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Meet the Canadian illustrator and animator Joren Cull (view Joren’s portfolio), the talented Toronto-based artist who has developed his own visual language within the contemporary cartoon and comic genre. He’s coupled that with a wry style of humour that has audiences giggling, grinning or smirking – it all depends on the tone his client is aiming for.
Trained at the prestigious Ontario College of Art and Design, Joren has become one of Canada’s leading independent animators, creating cringe-tastic productions such as A Brief History of Goth alongside hilariously alternative greetings cards, poster advertising and editorial illustrations for his clients. As well as his style, they love his ideas and flexible, punctual way of working. Joren grew up in the era of the Simpsons and South Park, which have inspired his simple approach to drawing and animation, while some of his wilder thoughts may sometimes remind you of David Lynch.
Identifying and working from a strong idea, Joren roughs out a composition and determines his colour palette, keeping it playful and vibrant then editing things back in Photoshop until he’s happy.
Joren’s style is whimsical and naïve, with a DIY aesthetic giving his work a sense of immediacy. His drawing style and characters express clear and simple ideas, the shaky lines in his animations add energy, while his off-kilter humour engages the viewer at an emotional level.
2011 – OCAD University – Illustration Award 2015 – National Magazine Awards – Spot Illustrations – Silver 2017 – Webby Awards – People’s Voice Best Animation 2018 – Communication Arts Awards – Animation
His impressive client list includes The New York Times, Pitchfork Media, Bloomberg Businessweek, Weird Al Yankovic, Vice, The Walrus, The Guardian, National Geographic Hallmark and more.
What led you to become an illustrator?
I drew all the time as a kid. I think it stemmed from my love for shows like The Simpsons and South Park. I remember when I was little, I used to trace those characters tirelessly. Eventually I started making up my own ideas and moving away from copying. As a shy and quiet kid, drawing became a way in which I was more comfortable communicating my thoughts.
Did you study illustration in college (if so where)?
Yes. I went to OCAD University. I got my Bachelors Degree in Design specializing in Illustration. I won a medal for my thesis there too!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up, and still live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Describe your studio for us
It’s very sparse. I’m really OCD about putting everything in it’s place and being clutter free… Almost to the point where other people would maybe find it annoying. I feel like I can think best when I am in a clutter free space, so it’s honestly just an empty table and my laptop and an old ratty chair. My walls are however full of inspiration, little toys, movie posters. Retro McDonalds memorabilia and vinyl decorate my room as well.
Do you have a studio pet?
Yes! My beautiful cat named Costco. She is so sweet and kind and gentle. She’s the best cat in the world!
Describe the view from your window
I’m on the 17th floor and look out onto Lake Ontario. You can see the peaceful lake and the city of Hamilton in the distance from here too. There’s also a tiny airport on an island that I can see, (and thankfully not hear). A small ferry travels back and forth between the city and the island airport which I watch sometimes. There’s lots of nice stuff to look at in my windows. It’s especially cool during a rain or snow storm. I love my windows!
Who or What is your biggest inspiration?
A huge inspiration to me has always been South Park. Their DIY extremism has always inspired me to know how to do everything myself. Similar to an artist like Prince, they can do everything themselves for their own projects and your getting a highly concentrated artistic vision. I write, direct, illustrate, animate, voice and score my films and it’s because of the mark their works left on me since I was a kid.
How do you get your ideas?
I usually run on the elliptical and try to think up stuff. Sometimes I’ll go on a walk or take a nap. Most often they just come to me. I’m pretty good at coming up with ideas, not to brag.
Do you collect anything?
Yes! I collect records and listen to music obsessively. I catalogue my record collection here: https://www.discogs.com/user/joren.cu/collection I find records pertain to my business so much that it is hard to separate the two sometimes, but it’s a collection non the less. I also like to collect retro McDonalds memorabilia, and rare flavours of cereal and candy.
What are your interests outside of illustration?
Mostly music, although I feel like it closely is connected with my illustration work. So I’m not so sure it would count as being entirely separate. I like going on walks and sitting in parks looking at animals as well. Also eating fun foods, shopping, cooking, and exercising.
What is the first record you bought?
Hmm, that’s hard to remember! As a little kid I loved The Travelling Wildburys Volume 1 a lot, also Weird Al, the Big Chill soundtrack and that Simpsons Sing the Blues album, haha. With my own money, I think White Light White Heat by Velvet Underground or the Bloodhound Gang’s Beer Coaster. Probably cause my parents wouldn’t get me it due to obscenity…haha.
What was your favourite assignment ever?
I love all my assignments in different ways! I’m always most proud of my videos where I write, direct, voice, illustrate, animate, and score them. Doing a music video for They Might Be Giants was really exciting, and the concert poster for Weird Al was a dream come true too. It was also really cool when I got to see the Wendy’s ad I animated on TV for the first time.
What would be your dream commission?
To animate a Simpsons Couch Gag!!
How much of your work is hand drawn?
Everything is hand drawn but on an iPad. We’re paperless here!
Who is your music hero?
My favourite band in high school was Ween. I think they inspired me a lot to follow my own path, and similar to South Park their DIY philosophy was very inspiring to me as a youth. I also love Brian Wilson, Daniel Johnston, Flaming Lips, Lee Scratch Perry, The Residents and Giorgio Moroder.
If you were not an illustrator, what would you be?
Maybe a musician. I thought I would be that in high school but I switched focus. I still play music for my films and occasionally write songs.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Look both ways before crossing the street.
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Maybe Italy? My family is from there and I’ve never been. Japan seems cool too.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
Maybe California. The sun there is so intoxicating. I would just close my eyes and sit in the sun for the rest of my life and get that nice dizzy feeling.
If you could travel back in time, who would be the one person you would want to meet and why?
Hmm, maybe some family members I never got the opportunity to meet to see what they are like. It would be neat to see a few generations back of your family. It would probably be the same in lots of ways but also totally different. It would also be cool to to travel back in time and try the original recipe Chef Boyardee that was sold at his restaurant in the 30’s.
What is your go-to comfort food?
Indian food and ice cream are my favourite food. But when I’m seeking comfort I turn to vegetables. Just a simple salad and maybe a chicken breast or something. Eeek think I’m getting old..
What movie can you watch over and over?
Hmm, tough call! I don’t repeat view a lot. Maybe UHF or Dumb and Dumber? Cool Cat Saves the Kids I’ve seen too many times as well. Probably something like Cool Cat, that’s funny cause it’s bad. My favourite movie ever is Mulholland Drive. But I don’t like to watch it too much to keep it special.
What do you listen to when you’re illustrating?
Everything. I usually try to listen to 2-3 new albums a day. I love expanding my musical horizon. I’m not much of a podcast fan to be honest. Sometimes I’ll leave the news channel on the TV though and listen to that!
What is the last show you binged?
It’s been a while since I’ve binged something. I watched that Joe Perra show and loved it! The John Wilson one is great too.
What was the last concert you went to?
Awh.. I used to go to so many concerts. I’m answering this Nov 2020 so COVID is still happening here :/ Me and my writing partner Chris went to a music fest called Desert Daze last year and it was one of the nicest concert experiences ever. That was one of the last ones and best ones. Such an insane line up too!
What do you do when you have creative block?
Usually go on a walk, exercise or take a nap. A lot of good ideas come to me in the second between falling asleep and being awake.
What is your favourite way to fill free time? Any hobbies?
I like working on projects, either short films, books, or illustrations. I’m a workaholic honestly. Working is my main hobby. Going on walks is nice and seeing friends before COVID was fun too. Same with movies and concerts, pre COVID.
What is your favourite ice cream flavour?
Chocolate Extreme Blizzard with extra chocolate chips from Dairy Queen. It’s just a chocolate sludge at that point. It gives me nightmares, but it’s so good!
Is there any random thing you consider yourself an expert on?
I know a lot about McDonalds memorabilia and eccentric people that share their lives on the internet. Music, movies, TV. The usual. Frank D’Angelo aswell.