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Christian Robinson and his Illustrated Art of Fun !

August 28, 2014

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Christian Robinson is a talented illustrator of picture books, presently living and working in San Francisco. In 2008 he earned a BFA in Character Animation at the California Institute of the Arts. He has since worked with Pixar Animation Studios and the Sesame Street Workshop, to name but two amazing companies. I caught up with him to ask him more about his work and website ‘ The Art of Fun’.

Hi Christian, can you tell me a little about how you became an illustrator and some of your earliest memories of drawing ?

Hi Craig, Thanks for asking these questions! I take your or anyone’s interest as a great compliment. Long story short: I’d say I got to a place where I could make a living as an illustrator by being very very lucky ! Of course I subscribe to the definition of luck being when preparation meets opportunity. It feels as if I’ve been preparing my whole life, by always creating and by sharing my work. It was a blog I kept that caught Steven Malk’s eye, who is now my agent and set me on this course as an illustrator of picture books.

Some of my earliest memories of drawing are connected to the films and animations I watched growing up. I remember seeing a movie like Jurassic Park, Beetlejuice or The Lion King and immediately after racing to my sketch book to document and retell the story in my own drawings. Basically I think I did what most kids do, make little comics and design super heroes and monsters, oh and dinosaurs! I was… am obsessed with dinosaurs.

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Your style of artwork feels so fresh and joyful with a mix of paper cut outs from time to time. How did you develop your personal style and were you influenced by any other artists work on the way to finding your own personal way of working ? (you must end up smiling a lot whilst at work) : )

Wow! Thanks! Quentin Blake the amazing illustrator of so many books for children like Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG (Roald Dahl classics) said that an illustrator’s style is almost like their handwriting. Meaning that it should be something that flows naturally, one doesn’t have to think too hard on how they developed their own penmanship. I subscribe to that thought, but also admit that I’m a bit of a sponge and my work is influenced and inspired by so many illustrators and painters that I love. Illustrators like Ezra jack Keats and Abner Graboff inspire me to play with collage and cut outs.  Designers like Paul Rand and Bruno Munari inspire me to keep things simple and have fun. Artist like Picasso and Mattise push me to explore color and shapes. I could keep going on and on.

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I notice that you have worked for some amazing places in your career already like Pixar Animation Studios and the Sesame Street Workshop. Can you tell me a little about what it felt like to work within these famous environments, and what were the highlights for you ?

It felt incredible !  I think most creative people have the fear of creating something no one will like or worse, no one will care about. Having a commercially successful team of artists accept your work is validating and can feel amazing. Highlights would be the people I met along the way. During my internship at Pixar I had an incredible mentor Ben Butcher, who encouraged me to trust in my own creative voice. Ben also shared his love of picture books with me and turned me on to the possibility of becoming a picture book illustrator.

If you could choose five illustrator’s work to take to a desert island with you, who might they be ?
Roger Duvosin, Abner Graboff, Leo Lionni, Ezra Jack Keats and Beatrice Alemanga.
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I notice from your beautiful books on Josephine Baker / Florence Mills and your posters and pamphlets for Precious and the LGBT Teens and bullying campaigns, that you have become, (in a small way), an illustrator who covers Black rights and minority group issues. I wondered how these wonderful opportunities came your way, and whether you are now getting a name for yourself for creating a greater awareness around Black and minority culture concerns ?

Well I’m very fortunate in that I have a certain amount of freedom to choose what sort of projects I work on. Naturally I gravitate toward sharing stories that I’m passionate about and resonate. It’s my hope that whatever I create it has a positive effect. I don’t really know how to get into how each project came along in a brief way 🙂

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I sadly haven’t had the chance to read any of your books but from the look of these I want to thank you for the great work you’re doing to highlight these issues. There aren’t many illustrators doing this and I feel it’s a fab way to work and be able to educate people at the same time.

Thank you! Honestly I still pinch myself from time to time just to make sure I’m not dreaming. I love being able to do the work I do. It’s unfortunate that my work might stand out because it features a certain amount of diversity and tackles uneasy topics. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to imagine a day when there isn’t a diversity gap in books for children, to see more kids of different colors on the covers of bestselling books.

I quite agree Christian, let’s hope the work you’re doing here will help to speed that transition along.

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I particularly love the Gaston book and they way that you’ve included sketches on your blog.. it’s great to see a behind-the-scenes view, of how different artists like yourself, go about creating their books. Can you tell me a little about how you prepared for this book, in terms of where do you start sketching and gaining ideas ? Do you sketch from real life, photos or your imagination ? Does the authors story create the pictures for you when you first read through it ?

I like to do my research. I’d describe the start as cultivating curiosity for the characters and setting in the story. I go to the library and absorb all the visuals and facts that will influence and inspire the work. Then I start sketching, sometimes rough concepts; other times, more polished work. I basically work on creating enough art to share my vision with the art director and editor. Then layout sketches — I like to use Post-it [notes]. These are great, because I can easily switch out sketches that aren’t working. Then, once approved by the editor and art director, I create images in Photoshop, tying down shapes and colors. Then, final art collage and acrylic.

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These sketches and collages are fab, they have such a feeling of vitality and cheeky fun about them.
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Which of your books to date have you most / least enjoyed creating and why ?

For some reason I almost want to reject this question 🙂 I think it’s like asking a parent what child is their favorite and why. I will say it takes a team to make a book, and often the experience is more enjoyable based on how well you get along with the art director and editor. Sometimes there is a shared vision, and other times it takes a bit of push and a pull to either have your point of view come through or to compromise with theirs. Either way the goal is the same, to make the best book as possible.

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I love the range of cards you have created for Red Cap Cards and wondered whether you have any other new products in the pipeline, or things that you’d like to do for yourself that may provide further challenges to yourself ?

Well it’s a goal to author and illustrate a book of my own, sometime in the future. I think a part of me is ok taking my time though and waiting to share a story that I really believe in. Also just as it’s taken me a while to gain confidence in my voice as a visual storyteller, I think it might also take some time when using words to tell a story too.

We will look forward to that day Christian !

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Here’s another great interview about Christian from 2012 from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

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If you’re on instagram, I would suggest checking out Christian’s profile where he shares a lot of his most recent work, under the profile name of washing_dishes !

Fabulously colourful and exciting work Christian, keep it up and it will guarantee to keep us smiling too. Many thanks for your contributions, do please keep us posted re your new books and future illustrations.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. jamie permalink
    August 29, 2014 10:02 pm

    Fantastic! A joy to see more from this lovely chap!

    • August 30, 2014 9:41 am

      Cheers Jamie, I’m sure Christian will appreciate your comment too.

  2. September 5, 2016 10:43 pm

    Absolutely wonderful! I just noticed some of Christian’s images from this article over on Pinterest, just had to check out the link. Thank you — I now have a new favorite illustrator. 🙂

    • September 6, 2016 7:41 am

      And hopefully also a place to find new favourites too lol Thanks Jean and welcome to my blog.

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