I am so excited today to share with you the work of fellow illustrator Heather Hardison. Heather is not only a fantastic artist, she’s a master hand-letterer, a sign painter, gardener cook, and a writer. She has recently published her first book, Homegrown: Illustrated Bites From Your Garden to Your Table, a gorgeously illustrated tribute to her experience with growing and eating her own food. Through her words and illustrations, Heather guides us through the process of planting, growing, harvesting, and preparing over 25 vegetables and small fruits and cooking them up into delicious meals. It also includes tips for stocking an unprocessed pantry, pickling, canning, and more!
I sat down with Heather a couple of weeks ago and asked her all about the process of creating this beautiful book, about her art practice (including her hand lettering and sign painting skills) and, of course, and about her own garden.
And without further ado, as part of my Interviews with People I Admire series, Heather Hardison!
Lisa: Tell us a little bit about you! Where do you live and how long have you been lettering and illustrating?
Heather: I live in South Berkeley, and my art studio is in North Oakland but I’m originally from North Carolina. I moved to the Bay Area 6 years ago after I finished college at NC State. I’ve been freelancing as a illustrator and letterer for about 3 or 4 years, and sign painting at New Bohemia Signs for 5 years. I didn’t study illustration (I studied art & design), so it took a few years of doing personal projects and putting together a portfolio before I started getting regular freelance work.
Lisa: Your new book Homegrown: Illustrated Bites from Your Garden to Your Table is beautiful! Tell us about how this book came to be!
Heather: When I finished college and moved to the Bay Area, my first job here was working at a french restaurant in Berkeley. I learned so much about cooking, and eating seasonally while I was working there. There is SUCH a great food culture in the Bay Area that I’ve been incredibly influenced by. There are farmer’s markets on almost every day of the week, and some the world’s best grocery stores and food co-ops.
Even though I was having a great time working at the restaurant, I really wanted to keep up a creative practice. So in 2010 I started my illustrated food blog, Illustrated Bites, to share all the exciting stuff I was learning about food, but also to keep myself in the habit of drawing. After a year or two of blogging, my images started getting passed around and my blog started getting popular. My editor found my blog and approached me about doing a book proposal. She help me put it together, and in early 2013 Stewart, Tabori, and Chang (an imprint of Abrams) bought my proposal. From then it was GAME ON. I wrote, illustrated, hand lettered, and designed the layout of the book. It was very intense, but I had total creative control, which was a unique opportunity. I wrapped everything up in December 2014. It was a very busy 18 months.
Lisa: Wow, I can only imagine! I’m amazed at all the different aspects to the book, the infographics & facts, the explanations, the beautiful illustrations, the RECIPES! Let’s talk about the recipes for a moment. Did you write all the recipes? If so, what was that like? Do you have any cooking training?
Heather: I did write the recipes! They’re all very simple, vegetarian, and produce centric. I learned a lot about cooking while I was working at the french restaurant, but I learned most of what I know about cooking on my own. I took a lot of random workshops and cooking classes, and did a lot of experiments at home.
Lisa: Did you find yourself doing lots of research as you made this book? There is really so much science in it!
Heather: Yes, I did A LOT of research. I very much enjoyed that part of the process. I read a lot, talked to experts. Watched documentaries, and cross referenced things to make sure I had the most accurate information.
Lisa: What was your favorite part about making this book?
Heather: Of course, I LOVED doing the illustration and and the lettering. It was my dream project in that regard, but I actually liked writing it a lot more than I thought I would. I don’t really think of myself as a writer, but I enjoyed the process so much and walked away a much better writer. I’m definitely interested in pursuing more writing projects like this in the future.
Lisa: Tell us about your own garden. What’s in it, and how much time do you spend there?
Heather: Since I live in a dense urban area, my garden is a hodgepodge of green space that I’ve made for myself. My apartment doesn’t have a yard, so I’ve had to be creative! I took over the sad flower beds in front of the building and turned them into raised beds for veggies. I also have a large back porch that I’ve loaded up with container gardens.
I even have have a couple of beehives on my roof! My studio mate and I have a garden behind our studio that’s fairly large, and there’s also chickens.
I love spending about a half hour everyday in the garden, doing basic chores like watering or weeding. Once or twice a week I’ll spend a few hours to catch up on things like transplanting, fixing things, and harvesting. Early in the season there are always a few full days of work to get the beds ready for planting, and bringing in new compost.
Lisa: What is your favorite vegetable and way to cook it?
Heather: Asparagus is probably my favorite vegetable. I love tossing the spears in olive oil & salt then roasting or grilling them, then squeezing a little lemon juice on top. I’ve also been crazy about radishes this year. Slicing them super thin and using them in salads, in tacos, or just eating them with some olive oil and salt on toast.
Lisa: You are really a master letterer. Did you learn lettering in school where you studied art and design or are you a self taught letterer? Tell us about how you got so good.
Heather: I learned everything I know about lettering from working at New Bohemia Signs, a sign painting shop in San Francisco. I’ve been working there for 5 years. It takes a lot of practice to get good at brush lettering. Learning to draw letters was a matter of learning anatomy of type and typographic rules (and when to break them.) I’ve spent a lot of time looking a letter forms, and after a while you start to internalize the proper proportions and develop your own sense of style.
Lisa: You are also an amazing sign painter. Tell us about how you got into sign painting and why it appeals to you.
Heather: I found sign paintings after I moved to the Bay Area. Walking around San Francisco, I couldn’t help but notice all the gorgeous hand painted signs. Once I figured out it was New Bohemia Signs who was making them, I immediately called to see if they would teach me. Lucky for me, Josh Luke was leaving to start his own shop in Boston, and they had room for an apprentice. I studied art & design in college, and I never quite understood what art & design really meant until I found sign painting. If you drew a Venn diagram of art, design, and craft, sign painting would be at the intersection of the three. In my experience, sign painters are all practically minded artists, who aren’t suited to sit a desk and that describes me perfectly.
Lisa: Who is your new book for? What kinds of people might be interested in purchasing it?
Heather: I think anyone who loves illustration and wants to learn more about growing and cooking seasonal food would be interested in the book. It’s not a compendium on gardening and cooking; it’s more of a love letter. Homegrown is a marriage of all my skill sets and love for good food; it was really a passion project! I hope that comes across, and gets people excited about trying to grow some of their own food, and cook it too.
Lisa: What new projects are you working on now?
Heather: Currently, I’m doing a lot of personal projects to kind of suss out what I want to do next. The book was such a big project, that it put everything else on hold. So I’m taking the time to take stock and think about what direction I want to go in before momentum takes over. I’m working on a type mural, and some other lettering projects, as well as working on things like packaging for my honey. I’m also trying to enjoy the summer and go outside a lot, and swim and garden as much as possible; that feels really good. I have to stay balanced and engaged with my interests to stay creatively charged.
Lisa: I am so impressed with all that you do! Thank you for taking the time to share your work, process and book with us.
Have a great Thursday, friends!