Above the Fold: Josh Holland - Illustrator, Designer
In Above the Fold, we spotlight individual members of Coroflot's vibrant creative community. The idea is to take you behind the scenes and inside the minds of talented Coroflot members who we think are doing exceptional work. Coroflot was created by designers, for designers, and Above the Fold is the place where we can talk to creatives about work that we not only love, but think you'll love too!
To say Josh Holland is versatile would be putting it lightly. Based in Denver, Josh is an artist in the truest sense and also happens to be commercially minded. As any creative-type knows, balancing artistry and commercial viability is not always easy. His work covers a wide array of areas such as art direction, storyboards, concert posters, packaging design, and even giant fluffy sculptures. Whether he's doing work for a massive corporation or given carte blanche to design a beer can, Josh manages to put his artistic stamp on every project. Besides the fact that he's been a Coroflot member for a long time, we can't help but be impressed by all of the different mediums Josh works within and how, no matter what, you can always recognize his distinctive, eye-catching style. For these reasons, we decided to ask Josh about his inspiration, favorite projects, and creative process.
Was there a specific moment in life where you realized you wanted to pursue a creative path?
Not a specific moment, no. I think I was always drawing things from my imagination since I could use a crayon. I would reproduce characters from whatever TV show or thing I was obsessing over at the time. As I began to understand that there were artists behind all of these things I loved, I mimicked what those guys did. So I don't really remember a time where I was not actively pursuing art in some way.
Who are your design heroes?
While I love good design, the artists that have shaped my life tend to be illustrators, animators, and character designers. Some all-time heroes include: Maurice Sendak, Ub Iwerks, Jim Henson, Windsor McCay, Osamu Tezuka, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Hayao Miyazaki.
Can you share some details about your most recent project?
I'm in the process of launching an illustration studio with my wife, artist Shannon Bonatakis. We call the collaborative effort Love Alchemy, and we're currently putting a whole new portfolio together that doesn't look anything like our personal work. The last thing we did is create a line of illustrative packaging for Good Trip Coffee Co.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
There's one I'm not allowed to talk about yet that involves a beloved educational children's program. It's killing me to not be able to talk about it, this is the hardest part of working on a fun project!
Other than the vague tease, I did some character-based illustration work for New Belgium Brewing that should be hitting shelves any time now.
Walk us through some of your process for creating.
I like to start with a lot of thumbnail sketches in a sketchbook. I don't get too precious with any one of them, I just try to fail in disparate ways until the final piece begins to take shape. This kind of ideation is crucial for coming up with unique solutions. It's tempting to just run with your first clear idea, but chances are that idea needs a twist or some polish.
Once I've chosen a rough sketch to explore, I go through the process of refining the drawing over several stages. Sometimes I'll create a digital rough sketch, convert the drawing to yellow lines, print it out, draw over that in red, draw over that in black, scan the new drawing, convert it to yellow, and start the process all over again until the drawing feels complete.
Most people expect that my drawings just happen on the first attempt, but even simple illustrations can have a deceptive amount of work put into making them look effortless.
What is your favorite project that you've completed (professional or personal) and why?
I feel like it's going to be hard to top kicking off the inaugural PBR Artist's Series can. The summer it was in circulation was great, and they invited me to work the Project Pabst music festival too. Illustrators don't get treated like musicians for the most part, so working on something that tons of people have seen and enjoyed is a lot of fun.
You've done a lot of different work for brands. When you are brought on to do a project for a company like, say, PBR, are you given guidelines or are you encouraged to completely come up with the idea and art?
It depends on the client and the project. In the case of PBR, I was approached directly to help kickoff an "Artist's Series" can program. This was based on personal work I had already completed. They asked me to be myself, so I just had to come up with a solution I was happy to put my name on. I was lucky enough to be asked by Great Divide to work on a similar project since then, so I have had a few opportunities to be the sole creative on a really fun project.
This isn't always the case though. Sometimes I'll work on a campaign through an agency, and be tasked with executing someone else's idea that has already been approved by a dozen various people. With a project like this, your task becomes keeping everyone else happy, as opposed to just making art that represents you. I've got nothing against this kind of work at all, it just presents a completely different set of challenges.
What tools (physical or digital) do you find yourself using repeatedly?
I have this mechanical pencil that's wrapped in so much tape it's sort of football shaped. It helps when you're drawing so much that you get arthritic pain in your hand. I've been using the same one for 15 years, so apparently the tape makes the pencil harder to lose as well. I use red pencil lead on a small spiral-bound sketchbook, this has been my preferred method of sketching for many years.
I've been using the same trusty Wacom tablet for over 10 years as well. After a good long life, I finally retired that tablet this year in favor of a Mobile Studio Pro. So far I'm loving the transition.
Do you have a ritual for getting in work/design mode (music you listen to, certain exercise, food you eat) aka a productivity tip?
I like to listen to podcasts while I work, since freelancing from home can be lonely business at times. I think it keeps my mind active during monotonous work. Why not learn something, or sit in on a great conversation if you're just going to be drawing trees for the next 5 hours, right?
Outside of your professional life, do you have any other creative outlets or hobbies?
I love to cook and seek out good food. There are a lot of parallels with cooking and making art. You could put 10 people in separate rooms with the exact same ingredients and get wildly different results, much like handing them a pencil and paper and saying "draw." You're only limited by your own imagination and technique.
Do you have any tips for getting the most out of your Coroflot portfolio?
I was taught that to be an illustrator, you need 10 cohesive pieces that show exactly what you do consistently. Over the years I've learned that this is not always the case, sometimes you get work because you've proven that you can do a lot of different things well. Be consistent without being formulaic or boring. Be versatile, but don't spread yourself so thin that people can't figure out what you do. Find the balance that works for you, personally.