A still from the Thor: The Dark World title sequence by Justin Harder and Claus Studios
“Finding your voice as an artist is tough, but as long as you have a sharp way to solve design problems, you’ll be fine.”
You may not realize it, but you’re probably already familiar with the work of illustrator Justin Harder.
From title sequences in films such as Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, Thor: The Dark World, or 2014’s The Book of Life, through to character designs for Ford and Virgin Hotels, the work of Justin and his own Claus studios is instantly recognizable.
But success didn’t happen overnight for this Texas-born artist. In fact, after leaving college and moving to LA, Justin found his training in spot illustration just wasn’t bringing the work in.
Incredibly, he only earned $6,000 in his first year after graduating. And, like so many artists, he found himself working for free on anything from murals to band T-shirts, and he began to grow despondent.
His solution? “I just kept drawing,” he says. “I’ve been drawing my whole life – even when it became uncool to do so at school!”
Justin Harder on Never Giving Up on Your Art
Eventually, his determination paid off. Justin got a freelance gig back in Texas at Reel FX as an entry-level illustrator, and soon found himself thrown into the exciting, fast-paced environment of a commercial art studio.
“At that time, I had what I call ‘Stylistic Attention Deficit Disorder’,” he jokes. “I was just trying to think of the best way to solve various design challenges, and I got to work on so many different things – I even did some copywriting!”
Sure, it was hard work, but Justin Harder gained invaluable experience in many different areas – including plenty he had little prior experience of.
Speaking of this time now, he says: “Although I wasn’t qualified to do some of these jobs, I learned them through experience. It’s like watching a great basketball player. You don’t ask yourself: ‘Which college did he go to and which qualifications has he got?’ You just watch him doing his thing.
“Thanks to online courses such as the ones on Pencil Kings, there are so many ways to get art now – there literally is no limit to what you can learn!”
An illustration for Marvel Avengers by Justin Harder
As Justin rose through the ranks to become art director and creative director, he continued to work on all kinds of exciting new projects. And this is what eventually led him to work on title sequences for the movies we mentioned earlier.
He explains: “Title sequences started back in the 1950s as a way for incredible artists like Saul Bass to merge titles with the content of the movie. Not only do they tell a story, they’re a great way for artists to get their work seen on the big screen by lots of people. You can check out some classics at the Art of The Title website.”
Working on Thor: The Dark World was a particularly interesting project for Justin Harder. Working with animation specialists at Blur studio, he was able to bring his brush strokes to life and create a memorable title sequence with its stark black shapes and red accent colors.
“I had, like, 65-80 layers of real brush strokes that had been scanned in and brought into Photoshop,” he says, “and it was so exciting to see these animated in the end result.”
You can check out some of the title sequences Justin’s worked on below:
As well as working on title sequences, Justin has also become a regular fixture at comic cons across the US, which he says is a great way to connect with his audience and make new friends.
“Commercials are great, but I had this desire to get my art out in front of people and make a more personal connection,” he says. “Plus, it’s cool to share the passion and knowledge you’ve gained so far with other artists.”
An illustration of the tank from Aliens by Justin Harder
If you go to any comic con this year, you’ll most likely see Justin there, with his stall lined with high quality giclée prints of cars from some of his favorite movies. It’s something he clearly enjoys, saying: “I love doing comic cons. Everyone there is so supportive and nice!”
So what’s his advice for aspiring artists?
He says: “The one thing I always say to students is that they need to pick up the pace. The great thing about starting out working full-time in a commercial art studio is that it forces you to work fast and use all the skills and knowledge you already have to get the job done faster.
“Years of experience can go into a piece of work that may have only taken you 10 minutes! Learn your Photoshop shortcuts (this course from Sycra Yasin is a great place to start), and don’t be afraid to look over the shoulder of the guys you’re working with and see how they get things done so quickly.”
You can catch Justin Harder at San Diego Comic Con, which runs from 9th-12th July 2015. Alternatively, check out his site and his social media channels, which are all listed below.
Listen to this week’s show and learn:
- Why you should never give up on your art
- Why a commercial environment can be a great place to learn
- Why it’s important to connect with your audience
- Why you needn’t worry if you haven’t found your own style yet
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