Chris Leavens

Chris is a vector artist who produces most of his art, from start to finish, in Adobe Illustrator. This includes all the textures and tones in his illustrations. Chris‘s art incorporates absurdity, anthropomorphism, and a healthy dose of humor.

First of all, thank you for giving us your time for this interview. The first question is: Do you remember the first thing you ever drew?

Thank you for interviewing me. I don’t really remember my first drawing. It probably wasn’t very good. I imagine it was just stick people. As I got a little older, I really liked drawing robots and spaceships. My older brother and I drew a lot of robots and spaceships.

You are graduated with a degree in film and video, but until you develop today in the midst of the illustration and design. How you turned into a designer? You can tell us you love story with the design ...

I was working in film and television, mostly in post production, particularly as a motion graphics designer and a video editor. I decided to take a break from the film industry and I started working as a graphic designer. It was a pretty easy transition because most of the tools are the same. I had been working with Photoshop quite a bit, but I had only used Illustrator when needed.

My employer needed scalable illustrations, so I started working with Adobe Illustrator and I was blown away by all the possibilities. It inspired me to learn all the tools and I’ve been working with it ever since.

Your works have features such as the absurd, anthropomorphism, and a good healthy dose of humor. What influenced you to make this kind of work?

Ever since I can remember, I always loved absurd humor. I don’t really understand why. It just makes sense to me. Before I really got serious about creating art, comedy was at the center of everything I loved. The stranger the comedy, the better. When I began focusing on artwork, it just seemed natural to incorporate absurd humor. It’s really hard for me to create art without humor — it’s such a big part of who I am.


About your characters. How do ideas born to create them?

That’s a really good question. Sometimes they just materialize out of nowhere while I’m running. I run three times a week and that’s when I come up with most of my ideas. I like to draw birds, but almost all of the birds I draw are insane. I guess this is because most of the time you see birds in illustrations, they’re cute and friendly.

I wanted to create birds that looked cute and friendly, but did crazy things. I also like the idea of taking monsters who seem dangerous and making them seem innocent. I think it’s fun to reverse the roles of characters. A lot of my character ideas come from that urge to turn convention upside-down.

In your website, you say that all your works are developed in ``Illustrator``. When you start using it and how was your first experience?

I used Illustrator for the first time about ten years ago when I started working in motion graphics. At first, all I only really used it to create text for use in After Effects. Soon after that, I started using Illustrator more for graphic design, but it wasn’t until two years after I started working in motion graphics that I started drawing with Illustrator for a TV special about military training. The show wasn’t that interesting, but that’s when I really started using Illustrator seriously. Ever since, it’s been at the center of all of my professional work. Vector art has become my favorite medium for art.

About the use of colors. How do you make the colors selection for each work?

I spend large amount of time working on color choices. Sometimes I approach a new piece with certain colors in mind. There are times when my concept of a certain color scheme is so strong that it dictates what I draw. Other times, I labor over color decisions until the last minute. Usually I try to use color to draw attention to certain areas of the composition that are important. Most of the color combinations I create are intended to be fun and vibrant. I like colors that make people smile.

Can you tell us about your work process?

I start out by coming up with a concept, usually while I’m running or exercising. It’s easy to meditate on an idea while I run because I’m alone and there’s nothing to distract me. After I have a concept, sometimes sketch my ideas on paper, but usually I go straight into Illustrator and start drawing. I start by drawing basic shapes, outlines of the objects that will appear in the illustration.

Then I arrange them, moving them around until I figure out the composition. After that, I start working with the colors and filling in the details, adding shading. The last element I add is texture because it slows my computer down.

Which artists do you admire and why?

I really like Jim Flora, Tim Biskup, and Nathan Jurevicius. A recent visitor to my website made a comment about Mary Blair. I had never heard of her before. Her work is amazing! I really want to see more of her work because it’s so incredible. Rene Magritte is one of my all-time favorites, too. I love his sense of humor.

What do you do, immediately after completing a job?

As soon as I finish, I process my files and post them to the Internet for feedback. Comments from other artists really help me to know if my work is moving in the right direction. Often I worry that what I just created isn’t very good. I spend so much time on each individual piece that I feel physically and emotionally drained when I’m done, so it’s really nice to get positive comments after I finish. It’s one of the greatest things about communities like Flickr.

Do you listen to music while you work?, If so, what music genres are more effective at the time of their creations?

I love all types of music — I’ve got a giant collection of CDs that covers a whole wall and I listen to music to motivate me while I work. I don’t really like aggressive music, so I don’t really listen to heavy metal or anything angry. Lately I’ve been listening to Neil Young and The Fall.

I really like to listen to folksy music like Neil Young, Bonnie «Prince» Billy, and Michael Hurley while I work, but other genres and artists work their way into my speakers all the time. Mouse on Mars is another favorite of mine and the last Juana Molina CD is a great one to work to. Oh, and Os Mutantes are another favorite of mine.

What is your purpose in life, as a designer? How do you see yourself reflected in 10 years?

I want to push myself and the tools as much and as far as possible. Adobe Illustrator offers so many possibilities and combinations and I really enjoy experimenting and seeing how much I can get out of it. I hope in ten years I’m still pushing my own personal boundaries and coming up with new ways to create artwork.

What do you do when you're not working?

I spend time with my wife, hike, and relax. Life has been really busy lately and the world of politics has been very interesting here in the US. It is an exciting and scary time and I spend a lot of time reading about politics and the direction our nation’s taking. I hope by the time you receive this, that Barack Obama has been elected as our president. If not, there will be overwhelming disappointment here.

What is the greatest satisfaction that has given to you this profession?

I love seeing something start as a blank white nothing and become a fully-formed world. I often doubt myself when I start working, but the end result is almost always satisfying.

What are you doing now? Can you anticipate something of a new project that you have?

For the past few years I have been working on educational materials, illustrating and designing work intended for children. Lately I’ve been trying to transition into illustrating for other markets like advertising. More than anything, I’d love to just focus on creating art for the sake of art and selling my work, but it’s really hard to pay the bills that way.

The theme of this edition is ``Happiness`` .What this word means to you?

Happiness is sharing endless laughter with the ones you love.

Thank you for giving us your time for this interview. Is there anything you'd like to add?

Thank you! Nothing else to add, really. I just hope people see my work and that it makes them happy.