36-year-old Manchester, England-based Stanley Chow has been working as an illustrator since he left art school…fifteen years ago. While DJing at clubs, he began designing posters for them. Eventually, he joined illustration agencies like the Central Illustration agency in London and the New York agency Bernstein & Andriulli to represent him.
The first thing you'll notice about Chow's illustrations is that there's a retro feel to them. It comes from his love for old things, including music. As he tells us, “When I DJ, I still use vinyl. I don't really listen to modern music. I find most music recorded after 1977 difficult to like, and that's pretty much the core of why my work has retro leanings. I guess I'm just quite obsessed with things from the 60's and 70's.”
Of course, fellow artists and illustrators have also influenced his style including a few of our favorites. When I was a teenager Norman Rockwell was probably my main inspiration. I tried to paint like him, but badly,” he openly shares. “The simplicity of Saul Bass is something I've always tried to incorporate in my work, too. I was also an avid comic book reader when I was younger; if I'd see anything by Bill Sienkienwicz or Mike Mignola I'd buy it. But more recently, Ian Bilbey and Jonas Bergstrand have been the most inspirational to me. They are both contemporary illustrators and we share the same agents. They both have quite retro styles, too. Having seen their work first hand, it gave me the confidence to take the leap from old fashioned painting to being fully digital. When I first saw their work, I thought ‘WOW!', I can't believe I'm on the same agency as these guys. I want to be as good as they are.”
If Chow's work seems familiar, you may remember him as the one who made the coolest Mad Men posters we've ever laid eyes on. We were lucky enough to get in touch with Chow to ask him more about those eye-catching illustrations. Read that interview, below, after enjoying some of the coolest caricatures around.
What's your creative process like? How do you come up with your illustrations?
My creative process is quite simple. I usually go to bed thinking ‘Who do I want to illustrate?' as most my work is based around a caricature of somebody. I'd think of someone, wake up in the morning and find as much facial reference for that person. From then on, I'd try and capture their likeness with as few lines and shapes as possible. Once that has been achieved, I'd add a few more elements to the image to make it look like a poster.
Which programs do you use?
Now, I mainly use Adobe Illustrator. I've now bypassed the need to draw a sketch before I transfer it onto a computer. It's straight to the mouse.
What has the response to your Mad Men posters been like?
The response to the Mad Men posters has, quite frankly, been staggering. I initially had no intentions of selling them as posters at all. I just enjoyed doing caricatures of people in my spare time when I wasn't actually working on proper commissions for whatever ad agency or publishing company. I posted the Mad Men illustrations on my website, and I was receiving emails practically everyday asking if I did prints of them. So eventually I gave in and set up an on-line store. Within days of the on-line store opening, I discovered that the Mad Men posters were being blogged about left, right and center. I never expected that response at all.
Having my main website being a Tumblr site has helped very much to share my work around the web. I see it as bit like Twitter but with pictures, and if you put enough pictures that people like, you can gain many followers quite quickly. If you use social media sites wisely, like Twitter and Facebook, the word can spread quite quickly too…but I think you have to be careful not to over do it.
Which websites do you visit for inspiration?
I go on Ffffound quite a lot to look for inspiration. I think it's the site that most other artists and designers look at too. It's also one of those sites where most designers want to see their own work. You feel like you've arrived when you find you own work on Ffffound.
Grain Edit is another site that spend I many hours browsing. The artists and designers that are featured on Grain Edit are all very retro-inspired, plus it features many artists from the 60's and 70's that you've never heard of, but you know their work.
What kind of trends are you seeing in the art and design world?
I guess at the moment in design I see lots of Pseudo Electro 80's stylings mixed in with graffiti and street art with lots of flashing neon colors on black and white. Some of it is very computerized and some of it is very badly drawn. But, on the other hand, in a parallel design universe – all that is witty, simple, minimalist and retro may seem very popular at the moment, too. It's kind of like Heavy Metal vs The New Romantics. Both of these styles and trends are very relevant, but ultimately they hark back to the past in some way or another. I guess designers like nostalgia to a certain degree, it just depends which decade they choose from.
Is there any advice you'd give to aspiring illustrators?
The advice that I always give to aspiring illustrators is that you have to work hard. You can be the most gifted artist, but the harder working artist will always do better. I've always been taught 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration. You have to be flexible too, in terms of illustrating things you don't want to illustrate, 90% of the time you will be asked to do something you don't want to but it's these things that are the bread and butter of an illustrator. Once you've illustrated something you don't like, illustrate something else for yourself that you do like. This helps build a big body of work and the people who are most likely commission you, like variety as much as quality.
Thanks for the inspiring interview, Stanley!
If you love Stanley's sweet caricatures, you can now buy his prints now over at our online art store, My Modern Shop. Also, bookmark his website or Flickr page if you want to keep up with his amazing work.