November 10, 2007

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Justin “Squigs” Robertson

November 10th, 2007

Last month, during the auction at the Jersey Boys Fans Unite to Support BC/EFA event, one of the most exciting auction items was a caricature of the four Boys by artist Justin “Squigs” Robertson. In addition to this caricature, he has created the amazing poster for Bobby Spencer’s “Farm Girl in New York” film. We’re excited to present a recent interview with artist and actor Justin “Squigs” Robertson, who talks about his life as an artist and an actor; the creative process behind his JB caricature and the FGINY movie poster; and details on his other artistic projects and theatre productions.

JBB: Your caricature of the Jersey Boys was a big hit at last month’s BC/EFA auction in New York! Describe how you captured the nuances of the Boys‘ personalities or the likenesses of the four stars. When you begin a project, such as this one, what goes into the process?

JSR: When I created the sketch of the guys, I was really working hard at getting the word out about my work in New York, and I was sketching a lot of shows and individuals who had inspired me in various ways. The show had just been nominated for all those Tonys and I had loved hearing about the show’s amazing journey from La Jolla to Broadway to the Tonys.

JBB: With your Jersey Boys creation, to really get to know the characters, did you see the show live, or did you watch them on TV, YouTube videos, and look at photos—or a combination of things?

JSR: I had not yet had the chance to see the show, but I knew the story and I had seen TV appearances and production stills. As you can see, the sketch is based primarily on one particular shot. Beyond that, I just tried to trust my instincts.

Of course, it’s ideal to be able to see a show or subject live, but in cases when this isn’t possible, I’ve referenced photos (production stills and head shots as well as candids) and video (TV appearances and yes, YouTube videos). I also value eyewitness accounts. I’ve had clients who have successfully talked me through hair styles and costumes when there just isn’t a chance to get photos for various reasons.

JBB: Do you draw in a traditional medium or is it done digitally?

JSR: The process starts with rough pencil sketching. When I’m satisfied with the pencil work, I put it on the light board and do a pen and ink tracing. The art is then scanned into Photoshop where I assemble, adjust, and clean.

JBB: What sets the Jersey Boys caricature project aside from the other caricatures you’ve done?

JSR: I think of each sketch as a new opportunity to capture a moment (or series of moments). The thing that I think set this particular sketch apart for me is how quickly it came together. I mean, the layout was of course dictated by the production still, but except for a minor adjustment, the likenesses came easier than usual.

JBB: You also created an amazing poster for Bobby Spencer’s new movie, “Farm Girl in New York”! How did you become involved with the project?

JSR: Once I sketched the Boys, I was so grateful to my friend Steve Orich for presenting the sketch to the Jersey Boys family when he was in New York for the Tony Awards. Soon thereafter, Bobby sent the loveliest encouragement of an e-mail. Then months later, when he was in post-production of “Farm Girl,” he contacted me about creating the poster. Needless to say, I was (and remain) very thankful.

JBB: Explain the creative process behind the “Farm Girl in New York” poster. What were your inspirations? Did you see a preview of the film or read the script before you began the project? Did you work directly with Bobby Spencer on the project?

JSR: Bobby was looking for an image in the tradition of the posters of “Animal House,” “The Bad News Bears,” or “Wet Hot American Summer”– those wonderful jam-packed cartoony scenes that cram lots of craziness in a little space. I did my best to go that direction, including the main characters and lots of the ladies you’ll see in the movie. I was fortunate to get the chance to view an early edit of the film here in LA with Bobby’s co-star and collaborator Joshua Wade. I then worked closely with Bobby (via phone and e-mail) to develop and hone the final product.

JBB: Your website shows so much of your artistic talent! How did you become interested in caricatures? Who were your artistic influences? How did you become interested in drawing actors and entertainers?

JSR: I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, but I think the first time I attempted a caricature was in high school when I drew my brother. Then while studying theatre in college, I became aware of Al Hirschfeld’s amazing work. I still live every day in awe of Hirschfeld and I think you must be able to see his influence in my stuff. I’m also a big fan of Robert Risko, John Kascht, Steve Brodner, Jack Davis, Miguel Covarrubias, and… Well, I think I could go on and on. I try my best to have and develop my own style, but I often give little (and not-so-little) nods to my illustration heroes.

My interest in drawing actors probably came about because I am an actor. We all know what amazing poignant and magical things can happen in a theatre, and it’s always an exciting challenge to capture those wonderful moments.

JBB: Your website also shows your other artistic talents—including illustrated books, coloring and activity books, murals, and movie posters. How has your artistic career evolved?

JBB: I’ve been really fortunate to get involved in many diverse and enjoyable projects. But pretty much every endeavor I’ve taken on has come from my caricature work. And when I’m not drawing real folks (or their creations onstage), I’m often drawing anything that will entertain the nieces and nephews. This has led to more of my purely whimsical work including an exciting upcoming coloring book project.

JBB: You’re also an actor. What interest came first—drawing or acting?

JSR: Funny you should ask. Besides the fact that I’ve been drawing and performing since I was a kid, the birth of my illustration and theatrical careers came around the same time. In 1993 I was gathering my first paycheck for a theatre gig. Okay, it was a $150 gas stipend but I was thankful and I wanted to show my gratitude to my show family. I created my first show sketch, and the positive feedback I received bit me just as hard as the rush I got from being on stage. Since then, I’ve sketched almost every show I’ve been in.

JBB: You’ve been an actor for well over a decade. What sparked your interest in theatre and who were your inspirations?

JBB: As a kid (and a big ol’ ham), I took part in plays and pageants at school and church. At the encouragement of my folks, I got more involved in theatre through high school. I switched directions a bit in college, originally studying film. But a really wonderful production of Pippin at my school was influential. I saw friends doing work on stage that was more stellar than I had ever seen in my limited experience, and I just had to try to do it myself. As far as inspirations, I have been and continue to be inspired by countless folks working in venues from the back yard to Broadway. Work that is effortless and true always thrills me and makes me want to be a better actor.

JBB: Did you come from an artistic and/or theatrical family? Is show biz in your blood?

JSR: My Dad had a lot to do with my drawing abilities. He is very artistic in many ways and for a while was even a part-time art and woodworking teacher. My folks aren’t performers (although they both have lovely singing voices), but they were very encouraging of their kids’ interests, getting us lessons (piano, painting, etc.) and support.

JBB: What have been some of your most exciting roles? What about some of your most challenging ones?

JSR: I’m really excited by roles that teach me something about myself. Horton in Seussical made me want to be a better person. The same was the case for Sancho in Man of La Mancha, which, along with other classic character roles, taught me love and respect for the musical theatre art form. And it isn’t always as deep as that. Frankie in Forever Plaid reminded me of my love for singing tight harmonies. One of my most challenging adventures was playing Beadle Bamford in Sweeney Todd. I’m a huge Sondheim fan and it was a hugely satisfying gift to be able to tackle that score.

JBB: What productions are you currently performing in, or have you been in recently?

JSR: I’m happy to be coming off of a lovely streak of work. During the summer, I played Etienne in the world premiere revival of Cole Porter’s Can-Can at The Pasadena Playhouse. And I just returned home from Wisconsin where I took part in Roger Bean’s new doo-wop musical Life Could Be A Dream at Milwaukee Rep.

JBB: What projects have you done since the Jersey Boys caricature and the “Farm Girl in New York” poster, and do you have any upcoming art projects you’d like to talk about?

JSR: I’m so fortunate to stay pretty busy with the drawing, be it caricature commissions or promotional design or coloring books. A few recent highlights: I was commissioned by friend David Baum to sketch the A Chorus Line revival as an opening night gift, and that piece was recently published in the Playbill Broadway Yearbook. The amazing Jim Caruso of Cast Party has been so wonderful to include me in his newsletters and commission me to draw Liza Minnelli and fellas in their current act. The ubiquitous David Quinn has been an advocate with commissions for his many talented friends such as Julia Murney, Jon Cryer, Erich Bergen, Josh Charles, Paige Price, and Amy Ryan. (And both Jim and Quinn found me by way of the wonderful actor and composer Jeff Blumenkrantz.) And then there has been ongoing relationships with theatre companies such as the wonderful ShowTunes! Theatre Company in Seattle. I feel so blessed.

I’ll be drawing a few shows as we head into the holidays, but since they’ll be gifts I can’t give specifics right now. I’ve been working with LA’s Reprise! Broadway’s Best to create promotional art for their January reading of The Odd Couple starring Jason Alexander and Martin Short. I’m also putting a lot of energy in a fantastic new adventure that I’ll be launching within the next year. I don’t want to say too much, but I will say that this project will eventually involve a lot of crayon wax and fun for young’ns (and the young’n at heart). Check in at the website for updates.

JBB: Do you have any new acting projects coming up soon?

JSR: There are some rumored possibilities out there, but nothing solid on the calendar yet. As of now, I’m planning on trying to take a little vacation before staying busy at the drawing board through the holidays.

Thank you to the multi-talented Justin “Squigs” Robertson for taking the time for this fascinating and informative interview, and for sharing his artwork with us! We wish him all the best with his incredible artistic and theatrical careers!


  1. I bought the caricature at the Jersey Boys Fans Unite and I love it. Everytime I look at it I see something new. I am all ready enjoying it and getting comments about it. Thanks for the interview on Justin Robertson. Lish

    Comment by Lish Garnett — November 10, 2007 @ 11:43 pm

  2. Great interview with Justin! It’s great to see so many talented and interesting people featured in these interviews–thanks!

    Comment by Tracy — November 11, 2007 @ 11:48 am

  3. I feel honored to have some Justin Squigs originals….. he is an amzing artist, an incredible performer, and a great friend. Congrats, Justin, on your recent successes!!

    Comment by Laura Gregory — November 11, 2007 @ 12:01 pm

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