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A native of Kansas, Chris Parks has parlayed his insider knowledge of culture, business, and demographics, as well as his studies in design and sculpture into a successful career. Co-founder of the design boutique, UP Design Bureau, Parks specializes in identity development and illustration. Formerly with Wichita's Gardner Design and Insight Design Communications, he now serves as senior art director of Wichita's Greteman Group.

When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?

Circa 1976, in first grade, sitting on the playground, I barely remember drawing pictures of super-heroes for my classmates. I wasn't till years later, while standing in line at the liquor store, I was approached by a strange guy asking me if I was Chris Parks. Cautiously I replied "yes". He then proceeded to pull out his wallet and take out a tiny, old, folded-up piece of notebook paper. What he unfolded was a drawing of Spider-Man I had made for him in first grade, that he had been keeping for nearly twenty-years.

Who or what inspires you?

My design peers. Von Glitschka and Paul Howalt are couple who "wow" me. Von for his passion for good design, solid illustration styles, his crazy amount of self-promotion and his willingness to help and share with his design colleagues. Paul for having such a clean and fun style that is always consistent. Rian Hughes is another one. I have not had the opportunity to meet him, but his logo / masthead work for DC Comics is just amazing. He has my dream job. I was feeling very "Rian Hughes-like" when Classic Media asked me to redesign the Underdog logo for merchandising tie-ins.

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

I studied design and sculpture in college. I was hired away early while in school and never finished. However a lot of my real world training came from different design shops I worked for. I tried to walk away with the best attributes of each and apply them to my own take on things.

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?

It is very hard too. There are a lot of great things going on in design and illustration. It is tempting to ride trends that appear fresh, but in the end I strive for solutions that I hope stand-up over time. One thing that helped me, was to incorporate my illustration into my design work. It seemed like for years, you where either a designer or an illustrator. In my neck-of-the-woods Logos had to be clean and corporate and illustrations were just editorial or for spot applications. When I began freelancing and eventually opened up my own shop, I was amazed at how many non-traditional "illustrative logos" I was doing.

What are some of your current projects?

Lots of logos right now. I'm all over the place. From high-end luxury clients to progressive government initiatives.

Although I should really be wrapping-up my birth announcement for my new son, baby Otto. (Lucky Otto Parks born 07-07-07)

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

Logo Lounge is one. Maybe not the most proud of, but definitely the most challenging. Basically it was an opportunity to design for designers, which is tough thing to do. Design types are generally opinionated, arrogant and fussy. The Logo Lounge online resource and book series had to remain visually neutral, while letting the works submitted be the hero. Also because of my initial involvement with Logo Lounge, I have been able to meet a lot of great designers across the country.

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

I would love to further explore typography. I do alot of custom lettering, wordmarks and logotypes, but have never gone full-blown and developed a typeface family. Again, Rian Hughes and his Device Fonts (the cool typefaces that show-up at Veer) is very inspiring. Also I follow the designer urban vinyl, plush and paper toy movements. If things ever slow down a bit, I would love to experiment in one or more of those areas.

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

While-in or just right out-of school, bring your design or illustration skills to your local community. Showing student work to prospective employers is fine, but there is no substitute for real work in the community, being consumed by real people. There are plenty of musicians, bands, charitable causes, ma-and-pa shops out there that are in terrible need of your services. Most could never pay realistic design studio or ad agency rates, so they go without. They may not be able to pay for it, but it presents an opportunity for you to put some real work in your portfolio. Often there is a large amount of creative freedom in this approach, which is helpful in establishing yourself and your style early on.

I did this once to a scooter shop, selling vintage Vespas and Malaguti's. Basically walking in and (nicely) telling them that their logo and signage sucked. Instead of telling me to %&@#-off, the owner agreed and he was instantly game. He was small time and did not have any kind of budget to throw at this re-design. To my son's delight, we traded for a vintage Vespa to cover the initial design services. We continued our relationship and as he grew, his budgets grew and not only did he become a fun, full-paying client, but it went on to open more doors with some awesome clients.

Another bit of advice is to meet and interact with as many designers as you can. Design types like to collect all kinds of crap. They also like to collect or befriend like-minded design peers. Some designers tend to keep to themselves and I've never understood why. Get on the HOW message board, frequent AIGA events or participate in design conferences. It is amazing how many designers will collaborate or farm-out work to colleagues. And best of all they tend to be awesome clients.

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?

For me it is when I can walk away from a project, spend several days doing something else, come back to it, and still get excited by it and fell like it was a good solution.

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

I have not figured this one out yet. I've heard taking vacations is one way, but I have not had one of those in quite a while.

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

Super Villain.

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

The Colbert Report!


Vonster said...

When you visit a designers site and you look at their work and you think to yourself "I don't see anything I don't like." you know that person is tapping into their full potential on some creative level and it's showing in their work.

Chris is one of those designers and I cannot give any higher praise in regards to someone's work then to simply state that after viewing it I felt like giving up and finding a new career. LOL


Eli said...

I would have a hard time picking a favorite out of the works displayed here, all look like very fresh and solid designs, very cool!

Unknown said...

Great work!!!!!! Really great work!!!!

Bubbashelby said...

LOVE The Bat-Hot-Rod! I have an illustration series I'm working on along similar lines.

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