[photo credit: Marga van de Meydenberg]
Johan Potma is a 35-year-old Dutch painter and illustrator who lives and works in Berlin, Germany and whose work is made with acrylics and collage on old wooden surfaces like box lids, signs and cigar boxes. The materials he uses tell part of the story through the stains, old nails, dents and cracks; the remainder is explained through all sorts of monsters, freaks and oddballs acting out his ideas. His clients include Playboy, Nickelodeon, Pepsi, XXS, sixfeet, Titus Skateboarding and Nivea and his illustrations have been featured in Luerzer's Archive 200 Best Illustrators Worldwide (2007, 2008, 2009), The Upset (Die Gestalten Verlag), Freistil and Communication Arts (2006, 2009).
Big Beautiful Chunks of Time
If you have a degree in what field is it? Graphic design and illustration from Minerva Art Academy.
Have you always been able to draw or was it a skill you learned in college? I was always a fairly talented painter/drawer but really found my direction and personal style during my study in art school.
What was your first paid assignment? Doing a quarter-page editorial illustration about the apparent trend of the online funeral business.
Which illustrator (or fine artist) do you most admire? That changes daily. One day it’s Gary Taxali the next it’s Bob Ross.
What would you be doing if you weren't an illustrator? I would love to do biological research—insects or deep sea creatures maybe? Stand-up comedy is also something I’ve always thought I would like, I’m just too much of a chicken to get up there and do it.
From where do your best ideas originate? My best ideas originate from doodling. Sudden little stories appear that I can develop and translate to a painting. There’s something really nice about mindless jamming on a piece of paper. It’s a way of getting all my ideas and impressions out—sort of like self-therapy.
How do you overcome a creative block? Whenever that happens I need to get my mind in a different place. Go outside and do something else; if I can relax, the problem will somehow be resolved. For sure the very worst thing is to worry about it.
In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new assignment? Excited.
Do you have a personal philosophy? If I have one it might be something like, take things as they come and try to make the best of them; try not to let money or fear motivate your actions.
Do you have creative pursuits other than illustration? I am also a painter and have my own gallery in Berlin. That is a part of my life that takes up a big beautiful chunk of time.
What music are you listening to right now? Right this minute, I’m not listening to music, but lately I like to listen to Kings of Convenience, Clutchy Hopkins, Neil Young, Jeff Buckley, Fink, Madlib, the Roots...
What’s your favorite quote? This one: “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photos, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don't bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It's not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.’” —Jim Jarmusch
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Work hard. Be honest. Self reflect. Don’t give up. It is a beautiful job if you do it for the right reasons.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? That this interview would come up and I would have a good answer to this question.