Childhood memories and stories are two things we can never let go of. Giving form to characters and shape to fairytale stories, US illustrator Chris Beatrice is the hand behind those wondrous drawings that we read instead of the words themselves. He talks to us about his style and shares his journey.
CG: We’ve all probably read books that had covers designed by you. What lead to your fascination for fairytales and fictitious characters?
Chris: Really just reading stories as a kid and having them read to me. I still like illustrated stories, even if the only illustration is the cover, because you get a blend of the artist’s vision and your own, both inspired by the actual story. It’s amazing how a great book cover can actually make a mediocre book a bit more enjoyable, because you get some personal identification with the characters and environments in the book.
With children’s picture books we go a step further and really try to tell the story with the pictures, often adding elements that don’t literally appear in the text, or which hit you more viscerally than the corresponding words.
CG: What excites you most about what you do? What homework and brainstorming exercises do you carry out before having a fair idea of what you wish to execute?
Chris: Part of me loves the science of light, form, anatomy, etc. – just using my brain to make something real and tangible on a 2D surface, making real, believable creatures out of a bunch of little marks. The other part that’s fascinating is learning about history, costume, animals, architecture, whatever. I want my pictures to be completely sound in terms of historical accuracy, even if 99% of the audience wouldn’t know the difference. There is so much misinformation out there that I at least want my stuff to be reliable.
I also love the feeling of going on a somewhat open ended journey. I never know 100% what I am going to get. I know the kind of feeling I want to evoke, and the story that the picture needs to tell, but it’s not always clear how that’s going to happen. To call it trial and error would be misleading, but it really is like you just need to jump into the picture, try stuff, and respond to what’s happening, what’s working and not working, as well as the entirely new things that happen magically and you’re lucky just to see them and be able to keep them.
CG: The stories that you’ve portrayed are famous not just in USA, but worldwide. How do your illustrations and designs cater to the world audience? What elements do you use in order to relate your designs to them?
Chris: I’ve noticed that my work seems to resonate equally in the U.S. and Europe at least. Part of that is as I draw a lot from European folk tales, which is really my favorite source of inspiration. I’m not as into fantasy as I used to be, and though I love reading comics I don’t really want to make them. So my work comes across as kind of classic.
I just do pictures that I would want to see when reading these stories. But I do very much respect the integrity of different cultures and am extremely sensitive to not simplifying or caricaturing them. If I’m doing an Indian folk tale you can bet I’m going to find out how people in India, at the time and place the story is set, dress, wear their hair, etc., right down to the professions of the characters, their economic status, and so on.
CG: What has your experience been with the advertising industry?
Chris: Believe it or not advertising is some of my favorite work to do. The process is fast and dynamic, and most importantly perhaps, I feel like I am making an image that is going to be around for a long time, and seen by a lot of eyes. We try things, see what works, and if it doesn’t work we talk about exactly why. Often with books, authors think the image is just supposed to literally represent part of the story, but if that’s the case, it’s really not adding anything. Sometimes it’s hard for certain authors to really home in on what a ‘picture’ should be saying.
CG: Apart from book covers, gaming and packaging designs, how do you plan to take your skill forward into other dimensions? What is your dream project that’s still waiting to happen?
Chris: That’s a tough one! Maurice’s Valises kind of is my dream project. As a commercial artist there is a wide range of possibilities, from being a small part of a huge team (e.g. a concept artist on an animated movie), to being half of a small team (e.g. illustrating a book). I’ve been doing the latter for quite a while now, but at some point I will probably drift back to a larger more collaborative venue. It’s kind of impossible to mix those two – you can’t, for example, animate a feature film by yourself, and you can’t use a huge team to illustrate a picture book.
Published in Issue 24
Illustration For Advertising Special! Gone are the days when Illustrations would take a back seat. Now, they are becoming more proactive and are evolving the way we communicate. This time, Creative Gaga focuses on how the advertising world is opening its doors to this exciting form of design. Featuring renowned Illustrators like Chris Beatrice, Nasheet Shadani, Vijay Kumar, Gabriel Mareno and much more, this issue promises to leave no page unturned!
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