Alma Hoffmann on Passion Projects and Publishing Her Book

Passion projects is a relatively new term. It is used to describe a hobby. By adding the word “passion” to it, it implies something more committed than a hobby. The dictionary defines the word hobby as something done regularly in our free time for leisure. However, the term hobby is not used as frequently lately. We refer to the activities we do in our free time as a passion project. The Passion Project ( defines it as “creative side projects.” This is a site that helps people find something they would like to do and commit to it for 30 days.

I became familiar with this idea or concept in 2010. I did not call it a passion project though. It was simply a commitment to sketch something every day. I set up a website to post daily what I did. I did not have Instagram set up yet. Instagram launched a few months after I started this project. Eventually Instagram became a tool to keep me accountable but more on that later.

After I finished this project, I felt a sense of loss and relief. I had made a commitment to sketch something daily and it sort of drained me. Like anything else, it is the planning of what to do, what to sketch, what to create that would drain me. There are two types of passion projects: the ones that have a specific goal and once you reach that goal, it is either over or you start something else, and the ones that are about process and/or practicing a specific skill simply to get better at something or because it brings you peace. I have done both in the past and currently I am involved in both types.

Once I did not have the pressure to do something every day, I felt somewhat empty. This space of feeling I am a creative and I am not creative. Herein laid the difficulty and tension I felt between being a designer and an artist. Somehow, I had convinced myself that whenever you do not have a client, you are not designing. Thus, if I did not have a client, I wouldn’t create or sketch or design. But that left me feeling odd and lonely, if you will.

When we moved to Alabama I went through a period of intense reflection and study. I was part of a small group of women with similar experiences. Sometimes we would create artwork to communicate or explore certain issues in our lives. In the midst of it, after a very unpleasant experience, I wrote about 13-15 poems in English. These words just came to me and I could not stop writing. It was one of the most intense experiences I have been through. These poems became the source of 13 oversized artworks that ended up being in a solo show in Indiana. One of them was a finalist in an art and design competition and the other was part of two juried shows. I worked on these pieces every day during the summer for hours at a time. I would lose a sense of time. Because the show in Indiana was in October or September, I had a specific goal. More importantly, it was the process of doing these pieces (13 total which are as tall or as short as me, depending on how you see it) that rekindled my commitment to being both an artist and a designer. I realized how critical it was for me to use my knowledge of design in my pieces, and how both sides of my life— designer and artist, are really two sides of the same coin. I am both.

Since that summer, I have sketched and/or created daily, whether I have a show or not. Sometimes long and busy days have left me with little time but those are few and in between. Most days I do something every day. And since that summer where I worked to create the pieces for my show, Instagram has been the outlet to keep a daily journal of what I do.

Some projects have come out of embracing the passion for creating. The discipline and habit working on something daily served me when once again I had a new and impending deadline. In December 2017 I signed a contract to write a book about sketching with Routledge. I was scared. Well, first, I was in disbelief for about a month. So much so, that they wrote asking if there was something wrong in the contract. After I signed that contract, I started dedicating a certain amount of time 3-4 days a week to write or to work on the book. I worked daily on my book. Except on Sundays. This passion project, the desire I once had to write a book, became a reality and one that forced me once again to think about the value of a daily practice, of a daily discipline, of good work habits. And if you are curious, the book is being edited and reviewed right now.

The daily habit of sketching something every day had made me curious about what sketching really is and how it affects our memory. This curiosity was intensified by an encounter I had with a student. One day I was teaching a class and there was this student drawing a very complex monster right in front of me. He was sitting on the first chair. Thus, I could see what he was doing. I called him out on it and we had this moment full of tension. He was visibly incredulous and upset that I was asking him to stop. I had already stepped my feet on the situation. He protested and I pushed. Luckily, he put the pencil down. He came to talk to me to explain that he really needed to keep his mind on task and drawing allowed him to do that. After class I started researching anything I could find about the relationship between drawing, sketching, doodling, and memory.

The more I researched, the more interested I became in sketching. And the more I learned, the more I noticed that students tend to avoid sketching. Which is funny since we are creators and this should be simply an extension of ourselves. The computer has become almost a crutch. We tend to think or rely on the computer’s capacity to do x or y. Therefore, our hand skills and ability to think with our hands and a pencil has suffered.

In 2012, I wrote an article for Smashing Magazine titled I Draw Pictures All Day. I started researching about doodling, sketching, drawing, and lettering. I am interested in the process of mark making and how that process helps our mind retain and process the data we are constantly receiving. Because I was actively sketching or making marks for different purposes (live note taking, projects, shows, personal exploration, etc., while researching, I started to ask myself some questions. Questions such as how did sketching became sketching? How did we start using sketching as a thinking tool? And what does sketching look like in other design disciplines? One day, a Friday morning in 2013, I sat down and wrote the entire outline for a book. Eventually I submitted the proposal to my current publisher and here we are.

By aigamobile
Published July 11, 2019
AIGA encourages thoughtful, responsible discourse. Please add comments judiciously, and refrain from maligning any individual, institution or body of work. Read our policy on commenting.