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May 27, 2015

Nine Philadelphia illustrators you should follow

The Arts Artists
Nine Illustrators to Follow File Art /for PhillyVoice

The Philadelphia-based illustrators are putting Philadelphia on the map.

Illustrators decorate our lives with wonderful, whimsical and frank artistic depictions of objects we encounter in real life or in the depths of our imaginations. Whether the audience consists of children, adults or just dreamers, these nine illustrators manage to reach right past the page and into your very soul.

Eleanor Grosch

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Eleanor Grosch with her husband and business partner Peter Dalkner and their daughter Hazel. Photo by Eleanor Grosch. 

Using pattern, bold hues and strong shapes, illustrator and designer Eleanor Grosch has established an energetic, retro aesthetic all her own. Following her passion from a young age, Grosch grew up constantly drawing her favorite animals.

After a formal education in fine art, Grosch began creating rock posters, gaining clients like Wilco and Death Cab for Cutie. That work got her noticed by shoe brand Keds, and Grocsch collaborated with them on a popular series of animal print shoes in the mid 2000s.

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A stylized illustration of the Satin Bowerbird of New Guinea by Eleanor Grosch. 

Now, with her husband Peter as her business partner, she does everything from licensing artwork to designing stationery. She recently finished a big collaboration with the Denver Zoo, which meant getting to create a menagerie of animals.

“I thought, this is exactly what I wanted to do when I was little!” Grosch said of the year-long project.

Next up, she’s working on a children’s book and a series of fairytale inspired images that use quilts to tell tales as old as time.

Box Brown

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Cartoonist and illustrator Brian "Box" Brown. Photo by Brian "Box" Brown. 

A self-taught cartoonist, Brian “Box” Brown rediscovered his childhood love of drawing when he began making comics at 24. His unique illustration style soon led to sci-fi comics, pro-wrestling-inspired prints, awards and a publishing outfit, Retrofit Comics.

His best-known work is a graphic biography of pro-wrestling figure Andre Roussimoff. “Andre the Giant: Life and Legend,” spent three weeks on the New York Times Graphic Novel Best Sellers List, but it’s not just for fans of the sport.

“I wanted somebody to pick up the book who hates pro wrestling and put it down like, ‘Wow, pro wrestling is awesome!’” Brown said.

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A poster advertisement for The Mountain Goats' April performance at Union Transfer.

Happily for Box, a nickname he picked up in college that “just stuck,” his career is really picking up steam. His next project will tell the puzzling history of Tetris through a graphic novel and the geek world has given it a seal of approval.

Brian Biggs

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Brian Biggs sitting with one of his illustrations.

After a first career as a Silicon Valley graphic designer and art director, or what Brian Biggs calls “trying really hard not to be an illustrator,” his passion won out.

Longing for change and with a son on the way, Biggs moved to Philadelphia 16 years ago. He started out creating graphic novels and comics and teaching at University of the Arts before jumping full time into illustration.

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"Mayor for a Day," an illustration for Penn Gazette by Brian Biggs. 

About a decade later, Biggs is challenging himself to switch up his style.

“I’m going back to a lot of my favorite books from when I was a kid in the early 70s and looking for something different. I’ve gotten known for what I do and how I do it and … I’m really kind of pushing to get out of that,” Biggs said.

Now he is creating a series of children’s books that focus on the many careers of a town of characters. Much like the timeless childhood works that inspire him, Biggs hopes it will inspire generations of readers.

Martha Rich 

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Martha Rich paints in her studio. Photo by Andrea Cipriani Mecchi. 

Martha Rich discovered her true destiny after taking a Clayton Brothers painting class in Los Angeles. Rich quit her human resources gig at Universal Studios and enrolled in the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where she graduated with honors. Rich moved back home to the city of brotherly love to pursue an MFA in Painting from the University of Pennsylvania.

Martha’s work often features colorful people, snacks and animals expressing audacious thoughts displayed in speech bubbles.

“The blank white canvas is my art equivalent of the cubicle. My art is not precious. It is chit-chat, back and forth, reactions, insecurities, bravado, hysteria, defensiveness, repetitions, connections and destructions,” writes Rich in her artist's statement.

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Lucky Charm, by Martha Rich. 

How does Rich dream up these fantastic personalities? 

"It started while eavesdropping on the 40 bus on my way to Penn when I was getting my MFA. That bus is a microcosm of this city, from tourists to teens, to families to retirees to surgeons to methadone clinic types. The conversations I overheard were amazing. I had to write them down. Now I gather the phrases everywhere from texts, television, email spam, talking with my friends at a party, the yelling on the streets below my apartment window, the students I teach, almost nothing is off limits."

In 2006, she published, "Freedom Wigs," (Murphy Design), a collection of paintings and sketches exploring “life’s important questions about acceptance, underpants and heart-throb crushes." Her commercial clients include Rolling Stone, Hollywood Records, Bon Appetit Magazine and Young and Rubicam. 

Coming up for Rich? A show at local gallery Grizzly Grizzly in June, a piece for the Hucksters exhibit at the Independence Seaport Museum curated by Erich Weiss. It shows in Waxahachie, Texas, Portland, Oregon, and Northampton, Massachusetts. She's also in the process of illustrating a book with the Jealous Curator and creating a new bag for Blue Q. Readers interested in purchasing her work can visit her online store here

Greg Pizzoli

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Greg Pizzoli. Photo by Bob Shea


Greg Pizzoli’s illustrations were born out of his music. … Well, sort of.

As part of a band, he found he wasn’t thrilled with the posters the group was using to promote itself. Pizzoli had a feeling he could come up with something better, and he did. From there, he says his interest in illustration was a “war of attrition,” realizing through trial and error that he wanted to make children’s picture books.

In grad school at University of the Arts, he screen-printed and sewed together his own books before eventually connecting with a publisher. His first book, “The Watermelon Seed,” published in 2013, and his most recent, “Templeton Gets His Wish,” publishes this month. He’s also released darker children’s books that are nonfiction, such as “Tricky Vic,” about a con artist who planned to sell scrap parts of the Eiffel Tower to metal dealers.

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A page from "Templeton Gets His Wish.”

The joy of the job, he says comes from laughter.

“When I work, I try to keep myself entertained. If I’m not laughing – even with my nonfiction books – then it’s not going to hold up for other people,” Pizzoli told PhillyVoice. “If you’re not making a kid laugh, you’re going to lose them.”

A teacher of screen-printing who likes overlapping colors that “explode with possibility,” he primarily takes inspiration from Ed Emberley, midcentury work and cartoons like “Rocky and Bullwinkle.”

“I want to make books that are a little subversive and make kids laugh, really,” he says. “And for the nonfiction works, those are for the kids who need to write a book report, but can’t stand to write another one about George Washington.”

Margherita Urbani

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A transplant from northeastern Italy, Margherita Urbani, art director for Andy Rementer and freelance illustrator, came to Philadelphia seven years ago upon graduating from university in Venice.

The transition was, at first, difficult. But then she found that the perspective helped to inspire her works, which have been published in New York Times Magazine, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and Airbnb.

Her outside-looking-in take became an asset.

“While I think I integrated pretty well to the culture here, it's easy for me to shift into an outsider's perspective,” Urbani told PhillyVoice. “It's just natural to compare the two realities, the 'here' and 'there.’ Unavoidably, this influences my critical thinking, and therefore my storytelling.”

Other inspirations for her self-described “wry sense of humor” and “harsh” sketches include vintage books, hand-made lettering and typography, comics and, after a recent trip to Tokyo, kawaii.

At present, she’s working on comics for New York- and London-based magazines, as well as merchandise collections in L.A.

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"Me & You", a mural exhibited at Elixr Coffee last summer. Photo by Ryan Greenberg. 

Jon Krause

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A Tacony native and graduate of Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, Jon Krause has worked with TIME, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Playboy and countless other publications as an editorial illustrator. His style, he says, is “conceptual” -- it’s always a reflection of what someone’s written, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I like the inspiration that a piece of text gives you, and I like reading what is going on in the world as a point of view. I like reacting to that,” he told PhillyVoice. “I like taking text that might be obtuse and simplifying it into an image that makes the viewer think a bit, and crystallizes what the message is – visually -- in a concise way.”

Krause uses mostly acrylic paint for his illustrations, a middle ground between computers and oils – the acrylic dries fast, making it ideal for editorial work, but still boasts a similar aesthetic as oils. He points to Dave Noyes, a professor in Tyler’s Fine Arts department, as a major source of inspiration.

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Illustrated by Krause, "Ice Traveler" ran alongside an article in Writers Chronicle magazine about the author's approach to going "beneath the surface" in writing.

Right now, Krause is wrapping up a section cover for The Wall Street Journal and a series of illustrations for the University of Pennsylvania.

Tim Gough

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If you live in Philadelphia, it's likely you've been exposed to the work of creative director and illustrator Tim Gough. He has designed countless covers and gig posters for legendary hardcore band Paint It Black and led the creative direction of Philadelphia Magazine for a few years before joining the team at agency 160over90, where he is currently a senior designer. 

Inspired by mid-century graphics and the laborious process of screen printing, Gough is also moved by his experiences in Philadelphia.

“Philadelphia is hugely influential. I have lived here for over 13 years and I continue to find experiences that shape and form the work I create. I find inspiration in all corners of the city. Riding my bike from neighborhood to neighborhood there are hidden gems under all the grittiness that you might catch at first glance. Whether it's vintage mid-century typography in the underground concourse beneath city hall, Hawk Krall's Pizza Brain mural, or getting a midnight pretzel, fresh off the conveyer belt on Washington Ave.”

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Sgt. Pepper by Tim Gough. 

Gough just wrapped up a zine called “Margin Doodler” for Brickman Publications. The zine is a collection of work from his sketchbooks over the last few years. In June, The Independence Seaport Museum will display some of Gough’s drawings and illustrations in its Huckster Exhibit

Gina & Matt

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Matt Curtius and Gina Triplett. Photo by Andrea Cipriani Mecchi. 

Design duo Gina Triplett and Matt Curtius are partners in life and work. The creative couple met while in school at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where Triplett was studying illustration and Curtius studied painting.

They now live in a beautiful home in Bella Vista with their family, and together, they create colorful illustrations complete with lively flora and fauna and beautiful hand lettering. 

“We love the community here. We love that our house is almost paid off, and that wouldn't be possible in cities with comparable cultural depth. Being close to New York is nice. The walkable and bike-able scale of Philly doesn't have too much to do with our practice, but it's still pretty great.”

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Bluevase Succulent by Gina & Matt. 

Currently, the duo are working on illustrating the packaging for a gluten-free bakery. They’re also hard at work on the book covers for a series of murder mysteries set in the English countryside and fleshing out ideas for their own children's book.

“Finally, we're sketching ideas for our show at the Delaware Museum of Art in the spring of 2016.”

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