Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chris Ayers - Cartoonist/Artist Survey #23

Chris Ayers is an artist who specializes in character design. His work as a character designer and concept artist was used in such movies as, "Men in Black II" and "Fantastic Four." In 2005 Chris was thrown a curve ball and was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer (AML). Chris's battle with this terrible disease re-energized his passion for creating art.
On the one year anniversary of his diagnosis he started a sketch book he called, "The Daily Zoo," where he set out to draw one animal everyday. This sketchbook went on to become the book, "The Daily Zoo: Keeping the Doctor at Bay with a Drawing a Day." What I found so interesting about this book besides the wonderful drawings is the commentary provided by Chris about his experience with cancer and some insight into his creative process. The second volume, "The Daily Zoo Year 2 " is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Do yourself a favor and pick these two books up. They would make a very nice Christmas gift for anyone. AND a portion of the proceeds goes to fund cancer-related charities and research. I can't wait to read the second one!

Please stop by Chris's website; and his blog;

You can help to rid the world of cancer by making a donation here;

What is your favorite pen to use?
Recently, I've been getting a lot of use out of Staedtler Pigment Liners and Pentel's Stylo (a great "dual-nib" which is great for fluid sketching). Uniball Visions are a great workhorse too.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
I like experimenting and playing with all kinds of media. If a piece is to be inked, I will usually start with pencil sketches before inking, though I also enjoy the challenge of the unforgiving nature of just sketching in pen sometimes too.

I'm currently having a love affair with the various pencils made by General's. Faber Castell's 9000 series are also rather juicy and the Technalo 3B by Caran d'Ache has also provided some fun sketching times of late. For detailed work I will sometimes pull out a mechanical pencil.
Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
Both. Much of my professional work as a character designer for the entertainment industry requires extremely fast turnaround times and maximum flexibility ("We love it!...Except can you make his shirt blue?") so I usually end up coloring that work digitally. The computer is an amazing and powerful tool, but I also enjoy the messiness, happy accidents, and hands-on aspect of adding color by hand. Much of the time it ends up being a mix of traditional and digital media.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
It all depends on what would work best to communicate the idea, story, or personality of the piece...or if it is personal work, whatever media I'm in the mood for. I enjoy colored pencils, markers, pastels, and I'm trying to become more comfortable with watercolor and gouache.

What type of paper do you use?
I like to try out new surfaces all the time (different weights, colors, and textures) but I do use a lot of Bienfang Graphics 360 Marker Paper. Many of my preliminary sketches are just done on 24 lb. copy paper.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Big, grandiose environments and hard-edged vehicles have always been more challenging (and frightening!) for me to do.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
Typically, I prefer to hold something in my hands and maybe even test it out before buying it, so I try to shop at local stores as much as possible. I do order specific items from online sources when I can't find them locally.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
For freelance work I like to let the design brief stew in my head for a few days before actually putting pencil to paper, although often this is not possible within the allowed time frame.

For my daily animal sketch, I have a variety of brainstorming tricks to fall back on when inspiration is elusive. One of them is a grab bag of scraps of paper that sits within reach of my desk - each piece inscribed with a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb - and I will pull out a few to get the creative juices flowing (for example: "disgusting," "turkey," and "throne" were the selections one day which led to the creation of a grizzled turkey king.)

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
Oftentimes, yes. My musical tastes run the gamut (though not a lot of country, rap, or opera) so I will often just put iTunes on shuffle. Instrumental film scores or classical are a nice choice when I'm in a particular mood or when I'm writing.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
I was a huge comics fan. My poor parents would drive me to the comic shop and then patiently wait for what seemed like hours while I browsed the shelves. The height of my comic craze was in the 80's and I was a big fan of X-men, but my all-time favorite title was Alien Legion by Epic. Fantastic designs, characters, and stories! Who's with me? Anyone?

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Calvin and Hobbes, hands down. Bill Watterson's genius took the reader from skewering-yet-hilarious satire to nostalgic reminiscence to poignant social commentary to the bewildered awe of childhood innocence to tender love...all the while exploring alien planets and escaping the menacing jaws of Tyrannosaurus rexes! Plus the guy could DRAW!

Gary Larson's The Far Side is also a work of sheer creative genius...or madness...maybe they're the same thing.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
I had many, many favorites as a child. Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Richard Scary, Babar...but I think the bedtime story I requested most often from my parents was The Whingdingdilly by Bill Peet. If you're not familiar with his work, his artwork and stories are a thing of magic and beauty.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I majored in Graphic Communication at St. Norbert College, have taken individual courses in computer animation and character design at various places, and learned quite a bit on-the-job over the years. For nearly the past ten years I've been fortunate to work among a very talented community of artists here in Los Angeles and I try to absorb as much as possible from their collective wisdom.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
While it can be a real timesuck and is increasing our addiction to instant gratification, overall, I feel it's a blessing. Keeping with the theme of the previous question, there are amazing resources (tutorials, advice, feedback) available online. I've also been introduced to extremely talented artists from all around the world which probably would not have happened without the Internet. Thanks Al Gore! :)

Did either of your parents draw?
Not really, but they both expressed their creativity in different media; my dad's is wood, my mom's are her gardens.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
I've been fortunate to have my passion for art be encouraged and supported by many, many people throughout my entire life. I never had anyone asking me, "OK, you like to draw - but what do you want to DO for a living?!" Teachers, friends, relatives, colleagues, clients (sometimes!), and sometimes strangers have all fueled the fire at one point or another, but my parents, sister, and wife have been the most consistent and prolonged source of unconditional love and support. For that I am grateful.

Do you keep a sketchbook?

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I recently started teaching a character design class and found it to be very rewarding and challenging (in a good way).

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
I think they kind of go hand in hand. I drew all the time when I was a kid; I imagine I did this because I was so passionate about it. I could turn on that inner faucet of joy and float away for hours by just picking up a pencil. Because it provided such entertainment, I did it almost constantly which helped develop the skills and creative thinking that has gotten me where I am today.

Some things come easier to others, but it is still work and requires putting the time in. Practice! Practice! Practice! Passion is what gets you to pick up the pencils again after you've thrown them across the room when the process becomes frustrating and overwhelming.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
Over the years I've had many collections such as comic books, armadillos, ticket stubs, stamps, belly button lint (yes, you read that correctly), and baseball cards (including ones that I made myself). Currently I try to "live light" and my main collection is books, which I just can't seem to resist. I justify each new purchase with the thought that it is "necessary" reference material, but my bookshelves are already sagging in protest.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
I WISH I were like the wise turtle in Kung Fu Panda - he seems to have things figured out. My friends might say I'm the Dudley Do Right type, but the ones who really know me would probably opt more for a cross between Elmer Fudd and The Family Guy's Stewy.

Are you a righty or lefty?
Righty, though sometimes I like putting the pencil in the left hand to shake things up a little.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
Tarzan, protector of the Mighty Jungle, though with a less-revealing "uniform."

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
Messy. Very messy.

Do you play any musical instruments?
No, but I have great respect for those who do.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Do what you love and love what you do. After battling cancer, I realize just how precious and unpredictable life is. If your passion is drawing, throw yourself at it. Enjoy all that life has to offer (it will keep your inspiration tank on full) but draw, draw, DRAW! And be brave...try new things...experiment...PLAY! And be willing to fall/fail - because you will - but be determined to get back up, sharpen that pencil and keep on drawing.

Who is your favorite artist?
Waaaaaay too many to list. I will say that anyone whose work stops me in my tracks, gets me to experience something in a new way, or makes me cry out, "Holy crap! I hope someday I can do something as beautiful/poignant/witty/heartfelt as that!" has my utmost respect and admiration. A gorgeous piece of art emits both the warm glow of immense inspiration and the slicing wind of wanting to just throw in the towel and start selling insurance. Peter de Seve, Claire Wendling, Bill Watterson, Arthur Rackham, Bill Peet, Gary Larson, Norman Rockwell, Steve Brodner, Sebastian Krueger, James Gurney, Herman Mejia, Ralph Steadman are just a FEW of those who seem to elicit that reaction in me quite frequently.

Thank you so much for answering Chris. I really enjoy your work!

Answers from Eisner award winning cartoonist Shannon Wheeler, the creator of the comic "Too Much Coffee Man" will be posted next.

1 comment:

David said...

"A gorgeous piece of art emits both the warm glow of immense inspiration and the slicing wind of wanting to just throw in the towel and start selling insurance." Chris Ayers

And the heavenly chorus sings: Amen! David E.