Interview with John Hersey

by Rob Dunlavey
Personal: Some personal information may be of interest to readers:
• your age • personality • do you have a family? Kids, etc. • music, coffee, travel, pets, causes, interests outside of illustration, favorite book, pet peeves
me, val, cassidy, dyllan, wyatt, cole and roxy
I am 52
I have freckles
4 kids
been married 26 years
have a 6 year old labrador named roxy
love espresso
love thai food
love japanese ultraman enemy figures
love yoga
love going home to canada about once a year
Artistic background/influences:
• school (high-school, art school): significant teachers, peers, “scenes” • computer games • fine art influences (artists, museums, art magazines,) • movies, animation, comic books, toys, popular culture • illustrators, designers, magazines/journals (e.g. Graphis, Creation, etc.) • Authors
saul steinberg
this is stream of consciousness
copying hotrods and super-hero comics
making my own tarzan t-shirt when i was 14
no computer games
mom took me to a pop art show when i was 12 and tried to explain it to her and had to defend it
mad magazine was my first subscription
lots of car models
lots and lots of comic books of every kind
wet magazine, raw magazine, gary panter, bob zzoel, folon
mickey mouse club which i called 'mickey house club' when i was a wee little guy
friends who made art and animations in elementary school
So John, this stream of consciousness makes me wonder if there was a defining moment for you when you identified yourself inexorably as an artist? Or, more specifically perhaps, when (if ever) do you remember committing to illustration as a career?
totem at Cap College
well it was after my first semester at a community college in North Vancouver, Canada after high school. I took one semester of sciences which was basically a continuation of the high school curriculum. I had kept sketchbooks for a while now so i decided to try some commercial art courses. Bingo!. I loved the people and all the courses and decided then that was IT.
Your work has a playful and primitive quality that is very immediate. This quality seems to be at odds with the deep digital style that you work in. • Can you talk about the relationship between your ideas about art and your making of art?
mashed turnip surprise
yeah digital
i really was at the right place at the right time and i loved the pictures i could make with the computer right away
there was no hesitation
i was making lots of rubber stamps at around that time and making rubber stamp art and the computer seemed silly and fun in that way ... easy to repeat images and surprising random relationships happening
I seem to liked to mix media and the computer kind of facilitates this very nicely
As far as making art goes i have the most success and enjoyment in experimenting
if i can make an illustration partially experimental that's great ... which can be problematic for some obvious reasons like wandering around stylistically too much
I also love the power of the icon ... so much perceived meaning in a tiny place and then the mix of those symbols together is what i am doing mostly with illustration
I have learned one heluva a lot by studying others to try to understand how they think
Would you care to describe in some depth one or two people you've admired and what you've tried to learn from studying them and their work? Was it something technical, how they think through visual problems or was it something about their world view that intrigued you?
oof by ed ruscha 1963
as far as conceptual illustration goes it has to be david suter. No one is even close to him and his inventiveness. I am not sure about in depth. You look at his pictures long enough and realize your are looking at a method of thinking. A way of analyzing symbolic relationships re-caste as visual puzzle. His pieces are mesmerizing like rene magritte paintings or mc escher but they are more didactic, more full of commentary.
Outside of illustration there are so many but i really love Ed Ruscha. His work is elegant and whimsical, ethereal, pop, intelligent and kind of rebellious and kind of conceptual but even so still very much a painter. Everyone loves Ed don't they?
How much does the process figure into the final pieces? You know, the stray bits (accidents, odd elements edited from other assignments, found objects -digital or otherwise). In this way, your work borrows from collage and printmaking processes. This might be a place to bring up the practice of keeping sketchbooks and journals.
sketchbook page
i wish i could really put more accidental elements into my illustrations they can be so nice
i like digital mistakes and mark making mistakes
i take digital photos of patterns and make block print textures and generally try to pay attention to beautiful mistakes
i keep a sketch book usually only one a year
Are there any practices or habits you would institute (given the time) to kick the good experimental stuff into high gear? Could you still be an illustrator?
my drawing desk
Yeah i should make 2 days a week for non illustration art activities.
Yes I would have to still be an illustrator to make that happen.
If you want to know what i really think I would like to sell my house and take a year off to clear my head ... to sort of take a sabbatical and then get a 600 square foot open studio, some tools, some canvases, a couple of computers, paints and then let it flow. Uuuuuuuuh i don't think that is happening any time soon though.
Your illustration is primarily digital and often is used to illuminate obtuse articles on technology and current cultural issues. What part does humor play in creating these illustrations?
mom and dad by dianne arbus
man humor is so important
i am not funny enough i think
I was just thinking about this the other day
98% of my very favorite art ... fine art, illustration or whatever ... is funny
marcel duchamp, paul klee, saul steinberg, ed ruscha, lichtenstein, magritte, gary winnograndt, dianne arbus (i know i am supposed to cry with her but i laugh) ... they all make me laugh
You're right; this photo is pretty funny -in an offbeat way. There's this very "normal" setting and composition but the prosaic double portrait is completely surreal at the same time. This warm & fuzzy yet off-kilter approach is something I detect in your work. Maybe, you're funny enough and if you tried harder you would lose that sympathetic nuance. Does your work fail when it tries too hard?
2 faces
I think it fails a lot of the time. It definitely fails when I try too hard. Maybe i am funny enough and i am moody but generally i feel that if I am not allowed to have the humor in the work, the work is less interesting to look at for some reason. My work is the best when i look at it and it makes me chuckle.
Do new tools and technologies inspire you to generate new types of imagery/marks that make their way into your published work?
Can you describe some of the tools you use?
• software: for creating and assembling imagery
• software: studio/ asset management
• cool hardware
flash interface
maya and flash and i don't know them well enough yet and i might not ever.
i use the same stuff as everyone else
I used to be into video programs like after effects but you know i can't make the time for that any more.
I made a large linoleum print last year and i am going to do more of that in combo with some digital stuff ... who knows
I do love my digital canon rebelxti 10 megapixel camera though and am thinking of buying another smaller nikon digital too
Moving beyond print illustration:
surface design • apparel • artist toys • environments • film and animation
Where do you want to see your art in 2-5-10 years??
very small forest
i know this is so typical but right now ... paintings haha i am sorry ... painting is fun and i have some ideas

I also have some ideas for sculpture too
Education: you teach illustration.
• Which "traditional" values/practices/attitudes do you try to instill in your students. What sermons do you find yourself repeating to them?
• What unique viewpoint or attitude do you have that you wish to pass on to them and to the world?
cca student and ink roller
work hard
bring excellent sketches in on time!
work hard
be experimental
look into the world of illustration and see how you might fit in to it
start thinking about and making your style right away
be experimental
the sermon i usually give is:
"the most important thing is putting together a great portfolio ... graduating or even passing is not important in comparison"
This is kind of a grab bag of topics that you've probably thought hard about over the years. Care to elaborate on any of them?
community of upper primates
style ... one part medium 2 parts soul
appropriation ... very bad and discouraging
mimicry ... we can't help it we are 98% chimpanzee
originality ... i try
community ... I am still learning how to be a part of the illo community. Everyone i meet and interact with are so nice, so generous ... it is eyedropping seeing how much talent and brilliant work there is out there ... i am loving the online stuff ... i really have been very engaged with online community for only a short time ... Also it is great to talk to others in the business as a sort of therapy for me ...
Any comments about illustration in general? As a profession? Can you see yourself doing anything else? The position of the illustrator or illustration in society, etc.
Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
there seems to be a superhyperexplosion of great illustration lately from all over the world
it is a very challenging profession but man i am making a living as an artist!
Better than washing dishes in Fort McMurray, Alberta
I imagine the folks in Fort MacMurray are glad you're making art instead of washing dishes too!
Thanks for participating in this interview! It's been illuminating and fun.
100 percent
I was one of thousands who passed through there. We were all transients. thanks rob this was fun ... john