Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1) I read that when you were in art school, you were initially thinking of becoming a concept artist for film. It is hard to imagine that past from your current work. Can you talk a bit about your artistic transition?
In school, one of my first drawing teachers was this artist, Ruben Hickman who was a background painter at Dreamworks. He was a huge influence on me and showed me how I didn’t necessarily have to be a starving artist and could still etch out a living for myself doing commercial work. I’ve always really been into video game art and animation design so going into concept work for film didn’t seem like a big stretch. Around my junior year at Art Center I had an independent study with a teacher who was an art director in the entertainment industry. Midway through the semester and many, many graphite film composition studies later, I realized that I didn’t have the interest to work as a concept artist. During this time I was also taking a printmaking class which opened my mind to a whole new way of making pictures. I figured that I should really pursue what I was passionate about and not worry too much with the financial side of things. Luckily things worked out OK after graduation. I’m really happy with my traditional background and feel like all those graphite studies and landscape compositions play an important part in how I create images now.
2) You have a background in print-making. But I assume you do most of your works digitally now. Can you explain a bit about your work process? (you can leave out the secret!)
I usually draw everything in pencil (sometimes brush and ink) on paper which I scan into the computer. I separate out my linework and color in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet. My colors are pretty simple, like a silkscreen, so I tend to use a limited palette. My photoshop files are very stripped down, only a handful of layers. No secrets! A high school student could probably work this way. I try to rely more heavily on my drawing and compositions.
3) You have moved around a lot when you were growing up, lived in multiple countries with completely different cultures and languages. How do you think this experience has affected you as an artist and your work?
Having a bit more exposure to different cultures can really only help your vocabulary as an artist. I’m sure some of the mix of asian and western influences work their way into my work somehow. I grew up with an American Dad and a Chinese Mom, both with strong personalities which gave me a very even mix of the two cultures. For example, growing up as a kid in Taiwan, our meals at home would be a mix of Chinese and American dishes. Like Hamburger Helper with bok choi. Hopefully my work reflects a little bit of that split personality.
4) And, you recently made a big trans-continent move from LA area to Brooklyn, NY. What was behind this big decision, and how is the life in New York working out for you?
I’ve always wanted to live here in New York. I’ve met some really nice friends out here that helped get me settled and it seemed like a natural progression for me. I think one of the great things about being an illustrator is that you can live anywhere you want. So I didn’t feel especially tied down in one place. My wife was also looking for a career change and wanted to get into publishing. New York has been really an extreme change from the laid back lifestyle California has. Living in Brooklyn has been a nice in between for me. It’s not quite as crazy as Manhattan but still just a few subway stops away. Plus I was able to get rid of my car!
5) In a rather short period of time since you started working and became successful, you seem to have become one of the most copied illustrators. I am curious to hear what you have been feeling about this phenomenon? Do you have anything you want to say to all the copycats out there?
I try not to get too bogged down with people that emulate my colors, or linework. It’s really more of an indicator that I need to keep moving and pushing my own skills. Hopefully, my work isn’t just defined by my aesthetic but also by the way I think and solve problems. I think if you focus too much on people copying you or get too protective of your “style” it could really start to hold you back creatively.
6) You are still young, yet already accomplished so much. You have worked with every magazine and book publisher I can think of, some cool advertising clients, also designed tote bags, created animation, had solo shows internationally…. Now, what’s on your horizon?
I’m really interested in larger scale projects. I just completed a wallpaper project for the Ace Hotel in Manhattan that was extremely satisfying because it was such a departure from how I normally work. Also, I will be exhibiting a new silkscreen at Art Basel in Miami curated by Neon Monster and FENDI.
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See more of Josh’s work here.
Thanks Josh and Yuko!