SpearTalks: Chuck Anderson
Ah, Chuck Anderson. Fresh, brave, and brilliant from all angles, we turned our sights towards this self-taught, Michigan-based designer in 2005, when the then 20-year old's portfolio was already competitive with those of players twice his age.
Since then, Chuck (aka NoPattern) has been filling his time with work for clients like Burton, Dolce and Gabbana, and Microsoft, and his light-filled designs have had us seeing stars all along. Graphic designer, digital illustrator, 23-year old basking in the glow he drew up himself; whatever he is, he's good at it, and we can't wait to see what's next.
Joshspear.com: Let’s start with some background. I know you’re young (24, right?), so walk me through the steps that landed you where you are today.
Chuck Anderson: I’m actually 23 — just turned 23 in May this year. I will try to walk you through the steps and still keep it relatively short and readable. I could go on forever…
I’ve been an artist my whole life. Even when I was a little kid I loved to create things with Legos, draw, whatever felt creative to me –like a lot of kids do. High school is when I started taking all that much more seriously. I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that had an incredible art program, with classes for animation, sculpture, photography, graphic design, drawing, art history — a much more comprehensive and advanced art curriculum than most high schools probably have. I had some great teachers too, who encouraged me and really pushed me a lot (that means you, Mr. McDermott, Mr. Sandoval, and Mrs. Rinn, if you’re reading this). They were all a little stunned when I told them I wasn’t going to college right away and planned to take a year off, but at least I was going to go.
Well, I never did go. I was working at a bookstore in the summer of 2003, eventually quit in July and got a job at a screenprinting company doing boring work for local junior highs and construction companies. But at least it was some experience learning Illustrator, screenprinting, and how to work on a deadline and get paid for it. Anyways, I’d started nopattern.com in high school as a place to put all my personal work. About six months after graduating high school I had started to get my work out there on the internet, and I was getting a little recognition here and there on design sites. Eventually I started getting in touch with art directors at magazines and smaller places like clubs in Chicago and getting some commissions from them, based almost entirely off my portfolio of personal work. To be quite honest, the rest is history. Things just snowballed; more and more work came in from random places, I kept putting my work out there in new places, learning the business of being a freelancer more and more every day, and just put my all into what I was doing. Then, I moved out of my parents house. Ha. Obviously that helped me to get a bit more serious.
JS: So it was really just a solid mix of talent, motivation and ensuing recognition that got you to where you are right now. “Now” even includes a collab with Joshua Davis, which is huge for any designer, let alone a 23-year-old. What’s the story behind that?
CA: Yeah, I would definitely say it was a mix of my abilities and my determination. I don’t think you can be a successful freelance artist without one or the other. If you’re really motivated but do poor work, you won’t get far; if you do great work but are a bum and don’t work hard the same thing applies. Anyways — I’ve known Josh now for a few years. I met him first in New York when I was invited to be a speaker at the Semi-Permanent Design Conference in 2005. I met him several times again at other speaking events in Toronto, Barcelona, etc. and of course have always enjoyed his work. As far as us working together, TribalDDB in Dallas approached both him and I to work together for a project for Amp Energy Drink. The basic idea was that I would create illustrations, designs, colors, and effects that Josh would then take and put into his Flash creations/programs. It really came out great.
JS: Yeah, it really did turn out well. And it was so distinctly both of you, from a style perspective. On that note, you have always had a style that was very obviously your own, and in doing that, you’ve become the kind of designer that people pursue for your take on things, not just for an ability to churn out something trendy. Is there a certain amount of comfort in that?
CA: There’s some comfort in that"”and a bit of pressure — but I also don’t think too much about it. I just do what I love and can only hope people respond positively to it. I put myself completely into the work that I do and really just ignore outside influences. I just really try to live by the idea of being inspired but never, ever copying. If I can be a successful conduit of inspiration that I’ve absorbed and put out work that feels entirely my own then I’m doing my job.
JS: This is an offbeat question, but here at joshspear.com I’d say we’re only half-heartedly into college- we’re mostly into just pursuing what you live with the fire of a bajillion suns. You ditched out on the formal side of things and taught yourself, and it worked out brilliantly. What’s your take on further education — like as in how it actually stands now, not in its idealized state?
CA: I honestly don’t know enough about college and the whole college experience to make an honest assessment, so I’d rather keep my comments limited to what I know best.
In my personal experience – and I understand I am the exception not the rule when it comes what most people should and will do after high school – not going to college has clearly worked out in my favor. No student loans to pay off, a four year head start on those who are my age, and getting paid instead of grades. My opinion on this is totally biased and I’m aware of that. However, whenever I speak at my old high school or visit a college, I just encourage everyone to do their best at what they have chosen and only do it if their heart is in it 100%. If it’s not, it’s either not worth doing or it’s worth putting more passion and enthusiasm into it – that’s an individual decision. College works for some and not for others. At the end of the day it just depends on who you are and what you want.
JS: You’ve got a thing for light, and you seem to understand it well. Do you study beams and rays and all that in order to create these amazing digital portrayals, or has it always just made sense to you naturally?
CA: I do love working with light. I’m fascinated by the way different sources of light affect different objects and shapes, and especially how light affects color. That’s the most apparent in my work. I’d like to think that I do study light in an informal way on a daily basis; the way it comes through windows or hits the floors in my home, especially the way I see objects through the lens of a camera, and how light affects the end results of photography depending on the variables you choose on the camera.
Using the computer to make my work is an opportunity to explore light doing things it can’t naturally do, being more concentrated on certain parts of an image or being supernatural. I love things like that; creating the unexpected and unexplored is a good way to look at it.
JS: As a writer, I’m always on computers, and it’s really important for me to journal, to see words on actual paper. Do you rebel in any way against computer graphics — like keep a journal for sketching or street art or…?
CA: I totally rebel against computer graphics when it comes to the art that I’m personally a fan of. It’s weird; I’ve become well known for the stuff I do on the computer, yet the majority of my influences, as far as artists go, are much more analog than myself. I think what I appreciate most nowadays is an artist who can do things well by hand, but also knows how to properly utilize and take advantage of technology when necessary. An artist like Tomer Hanuka; I love this guy’s work. I absolutely love it. Hand drawn, yet a lot of it colored digitally. It’s a perfect marriage of two beautifully mastered techniques.
Personally, I do elements of almost every project by hand. Whether it’s out taking photos or drawing something by hand – on paper or on my Wacom — I’m more about combining. I draw a lot in a moleskine and in several sketchbooks, and I also do a lot of straight drawings on paper for my work (see the Mountain Dew project, Complex magazine project, or the T-shirts for sale on my site). Anyways, I’m less about rebelling against computer graphics and more about learning when they do and don’t fit.
JS: The Burton Jacket. It’s out, right? It’ll be fun to see kids (and grown up) riding the hills in that light bomb of a thing — tell us about how that project came to be.
CA: I’ve been in contact with some guys at Burton for several years now and, to be honest, I can’t quite remember how that connection was initially made, whether I contacted them or vice versa. As far as the jacket goes, they basically wanted me to create a repeatable pattern with the basic concept of colorful/light camouflage. It was a lot of fun to work on and even more fun when I saw Kevin Pearce wearing it at the X-Games! The Burton Jacket is now for sale on the Burton site. There’s also some other product, like a backpack and a few other things.
JS: Tell us about some of your current projects…
CA: As far as current projects go … it’s kind of a mixed bag of things right now. I’m working on some designs for a new site called Dorthy.com, which will be used in various places online to advertise the site. It’s an interesting search-meets-social-networking kind of site with a new technology that sounds pretty cool. I’m working with a few brands right now on some apparel and T-shirt stuff, although that seems to be a perpetual kind of project with any artist or designer these days. It’s fun though; it allows you to explore a lot with new ideas. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been taking a bit of a break to kind of absorb some new things and ideas. I want to start some new personal projects this fall — mainly things that have been simply ideas in my head that I finally feel I’m ready to bring to fruition — but I don’t want to say what yet.
JS: Ok, 23 year-old. Are you a goal guy — do you have boxes to check off sometime in your future — or are you just taking it as it comes?
CA: Am I a goal guy … that’s a good question. I certainly don’t have set-in-stone boxes to check off for the future. If I do, they are amorphous and blob-shaped boxes that come and go on any given day. I’m a really spontaneous person. I might be feeling completely void of imagination and creativity one day with no grasp of vision for what’s ahead. The next day I could wake up feeling incredibly motivated to start a new project and by the end of the day I’m neck-deep in that idea. Or I could be in a bit of a lull with work and suddenly get a call about a big project and next thing I know, my next 2-3 weeks are totally filled up with working on it. So right now I just live life, don’t think too hard about what’s next, and primarily just try to enjoy right here, right now.
It’s not that I don’t care about the future — I really do. I’m excited for what’s ahead, but I love the quote that goes something like “If you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you’re pissing on today.” Something like that.., but it’s true. Worry about tomorrow when tomorrow gets here. Life’s far too short to live by a calendar filled with checkboxes and schedules and what-have-you.