“And to my man Joe Buck, you know he nonstop…” –
These were the words uttered at the end of “The Bizness,” a standout track from De La Soul’s Stakes is High. The album was a flagship of 90’s album that fought for hip hop being represented as an art and culture. As time has gone on, the art and design of Joe Buckingham, aka Joe Buck has steadily portrayed the artistic side of hip hop, whether through paintings, prints, or design. He’s the artist that designed the classic De La Soul is Dead cover, and has gone on to work with brands like Staple, ReDefinition Records, and start his own art driven business, Hollis Park. Joe took a minute to tell me more about his approach to art and design.
Hi Joe, for those that don’t know you, could you please introduce yourself and explain a bit what you do?
I am Joe Buck and I am an artist who happens to do design work too. I grew up in Hollis, Queens and I presently live on Long Island and I still fights the good fight to contribute beauty to the world.
Between art, design, and illustration, is there one that you favor? One that occupies more of your time?
There is one that I favor and that is art but at the moment I would still have to say that design still occupies most of my time. I am presently changing that and spending more and more time on my art and being choosier about which design projects I take on.
Do you think that by doing art and product-creation, the two strengthen each other within the Joe Buck/Hollis Park name?
Great question. Yes they do; a few years ago, I made a conscious decision to have my art drive my design style in order to merge the two worlds. I was at a point in my life where I needed art to play more of a role in what I did on a daily basis. For a long time I kept the two worlds separate, as I felt what I did for commercial design would corrupt my art.
The themes of music and often drum machines/records appear in your artwork. Are there any other sources where you draw direct inspiration or influence?
I draw inspiration from everywhere and everything. Experiences, stories, emotions and all subjects that interest me go into my work. These influences are stronger at different times depending on how I am feeling.
Before I was doing any formal design work, I started out making beats on an MPC. I like seeing the creative elements of any medium, whether it be records, instruments, spray cans, etc, because it kind of speaks to the creation process. Does that play any part in your choice of subject matter in a lot of your work?
I do love the elements of some mediums but I can’t say it plays a part in why I choose a subject matter. I am always looking for new elements to include in my work but I choose them based on the medium not the elements- but I dig where you are coming from.
Are there any creative processes that you go through, like brainstorming for designs or working through paintings to get to a certain concept?
I don’t have any particular process. Ideas hit me in many ways. Sometimes they just come about right away which is always an amazing feeling. There are other times that brainstorming, sketching, or doing research is needed to seek out the answer to the design problem at hand.
What’s your process like when someone approaches you to do commercial work?
The process is usually the same. A commercial project is almost always a basic equation of: designer skill + plus client needs equals good results. There is a common misconception about commercial design. A lot of clients seem to feel that a project is totally up to the artist or designer. Quite often I have clients say, “you are the creative, I don’t want to tell you what to do, etc.” The problem with this is that we all think differently and until I tap into the clients personality and business goals, the finished product may end up one sided. I encourage the client to get involved and I usually do this by asking various questions to get a feel of what the client is into. Most clients will tell you that they don’t know what they want but nine times out of ten they actually do; they tend to be shy in a way. Think of it like this- would you ever walk into a tattoo shop and say to the artist “do whatever you want, you’re the artist” ?
One of the bigger scope projects I’ve liked from you in the past few years has been your work with ReDefinition Records. I always enjoy when a label works with one designer consistently to give a visual identity, like Blue Note with Reid Miles.
How do you go about creating artwork for their releases?
Another great question because me and the guys at Redefinition Records are constantly having conversations about design. It’s a bit of a joint process, but they for the most part let me run with a project. Sometimes we fiend up on different pages about a project and then we get on the phone and work it out. We adopted a philosophy of at all times all sides should be happy with the final art. As for the actual design process, it varies. Sometimes a cover idea happens immediately and sometimes it takes a minute. We have set a goal and that is to keep raising the bar we have previously set on older projects. This makes for sometimes frustrating times but the results make it all OK. Shout out to J Nota and Damu.
What were some of the biggest issues that you ran into with networking early on? How did you eventually get through them?
Networking in the beginning was almost easier than it is now. The playing field was a lot less crowded. Word of mouth got a lot of the legwork done.
Do you typically let your work advertise itself, or do you do anything to attract/contact potential clients?
My work has always had the ability to advertise itself but that isn’t enough anymore. Word of mouth still brings in a decent amount of work. I also use social media, networking and anything else that help
Does working with a higher profile organization like De La Soul or Staple/Reed Space create more draw for your more personal work?
You’ve build up quite a name and brand with Joe Buck Art and Hollis Park. Does selling your work commercially create pressure to do more? Does the success each product or project leave you wanting to top the last one?
I would say it creates a pressure but a lot of thought goes into each release. I treat each release as its own entity at this point as I am still feeling out what my customers like. A lot of time you never what which one will be a best seller. Sometimes the release I think will do the best doesn’t and vice versa.
Are there any routines or systems that you follow to keep consistency in your day-to-day activity?
I have different routines for certain days. I find that necessary to make time for freelancing, painting as well as the other daily things that need to take place. I usually reserve my mornings for exploring, learning and researching.
Are there any tools you use to manage your time?
No particular tool. Sometimes I start the day with a list but that’s about it. One key thing to remember is to keep track of how much time is spent on certain tasks or projects. I try to freelance the same way I would work in-house meaning that time is everything. You never have forever when you work a job. Deadlines are fast so you must have all engines fired up and use them all efficiently to complete the project.
How do you feel that the work you create contributes to creative/music culture?
I’m not sure if I have an answer to this question. The only thing I can say is that I try my best each and every time to create impactful work because it should be. That is the job of an artist. That being said I am always surprised when someone tells me that I inspired them to create or do something. It is very humbling.
Do you see yourself taking the Joe Buck/Hollis Park brand in any new directions in the near future?
Sky’s the limit. Right now I am enjoying the organic growth and development of Hollis Park. Expect to see more and more of a fine art aesthetic incorporated into new products.
Any final words?
To everyone reading this continue to do what you are good at doing to the fullest. I think there are far too many people today trying to do things that they aren’t good at. That’s a waste of time in my opinion. Take time to find the thing that you love, that will be the thing you excel at doing.
A Special thanks to Joe for taking the time for the interview. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter at @joebuckart and check out his portfolio site, josephbuckingham.com and store at hollispark.com Check his interviw with Jeff Staple below:
1-2-1 w/jeffstaple ft. Joe Buck from staplepigeon on Vimeo.