In one image, a holiday card, a brown bear glides down a mountain on the pure white snow. He is wearing a blue down jacket, a green striped scarf whipping in the wind, a Santa hat, and a smile from ear to ear. His pup rides in the front. It is an image that is both contemporary, but also smartly pulls the simple sensibility of late '50s Christmas TV specials. It is, in a word, charming.
Josh Cleland's artwork has an aesthetic that seems gleaned from a heyday of print media, that sweet spot between mid-50s and mid-60s before graphic art went all groovy.
For the past decade, Beaverton-based artist Josh Cleland has been creating an army of quirky, fun icons—like a refined dog in a checked sweater vest sipping wine that nods to Chuck Jones ("Looney Tunes") and a hippo strumming a standup bass that is its own unique style. But although they draw from a classic era of cartooning, they populate contemporary outlets, like apps, websites, and album covers—and, for the month of August, Bishops Barbershop in downtown Bend.
The Source caught up with the illustrator recently.
Source Weekly: Did you draw as a kid, and if so, what kinds of things would you like to draw? What were your favorite cartoons/programs as a child?
Josh Cleland: In the '90s, most kids were drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Bart Simpson, and I was no exception. One Sunday morning, during a church sermon I was doodling these characters on the church bulletins and my dad wrote a little note next to one of my drawings. It said, "Why don't you create your own characters?" Ever since then, I've been drawing silly characters of my own, even drawing a weekly cartoon for Oregon State University's daily newspaper, The Barometer.
SW: Interesting. And that's how you got your start?
JC: I graduated Oregon State University in 2002 with a degree in graphic design. My passion has always been illustration. In January of 2009, I started my freelance career as a graphic designer/illustrator and I've been doing more and more illustrative work ever since.
SW: And where are you finding your inspiration now?
JC: Nowadays, I'm drawn to work that is engaging and tells a story visually and emotionally. I love work that is upbeat and shares a positive, optimistic vibe.
I love frequenting the greeting card aisles of the grocery store. I can spend hours there. I also get inspired visiting bookstores, going into the city, and going for runs/hikes in the woods. I guess, in short, getting out of the office and experiencing life is a great inspiration.
SW: What other graphic artist do you admire most?
JC: I've always loved studying Norman Rockwell's work. The way he used composition, color, and technique to tell a complex story in one single image was brilliant! The animator Chuck Jones is another huge inspiration. He was a master of character design and color.
The contemporary designers and illustrators I admire today are too many to list.
SW: Are there visual elements do you find yourself returning to most frequently?
JC: Lately I've been really experimenting a lot with texture, patterns, and natural elements. As far as subject matter goes, I've been told that my work makes people smile, so I always try to lean on that. This world is grumpy enough as it is. I don't want to add to it.
First Friday: Josh Cleland
6 pm. Friday, August 7.
Bishops Barbershop, 130 NW Oregon Ave.