I have a couple of friends who like to call me “Toph” because it’s found in my full name Christopher. I have another group of friends from my art school days who all call me "Tux". My first party on campus freshman year I was wearing a tuxedo jacket. It wasn't mine. A friend gave it to me that day to put on before going to a party because as night fell, the temperature outside dropped and my dorm room was clear on the other side of the campus. She told me she had a "coat" for me and pulled out the tuxedo jacket. We arrived to the party and the first person I met asked me my name. I said "Chris". She frowned and told me her ex-boyfriend's name was also "Chris" and she had to change my name right there on the spot. She looked me up and down and decided to call me "Tux" for the obvious reason. Turns out she was the host of the party and knew every single party-goer in attendance. She introduced me all night long as her new friend "Tux". I woke the next day to learn the name stuck. Big time. While walking across campus, about 30+ people greeted me by my new name - some of them I recognized. Most I did not.
The new name stuck so hard that when my mom would call my room and ask for me by my birth-given name, all of my roommates told her nobody by that name lived there. That went on for months. I finally called her to say hello and she accused me of not attending art school at all and believed I was on the road somewhere playing drums for a rock band.
After 2 years of living with the same roommate, he asked to borrow my meal card one day. It had my legal name on it. I gave it to him and he looked down at it and then looked up at me with a puzzled expression and asked; "Your name is CHRIS?!"
Sorry. That was a really long and unnecessary answer to a really simple question.
#1 What is your primary job title?
Head of Interactive Design (employer-given title)
Director of Fun, Mayhem & Funky Grooves (self-titled)
#2 Who or what inspires you?
Anyone with a unique perspective and the aptitude and talent to achieve their vision. Any original thought or idea. Any stolen/borrowed idea that is better than the original idea. The most inspiring person to me is the kid in a third world poverty-stricken country that builds a working robot or HAM radio from parts he finds in a trash heap. Those are the geniuses of our world. The ones who can build something from nothing.
#3 What do you think about when alone in your car?
Usually I’m learning the drum parts to songs. Being in several bands and having gigs every week means learning new songs. If I’m not at home learning behind my practice kit while listening to each song, I can essentially map my way through songs by listening to them. It’s something I’ve always been able to do since I was very young. I can remember the exact drum parts to songs I haven’t heard in 30 years.
Other times I'm envisioning how an animation or a visual story of some kind should play out for a project I'm working on. It's part of my creative process - to just think about how I imagine stories to be told.
Copperplate etching. 1989. This quick little study changed me as an artist then and to this day. It was my "throw-away" piece amongst my many larger and more realist lithographs from my 4 years at The Hartford Art School. As a graduating senior I had a gallery show and wasn't going to even display this. It slipped out during the process of hanging my show and I happened to have some glass left over. So I reluctantly hung it in the corner next to the light switch above the trash barrel next to the exit. It's small at roughly 4x10". I figured nobody would notice it and it was better they focus on the much larger prints and illustrations that I spent weeks and months on. The other prints were full of hyper-realism and foreshortening. It was all very exaggerated and in your face imagery. I was the Michael Bay of fine art then. I thought it was cool and it was going to make an impact.
The opening party came and went and later that week Dennis Nolan, my amazing illustration professor wanted to see the show for himself. He and I were alone in the gallery and without saying a word he stared at each piece quietly, thoughtfully and with great patience. I followed behind him, awkwardly, in his shadow both physically and creatively, nervous about what he was thinking. Half of the work was for his classes but this felt different. He was looking at the breadth of my work as an artist up to that point.
He got to the last piece, the one pictured here. He stared at it for what seemed like an hour. He then turned to me and asked;
"Do you want to know what's the best thing you've done in the last 4 years here is?"
I excitedly pointed to one of the biggest lithographs I spent the most time on with the most outlandish hyper-realistic imagery and said;
Professor Nolan, without turning to look at what I was pointing to told me...
"No. That one."
He was pointing to the etching of the girl in the corner, above the trash barrel, next to the light switch by the exit. My throw-away piece.
I was confused, hurt, disappointed, not understanding how that could ever be possible. It was a 5 minute study I didn't plan on even drawing. I was going to throw it away!
Nolan, noticing my furrowed brow line and obvious bewilderment explained to me...
"It provokes an emotion. A mood. It's a milestone for any artist to do that. If I was flipping through a book on Rembrandt, I would expect to see this in the margins as one of his pencil studies."
In that moment, I became an artist. I discovered that being subtle is far more powerful and influential than trying to slam people over the head with a vision. My entire 4 years of art school came to a final polarizing lesson in that one tiny moment. I've never looked at anything the same since.
Thank you professor Nolan. It was the single greatest lesson I carry with me to this day.
#5 Favorite period of history?
Probably the ‘60 - ‘70s simply for how much amazing music and art came from those decades.
#6 What projects are you working on right now?
My full time job is with a small startup called Patient Discovery. We are solving many issues in the healthcare industry and I’m their visual storyteller. I’m creating animations on a daily basis for interactivity based applications as well as straight video sequences for various platforms.
Other projects include a personal project where I am developing an animated series based on a character that teaches kids (ages 3-8) how to play the drums. I have a small team from Boston to Nashville and plan to launch this year.
Other projects include various small animations for various platforms and also an opening animated sequence for a live action comedy pilot. One project I worked on that just launched is called BigHeads for iOS - a really fun animated emoji platform. A current project is a 30 second promotional animation for a trampoline park company and I had 100% creative freedom from concept, to script, voice over talent selection, music and of course storyboarding and animation.
Music projects include the existing band I’m in that gets booked for months in advance but also another band and playing with various independent singers and songwriters. In some projects I’m helping write and compose, record and mix original songs in a collaborative effort. I’m also learning to incorporate triggers and sequencers into my acoustic drum kit to expand my musical sounds and abilities live.
#7 Describe your personal style.
Ooh tough one. I’d say clean and simple yet detailed but only when necessary. I love design simplicity but with a complicated approach. Hard to explain. An image composed of 3 simple lines may not seem like much but those 3 lines should represent and show a breadth of experience, talent and attitude.
#8 What tech tools do you use in your work?
Adobe products of course: Animate CC, Audition, Premiere Pro, Photoshop to name a few. I use Sketch, Principle, Moho (Anime Studio) and Storyboarder software as well. Wacom tablets range from Intuos Pros to my 22” Cintiq.
#9 When did you know you'd found your calling?
Depends on what "calling" we’re talking about. Playing drums was something I was born with. I always understood how to play them. I took a handful of lessons when I was 10 years old and everything my teacher taught me, I already instinctively knew how to do. I repeated everything he showed me and he questioned me in regards to ever having lessons before him. After 5 lessons he told my parents "He's ready for a band."
I recall as a kid in the back seat of my parents car, I'd play "drums" by tapping my hands on my lap and my feet on the floor to the music on the radio. When we'd go through a tunnel the radio signal got lost and the music turned to static. I would keep playing - to test my sense of time. When we'd exit the tunnel the radio signal returned. Most of the time I was still exactly on time with the music. Having an internal metronome is something I was simply born with. My father was a musician who played many instruments by ear. That's something he gave to me and I intend to honor that gift for as long as I can by performing until every limb falls off.
As for art, I didn’t know I could draw until college. My high school never offered any arts programs. No music either. it was a dark time for me. Hated every single day of high school. No art, no music and...no girls. it was an all-boys school. Great.
I got accepted to The Hartford Art School after a local artist advised me to draw simple still life pencil studies and throw them in a portfolio. I had an interview with the dean of the Hartford Art School and he accepted me. I got there in the fall and saw what other artists had in their portfolios. I was blown away! I called my parents and told them I’d probably be home in 2 weeks. I wasn’t going to cut it.
I worked hard and immersed myself in the curriculum. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in a drawing class did the moment hit me; I realized I could really draw - like really draw. It was as if a switch was flipped. I remember the exact moment and what I was drawing. The professor had us all choose a real world tangible object to bring to class to use as the subject of a series realistic pencil drawings. Image one had to be as realistic as possible and each subsequent image would be an increasingly abstracted version of the same object. As I was drawing the initial image, I had an “AHA!” moment when I saw how real I could make it look. I pushed the darks and the lights. The form began taking shape. The 2 dimensional image had a very 3 dimensional feel. That’s when I knew I could do this. I graduated in 4 years at the top of my class. Felt good.
#10 What's your superpower?
The ability to say the funniest and most clever thing at exactly the right time at the right moment (appropriate or inappropriate). I’m also proud of my ability to make my wife genuinely laugh and cry at the same time. It’s one of the most difficult challengesI've faced, yet I’ve been able to do it twice. Still working on my third.
#11 Peanut Butter: Creamy or Chunky?
#12 What makes you happy?
Being on a stage playing drums. Always has and always will. I hope to die while playing on a stage. That I’d be fine with. Being a drummer means I'm always the first to arrive and last to leave due to the amount of gear. Loading in to a venue and loading out is a chore. Driving home at 3am to then unload the car and load the gear back in to the house is even more of a chore. People ask me why I do it. I always tell them the same thing: When I'm on stage and playing with a great band and the music is awesome and everybody is in sync and the crowd is dancing and cheering, it's ALL well worth it. I play for free. It's the loading and unloading of the gear they pay me for.
I also love creating something from nothing. Going from a simple thought to a tangible product that people react to emotionally is so crazy satisfying.
#13 What do you do to relax?
Nap. If there was a title like “Professional Napper”, I’d have that. I’ve perfected the art of napping. Naps for me aren’t 10 minutes of closing my eyes and never really falling asleep. Naps are under-the-covers-and-dead-asleep-for-2-hours-wake-up-confused-not-knowing-the-time-of-day -or-what-day-it-is.
Otherwise, golf is a passion I’ve had since I was 14. Love the game. You forget everything in your life to focus on that little ball for 5 hours.
Photography is also relaxing to me. It's a very personal exercise to walk around with a camera and look for that perfect angle or unique perspective to shoot from.
Practicing drums is very relaxing as well. I often practice by playing the same pattern for upwards of an hour or more. It takes a ton of concentration to maintain tempo and stick/hand control - especially 20 minutes in when your muscles and brain are screaming for you to stop. You reach a level of awareness that can only be compared to as an outer body experience. I literally will look down at my hands and feet and just watch them as if they aren’t mine. I’m not concentrating at all any more on playing the beat and it suddenly gets really peaceful and kind of weird.
#14 Your place of birth?
Boston. Love it here. Always have and always will. If I move anywhere, Nashville would be it. I know it would be Nashville and I have yet to ever visit the city. I just know from all my friends who have been. They are shocked I’ve never been. They always tell me that I belong there and would thrive as an artist.
#15 Favorite artist or art movement?
I was always a fan of Caravaggio. His paintings just made me stare at the longer than anything else. I also like Jackson Pollock but on a more modern note, Es Devlin is a visual genius.
As for an art movement I admire, I honestly love it all. Surrealism was a big one for me back when I was in art school. But then there was impressionism and I marvel at the looseness of the brush strokes and the thickness of the paint on the canvas and when you stand back, it looks like something real. That blows my mind.
Then the pop art movement came along and I was like “Yeah baby!”. Just love it all.
What I like least probably falls into conceptual art. When I was in my senior year of art school there was a student majoring in Experimental Studio. I always regarded that class as the area of study artists went to die. I know that sound mean and unfair but this one dude spent most of his year with 100 cinder blocks. He built various abstract sculptures with them on the campus grounds outside the art school. He would set them up by stacking them in random ways as if they were giant Legos. Every time I walked by these ugly monstrosities I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell he was going to do after he graduates. There are no careers for cinder block artists - unless you go into construction…???
#16 Share a funny moment from your career?
There was an animated series on ABC’s Saturday Morning segment that ran for 3 years called Science Court. It was an education show that taught kids the laws of science in a courtroom setting. I was the art director and there were a lot of characters. I did almost all of the character designs and each one had to be approved by the network.
All of them were immediately approved except for one: Alison Kremple, Prosecuting Attorney. I designed her head to resemble a frog and gave her green skin. ABC liked the design but wanted to change the skin from green to orange. I did not. In fact I was adamant that her skin remain green. It’s how I designed her and it was to remain that way.
I was young. I had a little too much ego at that point in time.
There were many emails back and forth and even a conference call. I held my ground and argued my case.
During that week of contention, me and the Animation Director went to lunch. He drove and I vented in his ear about how this character should be green and that making her orange was stupid and will look bad.
We arrived at the pizza place we loved to have lunch at, got out of the car and shut the doors. He stopped and looked at me over the roof of the car and said, “When the worst part of your job is whether or not a character looks too much like a frog, that’s not such a bad day”.
It was like a switch got flipped for me. I got quiet for the rest of lunch and just thought about how childish and stupid I was acting. We got back to the studio, I changed the character from green to orange and sent it to the network. Approved immediately! I look back on that character and couldn’t imagine her being green now.
#17 Color of the car you drive?
Blackberry Pearl. Seriously. It’s like a deep dark purple with sparkle flakes. But at the end of the day, I drive a purple car.
#18 Any new skills you'd like to learn?
I’m always learning something new. I love that and it keeps me young and relevant - at least in my own mind. Right now, learning how to record and compose music for publishing but more-so for sampling and triggering live. Just too much fun to be able to play a killer beat on an acoustic drum set while triggering a horn or string section that plays with you. The look on the audience’s face is priceless.
#19 How do you get your news?
The web or my phone (same thing I guess). I have my morning phone alarm set to not play a ringtone or music but rather a female voice who gently briefs me on the latest headlines. If there's a particular story that I find intriguing, I'll google it or look it up on my CNN app. I watch the local televised newscast but mostly because I'm friends with the news anchor and it's always fun to keep up with her in that one-sided way.
I don't have a regular go-to schedule on news consumption. You could call my condition NDD (News Deficit Disorder). I'll start with the intention of learning the latest news stories but then quickly trip down a rabbit hole of drum videos or animation tutorials or a compilation of Russian dash-cam videos featuring the worst drivers in the world. We’re all on a big giant ball hurling through space at thousands of miles per hour for a limited amount of time. I’d rather listen to music or learn something cool than watch the news.
#20 Advice to other creatives?
Trust your instincts. Listen to others. Learn from others. But then retreat within yourself and start again. Take everything you know, go back to the beginning and take a left turn. Head straight down that path and you’ll find something unique and original. That’s where I want to be.