TheeBlog Q&A Sessions: Hydro74

TheeBlog-Hydro74

There are many different styles of illustration and design. Yes, we all know that… but there are only few ’signature styles’ strong enough to be recognized instantly wherever you might find them. Today’s guest is one of these amazingly talented artists whose intricate work is not only recognizable at first sight, but also deliciously crafted and inspiring. Today, I am proud and stoked to share a new Q&A Session featuring Joshua M. Smith aka HYDRO74. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and following Joshua’s work for quite some time and realized that the best way to showcase his work would be by inviting him to chat and share some of his secrets, inspiration and process behind his work and why not, a few personal anecdotes. But wait! That’s not it, as you might have heard or read, Joshua donated a few signed giveaway goodies. Check out the interview after the jump and what you’ll need to do to get some visual candy!

Josh, let me begin by thanking you for accepting my invitation and for taking the time to chat. As you know, I’ve been following your work for a couple of years already and I am a big fan… AND I also wanted to thank you for following this blog (these are the things that make my day!)

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Let’s start by the obvious. I’m going to pretend there are still people out there who are not familiar with your work or if they’ve seen it, they might not know where it came from. Could you please introduce yourself?
This is always the hard part, really never know how to do a proper introduction. My name is Joshua M. Smith and I am the artist behind Hydro74 who is a Graphic Designer and Illustrator based in Orlando Florida. Been doing design work for the last 12 years give or take. Over the past 6 years I’ve made the choice to focus more with typography and vector art forms due to my passions behind it. I worked with quite a few different core companies and I’m never happy with what I’m doing because I want to be better at it. Hope that works as an introduction. Ha!

Do you consider yourself a Designer? Illustrator? Typographer? All of the above?
Pretty much all the above. The hardest part about being in the field that I’m in is trying to define myself with a label. When people ask, just stating Illustrator or Graphic Designer has become this trivial job title and assume, ‘oh, one of those huh..’ It’s funny how the term Designer over the years has devalued so much because the field is so saturated and by generic terms, anyone and everyone is a designer and illustrator. I guess yes, I am all the above, but in a social setting I tend to just tell people I run my own company and work with legitimate progressive brands and assisting in their illustrative and typographical needs. Kinda odd in a way, but that helps define my own ideology of being a Graphic Designer without feeling like I’m underselling my abilities.

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When did you begin illustrating and how did it happen? Were you the artistic child in school or did it click later on in life?
I’ve always doodled. I’ve never been one to sit and flesh out pieces with pen and pencils because I think it’s the aspect of being A.D.D to a degree. I believe design happened in Junior high. During that time I was in the same school as Jeremy Packer (Zombieyeti) and he could draw like it was nobodies business. I always tried to sneak a peek at what he was working on or even try to steal something he drew just to see how he did it. I think there was even a time I noticed he threw away a drawing in the trash so after he left the room I took it out. We didn’t get a long very well during that time. Him being the super stud with all the girls, pizza parties and talking about how many bases he got to that weekend while I was the kid that was poor and to me, Thrift Stores was considered ‘back to school shopping’. I will take pride tho, in 7th grade, I won more design ribbons than he did, so to this day, I will take that pride with me. I ended up moving to another High School and noticed I was too small to play football like I did at the other and decided to just do comics for the school newspaper.. I never wanted to be a artist, but the classes were easy to keep my grade up. During college it took about two years of being bitter towards the Student Education program that I decided to do Liberal Arts and just take art Classes. I ended up dropping out and learning everything I know to this date on my own. I was never a talented illustrator by any means, but once I figured out vector, the world changed for illustration. I discovered my mouse was my sharpie. I could control lines and the actual clicking of the mouse cured my A.D.D to a degree.

Now referring back to Zombieyeti. I found him on facebook to cuss him out for being a bully and stealing my 7th grade girl Luna, but discovered he was working a dead end job at some we company in the small town of Goshen (Indiana) so I encouraged him to get back into drawing. Mostly to rub it in his face, but after a few things he did for me, I realized he was still skilled. I joke tho, we are great friends now. I was more impressed by how things came full circle and being able to work with a friend from Junior High who I admired.

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Your work consists of an eclectic collection and combination of skulls, animals, type and ornaments. Where do these come from? What’s the story behind your pieces?
Not really. I always tend to look at a illustration as a puzzle. Certain elements go hand in hand while others are a test to see if they actually work. People always state I draw too many skulls, but in reality, I don’t. I do them time to time, but more focused on Animals and different structures. I think the skull becomes a embellishment more so than a focal point. During the early part of my personal education, I was inspired by Obey, Giant and skateboard culture so after seeing their work so frequently, a hint of the ornate or thick lines or structure started to play a role. Now I’m more focused on learning more about early typographers and early illustrators of the 60’s and 70’s and see how I can create vector forms that still have a pen and ink feel to them.

Do you plan them or do they just happen as you go?
No planning really. I have a idea of what I want to accomplish, but as I’m clicking I always think, maybe I should this or this. Really it’s just a puzzle and the vector form is a such a malleable substance that if something doesn’t work, you tweak it till it does.

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What’s your typical process? (if there’s any)
Don’t think there is a typical process. I generally start with a idea, research references, do a quick photoshop mock or quick doodle to figure out a structure than go into illustrator and click away. A lot of times I bypass all of that and just go in and start clicking or lettering to see what happens.

You already know this but I still gotta say it, your new promotional coins project has had me drooling over the past days since you first showed some samples. Please tell us about it!!
I was over at Merchline dropping off prints and was talking to Nate about beltbuckles and key chains. He handed me a catalog of one of their vendors and I started to skim it. When I saw the coins that they can do, I figured ‘screw it’, let’s do a business card coin. At first I was going to just make a art coin because earlier I did up some poker chips to hand off to clients. Those were successful so thought the next stage was to send them a nice coin. Always trying to find little things for clients that they will like and keep on their desk.

How did you come up with the idea? Why coins?
Well, after doing a couple mock ups, I decided why the hell not do a business card. I hate business cards. I got piles and they always get shuffled back or lost. So after thinking about it for a few, I wanted to do something that someone would hang on to or keep on their desk. Just something different. At the end of the day, all these little things I do is to get the attention of past clients or current clients to entice them keep coming back, as well as a gift to say thanks.. It is one of those bad habits I have… Just always thinking about what is next.

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You have done some amazing work for huge clients like Nike, Adidas, Smashing Pumpkins, Burton, MTV, Quicksilver, etc… and are considered a household name when it comes to your style. How hard or easy has it been to be contacted and commissioned by these huge brands who want to pimp out their products with your work?
I’ve been lucky for most of my freelance career. At least the part in the last 6 years that I’ve decided to be fully independent. Granted, the 8 years before of being a freelancer was rough.. Very rough. Anyway, off topic. I’ve been fortunate enough that most clients seek me. I rarely pitch for projects, mostly because I have no clue who to pitch to. But on the same token, I hate pitching because if a client wants to work with you, they will find you and enjoy working with you while if you pitch to win a project, the client will be more critical of the work thus making the relationship strained. I’ve seen that happen first hand. Because I’ve been doing it for a while, most Creative Directors I’ve worked with pass my name off so that helps fuels more work, or I come to find out a Creative Director is a fan and is just trying to find a reason to work with me. It’s a great feeling to know, but it’s always humbling too. I have no clue how I got to be remotely successful. I just click vector shit all day and consider it a bit blah after a while. So yes, I’m very humbled just to be contacted, but enjoy it too because they bring new challenges and push my limits. Probably the reason why I love working with Nike. I learn so much during the process.

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And since we’re talking about your sweet client list, I want to bring something up. Last week, while talking about your new promotional coins, I stated that, being as recognized as you are and having such an impressive and well known portfolio and style of work, why would you go out of your way and spend some considerable cash to create such amazing pieces to give to clients? to which you answered “… it’s amazing what a little reminder does from time to time”. This got me thinking and I’m glad I get the chance to dig deeper. Could you elaborate a bit more on this?
I think the forgotten aspect about client / freelancer relationship is that the client is like us. As in at 5pm, they want to go home, want to forget about work and enjoy their time away from work. Also they enjoy getting packages. Yes they are reminders to them about what you do, but on the same token it is something unexpected and something they get stoked about. I remember when I was a Creative Director and got random packages. One kid sent me comic books. I couldn’t give him a project, but I ended up grabbing office swag from the office and sent him a nice package as a thank you.

I think if you realize that the less stress and the more personalized gifts you offer the better the relationship will be. Besides a 6-7 dollar coin is nothing if they decide to work with you again anyway. It’s a good investment.

When did you begin creating custom fonts and why?
Well, I started making them for myself back in 2000. It was just a test to see if I could learn how to make them. After a couple crappy fonts, and some ugly ones, I made a few that were decent. It’s one of those odd addictions I have. When I have down time or a idea, I just make a font or start one. Think I’ve done over 100 fonts.

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Thanks for constantly releasing new ones by the way! I’ve got most of them in a special library, reserved for special projects :) Now, I don’t know if you have been asked this before but, why would you release ‘free’ fonts?
One, it’s something I like to do. And Two, I don’t want to be that ‘give me money’ designer. I always view the career as we are all in this together. Some free resources are nice from time to time and if people dig them, then that is even more awesome. I think in the end, I just like doing it. They are not the greatest fonts by any means…

Let’s get a little more personal. What inspires you as an artist?
Coffee… A nice cup of coffee to start the day does wonders. Lately as far as design stuff, a lot of older out of print books. Typography and illustrations from the 60-70’s and early 80’s has been my vice lately. I also enjoy a lot of the turn of the century structures. Not the clip art stuff that Dover raped, but the techniques for the typography and details. I hate to admit it, but I don’t follow many new designers. I never pay attention anymore unless someone shows me. I’ve just decided to enjoy what I enjoy rather than trend chasing and trying to keep up with different styles that I don’t like doing. So I find that buying old books and PDF’s of old books that can be found online is far more inspiring. I would rather see things that I feel I could use to inspire me rather than trying to do something that is out of my range of abilities due to trend.

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Please describe your typical day…
Coffee, have a smoke, check email, get more coffee, plan the day and click away. Sometime in between take a break then get back on later in the night or early morning to catch up on things.

Are there any artists past or current that you admire and that inspire you?
Quite a few. Rick Griffin, Jim Phillips, Greg Irons, Michael Manoogian, Gerard Huerta, David Quay, Giant, Obey, Munk One, 123Klan, Julie West.. So on, so forth

Do you have a favorite project or piece? What’s the story behind it?
Not really. I enjoy all that I do, and after awhile, it blends together. Kinda boring huh?

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List 5 things you could not live without
- Coffee
- Wife
- Kids
- The secrets I have on Zombieyeti
- Bourbon

Any upcoming projects or ideas you want to share? What can we expect from Hydro74 this or next year?
Not sure. Probably more of the same. Hopefully more defined structures to Legacy of Defeat and some unique ideas I have for Hydro74 for promo stuff. But yeah.. More of the same. Ha!

Thank you again Josh! It’s always a pleasure having talented friends as guests and I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there who are going to enjoy this interview as much as I did. Keep up the amazing work, pushing boundaries and inspiring designers around the world!

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Visit www.hydro74.com for more inspiration, and to buy some sweet merch!

NOW, as promised, I have a few Hydro74 goodies to give away! Joshua was kind enough to donate some amazing material, and due to the great response and emails I’ve received since this giveaway was announced, the packs will be divided into multiple pieces, meaning there will be 20 lucky winners instead of just one!!! That way, we all win and everyone gets a piece of some awesome Hydro74 material!

How can you win these you ask? Easy! You must be a THEE BLOG follwer on Twitter and Facebook of course, and all you have to do is contact us at contact {at} theeblog.net and ask (nicely) for some goodies :) But wait, that’s not it, you also have to link/show us your RT on Twitter, Share on Facebook, Blog, or wherever you can socially spread the love!

It’s that simple. The 20-25 first readers to contact us will receive some love by mail and the one with the most RTs, Shares, etc. Will be eligible for a sweet Hydro74 coin and book! (the grand prize)

So, come get’em!

WINNERS WILL BE ANNOUNCED FRIDAY! (September 2, 2011)

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12 comments
  1. I WAAAANNNNTTTT!

  2. yes great post ! I’m eying one of those books :)

  3. need this in my life.

  4. Great interview! Always good to read how others spend their designing days!

  5. Great interview! And killer designer. Always coming up with ideas for type and design that are making better designers out of us all and making us push ourselves
    harder.

  6. Want! Send some goodies up north, Diego =)

  7. What an awesome interview! I look forward to more from THEE BLOG!

  8. Love what this dude does! Gimme some stuff!

  9. I’m new to the “poster art” scene but I love this stuff!
    Just bought a sweet-ass Primus test print today!

  10. hi! hydro he’s my best illustrator. i follow he since long time. greetings from italy…. and god save this odd working world….. for communication and fotography too many things are changed in italy!

  11. J Smith is a beast! His designs are an amazing blend of ornate flourishes and striking forms. This guy is a serious inspiration for an artist like myself.

    I love this interview and its a really helpful tool to light that fire under my ass to get to working!

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