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Meet the Man Behind Our “Garden Solutions” Illustrations

Cartoonist Gary Hovland continues to dream up whimsical artwork for our magazine and many others.

By John Roark | Photography by Paul Markow

“Growing up, I was a doodler,” says Gary Hovland of his early days of putting pen to paper. The illustrator, whose work has graced the pages of such renowned publications as Vanity Fair, The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler and Time magazine now contributes monthly cartoons to Phoenix Home & Garden’s “Garden Solutions” page.

“What really got me started was underground comics by Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton,” Hovland recalls. “In junior high school, a friend and I would spend hours drawing our own strips. I never thought I could make a living at it, so when I went to college, I started out studying premed. I did okay, but my heart wasn’t really in it.”

A visit to ArtCenter College of Design near Hovland’s then-home in Pasadena, California, was a game changer, leading him to switch schools and majors. “What I saw in the student gallery blew me away,” he recalls. “Suddenly I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to do, without any idea of where it would lead.” He credits his art school mentor, Bill Hayes, with honing his talent and evolving his style. “Bill was a very successful illustrator in New York in the 1950s and ’60s. He was with me every step of the way, introducing me to other cartoonists and exposing me to different media and techniques. He helped me refine my work into something more sophisticated.”

Hovland’s illustration depicting the Vanity Fair Oscar party accompanied an article published in The New York Times.

After graduating, Hovland moved to New York City, giving himself two years to see if he could make it as a professional illustrator. Jobs started coming in and led to other commissions, and he’s been at it ever since. From caricatures to detailed maps to children’s books, his considerable portfolio places him among the top humorous illustrators working today. Clients prize his innate ability to present complex visual concepts in ways that are engaging, amusing and easy to understand.

Sometimes an idea will hit me immediately, but I’ll tinker with the concept and improve upon it,” he says. “I do everything by hand, starting with pencil, then India ink with accents of watercolor.” Although he prefers the hands-on approach, he concedes that modern technology can prevent a lot of headaches. “I learned Photoshop a few years ago, and I keep backup scans of my work. In the old days, I might spend 30 hours on something only to make a mistake when it was almost complete. Now, if necessary, I can print out a drawing, pop it on my light table and trace it onto watercolor paper without having to start from scratch.”

Watch our behind-the-scenes video of Gary sharing his creative process with us!

Hovland is a frequent contributor to numerous national publications. “Maps make up about 50% of what I do,” he says. “I pinpoint the area on Google, sketch out a landscape and then start populating it with landmarks.”

After living in Scottsdale for eight years, Hovland recently relocated to Kentucky to help care for a family member. He plans to spend his time away working on his latest venture, landscape oil painting. A desert dweller at heart, he looks forward to one day returning to Arizona, where he and his wife still own a home. “I really enjoyed living in the Valley,” he says. “I love the colors of the landscape and the shapes and textures of the plants there. I’m seeing this move as a chance to focus on and refine my craft. Then when I come back, I’ll be even better.”


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