Artist Interview: 2/1/2010  

The Shared Brain of Jolby

Most art-making is an introspective solo journey and artists often have trouble compromising even small details of their work.  An exception to the typical, Josh Kenyon and Colby Nichols have found developed a workflow, and corresponding portfolio, that includes both of their ideas and allows enough compromise to come to an often-stronger result.  Collaborating for the better part of last decade under the name Jolby, Josh and Colby have combined their strengths in illustration, design, and imagination to create interesting work both for themselves and for clients.  After marking their Subtext show as one of our favorites of 2009, we looked them up to find answers about their unique way of working.

Where do the characters and places come from in your work?
Depending on what the project or illustration piece is going to be, we try to find something in our lives to base them off of. Colby will sketch out the characters and design them until both of us are happy to place them in a scene or over some paint/texture. For the "Home Is Where You Make It" show, he spent a month or so developing all of the characters in the story so that they all were different, but still felt like they lived in the same world together. The places and backgrounds come from where we live, what's around us daily, nature, certain things that drive us. We try to put a lot of our everyday lives into our work.

What stories have the two of you read to be inspired to create this other word full of characters and pattern?

A lot of little pieces come together for us when we're trying to create a mood or a concept for a show. We set out to put a story behind everything we do and use symbolism to give each piece a unique history so it transcends from being just an illustration or just a design. More than stories, music is a huge inspiration for the both of us. During the "Home" show, we listened to a lot of Anathallo's "Canopy Glow" album which inspired our look and feel for a lot of that body of work. As far as Josh's patterns go, he is heavily inspired by patterns in nature, specifically his trip to Bali, Indonesia. He came back from that voyage with a ton of new ideas. He takes alot of photos even if its just with his iPhone and has a catalog of inspiration for patterns.

Each batch of new work you guys produce usually has a strong, set color palette. How is that decided on? Seasonal?

A lot of our early work was apparel design. Both of us had designed a lot of t-shirts for bands and other clients. Typically, screen printed tees have a very limited color palette and it's these early practices that carried over into our art. It makes things really simple for us and it's our personal preference for the look of our work.

How did you two meet? When did you begin collaborating?
We met in Art School in California and started working together after we both graduated. We did Substratum Apparel for a few years which was a successful art-based clothing company and when that project ended, Josh moved to Chicago and Colby stayed in San Diego. We kept working together over aim, email, video chat on various art projects and client work. Colby moved to Portland a couple years after and Josh soon followed. We are both in Portland now and have streamlined our work. It's crazy when you look back and see how tough it was to share ideas, but we are proud to have pulled off some of the projects we did separated by 2000 miles.

What are some of the pros and cons of working together on everything Jolby produces?
The benefits are endless to a creative partnership. The main thing is that two heads are always better than one. If one of us is stuck on an idea or needs help, the other is there to set them back on course. We both push each other's abilities everyday to be better artists and people and over the years we have made each other into better artists far faster than we could have on our own. The important part of working together is knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses and we have figured out how to accomplish things as a team without diluting the others ideas or style. The cons with working together on everything are slight, but it naturally makes everything more complicated. On the other side of that it makes projects twice as good as they could have been.

You guys are both from Southern California, what made you move up to Portland, and how are you liking it?
Well, Colby moved to Portland mainly because his girlfriend got accepted to a college to get her PhD. After some coaxing and freezing winters in Chicago, Josh came to visit Portland, fell in love, and he and his wife have been living here ever since. Portland is such an incredible city filled with amazing food, music, people, coffee, beer, and countless creatives to keep us inspired. The art community here is so awesome.

Why do you think so many young creatives are moving to PDX?
It's a growing city with an amazing culture. It also nurtures creativity and lets people be whoever/whatever they want to be any day of the week. It's really empowering to look around and see people doing what they love everyday.

Do you guys see live music often? Any local standouts we should know about..?
Yes! We are heavily inspired by music and, after a live show, we usually leave with some ideas or concepts fueled by the tunes. As far as local talents go, Colby's a big fan of a local San Diego band "Transfer." We are also really good friends with The Graduate, a Chicago-based indie rock band. Those guys are actually writing and recording an original soundtrack to our upcoming show "Sea Legs" that will loop all night during the opening and could be released on CD with the artwork after the show.

What can we expect to see from Jolby in 2010?
We have a show February 25th at Together Gallery in Portland, OR called "Sea Legs" which explores the mythology and superstitions of the sea. That show is a collaboration with our incredible photographer friend Ashley Forrette. We are also in talks to get our first book published based on the "Home Is Where You Make It" show and telling more of those tales. We spent the last year doing 3 solo shows, so we'd like to step back from that a bit and get into more editorial illustration and other client work.

Working at a creative agency during the day, where does the energy come from to do similar work at home? What motivates you two to collaborate and be creating constantly?
Both of us have this itch to be productive constantly, which has been there since before our days as a team. With our design backgrounds, we both have a huge passion for it and are really grateful to be able to design during the day and illustrate at night. I couldn't imagine us not doing one or the other. Having a design background has helped us as artists, too. We've found that the majority of our art is hand-drawn first and produced digitally just because we are so used to working in design programs.

As busy as we may keep ourselves, we both try to find time to stop and catch our breath. I think keeping a balance between work and play is essential for creating work that you're happy with.

Outside of your creative work, what are you excited about?
Colby: I'm a big gamer, so any new video games, discovering new microbrews, fresh coffee, great friends and my awesome girlfriend. Josh and I play a lot of racquetball, too.

Josh: I love eating. If I was a better writer I would be a food critic, but I suck at writing so I'll just eat. I spend alot of time with my wife and dog going on hikes and just enjoy nature. Pickling is my new love, I have been pickling all sorts of delicious vegetables and fruits.


Jolby's next exhibit, Sea Legs, opens February 25th at Together Gallery in Portland, Oregon.  Be on the lookout for future retail collaboration between Jolby and Sezio.  For an insightful peek into Jolby's creative process, check out this great feature by Doodlers Anonymous.  Also JolbyandFriends.com.

And finally, Josh and Colby have recently designed a poster/button campaign to raise money for Haiti.  You can check out the poster below, and click here to buy a poster for $15 or a button for $1.

Tags: Artist Interview, Portland, Subtext, Jolby, Collaboration, Mixed Media

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