Grad School and you? (pt. two of many)

September 3, 2008

[As previously mentioned in the last post, this week I’ll be posting the answers from illustrators who came out of SVA’s Illustration as Visual Essay MFA, to learn just what they thought of their alma mater’s program.]

Next up is Paul Hoppe, a talented illustrator who’s done work for both editorial and children’s markets alike, as well as a healthy dose of comics/sequential work. He graduated in 2005 and has done a lot of work since. Please check out his site at


1. How many people were in your program?

PH:  18 in my year, 18 in the second year. So there’s always about 40 people in the studios.

2. Did you live in a dorm or off-campus?

PH: I lived off-campus, with roommates.

3. Did you apply to other programs? If so, which ones, and what made you pick SVA?

PH: No, only SVA. I wanted to do an MFA in illustration, and I wanted to get to know New York and work here.

4. Did SVA give grad students a space/studio to work in?

PH: Yep, that’s one of the best assets of the program, working with the others around you.

5. I hear a lot of the times grad school can be very competitive due to students competing for fellowships and financial assistance. Did you find that occurring with your classmates, or was it a more enjoyable sort of environment?

PH: Couldn’t be further from the truth; it was very enjoyable. There’s hardly any scholarships anyway. We competed for quality though, everybody was working hard and we were inspiring each other.

6. Were you working while you were in school, either through SVA, or at a different job, or actually freelancing? If so, was that difficult for you?

PH: I worked occasionally for SVA, helping with exhibitions. Also, I had worked in Germany for years and had good contacts to my old clients, so I received some jobs from them. Although I really wanted no distractions from the program, money was tight and I had to do them. There were many night shifts.

7. SVA gives a suggested syllabus to follow in their grad student book– is this what most people take course-wise? Or is there some flexibility to take different classes?

PH: Usually everybody does the same classes. It is possible to switch stuff around though from what I heard. Most of all, you get 4 audits that you can take in the entire school, e.g. in the undergrad department, where there’s plenty more exciting teachers. I took classes with Ben Katchor, James McMullan and others.

8. Did you ever have classes/interact with people outside your program? Undergrads, or people in a different MFA program?

PH: There is a ‘mixer’ with the MFA Design Program.

9. What sort of professional assistance did SVA provide for you, both while in the program and now as an alum (if any?)?

PH: You hear a lot from teachers about jobs. They bring in art-directors, editors, and professional illustrators that tell you a lot about the business world. Self-promotion is encouraged and part of assignments. But you have to find jobs yourself, of course.

10. Do you feel that this program helped you to grow as an illustrator?

PH:  Yes.

11. What sort of projects did you work on in the program? What was the most challenging one you worked on?

PH: The thesis is the most challenging. You have to come up with the entire thing yourself.

12. What do you think were the most positive aspects of the program?

PH:  Meeting great artists and guest speakers. Working with your fellow students in the same big studio and learning from each other. Getting to know the art scene in New York.

13. What were the downsides?

PH: It is very expensive. And if you are not independent, this is not for you. Nobody takes you by the hand.

14. What is your advice to someone approaching a grad school program like this one, in order to get the most of it?

PH: Work very hard–you have to be self-motivated. That way you get most out of the program, and most out of the teachers.

15. What do you specialize in now? Do you think SVA helped prepare you to tackle that field, be it advertising or children’s books or editorial or something else?

PH: I always had a big range. Now my range is even bigger because I was introduced to new fields like children’s books and editorial illustration. The program helped me mature and grow. It was a great time for experimentation that I still feed off today.


Thanks so much for your answers, Paul!

More to come.


2 Responses to “Grad School and you? (pt. two of many)”

  1. Sam said

    This is awesome – what a major talent!

  2. Will said

    I’m starting the SVA MFA Illustration program in the fall and it was nice to hear alot of the positive aspects I’ve heard about the program from other sources reiterated here. I’m stoked to get in there and get busy!! Thanks for the interview!

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