Chris Koehler is an illustrator based in San Francisco. He teaches in the illustration department at California College of the Arts and regularly shows in galleries. He has done work for Google, Coca Cola, MTV, Kenneth Cole and The NFL, among many others. He can often be found hunched over a sketchbook in a coffee shop or in his lavish mountain studio chalet making magic happen.
Talking a Good Game
If you have a degree in what field is it? I have a BFA in illustration from California College of Arts and Crafts, now California College of the Arts.
Have you always been able to draw or was it a skill you learned in college? I’ve always loved drawing; it’s something I’m still learning and hopefully will continue to learn. College taught me to talk a good game though.
What was your first paid assignment? I was hired to do window illustrations for a deli—one of a girl in a bikini drinking coffee while sitting in a giant cup of coffee (all set in a tropical sci-fi setting) and one of a samurai cutting up a giant sandwich. My first real job was doing a POP ad for Hangar One Vodka. My career is based around scoring free food and drink.
Which illustrator (or fine artist) do you most admire? Graffiti inspires me more than anything else these days, so... Barry McGee, Roid, Revok, Roa, and Blu are some of my favorite writers putting in work right now. John Hersey and Barron Storey are my illustrator role models.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an illustrator? Besides illustration, Web design has been good to me. But my dream job is to be a butcher; I find it relaxing in a non-psychotic way. Otherwise I’d work as a cashier at Walgreen’s for the employee discount.
From where do your best ideas originate? Nature and natural forms are an unending source of ideas. I’ll usually start with a rough kernel of an idea and let it bounce around in my mind, like a rock tumbler. I get drawing when it makes sense as an image or the deadline hits.
How do you overcome a creative block? When I’m blocked I search online for images relating to a broad idea to get beyond my own perceptions and mental compositions. Besides that, I break up work with lots of snacking and constant movie watching.
In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new assignment? Lucky.
Do you have a personal philosophy? Talent is nothing without work ethic; work is pointless without love.
Do you have creative pursuits other than illustration? I produce and rhyme in a hip hop group. I also dig Web design and typography, and my wife has a clothing company, Lotfi, and I’m always on call.
What music are you listening to right now? Besides your basic elitist hipster fare I’ve been listening to ’50s and ’60s girl groups.
What’s your favorite quote? “Live every week like it’s shark week.”—Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), 30 Rock
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? It can take time to get a career going, so don’t sweat it if you aren’t successful immediately. Perseverance is far more important than skill (although perseverance will definitely increase skill). Constantly push yourself to be better and to try new techniques and approaches in your work. Also, never forget that being an illustrator comes from a place of passion; if you don’t enjoy what you do, you might as well be in finance.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? The most important thing is to learn how to see things from your own perspective. Developing your own “authentic voice” (to quote illustrator Caitlin Kuhwald) is the most important thing; a style will flow naturally from that.