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Illustrator Christopher Nielsen's, weathered surfaces take inspiration from vintage design. Tin toys, Mexican wrestlers, Route 66, Matchbox cars, medical charts and Indian goddesses all jostle for attention among the flotsam and jetsam in his flip-top head; these scratchy retro images have been adopted by wineries, zoos, radio stations and fish mongers around the globe.

Christopher toils by lamplight in a warehouse studio in Surry Hills, Sydney surrounded by Pez dispensers, Chinese masks and several other odd illustrators. His client list is long and includes the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Plansponsor, DDB Advertising, MMB Advertising, ABC Radio, Taronga Zoo, Reader's Digest, the Sydney Morning Herald...and many more, and his work has been acknowledged by Communication Arts, Lüerzer's Archive, Society of Illustrators New York and American Illustration.

01.17.12

A Scribble on A Scrap of Paper

If you have a degree in what field is it? I have a BA in liberal studies which was basically communications, literary studies, creative writing, philosophy etc. Nothing at all to do with drawing but a lot to do with ideas. It helps with the conceptual jobs.

Have you always been able to draw or was it a skill you learned in college? From the get go I was a compulsive drawer as a child and did portraits of the clientele as their perms set in my mum's hair salon. I had no classical training.

What was your first paid assignment? I was a teenage cartoonist (sounds like a horror flick) for the local newspaper there for a while but somehow I wanted to produce slicker images. Eventually I discovered illustration as a career, and my first real gig was for the Rolling Stone Australia Yearbook accompanying a John Birmingham short story entitled “The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco.” Still waiting on a second call Rolling Stone if you’re listening.

Which illustrator (or fine artist) do you most admire? One of the most important moments in my artistic life was coming across the American Illustration Annual #13 with INCREDIBLE cover art by Christian Northeast whilst I was working in an art shop. It completely floored me and Christian’s work has been a huge influence ever since. The wit, intelligence and artistry of illustrators like Jeffrey Fisher, Brian Cronin, Gary Baseman and Calef Brown absolutely shaped my world when I was starting out.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an illustrator? Maybe a writer. Although after reading this you may advise against it.

From where do your best ideas originate? Gee if I could nail that down I’d be a happy sailor. Maybe it’s like Keef Richards’s theory about just being a receiver and making sure you keep your antennae out there to accept the messages being transmitted.

How do you overcome a creative block? If a deadline permits, reading a brief and sleeping on it to let your subconscious do the hard yards is helpful. Always think with a pencil in your hand (NOT scrolling through Google images); sometimes even a scribble on a scrap of paper can be the spark.

In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new assignment. Anaphylactic.

Do you have a personal philosophy? Not really. I try to trust my gut feelings and not intellectualize things to the point where they lose all their mystery and beauty. Wonder is sexier than comprehension.

Do you have creative pursuits other than illustration? I’m in a band called The Ramalamas.

What music are you listening to right now? Rough mixes for our second album.

What's your favorite quote? “The more you think the more you stink.” —Neil Young

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Make your work about you. Even if it’s for some dry article about self-managed superannuation funds.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? That developing a distinctive, individual voice is your creative currency. Once you know what you’re selling and how to sell it, people will start buying it.