JOSEPH KILRAIN – TALKS WITH PETRI
Joey Kilrain talks about tough times, making sure your plan A does not fail, running for wrong reasons, how to mix paints and repair cars while building websites.
Born and raised in South Philly, Joey Kilrain’s artistic style evolves as a product of his ongoing life lessons. He integrates traditional media such as acrylic, pen & ink, papier mâché with mobile & web technologies. He cut his teeth at Art Institute of Philadelphia and SVA. His work has been exhibited in New York City at Ward Nasse, Church of St. Paul the Apostle, ArtBreak Gallery, Governors Island, Art Gotham, Haven Arts. His work has been published in Adobe’s Web Design Journal, Village Voice, and New York Magazine.
(NOTE: The text may contain errors, misconceptions and even comical unintended contexts. Please use it only as a reference to the actual audio conversation from where it has been transcribed.)
Petri: Hey, Joey, how are you doing?
Joseph: Hello, sir. How was everything?
Petri: Everything is fine. I was just in live for one and a half hours talking about the crisis and what’s happening after the crises and what are the opportunities for entrepreneurs and what are the challenges. It was a Zoom conference or seminar, like all of these nowadays, they were a panelist from California, and then the rest of them were coming from Europe.
So that’s what I’ve been doing lately.
Joseph: What’s the prognosis? Are we going to be positive for the summertime? Are we still going to be confined to our homes?
Petri: We were talking more mainly about business. I don’t think anyone was a specialist on the field of this pandemic but my gut feeling is that this year still gonna be a bit awkward in a sense that certain things can be probably more relaxed, but all together I think we gonna be in a state where it’s not like what happened last year or years before.
And in some ways, I think we are not going back at all, permanent changes are happening. How is life in New York?
Joseph: You’re funny saying that it relates to how the people that I’ve spoken to from New York through to India and the like, and how they’re how originally they were saying there was going to be a new normal, and I told them what is a new normal. I’d be curious because again, the Covid thing has interrupted every facet of life.
And obviously some businesses have been hit harder than others. My friend in New York just this morning was saying how New York is sort of like a walking dead. Where there’s only certain people running around and you rarely see anybody there. And then those that I spoke to in India are saying that the government is encouraging everyone in villages and the like to start growing their own food, grow your own vegetables.
And not that they don’t do that, cause my, my times to India, they do have their own little gardens, but now the government’s like, yeah, you should do that. You should make that like a priority. It’s how to decrease the spread of the virus. Meaning the more condensed you stay, the less chance you haven’t meeting others.
But as a society, I’m finding it difficult with myself to being an extrovert, to live the life of an introvert. To not go outside, to not meet with people and seeing a lot of the tech that we have in place that’s supposed to work with those that might be introverted is sorely undermined and sorely out of touch. Again, I guess for them, they’ve learned to deal with it, but for me having to do with some of the stuff, it’s like, wow, as a designer, I would, I start revamping all this stuff right away.
Petri: There’s actually this one realisation I got the other day. This is probably the one and only and hopefully an unique time where you can walk in Manhattan or whatever capital or whatever city you are, and you should go out there and take some video because the chance is that there’s no one around. And that’s mind boggling. If you think about it in a way, going through Times Square or somewhere where they’re supposed to be all like tons of people and it’s just like the sun is shining, it’s midday, noon, and there’s no one around how often that happens in your life? I hope that it doesn’t happen more than these days because that’s not normal. We don’t appreciate probably these things now but only after they are over. And that’s I think the artistic, the beauty side of it, in a way, in this sort of a horrendous and a negative thing happening for us. It takes a bit of a distance already to start to see these types of things.
Joseph: So with that I mentioned I talked with some of my friends from New York, and I had told them that I am now a parent that sees my children growing hourly than on the weekends. Because during the week, you’re working, you come home, you’re tired, the kids are tired. And what do you do?
You probably sit in front of the TV. Maybe you play a couple of video games. I know for my son, we put together an old train set. Like the original Bachmann trains from the 70s, like we happen to have one we saw and we put it all together and now he gets to play with it. But the difference with when we had this before the pandemic, I get, I only got to really show my kids on the weekend.
That’s where we got to hang out and play and, and spend those two days or 48 hours together. But now it’s been nearly six weeks and I see them every day. And I’ve watched them learn new stuff and I watched them adopt new things and I’m watching like everything about them change. And I think, wow, I would never have gotten this.
With my children had it not been for the virus. And for me, it’s been amazing to see them grow before my eyes. And when I think of what when I was a child, very similarly, I didn’t see my parents all the time because they were either working or they had other things. But now I see them every day. And I guess the only time that we may have gone through this as a species was probably like caveman days or when we were just starting to colonize certain countries or just be growing up as a species cause you were always around your children or your elders. So for me, having my in-laws live with us, having obviously the wife, the boss, always being here and my kids these last six weeks has been just amazing to see how everybody’s evolving.
Petri: So what do you think when things go back to new normal so we can go outside and you see that there are some other people as well, are there things you don’t want to change? You sort of now thinking that, okay, I need to adapt because this is really nice. I want to have this and I need to change in order to have this in the future as well.
Joseph: So that gets into the work-life balance. Back in the day when I first moved to New York, I thought New Yorkers were absolute maniacs when it came to work. Like we never stopped. And I worked briefly in Tokyo and Barcelona, and in Tokyo I saw a whole different level of working hard.
Where they were literally at their desk all day up until like nine o’clock at night. Where in New York you would go outside, maybe go work in the park at Central Park or go work like in a coffee shop and then come back to the office. But in Japan, specifically in Tokyo I did not see that at all.
And then in Barcelona, I worked there for about a couple of months as well. And they were on a whole different level of, I’m just going to work just enough for today and then I’m going to go be with my family and I’m going to go to the, to a cafe, or I’m going to hang out with some friends.
And they were far more relaxed in their approach. And I found this weird balance that I want to be able to be productive, but I also want to spend time with my family. And this whole pandemic has proven one that we can have a work from home policy everywhere. Every company should have that.
I know for some that I work with, they struggle with that concept because they’re used to having people around them at all times, but now you’ve been forced to work in a silo. You’ve been forced to, to work in your own room because again, of the pandemic. And I think that’s allowing people to realize that this schedule of when we have to get work done we really can do it.
As long as I know what the deadline is, I can do it when it’s comfortable for me to get it done. As long as I hit that deadline.
Petri: You’re working with a lot of different companies and probably international as well. Who are the ones who are coping the best in this situation, who are driving, who are the ones who are a bit lacking? Can you see any patterns, what’s your take on the situation?
Joseph: Absolutely. Starting off with small business owners, startups, those guys by far know what to do cause they’re already doing it. They’ve been doing it. So those are the guys that have adopted very quickly and pivoted very quickly to handle it. Cause again, that’s, that’s sort of in their nature to do it.
But the bigger companies, they’ve struggled with it because from what I can tell, they’re so used to being able to walk to your desk and ask you a quick question. And then walk away, and we’d recently done an informal interview with some of the members at a financial institution that we do work with and out of the people, we spoke to 20 people at varying levels of the company and asked them, what’s been different for you?
And they’ve all said their calendar. Their lives have been greatly impacted by their calendar. And what it turns out is they implemented the only way you can talk to someone in the company is if you have not only a meeting set up with them, but you have an agenda and they’re realizing that this 10-15 minutes that a person asks you for advice per day, that adds up.
And now 10 people spending 10 minutes of your day asking questions, well that’s a hundred minutes right there. That’s over an hour that is being spent or just answering random questions. And when at the end of the day, a lot of these guys wonder where did my day go.
No one was tracking it. So the big companies are realizing how much of this stuff is being caught up with meetings of people asking you simple questions versus you being productive and getting your original task done. And how they’re being distracted and now they’re able to quantify and value what that distraction is.
Petri: So, are you saying that they are realizing that they’ve been wasting a lot of time and now they are more efficient and they have heard about Slack and they are just doing things which need to be done? Or is there also the thing that there’s a lack of communication and interaction happening by the water cooler and just hanging out next to their desks and these types of things?
Joseph: Well, I think that our generation, this society is death by distraction. Absolutely death by distraction. Think about how many different channels you use in a day to talk to someone. You could have WhatsApp, you could have Slack, Facebook, Twitter, it’s an email. I almost forgot email and texting.
All these things are constantly bombarding us and we’re trying to get our work done. And it’s difficult because you have different ways for people communicating. For example, when I deal with my offshore team, predominantly the conversations are done through Teams. However, when I work with other members, it’s thru WhatsApp and I have to know where all the stuff is.
What the paint points are now is they have to implement a calendar schedule. Otherwise you’ll be getting messages all day through Teams and what can you get done? Because normally people just come to your desk. If I were to go to your desk and say, Oh, you know, I’m going to ask them a quick question and I see there’s someone else at your desk, I can’t bother you.
But with texting or messaging, you can’t see that. And I could get five or six different people that all messaged me relatively within the same time. And now I’m trying to answer everybody’s question and I can’t. So that’s why now we’ve seen them adding that to their calendar to say, okay, I need 15 minutes of your time to talk to you about whatever situation it is hiring someone, there’s a problem that we have, unless it’s an emergency. Then you can call directly, but everything else has to be done through the calendar. And I, and I see now at least I hope these companies see now that the value spent on these 10 to 15 minute conversations should be put into a calendar so that you could see how much time it actually takes to get this work done, whatever the task might be.
Petri: How was the regular life in New York now? He spent a few years. I’d been there the last time. What has changed since we met? And,I think we have some fun times as well. There was some particular thing I’m remembering, we were doing something which was sort of a hobby of yours. So it’s something you’re doing on the side, do you know what thing I’m referring to?
Joseph: Oh, of course. I have many things on the side of, but what that leads to as a designer, in order for me to do one thing really well, I need a counterbalance. I find that I get bored relatively quickly if I keep doing the same thing over and over again. Like for example with drawing and painting, I love drawing and painting that was always like my go-to comfort zone, to clear my head of something and just to kind of get away from technology.
Because at the end of the day, technology can be just as frustrating as drawing. And to have the two, I would use the drawing to take a break from writing code, or I would also take a break from drawing because whether my hand was tired or I just thought the idea isn’t coming out the way I envisioned.
I would get back into the coding and the visual design stuff, but the other counter-balances were like, ah, I don’t feel like drawing. I don’t feel like getting into the visual work and then I get into the cars and building the cars has always been fun because that’s yet another way of getting away from other challenges.
And I find a lot of times when I do work on, let’s say like the car or a drawing or something, the protocols that are used for me as a visual designer, lend themselves to working on the cars, lend themselves to the drawing, and at the end, what I might not have seen as a solution in visual design, I may notice it as I’m building something for either one of the cars or, or drawing like, oh, I never thought of it that way.
And then the idea would hit. And then next time I get back to the other challenge that I was facing, I could take the lesson I learned from something totally random and apply it to that particular problem.
Petri: What are the most elegant, beautiful designs or engineering happening in cars? Some of these things you’re like. Wow. I never thought that that could be done that way.
Joseph: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah, so what I’ve seen, and I guess it’s in levels, and here’s where I can match protocol that we do as visual designers to anything else. So as a visual designer, let’s say, I want to, I get a client that wants a WordPress site. WordPress is pretty basic, right? You could go.
Normally there’s a theme there. You can either build your theme from scratch, but let’s just say you take an existing theme and you upload it, and now you just want to change the typeface and you want to change the color. Usually that’s pretty simple to do, and that’s the same thing that could be applied to a car.
Like you could say, okay, well I might not be painting the car, but I could say, maybe I want the car to be blue or red, and here’s the color blue and I’m going to go put this in and we’re done. Now that’s a pretty simple and straightforward protocol, right? One, obviously doing an in code, so it’ll be a lot easier than actually painting the car, but it’s a similar process where I want this color added to my website and I want this color added to my car.
Now, if we take that to another level, what I see with the web or just saas-based products and what I see with cars, there is a convergence happening, but it’s almost like they’re not going to collide. They’re just going to overlap. So with web, there are a lot of APIs out there that people like to use for their service. And they use these existing APIs because someone has already done all the hard work. You just upload the API or the widget to whatever product you’re working on and you’re done.
But once you upload it, you realize, you know what? It may not look like my brand, or it may not be exactly how I want it and I want to customize it. Now, the customizing part that happens with an API is no different than happens with a car. Because with a car, let’s say you want bigger tires in the back and smaller tires in the front.
Well you can’t do that, but there’s a bit of engineering involved, which means if you put a smaller tire on the front, how does that impact the performance of the car? So when the engineer put that car together, they were thinking, all right, these are the wheels specs that are needed in order to control this car at this size.
And if you change that wheel in the front, how does it impact by turning radius? How does that impact my handling of the vehicle? Same with the API, if you try to change any of the protocols in the API, inevitably you’re, you’re going to run into a problem, which means it might not operate the same way it originally did, and now you need to make further modifications.
And I’ve seen so many similar protocols where unless you have someone of an engineering approach to this, chances are you’re just going to be playing with fire because with the API it might break or it may not deliver what you need or it could frustrate your customer and with the car, obviously changing up some of the mechanics and engineering with it, if you don’t realize the impact that it can have in performance.
Well, yeah, you get into an action, obviously. So I see a lot of the overlap between the two with what I do as a designer and what I do with the engineering work on cars.
Petri: What’s your favorite car project you’ve been doing?
Joseph: I think it’s my favorite until it starts giving me problems. And then I’m like, Oh, I can’t stand this. But, I will say this one great thing, or the one great difference between what I do as a visual designer and what I do as a weekend mechanic is there is no Control-Z when working on the cars.
If you break it, that’s it. You can’t go to the cloud to get it back up. You have to either reweld it or buy another part, which I’ve become an expert at. Because I put in some things that were either put in too tight or I didn’t consider the spec for that particular part. And I would put it in.
And that part was either too strong for the other parts and that part would break the other parts or I didn’t know that there was an actual torque for a bolt. So every bolt that goes on the car, it’s torqued down to a specific pressure that the engineer has already specified ’cause they know that’s all that it needs in order to operate efficiently.
Anything greater or lesser than the value they provide can impact and subsequently break what you’re doing. And it’s just like with the web. I gave an example to some of my friends that you can load every font available from Google onto your website, but we know from a spec perspective that two fonts is all you want to put on there with maybe two typeweights.
So if you want bold and italic, that’s fine. Let’s not go too crazy cause they’re going to impact how fast the site loads. For you and, and the customer. That lends itself to the problem that I have outside, which is this old school bus that I’m building. And it’s like everything that could have gone wrong has, and it’s been a great learning experience, but when you sink like two years, I’m actually closer to, I think three years now of your life working on something it almost feels like it’s never ending.
But when I look back at the original folders of the truck or how I had it and where it is now, yeah. You see a huge difference between when I first bought it and when I took it all apart and then putting it back together. You see. Yet there’s obviously been progress made, but over the course of X amount of years.
Petri: Wow. You are already now in school buses, the last time I saw you had an Impala.
Joseph: Ah, yes. The Impala that went through a similar process, but I actually had people helping me along the way. So like, I would have a friend on the weekend and we’d spend some time, a couple of months working on it. The truck is something that I’ve done pretty much on my own and it’s been great to be honest.
It’s built up my confidence in ways that being a sole designer has, where when you’re on your own, you have to find the business. You have to bring the business back, you have to get it done. You have to manage the expectation, and then you have to get more business in. And then as you become more comfortable, your confidence goes through the roof because now you’ve done it.
Once before and you learn some lessons and then you go forward. It’s so different. Again, with working on the car where I’ve built so many of them with friends of mine that the truck was the first one that I thought, I’m going to try to do this by myself. And so far I’ve been pretty successful.
I actually haven’t had any accidents. Like working on the car by yourself you need to be obviously very careful because if the jack should slip or if you’re underneath the truck or the car, and you get pinned on the car. Yeah. That can be really scary. But so learning protocol to prevent any sort of accidents has been great.
And so far I’ve had the truck, I just assembled it so that it looked like a giant rickshaw. And from there I put the whole thing back together. Meaning, like put the transmission in it, the engine, put the drive train back in. I put the essentially even like the wheels, the whole hub that supports the wheel system, that whole thing I took apart and it was just the two forks of the frame.
That’s all you saw. And then obviously the cab of the truck, everything else was, was nothing, just two wheels. And that was it. I’ll show you some photos. You could see how much I took it apart and then put it back together. And it’s been solely by myself and a lot of fun. A lot of learning evolved, but also a lot of like a, what’s the word I’m looking for, gratitude afterwards. Like, wow, I actually did it. And you turn the keel and another thing actually works and it stops so they could stuff.
Petri: I think this is a good opportunity to go back a bit in time. You’re coming from South Philly, you weren’t born in New York. Can you tell something about what happened in your childhood and how you ended up in New York?
Joseph: Growing up in Philly, I joke with people and say, if you’ve ever watched a movie, Goodfellows or Sopranos. That was what I was exposed to. I saw a lot of things from people struggling. I witnessed firsthand what the working class and lower-class have to do to survive.
And it’s not easy. In some cases, I learned that a lot of people sometimes vote against what they need. For example, with healthcare or with child support or education, you should be surprised how many people vote against it because it’s taking money away from them. But in reality, if you’re not putting money into something to help further you in the community will then the community will stay stagnant and you won’t be able to go any further.
And being a product of that environment, one of the guidance that I got from my neighborhood was being able to work with very little. For example, when I was in my teens like most kids, I was mischievous. I would get into things that I shouldn’t be doing. And, being artistically inclined, graffiti was a means for me to get some of the frustration out.
I did it in my school books, back test papers, how I did it on desks in school with a pen. But then you hang out with some kids and somebody’s got some spray paint from whatever garage, and they would graffiti on a wall. Now, I didn’t do a lot of graffiti on the wall.
I did do a lot of graffiti in abandoned buildings. And to me, I didn’t feel bad doing that because I thought, well, the buildings are abandoned and they’re probably gonna knock it down. And that never made me feel bad. I know like some of my friends, they would do it on actual businesses in the neighborhood, and that just never felt right to me.
So I never did that kind of stuff. But with that, the other challenge was that I had like no money. I had a paper route and I’d make maybe 20 bucks a week, which was just enough to like get basic stuff. So I would save money on the side. And how I kept my creative going, especially for the graffiti part, was that you have to buy spray paint and, well, I couldn’t buy the cool spray paint like the colors that were most vibrant.
Instead I had to buy the spray paint that was on sale. And the spray paints that were on sale will like the ugly yellow mustard colors or like yellow, green colors that just wear like a puke sort of version. And I learned a way on how I could mix the paint and layer the paint and I learned the difference between translucent and opaque.
I didn’t know what that meant, but I learned that through space spray paint and iridescent and all those things, I thought, Oh wow. It reminds me of the stained glass windows that you would see in a church where even though it’s glass, it’s tinted glass and it’s translucent. So the light coming through the glass is represented by the color. So if there’s like an orange glass, the light coming through it, it’s going to be an orange shade versus purple. You’ll see purple and all that came together with graffiti because again, I was buying the cheap paints and some of them were translucent.
And then that’s how I started to learn how to layer color. If I mix yellow with green, I can get blue. And just fascinating that I learned that like as a teenager. And then when I finally got to art school, I was like, yo, I already know this. I mean, I learned about it. And in a way that you probably wouldn’t approve, but I already know that if I mix these colors, I’ll get this.
That fueled my creativity as I got into airbrushing and then inevitably into like visual designer work
Petri: Do you remember when you realized that I’m really good with these visuals, this is something I could do for a living?
Joseph: I don’t know when that hit. But I do know that’s what made me the most happiest. And one of the things I knew I wasn’t going to do when I was younger was that I didn’t want to be like others. Meaning my parents hated their jobs, hated them, and they came home and you could see it.
And not just my parents, but even the people in the neighborhood, they all hated their jobs because it wasn’t what they wanted to do. And it may have been Zig Ziglar who had a quote where you should pursue what makes you happy, ’cause then you’ll never work a day in your life.
And that always stuck with me. When you pursue the life as a creative or as an artist, you’re labeled a certain way. And coming from a blue collar Christian family, my parents were like, listen, you need to make money. And the way you make money is you start off as a clerk and your work your way up the food chain.
And the second I heard that, I thought, man, I can’t do that. Just like most of my family’s in the military, I couldn’t join the military. That’s just not me. I don’t operate like that. I feel really comfortable making pretty pictures all day. But the challenge is how do you make money at it? When I went to the Art Institute of Philly, I had amazing teachers there because they taught me how this stuff works. They didn’t teach me to make pretty stuff. They were more objective versus what I find with a lot of people where there’re subjective. Subjective as it looks cool, but when I see that what does that really, what value does that bring?
If you want cool, okay, the coolest, like fashion, it changes every season. And that’s not what I do. So I look to make stuff that’s going to be for longevity, like at a minimum a year, you’re going to use this not just for a couple of weeks. So with that, after graduating from college I had several opportunities that came up and I managed to get a job three months after I graduated college.
And why that number is magical is because when I graduated, both of my parents have put a tremendous amount of pressure on me. To become something in three months or else. And my dad told me, he’s like, you have three months to get a job or you’re going to come work with me at the chemical factory.
And I was so scared and I went on 23 interviews within three months. And that was me also working nearly a full time job as a waiter in Philly, ’cause that was the easiest way to get quick cash. I managed to land a job that at the actual 90th day that my dad, that day is when I got the job, and I won’t ever forget it.
It was with in Conshohoken. It was at a company called College Pro Publishing with Mike Paul and John Ruffanello. And that was my very first job. And from there I just kept going up the food chain. Now as I was transitioning and learning more about life as I was younger, I would sit with a lot of tragedy.
I learned drugs were pretty proficient in my neighborhood as was violence. And I witnessed a lot of things that I don’t think a young guy should go through. And that made me even more aware of like, yo, dude, you really got to keep your act together. I had a plan A, which should be a success, and a plan B was to make sure plan A didn’t F up there was no, I’m not going to go be some clerk somewhere.
And from there, after a really big tragedy, I went through in Philly within three months after that massive tragedy I was living in New York. I bet it all in New York. The job I got in New York city, it wasn’t even a guarantee. The guy was like, oh yeah, you know, we could talk in two weeks, just give me a call.
I bet it all on that. I went to New York that day. I quit my job in Philly working at Devin Direct, which was great. I learned a lot from those guys, and I think they gave me the confidence to go to New York. And then that’s how it started. And matter of fact, I didn’t even have my apartment yet. I got my apartment that day, which is unheard of, but I got it that day.
So it was all sorta like magical. But from there, leaving Philly, to go to New York. Just again, it just didn’t get propelled me to go up there and I just kept thinking to myself, if I can go to New York and make it in New York, I could make it anywhere. And, March 13th, 1997 is when I left Philly to go to New York that day.
I’ve never looked back. I do go back to Philly, obviously to hang out with family and, and it’s always great, but that whole transition and all the little details on the middle. Let it be up to it. It was like a big bank in November 4th is where the big bang happened in my life.
And then like I said, three months after that I was living in New York.
Petri: You were really putting everything in there and then after the hardship you were having.
Joseph: Yeah. I think a lot of people, we all go through hardships and it varies. I’ve met people where they never met their parents, they were adopted. And I think I may fight with my parents and not agree with them. We’re at a lot of stuff. There’s still my parents and I know who they are.
And then there’s people who never had that chance. And I think, wow, that impacts them. So I don’t necessarily see myself as like the only one that’s going through hardships. I know a lot of people have.
But my advice to people is that tough times come and go, but tough people stand the test of time. This is going to pass us. Just like all the other things that have happened have passed us.
And as long as you could stay smart about it, are resilient and just sort of like, be aware of your surroundings, just hold on. It’ll inevitably surpass us and then we can go back to whatever life we had prior to this.
Petri: Forgive my trespasses is an art piece of yours. It’s actually available on your website, www.kilrain.com. You start basically from your life in Philly, or, I think it has a lot of things in it. It’s really fascinating. There’s so many stories I bet behind it. And you can guess I’m off days by just looking at it and you know, it’s so multilayered.
Can you tell something about that?
Joseph: My work as an artist had always gotten into three categories. It was friends and family, it was my personal life and adventures, and it was corporate America. So from all of that, I have a whimsical side where it’s fun. Drawings are kind of like a Kenny Scharf and a Keith Haring cause they are huge inspirations for me.
And that was more playful. But then there is the darker stuff, which is that drawing you’re talking about. And those drawings, there’s two sets there is one that’s strictly black and white. And those are titled When God Was Asleep. And those are moments where as a little boy. I saw and witnessed things that I shouldn’t have had to go through and I felt like I was all alone regardless if you do or don’t believe in God. My opinion of religion is I dunno if I’ll make gnostic or probably agnostic more than I am atheist, but I’ve experienced enough about religion to know that whatever spirit you’re thinking about, it’s inside you.
And that’s what you got to find. It won’t be in a church. It won’t be in a synagogue or a temple. At least from my life experience. You have to look inside to find that spirit, and once you find that, you feel comfortable and it’s amazing how life changes when you find that instead of always looking outside, you’d never look inside to find it.
So when God was asleep, that’s where I was like, yo, I’m all by myself. And I’m trying to go through this and I have no one to help me. And it was crazy, those moments. But then there is, when God was awake and God was awake as a similar style with the exception that there’s color added to it.
And those are moments where just before I was going to crack something guided me. Forgive my trespasses is a drawing that talks about how I was raised or where I was raised in Philly. And, the back of my head, there’s a filing cabinet. And in that filing cabinet, there are neatly named folders, which if you look very closely, I actually wrote those every folder name, every folder has a name on it.
That talks about what I learned as a boy, that this is how life is done. Whether it’s how you talk to people and if you don’t get what you want, well maybe you need to take it. Or if you suspect someone because they fit a particular style or demographic, you should be preemptive. Or furthermore, if you see something that’s wrong, just shut up.
That’s not your concern. And those were a lot of things that I learned when I was in Philly. Again, it lends itself a lot to like those mafioso type movies where, you know, just mind your business. And I struggle with that because a lot of it sort of collided with, well, but that’s not right to judge that person because they’re this demographic or because of that personality. You can’t really judge a book by its cover. And I know every culture can admit that you may have assumed something, which when you assume you make an ass of you and me. So that was one part of the drawing.
The second part of the drawing is where I actually found myself being that way because I didn’t know any better. And a great example is racism. When I was younger, I didn’t know that like side, I just thought, oh well, this is how it is. Like, you know, X amount of people come around and if they’re not Irish, Italian, well, they’re probably bad people. And I had no idea and I just became a product of my environment.
But as I grew up in life, I actually worked in the projects in Philly. Which back then the Martin Luther projects were absolutely crazy. It was seriously like a war zone. A crime rate was really high in Philly. It may have been one of the highest in the country, and it was scary. Like you would go outside and you really didn’t know what could happen.
I had friends of mine that were shot and killed or friends that overdosed. And it was mind-boggling to be going through that at 15 years old, at 19 years old, and thinking, yo, how do you get out of this? But that’s what I was exposed to.
And that drawing talks about all that stuff, and I just didn’t know what to do. But you’ll notice that there are these little people that are pulling all my ear and those little people that represents my conscience. And those were the whispers that you need to listen for to say, if that sounds like a bad idea, chances are it’s a bad idea and you probably shouldn’t do that.
But it’s far too often that we hear the big loud voices like, oh, you need to do this. I don’t know. You’d like, you know, it’s like we have all these like pressures on us to be like this. You know, this success. But if you listen closely, and it’s like I said earlier about looking inside to find like your true spirit, then you hear like that whisper and that whisper is what sort of guiding me as a little boy.
And I realize, you know what, dude? I don’t need to subscribe to your ignorance. And I don’t need to subscribe to that way of thinking. I’ll give you another example. There was a guy who played basketball with us. He was a great basketball player. As we got to know him better somehow, one of us, and it was one of my friends that learned about it, that he was gay. And to be gay in Philly in the late eighties, early nineties, was like a death sentence when it was confirmed.
You were called like certain slang as a child like you’re this or that. And gay was always looked at as being like you’re a weak. Obviously that’s not true. It’s just a mindset of people. But once we learned this guy was gay, that was it. It was like he was banned from everything in the neighborhood and he was a great basketball player.
And I just remember that was sort of like my turning point where I thought, you know what? He was such a great guy and we shunned them because of his sexual preference. Which it doesn’t matter, but I didn’t know. Cause again, like as a teenager, you’re kind of like led by people around you. But he was someone that made me realize yet that wasn’t right.
And that was a whisper. And that whisper is what made me start thinking differently. And that’s, again, that lends itself to a lot of my work where, or just a lot of who I am. Because again, that whisper is what’s helped guide me through making some tough decisions and that drawing, again, those little people that are in that drawing those represent my conscious, like my guardian angels, and they’re trying to guide me.
And so, you know, we’ve been talking to you, but we don’t speak loudly. You gotta listen. You have to listen carefully for us. Otherwise you’re just going to get caught up with all the other big voices that you hear. And usually those big voices aren’t really helping you.
Petri: Is there a name? I’m staring at the picture at the moment and in that person’s mouth, there’s a face.
Joseph: That little guy in the mouth, that is the devil.
And, that little guy what’s amazing is that because if you’re not careful what comes out of your mouth, you could sound like a real idiot. And that was the trouble. You see the little smile on its face. You see the little like eyes on it, and that was what was guiding my tongue.
In saying things that I should not have been saying and making like mocking people for things that is so bad. The little guy in there that’s because I was talking a certain way that I realized that, yeah, I’ll never speak like that again about someone.
I will never mock them for their culture, their creed or just their make-up. What I will constructively criticize them on is their merit or is their direction and constructively not to say it. Cause it’s very easy to say, you’re stupid. Which again, okay, that doesn’t help me.
But if you constructively tell me, here’s how I would do it that one lowers the chance of getting into a fight and an argument and doesn’t make them feel small. And it also allows for you guys to have a constructive conversation because maybe you don’t understand the way they’re doing things. Or maybe if you just talk to them, you get avoid a problem versus again like making dumb statements and the like and end and things like that.
Petri: Do I want to talk about something about your other art? You were doing heads and the head theme is the new thing you’re doing and you’ve been obviously doing some other artistic projects as well.
Joseph: The heads were actually paintings that I’d started years ago and I stopped painting because I ran out of wall space. I didn’t have the place to put all the paintings. And I didn’t have the room in my apartment. I was selling the work, but it just started becoming too much.
And then I just kind of like stopped for a second and I thought what’s another way I can do this? And stopping inevitably became like a couple of years. And when I got back into it, I was using the iPad because now it’s just digital space versus like a physical space. So I’ve been doing these illustrations based on the word head.
So the domain is www.headsofsociety.com and there are roughly 700 ways the word head can be used in a conversation. You have dickhead, you have shithead, crackhead, knucklehead, meathead, motorhead. And when I noticed this, I started doing these illustrations that are based strictly on that and the play on words.
For example, cokehead is just a can of Coke on someone’s shoulders and done in the illustration style that I have. The he same can be said for knucklehead, where it’s like the knuckles of your hand that are again on someone’s shoulders. And then like I recently did pinhead and pinhead is a character from Hellracer. He’s the main character in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser where that’s his nickname. So I did an illustration on him. That’s been a lot of fun. That’s helped me get back into the illustration world without having to deal with all the harmful paints and chemicals set that I normally do.
Then other things have been more so along the lines of iconography, cause I do a lot of digital work for enterprise applications. And you’d be surprised how many different ways people want an icon and that’s been another thing that I’ve been spending my time on besides the visual design work.
Petri: I recall that sometime you’ll be also running away from something in Spain. That’s probably nothing to do with art. What’s that when you were working in Barcelona in your youth?
Joseph: Wow. if you’re referencing, when I was young and dumb, yeah. So when I ran with the bulls in Spain that was amazing. I literally trained for that when I lived in Asturias. I was running a mile in five minutes and 57 seconds. So I was pretty quick.
I was probably about 150 pounds, maybe at the time, probably just shy of six feet. And my friend and I went there and there were three things that I did not prepare for. The first thing I didn’t prepare for was running on cobblestone. Because that’s where it is in Pamplona. A second thing I did not prepare for is that not only is it cobblestone, but it’s a slight incline with morning dew.
So, it’s a bit slippery. And, the last thing I didn’t consider was there’s going to be seven bulls that are going to be running about 30 miles an hour. And I was running around a track by myself. And the other thing, and probably the scariest part is that I did not prepare to have maybe a thousand people in that track to run. And when I saw people getting ready to run, I thought, wait a minute, you’re smoking a cigarette, chances are you’re probably not going to be that much in shape, right? Because most runners are not smokers. Or I saw people that looked like they were out of shape, and I thought, dude, you realize this animal’s going to come out of that gate looking to get somebody, and I hope you don’t become my speed bump because I’m going to fly right by you. And sure enough when it was over, I did the entire run in Pamplona in three minutes and 12 seconds, which is roughly, I think this is like 500 yards. So, I don’t even know how I was moving that quick.
I have one picture of me with my buddy. As we’re running and my face says it all. I was thinking, I’ve made a terrible, terrible decision to do this. But you, you don’t know, right? Cause you’re dumb and you’re young and you’re like, ah, it should be okay. And you don’t find it. The last picture I remember is seeing a hand, cause they have all these pictures before you get to run, and their pictures I am assuming meant to discourage you from running. I remember seen like a hand open as if it’s trying to go up against a wall and there was a bull’s horn going through the arm of that hand. That was the last photo I saw and I thought, Oh my God, what have I done? And I felt like I, and you can’t back out now, dude.
Like you got to go through with it. And like I said, doing that run was absolutely amazing. The adrenaline that was pumping through my body, I could have bench pressed a dump truck. I had so much energy running through my body. But yeah, we finished the run. I made it to the arena with my buddy and afterwards my heart wouldn’t stop beating, easily an hour. There’s just so much adrenaline in my body, but it was an experience that I won’t ever forget and I’ll be able to look back and like think I was dumb, but I survived.
Petri: Then you were also doing something with the startups. That was back in New York, Manhattan, probably 10 years back or maybe a bit more.
Joseph: I still work with the startups that’ll never leave me. I think just being the scrappy guy that I am and the underdog coming out of Philly I’ll always have a place in my heart for startups. But back when you and I met, we, my partner Yao and I had started a business called The Hatchery.
And The Hatchery was essentially American Idol for startups. What we found was that there were many people that had great ideas, but they just weren’t polished enough for an investor to take it seriously. So, me being skilled with visual design and understanding code, I was able to create layouts and work that reflected what their startup was.
And in exchange Yao was able to help connect them with potential investors that would want to fund their project. And out of that came The Hatchery. And I learned so much about tech with all those different startups. I also learned that with a startup the amount of stress is involved because a startup needs to eat and a startup needs to have money in order to grow.
And you find very quickly that startups don’t get a lot of money because let’s face it, everybody has ideas and the ideas that work are the ones that have harmony, and a lot of startups don’t have harmony. So I found myself spending more time trying to get product to understand what marketing’s needs were.
Then actually doing visual design work, which I think lends itself a lot to my experience research when it comes to helping companies get the product off the ground they need. But it’s more internal communication and less external communication in some cases.
Petri: You were also competing with YouTube?
Joseph: That company, I don’t want to say their name because in the end, they ended up hurting a lot of people, but they were rivaling YouTube with a channel that allowed you to create videos, like your own personal videos. And the biggest challenge we faced back then was we were trying to do it through a program called Flash, Macromedia Flash.
And there’s a certain limit to how much video could be uploaded. Cause back then it was, what was it? What was the broadband back then? It wasn’t a dial-up. There was a particular name. Of course, I’m skipping my mind. ISDN. Yes. And you were only getting so much.
Petri: ISDN. 64 kilobytes and double the line with 128 kilobytes.
Joseph: You had to be very creative, but you could only upload videos of maybe two megs, and that would take like almost an hour to do that.
Isn’t that crazy? You can do that in a second nowadays, but yeah, that was one of the challenges with that company and getting around the technical limitations, which we still face nowadays, right? We went to the moon on 64 Kb of computers, but, right.
Think of that dude. 64 Kb. right? The struggle with uploading video. Yeah. Now you’re using YouTube to crunch like a gigabyte file. It might take an hour, but it’s a gigabyte versus, back in the day, which was just a megabyte that we were challenged with. It’s interesting to see how technology gets pushed by the startups because they needed to do this in order to sell the idea.
And the startups in a lot of ways really do define the future because they’re the ones that are the craziest, that are willing to take the biggest risk because they think they can do it.
Petri: The way you are actually doing business and evaluating the possibilities and what’s in the market and helping your customers, does that come from the time serving tables and basically learning by doing these things?
Joseph: Yeah. Funny. Because as a waiter, I tell people I’ve been doing experience research since I was a waiter. Because you’re managing the expectation. You’re also finding out what people do and don’t want with their food. And with all that knowledge from then and the knowledge of listening, it’s very hard for people to listen.
But when you listen, you have to remove your own bias. Right? So let’s say, I dunno, like somebody, uh, they want their food cooked a certain way, and if you keep hearing it, you may not want to eat the food that way. But if that’s what the community’s asking for, we’ll either get with the program or someone else’s is going to do that business.
And knowing that again as a teenager that has powered me through life because I can draw or I can create anything I want, right? Like, think of me as a set of hands. That’s magical. But. What helps me a lot is to research. So if I know what your customers like and dislike, I’m not going to come to you with an idea that doesn’t serve your customers.
And I think that’s a hard pill for a lot of people to swallow because they have a vision as to what they really want to do. And sometimes you’ve got to bend that vision. Well, a lot of times you have to bend it.
There’s a quote that comes to my mind. They attribute it to Henry Ford, but he wasn’t the one who said this and allegedly they’d asked Henry Ford if you asked your customers what they would want, what do your customers really want?
And he says, if it wasn’t for me, they’d want a faster horse versus a car. And cause again, like back in the day, like, why do I need a car? I have a horse. And it was people like Henry Ford, not that he created the car. He invented obviously the assembly line, but without someone like him to say: hey, you really need this, and push it through, people become complacent. And they’re like, oh yeah, well the horse does the job, that’s all I needed. Just a couple of horses versus no, if you have a vehicle that could do so much more. And it can last longer. Like with my classic cars, my Willie’s is from 1954, so that car is 70 years old, and it still works, and it can pull up to 8,000 pounds on its own.
Is pretty impressive for a car that’s 70 years old. I don’t know too many things. You have 70 years old that can pull or move like that let alone and still be relevant. But again, with that said I’ve taken a lot of this research from my past and, and I just keep tweaking it as I go forward to work within the confines of the timeframes and the people that I’m working with.
Petri: What is your favorite word?
Joseph: There’s actually two. One would have to be Philly. That’s one of my favorite words is just saying Philly, because a lot of people who know what that means, it’s like, Oh, snap Philly. And then the other word, which would be far more professional is thoughtless.
Petri: What is your least favorite word?
Joseph: Anything that is ignorant. Like being mean to someone or using particular words that are derogatory towards a culture. It isn’t just one word, but again, if I had to summarize it, it would be mean, like a word that references something mean versus constructive.
Petri: What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
Joseph: I’m always a ball of energy. I wake up in the morning and I’m ready to go.I may not be peachy keen all the time, but I’m always excited cause I feel like this is another day to do something positive. I don’t have the chance and it can be anything.
Petri: What turns you off?
Joseph: The one thing that will immediately turn me off is when my car or truck decides not to work. You don’t know how much of my heart sinks where if I have a motor running and all of a sudden it just stops working. And I think, how did it just happen? That’s one thing that immediately makes me feel, ah, God, like this day sucks. I want to go back to bed.
Petri: What is your favorite curse word?
Joseph: Favorite curse word? Well, I mean, we could default to the traditional F U C K, which I think is ubiquitous with all cultures and everything on this planet. I think even animals say it, we just don’t hear them saying it. My favorite curse word would be that.
Petri: What sound or noise do you love?
Joseph: As a parent, I love when my kids laugh.
Petri: What sound or noise do you hate?
Joseph: Again, that would have to be the cars, cars not working like you’re trying to turn it on and it’s not firing up.
Petri: What profession other than your own, would you like to attempt?
Joseph: I kind of do all the things that I wanted to do. I’m pretty content. I wouldn’t mind trying to be a trash man for a day or, or a super to like a school or something just to see what all that stuff is.
I don’t think there’d be another profession that would really pull me away from what I do nowadays.
Petri: What profession would you not like to do?
Joseph: I would not want to be a judge.
Petri: If you could be a co-founder of any startup at any era, which one would you choose?
Joseph: I think the story behind IBM is pretty crazy. Obviously, there’s Google and there’s Facebook, but if I had to pick one in particular, I would love to be behind the brains with Ogilvy and Mather.
David Ogilvy passed away, but he ran or owned one, a large advertising agency in New York, and I would love to have been there to see how that whole thing came together.
Petri: Is there any particular one reason why you choose that one?
Joseph: I had the chance to work and study with Milton Glaser. He might be someone that people know a little bit more about. David Ogilvy, for those who don’t know, he was an advertising and marketing genius.
He came up with a lot of taglines, a lot of slogans that were proliferate from the 70s all the way through. Actually, I think it started in the 60s and then it was proliferate pretty much to the 70s and eighties into things where we would still use those jingles and he came up with a lot of that stuff.
But what’s interesting with creative is that you have to be able to sell creative. And selling creative can be really difficult because people, as much as they admire creative, to be creative means you have to be different. And to be different means you’re probably gonna fail. And it’s hard to get it off the ground.
Like, think of like Apple with Steve Jobs. And how he was trying to push that over and over again, and how many times he fell with Apple and how Bill Gates was just whipping his ass. But Steve Jobs was rather prolific with his creative approach.
And with David Ogilvy in a lot of ways, he was the same way. It just was at a different generation, a different time. And for him to be able to push all it needed to be the conglomerate it became, to own all these other advertising agencies, to make all these deals with all these other creatives that had these massive egos.
I would love to have seen how he did that and how he navigated all that. All those different creative egos that he had to navigate in order to make Ogilvy what he made it.