Illustrator/Designer and cool dude, Chris Nixon, gives it to us straight – Learn all the boring admin stuff, don’t be a jerk, and just enjoy. Production will kick off in early 2017 for his animated children’s series, he has plans to open a collaborative studio, plus… you know… he’s having a baby. (Congrats!)
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened? It never really entered my mind to go into a studio or work for an agency when I was getting a plan together – I’m not really sure what I was thinking, but I thought I could just have a go at freelance and make it work. I started exploring other illustrators more and that really sparked my passion to make it on my own and I was given the task of developing a picture book in my last semester, which was a complete change in direction from where I was before and I went all in on it and it paid off. At the graduate exhibition I got lots of offers for work but the most intriguing was a publishing deal for a picture book so I jumped at the chance and it took my career down an unexpected but really rewarding path. It allowed me to play around with a style while I found my feet and now it’s a platform that I really love to work in so it was a nice happy accident.
Tell us about any collaborations you have been working on. My work jumps across a lot of different fields which introduces me to a lot of interesting and talented people and I’m always keen to find new ways to push illustration and design into new exciting areas. Right now, I’m getting into lighting design a lot more, working on a few large scale public art projects in Perth that combines animated lighting, sculptural forms, sound design and creative programming. I’ve been working on a lot more installation based work to really push the experience of an artwork and it’s been a HUGE learning curve, but a great challenge which I love working on as part of a team.
How did you develop your style as an illustrator and what tips would you have for others? This was really crucial for me as I have always struggled with finding a distinct style. I always wanted to work in animated films growing up so when I fell into children’s books I thought it could be a great move, following one of my heroes Shaun Tan, but then I felt like my interests outside of work and a whole other side of me wasn’t being fulfilled. I took a break after a few years to travel and surf and I really thought about my direction and it became clear that I could separate the two – a style for kid’s books and film, and another style that really felt like me, drawing influence from my interests in surfing, music, film and cooking. I was introduced to a few illustrators and started getting interested in street art so I worked on a portfolio while I was traveling and started pitching it to people to see what they thought. I entered an illustration contest with Richard Solomon and placed 2nd so I attracted some attention with illustration agencies in Australia and started working with the Drawing Book, which was one of the biggest moves of my career to date. From there, I got to develop a style on the job and work really hard and fast to make mistakes and learn on my feet. Now, my styles often merge, but I don’t mind anymore because I jump between all my streams and it keeps it fresh. If I could offer any advice from my experience it would be to diversify and think about your brand – from a business standpoint it will spread your liability so you don’t rely too heavily on one particular industry. That’s what has kept me busy and motivated.
What advice would you give students starting out? Treat your work as a brand and a business, so learn everything you need to know to run a successful business – all the boring admin stuff – it’ll make your life so much easier down the track and people will want to work with you for it. Don’t fall into the stereotypical artist trap – commit, work hard and don’t be a jerk. People don’t want to work with jerks, no matter how talented they are. Also if you’re not getting work, stay active and initiate your own projects so you can keep your skills up and you’ll have a nice talking point and current work to point to when the opportunity comes up. My ultimate advice is – enjoy – we’re all blessed to do what we love so enjoy it all.
Whats the big goal in the next five years? To launch an animation studio here to support the industry in Perth and develop a short film. I’d also like to open a collaborative studio that combines landscape architecture, industrial design and public art.
Whats on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months? The biggest news is a baby! That will definitely be a challenge for the next year. I’m looking forward to figuring that out though and I’ll be moving into a new collaborative studio soon so I can get set-up for a big 2017. I have a few major public artworks being installed in the middle of next year and production will be kicking off early in 2017 for my animated children’s series I direct. That and hopefully plenty of great opportunities to work with great people on great projects and travel.
2016 for you in a sentence. The year I stepped up to diversify to bigger and better things.