One Piece of Art: Joel Daniel Phillips

Joel Daniel Phillips - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

Joel Daniel Phillips, whom we interviewed this month, recently set off to Taos, New Mexico to spend some time working on new pieces for his new show with the Hashimoto Contemporary Gallery.  The show begins in September of 2014.  We have seized this fantastic opportunity and will be shadowing Joel through the life of a single piece.  For the next few days we will be posting photos, thoughts and commentary from Joel for the piece he is working on so that you can see it turn from a blank sheet of paper to one of the beautiful illustrations he is becoming known for.  Take a look!

Previously featured:
June 2014
March 2013
September 2012




SUNDAY JUNE 23rd, 2014


What do you see from your front door?

A small jungle of what was once landscaping. The atmosphere at the foundation is one of benign neglect, which I think must be purposefully cultivated. Beyond the ecstatic shrubbery I can see the casita of another one of the residents in the distance, and above her space, the mountains.

What is your favorite part of the body? What is the sexiest part of the body? Do you have a favorite part of the body to illustrate? Do any of these three intersect or diverge?

My favorite part of MY body is my hands. I’ve always been fascinated with the miracle of dexterity – when I was a kid I could spend hours staring at my hands and moving my fingers, amazed at how naturally and fluidly they responded. On others? This totally depends on the person – I think that most people have a physical part of them that seems settled and very natural, it could be anything from an amazing nose to perfect ankles, it varies. I’m not sure I have a favorite body part.

I think one of the sexiest parts of the body is actually the small of the back – call me strange.

As far as drawing goes, I really love to render hands and faces. I could do it all day. Perhaps it’s the emotion that is conveyed in each, or the subtle structures involved, I’m not quite sure why. Gimme an old, gnarled pair of hands to draw and I’ll be happy for hours.




SATURDAY JUNE 22nd, 2014

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What do you do when you take a break from drawing? Both physically and mentally?

Generally I step outside for a smoke. This has been my rhythm for the past few years, and there is something amazingly meditative to the tactile timeline of a cigarette burning through. It allows me to not feel pressured to get back to work and really step away mentally from the piece, as I’m simply waiting for the cigarette to be finished. I’m trying to cut back at the moment, but ecigarettes don’t have the same temporal and cathartic nature to them and I haven’t found another habit that works as well. I’m open to suggestions, though.

What part(s) of the body did you work on today? Do you draw the nose, eyes and arms etc all separately and at a single time? Or do you work piecemeal, moving around the paper as you feel?

Today I worked on the bottom half of Lucky’s pinstripe jacket, down to about his knees. Some of my old studiomates would jokingly call me the human printer because of the very methodical way I work – starting in the top left corner and then working down/across a little bit at a time. This isn’t due to a particularly methodical nature, but rather that I don’t want my hand to smear what I’ve already drawn as it rests against the paper. Once I finish this first pass I always have things I want to fix and tighten up, but the majority of the work is finished. Sometimes I wish I could easily just jump around to wherever I felt like drawing next, but I think I’d end up with drawings consisting of what I like to render most – faces, hands and zippers.






FRIDAY JUNE 21st, 2014

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How do you take your coffee and why? Have you tried it another way?

Black. Like my men. Inappropriate quotes aside, I generally make a french press of deeply steeped medium roast coffee from the closest local roaster I can find. I then blend in a mix of grass feed Ghi and Coconut Oil. I was incredulous when my good friend (and incredible concept artist) Ryan Lee ( told me that this would keep any sort of caffeine jitters from happening, in addition being good for me. I tried it and voila! Besides tasting amazing, apparently the fat binds with the caffeine and essentially makes it slow release. Who knew?

What is your house like today? What is the weather like? How does these things set the done or influence your headspace? What was your mood today and how was it reflected in your art?

It’s funny, the casita I was assigned to at the foundation here in Taos is actually much larger that most places I’ve lived in the past few years.  The space has actually felt too large, which has resulted in me avoiding most of the house and more or less living in the studio. The weather has been a steady 80 during the day most of the time I’ve been in Taos, which at times has made it hard to stay indoors. However, I have an amazing back porch that looks into a beautiful wooded area, so I don’t have to go far to get a break.

I think the atmosphere of my studio affects me much more than the weather outside it. Today I was having some trouble focusing because the space was starting to feel a bit too cluttered so I ended up pausing and organizing for a while. I work best in a space that feels lived in but not particularly messy.  Other musts are high ceilings, natural light and no fluorescents.

My mood was a bit of an upward arc as it always seems to be, due to the fact that I despise mornings. I had a hard time getting back to work after going on a hike with some of the other residents early in the morning, and ended up sort of puttering for a while before I found any traction. I try not to let my mood at any given time affect the mark making too much as the goal is to capture someone’s emotion rather than mine, but I definitely don’t always follow that ideal particularly well.

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THURSDAY JUNE 20th, 2014


What did you have for breakfast today? What is your preferred breakfast?

This morning I munched down a bowl of yogurt with a pear sliced up in it. Not necessarily my preferred breakfast, but I was feeling a need to get a jump on the drawing and didn’t want to take the time to cook much.
My preferred breakfast varies, but often involves several eggs and a some sautéed veggies if possible. It all depends on how late I sleep in and whether I’m feeling pressured to get right to work or that I have time to make something more time-intensive. A cup or three of dark coffee is always a must, preferably with grass fed butter or ghi blended in.

As you were starting the piece, what was on your mind? Who is the subject and why do they matter to you on a personal level, or do they? Do your subjects need to matter to you?

Starting a piece is always a challenge. It seems that no matter how many works I make, I always have to battle to put the first mark on the paper, and I always find myself questioning my ability to make the work speak the way I want it too. The first day or two of drawing on a new piece is always a struggle with doubt and frustration before I settle into a rhythm. I’ve started to think about the process like crossing a mountain range – I have to get to the top before I can go down the other side.

The subject is a man named Lucky who I met in front of my old studio on 6th and Mission. I’d never met him before, so at this early stage I can’t say he truly means a huge amount to me emotionally. We had a relatively short conversation about rock and roll over a smoke at the time, and I’ve only seen him once since.

The emotional arc of connecting to my subjects is an interesting one – I often draw individuals who I’ve only met a once or twice. This means that I sometimes start out with little true emotional involvement in the way I would if I was drawing someone I’ve known for years. However, for me the process of drawing is an exploratory one – I draw people because I find that I finish with a deeper understanding of who they are. I’ve realized that even if the connection to my subject is mostly a sort of voyeuristic fascination at the beginning, by the end I feel deeply entwined with the person. It’s almost a process of traveling from the sympathetic to the empathetic – I choose my subjects generally because I see emotional substance that I want to capture and understand. If a drawing is successful, by the end of the process I feel very deeply connected and involved in that emotion, and sometimes find it hard to remember that haven’t spent the entirety talking with them in person.