In Conversation Series with Creative Director, Ryan Hoevenaar
In this blog, we present another edition of “In Conversation,” which invites readers into the Next-Mark offices to meet our talented team of marketing and communications professionals. For this edition, we caught up with our Director of Creative Strategy, Ryan Hoevenaar. Born and raised in a small Midwestern town, Ryan dishes on how his upbringing helped him value faded storefronts just as much as contemporary graphic design, and sheds some light on how he creates visual assets that helped Next-Mark take home 13 Addy Awards at 2022’s AAF-Suncoast competition.
Paint us a picture of your youth in rural Illinois.
I grew up in what would be considered the archetype for a Midwestern town—an endless sea of cornfields punctuated by long forgotten farmhouses, a rifle still at the ready over an ash-filled mantle, that kind of thing. My town had a central cloister of stores and churches along with a Walmart. I remember intermittent advertising of both salvation and rollback prices. I spent a lot of time in a web of creeks where I’d corral tadpoles with friends and kick around bricks from fallen bridges. There were train tracks that served as late night teenage hangouts, which may or may not have been my stomping grounds. It was very much a town where the history could still be felt in creaky floorboards and faded hand-painted billboards. Think Norman Rockwell but moodier.
Was there a specific moment from your childhood when your parents made a formal acknowledgment of your creative predisposition?
My parents identified and cultivated my love for art at a really young age, so I can’t really remember a time when art wasn’t a part of my life. The family fridge was always filled with my paintings and drawings and the kitchen table always had the beginnings of a sculpture made from neon colored Play-Doh. My parents still have stacks of dinosaur drawings and landscape finger paintings in their closet. Of course, then in grade school I was always known as the “art kid”—usually in the bottom 10 of being picked for pick-up basketball in the gym but always picked first as a partner in art class.
Were there resources in your small town—magnet schools, workshops, galleries, etc.—where you could develop your creativity?
My town had very few outlets for artistic expression. Like most small towns, high school football reigned supreme. But the big city outside of our small sphere had galleries and art collectives that I would later tap into in my college years. There were all these old industrial factories that had become hubs for your stereotypical starving artists that would all push themselves and each other in their craft. Being a part of this scene in my early 20s really influenced my perception of what art was and what it could be. In a lot of ways, I still feel that way when I design, as though all those voices are looking over my shoulder encouraging me to try new things.
What’s your medium of choice in your art?
I’ve dabbled in a lot of different mediums, but I always come back to collage, specifically found ephemera collage. The idea of creating something new from things that have lost their initial purpose makes my mind soar. To weave bits of history and bygone culture into something new fascinates me. I think that probably comes from growing up in a small town that had experienced that same decline in industry that so many small towns did when manufacturing started being outsourced. I really came to appreciate the beauty of found objects, the aesthetics of Mid-Century advertising, the fender lines of rusty old Fords, even old candy wrappers.
Are you a designer first or an artist?
I would say that’s not even a distinction worth making for me. The only real difference is that design incorporates the input of the client while my art is dictated purely by my whims. But I think both my art and design capture my preoccupation with grid-work and layout. I’d like to think it’s the Scandinavian in me that loves to have objects in a well-organized grid where angles and sides of objects line up in a way that’s almost mathematical but still visually interesting. I think, again, when you look at the faded advertising and logos that dotted my small town, those designers and artists were exceptional when it came to composition and balance. You figure they all probably had more formal training in fine art because graphic design was still a fairly new field, and their work had a great sense of color and alignment. I think a lot about vintage gas station logos with their boldness and clarity or hand-painted storefronts with their highly detailed line work that can make a regular font feel special. I’d like to think I bring some of that appreciation into my work here at Next-Mark, even when it’s for a client that you don’t really think of as requiring much flash. It all gets the neurons firing to varying degrees and is really satisfying to do. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do for a living.