When Junior Caroline Hennekes started doing messy watercolors on Sunday afternoons with a friend in Florida, she had no idea she’d be designing the cover of Hillsdale College’s academic planners three years later.
Though she only seriously started doing art after coming to Hillsdale, last spring Hennekes hand-painted the ink and watercolor cover of the 2019 – 20 Hillsdale academic planner, which is annually produced by the college for students.
When taking on the project in mid-March, Hennekes said she was both honored and intimidated, but up to the challenge — even though it meant having one more thing due at the end of April, the busiest point in her year.
The front of the planner cover, a watercolor painting of Central Hall, was probably the element Hennekes poured over for the longest since March, when the marketing department reached out to her with the project request, she said.
“The creative process can often be a long one,” Hennekes said. “But the first thing I thought was, ‘Well, I don’t want to do the stereotypical Central Hall picture on the front of the planner cover.’”
Plans changed. While friends were recommending painting the eagle statue at the entrance to campus, or an overhead map of campus, Hennekes said at the end of the day, she came back to Central Hall because it was the most recognizable and “approachable.”
Hennekes added that she considered designing a digital mosaic of Central Hall (“I was obsessed with mosaics during the Spring semester because I was in Art History”), but said she felt her skills weren’t quite up to the challenge.
“I was a little too young in my Adobe Suite to be able to execute that at the level I wanted to,” Hennekes said, laughing. “So I fell back on what I knew I could do well, and that was ink and watercolor.”
Junior Heidi Yacoubian, also an art major, described walking into the New Dorm kitchen one of the nights Hennekes was painting the watercolor draft that would eventually become the planner cover.
“I think she looked a little stressed,” Yacoubian remembered. “She was super excited about doing it, and super enthusiastic, because she’s so passionate about art and this school, and this was a way to express her love of both. I think she just felt a little bit of pressure to make it really good because it’s something she really cares about. But she did an amazing job.”
Bryan Springer, creative director of marketing, said Hennekes “excelled at visual storytelling” when he had her as a student in his graphic design class.
“Her style is really graphic and illustrated. So when I saw her work on the cover, I thought, ‘Oh, perfect,’” Springer said.
Springer described Hennekes’ composition as “clear and engaging,” and the image of Central Hall, as the visual icon of Hillsdale College, a natural choice.
“I’m always thrilled as an art faculty member that students are using their skills from all of the different classes — drawing, painting, graphic design,” he said. “I think that’s one of our strengths as a department, since often times, graphic design in most programs is its own discipline, apart from art or fine art.”
To create the back cover of the planner, a collage of words in various styles of hand-written typeset, Hennekes took to Instagram.
“The back was the part that I got really excited about. Back in March, nobody knew what it was for, but I did an Instagram poll,” Hennekes said. “It wasn’t wildly successful, but it was really cool to do, and it basically said, ‘If you had one word to describe Hillsdale, what would it be?’
“It was really cool to approach the student body that way, because we all know what Hillsdale is, but all have a very individual experience here. Especially depending on what community you’re in, what your major is, and just your personality, you see things differently.”
Hennekes said the back cover is crucial to the vision of the planner, because students often get caught up in the rigor of academic achievement, and “forget to be human.” She chose words to highlight — by painting over them in soft yellow or Charger blue — to remind students what is really special about Hillsdale, in their own words.
Springer said the use of others’ words was a great idea on Hennekes’ part, to seek to understand what resonates with her audience.
“It’s important to understand your audience to provide engaging visuals. I like the concept of highlighting certain words, but in terms of composition, it also provides contrast and color. There is quite a bit of visual texture, but it’s balanced,” Springer said.
Though friends have asked Hennekes if the colors themselves have some meaning, too, she shakes her head.
“The colors I chose were just for composition and balance, but I did intentionally paint certain ones I wanted to highlight,” she said.
One of those words is “prayer.”
“There’s so often the mindset of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and doing things in your own strength,” she said. “This is about really realizing that we can do nothing, and we need the Lord, and we need prayer. That’s something I highlighted just because I think that discipline can be lost, and it’s crucial to our well-being.”
Hennekes also highlighted the words “genuine” and “passionate.”
“I’ve never met a more passionate group of 1,500 people,” she said, smiling.