— Illostribute

Interview with Aaron Meshon

For our first interview here at illostribute, I’m proud to have talented illustrator Aaron Meshon. Aaron is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and  now lives and works in New  York City. His work has been seen throughout the world in hundreds of publications as well as on products such as lunch boxes, t-shirts, puzzles, stationary and magnets. Aaron’s work has also been recognized in a number of illustration annuals and juried awards including Graphics, Society of Illustrators, RSVP, AltPick and American Illustration 23, 24 and 25. Someday Aaron would like to sell his products from a mobile sweet potato truck in urban Japan.

Aaron’s French Bulldog print may be purchased on Etsy, right here. Please note: 100% of SALE will be donated to the Japanese Red Cross or other Japanese disaster relief agencies.

Tell us something about your background and how has this influenced you as an illustrator?

I grew up in Pennsylvania about 40 miles west of Philly. We lived in a somewhat rural area and without many kids around, so I drew and dammed up small streams all the time. I went to a Quaker school for 13 years and I think they also really appreciated the arts, so I was lucky to have the freedom to fail every other class.

So you did draw as a child?

Yes! I drew at least 2 hours every day. On the weekend it was as much as 8 hours!

When did you decide to pursue illustration as a career?

I always knew that I just had to “draw or make art.” There was no other option, so in a way I was really lucky. At RISD we had to choose a major in the middle of Freshman year, and I was so excited to choose illustration.

What was your experience at RISD like?

It was one of the best times of my life. We were nurtured and everyone around me was so inspirational. RISD really taught us how to think for ourselves and be creative above all else. I miss it very much at times. I also painted flames on my car with Acrylic paint (expensive and not waterproof) so that added to the experience.

Did you feel prepared to enter the industry upon graduating?

I was prepared mentally and thought I was prepared for the art side of it, but I was not prepared for the business side of it. I am starting to think all artists should seriously have one year of business school as well.

Describe your creative process. What tools do you use?

I normally come up with ideas while walking in NYC, taking a bath, traveling, or when I sit down to work. I am probably most inspired by the world and changing life around me. I sketch with a no. 2 pencil first and turn it into ink line art. I think this is left over from faxing sketches in the old days and they had to be pretty bold lines to come through the fax and I still use that method. Depending on time, budget, size and other factors I either use my painting style or my digital, slightly more graphic method.

How long did it take you to develop this method?

37 years and counting!

Small dogs and walruses seem to find their way into your images quite frequently. Is there a story behind these creatures?

Oh no! You have done your research. I try not to make things so deep but since you asked…we have a French Bulldog named Chubu. I have always loved dogs and small squished-face dogs at that. I think I put them and walruses in my pieces as sort of a self-portrait without drawing me. And let’s face it…they are fun to draw!

Your work is obviously influenced by Japanese pop culture, what is the attraction for you?

My wife is Japanese and many of the pieces that I do are based on my trips there. I have been to Japan 12 times and the peacefulness that I feel when I am in Japan is unrivaled. I love a few Gibli Studio films such as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away as well. I enjoy making “tributes” to the places I visit and love. Japan is my second home. Our dog Chubu–his name means “central Japan.”

I love all the illustrated maps in your portfolio. When did you first start doing maps?

Thank you! I first got a job to illustrate all the Brooklyn Public Library locations in 2001. I only had a weekend and I could not paint all 50 plus libraries…so that was my first digital map. I had already done some work with them and they asked if I could draw maps. I said I would try and it blossomed from there. I always loved geography, so it was natural to include it in my work. I have so much fun fitting everything in and trying to make the maps as detailed as I can.

What are your feelings concerning the evolution of style? Do you feel there is one distinct aspect of your work that will remain constant?

When I was in school I thought we had to “have a style by spring semester” or something like that. I honestly draw the way I draw. I don’t think too much about things…except if the client wants a happy-faced cloud, then I will add that in. I hope my work will change as I change. I hope the only consistency is that others continue to like it.

Do you have a favorite part of the image-making process? And if so, why?

I really love the whole process, and sketches one day and the final another. I also really enjoy when an illustration of mine is turned into a product–such as a bag pattern or a lunchbox or puzzle, or a 3-D toy like my work with Kidrobot. Those moments when the work is on an item that interacts with a kid or someone is very special.

Do you keep a sketchbook? If so, do you draw from life or is it more of an escape, with no set boundaries or concept?

I wish I did do more sketches. When I have an attack of an idea…and it is normally something painful like that…I will just jot down on an 8 x 11 piece of copy paper. I have hundreds of those in drawers waiting to see the daylight!

You’ve done illustration work for a wide variety of products. Do you approach these assignments any differently than say, a printed piece?

The products are perhaps a bit more art directed and go through more sketch stages. They also have a longer deadline…say one month, not just one day or one week.

If you could have complete artistic and editorial control, what would be your ultimate illustration project?

A book about traveling, 50 different paintings inspired form 50 countries or 50 states or 50 Japanese prefectures…that would be awesome. I would also LOVE to do murals and interact with communities and clients more.

What is a typical day like for you? Is there a specific time during the day when you feel you do your best work?

I wake at 8…feed the dog, walk the dog and will work on something if I have work to do…sometimes I will work 12 hours straight with breaks to play with the dog (get a dog if you work at home) or if I do not have an assignment to finish for work, I will try to start a new project. Write a children’s book, think about iPad games, plan my next promotion. I enjoy the commercial and self-promo aspect of it all too. I enjoy, most of the time, that this is also a business…so I try to diversify and make other good business choices.

Do you keep a tidy studio?

Yes, for two days a month!

Are you an early-morning riser or do you stay up late?

Both! It depends on my level of inspiration and assignments due.

Do you have a favorite artist or illustrator? How have they specifically influenced your work?

I love so much art. I love variety. I love community. I think Keith Haring and how he had the Pop Shop and an inexpensive outlet for his art to be shown around the world and such…that is just my dream. I am not saying I am worthy of a Pop Shop…but I would sure like to make products and art for the masses.

What are you interested in outside of illustration? Do these interests inform your work in any direct way?

As I said, I love traveling, but I also love softball, snowboarding, hiking and really just the different directions life can take you. I love architecture too and love the organic way that people and villages evolved. Music, life, good food, good French Bulldogs!

Do you listen to music when you work? What’s your favorite genre? What are you listening to now?

My favorite genre is the 80’s…art school 80’s. Depeche Mode, Alphaville, Ultravox…Jay-Z…Young Forever, Stars, Billy Bragg, Say Hi (to your mom), The Drums, Youth Group, Death Cab For Cutie, and all the other stuff I am even more embarrassed to mention! Right this second: Dream Academy’s cover of the Smiths “Please, please, please let me get what I want” come on…YIKES! Sorry about that.

What is your impression of the illustration industry today?

I think it is changing so fast. I think it is honestly very hard and you MUST diversify. There are still many new opportunities in products and licensing and apps and so on. I think you have to be more of master of all trades then before, when editorial was “enough.”

The lines that once separated graphic design, illustration and fine art continue to disappear. What is your opinion concerning this (relatively) current development?

You have to be able to do EVERYTHING now. We are not just artists, illustrators, children book writers, designers. We must be everything and should be as many things as we can be now. We are competing and being inspired on a global scale now. We must be better businessmen and women and stand together moving forward. American Illustration Union please?

Do you have any new or recent projects you’d like to tell us about?

I am sending out new promos to everyone. I am working on a children’s book I wrote about baseball in Japan and America. I am also working on a bag line with a few partners (Kikimoto). We have 12 styles coming out any day now. I am making some iPhone apps, and I am also preparing for a show in Japan in 2012, to be housed in a public bath house!

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview and for participating in illostribute. I appreciate your contribution and support so very much, as well as the inspiration your work regularly provides.

Thanks Toby! You rock!

All images © Aaron Meshon. Too see more of his work visit his website where you can also purchase all kinds of great products covered with his colorful illustrations. For even more cool stuff, visit kikimoto.com and buy something awesome. Thanks again Aaron!

Toby Thane Neighbors for illostribute.com

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