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East London-based designer and illustrator Josh McKenna wooed us with his lucid, playful pastel visions which feel at once retro and contemporary, minimal yet full of life. We’re not the only one who’ve had their eye drawn by his seductive scenes: McKenna’s client list also includes the likes of GQ, The Observer and the Wall Street Journal, he’s been known to pop up on It’s Nice That, and is a winner in the Your Ad Here scheme.

After he kindly agreed to provide our middle page poster for Crack 50, we caught up with Josh to find a little more about these charmingly smooth and curvy figures, and the artist behind them.

When did you first start illustrating?

I’ve always been into drawing and the creative side of life. As a kid I made up my own comic about Bart Simpson living in the future, and I was always drawing cars.  I thought I’d end up being a car designer and I even studied it at university – for a couple of months! I’ve been a commercial illustrator for about eight months now.

How did your style develop? 

The style of my work is always evolving, I’m still pretty new in the game so I like to push myself with every commission I get.  The turning point for my work, I think, has to be when I created an abstract paradise of a woman in a pool, it was from there I developed my work into this paradise / tropical vibe and I ran with that for a while.  I’ve now since tried to move on from tropical themes but still alluding to a tropical, fun vibe which allows me to add my style to a more varied context.

At points your work is reminiscent of 80s advertisements and scenes that you’d expect in downtown LA. What brought about this inspiration? 

The 80s is such an expressional decade, the adverts were sexy and surreal and just a bit bizarre. I like to use them as inspiration and apply them to my work.  My colour palette is very LA / art deco inspired, I love warm summery tones and have kept my palette quite minimal and strict. I have to really think about introducing new colours to my work. 

What else inspires you?

I like to keep updated on what my favourite artists and illustrators are up to. Seeing them succeeding is kind of inspirational to me, motivating me to push myself even more.

Is the playful nature of your designs an important element to you? 

Yeah for sure. I think keeping things playful and fun is so important.  If I get bored of my work then I’ll scrap it. Adding a playful energy keeps it interesting and more pleasing to look at, nobody likes a bore.  

What are your thoughts on design styles coming in and out of fashion, and does that threaten your work? 

I think it’s actually quite important for me to stay on top of these movements so that my work is always current – obviously when something is rinsed too much it becomes a bit rubbish, so I like to keep and eye out for current and future trends and subtly feed them into my work. I’ve always loved the Memphis art movement which has steadily crept into our peripherals for a while now – squiggles are everywhere.

You have quite a few bikini clad babes in your portfolio and, of course in the middle page spread: who are these ladies?

I have to keep the identity of the sassy babes a secret I’m afraid.

As a winner of ‘Your Ad Here’, where can readers find it and how long will it be there for?

It’s up in Olympic Park in east London, they’ve been up for about a year now and will be there for a couple more.  Sometimes I’m cycling around Hackney Wick and the park and I’ll stumble across my own advert. It’s pretty cool.

Are you working on anything particular at the moment or is it top secret?

I’m doing quite a lot of magazine work actually, I’ve just handed one in for EasyJet magazine and I’m also working on a look book for a German jewellery company which is really fun.

When you’re not creating beautiful pastel scenes, what else do you get up to? 

I work a couple of days a week selling trendy kicks in town, but when I have a spare day I’m usually found hunting down the best burger in London and drinking beer.  I live in East London so there’s a nice amount of things to do. I pop to different markets around East and will always make time for a Sunday bike ride along the canals.

Find more of Josh’s work at jshmck.co.uk