Meet Hope Christofferson (@hopechristofferson)
South Dakota fantasy artist Hope Christofferson @hopechristofferson discusses her love of fantasy art and literature, overcoming artist’s block and how artistic expression feels like real-life magic in her interview for the latest Bee Paper blog.
When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
I always knew that drawing and painting would be a part of my life, but pursuing art as a serious career choice wasn’t a goal of mine until I took a gap year after high school to experience real life and explore the world. I had put a lot of my time in high school into prepping for a future degree in medicine, but I realized that I would be happier choosing the thing that I wanted to spend all of my spare time doing as a career.
What draws you to fantasy art over other genres of illustration?
I think the impossibilities implicit within fantasy artwork is what attracts me to this genre. My work is the only place I can bring anything from my imagination into reality; it feels as though I’m exercising my own form of magic when I sit down at my desk, to bring my ideas into this world in the form of art.
Working in this genre gives me the ability to draw upon symbols and imagery that have meaning and aesthetic appeal. Growing up, I had spent a ton of time reading books and getting lost in imaginary worlds, which led to me to want to create my own versions of these fantastical places and characters based in the realm of fantasy.
You mentioned that your love of fantasy literature is a big source of inspiration for your work. Who are your favorite fantasy authors and how have they influenced your art?
J.R.R. Tolkien’s works first drew me to the realm of fantasy, which later led to me reading books by more contemporary authors like Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin. The drama and surrealism of their books that took place outside our mundane world make it easier for my mind to wander and conceptualize metaphorical concepts in a visual way. The historical symbolism behind castles, dragons, fairies, knights, and other things commonly found in fantasy realms, is fascinating and deeply meaningful. It is because of this universal significance embedded in fiction that I love to read and create works in this genre.
You have such a gentle, yet intricately detailed watercolor style, that feels reminiscent of medieval illustration. Which artists have inspired your artistic style?
Finding other creative people who make work that inspires me is a huge part of my process. I’ve always loved the misty fantasy scenes of Alan Lee and the whimsical goblins and fairies of Brian Froud. Both of these artists use watercolor in such a vivid and entrancing manner that seems effortless and natural. As a kid I would spend hours looking at their work and my own versions of their illustrations in my sketchbook. Lately, I’ve been delving into the drawings and paintings of Italian Renaissance artists like Raphael and da Vinci, whom often depicted mythological creatures and beings in captivating realism styles.
Favorite Bee Paper products and why?
The first product I ever used from Bee Paper was their 140 lb. 100% Cotton Watercolor paper. This paper gave me the unique ability to keep layering my colors until I got a brighter vibrant hue, which you can’t do on many papers without the paint appearing muddled. The Watercolor Postcards are another one of my favorite pieces of stationary to paint on and send away to friends, as an old-fashioned way of keeping in touch with art mail!
Which subject is your favorite to paint and why?
This is a hard question to answer because my work changes so often. Currently, I’m in love with painting faces and fanciful outfits inspired by Renaissance court fashion. All of the richly colored fabrics and elaborate patterns are so much fun to draw. When I sit down to create a character, I like to think about the emotional response and meaning behind the colors and shapes I include in the painting.
This past year, my work has evolved to include portraiture, which is something I didn’t think I would ever have any interest in, but I found that I love putting personality down in paint. There is an almost tangible magic in being able to breathe life onto a blank canvas. Adding deep reds to lips or brilliant greens to emerald eyes to create a person to tell the viewer a story is so entrancing. Usually, I paint using people from my own life, combining their personality with that of an archetypal figure from folklore or mythology. Everything in these portraits has a meaning, even the things I forget to consciously choose seem to affect the overall impression of the fairytale-influenced characters that I paint.
We can see that you also enjoy crafting ceramic sculptures, in addition to painting and pen sketching. Which artistic medium do you feel is the most challenging and why?
The level of difficulty when it comes to painting, versus sculpting, depends on what I am trying to achieve when I have a project in mind. In general, I think sculpting comes more naturally to me. I haven’t taken much time to study color theory yet, so, when I sit down to create realistic skin tones or dimensionality on a flat surface, I struggle more than if I were to sculpt something out of clay. That being said, I really enjoy being challenged and actually love it when I make mistakes during the creative process because I learn so much from just taking risks and messing up. Being an artist is about playing and having fun whilst creating, not about worrying about the appearance of the piece at the end.
What has been the most challenging part of your artistic journey?
For me making something for myself is something that I struggle with. I’m getting better but, for a long time, I would put so much energy into commissioned work or pieces that I thought other people would appreciate. Although these can be valid motivating factors behind the creation of work, I’ve found that creating for the sake of creating and not worrying too much about a deeper meaning or significance behind a chosen design is the essence of what being an artist means for me. I’m happiest when I don’t overthink my work. For me, art is an escape; art is a realm where I can explore ideas with wonder and enthusiasm.
Understanding and accepting that creativity isn’t infinite is also important. Sometimes I have absolutely no drive to make anything and this is so frustrating for me. I’m learning to use these moments of artist’s block recharge and be more at peace with just sitting and absorbing the work of other people versus constantly outputting work. Taking breaks and just living in the moment is something that I’ve learned to do more often this past year and it’s helped me create from a more meaningful space.
As a current Fine Arts student at Black Hills State University, what is something you have learned from your art education that has really stuck with you?
Getting an education in art has been an interesting experience for me. In the midst of critiques, and seemingly random projects using various experimental mediums, I’ve learned that trying new things is incredibly important. I happened to take a course on ancient book binding techniques, which inspired me to create a number of small fantasy books that I’ve been lucky enough to share with people all over the world. Without this class I would have never thought to start making my own handmade books which I’m now incredibly passionate about. Trying new things helps people get out creative ruts they don’t even know they’re in, which is the most important thing I’ve gained from my education so far.
What is the main message you want people to receive from your art?
Magic is real! Everyone has the ability to incorporate their imagination into their life, whether that be by sketching, painting, sculpting, or just being creative in some way. I feel so lucky to live in a world where so many people can share ideas and make art that comes from a place of wonder and pure joy for others to see. I hope my work inspires others to find the time to sit down with a mug of coffee or tea and see where their pen or brush leads them. I promise it will be an adventure worth remembering.