A Conversation with Hydro74

We've been enjoying the artwork of Hydro74 for several years. It was in 2008 that we had our first up-close encounter with his work as we exposed some of his art for onto our screens to create some prints for Upper Playground. After finally meeting in person at SXSW 2011, we decided that a Burlesque-published art print was a must! We had a little digital chat with Mr. Hydro, so read up as we gear up to release Awakening of Aegolius his first official Burlesque art print.

Please introduce yourself to our corner of the internet.

I'm Joshua M. Smith, I run Hydro74 full time independently, focusing on more vector based art. When I first began my plight into design I was a jack of all traits, but it wasn't until about 5-6 years ago that I made the decision to focus strictly on vector-based illustration and typography because that was my first love as well as the idea that I would rather be a professional at one thing than average at everything else.

On my downtime or in-between projects, I love to create fonts and explore different illustrations styles and/or play with toys that are on my desk.

Your illustration style is incredibly ornate. What's your process like of going from initial rough idea to fully polished design with all of the little bits and doodads?

To me it's a puzzle.  It's a mixture of pre-existing and custom created elements that I try to balance. I have always believed a firm central illustration is key and everything else around it is story telling or supporting elements to bring the desired emotion to the piece. Granted, I never really know what I'm doing when I start the process because I feel that the best pieces come into being rather than trying to force it to be something that I've strictly planned out.  It allows the process to be malleable and allows me to create the extra ornate elements around it. Also, those extra elements are great because of late I find myself getting more detailed and structured within the core piece and the embellishments compliment the illustration thus giving it a more organic feeling with a hint of different dated style tones.

In your work, we can see a lot of influences from all over the place - early 20th century typographic design, West Coast cholo graffiti, early '80s cartoons ... What are some of your favorite sources of visual inspiration?

You pretty much said it. What I've discovered and now has become the core root in thinking about projects is finding ways to mix and balance those things that I'm inspired by to come up with something unique in shape and form but yet familiar in tone. Each decade offers up amazing talent and creativity and when researching I find myself embracing their work and mentally thinking how I can accomplish their techniques in Adobe Illustrator. During the 60'- 70's the outlaw DIY style of Rick Griffin, Greg Irons, Ed Roth & Rob't Williams were doing amazing things with pen and ink. There are a lot of iconic poster designers that started pushing new structures that inspire me to find that balance in my work.  As of late I've been more focused on the typographers from the late 70's and early 80's. The more I research the artist and their techniques, the more I want to offer up those structures in my work as well as add that hint of flair that Gerard Huerta, David Quay, & many others added to their work.

I'll be honest. I have no formal education and actually a college dropout that learned everything on my own and by my own research. I take this aspect very seriously and spend at least a good few hours each week reading, looking and trying to figure out new techniques. I know where I'm weak as a designer and looking at those who came before you help guide my idea and own ideology on trying to define and redefine personal techniques and evolving.

What are your favorite types of jobs to work on? Are there any projects you turn down?

I actually love working with Nike, EA Sports and Lucas Films. Their budgets are great per project but also they give a lot of design freedom when working on a project thus making them fully enjoyable to work on. Some of the Style Guide stuff gets weird since it's just coping pre existing styles, but the client gives me free range to throw in my own thoughts no matter how successful or unsuccessful it is.  

Most of the projects I turn down are MMA related and/or Christian brands. I'm not a big fan of violence nor companies spending money to manipulate 'cool factors'. I also turn down anything that begins with the word 'start-up' because I find that is a bigger risk than betting on the Detroit Lions to win the Super Bowl. A lot of the stuff I turn down is mostly based on what I call 'time abuse'. If I feel the project isn't going to be worth the time invested or the time that would be invested, it's wiser for me to turn it down and use that time to focus on my own creations for Hydro74. It's just a way for me to keep my time valued for myself and realize how important that time in so I'm not giving design time to things in my life I value more like family, friends and self.

What's really poppin' in Orlando?

I don't know if you heard, but there is this great spot called Disney. HA! Actually Orlando is great. There is a lot of design culture here and a lot of movement with events. Yes it's a tourist trap in a half, but that is such a small factor and Orland is quite small considering what is here. Most of the attractions are over in Kissimee, which is not Orlando.

There are some great bars down town as well as some galleries. Every month Mother Falcon does a event with shirts and artist and it's a nice little hidden gem of Orlando.

A couple friends locally that are amazing that need a little shout out is Dres13, Horsebites, Scott Donald. There are many others, but those are the my personal friends.

What have you been listening to lately?

I'm a bit old school. A lot of the Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Front 242, Arvo Part, Hammock, etc. But, this takes me back to Junior High we I would trade 2 Live Crew tapes with friends and rap it on the bus.

Chain Swangaz

I'm also a techno/electro/hard core fan. So when I'm no designing, I'm making DJ mixes for the hell of it.  

Stay tuned to our newsletter for all of the release info for Hydro74's Awakening of Aegolius print!