Today, I chat with Bodily himself about his career as an independent artist, his style and creations over the past eight years, his thoughts on local art and a few other topics, with samples of his work for you to check out. (All pictures courtesy of Chris Bodily.)
Gavin: Hey, Chris. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Chris: I've been working as a freelance illustrator for 12 years now. I grew up in Sandy and went to school in Cedar City. I've been in Ogden for a little over a year. Outside visual art, I teach and perform improv with Logan Out Loud and Mission Improvible in Ogden. In my free time, I read, write and drink coffee.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art ,and what were some early influences on you?
Chris: My parents both worked full time when I was a kid, so I was pretty much raised by the TV. I basically watched cartoons all day, then ran around the house rewriting them in my head. Scooby Doo, He-Man, and the Ninja Turtles were some of my favorites. I taught myself to draw by copying characters from The Simpsons. It wasn't until I got older and started reading graphic novels like Art Spiegelman's Maus or Chris Ware's The Acme Novelty Library that I realized the depth and emotional complexity cartoons could have. Since then, I've tried to make art that was simple and accessible in its execution, but that carried with it a deeper intellectual and emotional weight.
Gavin: You received your degree from Southern Utah University in both art and creative writing. What made you choose SUU and what was your time there like?
Chris: I went to Southern Utah University on a leadership scholarship and was fortunate to study under an extremely talented art faculty. Because of the small class sizes, I was able to get a lot of personal attention from my professors. My time there was focused mainly on realism and traditional technique. My professional work is very different from my academic work, but having that solid foundation has made a big difference in my illustration.
Gavin: During that time, what influenced the type of sketch artwork you do, and what made you focus on that kind of art as your style?
Chris: My style today is very loose. When I sit down to draw, I try not to think about what I’m doing. I let things unfold improvisationally until the image takes form. I generally draw in pen so that my decisions are permanent, and rather than hiding my mistakes I have to embrace them. I want my work to be raw and honest.
Gavin: What brought you back up to Salt Lake City, and what was it like for you breaking into the local art scene?
Chris: Salt Lake has been good to me. I recently became the in-house artist for the Hive Gallery in the Layton Hills Mall and they've been relentless promoters of my work. There's a surprisingly good base of talent in Utah. The art community is supportive, and there seems to be a growing amount of opportunity for artists. With the advent of the Internet, an artist can essentially live anywhere and still have their work available to a world-wide market. I have clients in L.A., Texas, Germany, South America and Taiwan, most of which found me through online media.
Gavin: A lot of your work is based around a cartoon-like setting. What inspired you to do these kind of works, and how is it for you as an artist to create your own kind of universe with those characters?
Chris: As I said before, Saturday-morning cartoons had a big impact on me early on. I enjoy other types of drawing, but I have a heavy hand, and my bold-line work really lends itself to a more iconic approach. I think there's something about cartoons that allow people to see themselves in the characters. That's why children relate to them so well. Rather than creating something perfect and polished, I want to to evoke a feeling in my viewer. Working in a more simplistic form allows a fluidity in my execution and creates a more immediate connection between my process and my audience.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new piece, from initial idea to final product?
Chris: There are a lot of artists I admire, but it's important for me to have a distinct voice. When somebody sees my work, I want them to see me. For a long time, I didn't sign any of my artwork because I felt like my artwork was my signature. My subject matter is generally informed by personal experience. My art is almost like an encrypted mental-health journal. Some of my best work is some of my most painful.
Gavin: Do you play around with your designs a lot or do you try to stick with the initial idea?
Chris: I'm not one to over-think a drawing. If I don't like it, I throw it away and make something new. A zen potter creates a thousand pots and destroys them all, because by the thousandth pot, he has the skill to make any of the pots that he wanted.
Gavin: Aside from your own works, you've done a ton of commissioned work and are pretty much a freelance artist. What made you decide to be a freelancer rather than seek out an artistic job?
Chris: I've had art employment before, but being freelance affords me the autonomy to do what I want. I doubt I'll ever be rich and famous, but I decide my own hours, I pick my own projects, and I have no one to answer to other than the client. If I get sick of a project I go take a nap. What I do for a living is what I would do for fun anyway.
Gavin: How do you go about choosing the kinds of works you wish to commission, and who are some of the more prominent people you've worked with?
Chris: I've been lucky to work with some very cool clients over the years, including American Red Cross, Utah Symphony & Opera, Heebeejeebeez Comics & Games and Bikers Against Child Abuse. With my connections through improv, I've been able to meet and work with some of my all-time comedy heroes from iO West. Some of my favorite projects have actually been for smaller clients; tattoo commissions, band posters, T-shirt designs, etc. I just did a record cover for a German punk band called A Time to Stand. Somehow, they found me on the Internet and liked my work. The important thing for me is that the client understands and wants the type of work I do. I can do a family portrait, but I'm not sure why anyone would want me to. My work is not for everyone and it's not supposed to be.
Gavin: You've also dabbled in figure drawing and have a collection online of works you've done. How did you take an interest in that, and how is it for you switching between that form and your sketch works?
Chris: I'm mostly known for my stylized work, but I love figure drawing. Whether you're drawing from life or from your head, the ability to draw things as you see them is an important skill to master. The principles of balance, color, and composition are the same no matter what type of work you do. I don't think anything trains you to do that quite like drawing from life.
Gavin: Considering your style, are you looking to do any kind of graphic novel or comic book in the future?
Chris: One of my dreams since I was a kid was to write a graphic novel for Fantagraphics. I love to write and I love to draw, but I still don't know if I've found the type of graphic narrative project that would satisfy my strengths in both areas. If I do ever write something, I'm sure it would be pretty dark.
Gavin: Are you looking to branch out with your work into other areas, either professionally or personally, or are you looking to keep things going as they are?
Chris: The beautiful thing about freelance is that from one day to the next you're always doing something new. I'm always open to new opportunities, as long as I can express myself creatively.
Gavin: Moving on to local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Chris: The Utah art scene has a lot of potential. The market is still pretty saturated with red rocks and religious paintings, but Salt Lake has changed a lot since I was a kid and I see a lot of fresh talent coming up. As with anything, you vote with your dollars, and if people want to see more innovative art they need to support the artists that they like. Utah has a rich tradition with the arts. My mom took me to the Utah Arts Festival every year when I was a kid. I run into amazing work all the time.
Gavin: Who are some local artists you like checking out or recommend people should look for?
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and the work they're doing to promote local art?
Chris: The Gallery Stroll is great. Anything that supports and promotes art is a good thing. For a long time, I made my money displaying work in coffee shops, tattoo parlors and bars. There are a lot of people out there looking for innovative work, and it's just a matter of getting it in front of them.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year and going into next?
Chris: I always have new projects in the works. I just finished a children's book with writer LaMar Macklin that should be out soon, and am starting a new project with Amos Sharp and Sissel Skateboards now. My hopes are that the coloring book I did for BACA will come out next year, as well.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Chris: If anyone is interested in seeing more of my work, they can check it out at my website. You can get prints of my work at The Hive Gallery in The Layton Hills Mall or on Society 6. You can follow me on Tumblr.
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