Crushing on Justin Tan

Artist Justin Tan contributed to issue 10 by creating a super cool reinterpretation of Don Cherry’s suit. His work combines crisp black lines with textured planes of colour; a style that can rival Cherry’s any day. WORN’s need for a fact-checker became evident when, after the copy was printed, I realized Justin’s name was misspelled – our sincerest apologies, Justin! I caught up with him to enlighten WORN readers of the work of a man who is, contrary to what may be printed in the magazine, named Justin Tan.

Do you remember your first impressions of Don Cherry’s style? Would you be interested to see more people emulate it?
The first time I saw Don Cherry was when I was a little kid watching Hockey Night in Canada. I wasn’t really interested in people’s style back then, so my impression of him was probably similar to Mr. Dress Up. Just an older gentlemen who dressed funny. I wouldn’t like it if more people dressed like Don Cherry. I really appreciate the effort he puts into his wardrobe, and that’s kinda his thing. If more people did it, then it would lose some of it’s appeal.

Tell me a bit about your illustration of Mr. Cherry.
Well, the idea behind my illustration is an ageless Don Cherry. From what I remember as a kid, Don Cherry looked the exact same when I was 10 as he does now. He doesn’t seem to get older or anything, I mean, can you picture Don Cherry wearing a track suit to go mall walking followed by bingo and 4 o’clock dinner? That picture just seems ridiculous; that would make a great illustration though. But for me, I had fun imagining Don Cherry being alive in a future where Hockey is played across the galaxy and there’s like one Earth team, and they play Saturn’s team or Mars’ team. Galactic Cup instead of World Cup. I’ve really been into space and the galaxy lately too, so this was a great way to work some of that great imagery into an illustration.

You used style to re-imagine Little Boy shoes, what role did clothing play in the branding concept?
Well I think the clothing that I chose for that rebrand project is key to the look and feel of the whole concept. If the clothing isn’t right, it’s just a bunch of people with toy guns, it looks cheap rather than simple and stylized. Clothing can say so much, there’s really only a few hints need to convey a utopian futuristic idea: which is shiny pants and matching turtlenecks. Super simple, but it just brings to mind all those old costumes from Logan’s Run, 2001 Space Odyssey, classic Sci-Fi. Drawing from key elements like matching uniforms and shiny silver, the clean white institutional look is all you need to sell the idea. The clothes really sell it.

How did you dress in highschool? Is it different from how you dress now?
When I was in highschool I dressed more or less like a skater. All my friends skated, and we all snowboarded and all that, so that was the look essentially. I kinda missed out on a lot of the fads in highschool because I just wasn’t too into the looks, or couldn’t afford the looks. There was this phase where people would wear Diesel jeans and Iron Maiden shirts…like the idea of rich metal heads is so contrary and hilarious, I guess that’s why it worked for people. Emo style was really big too, I’m really glad I never latched on to that. Though, my personal favourite style that I latched onto in a big way were the Adidas tearaway track pants in 5th grade. If you had those pants, you were the boss, you were in. I didn’t really start developing a real style until later in highschool around Grade 12, pretty much when hipsters and that whole indie Urban Outfitters look starting to come in. The great thing about this was clothing didn’t look expensive, it wasn’t necessarily about brands, it was more so about unique pieces of vintage or really classic looks. You didn’t need to have a lot of money to look good. Before that it seemed like the advertising message was about buying expensive clothes and letting people know it. Now it’s all about un-labeled, simple, almost un-branded clothes, I like that. That’s pretty much how I dress now, I don’t like the classification of hipster, but it probably is the closest thing to a style stereotype that would describe me. I don’t have any super ultra skinny jeans or anything, my legs aren’t thin enough, but I have numerous cardigans, haha, so does that make me a hipster?

How do you choose what the people you draw are wearing? Does it have anything to do with what you think their personalities are?
In my illustrations I tend to chose clothing that looks very timeless. I don’t want my illustrations to be dated by the clothing in it, for example, I would hate if someone could look at my illustrations and say something like “This illustration must have been done around such and such a date because that’s when this certain style of shirt was popular.” So I mostly draw really non-descript clothing that could be from like 1900 to now. Sometimes I do find that clothing can tell the story of a character, and in those cases I will pick specific styles, or palates to reflect that. Because my newer illustrations have a limited colour palate (often just greys with 1 or 2 accent colours), I choose colour for the whole illustration that communicates the mood I want to set, so I’m not necessarily thinking specifically that the coat will be red or anything like that. Colour is more of a broad decision rather than a specific choice.

What are some projects you have coming up?
Actually I’m on a bit of a break from taking new projects. By day I work at an interactive agency in Calgary called Critical Mass, and I’ve been loving my work there, so it’s been keeping me really busy and happy. I’m also in a season of my life where there’s lots going on in my personal world so I’m content to be more casual about the illustration work that I do. Right now I have the luxury of picking projects that I’m truly interested in, and at the moment, nothing has really interested me. I plan to do some art shows in the next year, but that’s all in the works. For now i’m just really content to take it a bit easy.

- Hillary Predko

2 thoughts on “Crushing on Justin Tan

  1. I enjoy that the silhouetted birds are actual birds. My bird-watching friend could probably name them. Also, I spot a flying squirrel in there!

  2. First – way to go Max for finding the squirrel! I totally had to go back and look for it. It was like Where’s Waldo: The Art Edition. Ha.

    These illustrations are so lovely (and the DC concept was great, too). I like the idea of consciously avoiding identifiable clothing/style. After I read that I went back and really looked at the third illustration and it’s true – there are elements of the past and of ideas people have had about the future. There is even something in there that reminds me of illustrations in childrens’ books, though I can’t place a real timeline on those, either.

    I have an idea being able to do this is harder than it looks. It’s so easy to be influenced by things without even knowing it.

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