Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Oscar Joyo

This interview is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #102. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


How did you get into illustration?

I’ve always been into illustration, since I was a kid. I watched a lot of cartoons, TV and movies, however my earliest memory of illustration was in manga and seeing these vibrant and elaborate illustrations for artists like Akira Toriyama. As I got older, I got into artist like Keith Haring, James Jean, Kehinde Wiley, and Alex Ross who are people I’m constantly inspired by every day. All of them have this dynamic and visually striking pieces that catch your eye. I’ve been finding ways to make my work as dynamic, visual intense and elaborate like the artists that inspire me. Since then, I try to push boundaries in my work and pick up new skills to help express my ideas and intentions within my illustrations.

Your work is absolutely gorgeous. The richness of it almost seems like oils. What’s your process like?

Thank you. I do have a set process but I like to change it up every now and then. My traditional aesthetic is nearly identical to my digital aesthetic. I do most of my planning on Photoshop by using multiple references and sketches and photobash (collage) them together into potential ideas. I start with line drawing, then I slowly build up the form, one stroke at a time, which is quite a tedious process but because I’m going for a strong representational form, it’s important. The African textiles, which I’ve recently incorporated into my work, is the final touch to the drawing /painting.

You have a dark but warm and vibrant color palette. What’s your approach to color?

I’ve always been a fan of neon colors palettes since it has a strong sense of light on their own, so I try to capture that. It’s reflective, moody, vibrant and striking even with something inanimate. It almost has a synthwave vibe to it, almost neo-futuristic. Also, since most of the people I drew are of African American decent, I wanted to recode the word colored. The word has a negative connotation, so I wanted to make the people I drew or painted colorful and vibrant, adding a positive and uplifting meaning to such a derogatory and hurtful word.

What inspires you?  

I’m inspired by everything and the world around me. I feel something that I can’t verbally explain so I would draw it to illustrate a point. I enjoy investigating another perspective on a subject matter that potentially has more layers than it leads on. Another thing that inspires me, and you will see mostly in my work, is music. I came from a musical family and I have a huge love for how sounds, lyrics and beat patterns can translate into imagery. I see sounds that turn into color that eventually turn into a form, a person or even an environment. My favorite thing to do, and is an important part of my process, is to listen to a lot of music that could potential fit the topic or motif that I want to have in my drawing. I make playlists and listen to them as I work. It just helps in creating these noisy images.

What do you hope people take away from your art?

Honestly, I hope to inspire people into seeing the world differently than how we usually perceive things. My work has realistic elements but they are changed and altered into an entirely different perspective. There is more than one way to look at things in our lives and more options to do so. Things don’t have to be exact if you don’t want them to and it’s something I try to train myself to remember every day. Also to look into things a bit deeper and you might find more than what you see.


This month’s cover artist was introduced to art by his mother but his passion grew through animation, comic books, videogames and film. He moved to the United States in 2000 from Malawi and currently lives in Chicago, working as an illustrator, graphic designer, photographer and fine artist. 

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