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Chris Gardner is a lifelong east coaster who can't wait to live in a place where there's no snow. He's the illustrator for House Industries and loves it to death, although he wishes House was located in Hawaii instead of Yorklyn. Chris cut his teeth back in the day as a comic book artist working for DC Comics, he worked all night, slept all day and lived on microwaveable tuna noodle casserole and Coca Cola. He now has a beautiful wife and son who've made him as happy as any man could ever hope to be. And he still loves the tuna noodle casserole.

When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator?

Somehow I always knew that I wanted to draw for a living, it's just been a part of me for so long, my family was (and still is) incredibly supportive and encouraging, I really never thought of any other options. Well, there was a small blip in time (maybe 9th grade) where I wanted to be an electrician because I thought it would be cool to have my own van, but I snapped out of that in short order and grabbed my pencils and ink bottles again. - meaningless factoid of interest - Chris Gardner has no idea how to program a VCR, or operate a minimally complicated electronic device, but he has driven a van and thought it was cool.

Was there a pivotal moment?

Back in high school I met my buddy Tom Lilly, he had some real art skills and proceeded to kick my tail. That hadn't happened to me before and it struck a chord, I decided that I'd better get to work and turn it up to eleven! - Spinal Tap reference alert! - That may very well have been the event that caused me to become a student of the craft as opposed to being the guy that simply rode his ability without pushing it further.

Who or what inspires you?

This really is a tough question, I could write for a month trying to convey who and what, so I'll have to boil it down to the absolutes... my mother, she's the strongest person I know, period. All through my young life, she taught me the important things, and as far as the art goes, she passed down her talent and made sure I had all the art supplies and support I ever needed. My wife and son are the most beautiful things I'll ever lay my eyes upon, and they inspire me infinitely. - I Love you guys :) - Working at House Industries with the super talents there inspires me. Walt Disney, Robert Fawcett, Mark Schultz, Alphonse Mucha, Gil Elvgren, Gustav Klimt, Rene Gruau, John Singer Sargent, Bernie Fuchs, Rankin/Bass, Superman, Charlie Harper, Charles Schulz, Enrico Marini, Chris Ware, James Jean, Norm Breyfogle, N.C. Wyeth, Frank Frazetta, Joe Kubert, Mary Blair, I could go on and on...

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?

Self-taught, although it helps that some skills run in the family. My main means of improving was to study and observe everything that I could get my hands on, I studied artists past and present to try and decipher what made them as good as they were. I got my work in front of pros any chance I could and listened to what they had to say, the critiqing that you'll get is invaluable. Take that criticism and use it to improve your work, it's a fantastic thing. I incorporated all of that information into my art as best I could and learned a hell of a lot along the way. No matter how far you progress in your career, there's always someone or something to learn from, it's all there in front of you if you take the time to look and listen.

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?

I try to stay in the fridge, at the factory recommended settings, maybe a little Saran wrap from the waist down... it pinches, but whatcha gonna do? After all that nonsense, I try to draw what makes me happy, and continue learning the craft.

What are some of your current projects?

The never ending list of illustrations to complete at House Industries keeps me pretty busy, I guess that's sort of like one huge project. The clothing venture that we're undertaking at House is a lot of fun, see - plug - plug -. I'd really love to squeek out a little time to do some comic book stuff, I'm a complete Super Hero nerd at heart.

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

Probably my body of work at House Industries, I've been there just about 10 years now and I'm pretty proud of that. And the Batman comic logo re-designs, because... well, it's freakin' BATMAN man! ZAPP!!

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?

I really want to take a crack at oil paints someday. As we speak, I'm using my mental powers to try and get Daniel Adel to volunteer to teach me, I don't think it's working at all though...

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

I kind of eluded to it a few questions back, I think that the most important thing by far is to be able to accept criticism. Get professionals or teachers or peers to look at your work and give their thoughts. Especially pros, they've been through the fires, more often than not, they're going to be able to hand you these amazing pieces of information that they've collected along the way, it's pure gold. I broke in as a comic illustrator WAAAY back... when they actually did the lettering on the boards with a real pen!

...and my favorite thing on earth was to go to comic cons and show my illustrations to everybody I could find, I'd ask them to tear it apart, not to pull punches, I can't tell you how much I learned by doing that, by having an open mind. It's the single most advantageous thing that I ever did to take those steps from aspiring artist to professional artist. That was one of my favorite, and most exciting times in life.

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?

I think it needs to tell the story clearly, it's all about conveying the message.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?

See list of inspirations above... I'll grab something by any one of those people and dig in. Maybe get out to a favorite diner and grab a cup of coffee. There's no avoiding the burn-out at times, you just have to push through it, taking comfort in the knowledge that it happens to all of us.

Finish this sentence. "If I weren't a designer/illustrator I would have been a..."

Surgeon. I'm absolutely amazed by the medical field, it's just unbelievable when you think of the things that can be done nowadays, and what lies ahead we can only imagine. Or... a chef, It would be awful nice to hang out in a stocked kitchen, chopping vegetables and making great things to eat, I love watching the cooking shows, I could watch those all day long, especially the ones with tuna noodle casserole. Or...I'm telling you man, add a good 60 pounds of pure muscle and another 12 inches to me and I swear I coulda been helping my Philly Eagles win the damn Super Bowl! ...grumble...

And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?

I don't watch much, if you're doing the art thing professionally you don't have a lot of time, well actually, you don't have ANY time but I'll sneak out to the couch with my wife and watch "House" sometimes, the good cooking shows are nice to see, and I'm always there on Sundays watching the Eagles. And if you can catch "Gardening by the Yard" on HGTV, hosted by Paul James... that's a great show, the guy just makes me happy, I don't know why, he just does, check it out. Thanks for the interview!


milo said...

Ooh Chris, your linework is truly inspirational. It was great to read a bit about you and get a sneak peek into your life.. keep up the great work.

Choper Nawers! said... those are some wicked crab+lobster+octopus 33´s...nice work Chris...i just love it!

Best to you always man!....

gemini82 said...

I remember reading Fray while in school and thought to myself who did the logo? Now I know and knowing is half the battle.

Mr. Gardenr's work is truly an inspiration

Daniel Davis said...

Your work is classically tasty, Chris.

You're able to flow from one style to another, but still be you.

You can also see that those critiques helped you build a strong foundation.

Nice interview.

(Love them 33 Cobras!)

Klim said...

great stuff
crisp lines and great style!


Carola said...

Wow - you are really great! I love the uniqueness of your work - its one thing to draw but its a whole other barrel of sheep to draw something - even simple - in an original idea...

You've certainly inspired this "stuck in a rutt" artist to get her butt into 4WD and get back into it.


Urban Barbarian said...

Chris rocks! Hey, I made a funny!

I'm a big fan, thanks for all the insights!

Ed Mahony said...

It must be great to be able to draw like that and come up with the ideas too.

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