John Holcroft is a Sheffield-based artists whose illustrations on topics such as obesity, 21 century addictions, taxes and more are very intriguing. Many of them are stripping people from their ego masks and showing how some of today's modern world really looks like in a minimalistic, yet very vidid, style. He has worked with British finest newspapers and magazines such as, but not limited to, BBC, Financial Times, The Guardian or The Economist.
As we can read in his bio, during his collage years, he became a fan of artists like David Cutter, Ian Pollock and Edward Hopper. After graduation, John practiced his illustration work in his spare time for the next four years after which he started to freelance and painted all his work on canvass paper. Five years have passed when he's gone digital with a Wacom tablet and Corel Painter reinventing his style 5 or 6 time since then. In 2009 he created a more sustainable style. John has kindly agreed for an interview and for some of his illustrations to be published here.
Among many of your works there are some that mock nowadays modern society showing it's real nature without masks. This includes digital addictions and other things that people struggle with. What has influenced you to undertake such subjects on your illustrations ?
Some of the time I'm illustrating for a brief and I have to define the concept of the article.
The work I do for my self is about what ever is on my mind, subjects that I feel passionate about. I use a tongue in cheek approach because that's just how I see things. The absurdity modern life makes me want to scream from the roof tops but no one would be listening.
The illustrations are my equivalent.
In your bio on Behance you've mentioned that during your collage years you became a fan of artists like David Cutter, Ian Pollock and Edward Hopper. What other artists have influenced your style and the way you work ?
My influences over the years have been a wide ranging. I love the work of Gary Taxali. You might see some similarities with the print technique.
There have been other artists were I drew my colour palette from, including David Cutter, Rachel Goslin, Ellie Walton, Oliver Jeffers and more.
You've been creating illustrations for the best magazines in Britain of which many are respected globally. Many would consider this to be prestigious. What traits and actions did you find most valuable on your way there ?
I used to travel to London every year. I would spend a week making appointments with art editors of various magazines. The biggest titles like The Economist and The Guardian aren't easy to contact. Sometimes you would have to call repeatedly to get through to the person you need, only to find that you can't get that appointment.
When I had enough appointments to justify the travel and hotel cost, I would have around 5-6 titles a day to see.
The whole week would be relentless, walking and traveling on the underground.
Having had so many meetings, I have learned how to talk to other professionals with confidence. When I started out I was nervous and a little clumsy.
Nowadays I don't do the London trips.
I tend to prefer to advertise in directories, emails and social media.
What universal advice or guidelines would you give to someone wanting to excel in his or her field ?
I would tell them firstly to make sure it's what they want to do and secondly, do they enjoy it?
They need to have determination, patience and the ability to take criticism.
Apart from illustrating materials for newspapers and magazines, you also create illustrations for books. How did this start and what type of books did it expand to ?
I have illustrated for different types of books. Usually business and marketing, however I have recently illustrated 2 children's pop-up books which was great fun to do. That's the good thing about having a wide repertoire where my style is concerned. Not all my work is political and controversial, my style can be used in many formats the pop-up books were information books for young children, so the detail had to be accurate. I am working on my style so it can appeal to more children's book publishers in the future.
What do you do before creating an illustration for a children's book or a business / marketing publication ? I surmise the process might differ between the mentioned two.
With a children's book I don't have to think of conceptual ideas because they are not conveying a message or a metaphor, they are simply narrating given text. Basically all I'm doing is illustrating what the publisher wants, it's all straight forward. However with a newspaper of magazine you often have pages of text to read and understand before working on a fitting concept to base the illustration on. If I'm lucky the art editor will have already read the text and can just give me a synopsis.
What's the best thing you like about your work ? Do you have any particular subject you prefer to illustrate ?
Most of my work is commissioned to a brief so I'm restricted what I can do.
I love creating my own pieces which I use as self promotion. I often get asked what subject matters I like illustrating best, I like having the freedom to express how I feel at the time. There are so many things that bother me and I do the only thing I can, protest, make aware
or just get people thinking. Like many musicians use music, I use illustration.
In terms of future - what is your outlook towards the future in relation to people and their behaviour ? How will the world look like in 10 or 20 years according to John Holcroft ?
I don't think it's ever going to be a perfect world. If I can reach out to a few people, at least I've done something.
Most of the time the problems in our society are out of our hands and we depend on politicians to make a difference. The only problem is corruption, greed, bureaucracy, political correctness and large companies getting away with paying their fair share in tax. In a perfect world people would be honest and selfless, we wouldn't fight and kill innocent people in the name of religion, we wouldn't spend the equivalent of 2 months wages on Christmas only to throw most of it away a week later while millions are starving,
We wouldn't be too scared to pat a child on the head incase you get accused of assaulting him.
Thank you John for your time. It was a real pleasure to talk to you.
You can find John's current artwork and full bio at Behance and his own webpage. Additionally, you can buy his illustrations at society6.com and read an interview a bit more focused on the details of his work at pushing-pixels.org
All illustrations used in this essay are copyrighted by John Holcroft and are published with the author's consent. All rights reserved.