Illustrator Joren Cull on creating award-winning art and animations for Pitchfork, The School of Life and The Guardian

Canadian illustrator Joren Cull is revelling in his success. Among gaining a number of American illustration awards, Joren has created entertaining animations for Pitchfork Media which earned him Best Animation of the Year at the 2016/17 Webby Awards. His work has also been selected as one of the New York Times' top 50 illustrations of 2017 (for his series of illustration and gifs visualising how New York turns food waste into compost and gas).

Alongside creating regular, comic-style illustrations for the New York Times and other editorials, Joran keeps himself busy by illustrating, animating, directing, voicing, mixing, scoring and writing for the web series 'A Brief History Of', along with others for the beloved-by-hipsters online music magazine Pitchfork. The short YouTube animations, of which some have gained one million views each, cover everything from how the band Radiohead formed (seen below) to explaining Metal music.

He’s also created a range of animations for clients such as The School of Life and a bunch of topical personal projects which you can check out here.

Drawing from a young age combined with witty humour, and now boasting clients including Warner Music, The Guardian and Coca-Cola, there’s a thing or two to be learnt from the Toronto-based freelancer.

We catch up with Joren to find out how he created the award-winning projects, finding exposure as a freelancer and what he’s looking to achieve in the year ahead.

Miriam Harris: How does it feel to be included in the New York Times art department's top 50 illustrations of the year?

Joren Cull: "It was a huge honour! The New York Times has such an amazing team of creative minds. It was super humbling to be included. For all these award things it’s always really exciting to be recognised by people whose work you admire. I won a large amount of awards last year, including a People’s Choice Webby, six American Illustration awards, four Applied Arts awards and then this one too. It was overwhelming but also reassuring."

Joren Cull's gif for the New York Times

MH: What inspires you, and how can we see this in your style?

JC: "I find going on really long walks inspiring, as well as running on the elliptical at the gym to brainstorm. Running is very meditative. I love the nighttime too, I think I feel more inspired by it than the summer and sun. That’s how I’ve been feeling lately at least.

"I’m also very inspired by pop culture, particularly music, TV, and movies. Usually when I’m working I’m watching something, or listening to/learning about some new media. There’s such an overwhelming amount of great undiscovered work. I want to know about as many things as I can. I find returning to old favourites to be very comforting and inspiring as well." 

MH: Tell us about the creative process behind the series of illustrations you created for the New York Times that earned your spot in the top 50.

JC: "We had to fit in a bunch of different stages of the recycling process and basically follow a piece of garbage from one end of the line to the other. I designed it so it would be like a moving comic following the process and having the garbage enter and exit the different boxed stages. It just seemed like a logical approach. I had the great pleasure of working with New York Times art director Antonio DeLuca on this one. He brought a lot of great ideas to the project as well. It’s been so long, it’s hard for me to remember who did what so I want to be careful with my blurry recollection of the process. I think the aerial view of the city is maybe my favourite one, along with the two comic panels."

MH: You’re still working on 'A Brief History Of'. How did you decide on the overall aesthetic of the animated web series?

JC: "For the aesthetic of the series, I came up with that on our first episode 'A Brief History of Goth'.

"The executive producer had asked me to do a rough narration of the video while they recorded their own, and it was really supposed to be a “Ted-Ed” style video, consisting of basic narration and images. But as I was trying to narrate it I kept remembering being in school reading an essay to a class, so I leaned into it and started adding voices and building the video and essay around that idea.
It’s a fun idea and I think it’s an original way to tackle this type of video. It does however come with it’s own set of boundaries. I am ready to try to take it new places and see how to further push the concept.

"For the Radiohead video I tried to research a lot about Radiohead and make a video a Radiohead fan would enjoy. I tried to make something I would be proud of, and I’m happy with how that one turned out."

MH: Did you work work closely with Radiohead for the project?
JC: "No I’ve never met or talked to Radiohead and I’m mad at them for not sharing the video!"

MH: What have you got planned next for the episode?
JC: "We just released an episode on Metal. I’m not sure what’s to do after that. I was thinking of killing the kids in it. Maybe they are dead? Or some of them? That’s what I was hoping for at least, I’m not sure they will let me do that."

MH: How is illustrating for animation different to editorial illustration?
JC: "With an editorial illustration you are trying to express an idea in one single panel, and with animation you have more room to tell a story and almost break up all the stuff you would normally try to fit into one illustration. You can also communicate more complex ideas through animation generally.

"I like creating animations a lot, especially when I get inspired to do a personal project. It’s such a satisfying feeling to have a video that you wrote, directed, voiced, illustrated, animated, produced, and scored all alone. It’s fun to move a long in the process and wear all the different hats and have a completed video that would often usually take at least five to 10 people to get done.

"I’m working on a project right now that’s very ambitious and though I’m daunted by it I’m very excited to do it and get great satisfaction from seeing it’s process. I think my taste generally lies in things that you can tell were one singular vision by one or two people. It’s an aesthetic I guess."

MH: You’ve got an impressive client list – how did you manage to gain exposure of your work as a freelancer?

JC: "I kept at it for a long time; sometimes it feels like I haven’t left my house in five years since I started working. I’m always trying to think of new ways to promote myself, I think the work usually snowballs too. It’s just a mixture of trying everything I can think of, believing in the work and people seeing it."

MH: What are you hoping to achieve from the year ahead?

JC: "I finished writing and illustrating a kids book recently that I’m hoping to shop around. If any publishing agents are reading this hit me up. Also I’ve started working on a pilot that I’m very excited about."

For more check out Joren's Facebook and Instagram

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