The New York Times Magazine

Photographer: Justin Metz

Heidi: I know you’re a trained illustrator, when did you switch from agency Art Director back to your roots as an artist?
Justin: My early agency days were spent mostly as an artist but as I became more established I started to contribute ideas for pitches and over time my role evolved into more of an art director’s one. As a digital artist specializing in CG I found it freed-up me creatively – anything was possible, both logistically and budgetary. Later I was part of a staff cull at the agency and had to consider my next move which in the end turned out to be an easy decision as all of the advice was to become a freelance artist.

What specific learnings did your agency work transfer to your current work?
Wit and originality. The culture there was incredibly focused on finding new ways of approaching a brief, there was a lot of friendly competition which led to ever more interesting ideas. Working in an agency requires you to think differently and once learned it stays with you forever – it feeds into everything I do now. Editorial work is slightly different in that it needs a faster response – not just to the brief (I often get just a single day for concept and artwork) but from the consumer as it will be fighting to be heard above all the other covers on the newsstand.

What inspires you from the real world?
Everything and nothing, it seems that for me inspiration strikes only when the conditions are right which is often removing myself from the process altogether. There are some things which will often jump start things – browsing through an art book for instance, and reading around the subject can often reveal a phrase which sparks an idea. That first idea, however poor it might be, is the most important one as it usually unlocks the mind.

Where do you look for inspiration since most of your work is conceptual?
I think I subconsciously draw from past experiences and observations, I’m always studying how things look, how they behave and their effect on the environment, and how people respond to it. I think the real world is the best source of inspiration for conceptual work.

Do you have a journal or have any analog processes to sketch ideas?
Yes, I sketch out all ideas very roughly on a pad but I have them all in my head too. Good ideas are hard won and stick around forever up there.

Where do you get your source images from?
The usual stock libraries. If I need to use them the image will be built around them as it’s the only part I can’t fully control and if something isn’t working I’ll build it in CG which means I get to do whatever I want with it.

How do you know when you’ve solved the creative problem, or when the piece is done?
I try to provide at least five ideas on the brief and with one or two I’m usually confident I have something that will work well, more often than not though my preferred concept is not the one that makes it to final. I don’t consider anything I’ve done to be finished, just cut short to meet the deadline.

How do you unwind your mind, or try and relax it in order for new ideas to flow in?
Yes, it’s hard not to be on duty all of the time but I’m lucky – I have a great family which is very successful at diverting my attention. They’re funny and entertaining we spend time away from my work as often as we can.

Did you research Tesla crash images for this cover story and what direction did the magazine share?
I’ve worked with the New York Times Magazine a few times before and they’re a great team to work with so I knew it would be an interesting project. They knew they wanted me to smash up a few different models in different colors. The white one was intended for the cover and for me it was mostly a question of the extent of damage and making the images bold and impactful whilst ensuring they are as accurate as possible – I had to specifically research Tesla crash images as they’re very different ‘under the hood’. I wanted the images to look as if the crash has actually happened in the studio so the undamaged parts should look like a beauty shot.

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