamentals of art, and he had already taught himself design software years earlier. His compulsion to make and create was not being fulfilled in his introductory classes, so he took it upon himself to satisfy that internal need.
“I set this challenge of like, ‘I’m going to make something every day for a whole year and call it my 365 Project,’” Hobson said.
And on Dec. 1, 2009, he started. He painted, drew, took photos, made mixtapes, designed T-shirts and cards and even wrote motivational messages on toilet paper. He documented every single piece and put it on his blog, which soon attracted 300 to 400 viewers every day.
“Having people looking at my work consistently was very new, so it made me think a lot about the message that I’m sharing with people,” he said.
Hobson can’t quite pinpoint what that message was. He insists his art isn’t “explicitly personal” and gently mocks the idea of some profound “emotional content or symbolism” behind his work.
“’The 365 Project,’ all those little drawings and things were on the spot,” he said. “As soon as I thought of something … I just had to go with it because I didn’t have time to do other things. People totally interpret things however they want to, and that was really interesting, having people read into stuff, sometimes way too much.”
Apart from his unexplained tendency to “draw fruit a lot,” Hobson can identify one recurring theme in his artwork: simplicity.
“For me, simplicity, just putting in all that’s necessary to be authentic, is enough,” he said.
And this philosophy translates into his way of living as well.
“I find myself most at rest and most content when I’m actively being thankful for what I’ve been given,” Hobson said. “When I’m living a little bit more simply, I experience that.”
He is especially thankful for the unique opportunities he has been given. Exactly six months into “The 365 Project,” Hobson took a year off school to volunteer at two Christian summer camps and, betwixt these, toured the country with Invisible Children.
That year was a “total abandonment of design,” so Hobson filled his compulsive need to make by making food for people on tour — he especially enjoyed baking. When he finally revisited his art project, his motivations and inspirations were worlds away from San Luis Obispo.
Hobson struggled to get reacclimated upon his return to Cal Poly. He had just spent a full year surrounded by people with nearly identical worldviews and concerns, and was leaving them behind for difficult classes and a half-completed project.
“It was hard to come back to school and not have a tight community like that anymore, and felt a lot like starting over,” he said, but he did finish the project. “I did six months again; it was much harder the second time, because … I didn’t really need to be doing the projects anymore.”
Participation by friends and blog followers heavily influenced his desire to complete the project.
“I learned that the biggest compliment is definitely when someone says that it inspired them to make something, too,” he said. “That was, by far, the most satisfying thing, when someone would look at one of my projects and say, ‘It made me want to draw, and I made this.’ That was way more exciting than just hearing ‘good job.’”
Hobson is also proud of the discipline he demonstrated throughout “The 365 Project,” which he will be compiling as a book and portfolio for future job opportunities.
“I’m excited to be able to pull out my ‘365’ book, because it does say a lot about me,” he said.
Despite midterms or bad days or waning enthusiasm, Hobson kept his commitment to himself and produced one piece of art every day for a year.
When Hobson was encouraged to submit his artwork for display in Sally Loo’s Wholesome Café, he was hesitant. He exhibited a confidence level evocative of his childhood: He didn’t think he had enough material, or that his work was good enough, for a solo art show. He applied to be on the year-long waitlist with low expectations, and was then chosen to be one of the first artists featured in the café this school year.
Jen Manuele, one of the owners of Sally Loo’s, said she first developed a “crush” on Hobson’s artwork when she saw his drawing of a scone a few years ago, and continued to follow his work. She became a “cheerleader” for Hobson, and gave him almost no limitations for his show in her café.
“I didn’t have any fear about what he was going to do, so I just gave him free rein,” Manuele said.
Instead of preparing for his first art show, Hobson went on a road trip to Seattle and Portland.
“He loves to live life on the edge in terms of fitting a million things into his day, and he will often leave things to the last minute,” his mother said.
But Hobson contended his procrastination was purposeful: “I limited myself that way so that I wouldn’t have time to edit myself, because, a lot of the time, I try to make a masterpiece, and then I get stuck and frustrated.”
Although he waited until the very last minute to actually create the pieces (he started and finished one painting the morning of the show on Oct. 15), he drafted ideas and themes ahead of time.
“I spent a lot of time there and wanted to do something based on that space,” he said. “I wanted the whole space to be like you could be sitting inside a ribcage.”
The pieces were different sizes, but all pencil-drawn with red detailing.
“I started with a ribcage drawing, just having this idea of all our potential pent up inside of us,” he said. “And then all the other pieces came out of that too.”
He found people had the strongest reactions to the “red leaf things” that appeared on many of the pieces and hung from the ceiling. Hobson called the ambiguous shapes “Life-blood,” and allowed the audience to render a personal interpretation from there.
“It’s funny. Sometimes I’d go into Sally Loo’s and adjust (pieces in the show) … and people sitting at the table would be like, ‘Are you the artist? What does this one mean? What does it mean to you?’ And I’d be like, ‘Uh, I don’t know, you should think about it,’ because it’s hard to give an explanation on the spot,” he said, echoing earlier difficulties to define personal elements behind his work.
One patron bought “Bloom,” a self-portrait and the only piece in the show that Hobson put himself into (and, he admitted, the most personal). He is facing upward in the drawing, spewing red and pink “Life-blood” from his mouth over the stark contrast of an otherwise white, blank canvas.
“(It was) really satisfying to sell to people I don’t know,” Hobson said. “It was an affirmation of people liking it.”
He said the pieces in the show were “about feeling young and full of potential, and feeling like that’s scary and inspiring, trying to think about that in visual ways … I was anxious about life and the future.”
The show corresponded with his most challenging quarter to date, full of all-nighters and frustration.
Developed during a time of back-to-back, uninspired projects, Hobson considers the Sally Loo’s show to be his most satisfying work from the past year.
The visibility of Hobson’s art attracted the attention of Catherine Trujillo, the curator for the special collections program in the Robert E. Kennedy Library. She hired him for the graphic design student assistant position because she liked his “quirky design approach.”
Hobson helps design and produce exhibits for special collections. He describes these works as “things that are too valuable for other collections,” including original materials such as diaries, photographs and reports. Past exhibit themes Hobson has worked on range from The Book Club of California to Julia Morgan architecture, meaning he must learn an entirely new subject and create a physical, visual representation of it on a deadline.
“One word that I think of Bryn is that he’s an idea-maker,” Trujillo said. “He can come up with concepts that are related to these subjects. … Our other student assistants always gravitate toward Bryn to see what he’s working on.”
Hobson’s exhibits are now traveling across California, being displayed in other universities or cultural institutions.
“Bryn is actually producing work that is going to be remembered beyond his graduation date,” Trujillo said.
And with graduation a year away, Hobson is looking forward to spending his first summer in San Luis Obispo and living “the art dream” — scheduling time every day to make. He wants to live simply, and is at peace with the uncertainty of his future.
“Chances are good I’ll probably end up (in San Francisco) to start,” he said, considering his post-graduation possibilities. “Maybe there, maybe Cape Town (South Africa). I mean, my family ended up here. That’s always a reminder to me that you never know where God will have you. So, we’ll see.”
THE YEAR AWAY
Bryn Hobson finished his freshman year at Cal Poly a week early to volunteer at a Christian summer camp on a houseboat on Lake Shasta, where he was in charge of driving the boat.
“(It was) basically way too much responsibility for 19-year-old Bryn, but it was cool being thrown into a role that I was like felt like I was way too small for and having to grow to fill the needs of the responsibilities I was thrown into,” he said.
He then left the camp a week early to go to San Diego and volunteer with Invisible Children as a roadie, which involves a 10-week tour of a region of the country. His original plan was to take one quarter off from Cal Poly and return after those 10 weeks. Hobson and his team toured California, giving presentations at community centers and high schools — including the one he attended.
And then, the still-19-year-old was asked to stay on with Invisible Children and lead the Florida tour, even though he wasn’t old enough to drive the rental van.
“My parents were so unhappy when I told them, ‘I’m not going to go to school,’” Hobson said. “But it’s been a neat process of challenging them and them challenging me.”
His mother said her primary concern was he would not return to Cal Poly, but she eventually came to be supportive when she saw his excitement and the lessons he was learning.
“He pushes our boundaries, but in a good way,” Janet said. “He stuck with the commitment to go back to school. We look back on it with pride and with absolute support on what he was able to learn and experience from that. It really matured him and gave him experience way beyond what college could’ve done.”
Click here to read the reporter’s first-hand account of coming across this maker.