Illustrator Interviews: Sebaldo Grills Studio Mate Josh McKenna About Fame, Pride, & Brussels Sprouts
WORKING NOT WORKING
We love having candid conversations with our members about the breakthroughs, challenges, and dreams that come with their creative pursuits. But sometimes, it also makes sense to pass the mic off to someone who knows the creative better than we probably ever could. Like a studio mate. So that’s what we did with WNW Members Sebaldo Pietrovito and Josh McKenna. The two London-based illustrators were more than game to interview each other in their brightly lit studio. We provided some questions to guide the conversation but also encouraged them to keep things fun and loose. The resulting interviews are equal parts insightful and hilarious. And hopefully insightful for more than just readers looking for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creative processes of two illustrators. After heavy-hitting and eye-opening topics ranging from what their studio mate can do as an illustrator that makes them jealous to whether the brussels sprout is primed to be the vegetable of 2019, we’re pretty sure Seb and Josh have learned a great deal about each other.
All Photography by Flora Maclean
Seb: Hello, could you introduce yourself please?
Josh: My name is Josh McKenna. I'm an illustrator. But you know this. I'm from the Cornwall Coast of Cornwall.
Seb: The Cornwall Coast of Cornwall. Okay, great. Did you enjoy growing up in Cornwall?
Josh: No. Well, somewhat, yes.
Seb: It was hard to fit in, wasn't it, for you?
Josh: Summer was nice. By the beach. But I'm from quite a chavvy town.
Seb: Okay, and the fresh fish. Was that nice?
Josh: I didn't like fresh fish at the time.
Seb: Did you surf?
Josh: A little bit. I was more of a body-boarder.
Seb: Right, yeah. Because you're too big for the surf really.
Seb: Okay. Do you remember when we first met, Josh?
Josh: It was 2016… Two and a half years ago. I became a new member of this studio, which you were sat in. Immediately I hit it off as the new guy in the studio. I was super funny and super charming and you all fell for me straight away. Then, the rest is history.
Seb: Yeah, that's how it worked, I do remember that. So what's your day-to-day like in the studio?
Josh: My day-to-day is probably the same as yours because we do the same thing. We wake up. Not together.
Seb: Yeah, usually not together.
Josh: Come in here. I usually go for a tea first thing. I catch up, what did you watch on TV, how did you get here today, isn't the weather lovely, isn't the weather not lovely. I'll check my emails, because I have so many to get through. From overnight, because I have international clients as well, you know.
Seb: Oh my god. Oh, you're such a big shot, aren't you?
Josh: From when I'm asleep they might contact me. I would then probably go online.
Seb: Do you put time aside for thinking? Thinking time? Creative time?
Josh: My thinking time is with tea in the morning before I've woken up. I'll have a look online. I'll see what's about. On the news, on Twitter. Look at cars sometimes. Look at drawings, see what all my peers are up to. Check for jobs.
Seb: Then, basically we just work for the whole day. Because also, it is just like working a normal job, isn't it? But then we do mess around quite a lot as well.
Josh: We don't have a boss to tell us off if we're wheeling around on a chair, or hiding forks, or guessing someone's favorite vegetable.
Seb: Yes. Which is very interesting, by the way.
Josh: But, I think you need things like that. To keep you sane.
Seb: Yeah, they're nice little breaks aren't they really, just dicking around.
Seb: What inspires you the most as an illustrator? I saw an interview you did once and they took a video of you riding down Ridley Road Market. They said that that's in Dalston, and they said that was one of your main inspirations for your work. Is that true?
Josh: Well, it's where the most characters are, in Dalston, don't you think?
Seb: That's true, yeah, but you told me that you hated that Ridley Road Market.
Josh: I don't like walking down there, but that doesn't mean to say there are not characters there.
Seb: Oh, okay. You get your most inspiration in places you don't like hanging out. That's quite good actually. What interests you most as an illustrator then?
Josh: I like not knowing what's next. Each job is different from the last. Sometimes it will be something vastly different to the previous project. Example, I'm painting bottles, physically creating something. My previous project was a giant float that was part of Mardi Gras. The project before that was digital. I like not knowing. It keeps it alive and not boring.
Seb: Yeah. It's sort of problem-solving isn't it, because you didn't know how you were going to do it, but then you sort of worked it out. See, I usually get stressed out by that and panic quite mad, but then actually work it out and it's fine in the end.
Josh: Yeah. You're quite a pessimist aren't you?
Seb: Yeah. I think I just get panicked about most things.
Josh: Most things, yeah.
Seb: What was the thing in Mardi Gras in Australia?
Josh: Oh, thanks for asking, Seb. I created an emoji sticker character and he is now very popular. They created the sticker into a giant float, which was a part of the Mardi Gras parade.
Seb: What is the work you've done that you're proudest of?
Josh: It's got to be that guy. I mean it's taken me to places like Sydney. It's been used by celebrities. I've had a lot of work from it, and it's propelled me into a section of illustration-
Seb: I thought you were going to say something else, then you said section.
Josh: Do you mean sex?
Seb: Yes. Yeah, I thought that was going to ...
Josh: It propelled me into different types of sex.
Seb: Sex, yeah. Did it do that?
Josh: No, not yet-
Seb: But, we've been in the pub quite a lot and you bring it up to people. You tell them you're the guy who invented that emoji. Then, they go wild for it, and it's like you're famous.
Josh: But that's not related to the sex thing, is it?
Seb: No, but then sometimes it could lead into that.
Josh: Possibly, I mean I haven't-
Seb: Because it is quite impressive. They get quite starstruck when they know, and I feel quite proud to be out with the man who invented the ... has it got a name?
Josh: No. It's open to interpretation.
Seb: How do you deal with the fame?
Josh: Oh, I've learnt to deal with it (laughs). I've taught myself to deal with it ... I just hang around with normal people like you sometimes.
Seb: Like me, okay.
Josh: So that they understand.
Seb: Which brings me onto my next question, actually. If you didn't have a studio friend like me to bring you down to earth, what would you be doing now? What would be going on now?
Josh: Oh, I'd be up in the sky wouldn't I. I'd be riding-
Seb: You'd be having a better life, probably.
Josh: Probably. I might even have celebrity status. But, it's because of you that I keep grounded and keep normal. Just go to the pub.
Seb: Yeah, and don't have celebrity status. You wouldn't survive with that sort of status, anyways.
Seb: What's the one thing that you can't draw and why do you find it difficult?
Josh: I think clouds. My style is quite graphic but then also there are textures in my work. I don't know whether to do a textured cloud or a flat cloud.
Seb: They're difficult because if you do a flat cloud a lot of the times it can just look cartoony, can't it, and yours is not.
Josh: Exactly. It's a bit bolder than cartoony. It's a bit deeper. Why, are you some kind of expert on clouds?
Seb: No. What’s the one thing that makes you jealous of my illustration work?
Josh: You're actually very good at drawing clouds.
Seb: Oh my god, thank you so much. I could teach you how to do it, if you want. I don't think it would work for yours. You're cloudless. You're the sort of guy who you don't have any clouds in the sky.
Josh: I guess they're always in a sunny environment, so it's going to be a blue sky.
Seb: It's always sunny. Because of the Cornwall thing. It's always sunny, and then you get those really hard shadows that you do. The long evening shadows. I should have said that I'm not very good at that and you're very good at that.
Josh: Why don't you say it into the camera?
Seb: (into the camera) Josh is really good at doing long hard shadows, and I'm not very good at them, and that's why I am jealous of that. Okay?
Seb: What would be your dream project?
Josh: Since I graduated about four years ago, I've always wanted to have a London bus with my work on it. Remember when they went around London and they were covered in the big wraps? They're getting rid of those fancy buses though. But that was my dream: to have a Josh McKenna blue bus with my artwork on it. Maybe that's still ... (looks into the camera) I'd still like to do that, please.
Seb: You have had a float, so why not a bus. Is it just different modes of transport that you like to put your work on?
Seb: How frequently in your work for clients do you think, "Oh, I've crossed the line here." Is there anything that you think you've gone a bit too far with ever?
Josh: Not me personally. I have drawn characters and they have been deemed inappropriate. But that's because the client is a bit prudish, or wants to be safe. I did some characters for Pride last year that were sitting on each other. Not in a sexual way, but they were interpreted as sexual.
Seb: You drew two lesbians sitting on each other’s knee. Then, they said that they looked too sexual.
Josh: Too sexual, yeah.
Seb: Do you only draw LGBTQ stuff?
Josh: I enjoy doing it, and I like doing it for bigger brands as a way of tapping into the LGBTQ community. Giving it a voice. Representing certain types of people. But that's not all I do. I don't want that to be a pigeonhole for my illustration... I'm quite diverse in my work.
Seb: Do you think you get pigeonholed?
Josh: No. I think at a certain time of year I do more Pride work, and then the rest of the year I'm doing other interesting things.
Seb: What are your hopes for this year? What do you want to get from this year?
Josh: A wrap. Bus wrap. I'd like to fulfill my dream project this year. I also want to work with Apple again.
Seb: Yes. Look at the camera and say it, if you want.
Josh: (into camera) I want to work with Apple please, again. I might want to do more talks.
Seb: Yeah, I'd like to do more talks, but probably from this interview, people would be like, "No, you're not doing a talk."
Josh: You haven't got the face for it.
Seb: I know. I've got the face for radio.
Josh: But not the voice.
Seb: Not the voice either, really. I don't know why. How do you feel about Instagram and social media?
Josh: It's quite integral to my work. I use it as an online portfolio. I reached quite a lot of people actually with my LGBTQ work and the sticker, and I have quite a few friends and fans from it.
Seb: A big part of your work is probably the reaching out to people isn't it, really?
Josh: Yeah. I get a lot of thanks for doing that, and I get a lot of messages that say, "Thank you for making art that touches me."
Josh: Not like that. You know, "Thanks for representing me." Which is nice. Which is rewarding. It's a good place to be inspired by your peers and seeing what they're up to. Copying their work exactly.
Seb: Yeah, right. Okay, Josh McKenna, is that okay? Is there anything you'd like to add?
Josh: It's been great knowing you.
Seb: Okay. After this interview, is that it?
Josh: I think after the photo shoot, I think we need to go our separate ways.
Seb: I think we should.
Seb: I think I've asked you everything that I could ask in the whole world. Unless you want me to go into your personal life a bit more.
Josh: What like?
Seb: I don't know. What music do you like?
Josh: I don't think they'll be interested in that.
Seb: Okay. What is your favorite pub to go to?
Josh: No, I don't think they'll be interested.
Seb: What's your favorite vegetable of 2018.
Josh: If they're interested in that, then it's the brussels sprout.
Seb: Do you think the brussels sprout is going to be the vegetable of 2019 as well?
Josh: I think so. I think he's the new avocado. A lot of people have just become fans of the brussels sprout.
Seb: Me, for example.
Josh: It's no longer the granny food.
Seb: No, and also somebody told me today, you were here as well, that their Italian flatmate, big time into brussels sprouts now. So it's crossed; it's actually becoming a Mediterranean delicacy. I'm going to start drawing more brussels in my work.
Josh: That's a good idea.
Seb: Thank you. On that note…
Josh: Should we go and get some brussels sprouts?
Seb: Let's go get some sprouts.
Josh: Get some sprouts in.
Seb: Eat some brussels sprouts, they're good for you. Bye.