Art Lover & Illustrator Jonathan Carlson

Jonathan Carlson, Illustrator

As a student in junior high, Jonathan Carlson came up with the name for his school newspaper: The Tribruin, a play on “tribune” and “bruin,” the school mascot. After inventing the name, Carlson sketched the moniker alongside three bruins for the paper’s masthead. Fast forward to 1990 when Carlson received his first professional commission after earning his degree in illustration with a focus on painting from Maryland Institute College of Art. No matter where he’s been in life, Carlson says, he’s always loved creating art.

“I love working as an illustrator because I enjoy solving visual problems and expressing an idea or concept through an image,” Carlson says.

After reading about Marriott School professor Ryan Elder’s advertising and marketing research in “Side Effects,” Carlson produced several retro illustrations for the Winter 2014 issue of Marriott Alumni Magazine. Carlson and I chatted about his work experience, jazz, and being true to your inner artist.

MAM: What have been some of your more enjoyable projects?

Carlson: One of my most exciting projects came along after an ad agency in Amsterdam saw a piece I had done that was selected for inclusion in the Communication Arts Illustration Annual, a juried competition. The client was Nike. They saw that piece and asked me to do a poster for the World Cup, which was held in Paris that year. I couldn’t quite believe it. My posters were hand silk-screened and pasted around Paris.

MAM: What inspires you?

Carlson: I am inspired by all kinds of things, but I find a great well of inspiration for my illustration work in the graphic art of the early to mid-twentieth century. Illustration, graphic design, fashion, industrial design, advertising, and textiles from the 1920s through the early 1960s all seem to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration.

MAM: What are your favorite ways to have fun?

Carlson: I enjoy landscape painting, cycling, and playing jazz saxophone. I’m a jazz nut, actually. Unfortunately I was born a few decades too late to be able to hear most of my musical heroes live and in their heyday. If I could go back to the ’50s and hear Charlie Parker live I would be in heaven.

MAM: Can you share any tips for future illustrators?

Carlson: Never stop drawing. Try to find a manner of working that feels honest and personal to you instead of something that is contrived or an imitation of someone else’s work. It’s important to remember that whatever work you put out there is what clients will see and will be calling you to do more of. If you aren’t yourself, you’ll quickly discover that fulfilling assignments can become awkward.