Joshua Barkman: Art Is a Very Natural Experience

Ask Artists with Julia Travers
5 min readJun 21, 2021

“Pick up a pencil, brush, hot glue gun, tambourine!”

Featured work: Lucky Bird

Joshua Barkman is a comic artist whose works are a delight for the eye, mind and heart. In the False Knees series, he depicts birds and other fauna in casual conversation, philosophical quandaries and wonderfully relatable banter. Along with his visual storytelling skills, he is gifted in creating realistic drawings — his animal studies are simply beautiful. Barkman uses creative nature illustrations and captions as a medium to explore human existence (and existence in general) in a humorous, reverent and irreverent light, while also inviting us to imagine the nuances and complexities of other species’ cultures and voices, and to consider how much we all may have in common.

More featured works:

5 Questions for the Artist:

1. What is art to you?

Art is the outcome of a desire to create. Going through the process of creating art is a form of self-expression. I will get an idea of a joke or a story, or I will feel an urge to explore a specific visual, and the act of interpreting those thoughts to paper, which is tinted by technical limitations and emotional states, can be a satisfying, frustrating, exhilarating, boring experience. There is always something to learn.

Personally, I have also attached my career and financial livelihood to art, which adds certain stressors or feelings of accomplishment, depending on the day. Despite that, creating art is still a very natural experience for me. I have a hard time imagining who I am without it.

2. What did you make in the past, and why?

Before I made comics, I mostly drew using pencils and fine felt-tip pens. I would alternate between little doodles that made me laugh, and more finely-rendered landscapes or animal portraits.

I also dabbled in photography and videography, which I think has helped me with composition and story-telling in my comics. Deciding how to frame a scene, and which scenes to show, is fundamental in comics.

I first started making comics for a university newspaper about 10 years ago. They weren’t very different from other webcomics at the time, which–looking back–I think was on purpose. I liked reading funny comics, and I wanted to be a part of that group. Making comics back then was very much corralled to hobby status. I might have imagined a future where I would become a professional cartoonist but I didn’t pursue that until about six years of hobby comic-making.

3. What are you making now, and why?

These days, comics are my main focus. I make about one comic per week which can be seen for free online, and I make something, usually something like a comic, for my Patreon, once per week. Occasionally, I will make non-comic art that is still in theme with my usual subjects of nature and animals.

I make comics because I enjoy making them, and it’s how I make money but it’s mostly because I have conditioned my mind to frame creative ideas in four to six panels. I try to push myself to experiment with new media and techniques to make them more visually appealing. I figure I’m in a more or less stable stage of my artistic career right now but I never want to become complacent and let my comics stagnate.

4. What are your hopes for the future?

I’m very interested in producing beautiful, dynamic comics. Comics are an incredible art form that don’t really have many restrictions, in theory. Often, the limiting factor in making great comics is the substantial amount of time it takes to make them. Obviously, simpler-looking comics can also be beautiful works of art, and simple doesn’t necessarily equal less time-intensive.

I have a vague image of what my comics could look like in my head; something like Calvin and Hobbes mixed with surreal French comic books. So I guess, I have hopes to continue improving my art! I also have a perennial goal of writing longer-form comics–something I have a great deal of difficulty with.

I would also like to improve at being a little quicker and looser in making comics. My partner and I have great ambitions of living in different parts of the world so I would like to be able to write and paint on the fly a little more effectively.

5. What else would you like to say?

Pick up a pencil, brush, hot glue gun, tambourine! It is so rewarding to gain and improve skills. It feels good to create and share!

Artist Supplied Bio:

Joshua makes the comic False Knees using mostly traditional media. He lives in Southern Ontario, Canada, with his partner and cats. He released a book of his comics in 2019 called, False Knees: An Illustrated Guide To Animal Behavior, but the majority of his work can be seen online.

You can also find Joshua Barkman on Instagram.

Learn more about the Ask Artists interview series and submissions.

Julia Travers, Instagram

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Ask Artists with Julia Travers

I’m a writer and artist who runs the Ask Artists interview series. Find interviews here along with other stories.