H+ CREATIVE IN CONVERSATION WITH FOUNDER / DIRECTOR, HANNAH STOUFFER
Check out H+ Creative writer Cam Johnson in conversation with founder, director, and artist Hannah Stouffer.
It’s hard to categorize what Hannah Stouffer does, and I think she prefers it that way. She is first and foremost an artist. But she is also a curator and tastemaker, a writer for publications such as Vice and Juxtapoz, an entrepreneur, and of course, director and founder of the visually vibrant H+ Creative. Hannah initially gained her start in the art world through illustration, but soon expanded her creative repertoire to curating, creative directing, and publishing. Though her personal work is always changing and evolving, there are themes of spirituality and mysticism that connects each one of her series' of art. It’s not necessarily that her pieces look the same, they don’t and Hannah makes sure of this, but the feelings that are evoked through her work are consistent. Her work is meditative and forces the viewer to turn inward, to look for meanings in life and within themselves. To put it in writers’ terms, Hannah Stouffer’s works are like visual studies that take consideration and care in both their creation and reception. Though Hannah’s art is at times esoteric, there is a shared rumination between artist and viewer that is palpable in her work. There is a very real magic within her artistry—not necessarily supernatural, more of a Stevie Nicks does a handful of psychedelics and proceeds to strip and walk on fire kind of magic, but it’s there and Hannah brings it to life. If I had to describe Hannah in one word, it would be “curious,” and I think she’d agree, almost painfully so. It’s hard to not feel captivated by her work and work ethic; I don’t know many people who are harder working. But despite the otherworldliness of her body of work, and even her existence, Hannah is extremely down to earth and level headed. I recently spoke with Hannah to find out more about her passion and diligence to her craft and her now dedication to her role as director of H+ Creative agency. Her responses contain her typical air of mystery while remaining relatable and inspiring. Cam Johnson, H+ Creative Writer Cam Johnson: What drives you? Hannah Stouffer: I’m fueled by a deep love for aesthetics, an infatuation with imagery and a dedication to the visual arts. Then again, if I don’t work I don’t eat, so that’s definitely a component. It helps that I'm so engaged with what I am able to that it it has become work of the heart. I was initially attracted to working with you because one, we are friends, and two, I knew you’d help me to “up my game.” You’ve already accomplished so much at such a young age and it’s really inspiring. Who forces you to up your game? Aw, thanks Cam, I’m just here to up you up! To be honest I’ve been cursed with the mindset of a creative, and I feel completely unaccomplished most of the time. I’m not entirely unsatisfied with everything I’ve produced, I just know I can do better, I can always do better. That in itself is the driving factor for me to step it up, every single day. I know it’s insane, but most of the time I don’t feel like I’ve done a goddamn thing, so I appreciate that you do! I’m just out here trying to achieve SOMETHING. You’re not only “out here,” so to speak, you’ve traveled a lot—for work and for leisure and inspiration—where is your favorite place to find inspiration in the world? Do you have a favorite place in the United States? I’ve gone through phases of traveling to show, to paint, to write and curate and also just because I could, on and off for the past 10 years. After all that, it feels really good to stay put for a minute here in LA. I really love the south, everything from this longitudinal line south to be exact. I spent a few months traveling on an Amtrak train through the entire southern states, and that was awesome. For leisure, I adore Mexico, central and south America all pretty equally. The beaches just GET me. For inspiration, the Indonesian Islands were a dream for textiles, patterns, color and hue, and Jerusalem made me feel some type of way. I guess the richness of tradition around religion and what to many marks the beginning might have something to do with it. That’s heavy. Speaking of religion, who are your art gods? There are SO many contemporary artists who’s work I admire, like hundreds if not thousands. I think my attractions and tendencies are pretty apparent through the work that I push through the H+ social accounts, I'm obsessed with the future of visual media. That being said, I’ve always drawn to illustrative works, futuristic fantasy, erotica, you know… the classics, Boris Vallejo, Sorayama, Tom of Finland, Frazetta, many of which I was fortunate enough to interview during my time at Juxtapoz. Though if we want to talk old stuff, I have a deep affinity for Gustave Dore’s woodcuts and engravings, religious paintings, minimalism, conceptualism, futurism, and the fine artist, commercial genius GOD Andy Warhol. Can you describe a day in the life of Hannah? It’s not a bad life, really. I wake up slow and early, drink some tea and send some casual emails around. Walk my best dog Taki around the neighborhood, or sometimes I run… Then I work all damn day. I usually meditate at some point and if I’m lucky I get some drawing / painting time in. Evenings are made for a blanket in the park or my stoop with a La Croix, then I’ll try to get into something social at night. This has been going on for the better part of the past 10 years and I've got it pretty dialed in. Illustration, walls, graphics, animation, film, ceramics, I’m sure I’m missing a few…What DON’T you do? Are there creative endeavors you haven’t done and are looking to try? Trust me, there's plenty. I still don’t know how to play my keyboard! PLEASE teach me something other than Deep Purple, Jesse’s Girl or 2Chainz. PLEASE. I mean, thank you but there is so much I’d love to learn. I want to know everything about all the things. I really want to get more into 3D renderings, I’d love to fuck around with VR or be able to code kinetic light installations like a big scientist nerd, though it would also be cool to just surf. Like in the water. In Hawaii. So, Shaka brah. You’re also a writer for Vice and Juxtapoz magazine and you're currently working on your 4th?! published title—how does writing differ from illustration work? Do you find that one is more challenging or takes more time than the other? I’ve been at Vice’s Creators Project for over a year now, and I love that platform. I really admire their journalistic integrity and attention to formative topics, I’m honored to be apart of their bigger picture. Writing is the best because I use my brain in a really positive, transformative way. I can literally feel myself getting smarter when I write, my brain is just upstairs lifting knowledge weights and looking so good for summer. I love it. Illustration is the opposite for me, I turn it off. I can sit and draw the same repetitive pattern for 6 hours straight and be delightfully content in meditative bliss, plus rap music. What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started fifteen-ish years ago? Ha! That art is the hardest thing in the world. Art is a luxury and I love it. Honestly kids, good luck. I’m not saying don’t do it, do whatever you want to do, but you have to be equipped with that real life drive, not this lazy, short attention span shit. You have to really love what you do, and if it’s art than that’s awesome, work harder. How do you beat a creative block—when the ideas just aren’t coming, when you have to “work harder?” Tequila, psychedelics, sunshine and a blanket, sometimes all at once, always in moderation. You’ve done a tremendous job balancing careers in both fine and commercial art, and now you’re moving into representation—can you tell me about H+ Creative, the inspiration behind it, and what you hope to achieve with the agency? Well thank you. I started H+ to assist and support artists expanding their creative vision, while making a sustainable career out of it. Frankly, most artists are better on the creative front and having somebody like myself assist in the often mundane administrative side of things is really beneficial to them. I've always really enjoyed pushing and promoting other people’s work and at the end of the day I'd love to see success in those who's work I admire, and everyone really. My intention is for H+ to continue to expand beyond traditional agency standards as we follow where new visual media is going. I still want to produce experiential events, I still want to host shows and exhibitions and I’d love for the agency model to be more of a genre than an agency. I want it to be everything. Is that ambitious enough? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Do you have any advice for those trying to follow in your footsteps—for those who are ambitious as you? I hear good advice all the time but I can rarely remember it. I read a lot and really value the advice I receive from my father, other creatives and business-minded friends. I’ve been on a positive, entrepreneurial affirmation kick lately and I highly recommend constantly educating yourself. Learning is the best. How long did it take to create/perfect the Hannah Stouffer signature style? I'm far from perfect lol. It took awhile to get comfortable with some specific mediums, but I’m always evolving in method. I've always found that was the hardest part, getting comfortable with your creative output. I'm a much better illustrator than I am painter and I discovered this a long time ago. I’ve had this tendency to work series by series instead of having one consistent go-to style and my work and medium is constantly changing, because there goes my curiosity again. So, I guess the answer is I'm not quite there yet.... and I probably never will be. I’ve seen that you’ve been curating more and more shows, all over the country, all while maintaining your role as a participator as well. Do you have a favorite show that you’ve participated in or curated? My two-person show with Hilary White this past year in Philadelphia at Paradigm Gallery felt pretty good, but mainly because she’s really good, and cheesesteaks are so delicious. We titled the exhibition 'Ingress / Egress' which kind of defined the ebb and flow of everything and worked together on concepting visual direction and the basis of both our work. Hilary is an incredibly talented creative and I was more honored to be showing with her more than anything. What do you look for in “good art?” There are a few defining factors, but I also know nothing and everything is so subjective. That being said, I think it either has to feel effortless or have a painful amount of evident effort involved. There is such a thing as good taste, and either you have it or you don’t, sorry. There ARE some things that can be taught but I truly believe that most of the qualities of a “good” artist (again, totally subjective) are innate and pre-determined. If you were blessed with an understanding of color and composition and have the patience and dedication of a buddhist monk, by all means, be an artist. Or if you have that natural good touch and your marks appear as an extension of your being and they just float through you, be an artist. Or if you just have remarkable wit and a striking sense of humor, artist. Or even if you’re really bad at art, that’s good too, be an artist anyway. I bet I’d like your shitty art, unless its intentionally shitty, don’t do that. That’s just garbage, too forced. Also, please don’t make macaroni noodle, recycled, found garbage bullshit art. That’s not good art, unless it is, but I highly doubt it. So, what’s next for Hannah Stouffer? I’m just gonna sit right here for a little while, in the sun. And what about H+ Creative? Everything ever.