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Christian Elden is a freelance artist and full-time graphic designer for Warner Press, a Christian resource publisher in Central Indiana. His responsibilities include creating and developing Warner Press products and marketing support materials such as catalogs, brochures, church bulletins, classroom resources, illustrations for children's materials, and numerous other products. He was previously a designer at Curtis Publishing, exclusive licensor of The Saturday Evening Post artwork, including rights to all Norman Rockwell cover art.

He has been married to his wife Elizabeth for just over a year and they have one child, a thick-skulled Lhasa Apso named Calvin.

When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
I think I’ve always known that I wanted to be an artist. I had artists in my family and grew up watching what they were able to do, and I wanted to create art just like they did. My uncle, who is a professional sign painter & muralist, gave me a set of art technique books for Christmas one year when I was very young... Like 4 or 5 years old... And I didn’t care much about the techniques then, but I studied the artwork in those books and tried to copy it the best I could. I realize now that those books shaped my interests and the way I drew things early on. There was never really a pivotal moment that I decided to pursue art — I never really wanted to do anything else — but I was always known in class as “that kid who can draw” and I guess I started to take it a bit more seriously in high school, when I started to think about what I really wanted to do for a career. Lately, I’ve tried to focus more on illustration, but design factors into everything. There’s no escaping it.

Who or what inspires you?
I find inspiration in so many things... Books, design magazines, ads, the web. When I was young, I would look at books for hours. I say “look” and not “read” for a reason — if there weren’t any pictures in the book, chances are I wasn’t interested. I loved the picture books my parents would read to my brother & me when we were kids, and later on I’d study books with works from famous artists. I loved Norman Rockwell, when I was a kid, for the expressions he was able to capture. Now, with the whole blogging thing having taken off the way it has, there are so many great artists who have their artwork readily available online. I’m humbled all the time. I appreciate sites that list creative blogs all in one place, because there are so many out there that it’s impossible to see them all. If/when I find a piece I’m really drawn to, I tend to really study it and figure out how the art was created, then try to emulate it, just like when I was 5. It’s a great way to practice and I’ve learned a lot about my capabilities that way.

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
I went to Bowling Green State University for a year, then transferred and received my Graphic Design degree from Huntington College (now Huntington University) in 2002. Lately, though, I’ve really just been experimenting with different styles and trying to figure some things out for myself. While there are certain methods I always fall back on, I like to use different styles to keep things interesting. I can appreciate artists who have a signature style and are sought out for their particular look, but I like to explore a range of different looks, and use all of them. I’m always studying, though, always learning. I’m finding that the more I stretch, the more satisfying the end result.

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
In the specific corner of the market my full-time job is tied to, there’s a constant battle between traditional (i.e. “conservative”) and contemporary styles. A traditional style works better for some things, while a fresher, contemporary style might work better for something needing a hipper edge to it. You always have to know your audience, though, and that plays a big part in the way my work comes across at my 9-to-5. The key to keeping fresh, at least in my mind, is to keep pushing the envelope until the contemporary styles become the traditional ones, and then you start all over again.

What are some of your current projects?
At my full-time job, I’m lucky enough to work on both design and illustration, and I sometimes get to combine the two. Right now, I’m developing a line of Christian “all occasion” greeting cards for tweens. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they’ll turn out. I’ve always got something going on the side, too, whether it be illustration or a logo for a friend’s business.

Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?

In college, for one of my senior projects, I developed & illustrated a children’s story that revolved around two bears and the truest of friendships (original, right?). It was all mine, though, and I was proud of the way I’d made the story rhyme and the way the illustrations had turned out. Looking back on it now, it definitely needed some work, but I burned all kinds of midnight oil getting that thing done, and it was pretty well-received amongst my peers.

A recent project I’m fond of is a kids’ Bible activity book called “Get a Clue!” It’s my first published “book”, and I was responsible for everything except the copywriting — illustration, layout & design. I’m hoping it’s the first in a long line of published works by one Christian Elden.

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
I would really like to learn more about web design. I know my way around a little bit, but it’s the new stuff that’s intriguing to me... All the dynamic things the web can do now. I’d also like to hone my painting skills... I’ve never been patient enough for it. I’d also like to try graffiti. I know I’d probably never be considered a true “writer”, but I’m interested in the techniques... The whole culture is very interesting to me. And last but not least, I’d like to write & illustrate children’s books at some point. But really, who doesn’t?

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?
Just about any experienced artist would say, “Be patient.” There’s a reason: fame & fortune don’t (usually) come right away. That, and keep learning. There is so much to be inspired by... Pay attention and take it all in.

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?
I love art that clearly communicates an idea. Illustration, in particular, is most successful when it can say it all without using a word. Sure, design principles factor into a piece’s success, but the thought that goes into the art — the preparation — definitely helps make it a winner. The mind behind the design is usually what makes it successful.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
I slow down and take breaks. I look around. I find things that make me look twice and I take note. There’s so much ridiculously good art out there to be motivated by. Music is also an effective motivator and burnout-avoider for me. I love all kinds of music. If I wasn’t an artist, I’d love to be a full-time musician.

And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
I’m a sucker for spy-type shows, so I love “24”. I caught onto it a couple seasons late, though, so I’m trying to play catch-up. If the artist and musician things don’t work out, I’d definitely be a gun-wielding secret agent.

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