The Artist’s Process: An Interview with ADG Collaborating Artist Arden von Haeger

The Artist’s Process: An Interview with ADG Collaborating Artist Arden von Haeger

Anderson Design Group occasionally collaborates with artists whose styles are compatible with ours. When we notice art that captures the eye and moves the soul in the same ways that our vintage poster art does, we look for ways to work together to extend the look and feel of our various collections. Case in point, ADG has been proud to collaborate with master pastel artist Arden von Haeger to produce a series of vintage-looking poster illustrations, a collection of National Park art that pays homage to America’s natural beauty much in the same way as the original 20th-century travel posters that first promoted these wilderness areas.

Arden’s classic hand-rendered illustration style conveys grandeur, romance, and nuance. His inventive use of color and unique Art Deco styling conjure up a bygone elegance as he celebrates some of America’s most iconic nature spaces and wilderness destinations. ADG founder Joel Anderson described his long-time friend’s work as such: “Arden is a modern-day master. His handling of color, light, and shape evoke a feeling of timeless, historic beauty. His compositions remind me of the epic Works Progress Administration-era masterpieces of the Early 20th Century that moved America. Arden’s creations are ingeniously stylized, artfully simplified, and powerfully amplified, enabling him to tell a familiar story in a whole new way.”

Recently, we had a chance to sit down with Arden and get a behind-the-scenes view into what brought him to a career in art, how he creates art, what inspires him, and what advice he has for up-and-coming artists.

Arden’s Bio and Background

Arden is a Professor of Illustration, Associate Chair of the Illustration Department, and Academic Lead at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He also serves as Associate Chair of the college’s study abroad program, where he leads international study opportunities for students and faculty.

ADG: “Thanks for sitting down with us, Arden. Can you tell us a bit about your background? How you arrived at this moment as an artist?”

Arden: “Certainly! I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. My love for the craft goes well back beyond where my memory can reach, but I always go back to the time in fourth grade when I entered an art contest and I drew a car from a model. But the model wasn’t actually a model car, it was an image of a model car where you could only see part of the car. My rendition caught my teacher’s attention, and from that moment on my teachers encouraged me to continue making art. Not that I needed any encouragement! Art, scribbles, and sketches flowed from me as naturally as breathing. It was just something I was always doing.”

ADG: “What a beginning! Can you walk us through your education in art?”

Arden: “I grew up in central Pennsylvania, in the Harrisburg area. My high school wasn’t known for its art program, but my teachers were still insisting I continue pursuing art and even go to art school, which to me was an out-of-this-world concept at the time. In my junior year, my art teacher invited people from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh to come to my school. They came back in my senior year, and by then it was starting to dawn on me that this art thing was something I might pursue as a profession. I ended up going to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and graduated first in my class. I immediately joined the workforce after I got my Associate in Visual Communications, but I did go back to school to obtain a BFA from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and later an MFA at the University of Hartford Art School.”

ADG: “Can you also bring us up to speed on your work background?”

Arden: “My first gig as an artist was working for Fruit of the Loom, making designs for t-shirts. I also worked on licensed garments and silk screen work for Lucas Films. From the get-go I wanted to be a freelancer, so I transitioned into that approach and worked on many projects while living in PA, New York City, and St. Louis, MO. I moved to Nashville in 1991 and worked on illustration projects for a few agencies and studios. In 2002 I started coaching soccer in Williamson County and Bellevue, and I really found my love for teaching and guiding young people. Between that and being a youth leader in church, I realized I also wanted to teach others how to become artists, so I did some adjunct work for Watkins College of Art & Design, Nossi College of Art and Design, Belmont University, and Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Then I went back to college, secured my MFA, and took a job as a professor at SCAD in early 2017. That also launched me into my work with the school’s study abroad program (starting about three years ago), so now I teach in Europe (France, Germany, and Austria) in the spring and fall and I teach here in the states in the winter and summer. I also do some work in admissions at local schools here in Nashville, recruiting for SCAD. And I recruit teachers too, for our teaching abroad program.”

ADG: “That’s quite the background!”

Arden: “Yeah, I tell my students, ‘My entire life I’ve had no idea what I was doing, but every moment of my life has prepared me for this moment in time.’ It’s amazing how it’s all worked out. I try to use that story to inspire my students, to show them that, even if they don’t know where they’re going, they’ll get where they need to be.”

Collaborating with Anderson Design Group

Joel Anderson, founder and Creative Director at Anderson Design Group, has known Arden since the early 1990s. They’ve worked together in teaching roles over the years and recently realized they needed to work together in art creation, too. Arden has brought Joel into his classroom several times to teach students about art distribution and marketing, valuable lessons the students have been able to apply later on in their careers as artists.

Joel has always been a fan of Arden’s work, so the two put their heads together and brainstormed a new collection of National Park art, vintage art of the National Parks that harkens back to the period when many of the parks were first receiving their designations.

ADG: What do you enjoy about collaborating with ADG?”

Arden: “Like minds, mutual respect, and creative freedom!”

ADG: “What are some of your favorite ADG books or products, and do you have a favorite ADG collection or series of work?”

Arden: “I love the calendars and guidebooks – Impressive! I would love to work on a coffee table book with ADG too! All print materials are of the highest quality – I know what I'm looking at and always the best products and quality coming from ADG. I am honored to work with such a great group!”

Awards Already? National Park Art Wins Prestigious Awards

Arden excitedly announced to the ADG staff that he recently got (5) National Park art pieces in the Communication Arts 2024 Illustration Show! His original illustrations of Yellowstone, Mt. Rainier, Shenandoah, Crater Lake, and Channel Islands were chosen to join the ranks of the prestigious works featured in the show.

But that’s only the beginning. Arden also had (3) National Park posters selected for the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles SILA Annual Competition. Arden’s Yellowstone poster won the gold medal last year, and this year, Arden’s Saguaro, Badlands, and Everglades art made it in, with Everglades winning bronze!

A Peek Behind the Curtain: Arden’s Creative Process

How does one create award-winning art? Arden has a process; like any artist, it’s been a constant cycle of refinement and tweaking, even in the present day.

ADG: “Can you give us a look at your process as an artist? Particularly when you’re working on art of the National Parks?”

Arden: “Sure. I start by studying reference material, then I sketch using a black Prismacolor pencil. I work to scale, so my sketch might be on a small card, but it’s proportionate to an 18×24 poster. I start building the composition, but the entire time I’m doing that, I’m answering questions. Where is the light coming through? Where does the light need to be? What are the shapes going to look like? What wildlife and vegetation is in this park? Are there any water features in this park? What time of day or night is the image supposed to embody? Once my sketch is done, I use Turpenoid, a low-odor solvent to dissolve the wax from the pencil. Then I go over the sketch with a brush and blend it, which gives me some grays and color values. Then I scan it, bring it to photoshop, and start blocking in colors. I start adding layers and leveraging digital painting tools to give me a final product that looks just like I used my pastels to paint the illustration. Once all is said and done, I have a finished digital file, which I can send to Joel for final approval or tweaking if/as necessary.”

Below is a concept sketch, the color rendering, and the final poster design.

Advice for Aspiring Artists

As an educator, Arden always looks for ways to make his lessons practical and applicable. "How do we teach art to students, but while teaching them art, how do we also teach them how to make art marketable?" says Arden. "How do students go on to make art as a career rather than a hobby or side gig?"

Arden is unique in his ability to bring the professional field into the classroom, and his students love it because it assuages the fear all students have, whether or not their dream to become an artist is something they can also support themselves and even a family on.

ADG: “What kind of advice do you give your students? Or other aspiring artists?”

Arden: “You feed creativity daily. Yes we need breaks now and then so I’m not saying you have to give it 100% every day. But open your sketchbook and put something in it every day. Keep feeding it every day. Doesn’t matter the subject matter or what you’re drawing. It’s just the action of feeding your creativity, and your sketchbook, every day that matters. Feeding your creativity every day is important because it allows you and your creative spirit to evolve.”

Below are shots of Arden's home art studio.

ADG: “It seems like AI-created art is everywhere these days. What are your thoughts on AI?”

Arden: “AI is a threat to artists and it’s not going away. At the same time, it can also be a useful tool and something we can learn from. There’s something about the human spirit that is raw and unique when human thought is harnessed from the mind and brought to reality through pencil and paper. AI can’t replicate that.

Below is an example of Arden's personal work (unrelated to ADG collaborations).

But veteran artists and up-and-coming artists alike will be required to find ways to create and sell art in a marketplace that now has AI in it. The human element is still relevant, desirable, and marketable, so I tell my students to learn as much as they can about AI and start innovating ways to make themselves stand out.”

Artistic Influences

ADG: “You’ve told us your advice for your students, but who do you get advice, or inspiration from? What artistic greats to you look to for wisdom?”

Arden: “That’s the thing about being in this profession, you’re never truly a master or an expert, because every time I give one piece of advice to my students, I’m reminded of ten pieces of wisdom and clarity I learned from the greats who came before me. It’s humbling and inspiring, all at once. But just to name a few, I’ve found a lot of inspiration in the French impressionists, the deco movement and the Works Progress Administration art. Alphonse Mucha, Gary Kelley, Mark English, Vincent van Gogh, Tamara de Lempicka, Drew Struzan, Bauhaus’s Color Theory, we’d be here awhile if I were to list them all!”

Below is a famous Van Gogh painting along with a photo of the actual French Cafe that inspired the scene. Arden enjoys taking his students to historic, inspiring places like this!

In Closing

Arden is both artist and instructor. He’s also a mentor. ADG has Arden to thank for introducing the team to the works of Mary Withers Kirkland, a brilliantly talented up-and-coming artist Joel brought on as a collaborating artist with ADG. Mary will soon have her own collection on the ADG site!

The future is bright for Arden and Anderson Design Group. It’s a collection of National Park art today, but tomorrow, it could be landscapes in the French countryside, lifestyle renditions in historic European cities, space travel art, or perhaps even a coffee table book featuring original art, thoughtful text, and reference photography.

We’ll just have to see where the ever-winding paths of art and ideas take Arden, Joel, and the ADG team.

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor, and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his faith. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both!” - One of Arden’s favorite quotes, by American writer James Michener.

Until next time,

-Ren Brabenec
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer

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