“Surround a thought with a pencil,” Eugene Hoffman said. It has been with me since the fall of 1990, my freshman year of college at the University of Northern Colorado. Gene was full of inspirational words. He was not one to let a student fly under the radar, either you participated or you simply didn’t show up. If you showed up you didn’t want to disappoint him, you wanted to impress and that was not easy because he’d seen it all.
For Gene’s graphic design class we were required to order a subscription to Communication Arts. Like the pages of Rolling Stone in high school, I read and re-read each and every article of Communication Arts, turning each thick, white page with anticipation of the inspirational image I might find on the next page. I even ordered a back issue from 1988 in which my professor was featured. He was like a rock star to me… in plaid flannel and suspenders. Gene had really lived it – he was part of the history of graphic design, winning prestigious awards as an illustrator. He even earned a lifetime ski pass to all Colorado ski resorts by designing promotional posters back when the ski industry in Colorado was not doing well.
Gene used found objects, paper, glue and cardboard to build amazing sculptures but also he offered perspective. Everything is art. You make it art. If you think about it, if you want to do it, make it happen. You are in control and are responsible for what you do. Nothing is impossible. Words are inspiration.
He said if you get stuck, make it fly, give it wings. “Time flies like an arrow, but horseflies like a stable,” Gene said. Look at things from a different perspective and a solution will come to you. Based on perspective, there are infinite solutions to the same problem. Some of his favorite words were “sycophant”, and “obsequious.” Because of the way they felt rolling off the tongue and the images and feeling they produced in their simple syllables (after you looked them up in the dictionary). Words and images evoke feeling, memories, ideas. They are the tools we use as designers to make products fly off the shelves, to connect everyday people to a brand.
In 2004, working at Citizen Printing in Fort Collins, Colorado, I ran into Gene at the front counter. He was having a show at a gallery in Loveland and needed posters. I don’t know if he really remembered me out of all of the students he had over the years but he took time to talk and was truly interested on how my life had been and where I wanted it to go. In school, Gene had said, “Be careful how you choose your hat because your hat is you.” I had chosen my hat well, it fit me and I loved wearing it every day. The opening of his show on October 16 went as I expected. Surrounded by his works of art, Gene was talking energetically to visitors, telling stories as only he could. Sadly, he passed away a few short months later on February 24, 2005. He made such an impact on so many. Thank you Gene, for your words and inspiration.