Similar to Brian Luong who was featured last week, Joe Wilson is an illustrator who is heavily inspired by nature. The perceptive on his subjects, though, enter a void of cartoony/comic book-inspired looks, using bold strokes to emphasize details and shading. His animals are usually depicted as fierce, while his work on movie posters and portraits are chilling; cool palettes heating up with warmth, in terms of colors and feeling. It’s a nice blend of traditional and modern illustrating.
He currently resides in the UK and combines pencil, ink, and digital coloring for his work. He grabs influence from multiple comic authors and illustrators, as well as the work of screen-printing. Obviously, dude has mastered his style in terms of conveying “cool,” when he wants to.
Mass Appeal: So the annoying, yet very vital question: Who are you and what do you do?
Joe Wilson: I’m Joe Wilson. I live and work in the UK, and I’m primarily an illustrator working commercially, but I also do limited edition prints when the opportunity arises.
MA: When did you first start learning the art of illustration?
JW: Well, I’ve been drawing for my entire life so I guess I’ve been in training for 29 years. But I really got into illustration, as we know it, when I was at university. Over my three years there, I was honing my skills as a drawer and printmaker, and it just fell naturally into place. I suppose you would say I’ve been taking it seriously for the last 10 years.
MA: Why illustration over any other forms of art? What do you find most appealing about illustrating?
JW: I don’t think I ever made a definite decision to go into illustration, it just sort of happened. I was always torn between the fine art approach and illustration and graphics.
I really enjoy the quick turnaround in illustration, even though my pieces can take a long time to complete. I’m always working on something new which keeps me interested. I also like working with clients. It’s nice when you can work closely with someone to produce something useful that satisfies both parties.
MA: In terms of style or subject matter, what are your biggest inspirations for illustrating?
JW: I’ll split this one in two.
In terms of style, I get a huge amount from looking at old etchings and woodcuts. I’m particularly fond of Durer’s etchings, which have an almost obsessive nature to them. I also love graphic novels and comics. I’m not a huge reader of them, but I suck up the artwork, composing so much interesting dynamic illustration frame after frame is a talent I really admire.
I’m also interested in the process of screen printing. The thought that has to be put in from the very start to make it actually work in that medium is very interesting. I like the economy of color and it’s nice working with real ink and real paper and dealing with their benefits and flaws.
In terms of subject matter, I’m eternally interested in animals. I find endless inspiration in them for their visual beauty and oddity. It’s something I’ve loved from being a child and I never seem to get bored. On the contrary to that, I’m creating a show based around portraits, which I’m really enjoying getting into. I’m keen on an odd or unusual story, so I’ve found characters from history and from literature and also a few of my own to draw inspiration from.
MA: Who are some of your favorite artists?
JW: So many to mention, I’ll keep it brief.
As I mentioned earlier, I love Durer’s etchings. Dali did all these mental etchings
which aren’t as popular as his paintings, but they are really well done. Completely out-there visually. Stunning talent.
I’m very keen on Charles Burns’ graphic novels. He just has a brilliant visual language. It’s so bold and confident. Wes Anderson is brilliant — his attention to detail is mind-boggling and he invents such lush and involving worlds in his films. Everyone should check out Joe Coleman. The man is a total obsessive and he paints these mad paintings with a 1 hairbrush. And they are stunning.
MA: How do you begin to compose your drawings?
JW: They are almost always fully formed in my head. I really struggle when this doesn’t happen, but if I’m inspired, it will be there. I often draw a tiny 20 second thumbnail to make sure I don’t forget. Over the course of doing the pencil-drawing, I will add and edit details as it’s forming and it seems to work nicely that way for me. It’s as if I almost need to be drawing the piece before my brain starts to work it out.
MA: Do you have any personal favorite pieces you’ve created?
JW: There are definitely a few pieces which I really love for various reasons.
My Ray Harryhausen poster is probably my favourite piece. It holds a lot of personal resonance with me. I love his animation and his characters so it was super fun to draw. It just turned out really nicely. To see it in cinemas around the country was a great feeling.
The skateboard I did recently for The Seasons project was a personal marker for me. I’ve been a skater for nearly 20 years and I’ve always wanted to design a skate deck, so finally, the opportunity arose and I jumped at it. It’s now hanging on my wall!
The last one is my very recent piece for Film4 screening of “Throne of Blood.” It was really a step forward for me in terms of drawing, I think. It just seemed to work nicely and it was drawn big so I had loads of space to work in, it was just really enjoyable to do and the final product looked good.
MA: Is there anything you’d love to do outside of illustration?
JW: There’s a couple of avenues I reckon I could go down. I’d be very interested to try my hand at production design/set design. I’m pretty good at finding things and making things and I reckon I could either be the guy who makes models of buildings and landscapes, or the guy who finds interesting bits for scenes in films.
I also think I’d make a good wild-man. An eco-warrior, living simply in the woods somewhere. I’d like that.