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Chris Wahl is an Australian based artist who currently freelances in illustration and commercial art. A self-confessed 'jack-of-all-trades', Chris' well-rounded portfolio encompasses a variety of styles such as caricature, comicbook work, digital painting and 3D illustration. He has worked for a broad range of clients including Lucasfilm, MAD magazine, Pepsi and Greenpeace.
When did you first decide to become an illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
For me there was more than one pivotal moment on the road to becoming an illustrator. But the first that comes to mind was when I was 9 years old and E.T. was the hottest movie around. I would spend every imaginable moment drawing that ugly little alien for all my classmates. Eventually the teacher photocopied one of my E.T. drawings for everyone in the class to colour in. I think that's the moment where I caught the bug...
Who or what inspires you?
Movies have always been a big source of inspiration. As a kid, Star Wars and The Dark Crystal inspired me to no end.
These days the internet and the whole 'global village' phenomenon is just mind-blowing. Everyday I stumble upon another fantastic artist's blog or website from some far off corner of the globe. And being able to communicate with most of them through forums and exchange ideas and critiques is very inspiring.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
I'm self-taught in that I never went to college or took drawing lessons. However, between my extensive library of art books and the 'education' I received while working at Disney animation with such a great variety of artists from all walks of life, I don't think I missed much.
How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
With the advertising industry, keeping fresh is the only way to stay on top in the business. It can be a very fickle industry at times and it's easy for one's drawing style to become old very quickly. So for me, my personal interest in constantly evolving and pushing many different styles in my art, has been very beneficial for me and my work.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
Definitely the Chewbacca piece I recently did for Lucasfilm and Acme Archives. I can still remember the goosebumps from the day I read the email inviting me to contribute. I was on cloud nine all day. But it wasn't an easy job and that's one of the reason I'm so proud of it. Besides the privilege of working on a dream job, I felt I had really stepped up to the challenge, worked hard and pushed my abilities to their limits.
To see what was involved you can read the walkthrough, 'Building a Wookiee' over at my blog.
What are some of your current projects?
Due to the very positive response to my Chewie piece, I've been asked to do more Star Wars related pieces. Besides that and my usual commercial work, I always have a few commissioned pieces going- caricatures, pinups etc. So, luckily I'm being kept busy.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
I would love to be able to paint in oils. I'm really hopeless with a brush and I think after painting digitally for so long, I would be constantly looking for the 'undo' button while sitting at the easel.
I'd also love to do more cover work. For comic books, novels whatever... that would be a blast.
Any advice to the novice commercial artist/ illustrator?
Build up a varied portfolio. If you limit yourself to what you can do, you eventually limit your workload.
In advertising and commercial art, always meet your deadline. Even if it means working through the night. Reliability is just as important as ability.
Get an agent. They may take a cut of your earnings, but all the footwork they do and negotiating to get you top dollar, allows you to concentrate on what you do best.
What makes an illustration successful?
A clear idea, good reference, self criticism, hard work, and an appreciative audience.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
Exploring different styles in my art keeps things fresh and interesting for me. If I'm getting jaded or getting burnt out from overdoing a particular style or artform I'll switch to something else.
Also perusing all the fantastic art and illustration on the internet and falling into brief fits of jealous depression inadvertently keeps me motivated as well.
Finish this sentence. "If I weren't an illustrator I would have been..."
A puppeteer. I'm a big Jim Henson fan. One of the best things about being the father to a 3 year old is having an excuse to watch Sesame Street again.
And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
I wouldn't know. I'm more of an internet and movie kinda guy.
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