Joseph Simpson was born in Carlisle, Cumberland and studied at Glasgow School of Art. He worked for a time as a designer for a Carlisle printer, before moving to London where he occupied a studio next to the artist Frank Brangwyn. Simpson taught for a time at the London School of Art and served as an Official War Artist in 1918, attached to the RAF in France. His early reputation was as a designer of bookplates. He was also a gifted caricaturist working using a bold swift line. His prints featured mostly portraits and sporting subjects. The quality of the portraits varied, but at their best are powerful character studies. He also produced illustrations for books.