Q&A: Meet 2016 Artist of the Year Hannah Foss

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Hannah Foss (pictured here in front of her public art installation “Kindan-No”) was named the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Artist of the Year.

In December 2015, Hannah Foss was named as the 2016 Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce’s Artist of the Year. Foss, who grew up in Australia but came of age in Alaska, has been an artist all her life. In addition to being involved with the Downtown Association’s Window Project, she also took part in the 2013 Fairbanks Film Festival and designed the 2014 Yukon Quest logo. We sat down with her to get a better understanding of her, her art, and what being named the Artist of the Year means to her.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Adelaide, South Australia for 18 years before I moved up here to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts at UAF. I think living in two very different but equally wild places really gives you a lot of creative perspective. I get really homesick sometimes, but I’ve also fallen in love with Alaska’s kind of untamed, wild beauty.

I’m a nerdy artist who is eternally obsessed with and fascinated by animals. I love learning about cultures that are deeply rooted in animal lore and totems. I collect too many books, collectible figurines and plushies. I love drawing, animating, sculpting, and designing and fabricating costumes. I love that moment when you can get people to ‘forget’ themselves – to be able to spark that moment of genuine awe, or convincing a person to ‘allow themselves’ to enjoy something you’ve animated or you’re costuming as that is the best feeling for me.

I love the internet for the platform its created for independent artists and creators of every ilk. I love playing computer and console games that have a great story, that sweep you up in their world. I think that fear, jealousy, ignorance, insincerity, and apathy are things we all need to personally and constantly fight against. I try to make art that I earnestly feel excited and inspired to create in the hope that it will excite and inspire other people. I think that’s one of the most important part of the creative cycle, a continuous inspirational circle of life.

What is your day job?

I’m a CGI Animator and Digital Illustrator at the Geophysical Institute, Design Services department. I get to create art as my full-time job which is amazing, and learn a lot about different scientific fields too (in order to create good technical work, you have to know your subject matter – it’s hard to fake it).

Tell us what your design represents or symbolizes?

The artwork “Sun Wolf” is inspired by Haida and Kwakiutl formline drawings and masks. It depicts a wolf with the heart of the sun, leaping high into the sky in summer and prowling along the ridged horizon in deep winter. I wanted the piece to feel organic and crisp; the halo of gnarled wood doubles as a ‘sun dog’, intersecting at the wolf’s heart. I really strive to create a piece that captured the energy, grace and shrewd decisiveness of Brother Wolf.

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Hannah Foss’ “Sun Wolf” was chosen as the official image of Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce for 2016.

How long have you been an artist?

I’ve drawn and loved to draw ever since I was very little. My mum has drawings from when I was 3 and 4 of kangaroos, dogs, cats, and a giraffe with a mustache and tophat. Animals have always inspired me, and have always driven me to improve my skills.

What motivates you to draw?

Watching animals be their animally-selves, looking at really awesome artists’ illustrations, sculptures and costumes. Seeing how strong other artists’ technical skills are, and taking a competitive inspiration from that! If they can do it, I can do it too! A self-inflicted hunger I think all artist’s feel – the never-ending restlessness you feel to make better art – to more faithfully ‘push’ into the real world what you see in your head. To be better and express yourself better – it gives you a confidence in yourself and your skills, and that is really the best feeling in the world when you’re working well- because you know none of your success came for free.

What does being named “Artist of the Year” mean to you?

It is a great honor – it means a lot to have my art chosen to represent a really intrinsic part of the Fairbanks’ community for a year. It’s a really great pat on the back, makes me feel like ‘man, I must be doing something right, huh?’ Really motivates the heck out of you. I hope I get the opportunity to draw some really crazy awesome art for the Chamber this year to help justify the title!

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Hannah Foss discusses her public art installation “Kindan-No” during the unveiling of the Downtown Association of Fairbanks’ Window Project in 2013.

What are some of your recent accomplishments?

On the subject of personal accomplishments: spending a year watching and documenting a skulk of wild foxes, traveling to Barrow and St Lawrence and reveling in the cultural and environmental immersion, completing my post-grad diploma in Advanced Character Animation Studies, constructing and sculpting a 16-ft dinosaur puppet called ‘Snaps’, and mascotting as the UAF ‘Dancing Bear’ Nanook for several years.

What are your art plans for 2016?

I’m planning to CGI animate some really involved scientific scenarios at my day job – Alaskan marine mammal migration behaviors, solar storm and aurora simulations, paleontological anatomy studies. All the really fun, educationally involved stuff, I love it. On the personal art project list, I’m planning to finish up a Haida-style mask I’ve been working on, along with some other costumes I’ve been designing for a while.

Other recipients of the Artist of the Year honor include Brianna Reagan, Lucas Elliot, Matt Moberly and Nikki Kinne.