ASK JOE

What's your goal in making art?

To put a smile or people's faces or get them to connect emotionally with the characters of a story.

What inspires you?

A Great many things! Good stories. Funny moments with my kids.  The changing Iowa weather. The human face and the expressions it’s capable of. A good church sermon. Good songs. Inspiration is everywhere!

Did you always want to be an illustrator?

Pretty much.  I think it was in second grade. We were given an assignment to make a diorama of a Native American village. Mine was for the Sioux tribe.  When it came time to turn them in, I remember looking at everyone else’s diorama and wondering why their native Americans looked like stick-figures and mine looked like, well, Native Americans. That’s the moment I realized I was good at art. The years that followed confirmed my calling as an artist. I struggled in many classes but when I entered the art room that all changed. I felt at home there. That combined with my love for story led me to wanting to be an illustrator.

What was life like growing up?

I grew up on a farm in south-central Iowa.  Most people think Iowa is flat and full of corn, but in the south we have rolling hills, ponds, and wooded pastures.  My dad had land pocked with old coal mine hills and pits, which was a great place for a boy with a big imagination to grow up.  I had mixed feelings living on the farm. I loved the animals, the people, and the time spent outdoors. I loved my dad’s shop full of odds and ends that I could invent with.  I loved hunting for fossils or geodes, and digging in ditches for old medicine bottles and rusty bike parts. I loved working cattle with my family and then sharing a pot of chili on the tailgate of Dad’s pick up.  At the same time I felt restrained by the obligations of being part of a farming family. I disliked all the hours spading thistles and fixing fence. I felt like I was always shoveling one thing or another: manure, animal feed, gravel, snow or a mixture of these.  Sometimes I tried to do art and farm work at the same time. I often sketched while I was driving the tractor mowing hay, but that led to curvy rows that neighbors laughed at. As much as I love the land, I always knew I wasn’t destined to be a farmer. 

How did your early life affect your work today?

I grew up surrounded by animals of all kinds: cows, pigs, goats, sheep, horses, chickens, geese, dogs, cats, silo pigeons, and plenty of wild varmints. To this day, I adore animals and love to incorporate them into my art

How long have you been working as an artist?

I taught art for twelve years and doing freelance art and illustration work for fourteen years. Not long ago, my illustration work picked up to the point I had to choose to either go full time or simply stick with teaching.  My launch into my art career has been slowed down by my struggle with chronic pain and fatigue due Lyme disease and mold illness.  By the grace of God I’m doing better now and can handle more work.

How did you get trained as an artist?

I attribute my learning about art mostly to an undying and irrepressible curiosity to learn more about the subject.  As far as formal education, I have my B.A. in Fine Art, Art History, and Art Education through Dordt College and my M.A. in Art Education from the University of Nebraska.  I also took several courses through Schoolism.com to deepen my understanding of digital painting. By the way, for anyone wanting to up their art game, I highly recommend Schoolism courses. 

What is your favorite art medium?

For me, the idea and the mood are much more important than the medium.  I haven’t yet found an art medium that I didn’t enjoy. I’ve always loved painting, and in college I really enjoyed copper plate etching.  I don’t have the studio space or equipment for it now, but it’s really influenced my pencil sketches. These days I work mostly in digital painting in Photoshop on a Wacom Mobile Studio Pro.  (My wife appreciates that this process does not create a mess!) I’m also an obsessive sketcher and carry a pencil and sketchbook with me pretty much wherever I go.

How did you get your start doing illustration for a living?

A local author trusted me with her manuscript and gave me my first shot at illustrating a complete book.  (Thanks so much, Lois!) After that my wife and I sent out a book she wrote to a few publishers and we got noticed by New Growth Press, who asked me to illustrate their Good News for Little Hearts series.  My wife, Katie Hox, and I continue to collaborate and we hope that we will soon publish our first book together. 

How do you go about illustrating a book? Where do you start?

It always begins with a pencil and a sketchbook.  I feel a sense of play come over me as my mind bounces around from one idea to the next.  Then I’ll use these early, rough sketches as a conceptual support for more refined work. From there it goes into several stages of refinement: blocking in big shapes, working out the composition, testing out light, adding shadow and textures, and then finally working in details.

Do you take on other design work?

As time allows, I do.  I’ve done brand identity and logo design, murals, custom paintings, and many other random art jobs.  People come up with some crazy ideas, and I’m happy to help them bring these ideas to life! Feel free to ask me if you have something in mind.

I've written a book. Can you illustrate it?

Maybe! Contact me and we can talk about it.

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