Illustration January 8, 2016
by Lauren Festa
Illustration Month is our chance to highlight ADC Members who consider themselves illustrators, whether professionals, students or just really keen amateurs. The common thread is that they have a passion for drawing that just couldn’t be contained. Want to get featured? Resolve to become an ADC Member in 2016 while you sip green juices. Aaron Meshon is an illustrator and ADC Member who spends his talents creating work for editorial and advertising, products and books. While he hopes to one day sell his products from a small sweet potato truck in rural Japan, in the meantime he resides with his wife and their French bulldog Chubu in Brooklyn, New York, visiting Japan twice yearly. Having released a few children’s books including “Take Me Out to the Yakyu” which made it on the New York Times top 100 of 2013 and received 4 star reviews, Aaron knows success takes years, lots of baths and even more support to achieve.
When did you ‘discover’ your own talent and then later, turn it into a viable working gig?
I started drawing as early as I can remember. I would always ask my relatives to give me assignments when I was like 4 years old. “What should I draw?” I would ask. They were very…honest art directors. It was only when I failed most high school classes and illustrated the school newspaper that I realized I had very little hope of trying to be anything else. I was very lucky to graduate in the mid 90s when one freelance job would pay a whole months rent. It pains me how expensive the world is now and we can’t “afford to be creative” all of the time.
How long have you been an illustrator?
Professionally since 1995. Camp and high school newspapers since 1986.
Did you attend school? Are you self taught?
I was lucky enough that the Quaker school I attended in Pennsylvania had a wonderful art department. I am thankful for that. I then went on to attend RISD in the early nineties. My dad applied to RISD for me because I thought I wouldn’t get in. I got in on April Fool’s Day and I thought it was a prank!
Was a career in the arts encouraged from a young age?
My mother went to art school and because I was such a horrible student at most everything else, people just assumed I would be repairing VCRs or something. I think I sort of hid under the radar until it was too late for other to be that concerned about the path I was on.
Take us through your creative process.
I have a slightly different process depending on the project. If it’s a quick deadline or a personal piece or a painting, digital. For a personal piece or a children’s book, I will try to travel, even just to the Brooklyn waterfront where we live near to be inspired. Water plays a huge role in my life and is a constant source of inspiration. If I can, I’ll try to be inspired by a trip to Japan or a stream Upstate or an evening jog (a SLOW one). For a job that has a more pressing timeline or a product or map, I’ll just sit down, take a few VERY deep breaths and start sketching on 8.5 x 11″ copy paper. I just try to get the thoughts out as quickly as possible. Now that we have a baby son, I only have certain moments where I can work and HAVE TO work. I am still trying to figure that out! I also tend not to do thumbnails, although I am envious of people who can. I try to finish the sketch very quickly so I will know if it can work as a final piece or not.
In illustrating, what are the tools you can’t live without?
Sunlight, #2 Pencil, Faber Castell Brush Pen, Staedler eraser, Liquitex Acrylic Paint, Desktop Easel, Wacom Cintiq for digital work, certain French Bulldog on my lap.
What is one of the most exciting projects or a favorite one you’ve worked on or are working on?
All of the children’s books I have written and illustrated have been such a joy to see slowly evolve. I also love murals, like the One Girl Cookies Mural in Dumbo, Brooklyn. I also love products and the 3D puzzles I am working on with Crocodile Creek and the Plush stools I am working on with Zuzu Parade as well! I also love the balance between editorial and the longer work deadlines where the client and I can brainstorm and have projects that evolve. I also loved the zipper pulls I made with Kid Robot a few years back!
How do you describe your aesthetic?
Some people have said it is “whimsy”. I would like to add “ whimsy with lower back pain and fear” if I can please.
What is the biggest challenge about being an illustrator?
Staying fresh and true to your beliefs and dreams. As life’s goals, expenses and dreams change, it is a challenge to still try and be current and not repeat something because it may have worked before. It’s actually a painful process sometimes as I love what I do so much and I am always scared to loose it. As I am sure we all, to some degree feel, being creative people and working artists. I feel I am only as ‘good’ as my last piece.
What do you love most about it?
Doing the exact same thing I enjoyed doing when I was 4 years old. Drawing and painting have always been ‘friends’ of mine.
#ShamelessSelfPromotion: Tell us about your products and where we can get them!
Making products and toys has always been a dream of mine. It started out simply as sending out postcards to clients 15 years ago, and slowly, I received a job here and there. It seems so old fashioned now but the postcards really worked. My puzzles and products with Crocodile Creek are available at many toyshops and online, including Amazon. I just did a vehicle puzzle collaboration with Target and Crocodile Creek that comes our soon in Target stores and online as well. My recent work with Zuzu Parade on their animal stool line has recently been released and can be purchased here. I am so excited about those, and they have been getting nice reviews! My Brooklyn poster and other prints are available on Etsy. I also have a children’s app called “My Passengers” available for download on all app stores. Finally, my latest children’s book “The Best Days Are Dog Days” is being published by Penguin Books on April 12 of this year. Of course, my other two books are currently available on Amazon.
Any dream collaborations or brands you’d like to work with?
I would love to do more on-location murals or pieces that interact with an audience or a whole community. It’s always a blast making a map of a new neighborhood or a shopping district and seeing that art has legs years after it’s been completed. A dream job would be to design a shop or a wall in a Japanese mall or park. I visit Japan twice a year with my wife to visit her family. I would love to do more work while visiting or in other places around the world that touch my heart. I’d love to volunteer in the Fukushima region and see if any murals or children’s collaborations are possible.
Where is your favorite place to go/thing to do to get inspired?
As I mentioned, Japan and slowly jogging along the Brooklyn waterfront. New Zealand. England. I like island nations apparently. Baths. Make that friends and baths. Dogs and baths are pretty good too.
Any contemporary artists on your radar? (illustrators or other)
Keith Haring was a huge influence on my when I was younger. I was so inspired by his shop “The Pop Shop” and how you could sort of take home a piece of his work. I loved the consumerism of it, that we could all have a pin or a postcard. I grew up in the same town as the Wyeths and from an early age, I was exposed to illustrations and wonderful paintings. I am really inspired by Edward Hopper and the Wyeths, even though our work is so different. And of course, I also love so many current illustrators. There is such an energy and passion now, as it seems like illustration is going through a renaissance – even if the prices are not.
For anyone considering illustration as a career or just something to try for curiosity, do you have any advice?
1. You have to love it. It has to be what you HAVE to do, and not something you TRY TO DO, in my opinion.
2. Be kind to yourself and others.
3. I just got a studio after working out of my apartment for 20 years. WHY did I not do this sooner? The inspiration and support of others is tremendous.
4. Have a spouse who has a job that provides healthcare.
5. Do a sport and get outside.
6. Life is not measured in semesters once you leave school. Success takes years, not semesters, for most people to achieve.
7. Know your rights and fight to protect your work and ideas.
6. Even broken clocks are right twice a day.
Want to get featured? Become an ADC Member today.