Justin Hillgrove grew up in Snohomish, WA and has been enjoying artistic expression since he was old enough to color on the walls. Mostly self taught, he spent many years in the design industry before setting out on his own to spend his days paintings monsters, robots, and other such nonsense.
In the last 15 years Justin has worked on everything from books and magazines to collectible card games and toys. His art can be found hanging in many locations and galleries in the USA and in homes all over the world. He currently lives in Washington with his wife, four kids, a host of chickens, and a dozen or so imaginary friends.
2011 Interview with Deniath
Justin Hillgrove, aka Imps and Monsters For an artist that paints mostly creatures and robots, Justin Hillgrove’s work is surprisingly universal, often dealing with very human themes and emotions, including loneliness, jealousy, sadness, joy, friendship and love. After working in the design industry, Hillgrove decided to focus on his artwork which can be found in books and magazines, collectible card games, toys and in various galleries across the country. He took some time to chat with Deniath about his work, influences and upcoming projects.
How did you get started as an artist?
I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. I never went to school for fine art, just took a year of design classes at a community college. I learned to paint painting Warhammer and Dungeons & Dragons miniatures since I was about 9, sharpening my skills on countless hordes of orcs, undead, gene-stealers and others. Likewise, most of the drawing I did as a youth was done to flesh out RPG characters for myself and my friends. As I made the transition to an “adult” I figured I would shoot for a job as a designer and got a job at a magazine designing advertising. This wasn’t much of a creative outlet though, so I was constantly seeking out interesting freelance jobs. I had the opportunity to do a variety of fun things like working on toys and designing characters for a card game. I started painting and selling my own paintings in 2005, not expecting the overwhelming and positive response I received from those who came across my work, and have since been able to dedicate most of my time to the painting of monsters, robots and similar nonsense.
What is your preferred medium?
I love acrylics. The perfect medium for the impatient artist.
What were your earliest influences and how did you evolve to your current style?
My earliest influences include a lot of Saturday morning cartoons (like He-Man, Thundarr the Barbarian, Transformers and Voltron), and the movies I loved to watch over and over, (like Star Wars and The Dark Crystal). I also loved the cover art for the countless fantasy and sci-fi novels I read as a youth and the game art from the countless pen and paper role playing games we used to play (Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer, Gamma World, and a host of others). My current style has its roots in the cartoons and characters I used to draw, with a touch of the manga style I did as a freelancer for several years, and a hint of some influences that came later, like Hayao Miyazaki’s movies and so many other books and movies I’ve watched and loved. What affected my style the most though was having kids – I decided as I started painting again that I didnt want to create anything that I would not want the kids to see, (i.e. nothing too creepy or violent). Thus, most of my creations have a softness to them, and even the less friendly characters look a little huggable.
Who or what are your the biggest influences on your work?
My kids (I have four of them), my wife, my network of artist friends with whom I interact regularly (like fellow artist Mike Capp), Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle).
What are your current and upcoming projects?
I am working on a ton of projects – an IOS video game, Sinja Book 2, an animation pitch or two, and always painting.
What are you currently geeking out over?
Just watched Captain America again and I am sooo excited about The Avenger’s coming out in 2012. Woohoo! Also, I’ve been enjoying watching the old Ultraman TV series while I paint.
If you could have a dinner party with six fictional characters who would you invite and what would you serve?
Tough one. I guess if I had to narrow it down to six I’d go with Aang, Appa, Totoro, Mario, Ender and Snoopy. I would serve gummy bears, jelly beans and grape soda. And then for dessert we could have cheese enchiladas.