Chris Madden Illustrator Interview

Chris Madden

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Can you recall the first time you realized you were going to be an illustrator? What were your earliest impressions?
The cliché answer which is: as far back as I can remember, I always knew that I wanted to be a creative person in some capacity. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a pencil in my hand. However, I didn’t truly realize that I could be an illustrator until much later in life. There were no illustrators in my family. None of my friends’ parents were illustrators and my high school art teacher didn’t exactly try to sell it as a career option.
By the age of 23, I was working full-time behind a bar though still drawing at home and designing T-shirts and flyers for my friends’ bands. I was fed up with everything and so spontaneously enrolled in an illustration degree course.

Who or what influenced your art when you were young?
I remember drawing anything and everything though I mostly copied wildlife and nature photography I found in books and magazines. I would spend hours painstakingly rendering a Bengal tiger on cheap copy paper with whatever drawing tool I had available. When I wasn’t drawing animals, I would copy my favorite characters: Tom and Jerry, Calvin and Hobbes, Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner: all of life’s great duos.

Do you remember what your first artwork looked like? Do you still have it?
The very first piece of art I made (or that exists on record) was at the age of three. I drew a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. It is the best thing I have ever drawn. I think my Mum still has it somewhere.

Why did you choose illustration as your life’s work instead of, for example, filmmaking, law, or even medicine?
I chose illustration as my life’s work because, aside from my family and loved ones, it’s the only thing that has made me happy. I have had many other jobs in my lifetime, and lots of them were very satisfying at the time, but illustration is the only one that has made me feel like I could do it for the rest of my days.

Did you study art in school?
I studied art and design in high school but had no other artistic education until I signed up for an illustration degree. I regret that it took me so long to realize that I could be a professional illustrator, but then maybe, without those extra years of life experience, I may not have the same motivation and dedication that I have today.

Where does your inspiration come from; your impulse to make art? Do you have a source for your ideas?
As an editorial illustrator, my inspiration usually comes from the subject matter of the article I am illustrating. One of my favorite aspects of editorial work is researching vastly different subjects from one day to the next. In that respect, it’s quite useful to cast a wide net regarding inspirational sources, as you’re never quite sure where the current job will take you.
My sources of inspiration range from wildlife documentaries, street photography, architecture, mid-century Polish posters, nature, movies, travel, textile design, and animation; and that’s just off the top of my head.

How would you describe the process of creating art?
I would describe myself as a conceptual, editorial illustrator. The most important step in creating my art is the concept. I am always happiest when I can turn a universally recognizable object or idea into something new.
I begin all of my work in a sketchbook, scribbling thumbnails and making notes; trying to combine ideas and images together. Once I settle on the concept, I make a very quick rough sketch–still small but bigger than thumbnails–just so I can get a better idea of composition and scale. From there, I jump straight into creating the final image. I like to be able to play around with shape and color, etc., until the final artwork stage. If I make very detailed rough sketches, I find that I restrict myself.
When it comes to making the final artwork, my process is always the same. The quick version is: I use a printmaking roller to apply black ink to cheap copy paper, I then cut shapes from the paper to make individual elements of the image and scan those shapes into Photoshop where I ‘collage’ them together and apply color digitally. Any finer details or textures are hand drawn and brought into Photoshop.

Do you have a favorite illustrator? What is it about that illustrator’s work you like?
My favorite illustrator has always been Charley Harper. His work is beautifully timeless and instantly recognizable. Even when other people try to mimic it, their efforts don’t come close.
I am absolutely obsessed by the work of printmaker, Norman Ackroyd. His monochromatic aquatints of UK coastlines–seemingly simple images–are so bleak that I stare at them for ages. One day, I hope to hang an original Ackroyd print in my studio. I am also equally obsessed with the photography of Saul Leiter. His New York street photography from the 40s and 50s is unbelievable. They capture the era so perfectly yet somehow still look current. Too good!

If you could do something else, other than creating art, what would it be?
Marine biologist, Italian chef, or anything that involves working with dogs.

Do you remember your first set of paints, pens, or markers?
I don’t really remember specific items but I know that I never had a shortage of materials to use. Every Christmas or on any and every birthday, I would receive art supplies as gifts from my family. I don’t ever remember asking for them, but my parents were always very encouraging. They would tell my aunts and uncles to get me things I could use to draw. To be honest, it still happens to this day and I’m 33 years old.

Do you have a favorite illustrator supply, a favorite method, or favorite location, where you like to create artwork?
I love traditional printmaking, so between client work, I like to take some time to make lino and mono prints. It is a completely different pace than working from an editorial brief. I find it quite therapeutic. I very rarely get to do any these days since becoming a Dad. I have a lovely little home studio that used to be a bedroom. I create all of my work at my standing desk, surrounded by books and spiky plants.

If you could give a viewer clues to understanding your art, what would you say?
I’d say, “You’re over-thinking it!”

Do you think illustration has the eye of the public or could public awareness of this field be improved upon?
It really depends on the context. Picture books seem to be getting more and more popular which is great. I am seeing a lot more illustration used in international advertising and marketing campaigns recently too. That can only help to alert the public to illustration as a whole.

I think that editorial illustration though is different. It often is overlooked or disregarded as something colorful in the corner of a newspaper. When I tell people I meet that I’m an illustrator, working for newspapers and magazines, the only question I hear is, ‘So, do you draw the cartoons?’ After that, it’s just blank looks.
I get the impression that the general public is much more aware of illustration today as a whole, though there is still quite a ways to go.

Why does art matter to you? Why might it matter to the world?
I think art matters to me for the same reason that art matters to anyone: life is more enjoyable with art in it. Regardless of the style of art you prefer, a work of art evokes a feeling. However conscious you are of that feeling, it still occurs.
In my opinion, art is simply a thing that somebody put their time, energy, and love into for others to experience. Paintings, photography, books, film, theatre, street art, pottery, sculpture, poetry, everybody enjoys somebody else’s art at some point in their life, whether they are aware of it, or not.
I made a timelapse video of my image-making process that you can see here: https://vimeo.com/180311123