Local artist finds successful niche in food art

Hawk Krall illustrates food across the city.

courtesy HAWK KROLL
courtesy HAWK KROLL

Hawk Krall has had enough with hot dogs for the time being. 

Krall has been known as the “hot dog guy” for his comic-style interpretations of the food in Philly, like at the dog-devoted restaurant Hot Diggity, where a gallery of his hot dog art hangs on display.

Instead, this local freelance illustrator and artist is hard at work making custom pieces, painting murals and drawing editorial cartoons on different aspects of city life, which includes food other than franks.

Beyond the city, though, his knowledge of hot dogs is vast with his past experience blogging about them and other food around the country for the website Serious Eats and Philadelphia City Paper.

But bouncing back and forth between writing and art grew tedious for Krall, he said.

One of his articles for the Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine had him writing about the best hot dogs in America. He was sent to places like Detroit and Cleveland to eat at eight hot dog places a day.

“That was very intense. That maybe burned me out on eating hot dogs,” Krall said. “It all just becomes mush in your mind and you don’t really appreciate it.”

Considering art was his original career aspiration since he graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. ,for illustration, Krall’s status of “hot dog expert” seems to be a bit wearisome for him nowadays.

Hawk Krall painted the mural in the back of Pizza Brain in Fishtown. | courtesy HAWK KRALL
Hawk Krall painted the mural in the back of Pizza Brain in Fishtown. | courtesy HAWK KRALL

“For a while, every interview I did was like, ‘What’s the craziest hot dog you ever ate?’ or ‘How many hot dogs have you eaten in your life?’” Krall said. “It didn’t really help me as an artist.”

But the questions grew into requests, too.

“I just got weird emails from people who wanted me to eat at their hot dog restaurant in Arkansas,” Krall said.

Besides his unconventional name, Krall has made himself stand out with his cartoon illustrations. Inspiration came to him back in his days of delving into underground comics by artists like Peter Bagge, Dan Clowes and Chris Ware.

After graduating from Pratt in 2000, he was ready to start a full-time career in illustration, but he said it proved more difficult than expected.

Through promotions and diligence, Krall was able to get some recognition by Baltimore City Paper, where most of his starting work in illustration took place.

After about 10 years of maintaining day jobs, Krall has now been able to commit to art professionally full-time for about four years.

“In the beginning, I always thought there was going to be this one breakthrough and it was just going to go from there and everyone was going to know who I was,” Krall said.

It’s still a struggle for Krall at times financially, but with his years of experience in paintings on wood, editorials, black and whites, food menus and more, he’s been receiving many calls for his services.

Now, he’s working on a window mural depicting the surrounding neighborhood for Elixr Coffee, which should be ready this June, and a food map of Philadelphia for another customer.

Some might recognize the mural he made in the back of Pizza Brain in Fishtown.

Whether it’s drawing streets of a neighborhood or local food, Krall said he hopes to insert more of himself into his art by offering his own perspective.

For example, with Elixr’s mural, Krall said he’s going to paint in a way that’s reflects how he connects to that neighborhood.

With food, people can expect Krall’s art to offer more of his ideas on the hidden gems of Philadelphia when it comes to cuisine. He said he feels that too much attention has been put on the well-known restaurants most commonly found around Center City.

Like his current relationship with hot dogs, Krall is looking for something different.

“Nobody was really exploring [not as well-known food] especially in Philadelphia,” Krall said. “Now there’s a million blogs that go everywhere, but I still think Philly has a ton of food that people don’t know about.”

Albert Hong can be reached at albert.hong@temple.edu.

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