A fearless and philosophical duo, “Calvin and Hobbes” follows the adventures of the mischievous six-year-old Calvin, and his best friend, a talking and plush sardonic tiger named Hobbes. Their relationship is playful, poignant, and fantastical, as they convert corrugated cardboard boxes into time traveling machines, dig for dinosaur bones, and build crime-stricken groups of snowmen. But within cartoonist Bill Watterson’s series, his illustrations, like his writing, brim with whimsical charm, leading your eye around calligraphic black lines and washes of yellow, orange, and green watercolors. All of it—the perpetual sense of adventure and the captivating compositions—was more than just a comic strip for then-third grader Ross Bruggink. “Calvin and Hobbes” ignited his own artistic exploration.
“For as long as I can think back, I have been interested in art,” Ross says. “I remember when I read ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ for the first time. There was a beautiful sense of adventure with these beautiful watercolors, and the idea that there’s something beyond ‘fine art.’”
Exploring art museums on class field trips throughout grade school and high school from rural, small town Wisconsin to the Minneapolis Art Institute and the Walker, Ross’ artistic interest landed him at the University of Minnesota, where he graduated in 2008 with a bachelor of science in graphic design.
“I didn’t think I would make a living as a fine artist,” recalls Ross. “But when I tried out graphic design, I learned how Photoshop and Illustrator could also be tools to create visuals and how these visuals can communicate to different audiences. And graphic design just fell into place.”
Ross is a curious fellow—much like Calvin. A belief in the power of creativity and imagination, as they both examine and appreciate the world around them, directly translates toward Ross’ design aesthetic of, as he describes it, “mathematically organic” and interactions between patterns and forms.
Some of Bruggink’s work. Left: “Bear Hug” / Middle: “Lakeside” / Right: “The Gardener”// Art Photos provided by Ross Bruggink
“I enjoy the simplicity and graphic nature of reducing down to unexpected forms—to see how it can be solved in a simpler way,” the 31-year-old graphic designer says. “Break it apart, put it back together, and see how hard edges, non-organic forms, and components not based in geometry make this organic piece—a fox, deer, woodland creatures.”
Ross has taken to his computer, generating digital illustrations and designs for Jack Daniel’s, Absolut Vodka, Faribault Woolen Mill Company, Five Watt Coffee, Red Wing Shoes, and Target. And this month, he will put the finishing touches on two murals at the Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium.
“There’s visual communication in branding and packaging design—a voice of personality,” he says. “You need to figure out the look and feel, design the logo, understand print and ad collateral. I’m precise on the computer, but with anything, I try to explore joy and sentimentality so people can look and study the piece a little longer. To make it compelling.”
Bill Watterson understood that the world is full of possibility, there’s a lot to do, a lot to explore. If you let your mind wander, like Calvin and Hobbes, the possibilities are endless. “You know, I really enjoy what I am doing right now with design,” Ross says. “Let’s see where it takes me.”