BYU Professor David M. Habben Finds Inspiration at BYU
Check out the latest podcast episode Listen


Part 1 of a comic: The first panel has the title, “Reset.” Showing a vague mountain scape. It reads, “Being a transfer student isn’t easy.” The next panel shows abstract lines separating different colors, it reads, “It’s like pushing reset on your life. You pack up everything you’ve built in one arena and take it down a new road, somewhere strange and foreign." The same panel continues, “In 2004, after three attempts, I was admitted to BYU. My plan was to apply to the illustration program and become a professional artist." Panel 3 then shows the legs and feet of the character with a sketch carrying case in hand, looking at a desk with a sketch upon it. Text reads, "I showed up in Provo--portfolio in hand--with hope for the best and a healthy dose of the kind of fear that comes with a new endeavor, no matter how promising it may seem.
Part 2 of a comic: The first panel shows a young man, a student artist with a book bag, reaching out to a crowd of happy people. It reads, “Luckily, old friends were there to welcome me, and new friends were soon to follow.” The next panel shows the same young man drawing a figure in a class. It reads, “Everything was falling into place. At least, it was at first.” The next panel shows many student’s artwork in a working classroom and a man peering over a cubicle wall. It reads, “As I dove into the work and learned from my new instructors, I became increasingly aware that my art and illustration style, focused on line drawings and digital tools, was out of step with my teachers’ and classmates’ more traditional oil-painted portraits and landscapes." The next panel shows a pile of books, it reads, “I filled my sketchbooks, one after another, and regrettably, grumbled my way through too many classes."
Part 3 of a comic: the first panel shows parts of more paper and books within the art room, it reads, “Eventually, I discovered that trying to create work similar to that of my peers was not going to happen. Blame it on stubbornness, a need for individuality, or whatever you like, I wasn’t able to walk that path.” He continues, “I needed to be myself again.” The next panel shows him standing with a paper taped to a window, he is painting vigorously, “So one particularly frustrating day, I pushed my paints to the side, climbed atop my desk, and taped several pieces of paper to the studio windows. Grabbing my brush and a cup of ink, I drew one illustration after another, getting out my ideas with equal parts frustration and eagerness.” The next panel is a bottom shot of him standing atop his desk, painting. It reads, “It was then that one of my favorite professors came walking through the studio. He was honest, sometimes brutally, and I appreciated that. ‘What’s all this?’ He asked.” The next panel shows the professor gesturing to the work of art taped to the window, “I was worried what he would say, but he simply looked the drawing over carefully and, with a wry smile, said, ‘Keep it up.’”
Part 4 of a comic: The first panel shows the young man, in inspiration taking down the art from the window, it reads, “It was all I needed to hear. The validation from those simple words gave me a confidence that I didn’t realize I was lacking and that I needed to move forward artistically.” The next panel shows a hand, older and more mature, drawing a more detailed, beautiful illustration. It reads, “Now, as a BYU professor myself, I look for those moments with my own students. I wonder if they realize how much I hope for their success and want to constantly tell them those magic words, “Keep it up.”

A World Worth Exploring

All along his artistic journey, David M. Habben (BFA ’06), a BYU assistant professor of design, has been trying new things—new media, new subjects, and new styles. His work ranges from simple line art to funky digital drawings to abstract compositions mimicking dance to children’s book art (he wrote and illustrated, Mr. Sherman’s Cloud, published in March).

Amid all that variety, he says his message is consistent: “There is a world of ideas and experiences around each of us and inside us that is worth exploring.”

Throughout 2019 BYU Magazine will share campus stories through the drawings of artistic alumni. Want to pitch your own BYU memory? Send your concept to