The Q&A: Joyce Hesselberth

By Peggy Roalf   Monday January 26, 2015

Q: What are some of your favorite things about living and working in Baltimore?

A: I was born in Ohio, but we left when I was three months old, so I never really lived there. Growing up, we moved around a lot for my dad's job. I lived in Delaware, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. After college, I moved to Baltimore, MD. I have been there ever since. I love it because it's a kind of quirky town (think John Waters) and really genuine. 

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus in the computer?

A: I do keep a sketchbook, a rather messy one. It's full of as many thumbnails as word lists. My final art is almost all digital, but everything I draw starts as pencil on paper. I think better that way.

Q: What do you like best about your workspace?

A: We work out of a renovated screen print factory, so it's a big open space. I love that it gives us room for big projects and gallery shows. When the kids were little, they would come to work with us and ride their tricycles around in circles. 

From Airlines to Hotels, a Quest to Help You Sleep for The New York Times 

Q: Do you think it needs improvement, if so, what would you change?

A: I would like it to be more organized, but that's a tall order. I would also like to move it closer to my house. I spend too much time in the car.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: Tracing paper. I make a lot of mistakes and need to draw stuff over.

Q: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

A: That "aha" moment when you figure out the concept. 

PrestoBingo Colors, an app that teaches color names, is available for iPad and iPhone.

Q: What was the strangest or most unusual assignment you’ve taken? What did you learn from the experience?

A: There are lots of assignments that have been a little weird. I remember a particular editorial assignment about testicular development in boys. I started sketching and quickly realized there was absolutely nothing in the article I could show. I love that kind of a challenge though, where you have to come at the concept from a different direction.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: Miss Suzy by Miriam Young, with illustrations by Arnold Lobel. I loved it so much I insisted on getting a moss green carpet, just like Miss Suzy's.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: I read with my kids a lot, possibly so I have an excuse to read children's books. Recently we've been reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Wonder by R. J. Palacio and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.

The City Mouse and Country Mouse for McGraw-Hill

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: As a challenge, I'd pick gouache. I love how flat the color is, and it's a fun word to say: Gouache. Gouache. Gouache.

Q: What are some of your favorite places/books/blogs/websites for inspiration?

A: For visual inspiration, The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. I need to go there more often. For all other inspiration, the NCR trail in Monkton, MD. Running on the trail is a great way to collect my thoughts, plus it's beautiful there. 

Q: What was the painting or drawing or film that most affected your approach to art? [the Tunderbolt]

A: Is it weird if I name an amusement park ride instead? "It's a Small World" in Disneyland, at age five. I loved it so much I tortured my sister with the song for years after, but visually that ride blew my mind. I learned much later that Mary Blair designed a lot of it, so now I feel justified that my five-year-old self loved it. I adore Mary Blair's work. Her use of strong geometric form has definitely been an influence.

Q: If you could be anywhere but where you are now, where would that be?

A: It's snowing outside my window right now, so I'm definitely going to say the beach. Preferably somewhere in the Caribbean.

Q:  Where do you teach—and what do you like best about teaching?

I teach at MICA [Maryland Institute College of Art]. My favorite thing about working with students is the constant energy they exude. I get to share in their excitement when an idea goes right, or a concept finally works. It's hard to be a bitter, old illustrator when you are surrounded with that.

Illustrations for Imagination Stage, a children's theatre. From left: Seussical, Bunnicula, and Cinderella

Q: Where did your idea for the PrestoBingo Colors app originate? What was the most difficult part about getting from idea to finished art? 

A: I love color names. As a kid, with an art teacher mom, we were always very specific about them. I thought it would be fun to create an educational app for kids where they can start with basic color names like red, yellow, and blue, but eventually move to more obscure colors like periwinkle, loden, chartreuse, and so on. On this project, the challenge was to make it really playable. As I was designing and illustrating it, the look of it changed a lot. The first versions felt like you were taking a test, but once I added gravity it became really fun. The most difficult part was the coding, but it's really exciting to me that we can produce an entire project like this ourselves, and have it available in the iTunes app store.

Q: What advice would you give a young artist about applying to an art school or college?

Art majors have to work extra hard to build a career, but it can be done. Surround yourself with really great creatives, not just your classmates, but working professionals too. Internships are a great way to learn.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Sushi. And may I have a piece of key lime pie for desert? I know that doesn't go together, but hey, it's my last supper.

Joyce Hesselberth’s illustrations have appeared in national ad campaigns, theater productions, and numerous major newspapers and magazines. She also illustrates children’s books, and has published two educational apps, PrestoBingo Shapes and PrestoBingo Colors which are available in the iTunes app store. Her work has been recognized by American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, and the Art Directors’ Club of New York among others. She and her husband David Plunkert co-founded Spur Design in 1995. Spur Design is located in a renovated factory building in Baltimore, MD. Joyce also teaches illustration at Maryland Institute College of Art.

Twitter and Instagram: @hesselberth

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