How did you get started doing what you do?
Like many artists, I drew a lot when I was a kid. I was mostly inspired by movies, comics, nature, books, and anime. Drawing was a way for me to develop my own stories and concepts. This led me to attend art school. I studied computer animation and 3D modeling because I didn’t think there were many career options for someone who could draw or paint. After getting out of college, it turned out there weren’t many jobs for me as a 3D animator either. I ended up working as a graphic designer for some time but I found it less than fulfilling. Eventually, I pledged to spend my evenings developing a portfolio that was, at least, passable enough to get freelance work. In time, the work started trickling in, but it wasn’t quite enough for me to quit my day job. This left me at kind of a crossroads. I didn’t have enough hours in the day to really grow as an artist while also taking on some freelance gigs and working another job during the day. That’s when I decided to really commit and take the plunge to try to make it as an illustrator and concept artist. This meant taking a fairly menial part time job that paid just enough so I wouldn’t starve. That decision freed up time to work on improving my art and taking on client work. It took some patience, dedication and a little faith in myself. Eventually, I was able to lose the part time gig and devote all my working hours to the art. I’ve now had the opportunity to work as an illustrator as well as a concept artist on games and films.

How would you describe your creative style?
It’s hard for me to define my personal creative style. Right now I enjoy going for a more painterly look. I try to have my finished work remain a little loose and energetic. When you work primarily digitally like I do, it’s too easy to overwork a painting and have it come off feeling very stiff or overly detailed. But I feel like I can change my style somewhat depending on what the job is, or what problem is I’m trying to solve. It all probably still looks like my stuff, but it’s hard to be objective. I think a lot of artists who are starting out are worried too much about style. I think it eventually emerges on its own if you put in the hours.

Interview with Illustrator and Concept Artist, J.R. Barker on Jung Katz
Interview with Illustrator and Concept Artist, J.R. Barker on Jung Katz

What’s your inspiration?
Nature. Films. Science. History. Books. Travel. Music.

What is art to you?
Good question. I’ve been meaning to read that Tolstoy book for years.

What does your typical day look like?
As a freelance artist, I’ve learned to be fairly structured in my day to day routine. Without anyone standing over your shoulder telling you what to do, it can be a slippery slope into an unproductive day or week. Also, part of what helps me define my day is a commitment to keeping myself as healthy as I can. I’m up around the same time each morning. Breakfast and some sketching for 20-30 minutes is kind of a warm up and brain dump. I call it my “morning pages.” I’ll also go over my list of tasks for the day. I try not to clutter my mind looking at news, emails or social media until after that initial sketch time. I work on a project for a few hours then eat lunch. I typically eat a small meal every 3-4 hours to keep the energy up. I’ll work for a couple more hours and then exercise. A job like this requires a lot of sitting at a table or desk. It’s important to get some physical activity. Then it’s time for dinner, with my girlfriend usually. Go back to work for a couple hours. Eat cereal! Watch a little tv. Go to bed. Read. Fall asleep. Try to get 8 hours if possible. I need sleep. I hear a lot of guys in this business brag about how little they sleep the get because they are working so hard. But to me, that’s not sustainable. I need sleep to be functional as an artist and happy as a human. (I understand if you’re a parent, this might all sound ridiculous.)

That’s my basic plan throughout the work week. It doesn’t always go according to schedule and that’s okay. Having a good routine allows me to be flexible when other aspects of life intervene. After all, the part of the point of choosing this career field is being able to dictate your lifestyle somewhat. What is life without needed downtime or hanging out with friends and family? And sometimes you need to go to the movies at 11:00 am. Sometimes you need to go see a band late on a Tuesday night. Sometimes you need to leave and go camping early on a Friday morning. I sleep in on Sunday.

Interview with Illustrator and Concept Artist, J.R. Barker on Jung Katz
Interview with Illustrator and Concept Artist, J.R. Barker on Jung Katz

How would you say your surroundings have influenced your work?
I was born in the San Francisco, Bay Area but grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I lived in cities such as Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; and Seattle, Washington. Both the culture and geography made it a pretty inspiring place be. Now I’m lucky enough to get to live in Austin, Texas. I moved down here not long after finishing art school. Being in a place that encourages creativity is incredibly motivational. And not just in the visual artist community. The vibrant music and film scene also make it a great city in which to live and work.

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
To live with a certain level of freedom is incredibly motivating to me. I want to have some kind of say in what I do on a day to day basis and with my life in general. My work has helped facilitate that. And as much as I enjoy putting my own ideas into the world, I want to continue to collaborate with others in helping manifest their visions into reality.

Interview with Illustrator and Concept Artist, J.R. Barker on Jung Katz
Interview with Illustrator and Concept Artist, J.R. Barker on Jung Katz

How have others reacted to your work?
A lot of concept art never sees the light of day. And with illustration work, it can sometimes be a year or more before a piece is released to the public. So a lot of my direct feedback comes from an art director. But I’ve also had the opportunity to do art shows with places like Gallery 1988 in L.A. and New York, and Geek Art in Paris. The public response has been pretty good. I definitely get some validation for that.

What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
Just keep making what you what to make. Don’t sit waiting for someone to give you permission. That rarely happens.

What are your thoughts on art school?
Art school was valuable for me. I was able to to be around like-minded students and instructors who were encouraging. It can also bring out the competitive side and push your work to greater heights. Plus, you may make some of your all-time best friends. That being said, there are so many resources on the internet these days to learn your craft. And ultimately nobody cares much about your college degree when it comes to this business. They care about your portfolio, your output and if you can get along with the people you’re working with. If you can learn all these things without going into crippling debt from art school, I’d say go for it.

Interview with Illustrator and Concept Artist, J.R. Barker on Jung Katz

Have any future aspirations that you’d like to share?
Creating my own IP (intellectual property). When I first started drawing it wasn’t about the act of drawing itself. It was about trying to express ideas that I had in my head. Even if that idea was just some ripoff version of Batman. I’m currently developing an idea that I would love to take as far as I can. A graphic novel or an animated series would be incredible to finally realize. (Merchandising revenue wouldn’t hurt either.)

I’d also love to live overseas for a while. I really like to travel and getting a chance to see more of this world is a source of inspiration and high on my priority list. Fortunately, I can do my work from just about anywhere that has an internet connection.

What art supplies do you use?
Pens, pencils, water colors, Wacom tablet, Yiynova tablet monitor.

What’s your process like?
The picture-making process is always a little different. That’s what keeps it interesting. I’m constantly solving problems in the creation of a piece. If the image is going to be remotely complicated, there will always be a series of thumbnails. The thumbnails will usually contain a very basic idea of the values, shapes, and layout. I’ll do this either in my sketchbook or on my computer tablet. Then a thumbnail is selected either by myself or the art director. If needed, photo reference is gathered. I might do some studies if I’ve never drawn a particular element before. I begin the process of working up the black and white values of the piece and then slowly start adding color. Keep at it. Take breaks. Have faith it will come together in the end.

Follow J.R. Barker on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

 

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Posted by:Casey Webb

Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Jung Katz, as well as Editor for ZIIBRA.

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