Joseph Cowman’s illustrations convey humor, a certain sense of awkwardness and an adventurous spirit. I also have a soft spot for robots, automatons, and golems so “Gepeto” speaks to me on several levels (as a fan of the story of Pinocchio, and with the idea of creating life and the challenges that arise from such endeavors).
OCB: Young Adult author, Jacqueline Woodson says that writers tend to focus on the time in their lives they’re still working through. Is there an element of truth to Woodson’s claim as it relates to Visual Artists (or to your work)? If so, how?
Joseph Cowman: The majority of my work is created for children. And so I spend most of my day reflecting on the way children see the world, how they respond to the challenging moments in their lives, and how they work through those times. Inadvertently I know I use my own experiences and aspirations to fill the gaps and hopefully connect with the reader.
When it comes to the actual act of illustrating, I spend a great deal of time focusing on the aspects of my visual storytelling ability that need improvement, and I continually strive to work through those problems.
OCB: What are you painting or creating art for (as in, what is the deep-down driving force behind your choice to paint/illustrate in the first place)? What is it about the act of drawing or painting or illustrating that speaks to you or resonates with you most?
Joseph: I grew up in a small town and there wasn’t a lot to do. Everyone knows it can get pretty boring. So, from a young age I heavily depended on my creativity and imagination for entertainment. Picture books were the first to fuel that fire in me and opened my eyes to an endless world of possibilities. As an adult I now have the opportunity to pass on the gift of imagination to children through my illustrations.
OCB: What technique/media did you use to create “Fly,” and/or “Gepetto and Pinnochio?”
Joseph: I spent years working in traditional media. My favorites being pencil and watercolor. About five years ago my wife secretly bought me a digital stylus (the Wacom Cintiq) to help me get through a huge project. Being a “purist” at heart and unsure about the emerging world of digital art, I complained and grumbled about it for a few days, but once I gave it a chance I was hooked. It gave me the ability to have every medium possible in digital form, all at my finger tips at any given moment.
Zero drying time, or endless drying time whichever is needed. No cleanup, no wasted paint or product. It’s amazing! I now work primarily in digital form and created “Fly” and “Gepetto and Pinnochio” using these tools. Photoshop is my favorite piece of software to use while painting digitally.
OCB: Since you illustrate books for young readers, did you have a favorite illustration or illustrator when you were young (or now)? If so, why?
Joseph: As a young boy I loved any illustrator that had the power to immerse the reader in their world. I loved Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Stan and Jan Berenstain, Tomie Depaola, the list goes on and on. As a young teen the art of Arthur Rackham, and Alan Lee caught my attention. Today some of my favorite artist include Christopher Denise, Oliver Jeffers, and Dan Santant just to name a few. They and so many more give me the inspiration and aspiration needed to continue growing and creating.