I'd like to introduce you to my friend, Joel Heires, who I met through a mutual arty friend. I remember Joel impressed me back then for his enthusiasm for fantasy art which is something I really love too!
Joel has always impressed me with his determination and his work ethic. When I see his regular drawing posts, I feel inspired to get to business in my own studio practice. His focus is wonderful and I wish I could keep focused as he does!
In particular for several years now, I've been intrigued by his figurative work and have been wanting to find out more for ages now. I wish he lived closer as I think it would be intriguing to see his work space as I too have to conduct my artistic practice in my bedroom so of course I'm curious how others have to adapt to working in a multipurpose space!
So I'm very pleased Joel agreed to let me interview him for my art blog and again I wrote far too many questions and had to edit them down from the 68 that I originally had! Sometimes my curiosity of my fellow artist friends is ridiculous!
I do hope you enjoy this interview and please note any red highlighted underlined words are links to related content. To follow Joel and keep up to date with his ongoing work, then please look below this interview for his social media links. Please like, comment and share!
Franceska: How and when did you get into the arts?
Joel: I have always enjoyed drawing. I believe my “What I want to be when I grow up” list was artist, firefighter, or paleontologist. Safe to say the interest has been present most of my life, but as I got older I would see images or sculptures created by others and just think “that” is what I want to do.
Franceska: Is there anyone who inspired or influenced you when you were young to get into the arts?
Joel: I can't think of anyone in particular, certainly my parents supported me, but it was usually a pretty solitary act that I committed on my own. Drawing was and is very much an escape for me. My drive really came mostly from art in magazines and comic books that had captured so much of my imagination. Fortunately, I had a string of supportive teachers that understood I was a bit more serious than most of the students who had to be there. So I got extra feedback or pushes from various instructors over the years and on occasion would have a professional artist see my work and relate the idea that I should keep at it.
Franceska: Where did you study and how do you feel about your educational experience? Do you feel it helped you in what you do now?
Joel: Art classes were offered from middle school on, and it was always nice to look forward to a class every day. I wasn't a bad student, but everything else felt like work. It could certainly be challenging, but the labor was usually pleasant, outside of the time constraints (still an issue today). I was incredibly fortunate to attend a high school with an amazing AP (advanced placement) art program. Double block classes everyday allowed me to really dig in with other like minded students and take risks. I also remember feeling as though the AP status placed the classes on the same level as English, Science, and Math for the first time. In no small part because of those courses, I had a strong portfolio ready when I applied and was accepted to Carnegie Mellon University.
By the time I graduated I think I was more frustrated than enlightened. Distance and time have led me to wonder if that was more due to my own social/personal issues and being so insanely naive about life and craft. The program at the time was in transition and many of the older more technical minded faculty were retiring or moving on and the newer focus seemed to be much more conceptual (which was less interesting to me). While that education has served me immeasurably over time, I felt as if my technical education was lacking. I wanted that magic bullet that would just make me awesome, but I never really connected with any of my professors and never locked onto a mentor figure. Of course I also made lifelong friends that have heavily influenced my career and life post graduation. In the end I think education anywhere is really what you make of it and I , frustratingly, feel as if I took for granted my time there.
Franceska: What is your favourite material to work with in the arts?
Joel: I like to draw. I like paper and pencil and ink, but I also paint digitally using Photoshop. There is an immediacy to traditional sketching that is more grounded, the line and the tone just feel more correct, and a pure stream of consciousness drawing devoid of purpose or direction can be meditative. Working digitally however, allows for speedy iteration. I can always undo or start fresh with another file, without fear of wasting materials, a fear that kept me from exploring much in college. Any color sense I have at all is due mostly to infinite digital paint.
Franceska: Do you currently have a specific artist or artists that you follow at this time and why?
Joel: On a daily basis it's really just about being on instagram and trying not to let the talent of so many incredible individuals extinguish my own creative drive. I would say, more than anyone else lately, I find myself continually returning to the work of J.C.Leyendecker. He is mostly known for his advertising work and an incredible run of iconic Saturday Evening Post covers. The more I look at his work the more I'm blown away by what he accomplished in every image. I'm a big fan of images drawn from my own imagination, but it's undeniable how much extra information is communicated when using reference. In his work I see both. Stylized realism with imaginative flourishes and editing resulting in a highly detailed, stylized, and nuanced final image.
Franceska: How do you find inspiration in your current work? How do you keep yourself motivated?
Joel: “Keep making stuff!” is pretty much my only M.O. I'm old enough to realize that the negative loop of trial and failure had stunted my ability to press on and just make stuff. Sometimes it's for fun, sometimes it's more directed, the way a musician practices scales or an athlete hits the gym. Keeping my brain and my fingers moving and existing in that higher plane of operating is my primary objective. I can always tell when I haven't done figure drawing or dimensional drawing in awhile. Like going for a jog after an injury, you lose progress or at the very least alertness.
Franceska: What is a typical studio day like for you?
Joel: I've been mostly on my own for a few years now, so it's amorphous by nature. Since I work in my room it's a constant struggle to not allow distraction from upending my flow. On a good day I get up late morning and try to do some observational drawing as a warm up and confidence booster. I usually do yoga, (a life saver when you spend as much time hunched over a computer or a desk as I do) and then shower and lunch. Then I settle into whatever my current task is. With freelancing being the bulk of my monetary income that work ranges from illustration, to ui design, and photoshopping. I try to work at max focus for a few hours. If I get into a groove I might work later, but if there isn't a deadline or staying on task is a real chore I let myself off the hook. I eat dinner somewhere in there and then will entertain myself in the evening, which many times now involves working in my sketchbook. This is of course a model day and not an average one, hehe.
Franceska: Do you find it easy to fill a sketchbook and is this something you embrace?
Joel: I've been using the classic black hardbound sketch books for the last 5 years now. It takes me a bit over a year to fill one. It's nice to have the singular object when it's done as opposed to piles of loose drawings. They also act as a timeline of the previous year, an illustrated diary. The sketchbooks become a powerful reminder of whether you are working or not, a tome of inspiration and frustration. The one piece of advice I have received over and over in my life is “Draw everyday!” It took me over a decade to really understand and embrace that message. I felt the idea was very unromantic, but in reality it is the practice that opens the doors so your ideas can freely flow into reality.
Franceska: What are your current challenges in your practice and are you finding ways to overcome them?
Joel: Every time I climb to a peak of skill or perception another 50 peaks become visible. I'm struggling with the subtleties of perspective and drawing figures and objects that really exist in the space on the page. My work is stiff and not only dimensionally flat but also emotionally flat. With observational drawing I really try to mentally picture the forms I'm rendering as I make my marks. Visualizing the edges and the shadow regions seems silly since I'm looking at the subject, but I've found that my hand makes subtly better marks when engaged at that level. Keeping my mind thinking in 3d helps as well when I render from my minds eye. The hope is that this will lead to more dynamic compositions and realized forms.
Franceska: Do you have a favourite colour or palette and if so how has it changed over the years?
Joel: My color sense is naturally quite poor, years of fooling around with color digitally has made me more fearless in experimenting, but it's still a struggle every time. I tend to rely on the concepts of unity and color relationships to fill my canvas. By the time my current project is finished, it will reflect the seven roy g biv colors. Because of this, as I get further into the series the color choices are less choices and more by necessity and design. I like using compliments and particular symbolic groupings adding an extra layer to the choices whenever I can. When I get a chance to attend figure drawing sessions I tend to work with ink washes, particularly an orange and blue wash in addition to black ink. There is a strange glowing quality to it that I enjoy. Other than that, I don't believe I gravitate toward anything in particular.
Franceska: Do you have any favourite books/comics that you refer back to often or that made an impact on who you are today?
Joel: My general visual curiosity flows from Greek mythology into Greek sculpture then the renaissance (Michelangelo, da Vinci), surrealism, and then dives into fantasy art in the vein of Frank Frazetta and smashes into superhero comics. By middle school I was hooked and knew fantastical art was what I wanted to do. As I've gotten older I've moved away from those figures and while digging into the lineage of comic books, movies, and videogames found new touchstones. I've started making connections among the various things that captured my attention and that eventually lead me into the realm of Jean Giraud Moebius. He has become a weird magnetic figure in my creative journey. I am much less attracted to raw skill anymore and find myself drawn to creators that have a very strong personal style. (Mike Mignola, Kilian Eng, Katsuya Terada, the list goes on)
Franceska: What are your goals for your future in the arts?
Joel: I mentioned this already, but really it's just “keep going, keep making”. In high school and college we would always have to make our artist statement and really the only thing I ever wanted was to make something cool, and that is still true. My definition of “cool” has changed, but I really just want to make stuff that ignites the same spark of creativity that I've been juiced with so many times.
Franceska: What projects are you working on currently and can you share what they are if possible?
Joel: As far as personal projects the main one is called “The Magi” It's a halfway complete series of paintings with accompanying music tracks provided and mutually inspired by my good friend Christian Kriegeskotte. Also, recently a children's book that I illustrated was published digitally on Amazon called “Robert the Robot: and the Ocular Resonators.” Instead of a moral or ethical lesson the goal is to give a lesson on socializing. Other than that, too many ideas that are nebulously waiting to be plucked from the ether.
Thank you so much Joel for agreeing to be interviewed! I'll continue to be a big fan of your work and probably you'll find more fans following this interview!
To follow Joel and keep up to date with his artwork then please follow these links:
If you enjoyed reading about Joel and would like to read more artist interviews then please check back every Friday at 9am UK time for more.
My name is Franceska McCullough and I'm the owner and artist of Toothpickmoon. Here I will share my studio practice in all it's forms.
*Disclosure: The links I'm using on this blog will only ever relate to the products I myself use in my own practice.