PK 041: Justin Harder from Claus Studios on How to Connect Your Art With Your Audience

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A still from the Thor: The Dark World title sequence by Justin Harder and Claus Studios

鈥淔inding your voice as an artist is tough, but as long as you have a sharp way to solve design problems, you’ll be fine.鈥滭/em>

You may not realize it, but you鈥檙e probably already familiar with the work of illustrator Justin Harder.

From title sequences in films such as Mr Magorium鈥檚 Wonder Emporium, Thor: The Dark World, or 2014鈥檚 The Book of Life, through to character designs for Ford and Virgin Hotels, the work of Justin and his own Claus studios is instantly recognizable.

But success didn鈥檛 happen overnight for this Texas-born artist. In fact, after leaving college and moving to LA, Justin found his training in spot illustration just wasn鈥檛 bringing the work in.

Incredibly, he only earned $6,000 in his first year after graduating. And, like so many artists, he found himself working for free on anything from murals to band T-shirts, and he began to grow despondent.

His solution? 鈥淚 just kept drawing,鈥 he says. 鈥淚鈥檝e been drawing my whole life 鈥 even when it became uncool to do so at school!鈥滭/p>

Justin Harder on Never Giving Up on Your Art

Eventually, his determination paid off. Justin got a freelance gig back in Texas at Reel FX as an entry-level illustrator, and soon found himself thrown into the exciting, fast-paced environment of a commercial art studio.

鈥淎t that time, I had what I call 鈥楽tylistic Attention Deficit Disorder鈥?鈥 he jokes. 鈥淚 was just trying to think of the best way to solve various design challenges, and I got to work on so many different things 鈥 I even did some copywriting!鈥滭/p>

Sure, it was hard work, but Justin Harder gained invaluable experience in many different areas 鈥 including plenty he had little prior experience of.

Speaking of this time now, he says: 鈥淎lthough I wasn鈥檛 qualified to do some of these jobs, I learned them through experience. It鈥檚 like watching a great basketball player. You don鈥檛 ask yourself: 鈥榃hich college did he go to and which qualifications has he got?鈥 You just watch him doing his thing.

“Thanks to online courses such as the ones on Pencil Kings, there are so many ways to get art now 鈥 there literally is no limit to what you can learn!鈥滭/p>


An illustration for Marvel Avengers by Justin Harder

As Justin rose through the ranks to become art director and creative director, he continued to work on all kinds of exciting new projects. And this is what eventually led him to work on title sequences for the movies we mentioned earlier.

He explains: 鈥淭itle sequences started back in the 1950s as a way for incredible artists like Saul Bass to merge titles with the content of the movie. Not only do they tell a story, they鈥檙e a great way for artists to get their work seen on the big screen by lots of people. You can check out some classics at the Art of The Title website.鈥滭/p>

Working on Thor: The Dark World was a particularly interesting project for Justin Harder. Working with animation specialists at Blur studio, he was able to bring his brush strokes to life and create a memorable title sequence with its stark black shapes and red accent colors.

鈥淚 had, like, 65-80 layers of real brush strokes that had been scanned in and brought into Photoshop,鈥 he says, 鈥渁nd it was so exciting to see these animated in the end result.鈥滭/p>

You can check out some of the title sequences Justin鈥檚 worked on below:

The Book of Life | Main on End Titles from Byron Slaybaugh on Vimeo.

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium – Opening Titles from Rob Foster on Vimeo.

As well as working on title sequences, Justin has also become a regular fixture at comic cons across the US, which he says is a great way to connect with his audience and make new friends.

鈥淐ommercials are great, but I had this desire to get my art out in front of people and make a more personal connection,鈥 he says. 鈥淧lus, it鈥檚 cool to share the passion and knowledge you鈥檝e gained so far with other artists.鈥滭img class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-6931" src="data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAIAAAAAAAP///yH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7" data-src="" alt="justin-harder-aliens-rides-digitalart" width="640" height="640" />

An illustration of the tank from Aliens by Justin Harder

If you go to any comic con this year, you鈥檒l most likely see Justin there, with his stall lined with high quality gicl茅e prints of cars from some of his favorite movies. It鈥檚 something he clearly enjoys, saying: 鈥淚 love doing comic cons. Everyone there is so supportive and nice!鈥滭/p>

So what鈥檚 his advice for aspiring artists?

He says: 鈥淭he one thing I always say to students is that they need to pick up the pace. The great thing about starting out working full-time in a commercial art studio is that it forces you to work fast and use all the skills and knowledge you already have to get the job done faster.

鈥淵ears of experience can go into a piece of work that may have only taken you 10 minutes! Learn your Photoshop shortcuts (this course from Sycra Yasin is a great place to start), and don鈥檛 be afraid to look over the shoulder of the guys you鈥檙e working with and see how they get things done so quickly.鈥滭/p>

You can catch Justin Harder at San Diego Comic Con, which runs from 9th-12th July 2015. Alternatively, check out his site and his social media channels, which are all listed below.

Listen to this week鈥檚 show and learn:

  • Why you should never give up on your art
  • Why a commercial environment can be a great place to learn
  • Why it’s important to connect with your audience
  • Why you needn’t worry if you haven’t found your own style yet

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Mentioned in the episode:

Justin聽on Facebook
Justin聽on Twitter
Justin聽on Instagram
Justin on Tumblr

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One Response to “PK 041: Justin Harder from Claus Studios on How to Connect Your Art With Your Audience”

  1. Artist Byron Slaybaugh on Silencing Your Self-critic

    […] more on design and animation. He says he loved working on a recent project with Justin Harder (see podcast 041), where he got to do lots of hand-drawn 2D […]


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