Let´s talk art | Exploring the world of screen printing with Joshua Budich
My name is Jack – founder of PosterSpy – and this time I speak with Joshua Budich who is a U.S based artist skilled in many mediums, from pen and ink illustrations to watercolor, digital art, and screen printing.
We dive deep into Joshua´s prolific career as a freelance artist, how he grew as a professional illustrator in over a decade, how he keeps his ideas fresh, his experience with “bootlegging”, and more.
So, Let’s Talk Art!
1. Firstly, thank you for being part of the Let’s Talk Art series! You’ve been a freelance artist for over a decade now, with hundreds of pieces of work dating back to 2008. What’s the one thing that keeps you driven as an artist?
If you ever needed a reason to stay “driven”, have 2 rambunctious kids and a butt-kicking wife! My wife and children are a constant source of inspiration and undying support. They remind me every day to never give up, and always strive to do my absolute best, no matter what life throws at us.
My kids keep my thoughts and ideas young and vibrant. Whatever they’re watching, TV and movies, I’m right there with them watching it too. Video games, toys, books, etc. They’re enthusiasm for life in general, and a thirst for knowledge and new experiences helps me to stay engaged in the “now”.
My wife is my rock, especially when I’m in the throes of self-doubt, and mental-blocks I think every artist is prone to. She’s my cheerleader, worst critic, business manager, editor, travel agent, psychologist, public relations…my backup, and trust of partners.
2. What are your favourite books or media for when you’re in need of some inspiration?
I watch a LOT of television and movies; especially enjoying time spent with my kids watching what they watch. The various DISNEY channels (“Star Butterfly” and “Star Wars Rebels”), Cartoon Network (“Teen Titans” is always on!), PBS, HBO, Showtime, and Netflix are always tuned-in.
I’ve also gotten back into reading comic books after a couple decade hiatus from the hobby. I recently reread Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity War in light of all the great content being released by MARVEL as of late. I also found myself, after a comic shop owner’s fantastic suggestion, a huge fan of the more recently released “Saga” and “LOW”.
I’m in a constant state of looking for inspiration. My search for visual stimuli and inspiration is kind of like an artist-version of going for a jog or doing a more traditional physical workout. It’s something I do religiously, and vigorously. I think the MORE visual stimuli I can expose myself to, the more agile my brain will be when it comes time for me to create something.
3. Are there any artists you admire right now and take inspiration from?
Traditionally, I’ve always been a Michelangelo fan. I’ve always admired his one-man’s-vision approach to his work and his overt scoffing at authority. What he was able to do by himself, on his own, with little to no help is mind-blowing.
Contemporary artists…. When I first got into this whole screen-print, pop culture art-game, I became a big fan of Shepard Fairey. His work, coming from a “medium is the message” approach whereby “BETTER communication is superior to MORE communication”, strikes a deep chord with me.
I’ve always considered myself to be a craftsman, more concerned and in love with the process of creating the art, more so than embracing any “freedom” art creation may provide. I deeply admire artists that have a more free and loose approach to their process. But for me, it’s all about having a set of strict rules to follow for each piece, and keeping my process tight and focused.
Other contemporaries whose work I admire and draw inspiration from; Tracie Ching, Tim Doyle, Tom Whalen, and Martin Ansin, just to name a few. True masters of their craft.
4. Your work spans across different mediums, digital, screen-print, ink, and paper, but you´re mostly known for your screen-prints. How do you typically create artwork for screen printing?
My roots are working with ink and paper, watercolor paint and COPIC markers. I consider myself a “doodler” from way back. So, initially, when I started creating pieces for screen printing, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing! I’m self-taught, with no formal training in the medium. So, the learning curve was STEEP! I leaned heavily on the few printers I’ve had the pleasure to work with, to gain some insight into how to improve my own process, and in turn, make things easier for them on their end of the process.
Nowadays, I’d like to think I’m an ‘old-hat’ when it comes to designing work for screen printing. My process has gotten very tight and disciplined. On the up-side, I feel like I’ve gained a lot of room from more creativity with the time I’ve saved NOT having to fight the lack of predictability I encountered in my younger days.
A BIG change for me is when I went completely digital with my process about 10 years ago, when I finally picked up a Wacom Intuos 4 drawing tablet and said goodbye, for better or worse, to my precious pen and paper.
Where sketching of initial concepts is still done on Post-It notes with real pens or pencils, I do all of my full-scale sketching and compositional layouts with Adobe Photoshop on the computer now. Once I’ve got all my assets in place, I usually do my keyline illustration work in Adobe Illustrator. I’ve got a shaky hand, but a deep love for impossible smooth lines. So, vector is typically how I compensate for that.
The coloring stage is a toss-up; more painterly and organic in Photoshop, or hyper-tight and smooth in Illustrator. For my printers, it doesn’t matter either way. But, over the years I’ve learned and developed techniques along with my printers, to ensure that every Layer of color has clean 1-color pixels that translate directly into the real-world screen printing process.
I’ve actually gotten so used to thinking about the construction of my illustrations specifically for screen printing that I naturally build my files from top to bottom. Keylines down to lightest color, and trap my layers as I go. It saves a bunch of time on the backend, and is a point of pride for me that my files are basically 100% ready-to-go by the time I’m ready to call a piece “DONE!”.
5. When creating screen-print artwork, what kind of limitations do you experience and how do you overcome them?
It’s going to sound like a hackneyed response, but any “limitations” are only from a lack of inspiration or the artist’s own personal skill at building files for screen printing. Both of which, I’ve experienced myself.
But yes, there are obvious limitations with this particular medium. Colors must be trapped properly, inks will often interact with each other in capricious ways, paper shrinks and expand with environment and volume of ink, printers have their own quirks with how they like to work… Screen printing really is one of those beautifully unpredictable, hands-on processes that necessitates a good deal of collaboration and trust between the artist and their printer.
I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the BEST printers in the biz, Danny Askar, Nakatomi, and Triple Stamp Press, who have all been very patient with me while I develop and improve my own process for getting them the highest-quality of files to work from. To the extent that I will always prefer to leave the printing process up to the experts, learning to think as a printer has vastly improved the quality of my work. I’ve now got a color-palette in place that I know produces a consistent look, a set of brushes that work specifically with the screen-print process, and a trust established with my printers that leaves little doubt that the final product will come out as intended.
6. Screen printing allows you to print on many paper types and with different effects. What’s your favourite printing effect? (foil, varnishes, stamps) etc.
I’ve said it before… I’m not a fan of gimmicks. I want the paper choice and/or the ink effect to add something tangible to the piece. But, lately, I’ve found myself enamored with using foil and metallic stocks for a lot of my screen-print work. People like “shiny” things, and I guess I’m no exception. So, I’ve started taking the choice of stock into consideration at the very beginning of my process, and designing pieces specifically to take advantage of a super-cool Lava Foil or Rainbow Foil stock, or finding some way to utilize the built-in shimmer of a metallic paper to accentuate my piece in a way that fancy ink effects cannot. For my “Jessica Rabbit” piece, I wanted her dress to have the reflective shimmer look that it does in the movie. So, I designed the print to have the foil peek out from the negative-spaces and then used a selective White-Underprint layer to cover the negative spaces that needed just be a flat-white highlight area.
I also love to “save a color, save a screen” and use a colored stock as opposed to just white/neutral stock to add a pop of color in the negative spaces of an illustration, without having to rely on a massive full-flood of color. My “Blade Runner” and “Twin Peaks” pieces rely heavily on this technique, where I’ve used a Lemon Drop-Yellow stock as the base. It adds a richness to the prints that white paper would not have, by injecting ALL the inks on the paper with a hint of the base paper color right from the get-go.
7. Talk us through a typical working day, how do you get into the “flow”?
A cup of coffee and a run. I try to run at least 3-4 times a week and hit a 5K at least one of those times. Getting physically away from the desk and breathing the outside air, getting some sun on my face, is a great way to get some natural inspiration.
Admittedly, I could use more sleep. But, typically my brain is going a million miles an hour at night, pre-planning my next piece, so by the time I sit down to work, I’ve already got most of the steps planned out ahead of time.
Once I do sit down at my machine, I still need to get the ol’ brain moving, so maybe a quick run of “The Binding of Isaac”. Once work has started in earnest, I’m all business and hyper-focused. My wife will say it’s almost impossible to get my attention when I’m focusing on a piece. But initially, a few minutes of procrastination never hurt, and I’d like to think it keeps me from getting tired and losing productivity in the end.
Then, it’s just a matter of setting small deadlines for myself. My process is not a sprint. I strive to work fast and efficiently, but I’ve found that rushing a piece, only leads to disappointing results. So, if I’m not ready to start on a piece, I won’t. I sleep on it. Or, distract my brain with something else.
8. What hardware and software do you depend on for your work?
A birthday gift of a Wacom Intuos ten years ago reinvented my process and got me to where I am today. The thought of having to work analog, scan or photograph my keylines, or do color-separations from hand-colored layers, is incredibly daunting. But, before I got my Wacom Drawing tablet, that’s exactly how I worked. It was slow and exhausting.
Last year, with my Intuos showing its scars from many years of hard work, it was time for an upgrade. I had never worked on a Cintiq and was worried that the vastly different approach to working with a direct-to-screen drawing tablet would adversely affect my process. How WRONG I was! I tried it once and instantly fell in love. So, last year I bumped up to the Wacom Cintiq and never looked back. Because of the more natural approach to drawing on a screen, the Cintiq 27QHD has actually let me explore a more organic or painterly approach to both my keyline illustration and coloring process. It’s opened up a whole new range of aesthetic options for me while allowing me to retain my tried-and-true techniques for creating screen-print-ready pieces.
Along with the hardware, I’ve been a stalwart Adobe-Jockey for 2 decades, utilizing Illustrator and Photoshop in an ever-entwined process of back-and-forth art creation. Truth be told, I’ve stuck with CS6 though. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe, “if it works, don’t fix it.” Or, maybe I’m just getting scared of change in my old age.
9. Recently, you’ve been doing a lot of pen and ink illustrations, is there a reason you’ve decided to experiment more with this medium?
Pen and ink were my bread and butter long before working digitally was even an option for artists. MS Paint was NO Adobe Creative Suite, and the mouse is NO substitute for a good stylus. Returning to my roots as a personal challenge to myself to develop more courage with my work when I couldn’t lean on having an UNDO should happy-accidents occur.
It also gave me a greater appreciation for the medium itself. How ink interacts with paper in a real-world environment, when the most minute of adjustments can’t be controlled within a software application. I forced myself to give up control, and accept my technique for the imperfect thing that it was. To physically see where the flaws are, and embrace them.
My fan base has responded in kind to the one-off, mistakes and all, approach to my work with open arms, and I will always be eternally grateful for that. Ultimately, I know that this analog illustrating I’ve been doing for the past year or so has made my digital work stronger, and I’m happy I took the leap to go back to my roots.
10. What would you say is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from being an illustrator?
Taking a 30,000-foot view of my past decade of working as an illustrator, the most valuable thing I’ve learned is:
NEVER give up, and NEVER surrender to the critics.
When your work is shown 50/50 between gallery-spaces and online, it opens you up to a vastly larger pool of critics with infinitely more opinions about your work. Art is and always will be subjective. What’s great to you, might be garbage to someone else, and vice versa. This is inherently what makes Art so wonderful. I firmly believe there is room for all in the Art-World.
Taking a more meta-view of what I’ve learned, I’m still in awe of how far my skills have progressed, both with illustration itself and with the software programs I use every day. I didn’t actually go to college ever imagining that I could make a career of being an illustrator. So, I didn’t benefit from having any formal instruction in printmaking when I was getting my BFA from UMBC.
Additionally, I’ve learned to use the computer as a Tool, like a pen or brush, rather than just a convenience. Working digitally allows me more time for experimentation and trial-and-error learning. With it, I can simulate real-world techniques digitally, grow my understanding of color theory and see how colors interact on-screen vs. in reality, and in the end, create tangible Art products you can smell and touch.
But, probably the most important lesson I’ve learned is understanding how to work within, and market to, an art-collecting audience. Being a professional artist is not only being the Creative Mind but also learning how to run a successful business. I’ve had to force myself more or less to wear many hats; customer service, marketing, client outreach, fulfillment, stock management, etc. The list goes on. Embracing the inevitability of this reality early on quite literally pays dividends.
11. Out of all the prints you’ve ever created, do you have a favourite and why?
The most favorite print I’ve created thus far is definitely a “Curious George” piece I created in collaboration with my son for Gallery1988 and Tree and the Rock’s “Art Inspired by Children’s Books” Group Show. He drew ALL the animals, and I drew George and colored the final illustration.
Passing on my hard-earned skills and knowledge, and a legacy of creating things, to my children is really important to me. I want them to be able to create “real” things with their own two hands. So, having an opportunity to work alongside my son, and create a “real” print for a “real” gallery, and see it sell out instantly to a diverse art-collecting fanbase, is an amazing Proud-Papa experience I will always cherish.
12. Similarly is there a piece you look back on now and would do differently now?
Well, yes. There are a few pieces I would love to take a second crack at. I learned a lot through their creation, but the disappointment in their execution lingers like day-old fish. For my solo shows, both Fictional Food and Otaku Obscura, there were those pieces created, on “bad” days”, or at the brink of exhaustion, where the theme and subject simply don’t sing.
My “Neon Genesis” piece for Otaku could have been way more inspired. The manga for this series is an absolutely epic collection of some of the finest, most vividly dynamic illustration work I’ve ever had the pleasure to lay eyes on. I got locked into the very first fight scene, from the very first few minutes of the cartoon series, which I think is a great scene. But, there’s just so much more content! The scope of my print just doesn’t feel like enough to me, and with my Wacom Cintiq now at my disposal, there’s so much more technique I’d love to try out on this subject.
“Hurley with Dharma Ranch Dressing” from Fictional Food didn’t work either. From a textural perspective, Jorge Garcia has so much to offer. I think maybe fatigue set in. Drawing all that hair with a mouse definitely took its toll.
13. Is there ever a piece you’ve created without much expectation but became a massive hit?
I was commissioned by Spoke Art to do a VERY quick-turnaround piece for “Twin Peaks”. Yes, I know… Twin Peaks seems like a no-brainer for a pop culture screen-print, and especially with the backing of a very successful and influential pop culture gallery. But, admittedly, it had been many years since I had watched the original Twin Peaks series, and embarrassingly enough, had forgotten much of nuance of the show.
I did, however, have a sudden and immediate inspiration for the subject and composition of the piece, and was knee-deep in my love affair of working with colored-stocks. So, I dove head first into the piece, and just let it flow. Maybe it was that mental freedom I was feeling during the making of this piece in particular that created some sort of magic.
The print ended up selling out in a matter of minutes, and additional editions of the print have done the same. I’ve seen it bootlegged just about everywhere; coffee mugs, tee shirts, smartphone cases, etc. And, most importantly, the diehard Twin Peaks fans REALLY embraced it as something of a quintessentially Twin Peaks artwork. Now, if only every piece I created could come so easily! Sigh.
14. Your work is popular among collectors and sometimes even reaches the people you portray in your art. Have you ever heard of a surreal experience or story linked to your art?
YES, yes, and yes!
Very early in my screen-print career, I created an homage to “Jack Johnson” that quickly received a Cease & Desist from his management when I offered it publicly for sale. I know, I know. Shame on me. But, these were the “early days” of the screen-print phenomenon and that’s just what we did. I figure you can live in fear and risk not getting your work and your name out there. Or, you can take a big fat risk, and maybe get some unforeseen recognition, or even “real” work from the subject you’re portraying. Well, C&D aside, Jack Johnson himself reached out to me, thanked me for the flattering representation, and sent along a signed copy of his latest CD as a “thank you.”
Another time I rubbed elbows with celebrity came from my very first show with Spoke Art, and I believe it was the very FIRST “Bad Dads – Tribute to Wes Anderson” Group Show as well. For whatever silly reason, I found myself devoid of inspiration and decided to do the exact opposite of what I tasked with doing. I created a piece called, “The Good Dad” based on Bert Fischer, Max Fischer’s loving father from the film “Rushmore”. Seymour Cassell, the actor who played Bert loved the piece so much, his family asked for a copy from me, and in return, Mr. Cassell graciously signed a copy for my own collection.
Last self-aggrandizing story, I promise… My “Fictional Food 2” show, I’m chatting up the folks who came out to Gallery1988 for the show, and I keep noticing this older gentleman in the background, who I KNEW I recognized. But, like an idiot, I couldn’t place him. So, minutes later the gallery-manager approaches me and says, “… my father would like to meet the artist.
Can I introduce you to Eric Idle”? “Hi, I’m Eric. I really like your work here. I’ve purchased a few pieces for some of my friends.”, he says. I proceeded to stammer and stutter my way through what could have only been a very awkward conversation. But, in the end, I got to meet and take a picture with the legendary Eric Idle. Something I’ll always treasure.
15. I wanted to talk a bit about your solo shows, Fictional Food 1 and 2. What inspired you to do these pieces and what was it like to have your own solo show?
“Fictional Food” had been a dream of mine since my wife and I started cooking together over 20 years ago when we met in college.
In my digestion of popular media, I started to notice that the theme of “food” was almost as pervasive as “love” in films, TV, and other media. Aside from our thousands of hours of watching Tony, Andrew, Jamie, Nigella, Ina, my wife and I had found ourselves not only in love with each other but also with the act of preparing and eating great food. My wife always says, “if a restaurant can’t make it better than me, then I don’t want to eat it!”. I agree.mI would also tend to agree with Anton Ego, “I don’t like food. I LOVE it! If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow.” Yep… We’re two very dedicated and opinionated foodies, raising two young foodies.
When Gallery1988 approached me about a solo show for 2015, I jumped at the opportunity to finally produce all the work that had been percolating in my head for so many years. I was even more thrilled when all my hard work and passion paid off, and the show opened for a second showing in Paris, France at French Paper Gallery. Since then, I’ve done a second helping of Fictional Food, “Back for Seconds!” at Gallery1988 in 2017.
Fictional Food is truly a labor of love, and I enjoy cooking up new ideas for it all the time!
16. For any artists out there interested in doing their own solo shows, what would you recommend they do to ensure it goes smoothly?
Solo shows are fantastic experiences! You feel like a million-bucks being singled out to produce ALL the art featured in a gallery. Then, the pressure of what you’ve signed up for hits like a ton of bricks. But, hundreds of hours later, you’ve got something truly incredible! A true testament to the awesomeness of a human’s creative mind.
First off, and I can’t stress this enough, DO NOT procrastinate under any circumstances! Get started early, so you have a really good amount of time to invest in each and EVERY piece, and when it’s all over, you have some time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor BEFORE the show opens.
Secondly, get your beauty rest. All-nighters are a necessary evil sometimes, but easily avoidable if you plan ahead and start early.
Lastly, keep a frequent and open conversation going with the gallery. Coordinate ALL the logistics of shipping and displaying such a large volume of work. Come up a schedule for promotion, and team up on social media posts and customer outreach. Keeping the momentum going with both promotion and production is key.
17. As someone who’s created artwork for many pop culture icons, your work has been subjected to a lot of counterfeit or “bootleg” sellers who sell your work without giving you any royalties. Is there anything you can do?
There’s a commercially available version of FIGHT CLUB on Bluray that uses my artwork for the cover. I’ve been told that in Brazilian shopping malls my illustrations adorn so many t-shirts, I’m something of an unknown phenomenon down there. Yep, bootlegs have become an enormous issue for many artists in the pop culture art world, since by its very nature our artwork is highly-collectible, and naturally well-liked by a vast and ever-growing audience.
When I started getting “heads up” notifications about bootlegs multiple times per week from my fanbase and friends on social media, I knew something needed to be done. However, when large social media platforms themselves do nothing to protect the Intellectual Property owners, and instead embrace only the profitability of their marketing platform, defending one’s IP and artwork becomes an extremely daunting process.
For starters, craft a very good, very threatening cease and desist (C&D) letter to send to offenders. Follow that up by starting an “Intellectual Property & Art Protection” Group on social media. It’s a great way to collect and catalog IP-theft and repeat offenders, and launch very effective public-shaming campaigns.
Lastly, and this step means that you MEAN BUSINESS! Start registering your artwork with your country’s Federal Government Copyright Office (eco.copyright.gov for my US contemporaries). It will cost you a small fee per piece that you register, but often IP-thieves won’t respond to your threats unless you have legitimate proof of ownership of the artwork in question. Protect yourself and your work, and register as much of it as you can.
18. You’ve drawn posters and illustrations for many properties including Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Game of Thrones as well as other films and tv titles. Is there a property you love to tackle and is there one you’re becoming tired of?
I would love to tackle anything for Disney. All things Disney has taken over our home! TV shows, movies, toys, snuggle babies, posters, art, video games… it’s all Disney all the time around here. Even our vacations over the last 10 years have, for the most part, been centered around WHEN we can get back to Disneyland or Disney World.
Is there a property I’ve found myself “tired of”? No. I think given the right circumstances, and a creative mind, any “tired” pop culture subject can be reinvented once again and shown in a new light. Granted there is a LOT of “Aliens”, a boatload of “Star Wars” and “JAWS” artwork out there right now. But, does that keep artists from paying their own homage? I mean… even I’ve done JAWS more than once! There’s always some new twist, vision, or even aesthetic to apply to these great properties.
19. In terms of creating compositions and using complimentary colours, you’ve created hundreds of posters and illustrations. How do you keep your work “fresh”?
I like to keep my work “fresh” by letting the piece dictate the style and techniques with which I’ll work. A portrait can be done hyper-realistic in a silky-smooth vector-format, or I can try to capture more of the “feeling” of the subject with a painterly approach. I really enjoy exploring new ways of doing things and having the freedom to take risks with aesthetic choices.
So, each day I spend some time exploring what art is out there; new, or classical. I’m always curious about new techniques and then finding a piece where I can explore them. I enjoy the craft of art, and I’m a collector by nature. I’m just as much a fan of pop culture art as I am an active participant in the creation of it. I think, so long as I stay engaged in today’s pop culture and continue to learn from the past, then whatever’s “new” to me will keep my own work “fresh”.
20. Is there one property you’d love to work on that you’ve not had the chance to yet?
I’ve done my fair share of tributes to some of my all-time favorite musical artists, as well as official gig-posters for concerts and events. Working with FAILURE, Kings of Leon, and Metallica, on their most recent 2016/2017 tours was a dream come true. I’ve also had the opportunity to design the event posters for Flood Gallery’s “Classic Album Sundays”; specifically “Bob Marley”, “Dr Dre” and “Public Enemy”. You might say, I’m an enormous music-nut! Exploring just about every genre that comes my way, making it the backdrop for my day, and often the very focus and inspiration for my own work.
I’d love to continue collaborating with musical artists and galleries on combining the visual and auditory mediums to create more beautiful work. Paying homage to many of my inspirational heroes has been the highlight of my illustration career thus far, and I’m very much looking forward to what’s already on the books for 2018!
Thank you for reading!
We hope you enjoyed this episode of Let’s Talk Art with Joshua Budich and found his experiences as interesting as we did.
See you next time!