Art that means something; Artist David Hyde Costello’s paintings a record of joy for him

  • David Hyde Costello Gazette Staff/Jerrey Roberts

  • A paper sculpture by David Hyde Costello stands beside one of his watercolors. Gazette Staff/Jerrey Roberts

  • “Hedgehogs” Courtesy David Hyde Costello

  • A watercolor called “Optimist.” Courtesy David Hyde Costello

  • “Otter, Raccoon and Cat” Courtesy David Hyde Costello

For The Recorder
Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Artist David Hyde Costello sees himself primarily as a picture book author and illustrator.
But Costello, 45, also makes puppets. Some he uses when he reads his books to kids at schools and libraries.

Costello studied acting in high school and college; he later painted scenery both for plays and movies, including “Armistad,” “Spider-Man,” “The Fighter” and “Heat.”

His first children’s book came out in 2004 and his newest, “Little Pig saves the Ship,” comes out in May.

“There’s a smattering of various and changing other job titles in the mix,” Costello of Amherst notes, but these days writer and illustrator are the main ones.

Costello painted small watercolors for a show he recently had at Hope & Festhers Gallery in Amherst.

“They’re all scenes of animal characters in my style of illustration,” he said. “Each is made to look like it might be a page out of a picture book.”

Costello said he put illustrations on notebooks, in which people at his recent show wrote story ideas the images inspired for them.

When asked if Costello’s work starts with a “Eureka!” moment, he said, “I don’t know the last time I had something I would describe as a ‘Eureka’ moment. More often, it’s a ‘Hmm, you know what might be kind of cool’ moment.”

Costello said he knows he’s on the right track when he’s working — really focused and immersed. Then, the question of whether he’s on the right track disappears.

“That’s the zone I feel I have to be in to be productive,” said Costello. “Sometimes, I feel a lot of doubt, which I try to accept as just part of the process. Eventually, I know I have to show someone what I’ve made, and then their reaction will tell me if it’s working.”

When Costello gets stuck, he sets a project aside for a little while, he said.

“I have multiple projects going on, so there’s always something else to work on,” said Costello.

He said with all of his picture books, he can look at them and see something that he would do differently.

“But, I do have a few pieces that I wouldn’t change or redo,” said Costello. “It’s as much about stopping at the right moment before the painting becomes a record of your effort, rather than of your joy.”

Costello was asked what he might do on a particular day that relates to his art. On the day he was asked, he said, “I bought a new pad of watercolor paper — a kind I usually use, to try out. There are so many different kinds to try, each one more expensive that the last.”

Costello’s idea of success — artistically speaking — is making art that means something to people.

“In terms of my career, I imagine it’s attaining a certain level of financial security and, with that, an ability to make more and better art,” he said. “It’s like a video game: the reward for winning is that you get to continue to play.”