Explore your world
© John Holcroft
© John Holcroft

In Conversation With Illustrator John Holcroft

Picture of Paula Koller-Alonso
Updated: 24 March 2016
Illustrations can nowadays be seen anywhere: on newspaper websites, on our daily Facebook newsfeed scroll, even on the tube during rush hours. While these illustrations make us think about a range of topics – politics, society, social media – we may not always stop and think about the man (or woman) behind these creative creations. John Holcroft is one of these masterminds that has worked with companies such as the BBC, the Guardian, and the Financial Times. With his unique vintage inspired artwork he tackles today’s problems of social issues and modern behaviour and truly provokes our thoughts. We asked him to reveal some of the thoughts behind pen and paper…

© John Holcroft

© John Holcroft

What, or who, inspired you to become an illustrator?

I suppose I was always destined to be an artist of sorts, right from my early childhood. I studied graphic design because there weren’t many illustration courses about at the time and I didn’t want to do a fine art degree. Graphic design included illustration so it seemed a good way in.


What was your journey like, getting you to this position in your career?

I left college at a time when the UK economy was in recession. I could only get temporary jobs doing anything I could. At the time of my graduation the technology in the design industry was going through lots of change.

As time went by, my portfolio of hand rendered type and graphics seemed more and more obsolete and I started to worry about what my future would hold. Illustration was my one strong point and it seemed only natural to pursue this career, seeing as I didn’t need any kind of technology. At the same time I was painting on acrylic on board and it was time-consuming and restrictive, but it was a start.

© John Holcroft

© John Holcroft

What made you decide to illustrate in a 1950s theme?

I wouldn’t say my work was 1950s themed, but the grainy, screen print effect was inspired by 1950s poster ads. I have had many styles over the years and this one seems to work very well.


What is (or are) the biggest issues that you want to highlight with your illustrations?

There is a misconception that I am on some sort of crusade and that I’m trying to put the world to rights. Primarily I am a freelance illustrator who works for publishers and design companies on commission. I have to create show pieces to promote myself in the same way a greengrocer will place his best fruit and vegetables outside on display. I’m setting my stall out with the best work I can to attract work and sometimes commissioned work isn’t right for promotional purposes. So I have to create my work about something, so I base my ideas and concepts of what people can relate to: politics, society, etc. This demonstrates my ability to fulfil a brief. However, this does not mean that my work is without integrity.

© John Holcroft

© John Holcroft

Do you have a favourite illustration that you drew?

This is a difficult question, it’s rather like choosing your favourite child.


What is your creative process?

It starts with a sketch book, and when I am happy with the final rough, I create the final artwork using Photoshop, Illustrator and Painter.

© John Holcroft

© John Holcroft

What do you do if you ever encounter a difficulty or block while illustrating?

I think the best thing to do is to leave it and go back to it with fresh eyes or ask someone’s opinion.


Do you have a favourite illustrator?

I don’t have a favourite, but I quite like the work of David Sossella and Steve Simpson.

© John Holcroft

© John Holcroft

What does a typical day in your life look like?

Get the kids up, see wife off to work, take kids to school, walk the dog, go into the studio and work, pick the kids up, cook tea, send kids to bed, TV. Then, repeat. On some days there are kid’s clubs, and occasionally we go out.


Did you have a favourite comic book/cartoon while growing up?

Dennis the Menace and the Bash Street kids in the Beano. I used to watch all kinds of cartoons like Scooby Doo, Tom and Jerry and Road Runner.

© John Holcroft

© John Holcroft

How long do you usually take to finish illustrations?

It varies depending on the size and complexity. The average takes 2-3 days from concept to delivery.


How would you describe your works in 80 characters or less?

Reserved, to the point, colourful but gloomy.


By Paula Koller-Alonso