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Adé Hogue: Creative Success Writ Large

By Scott Kirkwood

When Adé Hogue enrolled in civil engineering courses at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, in 2007, most of his classmates hoped to build roads, bridges, dams, and airports. But Hogue was determined to design roller coasters. That career path was quickly derailed by subpar grades and by a realization that the world wasn’t exactly clamoring for roller-coaster designers. So Hogue pursued another field that combines technical expertise with creative flair—one with nearly as many twists and turns as a roller coaster.

Hogue created this mural on the exterior of a restaurant outside of Kansas City, Missouri.

After diving into graphic design and earning his degree, Hogue set his sights on Chicago. When a phone interview led quickly to an in-person interview, he skirted the cost of round-trip airfare and, instead, stuffed his belongings into his Chevy Malibu, drove north, and crossed his fingers. He got the job. Then he crashed on a friend’s floor for a few weeks until he was on his feet.

FINDING A CREATIVE OUTLET

Like many entry-level roles, Hogue’s job at an experiential design firm wasn’t particularly challenging, but that worked out well for him, because it left him with enough mental energy to dive into his first personal project during evenings and weekends.

“I was feeling a little uninspired, doing the same thing over and over again,” he says, “so I bought a bunch of brush pens and decided to hand-letter a word in a different style every day, for thirty days, which was about as long as my attention span could handle—and after a month, I’d established it as a habit.”

Lettering designs by Hogue. 

Hogue eventually landed at a large, big-name PR agency, which also proved to be rather sterile, but it introduced him to one of the lasting themes of his work: flowers. Surrounded by dozens of coworkers who seemed to receive bouquets nearly every day, Hogue started gathering up those wilting flowers when they were destined for the garbage can.

“At any given point, I had ten to fifteen dying bouquets surrounding my desk,” he says. “The people who sat nearby didn’t necessarily enjoy it, but I loved it.” Hogue recognized that a flower’s beauty was fleeting, so he decided to capture that beauty forever, using photography. With Pantone Flowers, he used paper frames to create still lifes of fading roses, daisies, and carnations from his coworkers’ “hand-me down bouquets.”

Hogue used paper frames and flowers from fading bouquets to create this series of still lifes. 

PUTTING HIMSELF IN THE PICTURE

That love of flowers is a repeated theme that’s also featured in Hogue’s cover concept for PRINT magazine, one of 15 created by people chosen as the magazine’s New Visual Artists for 2017. Hogue created a custom-lettered, 1:12 scale version of the magazine cover using flowers and acrylic paint on a massive piece of paper. He them jumped onto the canvas and photographed himself, a favorite technique he often employs to show that images are analog, not digital.

Hogue created this PRINT magazine cover concept by hand—as his presence in this picture shows! 

Since going freelance full-time in 2016, Hogue has found that his organic style appeals to food clients, which you can see in his hand-lettering for a Kansas City restaurant, Aldi grocery stores, and Starbucks’ Teavana Tea. But his favorite collaboration to date is his work for Nike, which placed his handiwork all over shirts, shoes, and signage promoting the 2017 Chicago Marathon. “I’ve run the Chicago Marathon three times,” he says. “Being able to combine my love of lettering with my love of running and the city of Chicago, all in one project—that really meant a lot to me.”

Hogue has lived the Chicago for only six years, but he’s worked hard to connect with the design community in his adopted hometown: he and a friend started hosting local lettering parties which now feature as many as 60 people gathered around a huge piece of paper.

“The city inspires me in a lot of ways,” he says. “I love that Midwest attitude, where you just put your head down, put on your boots, deal with the cold and the snow, and know that all that stuff just makes you stronger.”

SHARING HIS KNOWLEDGE

This year, Hogue will be able to put off that Chicago chill for a few days while presenting at Adobe MAX in Los Angeles (October 15–17). There, he’ll lead a session delving into the ways he incorporates photography into his creative work. Teaching is yet another “accidental” skill that he picked up on the job: During his final two years at the University of North Carolina, Hogue worked at an Apple store, helping older customers navigate iPads and iPhones. Now he takes the same approach when leading classes in hand lettering and typography at DePaul University.

An avid runner, Hogue says a favorite project was a collaboration with Nike, which used his lettering on shirts, shoes, and signage, to promote the 2017 Chicago Marathon.

“When I first taught a script lettering class to undergrads, I was trying to show them a Bézier method, and it forced me to take a step back and start with the basics,” says Hogue. “It was such a foreign concept to them, I realized they needed more than one Keynote presentation—they need me to show them on the computer and to give them the opportunity to practice again and again. As a teacher, those moments really help you redefine and fine-tune your own process.”

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Adé Hogue is one of many creative luminaries who will speak at Adobe MAX 2018, October 15–17 in Los Angeles. Learn more and register. (Use promo code M18CA to save $400 off of the registration price.)

It’s one of many unexpected lessons that Hogue has strung together over time, which prompts him to reference Apple again: “Just like Steve Jobs said in his Stanford commencement speech, you can’t connect the dots looking forward—you have to look backward,” says Hogue. “Whatever you do, take those experiences for what they are in that moment because you can never really determine where they’re going to lead you. I recently wrote a blog post about my two-year anniversary as a freelancer, and I said, ‘Freelancing isn’t for everyone—I’m not even sure it’s for me in the long run.’ Right now it’s driving me to create what I think is pretty good work, but in five or ten years, I may decide to return to an agency. Either way, I know that every experience I’m having right now is going to have an impact on what I do later.”