Joe McKendry is a painter and illustrator whose work has appeared in over 50 publications worldwide, including the New York Times, the London Times, Vanity Fair, Esquire, and TIME Magazine. His books, Beneath the Streets of Boston: Building America’s First Subway (David R. Godine, 2005) and One Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World (David R. Godine, 2012), chronicle the history of their subjects in a way that is accessible to both children and adults. A native of Maynard, MA, McKendry teaches painting and illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design and lives in Brookline, MA with his wife and three kids.
1)What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?
Persistence, persistence, persistence. The illustrators that get the work are not always the most talented, but those that are determined.
2)Do you think illustrators are born?
I think some people are born with an ‘artistic gene’ but it has to be nurtured in order to become a good artist. Once you learn how to draw and paint well, then you can start working on becoming a better illustrator. Good illustration is more about communicating your message through the elements you include in your image and is less about creating a work of art that is accurately representational. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t is a learned skill.
3)How would you describe your style?
When it’s black and white I would describe it as traditional line drawing, influenced by etching and pen and ink drawings from the 18th and 19th centuries. The color work is typically a combination of watercolor and line – tight drawing with loose, playful brushwork.
4)Do you have a favorite medium?
Watercolor is my favorite medium.
5)Tell us about your first paid assignment, how hard did you have to pitch?
I got my first assignment was during the summer following my sophomore in High School. My art teacher set me up with a part-time job at a local publishing company, just down the street from the school. They published a few magazines, but the ones I remember were Farrier’s Journal (a Farrier is someone who shoes horses) and Medical Meetings (about medical conferences). I worked in-house mostly typesetting, but occasionally they threw me an illustration. My first paid job was an acrylic painting of a DNA model for Medical Meetings. It was used as both a cover and as a full page spread. I can’t remember how much I was paid but it was under $100.
6)The best thing about drawing is?
Getting lost in the subject.
7)What can’t you live without when working?
My radio. I listen to National Public Radio, Sports radio, and the local college station, WERS in Boston.
8)How would you illustrate Oprah Winfrey?
In a positive light: As a saint (for all the good she’s done)
In a negative light: As Narcissus (She puts herself on every cover of her magazine!)