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An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

Everything about Chris Turnham is relaxing. He’s a tall, lean man who has a very soft voice. He’s very polite, quick to laugh, and extremely inviting. We met up with him one Sunday afternoon at his Los Feliz apartment, welcomed in to the smell of something sweet: he had made brownies on the occasion of our coming over.

Turnham’s space is a delightful Spanish colonial spot in the corner of a very small apartment complex. It’s super clean and bright and almost as if he lives in a dream space, light wood floors and decorations that seem to be out of Dwell magazine: it’s a modern treat. Turnham is a new Angeleno, only hitting the one and half year mark very recently. He’s a native Portlander who relocated as a means of evolution, to take the steps toward the next stage of his career: being an artist.

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

“I went to college in Seattle,” he began. “Like a lot of high school boys, when I was in high school I wanted to work in video games. I loved art but I wanted to do 3D graphics for games. I went to this really small school in Seattle, where that was their focus: to get kids to learn a very special thing–then get them out to the gaming industry.”

Seattle is the perfect place for pursuing gaming, too: “The way Los Angeles is about movies, Seattle is about technology and computers.” School taught him a lot necessary tools for creating but also exposed him to different means of expression. “Film was one of them for me,” he said. “I saw a lot of concept work for movies–and animated movies, especially. It was there that I decided that I really wanted to do illustration more than I wanted to do 3D, computer stuff.”

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

He still knew how to do all the technical “3D stuff,” which led to him working in games after graduating. He worked in the gaming industry for about four years in Seattle. “While I was doing that, I was making my own illustration outside work,” he said. “That’s really what my passion was for. I knew I didn’t want to stay in games forever because, when I was working in games, I was working on 3D stuff that I wasn’t really focused on.”

“At the time I was living with a good friend of mine, Kevin Dart, who I worked with and went to school with,” he explained. “He also does illustration and we decided to start doing our illustration work together and see if we can sell it. We do all of our work digitally but we thought we could do really nice prints and sell it to people.”

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

The two took their work to a comic convention in Seattle one year to sell their art, which is when things really sparked for them. Their work was extremely well received and, as Bobby chimed in while photographing the space, “It was huge.”

“We met a lot of people who worked in the animation industry because they came to that convention. Through that contact, I got my first animation job. From Seattle, I moved back to Portland and got a job at this company called Laika. They make stop motion animated movies: they made Coraline and Paranorman, which comes out in August. I worked on both of those films, as an illustrator.”

Chris did 2D illustrations, “designing the sets and backgrounds and props” for the movies in addition to visual development and promotional items. “At the same time, me and Kevin were still selling our artwork online and we started doing more conventions,” he said. “For the last six years or so, we’ve been going down to San Diego for Comic Con and selling there.”

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

Kevin eventually moved down to Los Angeles and handled the business as Chris was too busy with his animation work. “I had no time to do my own stuff because I was working so much,” he said “Then, after three years of being at Laika, I decided that I wanted to leave to pursue making art for myself full time. And, also, to make freelance artwork.” He was also getting tired of Portland and needed a change: he was living in his hometown, which he says “is a great town–but it’s very small.”

He weighed both New York and Los Angeles but opted for Los Angeles since he knew lots of people here, knew that there is a strong animation industry, and knew that there’d be plenty of sun, which is a welcome change from the rains of Portland.  “Now I just do freelance illustration work and work a lot on my own artwork, which is nice. I mean, my savings account is depleting steadily and at some point I might have to get a full time job. But, for right now, I’ve been here for almost a year and a half and I’ve been making it work.”

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

Chris enjoys Los Angeles but, like most newcomers, he wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. “You always see different parts of LA and sometimes you see really sketchy parts or really ugly parts of LA, which makes me think, ‘Uhh: I could never live there.’” he said. “But, then I see places like Los Feliz or Hollywood or West Hollywood and think, ‘Oh, wow: it’s actually very pretty in LA.’ Now that I’ve been here for a year and a half, I realized that it is truly a beautiful city–you just have to seek out those pretty spots.”

As far as art in Los Angeles goes, there are as many art scenes as there are streets in the city. “To Portland, there’s almost no comparison,” he says. “There are great artists in Portland and it’s so cheap to live up there as a freelance artist: why not live in Portland? But, you don’t really feel like there’s a huge sense of ambition when you are there: there’s not a buzz. In LA, everyone moved here to do something and they’re trying their hardest to do it. You can feed off of that energy whereas when you live in Portland there’s not a ton of that energy to feed off of.”

“I definitely feel like there’s a lot more ambition in LA. There’s just a wider variety. Yesterday, I went to the Brewery, where they were having an art walk. I hadn’t been there yet and I wanted to check it out and see all the art and the spaces. I couldn’t believe the variety: one guy was taking these portraits of rock stars in one studio and then in another studio you had a woman who is creating little paper cutout gift cards. There’s this huge range of art in LA. It’s really nice because you can always find someone who you admire.”

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

Although his style has not changed, what he focuses on in his art has changed as a result of being in Los Angeles–even if he hasn’t noticed it. “When you live in the Northwest, it’s grey outside all the time. I guess you are not conscious of that when you’re painting but, of course, it has some influence in how you paint and the colors you use,” he explained. “Since, I moved to LA, I’ve been more inspired by the nature and the architecture of the city and surrounding area than when I lived in the Northwest . That’s because A.) you can go out and explore the city any time of year; and B.) the architecture, even from walking around a neighborhood, makes you wonder where all these houses came from. They all have a different style to them: you don’t really see that as much living in the Northwest.”

“I’m more inspired by what is in my immediate setting than I ever was living in the Northwest,” he said. “I think my art reflects that because the stuff I used to draw were these old timey, exotic locales. Now I find myself drawing things I see in my everyday life. I take more photos, too: I’m more inspired to do photography here. Creatively, LA makes me want to get out and see things.”

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

Working for himself, he’s gotten to let loose a bit. In animation, he had to constantly focus on details, perfecting even the smallest things to be exact. Now, he can be a little more freeform, not becoming preoccupied in specifics. “When I was working in animation, I felt like I was losing my own identity as I was working because I didn’t have any time for my own artwork. You’re constantly painting in different styles, too. At the end of the day, you wonder what happened to your personal style: there’s no outlet for that. You have to spend a week painting a whole scene or two weeks painting just one image–and there are constant revisions to it. It’s kind of a headache after a while. In art, who cares if the lights aren’t perfect? Who cares if this prop isn’t drawn correctly? It doesn’t matter!”

“When I left, my goal was to be more simple with my artwork and to be more graphic,” Chris explained. “I think that’s another way my art has changed, definitely. I also decided to learn how to screen print, which totally affects how I paint my art because you have to paint for that technique. In digital art in Photoshop, it’s unlimited: you can do whatever you want.”

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

Chris’ artistic life has most definitely evolved, maturing while simultaneously revealing what he actually wants to do. He’s gone from video games to animation to art, each teaching him something new. But, what’s next? “I want to get into the fine art world, which I have no clue about. And, who knows when that will happen?” he says, alluding to fine art printmaking. “I wouldn’t mind staying in LA, either.”

“My dream is to have a small house here and have a studio in the back that has a screen print setup in it,” he continues. “You could do that in LA, no problem, depending on what neighborhood, which can make it expensive. I would love to be able to just do that and somehow be able to make a living like that, still doing cool editorial projects, still working with people because I do like doing production work and editorial work. It’s just the grind of working on a feature film for two, two and a half years is not something I’m sure I could ever do again. As long as it’s small projects, it works for me. Like that Persol commercial: it only took us a month to do. It was this crazy, jam packed time–but it was only a month. I wouldn’t mind doing more projects like that.”

For more on Chris, check out his website and give him a follow on Twitter. And, for more on Chris and Kevin Dart’s work as Fleet Street Scandal, check out their website.

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

An Artist Evolving: An Interview With Chris Turnham

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