BORN IN East Cleveland, Ohio and currently lives and works in Kansas City, Missouri. John studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts Illustration as Visual Essay MFA program in New York City and currently serves as the BFA Studio Art Illustration Program Coordinator at The University of Central Missouri. His work has been exhibited in New York City, Los Angeles, Taiwan, Australia, San Francisco, Chicago, Vancouver, and widely across the Midwest.
DESCRIBE HOW YOU GOT STARTED AND IF ILLUSTRATION WAS SOMETHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO? WAS CREATIVITY A BIG PART OF GROWING UP?
For as long as I can remember I have made pictures. When I was a kid I wanted to be an animator for Nickelodeon or The Simpsons. But I got into illustration without really knowing that what I was doing was specifically “illustration”. Back in high school I played in punk bands and would do all of the art for our flyers, cassettes, t-shirts, and stage banners. Eventually this led to me doing posters for the venues we played at and for bands that we played with.
As a freshman in undergrad I began contacting bands that I liked a lot through Myspace. I did my first “official” print illustration for a garage punk band from Orlando, Florida called Fashion Fashion and the Image Boys. It was for a 7″ they put out and would be used for the insert of a record. I wasn’t trying to get these bands to pay me, I just wanted to make art for them because I really liked them, and because it was fun. I would usually be offered trades (t-shirts, records, free entrance to shows, etc). Eventually one of the venues I was working with was like “Hey man, we have a budget for this, and could pay you”.
I did this throughout undergrad—and even though I was majoring in Illustration at the time I didn’t really look at what I was doing outside of class as illustration.
I KNOW YOU ARE NEW TO KANSAS CITY. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE CITY AS A WHOLE?
I’ve only been here for a year but there is so many great junk shops, thrift stores, hiking trails, bbq/pho spots, music venues, etc. There are also design events happening here that remind me of events that I participated in while living in New York. Earlier this year Alex Schubert and I did this thing for KC Design week where we had a drawing “battle” versus two other groups of illustrators on a stage at 28 Event Space. Dustin Williams is constantly doing something weird and cool (a lot of the time in Lawrence, Kansas at Wonder Fair Gallery, but also around Kansas City).
When I was leaving New York City so many people told me I would regret leaving, and I am happy to report that my fiancée and I are very happy that we made the decision to move! I feel like there is a really weird importance placed on where you live in an age where we can contact anybody, anywhere within seconds. If this were 1975 (and I was living in Kansas City) it probably wouldn’t be feasible for me to illustrate something for a publication like The New York Times in an afternoon (at least that I am aware of). But since we live on the internet, we can live wherever we choose to and still remain connected.
“SINCE WE LIVE
ON THE INTERNET, WE CAN LIVE WHEREVER WE CHOOSE TO AND STILL REMAIN CONNECTED”
THE WORK YOU DO FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES AND THE NEW YORKER IS FANTASTIC.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS LIKE WORKING WITH SUCH RENOWNED INSTITUTIONS?
It is always so exciting. The New York Times is a real whirlwind publication to work for because of the turn around times. I was buying a lawn mower on a Thursday night in Kansas City and around 6 PM Aviva Michaelov called me and asked if I could illustrate the cover to The Sunday Review. Sketches were due as soon as I could finish them (or) first thing Friday morning, and the final was due Friday afternoon by 5 PM. This was actually more time than the first illustration I worked on for her and Assistant Art Director Josh Cochran back in 2011 (I only had 45 minutes to complete that final). I love working for The New York Times because it forces you to rely on your instincts as an illustrator. There is no time to over think your work for them, and (most of the time) that yields the most exciting results.
“I LOVE WORKING FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES BECAUSE IT FORCES YOU TO RELY ON YOUR INSTINCTS AS AN ILLUSTRATOR.”
WHAT DO YOU LISTEN TO WHEN YOU WORK?
Music or Podcasts! Music (currently): Mac Demarco, Golden Pelicans, Neil Young, The Cramps, Juan Wauters/The Beets, Kurt Vile, Action Bronson, Astrud Gilberto & Stanley Turrentine, Wayne Hancock, Hank Williams, Las Vegas Grind Comps, The Misfits, and Devendra Banhart.
Podcasts (currently): Comedy Bang Bang, Monday Morning Podcast with Bill Burr, This American Life, WTF with Marc Maron, The Ross Report, Doug Loves Movies, Improv 4 Humans, The Indoor Kids, and Call Chelsea Peretti.
I also watch a lot of youtube while I work. A lot of the time I have on live performances of bands that I like, old horror stuff, documentaries, or wrestling matches (professional/indie/backyard). I recently just got finished going through all of the Dudley Boys matches from ECW up through their TLC matches against Edge, Christian, and The Hardy Boys in the WWF.
YOU HAVE A REALLY NICE MIX OF ZINES, PERSONAL WORK AND CLIENT BASED ILLUSTRATION WORK. IS THEIR A BIG DIFFERENCE IN HOW YOU APPROACH EACH? HOW DOES THAT DIVERSITY IN WORK HELP YOU?
When I graduated grad school I was doing a lot of illustrations for Asset International (Plansponsor, Planadviser, and ai-CIO Magazine)—having to come up with characters for the illustrations for that magazine forced me to really diversify the types of characters I was drawing. I eventually created the main characters to a comic series I am currently working on for Space Face Books while drawing illustrations for these publications.
Likewise—my personal work and comics provide characters and metaphors I can pull from in my client related illustration work. There is a pretty consistent give and take between the various projects that I work on—and my approach for all three is pretty similar. I always begin with a pencil sketch and brainstorm using an Alvin Draft/Matic 0.3mm mechanical drafting pencil, then I ink the pencil drawings on Bristol Board, and clean up and color in Photoshop.
WHAT’S YOUR GUILTY PLEASURE?
I really love The Elder Scrolls (video game series – particularly Skyrim) and though I already admitted this, professional wrestling and it’s extensive history is something I read about pretty often.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT THESE DAYS?
My dog Hanz, Pre-Code Horror Comics, the Horror Art of Wally Wood, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Mark Borchardt’s short film Coven, Tabling at Comic Arts Brooklyn this November, that Target started carrying Intelligentsia coffee, that line of Cryptkeeper toys that Ace Novelty produced in the 90’s (totally forgot about these until recently), Kehde’s BBQ in Sedalia, Golden Pelicans’ new record, Juan Wauters’ new(ish) record, Mac Demarco’s live sets on Youtube, that it is finally getting cold outside (really hate the summer season), and the Gallery Shows I have coming up in 2015!
UNIQUE TO KANSAS CITY, WHAT IS ONE LOCAL RESTAURANT, STORE, OR SPACE YOU LOVE?
This is tough! I feel like I have found so many spots that I really love after only being here for one year. But if I have to choose one: The Local Pig (butcher shop—their Jalapeño Maple Bacon is so good w/ eggs) and Pigwich (food truck in the back -their Bánh mì and home made potato chips kill it).