March 3, 2018

The Typographic Dreamer | Interview with Joseph Vass, Illustrator

I’ve always been attracted to imagery that takes you elsewhere. Dreamy landscapes and views of places I might never have been. When I stumbled across the work of Joseph Vass at a Film4 x Print Club London exhibition back in 2015, I squealed with delight at ‘The Warriors’ inspired screenprint he had created in response to the brief, knowing full well that as one of JJP’s favourite films, it was gonna be a hit in the EJP abode.

A London-based silkscreen artist and illustrator, Vass created colourful pieces with a graphic edge. Fusing hand-drawn typography with starry-eyed imagery, each piece invites the viewer to take a smooth ride through a utopian haze. Secret narratives of cowboys and Indians, American diners and adventures in the wild; Vass’s screenprints evoke the idealistic unknown. Something I’m firmly on-board with when it comes to illustration.

I’ve spent a long-time following Joseph and his Warrior print takes centre-stage in the living room to this day. His approach is unique and powerful, don’t you think? Carry on reading for a little more insight into his approach and to catch some advice for working with clients.

Joseph Vass Illustration Cacti High

Joseph Vass; Cacti Print, Cacti High Print

Firstly, can you tell me a little bit about your work and your background?

I’m always aiming to create bright, funky work that will either be realised as limited edition silkscreen prints or that come about as a result of commercial commissions. I studied Illustration at Kingston university, graduating around 5 years ago now.

You use a lightbox to sketch before bringing your pieces to life. How does this influence your process? Do the designs change at all?

I first picked up a squeegee and was let loose in my college screen print studio about 10 years ago and set about learning all I could about the process. I started working on my lightbox in layers of black with brush, ink and pens. Each layer of black would end up being used as a crude positive to expose each layer on to the screen before being printed. A rather rudimentary process that has become much more finely tuned, but in essence has remained the same.

Nowadays I’ll still work on a lightbox, working in ink on top of a pencil rough, then quickly photograph or scan my layers of black, then edit and apply colour to, on the computer. Screenprinting is basically applying ink with high tech stencils and my process stems from this, a mix of hand drawn, painted elements and shapes with some digital manipulation to reach the finished result.

Joseph Vass Warriors screenprint for Print Club London

Joseph Vass; Warriors Film4 Print, Las Palmas Print

Your use of colour is also interesting. How important is it in your work? Do you set out with specific colours in mind or do they come organically?

Colour is pretty vital! It’s role changes from project to project and can be tricky when you have a commercial brief with a colour palette that you wouldn’t normally use, but it’s a good challenge and you’re always learning. I often find myself treading a fine line between overloading an image and finding a balance. Subtle tweaks can change an image from clashing to zen, but sometimes this can take a while…

I can totally relate to the woes of colour clashing! Your ‘Warriors’ print commissioned by Film4 to be part of their ‘Summer Screenprints’ exhibition at Somerset House in 2015 is one of my favourite prints EVER and of course there was a rough set of guidelines involved. When looking at a brief, how do you make it your own?

The Film4 briefs are always good fun to work on. I’m always getting ideas watching films or reading books, so being asked to create a print based on a film is an ideal commission really. With the Warriors print I wanted to create an image that served as a typographic tapestry communicating one of the film’s iconic lines, set during a defining scene near the film’s finale. The colours and each typographic element were inspired by the different tribes from the film.

There was a lot of freedom with the brief, the artist is being asked to respond to the film whereas other briefs are more restrictive as you are being asked to draw someone else’s vision. This can be really fun and take your work in directions it wouldn’t have gone otherwise and I’ve worked on some really fun projects that have worked like that. The flip side of course is that not all of them do!

Joseph Vass Tropical Print

Joseph Vass; Super Cannes Print, Boxer Beetle Print

You’ve worked with Print Club London, who were also involved, a fair amount since and you sell prints via their online shop. Has this been valuable to you as a selling/promotional platform?

It’s been amazing working with Print Club on the Somerset house shows, their Blisters shows and I also had my first solo show with them a few years back. I’ve gained work and exposure being involved in these events so it’s definitely been valuable and selling prints is always a sweet added bonus!

You’ve also worked with a number of clients from ASOS to Sky One. How did these come about?

Some jobs come out of the blue, some through friends or contacts. I’m signed with JSR agency, so I have my agent Ryan bringing in work which helps. Lots of self-promotion and having a thick skin doesn’t hurt either! I’d say mainly perseverance and having lots of little projects to keep the portfolio growing and fresh.

Joseph Vass Screen Print Yellow Leopard

Joseph Vass; Girlhood Print, The Panther Print

And who would be the ULTIMATE client?

Ahhh, there’s loads! I’m currently working on clothing designs. I really enjoy printing the fabrics, so am currently building a little collection of sample garments – it’d be awesome to design a set of shirts for Stussy. I’m really into iconic brands that have been around since the days of Mad Men. So I think some global campaigns for Coca-Cola and Ray Ban would do quite nicely. Painting big wall murals in sunny tropical destinations also…watch this space.

Thank you to Joseph for talking all things typographical. Shop the Joseph Vass collection on Print Club London and follow Joseph on Instagram for more behind the scenes action.


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Emma Jane Palin is a freelance art consultant, interior stylist and multi-award-winning blogger residing in Margate, UK. She has worked with various home and lifestyle brands not limited to West Elm, Apple, John Lewis, Habitat, MADE, Caran D'Ache + No.3 Gin. Emma is also a regular contributor to Hunker where she writes about design trends and interior advice.

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