John Holcroft | Interview
Sheffield-based illustrator John Holcroft is a great inspiration through his thought-provoking works, and we had the opportunity to learn more about his activity in an exclusive interview.
We’ve been seeing your works a lot on the internet in the past months. Is that good or bad? How does the internet help you or get in your way nowadays?
I too have seen it about, something I wasn’t expecting. I like the idea of my work getting people thinking and I am flattered by all the response I have been getting. There are two sides to this attention, on one hand it’s publicity for possible paid work, however on the other hand I have found my work has been ripped off and abused which no artist likes.
As a result of this visibility of your work in magazines and so on, we figure that you’ve received a lot of feedback. What do you believe matters most to the people or to certain audiences? Is it the message you convey, the technique that you use or both?
Mostly it’s the concepts I use, but the idea and the look of the image go hand in hand. My concepts work because of my approach. Perhaps they wouldn’t work in a different style.
Speaking of message, what first caught our attention is the fact that your illustrations often speak of issues that people can easily relate to – of social and political nature, referring to corruption, greed and other aspects that have unfortunately become so common in today’s society. Why is it important for you to start this dialogue with the viewer?
Primarily I am a freelance illustrator who is trying to make a living, in order to showcase my work I have to produce some illustrations. Art editors are looking for illustrators who can convey text by the medium of an illustration and I have to base my concepts on typical subjects that I might get in a job, however I must also make the subject universally understandable and illustrate things that resonate with most people.
Share an illustration that you believe best defines the world we live in and tell us its story.
I often get accused of being cynical and maybe I am. The world we live in cannot be summed up in one illustration. I suppose I mainly focus on the negative aspects because that’s where we will find an injustice. If I was to sum up the world we live in, it would have to be something negative. I would probably do something surrounding people and obsession for money, power, land and religion.
Reading about your activity and several interviews, you often mention freedom. Of course, considering most of your works are commissioned, what usually limits your freedom of creation? Do you select your clients based on certain criteria?
Paid work is how I make a living and when I undertake a commission, there is usually a very specific brief so I’m restricted to what I can create. Quite often I get called up by art editors who have an empty space on the page and a budget for an illustration. They send me the text to read, and it’s sometimes difficult to understand because its readership might be stock brokers or pension advisors, so the text could be full of jargon. When creating I show piece for myself I don’t have any restrictions.
When you don’t work for a commissioned project, how do you enjoy your free time? Do you focus on creating personal illustration or rather spend time with family or doing something else? When do you feel truly happy?
I enjoy working or personal projects and researching new illustration work, however even that gets tedious after a while so I like spending time with my family.
You have a vast experience in the field, so you are most probably familiar with its challenges. Tell us a bit about your career evolution – a short then and now, the most important moments, the greatest achievements, ups and downs and insights that few know about.
I originally trained as a graphic designer and left college in 1992. Back then computer technology was going through a massive change. When I was a student we were drawing everything by hand using photocopies and cut paper we used macs to generate text but only had 5 for the whole college. The following year on a visit, all students had their own Mac. In 1992 the UK was in recession and there was little work. The fact that there was 1000s of design graduated and only a handful of jobs and not having much experience on macs, I had no chance of becoming a graphic designer. From 1992 to 1996 I was in and out of temporary jobs, working as a cartographer assistant – drawing fishing charts, I worked for a stones masonry company – designing memorials on computer. I also worked in cafes, supermarkets and pubs.
Then in 1996 I decided to go freelance in illustration. I originally worked in acrylics on canvas for 5 years until around 2001 when my work went digital. I found this medium difficult at first but got used to it quickly. Over the next 8 years working in different styles, work was erratic and I couldn’t count on illustration work coming in and hadn’t had a commission in months. I took a job in a call centre but became ill not long after. It was march 2009 I had to have a disc removed from my spine after it had burst. My wife was pregnant and was expecting our second daughter any time. It took me a year to get back to health and I used that time to work on a new style. Over the months I was incapacitated I created a new portfolio of work and arranged a trip to London to showcase my work to potential clients. Since then my work had developed and I have discovered social networking which I find has helped me lots.
Is there a question nobody ever asked you that you’d like to share your answer?
If I was the interviewer I would ask ‘if you could go back in time and do things differently, what would you do ?’. The answer: I would work harder at school.
What’s up for 2015? Any plans or projects you’re excited about?
I don’t really work that far in advance. Just the work I’m doing right now. Magazine covers and a CD cover.
Images © John Holcroft