Chris Wilson is a great artist who resides in San Diego, California. Drawing is his medium of first choice and his work https://chriswilsonstudio.com/ really has a cinematic, animation quality. Chris is also adept at selling art online, so I highly recommend artists read our chat below for greater insight.
“Whenever I'm traveling, I use drawing as a way to take in the vibe of the area. It forces me to absorb everything around me and what's going on. Drawing for me is mostly a physical exercise. It’s like how runners get an endorphin high from running. I get a high from drawing.”
MICHAEL: Hello Chris, Your work is very intriguing. I see lots of darkness, plus black and white contrasting in your drawings which are almost cinematic. What's the inspiration behind them?
CHRIS: Thanks. When I'm drawing, I'm usually focusing on things like mystery or motion of what I'm looking at. I started injecting this kind of approach in my work when I was in the Character Animation program at the Disney founded college, CalArts. It’s a very drawing-intensive program with a big push toward story and animation. It naturally pushed me to focus more on these cinematic qualities in my drawings.
No matter what I'm looking at when I draw, from a face in the shadows to animals in motion, I can't help but be inspired by those cinematic qualities. I guess I'm thinking like a film director when I draw. Drawing is something I've always done and have a craving to do every day. I’m treating drawing as a loose exploration.
MICHAEL: What materials do you use when you draw? Does drawing ever seem primitive to you? And do you ever paint on canvas?
CHRIS: I use everything from ballpoint pens to chunks of graphite. Even when I'm using a brush loaded with paint, I'm treating it no differently than I would a drawing. I draw on all sorts of surfaces, from paper to canvas to cardboard. The more interesting the surface, the more fun it'll be to draw on.
Drawing is the most honest form of art. When I was little, my parents took me to an animation art gallery in La Jolla, California. There were all these full colored animation cels hanging up all over the place. But I was really drawn to a few drawings hanging up in the corner of the gallery. They were original drawings made by some Disney animators for Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast. They were sketchy, loose, and full of energy. It was as if you could see what the artist was thinking as they laid down each line of the drawing.
MICHAEL: When you're creating, are you also telling a story? Or ... Is it just pure drawing and painting?
CHRIS: I'm usually just capturing what I'm looking at; Focusing on mood and motion, not so much a story.
MICHAEL: Animation is very artistic, but not necessarily mentioned in the same sentence as contemporary art. What do you think about this? Is it because it's - more often than not - light and happy?
CHRIS: Contemporary art is art created by living artists. The push behind most contemporary art is to reflect on our society and current issues in the world around us. It really doesn't matter what medium you use to do this - from an abstract painting, a simple sketch, to a story with characters. You can look at any Pixar film and see that the story is saying something much deeper about modern-day society. Also, on the aesthetic side of animation, most of the artists working behind-the-scenes of these films are killer artists themselves who say a lot with their work.
MICHAEL: How important do you think art school is to the success of an artist? What did it do for you?
CHRIS: I don't think art school is a requirement to have a career in any field of art. There are a lot of shit art schools out there that will take anyone’s money. You have to really do your research and make sure the school lines up with your ultimate goals. But really, all that really matters is how many hours you put into becoming a better artist.
MICHAEL: Yup. Work is very important.
CHRIS: I went into the Character Animation program at CalArts because I was seeking community. I was attracted to the challenge of getting my portfolio accepted and really dug what the program had to offer. They also have an amazing history of accomplished past students and teachers. Being in an environment like that really pushes you every day. I was and still am a fan of everyone I worked next to in class.
MICHAEL: You seem to be interested in helping artists sell their work online. What do you think about selling online and how's your effort going?
CHRIS: I've been selling my art online for close to 10 years now. Now days you don't necessarily have to go the gallery route to make a living from your art. Thanks to the internet, your audience can consist of thousands of people from anywhere in the world - as opposed to the hundred or so people who might walk into a gallery off the street and see your work.
It's exciting. Every day I have email in my inbox from different people who dig my work. People from Zimbabwe to Australia, it's pretty cool.
A few years back, I started getting email from other artists asking for tips. After a while, I ended up giving the same advice over and over, so I put together a video course based on what I've learned and it has been pretty fun. It's great to get email from my students saying they got their first art sales online based on what they learned in the course.
MICHAEL: The gallery business model seems to be on wobbly legs these days. Where do you think things are going? Also, contemporary art remains a tough sell to the everyday Joe. Thoughts?
CHRIS: More and more art sales are moving online. Thanks to blogs and the ability for artists to create their own platform, people have the ability to get to know who an artist is and see their creativity behind-the-scenes over time.
Very rarely do people land on an artist’s website for the first time and click “Buy Now.” It takes a while to build-up to a sale - usually by sharing your creative process and story through a series of email art newsletters. This approach definitely takes longer, but in the end, it creates a more authentic experience for people who decide to collect.
It's this kind of ongoing story and closeness to an artist that a gallery can't replicate. I think a lot of artists get stuck thinking art is hard to sell because they believe the general public is their audience or only “wealthy” people buy art. Instead, I recommend artists focus on getting their work in front of an audience that shares their similar tastes and values. For example, you could have 20 “wealthy” people in the same room together, but they're all going to have completely different tastes and values. Also, offering your work at different price points will open the door for more people to have the chance to collect your work.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. I frequently say all of those things to artists. What's the art scene like in San Diego? It's not New York, London or LA. What's going on out there?
CHRIS: There are a lot of artists doing interesting things here in San Diego and twenty minutes away in Tijuana. I've noticed more artists commandeering interesting warehouses and spaces and making their own shows. They customize the entire environment and create an awesome evening – then they'll disappear. They're more in the spirit of creating a pop-up show rather than a static gallery space.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. I love that. How are you managing to survive as an artist? As you know Chris, most people on this planet would probably choose a new iPad over an original work of art.
CHRIS: I've been selling my art online since 2005. Early on, I started putting a ton of focus on growing my email art newsletter which is where most of my art sales action happens. I also do illustration commissions and offer online courses to help artists. But the majority of my income is from art sales.
MICHAEL: While you're drawing and creating art, what's going on in your mind? Are you thinking about what to have for dinner or the next movie you'll see? What's the actual creative process like? Intellectual, emotional, spiritual?
CHRIS: I'm really into observational drawing, using both photos and real life as references. Lately, I've been putting more focus on drawing animals and scenes from my travels; recording moments in my drawings. Some people like to use a camera when they travel, but I've always been interested in using lines on paper.
Whenever I'm traveling, I use drawing as a way to take in the vibe of the area. It forces me to absorb everything around me and what's going on. Drawing for me is mostly a physical exercise. It’s like how runners get an endorphin high from running. I get a high from drawing.
MICHAEL: Thanks Chris. Very cool chat.
Check out Chris Wilson at https://chriswilsonstudio.com/.