Bronwyn Lounging, ballpoint pen

-Joer, we'd love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today, both personally and as an artist.

As a small child growing up in a poor neighborhood in the Philippines, I’ve always loved to draw. My father was a practical tradesman employed as a machinist and he encouraged me to draw. He would bring home office supplies from his workplace and buy me comic books now and then for inspiration. He would also sit and draw with me for what seemed like hours.

Coming to Canada as a child opened a universe of opportunities for our family and I am forever grateful to my parents for having the courage to leave and start over in a new country. Going to art school was a revelation for me. I was always drawn to art projects in grade school and art classes in high school, but I didn’t know what to do with my artistic skill or if I could make a living with it. My parents were hesitant when I told them I wanted to pursue a career in visual arts, but even with their doubts they continued to support me. The answer on how I could make a living through art came in the form of a graphic design profession—I spent several decades in this profession working for corporate design departments in Silicon Valley start-ups, eventually becoming one of many art directors in a large global tech/software company.

Although I made a living as a graphic designer and art director, I realized it was not my passion. As luck would have it, I was fortunate enough to be let go from my position with severance, which allowed me to pursue my dream of being an illustrator. I have been illustrating for approximately eight years now and adopted the artist’s pseudonym Joer—to honor my parents with the nickname they still call me. In addition, without the love, support, and encouragement of my wife and partner, I would not have been able to pursue my passion for illustration.


Woman in Hijab, ballpoint pen

-We can't get enough of your talent utilizing standard ballpoint pens. Can you tell us more about why you're drawn to these and how they've become a significant part of your work?

As a graphic design professional, I enjoyed my job as a creative inside the big companies that I worked for, as the work was different day to day, week to week. However, the one aspect I didn’t enjoy were the weekly meetings where the global team members from Canada, US, and UK/Europe would check-in with the Chief Marketing Officer and provide updates on the status of assigned projects. In these group meetings, I would mindlessly doodle in my notebook with blue or black ink ballpoint pens. It got to the point that they were no longer notebooks, but sketchbooks.

After being let go from my corporate position, I transitioned to freelance illustration, which was my first love. I bought myself an enormous Wacom pen display and a suitably powerful Apple computer to create artwork, but the digital format didn’t offer the immediacy and tactility of analog drawing and illustration. Consequently, I turned to the simplicity of the ballpoint pen because they’re accessible, literally everywhere, they’re cheap, highly portable, don’t need batteries and come in a range of ink colours. What I have found in perfecting a layering technique with the various colours of ballpoint pens, is breath-taking artwork not usually associated with the quintessential purpose of ballpoint pens.


Fevered Dreams, ballpoint pen

-Using ballpoint pens allows for a certain level of detail and accuracy. How do you balance this accuracy with the spontaneity and emotion you aim to express in your work?

I tend to work with small image sizes ranging from 5”x8” to 9”x12”, which allows for more detail, accuracy, and intimacy with the subjects I draw. Small image sizes allow me to see every pen stroke and the effects of my layering technique immediately. Often, I don’t really know how the drawings will turn out as I’m doing them. I’ve drawn some spectacular and detailed ‘duds’ but have learned from the mistakes and always keep them for future reference. My process is to sketch out my subject and plan them the best I can, but the artwork never looks exactly like what I picture inside my mind. I’ve learned to embrace the successes and adopt the little ‘mistakes’ that occur, which is counterintuitive because the mistakes end up adding more to the images than detracting from it.

Joer B

Meadhbh Looking Away, ballpoint pen

-Finding one's style can be challenging for many artists. What advice would you give someone still searching for their unique artistic voice?

As a twenty-year-old in art school, my instructors always told us that it’s important to find your artistic ‘style.’ They drilled this personal characteristic into us almost daily as a critical element of success. From that moment, I was hell-bent on finding it. Obsessed really. The more it eluded me, the more anxious and stressed I felt. If I couldn’t find my signature ‘style’ and my ‘voice,’ then how would people know that it was my work?

What I can say is that I believe there is a difference between style and voice. Style, for me is my perfected ballpoint pen technique and media in which I use to communicate my subject. The subject or content that interests me is my voice. As a young graphic designer, I didn’t differentiate between the two because I was forced to market whatever the client wanted. However, as a middle-aged man I was able to experiment and fail with artistic techniques and media to find my style and not chase a market to find a voice. My voice came from life experiences and ideas and subject matter that is important to me.

Also, other artists whose work I admired have inspired me to speak with my own outlook and experiences. My own voice communicated with my own style.


Escape, ballpoint pen

-What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?

The best way to check out my work is to visit my website: You can contact me through my website, as well as on Instagram: @joer_cdn.


What is appealing to me is that ballpoint pens are common and simple, yet they can be used to create something breath-taking. Drawing is an act that dates to the very beginning of humanity—we didn’t use any fancy tools, just things that we had in our environment. My aim is to take the viewer into a scene and share the emotion or feeling of the moment. Drawing allows me to tell a story through my eyes and to connect with others even though our culture, backgrounds and opinions may be very different.


Meadhbh in Wassily Chair, ballpoint pen



Massage Du Cou, ballpoint pen

José (JOER) is an Illustrator based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. JOER is the pseudonym that José uses to sign his work because it’s the nickname his parents called him as a child. JOER graduated from the Alberta College of Art + Design, now the Alberta University of the Arts. After graduating he started a career in graphic design and worked for over 25 years inside various in-house marketing communications teams, eventually becoming a mentor and art director.

JOER pivoted to traditional and digital illustration after corporate layoffs, a fortunate turn of events, and has spent the last few years finding his niche and honing his skills using pen and ink, pastel pencils, and various digital illustration applications. Simple, basic tools have become his instruments of choice, and he is now known for his ballpoint pen drawings.