Interview x Conceptual Artist – Joe MacCarthy

I recently had the chance to chat with one of the most talented (and one of my personal favorite) conceptual designers, Joe MacCarthy. It’s rare that a concept designer delves into the world of footwear, but when someone with Joe’s skill level and imagination does, chaos is sure to ensue. If there was ever proof that footwear design is art, this is it. Check out what Joe has to say about what inspires him, his thoughts on the current state of footwear design, as well as view some of his super creative artwork, including his latest piece, ‘Furina’ (the last image) who is  from a set of Heroins he will be releasing as a limited edition print later this year (Stay up to date with the releases and latest work from Joe on his facebook page).

[highlight] How did you first get into design & concept art? [/highlight]

I graduated in 1994 from UW Stout with a BS in Industrial Design.  I left with a passion for toys and shoes and ended up doing primarily toys over the next 17 years.  I started doing Concept Art outside of my ID profession in 2009.  I was self taught and then dipped into several week sessions in Hollywood at Gnomon Studios to learn from the best.  I continue to observe everything around me on a daily basis with lots of photography and constant sketching.

[highlight] What programs do you use? [/highlight]

My main programs are Photoshop for 2D and Pro-E Wildfire for 3D.  My preferred rendering program is Bunkspeed.    I have tried many other programs over the years and this is where I landed.  I like to keep the workflow really simple.  A lot of initial ideas start out as a quick burst of an idea that goes down on a sketchpad with a permanent marker.  These doodles are not that pretty but the initial energy of the idea is really strong.  I try to keep that energy in my final renderings and not tighten it up too much.  Fine tuning can really exhaust the spark.

[highlight] What are you inspirations? [/highlight]

I would have to say the little stuff that most people walk by on a daily basis and do not appreciate is what inspires me most.  From a passerby with a slight smile to an old car or some funky pump shoes with an stylish leg cross.    I am constantly taking photos of objects and garbage trucks that leave people guessing what I am trying to capture.   This photo reference library that I have built is mainly for me to understand light, materials, and characters better.  If I had time to organize them it would be an incredible resource.  Someday I will have to hire sombody to go through my hard drives to finish the job.   I am  also inspired by lots of surreal pop illustrators like Glen Barr or Jamie Hewlett, Dali, Jim Lee, Ashley Wood and others.  Music is also a huge inspiration to me as well as I work.  Diggin’ big beats by Deadmau5, Daft Punk, Bassnectar & Boys Noize to name a few.
[highlight] How do you best cultivate your creativity? [/highlight]


Experimenting with different processes and not being afraid to try new techniques or processes.  I also look to other categories when concepting on particular category as well.  If you just research tanks when designing a tank you are really just evolving an idea.  I like to revolutionize and idea when ever possible.
At work when I brainstorm new ideas at Leapfrog Toys I call it “Blue Sky on a Leash” brainstorming.   My concepts are fresh and new but somewhat grounded in cost, safety, and existing technology.  At home when I do the concept art I am FREE!  That is what I love about concept art the most.  I am my own director, Illustrator and designer.  Anything goes!  Museum trips or my daily drive to work inspires me as well.  I take a different route to work every day and notice a lot of really cool California cars that to most people are junkers.  I love to see them and really get to know them.  I will sometimes stop and take photos of the same car in different lighting scenarios.   Ideas are all around you.  I cannot wait to get into macro photography and explore a lot of worlds that I have never concepted against.
[highlight] What is your process when creating a piece of concept art? [/highlight]


I have two main methods.  One is starting out with a loose sketch and then taking it into PS for a refinement and ending up with a rendering.  The other method is to kickstart the idea with  photography and then painting over it, manipulating it, adding textures, redefining its function all in PS.   I am truly addicted to painting in PS.  I would do it all day long if I could.
[highlight] What are your favorite pair of kicks ever released? [/highlight]


I would have to say that would be the classic Converse Chuck Taylor.  Such a timeless iconic design that has lasted the test of time.
[highlight] What is your opinion on the current state of creativity in footwear design? [/highlight]


The footwear industry to me is really similar to the toy industry.   There is a lot of “me too” designs happening with little puffs of revolution happening here and there.  I love to see small start up companies inspiring the big boys in this marketplace.  I am not sure about all of the companies dipping into the 80’s culture as a fallback to complete their lines.   It definitely needs an infusion of new ground breaking ideas.