Jenna Van Hout
Jenna Van Hout is an independent designer and artist in the Bay Area


Nerd Alert

I’m only slightly embarrassed to share that I decided whip up a monster for a the Terror of Undermountain contest that Dungeons & Dragons and Adobe have collaborated on producing.

I have fond memories from my childhood of hours spent playing D&D with my siblings and our cousins—we’d occupy camping trips and new years parties huddled up around our character sheets and dice, slashing and puzzling our way through dreamscapes (or nightmarescapes?) that our DM, my cousin Walker, had dreamed up for us. I loved to pore over the Monster Manual, and try my hand at drawing the outlandish fiends that the artists had dreamed up and rendered so perfectly.

I sat down this morning and gave myself a one-hour timebox to create whatever monster would come forth from my brain and wacom pen.

For the contest, they provided a toolbox of PSD bits and pieces to use—heads, legs, arms, and more to hack together a creature. I opted to use a pre-made beast head and wurm-y body segment, and blended it into a Dali-esque leg and tail creation of my own making (mostly painting with the brush tool and liquifying for swirly texture). I found a free image to serve as the cave background (thanks, Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash!), added some misty fog, and violà!

So here it is… my Terror of Undermountain.

Jennaphotoshop, D&DComment
New-found freedom, or survivor's guilt?

I find it interesting that after being a 9-5 (or more like… 10-6 or later) office worker for the past decade, I’ve been trained to need to feel productive each weekday. And while I’ve certainly been personally productive this past week and a half, there’s still a sense of rebellion that I find surprising in this newfound daytime freedom. Just yesterday in the late morning, I went to Farley’s to pick up some funky magazines, where I sat and read them in the window seat for a few hours, nursing a golden latte. Something about this activity felt so luxurious and almost naughty, like I was getting away with a defiant indulgence. Who do I think I’m defying?! Only myself and the expectations that have been trained into me over the years. I’m interested to examine how my feelings change as I adjust to this new life I have chosen for myself.

Gradients, swirls & ripples

I was fiddling around with the new freeform gradient tool in Illustrator. I like that it gives you stupidly simple control over building multi-point gradients—previously it was clunky and obnoxious to work with the gradient mesh tool to get more complex, non-linear or radial gradient effects.

Check out the tool:

Screen Recording 2018-11-14 at 11.26.27 AM.gif

From there I pulled the gradients into Photoshop and experimented with the liquify filter to make ripply, swirly art.

It would be fun to work an aesthetic like this into a poster or design.

Going Indie

I’m excited to announce that I have left my job at Hustle and am starting out on my own as an independent designer. I feel completely ready for this next step—years of agency experience has perfectly primed me to manage varied clients and projects, and I am intrigued by the lifestyle that freelance work can offer me. I plan to take it slow through the holidays so that I can enjoy a period of vocational freedom that I have never had in my adult life before ramping up into filling my time with work.

While I am very excited, striking out on one’s own comes with a certain amount of uncertainty and trepidation: questions are floating through my head such as: Will I get enough work in the door? Will I get to work on things I really enjoy or just have to take what comes my way? Will organizations value my time and contributions as an individual rather than part of a larger company? Will I be a good boss to myself? Will I handle my admin correctly? Will I get lonely working from home? Will I feel like I’m truly my own boss or will my projects start to rule me instead? I’m mitigating these quiet anxieties by intentionally giving myself some time and space to get my shit together—and it’s encouraging that without really any outbound marketing and very little networking I already have some inbound interest, which I’m certainly interested in exploring despite wanting to take time to relax and start slow.

Introducing... the Van Houts!

Last night, Thomas and I brought friends and family together from all over the country to compete in the first-ever-and-only Steely or Koff naming games. The purpose was simple: to decide which last name we would assume as a married couple. The games were filled with riveting excitement, intense drama and nail biting suspense. It was a day where scissors prevailed, partners were pampered, knots were tangled, and bouquets made heroes of men and women alike.

It all came down to the final event—and we were just as surprised as everyone when we ended with a 30-30 point tie. Under this rare win condition, we had previously agreed to take neither Steely nor Koff, but instead turn to Thomas’s mother’s maiden name: Van Hout. (Why? because it sounds badass!)

The reason that this competition worked is that we were both willing to freely give our names to each other from a place of love and equality ...with a healthy dose of the fun and mischief that is characteristic to our relationship.

We are grateful to our amazing community of friends and family for your love, support, and help in making this decision. We look forward to our future together as the Van Houts!

Yarn is cool

I've been expanding from my pom pom obsession into broader yarn arts. Knitting/crocheting is cool and all, but those have never really interested me that much—perhaps because its (usually) a fairly structured process and result. I've been grooving on ways of using yarn in asymmetrical, unexpected, and random ways—like abstract art, but with a squishy textile medium. I want to make a jacket that expands on this idea.

Here's some inspiration: 


Not to beat a dead horse, but I'm pretty pleased with these layouts and wanted to capture them somewhere. So here they are.

Right now, I'm asking myself whether its okay (or is it too lame or unprofessional?) to put my own wedding website in my portfolio. i'm so pleased with it that I very much want to, and I do keep a number of personal projects there, which I feel express my personal style and creativity. But is it too narcissistic? Objectively, I feel it is a great example of story telling and art direction. But there's something kind of uncomfortable in celebrating something so personal, so publicly. 

Anyone have thoughts on this? 

Our wedding website is way cooler than most other wedding websites, and I actually mean it

It's up! Check it out at The final photos turned out spectacular. I'm forever grateful to Ross for helping me realize my vision.

Here's the save-the-date: 


And the final finished photos: 

Jenna Comment
Road trip wrap up

Just got back from our road trip today. We were gone just a week and 2 days, but it feels like a month. We packed so much into our journey, driving over 2,000 miles in 7 days. 

Our Itinerary: 

  Approximation of route (Google won't let me fine tune it or add any more stops)

Approximation of route (Google won't let me fine tune it or add any more stops)

Days -1, 0: Logan, UT for a wedding
Day 1: Logan --> Salt Lake City --> Goblin Valley State Park
Day 2: Capitol Reef (2 mile hike) --> Bryce Canyon ( 4.3 mile hike) --> Zion
Day 3: Zion (8 mile Observation Point hike)
Day 4: Zion (hiked the Narrows) --> Grand Canyon by way of the Vermillion Cliffs --> Page, AZ
Day 5: Waterholes Canyon (3 miles hike) --> Monument Valley --> Santa Fe, NM
Day 6: Meow Wolf, thrift shopping, saw Annihilation (that's a whole other thing, phew!) --> Albuquerque
Day 7: White Sands National Monument --> Albuquerque
Day 8: Fly home! (that was today)

For my first time experiencing the southwest, I must say, my mind was blown. This is some of the most stunning land I have ever seen. Somehow each destination was completely different from the last, a new take on canyons or hoodoos or some other erosion-based earth formation—buy day 4 my brain was turning to mush trying to comprehend the time periods and processes that got us from ocean-covered North America to the present highly dramatic formations. 

I was blown away by the varieties of colors of the earth: reds, pinks, oranges, ochres, whites and browns, offset by the strange plant life that thrives in desert climates: olives and icy greens and purples. And the textures: blobby, glorpy "goblins," jagged hoodoos, intense cliffs, arches, sheer vertical drops, juxtaposed with rounded, smoothed sandstone, loose sand dunes, crumbling buttes and mesas and spires. 

Most of these destinations I feel we got to spend enough time hiking or exploring that I got most of what I wanted out of the stop. The exception is this: since we only did a mere drive-by of the Grand Canyon, the most insane of all of them, I feel like although I technically "saw" it, I didn't get to truly experience it, and thus have some serious unfinished business there. Perhaps a rafting trip or other backcountry adventure? I could spend weeks there, it's so vast. 

I'm grateful for the incredible earth I've witnessed, and for my partner in crime for taking this awesome adventure with me. Hoping to see more of it soon!