The DART Interview: Chris Sharp

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday May 15, 2019

Peggy Roalf: Which came first, the brush or the pen?  

CS: I guess it would be the brush. When I was a freshman, I had an instructor who had us keep a sketchbook for painting watercolors only – under no circumstances was drawing allowed! That class started my life-long interest in painting the world around me.

PR: Where do you live and how does that place contribute to your creative work? 

CS: I live on the west side of Manhattan but I’ve had office space over the years in the Flatiron district and in the West Village. I like to ride my bike along the Hudson River to and from work. The exercise helps me unwind, clear my head and reflect on the assignments I’m working on. I live not far from the MOMA so I often pop in for inspiration. Of course, living in a large city means you get to meet lots of people from diverse walks of life—that can help the creative process.  

PR: Please describe your work space and how it contributes to the illustrator’s basic condition of working alone. 

CS: As of the 1st of May my working space is in transition. I am just finishing converting a sunny little second bedroom into a workspace. In Bedford Stuyvesant I have a work space in a lovely wood-paneled parlor of a brownstone with a fireplace and a garden to boot. I like to work alone and get a lot done when I do, so the sunny second bedroom is ideal but I sometimes like being around other people, so the shared office in the townhouse also has its advantages. I guess I am lucky to have choices!

PR: Do you keep a sketchbook? If yes, how does that contribute to your work process?

CS: I love working in sketchbooks. I use them as a visual diary and a place where I can paint without worrying about the outcome. In the past to keep things fresh I would work on assignments in a sketchbook. Sketchbooks have also have helped me develop my various illustration styles.

PR: I understand, from a previous encounter, that you are somewhat addicted to travel…please tell the readers more about this.

CS: Yes, I really like traveling. I probably should have minored in college as a pilot or flight attendant but in all seriousness, I like seeing the world and recording it in my sketchbooks or on postcards that I paint. I have lots of travel logs now and every time I look at them I remember the place more vividly then I do from photographs. I also occasionally get work or frame and sell paintings from my travel sketchbooks. 

PR: Do you use photographic reference materials very much? If yes, how do you avoid the pitfalls that can arise when working from reference?

CS: I use photo reference a lot and have a big picture collection. I try to mix n’ match the reference on a painting or use just a part of the photograph. The biggest problem with photo reference is that it’s easy for the painting to look flat. Painting from life and especially live models helps remind me of depth/dimension and weight of the object/person being represented.   

PR: What kind of breaks do you take when working to a deadline?

CS: I usually have to walk away for a bit to collect my thoughts. Exercise also definitely helps.

PR: Do you see a lot of museum and gallery shows?What’s the best takeaway from seeing art shows rather than looking at books and magazines?

CS: I don’t see as much as I should especially since I live in New York City and there’s always so much art on view. It’s always so refreshing to see art in its actual size, shapes and colors. It’s also interesting to see how others respond to artwork and indeed meet the artists themselves at gallery openings.

PR: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it?

CS: That’s a hard question to answer. If I’m nervous about an assignment I have the tendency to overwork a piece. But, as mentioned, I try to approach an assignment as if working in a sketchbook, without overthinking it and then it just seems to work. 

PR: What are some of your creative inspirations—artists, music, literature, culture in general—that you draw from in your work?

CS: I think the biggest inspiration that I keep going back to is an art book, August Macke Die Tunisreise. It’s a collection of sketches and watercolor painted in Tunis by the artist August Macke. I have loads of books but strongest for me is The White Hotel by D.M. Thomas; it’s a great surreal and visual read. I try to see as much as I can to get inspired and New York has a lot. Last weekend I went to see David Godlistalk about his photography book, History is Made at Night. Photographs 1976 – 1979. He shot the early NYC punk scene at night. I’ve been making nighttime paintings so I really enjoyed the light in his B&W photos, which has inspired me for my next creation.

PR: If you could live and work anywhere, where would that be—and why? 

CS: I would definitely live in a city. I’m not sure which one as every place has its pros and cons. In the past I have lived in Oslo but have chosen to settle for now in New York. They are both great places to live and work, but for different reasons. I guess London would be another great place to live because it has great (and free!) museums and is a major multicultural city very close to Continental Europe.   

PR: What would be your dream job—the one thing you have always hoped for in an assignment? 

CS: Getting paid to travel and paint!  

Chris Sharp is a New York City based illustrator specializing in images for advertising, design, publishing and editorial clients.  He works in several different styles including animation. Ed. note: It must be stated that he is a long-time subscriber and friend of DART: Design Arts Daily. dart-interview



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