Chris Leavens Interview:
Global Location: Los Angeles, USA
Chris Leavens was born and raised in Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a BA in film and video. After graduating, Chris moved to Los Angeles were he currently lives and works as an illustrator, graphic designer, and web designer, focusing primarily on educational material for children. Artsprojekt took time to catch up with Chris and ask him a few questions about how it feels to be the First Zazzle Billboard Artist, his inspiration for the artwork and his design process.
AP: Chris as the First Zazzle Billboard Artist how does it feel to have your artwork visible to the public on such a large scale and manor?
CL: It’s undeniably awesome. The response has been super positive. I’d love to see it in person.
AP: The artwork you selected for your billboard is entitled “Calling the Sun” and is based on your surreal vector art piece of the same name. Can you tell us why you selected this exact work for this campaign?
CL: Honestly, Andy Howell from Artsprojekt contacted me specifically requesting that piece for a billboard. I think it’s a great fit because although it’s bizarre, it communicates a warmth and positivity that works well on a large scale. Also, I think the colors are perfect for the onset of fall.
AP: I love the fact that your work incorporates absurdity, anthropomorphism, and a healthy dose of humor. What drew you into this bizarre world of creatures and at what point in your life did that begin?
CL: It’s something I’ve always been interested in, ever since I was a kid watching cartoons. I’d been drawing and doodling little strange creatures for decades and a few years ago, I decided to focus on trying introduce the strange creatures from my scribbles into more polished, finished pieces. Bizarre monsters open up a whole world of surreal possibilities. They allow worlds without limits and they’re fun to draw.
AP: I just visited the official “Glitch” website and found out that you’ve been creating artwork for a non a violent world where the direction the world takes emerges out of the collective action of the players, rather than by a single person acting like a god. That’s quite a refreshing and unique prospective. Can you tell us more about this project?
CL: Sure! “Glitch” is a game being developed by a team including Stuart Butterfield, one of the co-founders of Flickr. I feel fortunate to be involved in such a unique game. They’re using art from a bunch of different artists, focusing on creating artistically-distinct worlds based on divergent styles. There’s also a good deal of smart, strange humor involved, which, of course, I find hugely appealing.
AP: I read that when you first moved to Los Angeles you worked in the film industry. What was it that made you decide to change directional paths and focus on working as an illustrator, graphic designer, and web designer, focusing primarily on educational material for children?
CL: A bunch of different things, but mostly, I just needed a change. I’d been working as a graphic designer while I was working in the film industry, so it was a pretty logical transition. In the lower and middle levels of the entertainment industry, there’s a lot of ladder-climbing and not a lot of love for the craft. It seemed to me that most people at that level were more interested in being famous some day or being around famous people, and none of that is really interesting to me. Being well-known is one thing, but the whole cult of fame/celebrity is really unappealing to me.
AP: You graduated with a BA in film and video do you think you’ll ever resume your interest in working as a film director?
CL: I’ve thought about it every once in a while. If someone walked up to me and offered to finance one of my crazy ideas, I wouldn’t hesitate, but that’s not too realistic. I’ve got some pretty good ideas, one involving cows spontaeneously generating from ground beef and another focusing on a cloned U.S. president becoming a fugitive. If anyone out there reading this has the cash and wants to know more, let me know!
AP: Your work is almost entirely vector based and made using Adobe Illustrator including all the textures. How does the creation of a work begin and how long from concept to completion.
CL: Usually it starts as an idea that comes into my head while I’m running, but lately I’ve doing a lot of gardening, so I’ve got a backlog of ideas based on plants. One is going to prominently feature a manzanita and another is going to detail my relentless battle to remove all the Algerian ivy from my yard.
After I come up with the basic idea, sometimes I’ll create a quick pencil sketch, but I usually just go straight into Illustrator and start creating the forms and composition. I like the maleability of creating within Illustrator. After I get the basics in place, I add in the details. Depending on the project, it can take as little as a few hours, or as much as twenty or more. The time I put in is all contingent upon how fully-realized the idea is and how much detail work is involved. Lately I’ve been adding in more and more detail, so my personal work’s been taking a lot longer to complete.
AP: I can see you doing a series of childrens’ books. With the ability to now self publish, is this something in the works or for consideration down the line?
CL: Definitely. Childrens’ books are something I’m immensely interested in, especially now that I’ve got a daughter of my own. I feel like it’s probably the best arena for my work. I have a concept that I’ve been working on that involves birds, but that’s all I’m going to say about it until it moves beyond the concept stages.
AP: Do you have any pets or friends that have inspired any of your characters.
CL: Most of my character ideas come from shapes or from something I see or hear that makes me think, so it’s pretty rare when someone or something that I spend a lot of time with factors into my work. My wife and I have three cats and I rarely draw cats, so a while back I made it a point to create an image that used cats. The piece that resulted is called, “Repairs” .” It’s one of my most popular pieces, so maybe I should draw what’s around me more often!
AP: Thank you for taking the time to share with us the insight into your world.
CL: Thank you!
You can view all of Chris’s wonderful monster inspired designs at his AP store here+