Justin Maller (opens in new tab) is a freelance illustrator and art director whose 10-year career has seen him work with some of the world's biggest print ads clients, including Nike, ESPN, and Ministry of Sound.
Based in Brooklyn, New York, Maller is also founder and creative director of international modern art collective Depthcore (opens in new tab) and digital remix media competition Run Your Jewels (opens in new tab).
In this exclusive interview, he reveals why collaboration is at the heart of his projects, the idea behind Depthcore, and why he'd love his work to be published in Rolling Stone magazine. Check it out...
QUESTION: How did you start out in design?
"I got my first copy of Photoshop in 1998 (PS4!) from a friend - I've been jamming away in it ever since. I got serious about digital art when I found the online scene in 2001 and have been pretty committed ever since."
QUESTION: You are originally from Australia. What prompted your move to the Big Apple?
"I meant to come for a visit really, but I fell in love with a girl and with Brooklyn and now NYC is home. I love this place, the people, the food, the culture. I do miss trees, but honestly you can be in a fully fledged forest if you drive two hours out of the city - it's amazing how quickly the buildings melt away."
QUESTION: What are your main sources of inspiration?
"I try not to overthink the idea of inspiration. I read a lot, I spend a lot of time not on the computer with my girlfriend and our puppy, exercise a lot, cook a lot and just try to live a balanced life. When I sit down to make art, the ideas are always there."
QUESTION: Tell us about Depthcore...
"I started Depthcore in 2002. Basically, I liked the idea of an art collective - to me it was like have a fun, creative club with a virtual club house to make art and chat about nonsense in. It's comprised of members from all over the world and every three to four months we release a collection of our artwork, referred to chapters. It wasn't really that premeditated, I had no idea it was going to last for 10 years and 45 chapters!"
QUESTION: How do you decide on the Depthcore members?
"Usually our members either come recommended by an existing member, or are someone whom I stumble upon randomly. Every now and then we get someone in via application, but usually it works from the inside-out.
"We look for people who have a very strong, unique style and have obviously put in the time developing and refining their work. It's also important that new members aren't dicks. We have enough of them already."
QUESTION: How do you decide on the Depthcore themes?
"We all throw out ideas, and usually there's one that comes up that resonates really strongly. We spend a bit of time making sure we have the strongest word possible to explore the concept we want to work in. It's usually a fun and exciting process."
QUESTION: Collaboration appears to be at the heart of all your projects. Why?
"I get lonely. In all seriousness, art and freelance life can be a pretty isolating experience - being able to come together and bounce work, ideas and problems off other people is really important.
"Having a community of peers and colleagues is a pretty fundamental part of the human condition - it’s rare to find people who are true lone wolves. Everyone likes having buddies."
QUESTION: Where did the inspiration for Run Your Jewels come from?
"It started as a simple idea I had that quickly got out of hand. I decided to make an old school abstract piece for fun. Once I made it, I wanted to share it, so I made it into a wallpaper. I didn't want to put the time necessarily in to updating my personal wallpaper section on my folio (because I would've felt guilty for not updating the work section too), so I decided to register an entirely new domain and share that.
"One thing lead to another, with the following ideas leading on to each other; me deciding to share the wallpaper, then deciding to share the source, then to let people remix, to collect remixes, display them, to let the public vote on them, to send the winner a prize, ultimately ending up with me deciding this should be an ongoing project with multiple hosts.
"It culminated with me informing my long-suffering partner Brian Smith that we had a week to get a functional community website together, replete with voting, submissions and gallery. To his credit, he pulled it off with a minimum of complaint and an abundance of excellence. What would I do without that guy?"
QUESTION: How do you choose the artists that provide the original artwork for remixing with Run Your Jewels?
"I basically just go through my mental wishlist of people I'd like to collaborate with. I've got a lot of them already - see Joshua Davis, Hydro74, etc."
QUESTION: What future ideas do you have to develop Run Your Jewels?
"One wrinkle I thought of is to give people the opportunity to work on artistic 'brief' based work with published outcomes as well as remixes for fun. I'm going to try and push the envelope with this - perhaps even a music round? We'll see..."
QUESTION: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
"The time I backhanded a blowfly to death in midair, thus launching my professional bug assassination career."
QUESTION: If you could illustrate for anyone or anything, who or what would it be and why?
"I've always wanted to have an illustration in Rolling Stone. I've been reading it since I was a kid - it'd mean a lot to me to have a piece published in there."
QUESTION: What three pieces of advice would you give to budding illustrators?
"Firstly, practise lots. Secondly, make art because it's fun, not because you want to get paid. And lastly, don't be a dick. Make real friendships. Don't network."
QUESTION: Can you name any other artists that inspire you?
"I don't have many artists on a pedestal but a couple of guys who make me feel inadequate are Joshua Davis (opens in new tab), Michael Cina (opens in new tab), Pat Perry (opens in new tab) and James Jean (opens in new tab)."
QUESTION: How do you relax?
"Answering interviews mainly. Also, playing with my dog, basketball, cooking, and sleeping."
QUESTION: What's your favourite tool?
"Photoshop. I personally prefer work that's made with traditional illustration techniques but I definitely work more in digital."
QUESTION: With so many projects on the go, do you still find time to do personal work?
"Yeah, I do actually. A lot of my personal work ends up in Depthcore, but I'm actually planning on creating a collection of work and having my first show here in NYC.
"I had two solos in Melbourne but it's been a while since I subjugated myself to that ridiculous and needless level of stress, so I'm going to try and pull it off early next year. Ish."
QUESTION: What's your worst art habit?
"The thing I regret the most is not putting more time in to learning 3D or motion properly. I had the time when I was younger, I could easily have done it, but I fucked around with abstract shit forever instead. At least I eventually switched to develop some proper Photoshop skills."
QUESTION: If you could collaborate with any other artist, who would it be and why?
- Read more of our great interviews with top creatives here.