where are you from and how long have you been illustrating?
I grew up in a small, rural town just outside of Harrisburg Pennsylvania. I am not quite sure what is considered the "beginning," but I am definitely not one of those people who will say, "I knew I wanted to be an artist my whole life"-not even close. Truth be told, the word "illustration" wasn't a part of my vernacular until I transferred to art school in the fall of 2004, after two years of college in North Carolina.

are you as well dressed as the characters you draw?
Ha! I try to stay up on my fashion. When the occasion is right, life definitely imitates art...

you're one of those terrifying "double threat" illustrators - drafting as good as your ideas - does one come more naturally than the other?
That's a flattering statement-tough question, though. I guess I would say yes, ideas come quicker to me than the crafting of the art. I have an overactive imagination and wandering mind; "what if" is one question that continuously drifts through my thoughts on any given day. I believe it's this habit that serves me well in the business. As for drafting, I suppose you could say I was a kid who could always draw well, but I feel I've had to work extremely hard to develop as an artist. Being able to draw better than your friends when you are eight only goes so far until you actually have to study, practice, fail, and try again. I look back and see very specific times when I struggled with the different principles of art and design, whether it be poor composition skills or not being able to draw a hand to save my life. Growing through those challenges is a never-ending process.

what are your thoughts on working traditionally vs. digitally?
The debate concerning traditional versus digital work is irritating. I personally work with both together, back and forth; it's a very incestuous relationship. There is too much emphasis on whether you make artwork with a computer or with a physical material. There are plenty of people working digitally that look like traditional painters and vice versa. Great example: Guy Billout. Go back 20 years and tell me that doesn't look like Photoshop! The problem is that people use their medium as an excuse for whether or not they get hired and I'm not buying it. Let's not forget that this is business-it's about whom you target and how you sell your work that can really determine your success.
how was your university experience? - did you feel ready for the real world of illustration upon graduating?
I did not feel ready after undergrad schooling, but I had a great foundation from which to start. Thankfully, that didn't stop me from trying and, in turn, learning a great deal from failing. However, it was a different story when finishing grad school. At that point, I did feel comfortable with taking on my small part of the galaxy.

your work seems to juxtapose "golden age" imagery with modern subject matter and technique - how has your process evolved over time? where do you see it 5 years down the line?
Regarding subject matter, that was just a process of learning more about myself as time went on; the evolution was very natural. As for technique, I began as an oil painter, but always enjoyed doing the underdrawing the most. I worked in a constant state of disappointment, feeling that my refined line drawings kept getting lost under less developed paintings. One day, after a harsh critique, I had enough. From that point forward, I worked hard to find a way to preserve my drawing and still make rendered, tactile images. It was a very uncomfortable thing to do. I had already been promoting myself for a year (with minimal success), so embracing the idea of starting from scratch was difficult. I stumbled through different processes that focused on drawing more and more, eventually getting me to where I am today: a healthy balance of drawing and painting.
I have no idea what things will look like in five years-hopefully more refined and thought-provoking.

could you describe your ideal client / project?
I love posters; I also love when designers and illustrators collaborate to create something featuring type and image as one entity. My dream job would be doing a season's worth of posters for a theatre or opera.
it seems like you'd be able to transition into fashion design fairly effortlessly (your characters are always so fashionable). would that be something you'd be interested in exploring on some level?
I have strong interest in the fashion industry, but not much for designing clothes or anything like that. I would love to work with menswear in terms of advertising, in-store displays, or catalog work. I have things in the works for 2011 that put more of an emphasis on the men's fashion without sacrificing my creative sensibilities. We will see what happens...

i often see animals present in your work - is that a conscious inclusion, or are they just great to use as metaphor?
Animals just make sense to me; it goes back to all the time I spent outside growing up. Otherwise, yes; throughout history and literature animals have acquired so much symbolism that they are wonderful story-telling characters.

greatest hip hop super group of all time? (please say wu tang)
PART B: greatest MC?
Okay, you want to go there? Let's be clear that "super group" would imply more than two members, but if that were not the case, OutKast is hands down the case closed, undisputed champion. Justification should not be required. Otherwise, I acknowledge The Wu-Tang Clan as an obvious choice and clear frontrunner, but I would like to point out another little crew by the name of Naughty by Nature. You can't touch Treach's flow! I mean, three Grammy nominations and one win. On top of that, those guys keep it gangster, that's real talk. Solo emcee? This is difficult because there will always be a new greatest. Five years ago, no one would dispute Biggie and 2-Pac as the best of all time; now, Lil Wayne, Eminem, and even Jay-Z (who had a substantial career five years ago) are getting that nod. If I had to single out a personal favorite I'd go with Em. He's the only rapper who I have followed since the start and his rhyme and story-telling are incredible. Nowadays keep your eye out for B.o.B; he has the skill and marketability to do big things for a long time. Just my opinion.
what do you like to do with your off time?
Keep active, play hockey, explore New York, and do mildly immature things with my friends.

how important is it for you to make non commercial / personal work?
I always have personal work going despite how busy I may be; it is an extremely important part of creative growth. As I mentioned earlier, my imagination wanders a lot and if I don't get those ideas on paper and execute them visually I become very cluttered and overwhelmed in my mind. Those images come from very a personal place and it's not only liberating but therapeutic to see them executed.

what are some ways you promote your work?
I keep a rigorous schedule of promotion-nothing fancy, just getting the work out there. Gotta spend money to make money!

if you could ask Rockwell one question about his work / career, what would it be?
First, I would pour him a bourbon then I'd ask what he really thought of the world, if he truly saw life the way he painted it. I suspect not, but think that he was consciously sculpting an escape for the masses (and a giant bank account for himself).

what publications would you love to work with?
Being a long time Rolling Stone subscriber and music fanatic, I would die a happy man to illustrate the album review for them.

you mention on your website "growing up away from the city" - what impact has this had on your illustration work / creativity in general?
I rarely draw inspiration from city life or the "urban experience"; it just doesn't effect me emotionally. My experience growing up has a strong impact on my imagination. The angle that I approach my pictures from is one that has a history of small town life and a great deal of exposure to nature. When it comes to telling stories or drawing on personal experience to influence a professional job, this is the place I go. In my opinion it will be much different from someone who was raised in, say, New York City.

All images copyright Jonathan Bartlett
Big big up's to Jonathan for taking the time for this interview - to see more of his fantastic work check out his website: http://www.seejbdraw.com/

1 comment:

  1. Another great interview, I'm a big fan of Jonathan's work.