Joshua Harris: Creating vibrant, lifelike illustrations
Growing up in the seaport of Port Pirie, Joshua Harris was fascinated by the Star Wars franchise. He loved the attention to detail, the realisation of ideas through animation, and the plain craziness of the graphics. That childhood brush with animation directed Joshua towards the dynamic world of illustrations, encouraging him to create colourful, vibrant, and almost realistic artwork. Today, the 46-year-old's creative reimagining of his favourite movies and other comics are winning him fans not only in Adelaide but across Australia.
In conversation with TAL, the Port Pirie lad - as he likes to call himself - talks about his inspirations, his eternal love for Star Wars, and his plans for the future.
Before we venture into the enchanting world of your illustrations, please tell us something about yourself.
I am 46 years old, and I was born and raised in Port Pirie, South Australia. I moved to Adelaide after completing year 12 to study visual and commercial art. Apart from illustrating, music is my other love and I enjoy playing bass and electric guitar. I play in two bands called Mr Wolf and the Vibes.
Most weekends we play at local pubs and clubs around Adelaide and South Australia. We also perform regularly in venues like the Royal Oak hotel in North Adelaide, the Grand at Glenelg and the Warradale hotel.
I also play beach volleyball once a week in the city, and at the moment I work at Adelaide airport in the international duty-free area.
What prompted this love for illustrations? Were you a big fan of cartoons and illustrations while growing up?
Growing up I was in love with the movies and large picture books available in the libraries. Drawing them was a way of replicating what I saw on the big screen onto paper at home. Sci-fi was always my favourite genre and loved artists like futurist illustrator Syd Mead and the Star Wars concept artist Ralph Mcquarrie.
I was also an avid reader of the MAD comics, and I think that is where my sense of humour comes through in some of my artwork.
Also, my father was a cartoonist for a local paper in Port Pirie, and my other family members also love doing art. Therefore, creating and developing an eye for art started very early in my life. My family tells me, I would occupy myself as a kid drawing and airbrushing various projects in our back shed.
My parents have always supported and encouraged my artistic and musical abilities.
Did you undergo any formal training and when did you start working as an illustrator professionally?
After school, I enrolled to study visual and commercial art, and also did various computer design courses. I do life drawing classes from time to time to refine my drawing skills.
But I think it is a talent I was born with.
Please take us through an illustration project of yours. How do you go about initiating and completing a particular creation, and what are the steps involved?
I find my most productive time to create an illustration is early in the morning, starting before sunrise and before my girls wake up!
I like to roughly sketch out the basic outline of a piece, and then decide which medium I would like to use to create the detail. For the fine line work, I favour Indian ink and a traditional ink mapping pen to get the really fine lines and cross-hatching.
Over the last few years, I have coloured all of my comic book pieces using photoshop. Recently I have discovered Copic markers that were developed for Japanese Anime artists. They are alcohol-based inks and blend and colour in the inked illustrations beautifully.
How much time does one illustration take to complete?
It depends on the work and the medium I use to complete the task. Some pen and ink pieces can take up to hours, and the comic books I have created have taken years. Recently I have been doing the Copic marker pieces in under an hour or two. It is such a quick medium to get the colours down and get a great result.
Please take us through some of the projects you have worked on.
I have done many commissioned works over the years, and I intend to do a lot more in the future. When I was a teenager, I was one of two artists responsible for airbrushing and painting all of the massive backdrops for the local theatre in Port Pirie. It required a lot of hard work but was nevertheless rewarding to see all of the finished sets on opening night.
In recent years I have self-published my comic book series called Instamatic and sold some copies in comic book stores here and interstate. Besides that, I have done album covers for bands and bits and pieces for local magazines and exhibitions, etc.
What was the first project you worked on and for whom?
When I was young, I remember being asked to do the front covers for the local dog club. That was a load of fun and I even got paid!
It was the spark that pushed me to try and do bigger and better things.
Who has been your inspiration and role model?
My father was my first role model. He used to create weekly cartoons on Tuesday nights after dinner, and it was always very topical and funny. The artworks were delivered to the printer the next morning, and I think that intense creative time frame and seeing the finished published comic each week inspired me.
I also had a fantastic Art teacher in year 12 called Paul Matthews who had a considerable influence on me and imparted so many tips and ideas. That year I scored an A-plus in art, and my artwork was voted the best piece at the Statewide year 12 art show in Adelaide – a massive deal at the time for a young Pirie lad!
As an illustrator what are the challenges you face while ideating and creating and how do you overcome them?
I find that inspiration to create a new idea is challenging, and the blank canvas can be quite frustrating at times, especially when you have all your equipment laid out ready to go, and you don't have an idea how to begin.
I find closing shutting yourself from distractions, listening to movie soundtracks, along with a big cup of tea helps.
What other creative activities do you dabble in when not illustrating?
I enjoy painting visual art pieces and was an avid airbrush enthusiast when I was younger. Nowadays I love photography, photoshop work and creating movies etc. for my bands.
What kind of space do you think Adelaide provides for professions like yours? Do you think there are enough opportunities or can the city do better?
I think there are a lot of opportunities for an artist in Adelaide, for instance, the recent boom in street art has been incredible.
As an illustrator, the opportunity to have your work displayed on a worldwide stage has never been easier with the advent of social media apps like Instagram. The online worldwide art community is amazing and I am continually inspired and encouraged to do better by the people I meet on it. Today, the opportunities to make contacts and for your artwork to be seen by a greater audience are massive. And, therefore, working from home, independently in Adelaide is a viable option for sure.
What advice would you give to up and coming illustrators?
I recommend finding a style and technique that appeals to you and to refine that skill set by drawing whenever you feel inspired no matter how crazy the idea is.
Checking out other artworks online and uploading your work are great ways to keep yourself motivated and to grow your portfolio.
Also, find a Zenlike workstation where you can shut off from the outside world and get lost in the process.
Where can we see your work? Will you have any exhibitions?
I am currently building up my online social media platforms. I am also working on selling some prints online etc. Eventually, I would like to hold an exhibition of my recent work which will include some visual art painted pieces that I would like to produce.
What are your plans for the future?
I would love to keep building my portfolio of artwork and would love to illustrate a children's book in collaboration with a writer. I am currently working on selling pieces suitable for kids’ rooms and nurseries in homes. These are available on eBay and the links are on my social media platforms. Creating visual art pieces and splashing some paint around is also part of my future plans.
Purchase Joshua's artwork on eBay.