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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Hollis

Embracing the Absurd

Here's a link to blog post for Just Imagine. It's about influences and focuses on Richard Scarry. See the full post here:

In this early artwork the similarities to Richard Scarry's work are more obvious
Initial experiments with artwork for Bear's New Hair, the story that slowly evolved into Pierre's New Hair

As a child, I cherished Richard Scarry’s books (I still do). I could play with these books for hours without the help of an adult. In that sense, they were mine. Special. Hidden. The pages of his books contained whole worlds. Whole worlds for you to explore and get lost in. His pictures allow the child to imagine their own stories. I remember tracing each character’s activity carefully with my index finger, imagining where they had been and what they’ll do next. Part of the appeal for me is the convincing worlds Scarry creates. Every detail has been covered, each town has its own poet, bookprinter, watch repair cat and detective agency. So, I could close the pages of the book, confident that these worlds, these characters would continue to live on, at their own pace, with their own free will. They’ll do just fine without me!

I wasn't conscious Richard Scarry was such a strong influence when working on these images. I had been thinking about what I enjoyed drawing most as a child, and trying to connect with the childlike fearlessness and sense of fun. Looking back at these images and the Scarry books I cherished as a child, there are obvious similarities.

Old artwork exploring different modes of transportation
Scarry's characters always enjoyed the most inventive forms of transport, I enjoy exploring the potential of the 'wheel' too

Whilst studying Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art there was a clear turning point in my work. A point in which I let go, and my perception of work changed. The negative associations with work began to dissolve as I tried to think (or draw) like a child. Before I thought work needed to be difficult. Hard. But the focus shifted towards drawing what seemed fun. In a sense this mirrors a turning point In Pierre's New Hair, Pierre's hairstyle finally makes a positive impression on the Poodle Squad when he's no longer self conscious, he's no longer trying, he's entirely absorbed in the moment, enjoying his roller skating. I noticed the work I enjoyed making the most made the biggest impact on others. And to truly enjoy the process required absolute absorption in the moment, like a meditation, entering a state of flow silenced the inner critique. In this state, you can feel free like a child.

The famous Poodle Squad imitate Pierre's wild hairstyle at the salon
The Poodle Squad embrace Pierre's wild new hairstyle

The image below marks 'the turning point'. It was a Saturday so any work I drew seemed like a bonus - technically it's day off, so it's not proper work. Free to have fun at the weekend! I dropped my guard and had loads of fun making this image. I armed my dip pen with ink and began drawing in the top left corner, embracing all the mistakes and 'bad' drawings along the way. Later this image became the cover artwork for our MA degree show, and went on to win the V&A Student Illustrator of the Year, 2018.

An illustrated world full of absurdity and intricate details
Winner of the V&A Student Illustrator of the Year 2018

It's strange how a single image can become a landmark, it represents a point when something clicked. And whilst there's still an endless list of things I'm trying to better understand in my process, I knew that everything going forward would be built on a foundation of joy. Here's the Just Imagine page below;


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