KCAD Illustration Alum Sofia Henke is Letting Her Creativity Run Wild at Burning Man

Posted February 28, 2024 in Illustration, Alumni

When one of the biggest events of the summer festival season took place last August, Sofia Henke, a 2021 graduate of the Illustration program at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, was right at the heart of it.

Henke is the illustrator of the 2023 poster for Burning Man, a week-long event focused on community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. Her work was seen and celebrated by over 70,000 people taking part in the temporary Black Rock City built by participants in the desert of Nevada.

psycadelic poster of multicolored humanoid animals walking about in a crowdPoster for the 2023 Burning Man festival design by KCAD Illustration alum Sophia Henke (image courtesy of the artist)

Henke’s path from the KCAD Illustration program to illustrating the high-profile poster had some unexpected twists and turns. It all began in 2022 when a friend running a startup in San Francisco asked her to look at his company’s logo. Before long, she had moved to California to consult on multiple projects for the business, and one of the startup owners introduced her to the founders of Burning Man.

“We hit it off, and I ended up giving them a sticker that I had made,” Henke said. “Long story short, they invited all of us in the startup to Burning Man that year. I worked on an amazing sculpture and had a great time.”

a portrait of a young woman in a black tank top drawing on a digital tabletSophia Henke creating the poster for the 2023 Burning Man festival

A year later, the team at Burning Man reached out to Henke again, telling her the artist who usually made their poster was unavailable and asking if she’d like to take a shot at it. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ll take a crack at it!’ They ended up liking it and choosing it for the next poster.”

The poster art was created on an iPad, working with the theme Animalia. Asked what inspired her direction, Henke said, “They told me they liked how bright and colorful my work is and how cheeky my style is, so I tried to make it as bright, colorful, and cheeky as I could.”

After creating the poster, she also attended the event, arriving two weeks early to help build some of the temporary installations with other artists.

Following her time in San Francisco, Henke moved to Chicago, where she coaches a gymnastic team while working on two comics she hopes to release this year, including Pond Planet—which she began at KCAD—and another offering tips for her gymnastics students. “It’s been cool trying to design something meant for kids, which I’ve never done before,” she says.

She also continues to illustrate stickers. “I bring them out to the desert every year and give away hundreds of them,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of friends doing that, and I put my number on the back so they can contact me.”

A sticker of a purple cartoon character shaped like a ghost
(above and below): original sticker design by Sofia Henke (images courtesy of the artist)

A pile of stickers

In the future, she hopes to work at a design company so she can learn from other artists.

“Working collaboratively has been a huge thing for me,” she said. “The whole chain of events that led to me doing the Burning Man poster was working closely with other people in a team setting instead of alone, and I found it very motivating.”  

She also has her sights set on creating her own large-scale sculpture at a future Burning Man.

Henke encourages other aspiring artists to keep persevering after college. 

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised how different it is to be out in the world as an artist,” she said. “The best advice I could give someone is just to focus on your connections because having a community that you can be an artist with is the most helpful thing.”

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