In Goad they trust: An interview with artist Jason Goad

robthebank by Jason Goad

By Tim Anderl
When Ohio artist and illustrator Jason Goad found himself let go from his first commercial art job, he realized that the most challenging part of being an artist was taking and recovering from hits during the mental game. Lucky for us, Goad is as tough and resilient as he is talented.  This persistence paid off and today Goad’s work is sought out by customers as varied as Mattel, Sony, The Offspring, Dayton rockers robthebank, and Juxtapoz to name a few. 
Ghettoblaster talked to Goad about his pursuit of this career, his inspiration, and his customers.  This is what he said…
You knew from a relatively early age that you’d be pursuing art as a career field and pursued your education at CCAD. How did that prepare you to launch your career as a freelance artist?
I graduated from CCAD in 1996 before the internet and utilizing a website to promote your work was as prevalent as it is now.  I learned a lot about the creation of art and how to best bring my ideas to reality, but when I emerged from college I kind of hit a wall, mainly because I didn’t possess the funds to do what the teachers there were telling us –  create about 500 portfolios for people you wanted to work for and start sending them out (via snail mail no less!).
Plus, Ohio isn’t very (or at least at the time) wasn’t very conducive to the type of work I wanted to do so I found myself interviewing for all kinds of jobs that were somewhat related to art and design, but it seemed like there was always one computer program preventing me from being hired.  It was extremely frustrating because I felt like the fundamentals were there and couldn’t understand why people saw my lack of knowledge about a computer program, something I could probably learn over a weekend, as a deal breaker.  
So I started working at various 9 to 5 jobs, doing everything from stocking the toy department at Target to working in the warehouse at Roberds furniture.  During this time I moved back and forth between Dayton and Columbus and in 2001 while working for an art manufacturing company in Columbus, was fired for being “incompatible” with the type of work they did – sign making and commercial art fabrication.  I’ll admit it was a huge blow to my ego.  I mean it wasn’t anything close to what I saw myself doing as a career, but it was an “art” job, so to have it be the first time I was fired from a job in my life and have it be something in my field was embarrassing.  
But I dusted myself off and decided it was now or never if I was ever going to have a shot at being a freelance artist. At the time I still didn’t have a proper website but found different venues on the internet to show my work and would spend hours and hours a day e-mailing companies I wanted to do work for. A lot of rejection ensued and I had an entire section of my bedroom wall devoted to my rejection letters/e-mails I printed out.
My “break” was sending a packet of materials to Tattoo magazine which led to an article in one of their sister publications, Savage Tattoo, that not only dealt with tattoos but also showcased artists whose work was in that same vein.   That in turn led to working on rock posters with Drowning Creek, out of Georgia, which led to doing work for Mattel creating graphics for Hot Wheels, Sony creating illustrations for an Offspring album (2008’s Rise and Fall Rage and Grace), Icon Motorsports working on helmet graphics,etc. etc.  
I kind of went off the rails there a bit, but to answer the original question I think it’s hard for illustrators coming out of college, because the natural inclination is to be a free spirit rather than a corporate lackey and the only real preparation they can give you is telling you to start sending work out.   But there’s no doubt that my time at CCAD made me a much better artist. Being surrounded by that much talent was both intimidating and inspiring and I shudder to think of where I would be artistically if I had never gone there. I think the hardest aspect of being a freelance artist is the mental side of it – the isolation, self doubt, stress,etc. and I think there’s no way CCAD could have prepared me to deal with that.
You were raised in Centerville, Ohio, studied in Columbus, and are currently operating in Dayton.  What is it about Dayton that lends itself to your endeavors and has kept you here?
Even though it wasn’t the case when I first got out of college, with tools like the internet, Skype, and e-mail,  where I live doesn’t hinder the kind of work I’ve been able to do. As to why I’ve stayed, this is where my family is and I’ve kind of hit that age (38) where I feel like I missed my opportunity to move far away and  try to make it in another city.
Another reason to stay in Dayton, is cost of living.  Over the years I’ll go through periods where I wonder if moving to a larger city like Los Angeles or New York will open up a lot more opportunities for me, but like I say, with the internet and tools like Skype, it’s not necessary to be a freelance illustrator and live in either of those places.
 In fact it’s kind of funny, but I would say the majority of the people I have done work for have never met me in person, much less talked to me on the phone.  I do work for a toy company in Columbus and will occasionally go over details with them on Skype, but for the most part all my back and forth is done through e-mail.  This is actually good for me, because I’m a pretty shy person and it also allows me to keep track of what is being said in case I miss something.  
I’ve only recently started to accept that I’m probably here to stay so I might as well make the best of it.  One of the benefits of living in a city without a thriving lowbrow/underground art scene is it’s a blank slate to create something new.  I just wonder sometimes if Dayton, would embrace something like that.
Where does your inspiration typically come from? How do your ideas take root?

It depends.  In regards to doing rock posters a lot of times I’ll research a band if I’m not familiar with them, listen to their most recent album, or read lyrics to some of their songs to see if any imagery pops into my head.  Sometimes, ideas come to me like a lightning bolt, and other times I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall.  

Chris Isaak by Jason Goad

For instance there’s a Chris Isaak poster I worked on that for days I aimlessly drew in my sketchbook trying to figure out an idea. I also do a lot of word association in my head and I just kept thinking how my favorite album of his was Forever Blue (from 1995 I believe).  Then I started focusing on the word BLUE and my art school history training kicked in.  I remembered that Picasso’s Blue Period was ushered in with the painting “The Old Guitarist” and given how Chris Isaak has such an iconic guitar with his name emblazoned on it, it just seemed like a perfect fit.
 I also have a love for movies and have put a lot of nods to different ones in my work over the years, including a Godfather theme in a Melvins poster and an ode to the Zoltar machine from Big in a Killers poster I worked on.  I really feel sometimes, like I’m dealing with a puzzle that needs to be solved or the right answer is out there – I just need to fumble around a bit to come to the solution. Strangely enough, it seems like when I’m having the most difficulty is when the best ideas eventually come to me.
So your ideas informed by comic art, movies and science fiction, right?
My aesthetic is greatly influenced by the comics I used to stare at as a kid.  Other influences I have are anime, artists from the art nouveau period (Mucha and Maxfield Parrish especially) and even Norman Rockwell who I consider one of my favorite illustrators, even though our styles and subject matter are COMPLETELY different. In fact when that recent exhibit of his work came to The Dayton Art Institute, it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.  To be able to see up close all the individual brushstrokes and even his sketch lines on works that I’ve marveled at for years (and in some cases without any kind of protective glass) was an incredible experience and helped me figure out some things in my own painting process.
Over the years you’ve done work for several large companies, including Topps, Mattel, Sony and more.  Which of your jobs have been most personally satisfying? Which of them were you most proud of?
I would say the most satisfying job is when you are approached to do work and you can tell the person or company isn’t coming to you just because you can draw, but because they like what you can specifically bring to the project.  Or they give you free reign and have faith in your abilities.  That really means a lot to me and I think brings out my best work.  
One of the most enjoyable things I worked on recently was the album art for robthebank, a local band.  I was approached by their drummer Craigo and given some ideas for imagery and song lyrics for their upcoming album. For about a week and a half we bounced concepts off each other, I showed him quick sketches, and eventually had a good idea of where it was going.  But the aesthetic he wanted for the art was old school punk albums and while it was somewhat different from the work I usually do, it also freed me up immensely, because it needed to look really DIY and zine-like. So I had fun, not feeling the usual pressure I put on myself to make every little line perfect and could get really outlandish with the colors. I also would print the art out and do different things to rough it up including driving over it with my truck and letting my cat jump around on it.  Its things like that that remind me of being a kid and the simple joy of creating stuff, so when a project goes that way, I have a great appreciation for it.  
There is likely a significant difference between a client that has a clear vision, and those that expect you to conceptualize and develop the vision for them. Do you have a work preference?
Well it’s always nice when a client comes to you with a clear vision, although sometimes it’s just a start and the challenge for me is to inject a little bit of myself into the concept. Like for instance, I used to do ads for a company based in California called The Giant Peach that would run in Juxtapoz every other month.  I was pretty much given carte blanche by the owner to come up with ideas for the ads, all of which were usually connected to peaches. So it was fun and eventually became more and more challenging to come up with new and different ways to incorporate peaches (and sometimes the notion of it being giant) into the ads.  I also found myself sticking to a pretty consistent color palette and it was kind of cool to lay all the ads out and see them as a cohesive whole.
Another example is my work for a barbershop located in Chicago called Joe’s Barbershop. Joe will come to me when it’s time to do a poster for an event he is putting on at his shop or sponsoring and for the first couple days, we’ll bounce ideas off each other through e-mails until something clicks.  And sometimes he’ll have the start of an idea and I’ll be like “Well, what if you take that concept and do _________ to it?”. It’s definitely a collaborative process.
Do you still start with pencil sketches or do you do your illustrating on a Wacom tablet?
I still try to do as much as I can by hand and if I do any kind of “drawing” on the computer it’s using my mouse and the lasso tool in Photoshop.  Actually this has been kind of a dilemma with me over the years as some of the projects I’ve worked on have become more and more reliant on working on the computer.  
As a kid I had a very unusual pencil grasp.  It’s something my teacher’s tried to change, but my mom was adamant that they just leave me alone, because she perceived a connection between my grasp and my ability to create art. I think that instilled something in my head that if I wasn’t physically doing art by hand there was a component that was missing in the equation.  
Maybe I’ll eventually switch to a Wacom or a Cintiq because coloring my work can be really tedious using a mouse, but for the time being, if it’s not necessary to do it on the computer, I would rather do it by hand. Plus, I have a great appreciation for the craft of drawing, like the idea of having a tangible work of art, and also from time to time will sell my originals.
In 2006 you formed 4frnt Studios. What was the concept behind that?
Actually, 4frnt didn’t come about until 2010.  It was originally called C-space (located in the Front St. warehouse) and was run by my friend Jeffie Richards for his church.  I was asked to submit a piece for a group show there and before long was contributing regularly to some of the themed events that went on there.  There was a little shake up with the space, but evenutally Jeffie, Mike Guidone of Monkeybones Tattoo, and I regained it and rebranded it as 4frnt.  
The thing I loved the most about that space was that it was kind of off the beaten path and was hard to tell from the outside of the building (besides the people outside smoking and talking) that there was even an art show going on. Reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where George stumbles upon a secret night club frequented by super models in an abandoned meat packing facility.
On several occasions when I invited people there for art shows, they would arrive and  their reaction was always “Where the hell are we going?”, like it was that scene in Hostel where the main character is told he’s being taken to an art show but in reality being handed over to a secret torture society.
But we had a good run until we had to close shop late last year due to various reasons.  I love the idea of outsider / lowbrow art and we had the freedom to do some shows that were a lot of fun – He-man, George Lucas, zombies, insects to name a few. I think we got to a point where we felt like it wasn’t really going anywhere and getting the attention it deserved despite all the time and effort we were putting into it. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for the other guys but at least that’s how I felt.  I pride myself on not being a really competitive artist and do my best to stay humble, but I do get frustrated sometimes when I feel like effort is not being rewarded.
Dayton folks who’ve driven past the Monkey Bones Tattoo shop have seen your work. Where else can Daytonians see your art locally?
Nowhere else around here really, although I’m currently working on pieces for a solo show at Clash Consignments this June.  My plan for the show is to create a lot of smaller more affordable work to sell as well as some art prints and other merchandise.  One of the lessons of 4frnt is that people don’t always have $400-1000 to plunk down on a large painting, but something ranging between $20 for art prints or $100 for a small piece of art is reasonable.    But the name of the show is “Illustrate or Die” with the opening during the First Friday Art Hop on June the 7th.
A selection of your flier art is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Are you a music buff? How did that opportunity come about?
I wouldn’t call myself a music buff. I mean I have a fully stocked iPod and do listen to quite a bit of music especially when I’m working, but I would consider myself foremost a movie/video game buff before music.  I will say though that doing rock posters has gotten me more into music and introduced me to a lot of bands I probably would have never seeked out or heard on my own.  
As for how the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame stuff came about, on a whim I sent a postcard to their art director, you know, just to let him know I existed.  A lot of times I’ll do that – just send a postcard to a person or place I respect or admire just to say “Hey, I’m alive.” not really expecting a response in return.  He contacted me, thanked me for the postcard and said he’d keep me in mind in case they needed any illustrations.  So I asked him if they had a section at the museum dedicated to gigposter art.  I can’t remember the exact response,  I think it was something along the lines that there were no plans for something like that, but if I wanted to donate posters to them I was more than welcome.  So I sent them a variety of my posters and some of the original drawings I did for The Offspring album and then one day I got an e-mail informing me that they had been accepted into their archives.  Maybe not a super prestigious turn of events, but at least I can say I’m in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Are there other Ohio artists whose work you are crazy about? Clint Reno, Don Pendleton, Derek Hess?
I’m actually friends with Clint Reno and have loved his worked for a while now…ever since he and I were going to CCAD.  I’m familiar with Don Pendleton’s work through his Alien Workshop stuff and am a really big fan of Derek Hess’ ever since I saw one of his posters at a friend’s house back in the mid ‘90s.
Also, he’s kind of a more recent transplant to Ohio, but Brian Ewing puts out great work and I also dig the work of another local artist, Amy Kollar Anderson. It’s kind of the same thing with Norman Rockwell.  Although our subject matter and style are very different, I have a great respect for her work ethic and craftsmanship and she’s one of the few artists I know around here who seems as focused and dedicated as I am.  I’m sure there’s a lot more out there in the Dayton area, but I’m not the most social guy in the world and haven’t made as much of an effort as I probably should to interact with local artists.
Have any other artists sought you out for mentoring?
From time to time people will approach me for advice and I do my best to help them out, although I still feel like I’m not at the point where I’ve got everything figured out enough to give good direction.  I mean you can look at the steps I’ve taken over the years and chances are that’s not going to work for everyone.
My main advice would be to get a website, find places you want to do work for and send them postcards with your art on it.  Sometimes it takes a while and you have to look at it as you are planting seeds.  I sent postcards to The Giant Peach for almost a year before they contacted me for work and like I said above, that’s how I got into contact with The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.  It’s a real non-intrusive way to say “Hey, if you like the art on this card go check out more of it.  No pressure.”

Bobafett by Jason Goad

Are you stoked about the new Star Wars movies? Are you any closer to achieving the dream you told Dayton Most Metro about doing an official piece for that franchise?
Yes, I’m extremely excited about the new Star Wars movies. Star Wars was an important part of my childhood, in fact I have rather distinct memories of seeing the first Star Wars at the drive-in movie theater that was next to the Dayton Mall at the ripe old age of 3.  I had a lot of the toys and used to draw all the characters.  
For years I was an apologist for the prequels, my defense always being “Well, that’s George Lucas’ vision and you can’t argue with that,” but looking back on the prequels I was pretty disappointed.  I’ve tried to figure out whether it was because the movies were truly lackluster or whether it’s just because I was at a different place in my life and if I only allowed myself to see them through the lens of my 3 year old self I would appreciate them more.  But I think I finally came to the conclusion that they lacked the magic of the originals, to me at least.  
But getting back to the new ones, it totally caught me by surprise and the announcement that JJ Abrams was going to be directing it with some great writers behind him, just seemed like they learned their lessons from the prequels and were going to do everything right.  I’m a huge JJ Abrams fan, especially the series Lost and just thought, of all the directors out there, he was the one who could not only bring his signature approach to the series, but could also get to the core of what it was that was so special about the originals and replicate that.  
As for achieving my dream of doing something official for Star Wars, I’m proud to say I accomplished that this past summer through Topps.  They do what’s called artist sketch cards where they select artists and send them a predetermined amount of blank trading cards to just go to town on. I had worked on some Mars Attacks ones for them previously (208 total) and I guess they liked what they saw and asked me back for their Star Wars Galactic Files series. I completed 106 cards total and it was probably the closest I’ve felt in a long time to just being a kid with his paper and markers drawing the stuff that made him happy at the time.
Now the way sketch cards work is that as soon as you finish your pieces you send them back to Topps and then they are randomly inserted into packs of cards and released to the public.  These are not mass produced, just one of a kind pieces of art that one lucky person will pull from a pack, kind of like a Wonka Golden Ticket, just less golden (unless it’s of C-3PO of course).
(See more of Goad’s art here: