MARK HOFFMANN

Interviewed in March of 2016 by Jillian Locke

MARK HOFFMANN

Hometown: Minnesota

Current town: Salem, NH

Website: Click Here

1.) Ok, this will be the only generic question, I SWEAR. But seriously, how did you discover your talent? And, once discovered, when did you decide to go big or go home?

I always had a knack for art from an early age. I remember getting praise for work I did in 2nd grade and being told it was far ahead of the other students. This meant nothing to me at the time as I didn’t have any concept of what art was or what to do with it. As I progressed through my high school years, I became aware that there were professions in art that didn’t require you being either a starving artist or a famous name. I was really lucky to have a supportive high school art teacher (Mr. Cragg) who was vital in getting my parents to support my move towards a professional career in the arts. I was recently given a letter he wrote to my parents that was quite moving in the way he spoke so highly of my work, efforts, art, and their support for my interests. I knew early on that I wanted to be a commercial artist (not yet knowing the term “illustrator.”) Eventually when looking at colleges I realized that illustration was the path that I wanted to venture down. Looking back on it I now realize that I didn’t take my career serious until after I got out of grad school. That being said, I don’t take myself too serious, in general. 

2.) Illustrator, painter, animator - which belongs to your inner child and which emerged as you matured? 

I, unknowingly, have been an illustrator from the start. I really loved creating stories and concepts as a child and later learned that the best applications for my skills were in the world of illustration. The other two came about from my illustration work. I got involved in animation due to a job opening that seemed to make sense for me at the time. However since my time in an animation studio I have been more drawn to the still image as a way to express myself. Though the way I design my visual essay images is highly influenced by the story-telling skills I learned on the job in animation. I feel that my paintings and my illustrations are one and the same, minus who it is for. I tend to think of my gallery work as an extension of the ideas that might not work in print, as a concept for an editorial, or character design, or so on. However, I would think all of them matured over time. My ability to come up with ideas and my skills as an artist are all tied together and every day I feel like I am still learning and maturing as an artist. 

3.) How did you come to teach at Montserrat College of Art? What’s been your most gratifying experience teaching art? (and most harrowing!?)

I happened into it via a friend who couldn’t teach his regular course. I was working full time at the animation studio at the time and took on my first teaching experience as a night job. I would end my day at the studio a bit early (knowing I would have to make up the work later) and drive up to Montserrat. I instantly knew that it was a good fit for my skills. I have a managerial mindset and work well in group settings. Oddly enough I was the shy kid in school and never would have expected that teaching would be where I am now. Even to this day, I am not sure how it all makes sense, but I seem to enjoy it. So why not stay on the roller coaster of teaching? I have seen almost everything in my career and have had to learn a lot of the teaching skills on the job. I have had a lot of great students and many who have gone on to become fabulous artists. It is always rewarding to have students who are awakened to some new skill, medium, or idea, but I find hearing from alumni who have found their way more rewarding. On the flip side of the coin, I have seen my share of distressing days. The hardest thing I had to go through as a teacher was dealing with the aftermath of a student in my class, who sadly, passed away the night before. I didn’t find out until I was just about to start class. Not many knew of what occurred and found out when I had to announce it to everyone in my class. 

4.) Most influential act by any teacher you had growing up - GO!

When I was in high school my art teacher (Mr. Cragg) called my parents into a conference at the school. I was generally a good student so this surprised them. However, his goal was rather to really sit down and talk to them about my potential. Both of my parents really wanted me to aim towards business and possibly advertising at the time, but the conference changed everything. Since both of my parents were business oriented, and my brother was in the tech-world, I was the odd one out, who wanted to go into art. I credit my art teacher with convincing my parents that I had the skills and drive to thrive, and I hopefully am making him proud today. Looking back at this I think this took a lot of guts on my teachers part, especially not knowing whether my parents would even be open to talking about it.  

5.) I’ve read that your teaching style is heavily focused on “innovative approaches to idea building.” Can you expound on this observation?

I am a huge proponent of lateral thinking (indirectly solving problems). I have come to realize that my strongest skill set as an artist and teacher is building ideas. Though I hope I have the technical skills to back up my content, I know that thinking on my feet and creatively solving problems tends to be my bread and butter. I try to impart some of the idea building techniques to my students. I always find it funny when I am helping brainstorm an idea with students and the avoid using it because they think I would think it is stealing from me. Often times I am just spit-balling ideas knowing that they will make it into something bigger and better. I also know that my way of working is so different from what they do that I will almost never even need to use a similar idea in the future. I realize that there is always a bigger and better idea out there. 

6.) Let’s shift focus to life outside the classroom – Can your work be found in any galleries in and around New England?

I always show in a gallery called Nahcotta (Portsmouth, NH), where I tend to sell a lot of small works in a variety of shows they have. I have recently had a few shows that focused on murals (one at Montserrat College of Art and one at the New Art Center in Newton, MA) and I have had to really think creatively on how to translate my work to such a large scale. I tend to work small enough that scanning my work is not a problem, so jumping up to the scale of a mural was quite shocking. Being that I tend to think well on my feet I try to not get too caught up in the rules of designing the wall, but rather just play with the design as I would on the small scale. 

7.) I feel like there’s A LOT going on within your compositions. What’s your process? What’s your secret? TELL ME THE WAYS.

It is hard to explain my process because I’m not sure I have one. I tend to just wing things. Luckily no one has stopped me yet. I feel that when I over plan, and over sketch, my work tends to get stiff and unappealing to me. I don’t want to paint-by-numbers. Therefore, I tend to just make work and hope for the best. I have thrown away plenty of pieces in the process. The disadvantage of this approach is that I can sometimes get stuck making the same image over and over because it feels good. For compositions, I tend to look at work as a balancing act. Since my work is more design heavy, I tend to look at the page as a balance of color, form, value. Oddly enough I don’t think about it much anymore. I think working over the years has trained me to just naturally design work without really trying, but this took lots of practice, and lots of failures, to feel that I don’t really need to focus on it anymore. That can be said for art in general. Everyone has a hard time with their first drawing, but as time progresses you learn to jump in and know that every misstep is a lesson learned. It’s not about the piece you are working on, but the next one you plan to make. 

8.) I’ve never come across the term “Surface Design” before, so I looked it up. Here are the key points that seemed to resonate with your work: coloring, patterning, printing, painting and paper-making. Did I nail it, or completely miss the mark? 

You did well. I have a huge love of color. I find that I tend to gravitate to the same palette over and over, which I try to break every now and then. Colors can be so much fun to pick. I really love patterns but I tend to think of my work as surface design ready, but not solely tied into it. It is just another option for my style that seems to make sense. 

9.) Any favorite children’s book author or artist? Wait - have you ever illustrated a children’s book?

I am actually in the middle of a children’s book right now. It will be my first proper kid-lit venture. It is being published in 2017, so it is going to be a while before we see a printed copy, but it is fun working on a long term project. Most of the work I do has a fast turn around time, so it is nice to have time to think about how to best make the pieces for this book. I have found many great books along the way that have influenced me as an illustrator. I also have a little boy at home, so I have been knee deep in children’s books for some time now. My current favorites are: Bruce Ingman, Oliver Jeffers, Christian Robinson, Carson Ellis, Benjamin Chaud, and Miroslav Sasek. There will be plenty more as time goes on, I am sure. 

10.) If you could pick a project that brought you the most simultaneous stress and satisfaction, which would it be? 

I would love to tap into book covers (specifically non-fiction, I think they have to be much more creative to get you to pick them up). I think working with type and design alongside my illustrations would be highly rewarding. However, I know that when you involve sales and marketing into any illustration market, it gets tricky and often stressful. 

11.) Three most influential life experiences that guided you right here, right now.

Choosing to go to an art school, getting over social anxiety (so I could teach), and lots of naps (this is the most important now that I have a little one).

12.) Three things you’re most grateful for, ever. 

Good mentors, family support (mine, my wife, and son, and her family), naps. 

13.) Okay, last question… Is there an emerging artist that is on your radar that you think everyone needs to know about? Who ya got!?

Not necessarily emerging, but I really think Martin Haake (http://www.martinhaake.de/) is amazing. He is out of Berlin. I really think some of the best and brightest illustrators are coming out of Europe. They tend to be less derivative of the industry and often make work, not copy it. As evidenced by the crazy and unforgiving children’s books you get in Europe. They tend to not hand-hold or sugarcoat the art, just because it may be for a younger audience.