Artist Profile: John Bosley’s iconic illustrations take viewers on a road trip across the Midwest

John Bosley in front of his wall of poster / / Photo courtesy of John Bosley

People outside of the Midwest generally don’t pay much mind to the region, brushing it off as nothing more than flyover country. But we Midwesterners know that there’s so much more held within our states than meets the sky, from awe-inspiring natural landscapes to small, local landmarks deeply beloved by a lucky few. 

Cover artist John Bosley has made the Midwest his focus, homing in on the landmarks that make our states so special to us. A native of Des Moines, he got his start creating images of his hometown. Once his bold, colorful illustrations started appearing on posters and screen-printed T-shirts, the requests for new places started pouring in. “I get requests all the time like, ‘Hey man, do a Tennessee print,’ or ‘do a San Francisco,’” he says. “I would love to do all that stuff, but I’m having a great time doing Iowa and the Midwest. I mean, shoot, if I wanted to, I could probably just retire doing Minnesota lakes. There’s just a lot of places I want to get to.

“The hometown pride for Iowa and the Midwest in general is awesome,” he continues. “People love where they live, and people support other people that make this kind of stuff. It’s cool that I’ve found something that I really enjoy doing and people are receptive to.”

From Lake Okoboji in northwestern Iowa to the bridges of Madison County to Kelly’s Westport Inn in Kansas City, Missouri, Bosley takes pride in representing the hidden gems of the Midwest, both big and small.

Bosley’s been drawing since he was a kid, starting with doodled depictions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before moving on to comics. As a full-time artist today, many elements of his style are inspired by classic comic book illustration, blended with the timeless style of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) posters of the ’30s and ’40s. 

“I love those timeless illustrations that hold up today,” he says. “I try to emulate those in a lot of my work.”

His style is largely digital, as he does the bulk of his work on a tablet. That said, Bosley still turns to his sketchbook to map out rough ideas, embracing the possibility of making fateful mistakes. “Sometimes you’ll accidentally run your pencil across the paper and create a mark you didn’t expect to, but you like it and run with it,” he explains.

Bosley works out of his studio in Des Moines but tries to physically visit every landmark he illustrates (although he does confess to one “fraudulent” piece of work depicting a landmark in North Dakota, for which he relied on internet research). His work is sold at craft markets, art fairs, and through his online shop, Bozz Prints.

“At the end of the day, my 100-percent favorite thing to do is sit down and draw,” he says. “I just love piecing together a poster or whatever I’m working on and just seeing it come together and trying different things until I end up with a result that I like.”

For this cover, the inspiration was already there. “I’ve just always been drawn to landscapes and skylines, the colors depending on times of day. I think it’s cool how a sunset can look completely different than a sunrise, just the way the light hits a hill or a tree,” he says. “There are a lot of underserved places, especially around the Midwest, that are beautiful and deserve posters. Nobody was making them, so I took it upon myself to be the person that would start that.”

Currently he’s working on the big D’s of eastern Iowa: Davenport, Dubuque, and Decorah. “It’s my plan to eventually do the entire world—we’ll just see how long it takes me to do that. Hopefully, they invent cloning by then.”

Medium: Digital illustration
Currently resides: Des Moines, IA

The Growler Magazine’s Issue 67 cover art // Art by John Bosley