— “It’s always about the contrast,” says illustrator Josh Cochran. A biracial “missionary kid,” Cochran and his parents moved more than 20 times during his childhood and he lived until the age of 11 in Taiwan—experiences that helped him early on to learn about spotting contrasts. Having spent much of his peripatetic childhood in Southern California, Cochran imagined a future as a background painter for DreamWorks, a goal he worked toward at the University of Southern California, and then at Art Center College of Design. But while in school, he saw that hand-painted murals were being replaced by digitally printed backdrops; more important, he realized that he liked personal, imaginative work better than “straight-ahead character sketches.” So Cochran turned toward illustration.
His work, which combines realistic and cartoon-like elements with a quirky humor, quickly became popular: After receiving his BFA in 2005, his illustrations began appearing in publications including The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, and McSweeney’s. But success isn’t enough. “I get bored easily,” he says.
After all, sameness is Kryptonite to a lover of contrast. Cochran says, “It’s good to have a recognizable look. It’s even better if I can transcend it.” To this end, he constantly “pushes [his] visual vocabulary.” But he keeps his process simple, drawing on large pieces of clear print vellum with Japanese Tombow pencils, then scanning the drawing into the computer, and adding color in Photoshop.
He’s also thinking about directing a film—he’s started dabbling in motion graphics—or writing a graphic novel. “If I define myself by technique, I’m screwed,” he says. “But no one can rip off my creativity.”