Josh Ellingson

Bursting with charisma and youthful energy, Ellingson’s illustrations fill the viewer’s eye with optimism. He has the unique ability to take even the most harrowing and threatening scenes and bring them to a curiously gratifying resolve. This is an amazing feat considering much of his work is teeming with beasts, robots and mutants.

Cover for Cthulhu Tales: The Rising, BOOM! Studios, 2006

Even though many of the situations that emerge from Ellingson’s mind are fraught with turmoil and unrequited laments, the viewer is never distracted by sadness or disgust. Ellingson’s thoughtful approach permits the audience to sink further into his work and contemplate it’s deeper nuanced meaning.

Spiritual Machine/Gun and Doll Show gig poster, 2005

Lavabot, 2008

It seems the affection Ellingson feels for his creatures is too strong to ever portray them as anything but noble. He is an embodiment of Dr. Frankenstein whose deep abiding love for his creations is not swayed by society’s mob-like affection for gore, violence and reprehensible villains. He is not afraid to shed blood, but when he does, it drips from his fingertips to pool in pleasing puddles of cyan, ochre and vermillion. In other words, Ellingson throws his heart into everything he does, and our mutated world is all the better for it.

2010 was a banner year for Ellingson.
He participated in number of high-profile projects including posters for BART (San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area Rapid Transit), the 15th anniversary poster for Laughing Squid and he became infamous after publishing a series of YouTube Meme inspired illustrations.

Ellingson was the Featured Artist for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system’s annual poster series. The name of this three part series was “The First Ride,” and consisted of young riders who could see something odd, but the adults around were oblivious. It was charming and reinforced that riding public transit can be fun, especially for young children. Ellingson provides an in-depth case study and additional photos of the series are on his Flickr.

Ellingson was commissioned by the folks at Laughing Squid to create their 15th anniversary poster. He is a guest blogger and one of their favorite artists, so he was a perfect choice.

During the summer of 2010, Ellingson’s illustrations were abuzz throughout the blogosphere after Laughing Squid published his series of You Tube Meme drawings.

“I started making these as warm-up sketches to get the juices flowing,” Josh told with Brenna Ehrlich of Mashable. “I read Laughing Squid and BoingBoing while I drink my coffee and there’s always some silly video.” It soon became an on-going exercise that was heartily encouraged by Scott Beale, the founder of Laughing Squid, who posted them.

My personal favorite illustration from this series is the infamous cat “Chase no Face.” (Featured as the lead image of this blog post.) In early 2011, Xeni from BoingBoing posted an image of a healthy, happy and tragically disfigured cat who had literally lost it’s face after a series of failed reconstructive surgeries. (He had been the victim of a hit and run.) The very next day Ellingson’s portrait of the cat was on Laughing Squid. This beautiful portrait of Chase truly captured this creature’s inner beauty and spirit. It seemed to allow viewers to turn the corner and reset their negative feelings towards seeing something grotesque. THAT quite simply, demonstrates the power of Ellingson’s mad skills.

At the time of this posting, there were 12 illustrations. The entire set of YouTube Meme Drawings is on Ellingson’s Flickr.

Papa, The Birthday Cat, 2010

Under Pressure, with two Kermits, 2010

Ellingson’s is widely published and is a mainstay at magazines such as Wired, Popular Science, and Computer Gaming World. He has put together a thorough recap of his favorite projects to date for “Games for Windows” magazine in the case studiessection of his website. Below are two samples, plus the accompanying text by Ellingson.

Galagato, Computer Gaming World, 2006

“This was the first spread that I did for CGW. The article was about the swarm of online PC games freely available on the internet. The direction was to depict some sort of swarm. I had just returned from Portland, OR where I spent a lot of time at Ground Kontrol Retro Arcade.* The place is loaded with fully restored game cabinets from the 80’s and I was pumped to make some vintage arcade inspired art. The art director graciously tolerated my insistence for this style and we went with it.” -JE

* Hey, Portland, OR! I would be remiss not to mention, that Ground Kontrol, the bad-assiest arcade on the planet is having a re-opening party this Thursday Feb 17th. They describe what awaits you, “What better way to experience the new GK than free play? Our regular Third Thursday free play party will be extra fun this month thanks to a special cover – entry to Ground Kontrol 3.0′s launch party will only cost 3.0 dollars!” Go to Ground Kontrol for more details.

Stormcheaters, Games for Windows Magazine, 2007

This was a spread for an article about cheaters in massively-multiplayer games. Some people will go to great lengths to gain power in a game, even if it means taking advantages of flaws in the system, or preying on newbies. The original direction of the art was to use fantasy-based characters cheating on a test, but it evolved into something more universally familiar and was a lot more fun in the end because of it.” -JE

There are so many illustrations that highlight Ellingson’s keen abilities to distill popular culture to it’s purest essence – I have narrowed it down to three examples. Though they are widely diverse in content they all represent Ellingson’s dexterity in taking what has been seen a 1,000 times over and inject it with a perspective that renders it completely fresh and wholly memorable.

Squidzord vs. Ultrapants, Nickelodeon Magazine, 2009

BBWW, 2010

Suburbs of Goa Ganesh for SOMA FM, 2009

Ellingson also tirelessly creates a wide variety of personal work, and is an active participant in the fine art community. He has had many solo shows including “All The Best,” Mission: Comics & Art, in 2010 and “Bots, Bugs, and Beasts, The Art of Joshua Ellingson,” The Museum of Robots, Second Life” in 2009. (This one is interesting because it was a virtual show within Second Life. If this means nothing, please visit Second Life for more details. And don’t scoff – Second Life is huge.) Below is a brief sampling of his personal work with description in his own words.

The King of Kings, 2008

“When I was a kid, sometimes I’d sneak into my grandparents’ room and snoop around. Their house was full of unusual antiques, figurines, books, and other treasures. On one of my explorations I found a pack of nudie cards in my grandpa’s dresser. Years later I told my mother about finding the pack of cards and it turns out that she used to sneak in there and look at them too. Now I own Grandpa’s “Good Luck” card set and it always reminds me of home.”-JE

The Bricklayer’s Lament, 2008

“I made this for a pig themed group art show called “6 Feet Deep”, at Stained Skin Tattoo in Columbus, OH. This the brick pig from The Three Pigs story. He’s lamenting his dead brothers, who are tattooed on his arms. The tattoo on is neck says “BRUDER” backwards, so he can read it in the mirror and always remember them.” – JE

Cosmic Debris, 2003

“I had this idea kicking around in my head for a long time involving giant rabbits and a crashed rocketship that looked like a huge carrot. When I got invited to show my work at the local Kidrobot Store, I thought that was a good enough excuse to go ahead and flesh that idea out.”- JE

And if all this is not enough to bowl you over, he also custom paints a whole lot of nifty stuff.

Custom 30” Dunny, Kid Robot SF, 2003

“When KidRobot released their Dunny figure to the world, they put on a custom show featuring artists from coast to coast. I was lucky to be involved and I had a blast hand-painting this thirty-inch beast.” -JE

Rejected Squid Dunny concept art, 2007 (reject-a-what??!!)

Custom Skateboard Deck, 2009

And apparently, he makes robots for comics who hold ministers licenses.

Robopriest, Custom made for comedian Selene Luna’s one-woman show, “Sweating the Small Stuff.”  There are many more photos and a description of this project on his blog.

I caught up with Ellingson at the opening for The Local 303’s group show, “Hot Fudge” at Fabric8. The Local 303 is a group of four talented illustrator/ artists (Josh Ellingson, Matt Delight, Jason Dryg, David Garvey) who previously shared a studio (#303) in San Francisco. The show will be up at the gallery through March 14th.

Josh Ellingson & yours truly  /  ”Hot Fudge” at Fabric8  - a fabulous boutique & gallery in SF’s Mission District

Ellingson was kind enough to grant an interview. Below are five question I ask everyone plus a few personalized ones just for him.

Ellingson Notes:

What artists or creative person has influenced you?
I started making art by looking at comics and cartoons. I’ve never stopped being influenced by popular culture and commercial art. Al Hirschfeld had a big impact on me early on. I’m also a big fan of artists like Charles Burns, Chris Ware, Coop, Glenn Barr, and other current comics artists.

Not including other artists or art, what inspires you?
I’m inspired by scientific discoveries, particularly anything to do with space. Biology is really cool too. I’m into gadgets and robots. I watch a lot of movies and read lots of books.

What is the part of your process you enjoy the most?
My favorite part is about 3/4 the way through a project. That’s when you can really see how it’s going to finish off, but there’s still some fun left to be had before you nitpick it to death.

… the least?
The worst part of a project is nitpicking it to death.

If you were NOT an artist, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be a writer or a web developer if I wasn’t an artist. There was a time when I was really into figuring out all that code. I peek in to that world from time to time, but I’m glad I’m an artist.

Last year there was a flurry of attention around your YouTube Meme Drawings after they were blogged on Laughing Squid, aside from garnering adoration by a slew of new fans, what has been the most meaningful part of the experience? Do you plan to continue with this as an on-going project?
I originally only set out to force myself to practice drawing by doodling my RSS feed habit. I figured that if I was going to obsessively read about all these silly memes, I should at least get some drawing time in. I think I posted one and then friends of mine began to encourage me to post more. The response has been great and maybe the most meaningful feedback has been from the pet owners of the animal memes. It’s easy to forget that the web isn’t a TV show. All of these interesting stories have real people behind them, and it’s been incredible to have the internet reach back out and say hello. I think I’ll continue with the memes, but I might branch out from cute animals a bit.

There was a controversial post on Boing Boing about a cat that had literally lost it’s face in an accident. Though “Chase no Face” is a happy cat, his malformations were really disturbing to many BoingBoing readers. Within 24 hours of the post, you had created a beautiful illustration of Chase and it was posted on Laughing Squid. Unlike the YouTube Meme Drawings that were based on animals doing “cute” things, this one was decidedly un-cute. What moved you to illustrate this little creature?
Chase has an incredible story and it speaks a lot about compassion and unconditional love. I wish I could say that all of this drove me to make the portrait but I didn’t really absorb all that until later. Part of the process with these meme drawings is to go really fast. Chase was so interesting looking that I couldn’t help trying to draw her.

You are a regular at ComicCon, Wonder Con and APE, what aspects of these conventions do you enjoy and benefit from the most?
I love conventions. It where I feel most comfortable talking about my art. I think meeting people face to face is really rewarding. I’ve been doing these shows for so long that I’ve developed close friendships with a lot of other exhibitors, so it’s nice to see them in different places all over the country. We’re like a traveling art circus.

You are a card carrying member of “Local 303,” a group of four talented illustrator/ artists (Josh Ellingson, Matt Delight, Jason Dryg, David Garvey) who previously shared a studio (#303) in San Francisco. In mid 2010, you all moved from the studio. How has this change affected your routine and work habits. It must be hard to not have fellow creative’s to turn to when you just want to bounce ideas around – what/who do you turn to now? Will Local 303 continue to have group shows?
We’re all still in touch since the studio closed. It’s a bummer not to see them as often, but we try to organize group shows and things like that. We’re all working from home now and the challenge for me is separating work from life. I get a lot done, but I miss the feedback and companionship of my art pals. My goldfish is a harsh art critic.

To your knowledge, how many fans have tattoos of your work?
As far as I know, none of my fans have Ellingson tattoos. People often threaten to get one, but I haven’t seen it happen yet.

Thank you for your time Josh!

Ellingson has an extensive portfolio with meaningful captions on his main website. If you need more, check out his highly informative and deep blog. If you still need more, he has an extensive collection of photos on Flickr including commercial, posters, magazine, installations and personal work.

You may also preview a wide assortment of posters and other artwork for sale. (At prices even a starving artist can afford!)