Meet Hawk Krall, an artist from Philly who dabbles in illustration and food. Lots and lots of food. From illustrations and writing on the subject of hot dogs, to designing menu boards for various restaurants, Krall seems to show his love for food in his outlet for drawing. And the dude knows his food as much as he knows drawing with style.
His technique is cartoony, for sure, with portraits, murals, and charts reminiscent of comics from old Nick Magazine issues and High Times backpages. He balances work between food drawings and working with different publications, such as the Willamette Week, to provide a cartoony look on political issues and satirical depictions of city lifestyles.
We talked with Krall about his latest creations, his initial love for food, and what he really takes influences from.
Mass Appeal: Who are you?
Hawk Krall: Artist from Philadelphia. “Illustrator,” mostly, but I also do fine art not intended for publication. I used to do a lot of comics, but not such much the last few years.
MA: Why’s that?
HK: Mostly because it’s insanely time consuming and there’s no money in it. I’m a full time illustrator, so comics – which I would love to still do – are always on the back burner so I can pay my bills. At least doing “fine art,” for galleries, there’s a possibility of selling things. Comics are the most labor intensive medium with the least immediate payoff. I have tons of respect for people who stick with it!
MA: And you’re a freelance artist?
HK: Yes. Freelance illustrator, but coming out of a background of wanting to do comics.
MA: Who are some of your clients? What do they mainly look for from you?
HK: Willamette Week in Portland is one I’ve been working with for a few years. Started off doing some caricatures and have done a few covers for them as well. They seem to hire me for really fun things, either from a satire angle or just something with a lot of crazy stuff going on.
For Willamette Week, I did caricatures of local politicians. But also food stuff, a guide to ethnic markets jammed full of crazy ingredients. And then recently a whole cover and package about the (semi?) legalization of marijuana there. Lots of bongs and pot leaves.
Also, Hot Diggity here in Philadelphia is a gourmet hot dog shop I’ve been working with for a while. Did their menu a couple years ago and have also worked with them on a food cart and new locations at the Wells Fargo Center here. This work is more like poster and sign painting style, which I’ve done for a lot of food-related clients.
MA: Do you think creating comics before this work was a huge part in finding it? Like, you had to have comics to be able to draw caricatures and what not?
HK: I mean, my comics style and illustration style aren’t that different; one is arranged in boxes that tell a sequential story. I specifically set out to get illustration work. Although I would send comics to art directors, as well. But yeah the goal of being able to draw comics was the driving force of learning how to draw things for a while.
MA: What kind of comics did you draw? Comedy?
HK: Yeah they were mostly humorous, sort of semi-fictionalized autobiographical stuff. Mostly about my shitty jobs. Working at 7-11, working in kitchens, etc. I published some really early on in the Seattle Stranger, maybe 2001?
Actually, my regular comic about working in kitchens, “Dirty Dish,” was published in Notion Magazine in the UK for a few years. Really random. I think originally they wanted it to be more about working at a bar/rock venue, but since they weren’t paying me, I just did whatever I wanted.
MA: Wouldn’t you say that pursuing comics somewhat affected your satirical voice in illustration?
HK: Oh yeah, absolutely. Again, I don’t really look at the two as being very different, other than the context of being a single image versus multiple images telling a story. The tone is still very similar. But people view and value them differently. The same magazine that would pay me for an illustration, would expect to run comics for free, for “exposure.” Sort of a problem if you ever want to make a living doing it.
But yeah definitely an influence. If it isn’t obvious, specifically the ’90s era (and before) of underground stuff like Clowes, Peter Bagge, Joe Matt, Robert Crumb. And also, Noah Van Sciver. He’s sort of keeping that spirit alive. Everyone should check out his work.
Anyway, one day when I have the opportunity to take a break from freelancing, I’ll get back to my graphic novel about working in restaurant kitchens.
MA: Sciver is the shit.
HK: Yes! Right?
MA: How does food play a part in your artistic life? I see you also write about it?
HK: I’ve always been into food. My mom worked as a food stylist for years and I think even developed a few recipes for magazines and such. She’s a terrific cook and I grew up looking at cookbooks, but never really thought of it as a profession. Like most people, I fell into it accidentally, which usually means, “I needed a job really bad.” I started out cooking in coffee shops or dive bars as a “day job,” and not taking it too seriously. But eventually, I ended up working in actual professional kitchens for about six years while still freelancing some.
I loved it, but it was sort of all encompassing, and also the itch to do your own thing is always there, especially as an artist, but I realized I could probably get some decent paying gigs doing food stuff.
I started doing the “hot dog of the week,” series for Serious Eats, with paintings of regional hot dog styles from around the country and a brief write-up. And did some other writing/blogging for them as well. Not so much anymore. I don’t love the short attention span format of food blogs, and also it isn’t the most lucrative profession. As in, less than cooking at a dive bar. Ideally, if I’m going to do more food writing I’d like to do more long form stuff along with illustrations, if the opportunities are out there.
MA: You kind of found how to voice your love of food, going from cooking it to actually conveying it in your art as well?
HK: Yeah, the diagram stuff, like my hot dog illustrations, actually started in my notebooks as a line cook, as totally functional diagrams on how to plate different dishes. Not as pretty though. It definitely happened at the right time when the explosion of food was starting.
I’ve done menus and stuff for restaurants all over. One of my favorites is The Burger Map in Brazil. They do regional American style burgers, like the “Juicy Lucy.” Pretty sure they saw my stuff on Serious Eats. But it looks like a really cool spot with American craft beers, and really really awesome looking burgers.
Also, the mural at Pizza Brain here in Philly! The mural itself isn’t so much food related as just a crazy wall of notable and famous Philadelphians chowing on pizza.
MA: Let’s talk weed.
HK: [Laughs] Sure! Honestly, I’m pretty amateur when it comes to cannabis stuff. I was sort of blown away by all these gadgets (I had no idea what a vaporizer was until a couple weeks ago) and the sheer variety of marijuana strains and edibles and whatever else. It’s probably going to get close to craft beer and gourmet food, in terms of variety. Maybe already has.
MA: What was your inspiration for the pieces you did for Willamette Week, regarding weed culture?
HK: Well, as I said, I’ve done work for Willamette Week for a few years. With medical and semi-legalization going on out there, it’s a big thing. I did a small column header for them a couple months ago, for a new column called “Wille Weed.” Then I had the opportunity to do the recent “Green Dawn,” cover. Inspiration was mostly just looking at pictures of different weed strains on the Internet and thinking about those old “pot 40/pot 100″ pages that used to be in the back of High Times.
MA: Sort of like an homage to those old backpages? Except updated with your style, for sure.
HK: Yeah, it was the first thing I thought of, because those were always the first thing I looked at in High Times and never thought about how much those things probably influenced me. There’s also a surprising lack of information about them – specifically who drew them – available. They would make for a killer coffee table book.
MA: How do you find your work? Do clients approach you for the most part or do you approach them?
HK: Sort of both. In the beginning, there was a lot of promotion. Sending out postcards and emails and dropping off portfolios. I’ve been lucky recently to have clients seeking me out more. I just want to do bigger and better, whether it’s another mural or menu or portraits or writing and illustrating a book or magazine article.
MA: What’s next on your plate?
HK: A client I wanted to mention that’s been fun and different is Next City. Done a few things for them, sort of a different non-humor angle. They write about urban planning and social issues. Drawing stuff like crumbling, small-town American main streets being revitalized by immigrant communities. Sort of ties in to some of my gallery work. Crazy detailed black and white drawings of Philadelphia neighborhoods. That’s definitely something I would like to do more of, in a gallery setting or something else.