'It's okay to jump from one style to the next', Josh Patterson on carving out an illustration career

Award-winning London-based illustrator Josh Patterson specialises in creating bright, bold and playful artwork that grabs people's attention. We caught up with him to learn more about how he makes an impact, and why changing styles is a good thing.

With over seven years in the creative industry under his belt, Josh Patterson has seen many different sides of what it has to offer. Having worked both freelance and in-house, with clients including the Wall Street Journal, the BBC and the New York Times, he's constantly honing his craft for advertisers, magazines and animation studios.

Like many illustrators, Josh settled on a creative path when he was young. The household he grew up in was an artistic one, as his father is a painter and illustrator while his mother is a singer and actor. "From an early age, art and design has always been a big part of my life," he tells Creative Boom.

"I started drawing at an early age and my dad saw I had the potential and helped teach me a few principles of drawing. I would mostly draw from people and things around me, drawing my brothers, parents, friends."

Josh continued drawing throughout school, then went on to study visual communication at university with a specialisation in illustration. Freelance work started to come in during his third year of studies, and upon graduating he leapt straight in freelancing.

"I spent a couple of years as a freelancer before deciding I wanted something more secure, so I switched things up and worked as a brand designer for the next 5 years," he explain. "I was lucky that within these roles I was still able to have a strong focus towards illustration, so it wasn’t completely lost.

"I learnt a lot in these years and eventually came to the conclusion that illustration is what really brings me the most joy. So I switched back to freelancing in 2022 and have been loving it ever since."

Josh sums up his work as bright, bold and playful. This is in part thanks to developing a style catered towards vector-based images that will be used commercially, particularly for animation. "I enjoy using simple lines and shapes to create busy, colourful scenes that immediately draw your attention."

However this doesn't mean that all of his illustrations take this approach. "I would say the style I produce my commercial work in is quite different to the way I sketch when I’m just drawing from life or using photo references," he adds. "Making these two styles feel seamlessly interlinked is something I continue to work on."

Underneath all of Josh's work is a fascination for an intelligence and technical skill when it comes to drawing. Indeed, the pieces by his favourite traditional and contemporary artists that he most enjoys are the sketches. "Di Vinci’s anatomy drawings are something I was introduced to from an early age and I’ve always admired them," he says. "I recently discovered an artist called Mark Maggiori, his paintings are very technically accurate but his sketches are full of expression and energy. I love them.

"In the world of commercial illustration however, I always admire artists that are able to represent busy scenes or concepts in a simplified way. Perhaps it’s in the colour palettes they use, their use of simplistic strokes or their use of light, shadow and texture. There’s something about physically seeing the intention in the creative decisions I find really inspiring. A select few artists I think do this really well are Ben Pearce, Vincent Mahé and Owen Davey."

As a professional illustrator, Josh is always busy drawing away, but in his personal work he's free to explore his favourite subjects such as things, places and people that have inspired him. "I find that taking little snippets of an experience or moment I’ve had is a really nice way of expressing how I’ve felt about something," he reveals.

"I’ve always been fascinated by drawing people and faces, creating different expressions and emotions with simple lines and shapes. I do like to keep my work busy and vibrant, so detailed scenes of cities, landscapes and environments that generally have lots going on are always fun for me to draw!"

This vibrancy and busyness helps to make Josh's illustrations engaging, which is a pivotal role if they are accompanying a piece of content like an editorial. "Whether it’s an article, advert, video or a piece of branding, my work is there to be eye-catching and impactful." he says. "So to help make it stand out as much as possible I use a combination of bright colours and bold shapes that aims to immediately draw your attention. I enjoy playing around with colours and love discovering palettes that compliment each other well."

Yet despite having settled on a style that works commercially, Josh isn't afraid to shake things up. In fact he points out that the need to do so is one of the biggest lessons he's learnt in the last 7 years. "The work I produce now is vastly different from the work I produced when I first started out," he says. "I had a number of years working for start-ups as a brand designer which I think taught me to critique my work more, and question the decisions I make.

"I think I’m now more intentional with the artistic decisions I make whereas back then I’d often just draw without thinking and I think my overall outcomes are better now for this. It also taught me the importance of taking on feedback in a positive way. Where I might have been offended or disheartened in the past, constructive criticism is something I thrive off now as I’m always looking to get the best out of my work."

This positive approach has helped Josh to plough on and keep creating. And it's this approach which he advises aspiring illustrators to follow themselves, regardless of the results. "If you don’t like something you’ve made, move it aside and make another," he says. "If you love something you’ve made, move it aside and make another.

"Something my dad always used to tell me is you’re only as good as your last drawing. It’s a quote I think about a lot and have applied throughout my career. I always try my best to take lessons from each project and aim for the next one to be more successful than the last. It doesn’t always happen but it’s good to have in the back of your mind as motivation."

Josh also advises that illustrators take inspiration from everywhere and continue to experiment with different techniques in order to figure out what works for them. "A lot of beginner illustrators are quite fixated on ‘finding their style’ but I think it’s okay (and very normal) to jump from one style to the next when you’re starting out, and even as a professional!

"Being adaptable is an important part of commercial illustration. I find what happens a lot, particularly in my animation jobs, is a client may already have a set style for you to work in. So being able to use your skill set to adapt to working in multiple styles is important. I often find this is a great opportunity to experiment and you might find something you want to bring back into your existing style — thus developing it further."

All of Josh's determination and hard work continues to pay off, as he has recently just been signed to the agency Brilliant Artists. As for the rest of 2024, he's looking forward to getting more advertorial projects and animation work. "I really enjoy the collaborative approach animation studios take and it’s always a privilege having the chance to work alongside some really talented animators," he concludes.

"Outside of the commercial illustration, I’m currently really enjoying taking 30 minutes out of my morning to fill up my sketchbooks. Drawing from references, life, travel and imagination is a really great way to get warmed up for the day and I hope to add some of these drawings to my print shop in the near future."


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