Beyond Design – Chris Ayers
Chris is living proof that those cool, Hollywood stories really do come true sometimes. You’ve heard the story before; a dreamer packs all their worldly possessions into their car and drives west to Hollywood hoping to become an artistic star. And guess what? He did.
Chris has been doing artwork for as long as he can remember. One of his first entrepreneurial ventures was designing and selling an extensive line of greeting cards in grade school, which he aptly named, “Chris Cards.” Twelve years ago he studied art in college doing caricatures and other freelance gigs to help pay the bills. He now pays the bills creating character designs for big Hollywood movies such as Fantastic Four and X-men.
Chris is also a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed in 2005 and on the one year anniversary of his diagnosis he began a project of drawing an animal a day. The drawings he created his first year became a published book, The Daily Zoo: Keeping the Doctor at Bay with a Drawing a Day. (Yes, you can buy it on Amazon).
NDF: How did you get started in art?
Chris: Probably when I first picked up a pencil and realized what amazing magic this little piece of wood and graphite could do. Fortunately, my interest in art was encouraged by a supportive family and community of teachers, mentors, and colleagues along the way. I always knew that I wanted to pursue some sort of artistic career. A few years after college, after having grown up with such influences as Star Wars and Where the Wild Things Are, I moved out to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the film industry. My hope was to become one of people who help design the fantastical images up on screen that inspired me as a kid.
I got my first break in a rather unorthodox way – though in Hollywood, it seems most ways are a little unorthodox. Shortly after moving out to LA from Minneapolis I attended a high school fundraiser with a teacher friend of mine. Part of the event was a silent auction and one of the items available for bidding was a behind-the-scenes tour to “Academy-awarding winning special effects creature and make-up shop, Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.” I was familiar with their work and excited about the prospect of getting a glimpse into the world of monster-making, but the minimum bid was $100 and I had just moved into town, didn’t have a job, and needed to find an apartment. Luckily, my friend convinced me to bid on it saying, “You never know where it could lead.” I won the tour, took it a few weeks later with my family who was visiting from Minnesota, had a chance to show my portfolio to the shop owners at the end of the tour, and was called in for a few days of work the following week. Things gradually progressed from there.
NDF: What are your areas of expertise?
Chris: I specialize in concept design for the entertainment industry. While that incorporates a wide variety of subjects (characters, environments, vehicles, props, storyboards, etc.) my strongest area of interest is character design. I’ve always loved to draw animals, people, and monsters more than anything else.
NDF: What was your plan B if Hollywood hadn’t panned out?
Chris: When I moved out to LA, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if I would be able to make it in the highly competitive world of entertainment, or if it would even be a good fit for me. I wasn’t sure if I would be here for six months or six years, but after nine years I’m still enjoying the challenges and creative opportunities that it provides.
If it hadn’t panned out – or if someday it loses its appeal – I would still be doing art in some form or another, perhaps illustration or design in some other field. I’ve done a few personal projects, such as books of my artwork, and have ideas for others such as a children’s book that I’m working on.
NDF: What’s your favorite medium?
Chris: To use the old cliché, if I had to choose one artistic medium to have while stranded on a desert island, I guess it would have to be the old-fashioned pencil and paper. Simple, yet there are few things that can bring me as much entertainment and joy.
But I do like to experiment with all sorts of media because each one can produce unique and interesting results. Much of my professional work is a mix between traditional and digital media. The fast-paced world of film design requires a high level of proficiency within the digital realm.
NDF: Where do you find your inspiration?
Chris: Absolutely everywhere. Any good artist is, by nature, someone who observes the world around him or her in great detail and with much curiosity. I find inspiration in the colors, characters, places, and stories that I experience in my everyday life as well as those worlds and adventures that I can visit by picking up a magazine or book or watching a movie. And, of course, by looking at the work of fellow artists. There are so many extremely talented people out there that it is hard not to be inspired…as long as we keep our senses and minds open to possibility.
NDF: Do you have central themes in your work?
Tell us about some of your most recent work?
Chris: My professional work is whatever theme the client is looking for, but my personal work recently has been focused on one of my lifelong passions: drawing animals. In the spring of 2005 I was diagnosed with leukemia and proceeded to undergo multiple rounds of chemo and radiation treatment. On the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis, once I was feeling close to “normal” again, I started a personal project called The Daily Zoo. My goal was to draw one animal each day for a year, hoping to aid my healing and center myself after experiencing the cancer rollercoaster.
It was an extremely rewarding endeavor. I learned a lot, had quite a bit of fun, and it proved to be very therapeutic – so therapeutic, in fact, that I kept the project going past its inaugural year and have continued drawing an animal a day ever since. I’m currently in Year Four and today is Day 1,256.
Last fall, I had the opportunity to publish the first year’s worth of sketches and reflections on my cancer journey in the book The Daily Zoo: Keeping the Doctor at Bay with a Drawing a Day. It has been wonderful to be able to share my art and cancer story with a wider audience, but I’ve also been humbled at how people from many walks of life (fellow cancer survivors, doctors, kids, artists) have connected with it.
NDF? How has cancer influenced your life and work?
Chris: Cancer is a nasty, vicious beast but my experience with it has influenced my life in some positive ways too. Before cancer, I felt I was appreciative of all that life had to offer and didn’t take things for granted, but after having faced it, that sense of appreciation and gratitude has been elevated to stratospheric levels. My relationships and life experiences seem that much richer. As for my work, the whole cancer journey really made me want to focus more of my attention on my personal work. Yes, I still enjoy the professional work (and need it to pay the bills!) but in the years leading up to my diagnosis, I had become so busy professionally that I was neglecting to replenish my creative batteries by pursuing my own artistic endeavors too. That was one of the main reasons I started The Daily Zoo: to carve out room in my daily schedule to spend a little time making my own art and feeding my soul.
NDF: What bit of advice would you like to pass on to other creatives?
Chris: I would encourage them to pursue their own creative endeavors, not just professional ones. There needs to be a balance between work and play to avoid burn out. And those creative endeavors need not necessarily be in the same field. I would encourage a graphic designer with musical inclinations to tickle the ivories or pick up the oboe, a marketing specialist with a green thumb to get out and frolic with the dirt and worms, or an illustrator with an analytic side to problem solve a mathematical theorem. The outlet doesn’t matter as much, but I believe exploring and expressing our creativity it is a key ingredient to maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle.
Featured Designer: Chris Ayers
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web Site: www.chrisayersdesign.com