The DART Interview: Josh Cochran

By Peggy Roalf   Friday May 1, 2020

PR: When did you know for sure that your metier would be art and design?

JC: I won an art award in high school and one of the members of the jury pulled my Dad aside and told him I should pursue a career in art. But I’ve probably known this was the path for me since I was very young.

PR: During your years of study, was there an Aha! moment that made you realize that you were meant to be an illustrator?

JC: There wasn’t a particular moment that stands out to me. I think I was just so nervous about spending so much money on my education I didn’t think I had any other choice but to just make it work out. I was able to get a scholarship the last semester of my sophomore year which really convinced me I was on the right path. Before that I felt a little like I was shooting in the dark.

PR: You seem to work at every scale imaginable, from miniature pencil drawings to murals painted with big brushes. And in every conceivable format, from live figure drawing to collaborative drawing with another artist, from editorial illustration to children’s books. Could you tell the readers a bit about how you choose your projects? How you manage your schedule to fit fun stuff in with assignment work? 

JC: I choose assignments based on my level of interest and if I think it could be a good challenge for me to figure out. I tend to gravitate towards assignments that are a bit out of reach for me on a technical level. I find that in those circumstances I grow more than when I know exactly how my piece will turn out. I don’t have a big strategy with figuring out fun assignments vs money assignments. Usually it’s quite dependent on just what my work load is when assignments come in.

PR: As a muralist, where would you most like to paint a large outdoor wall?

JC: I’m not too picky about where I’d like to paint a large wall. Obviously places where I live near would be fun but any wall where a lot of people could possibly walk past would be a great thing! I would love to make something big for the New York City MTA.

PR: I really enjoyed watching the video Come  Draw With Us Already, in which you made a table-size drawing of a dinner party with Dan Salmieri. How did that come about? Do you plan for this to become a series? Would you consider doing this as an online draw-along? 

JC: My studio mates and I have been kicking around an idea for a video series for a really long time. We love drawing together after work and have always toyed with showing it as a video series. Unfortunately we started making these videos right before the quarantine started so we haven’t been able to make more since then. We do have a couple of episodes finished but still figuring out the timing. I would love to do a draw-along on Zoom somehow if I could figure out how to make it fun. Sometimes the Zoom sessions tend to feel a bit tired.

PR: What are some of the inspirations you draw upon for your work?

JC: I don’t think there is one definitive source where I draw inspiration from. For me it comes from random places, usually when I least expect it, I’ll stumble upon a curious color combination from a pattern on a sock or get excited from seeing a beautiful film and want to bring in some of that magic into my own work.

PR: Your new book, Drawing on Walls:  Story of Keith Haring (Enchanted Lion 2020) is scheduled to drop in a couple of weeks. How did this project come about?

JC: Claudia Zoe Bedrick, the publisher, approached me with Matthew’s beautiful manuscript. Initially I was hesitant to sign on because I didn’t want to replicate and make a bad copy of Keith’s work. But once we discussed the format and idea, I could start to envision approaching the project with just alluding to what Keith’s work looked like rather than duplicating it. This obstacle was simultaneously frustrating and rewarding. I think it really helped shape how the book turned out.

PR: Was Keith Haring a favorite artist/influence for you?

JC: Keith Haring is definitely one of my favorite artists. When I attended art school, there was a mural of his on a wall right outside of our library. I looked at this mural almost every single day. Keith’s line has definitely worked into my subconscious because of this. He has a really amazing fluid way of drawing without picking up the pen from the paper that I’ve grown to love and integrate into my own work.

PR: What was it like to work on a single project over several years' time?

JC: I learned a lot about myself through this. Initially it was so hard to get the ball moving and gain momentum. I wasn’t sure what the book was going to look like so I had to paint multiple tests to try to see what would “feel right” for the book. Many times I felt like giving up, but I think through just pushing through I was able to find the joy in the process.

PR: What was the most fun part of the project?

JC: Probably the most fun I had was the exploring stage. It was simultaneously fun and ego destroying which is my optimal state.

PR: What were most difficult aspects of the project?

JC: Staying motivated and on task. Often throughout the process I had to take commercial jobs just to make money and found it quite difficult to maintain some momentum. Later on, I discovered it was just easier to take a chunk of time out purely devoted to the book rather than trying to go back and forth between book making and ad jobs.

PR: Did you paint directly? Did you use digital means for any part of it?

JC: I comped up the drawings and color digitally and used that to paint from. I really wanted to paint the book in a single layer so each spread exists in the world as a standalone painting. I painted in acrylic gouache and used some pencil as well.

PR: How did you go about establishing your color palette for the book? (I like that there is so much variety within the carefully constructed system you developed.)

JC: I saved some color swatches and pinned them up next to my desk as a guideline. Also when I created the digital comps I tried to maintain a consistent palette. It really helped me to track up my progress as I went along painting. This helped me see how the pages would transition on a color level.

PR: How do you and the publisher plan to promote the book given the Covid-19 restrictions on public events?

JC: We’re doing some instagram live readings and some behind the scenes art stuff on Zoom!

PR: Have you discovered new opportunities for you, as an artist, as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions? 

JC: I think living in the epicenter of the pan has given me a unique perspective and I have found some new work opportunities asking me for that. So in a weird, messed up way I am glad that I stayed here in Brooklyn through all of this craziness.

Originally from California and Taiwan, Josh Cochran is an illustrator and muralist living in Brooklyn,. He has received various awards including a Grammy nomination for album art. Avid traveler and marathon-runner, Josh teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Drawing on Walls:  Story of Keith Haring (Enchanted Lion 2020) will be released May 19th. We are planning an instagram Live for the release, TBA on Instagram: @joshcochran