Illustrator Profile - Joren Cull: "Don't change yourself to please others"

By Robert Newman   Thursday November 23, 2017

Joren Cull is a Toronto-based illustrator, animator, and cartoonist. Cull's comics and illustrations are smart and funny; his art has a pop, graphic, and childlike style, definitely influenced by the fact that he “watched the Simpsons five times a day for the first 15 or 16 years of my life.” 

I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

My immediate family isn’t made up of a ton of artists or anything like that. My mom and dad are both teachers, and I have no siblings. I have some cousins that are in creative fields, but I’m the first to travel the specific path of illustration.

I studied illustration and animation at OCAD University. I won an award for my thesis work there and left with a Bachelor’s of Design as well. For my high schooling I went to a public school that was more focused on math and competitive sports than art. My creative outlet back then was mostly in the after school stuff I’d do. I had a band with my cousin and would make art on my own and music and movies too.

I’ve been working as an illustrator for five years. I still work as an animator. Sometimes I pick up odd jobs to keep things interesting and get out of the house and experience new environments. I worked at a bakery for awhile and a pizza place, too.

I mostly work from my home. I try to get as much done as I can before leaving the house, I find it much harder to focus and be in a creative space after being in a social environment. My set-up here is I have my computer and a TV behind it. I usually watch TV when I’m working, or listen to music. It helps me not overthink my work. I also find it helps keep track of the time I’ve spent on a specific piece so when a show is finished I’ve spent 20 minutes on something, when a movie’s finished I’ve spent 90 minutes on it. One of my biggest obsessions is keeping up to date on pop culture, so it really helps me do that as well.

I have a lot of Simpsons memorabilia decorating my studio, some 80s McDonalds merchandise, and various posters of bands and movies and shows I like. My bathroom has a Burger King menu in it that I found in the garbage once. I try to decorate and surround myself with stuff that I find fun and inspiring.

When I’m not working from home I occasionally work at my parents’ house—I feel like it brings me back to the creative head space that I was in in high school and as a kid and I find that comforting. I’ve never been able to work in coffee shops; I find people and their conversations too interesting to be able to work very well there. Things go most smoothly when I change up my environment.

I use Photoshop and a tablet—nothing too fancy. I work right from the computer these days, usually only using paper to write down rough ideas, thumbnails and to-do lists.

I think it was a bunch of little things and a lot of hard work. I started doing monthly illos for The Globe and Mail when I first started, which helped me get my name out a bit. The magazine The Walrus has always been kind and supportive of my work too. I won a magazine award for some spots I did for them, which attracted others opportunities as well. Every piece and promo and email has helped me in some way.

Probably my biggest “break”/turning point in my life was all the way back in elementary school. When in grade five my art teacher ripped up my drawing in front of the class and yelled at me for not drawing realistically enough. I would always draw sort of cartoony and make jokes in my art and stuff like that, which wasn’t to her taste. Things came to a boiling point in art class one day; I was not listening to her instructions of what she wanted me to draw, and kept doing whatever. She freaked out and ripped my work in half and threw it in the garbage. I cried after, but later I made it my life goal to prove her wrong and then art just became my thing and it all snowballed. I have made a lot of people mad with my art since, but hopefully more people happy.


Mostly the pop culture that I grew up on. I watched the Simpsons five times a day for the first 15 or 16 years of my life. Weird Al and the Ghostbusters were my idols when I was really young.

In high school the bands I listened to like Ween, Flaming Lips, Fiery Furnaces, Of Montreal, etc., steered my thinking a lot as well. Late in high school getting into David Lynch and a show called 12 Oz Mouse molded me a lot too.

I also really love the aesthetic of McDonalds and Chuck E Cheese, and stuff like that.

My biggest influences have probably been Trey Parker and Mike Judge. I’ve always just wanted to do what they’ve done. I can’t think of two more talented and brilliant artists. 

Either of my biggest influences mentioned above. More generally though, I love media that’s been created by just one or two people, music like Ween, Daniel Johnston, Prince, William Onyeabor, and shows like South Park, Beavis and Butthead, and 12 Oz Mouse. They all feel like such personal works of a specific singular vision. They are all things that would probably have never gotten made if you needed to find a huge production team, or involve other minds. I also find that work encouraging because it’s within the realm of creative possibility. If you’re looking at a show like the Sopranos (which is a great show), it’s so grand that one person would never be able to make a show like that. It requires resources, and groups of people. With South Park, you could make that show if you really tried; it would take some time and be hard but it’s possible. It’s sort of like mainstream outsider art. I find that very inspiring; it shows you what humans are capable of if they apply themselves enough.

I keep a list of project ideas so I’m not usually at a loss for that. I often run at my gym on the elliptical if I’m stumped on a certain part of a project or go for walk. Usually I return to the pop culture that I love and it encourages me to keep going as well.

Not being around people enough or having as many opportunities to make new friends and socialize as in art school. Also I get sort of tunnel vision working alone on projects sometimes, but I’ve adapted to that more or less. That was a definite issue when I started working from home five years ago. Sometimes I won’t leave the house for a few days if I’m really into a project and that’s a bit difficult—it starts to affect me because all of my thinking is deeply focused on one singular creative problem. In the past I had the mindset that if I work nonstop on something it’s going to be amazing, when usually if I take breaks, the work ends up being stronger.

My “A Brief History of Goth” video I got to do for Pitchfork Media. I had been reading their site daily since high school and am a huge music fan and record collector. I think it turned out really great and I’m really proud of it; I scripted, directed, produced, illustrated, animated, voiced, and scored it. I’ll be doing a lot more projects like that in the coming year, where I get to just make a short film. The people at Pitchfork were great to work with and it turned out super well.

A two-second animation of a line moving towards another line that has a ten million dollar budget. I would like to move towards obtaining a TV series at some point; that would be my dream. I want complete control over it though.

I’ve enjoyed working with Paul Kim at The Walrus a lot as well as RJ Bentler from Pitchfork. They’ve let me run free while giving their input that I found very valuable as well. They are very smart creatives and get what I’m doing, which is always the best to work with. Devon Hong and the team at Droga5 was really great too, as was Zach Gilyard whom I worked with on the American Illustration piece that was chosen for AI35. Honestly, I’ve loved everyone I’ve worked with and feel bad not listing everyone; they are all great in their own way! Like snowflakes! I like snowflakes.

I love Graham Roumieu’s work. He a has a uniquely distinct drawing style that’s sort of “outsider arty” and always a wonderful color palette, but his concepts are what really makes his work extraordinary. He’s been a huge influence on me. So many people make great work; I can’t list them all because I’m worried I’ll forget some too.

I made a comic book called SCUM TV, which was a very dark self-published re-imagination of the children’s shows I grew up on (specifically Arthur and Thomas the Tank Engine). I’ve also recently completed my first kids book that I have been shopping around. Another product I’m really proud of that I made was a 284-piece “mystery puzzle” of an image that you discover as you are putting it together. It came with a mini comic book in it and an album of motivational mantras to help guide you in your puzzle making journey—ha ha. I’m really proud of that one.

I dabbled in making merchandise that is available special order through emailing me and other products on my site. I occasionally make music but less so than before. As I discussed earlier my main other thing is animation. Sometimes I get to make the music for those and that’s always really fun for me.

Definitely the animation work I’ve been doing. Oftentimes the book ideas I have end up becoming animations, and I feel this is directly a result of the changing of the industry. With print becoming less in demand it just makes sense to choose other avenues for those ideas when possible. The cost of production (on my end) is cut dramatically not having to print and mail promotional copies. It’s all a one-man show; I write, direct, storyboard, illustrate, animate, voice, edit, and score them alone in my studio for the most part.

My latest series I’ve made is one called “Re-Imagining Memorials” which is a series of five short films commemorating iconic musicians who passed away in the year 2016. Each memorial uses actual samples of audio taken directly from the artist and re-imagines them into new environments to imply their permanent impact on our society.

I send out email blasts, and postcards when I have the opportunity to organize that. I’ve had a few illustrations and videos I’ve made go viral; I think that helped me get my name out a bit. Honestly, I can never tell what works because generally when someone contacts me they don’t say how they became familiar with my stuff. I think word of mouth and just seeing my work all sorts of places has been the best for promotion. I suspect it’s probably a combination of everything. I like trying to come up with fun creative ways to promote myself; as an example I made a promo video last Xmas that I sent out to clients.

Don’t give up, don’t stop trying, don’t accept free work. You have to be your number one fan if you’re going to be doing this as a career. Always stay true to who you are and don’t change yourself to please others. Be kind to people also, and not because you want something but because they are humans

See more Joren Cull illustrations, new work and updates:
Joren Cull website
Instagram: @the_joren_cull_company
Twitter: @jorencull