Joel burden is a British visual artist and illustrator based in Leeds. Although Joel has been mainly working on digital based works, his style is always evolving and is currently interested in moving towards more tangible materials such as paint and clay.

How difficult is it when it comes to working with colour rather than black and white?

Colour has always been my default, something that I am drawn towards, like a bee to a flower, so for me it comes more organically than a line drawing. Not that I always have, or do know, which colour should exist where upon first look, but I have always I think sub-consciously visualised things in colour. By that I mean when a piece of work presents itself in some kind of form inside my brain, fuzzy edged and lacking clarity but a beginning, it will most certainly be in colour, or at least I perceive it that way. Naturally then, making things in black and white, is something that doesn’t immediately happen. 'I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for’ - Georgia O’Keeffe. Recently however I have been experimenting with black and white line drawings. There’s a directness to them, and a clarity, which can be unforgiving if done wrong, but beautiful when done right. That part I still have a long way to go with. Ultimately, you follow where the piece wants to go, and if that means it takes you into areas you aren’t as comfortable with, you owe it to yourself and the image to at least give it a go. 

How do you get inspiration for your work?

Recently I’ve been exploring themes of shyness, vulnerability and sensitivity, through simplified visual metaphor. In other words I guess I’m experimenting with trying to say a lot by showing very little. I’ve been interested in work by Georgia O’Keeffe, Ellsworth Kelly, amongst others. I’m also reading a lot of novels by Haruki Murakami. The way he describes subtle human interaction and emotion makes them almost tangible. I find it really resonates with something in me. I’m also finding myself moving being more and more interested in abstraction, which is something I imagine I will explore further.

What role does an artist play in this kind of society do you think?

Big question! The kind of question you could write your thesis on. Art has so many different roles and responsibilities, it’s hard to say. In a world that feels more and more divided of late, maybe it has a responsibility to remind people they aren’t alone. That whatever you’re feeling, going through, striving towards, the big and the small, there are most certainly other people who are just like you. There is a magic moment when you look, hear or read something that stops you where you are and makes you think ‘that’s exactly how I feel.

You have worked with some big clients, how did those come about?

The majority seem to have found me via social media, especially Instagram. It stresses the importance of self-initiated work. The power really is in your hands. Make for yourself, share, and hopefully others will connect with what you’re doing. 

Any obstacles you have faced?

Of course, a spectrum, all of my own creation! Self-doubt, anxiety, depression, large intervals of lacking in motivation/commitment/confidence. I’ve spoken to many people who have echoed those sentiments. Who knew doing something you loved could be so hard at times! Luckily these are all things that can inspire and inform the things you create, it’s just about giving them the time and space they deserve to materialise. 


How did that affect you?

These things can be hard to put into words. It affected my sense of self, who I was and what I was doing here. You need to create to feel purpose, yet you haven’t the energy or confidence to do so, which in turn makes you feel worse, and so the cycle goes on. Speaking about being a shy child, and needing that outlet to express yourself, I’m not sure for me that changed fundamentally going into adulthood, and so you almost feel mute, and unable to share the parts of you that matter most. A fog envelops you, and for that moment you are within it, you cannot see out. In my experience, it is never really overcome, there is always a risk of it returning uninvited, but you do your best to make it feel unwelcome, and you learn methods to disperse it. Ask yourself what is making you feel this way, and do your best to make adjustments. It’s almost like creating your own escape roots, and once you know where they are, you feel some control has been restored. Then ultimately, you find that purpose again, and you wallow in it as much as possible. You put yourself into your Art, and suddenly things seem clearer, and you realise the fog has lifted. In my Art, I don’t directly reference the experience, but subtlety it can show through. Whether that be someone obscured from view, a snarling tiger or a falling glass, maybe we all consciously or sub-consciously draw from our own history. 


What advice would you give to other aspirational artists?

In many ways I still consider myself an aspirational artist, but I’ve learnt many things along the road so far. Make work that interests you, and put the time in. A lot of time. Be obsessed with what you do, do it as much and as often as you can, whenever you can, and be patient with yourself. Nothing will happen overnight. Don’t be drawn into doing things for likes, it will leave you feeling hollow and unfulfilled. You have a lot to say and give, value your own opinion.