When viewing the 3D illustration work of Chris Sickels, you get the sense that you are peering into a shadowbox that encapsulates another world. It’s the attention to detail and sense that the characters staring back at you are actually telling a story that make Sickels’ work so unforgettable.
HOW first fell for the artist over 10 years ago. And since, Sickels’ Red Nose Studio has continued to give birth to some of the most interesting 3D characters imaginable. We had a chance to catch up with the artist:
1. HOW: We are big fans, Chris. I always love to ask creatives how they would describe what they do or their style to a designer living on another planet. Go for it.
Chris: I have a hard enough time verbally describing my work to designers here on earth, I guess if I were accidentally abducted by designer aliens while they were examining the patterns on my neighbor’s cows, I would tell them I build little 3D worlds and take photos of said scenes to have them reproduced on a page to grab a viewers attention for about three seconds and hopefully, lead them to read the story, article or investigate a package (it would probably be faster for me to draw a picture for them). I would then discover that these alien designers love to use illustration, new clients would be landed, and the contract clause “in perpetuity throughout the universe” would finally make sense to me.
2. HOW: So, we have to ask, how and when did you begin to discover your unique style and develop your process?
Chris: It was a slow and painful process and honestly I think I am still discovering it. I started out as a painter and the dimensional work didn’t start to surface until a few years out of school. When it did surface it wasn’t pretty, but it was fun trying. Actually, it was Amy Hawk (former art director at HOW) who was one of the first art directors to take a chance with the 3D work. It took a small village to complete the piece, special thanks to photographer Steve Paszt for helping out on that photo. I can still remember hand delivering the 4×5 transparency to Amy where she introduced me to Megan Patrick (HOW’s content director). I have been hooked on the 3D work ever since.
3. HOW: You bring up an interesting point when you describe developing your process as ‘slow and painful.’ I think a lot of creatives can relate. Did you ever want to give up? If so, how did you stay motivated?
Chris: Giving up has never really been an option. What else would I do? What else would I want to do? I absolutely love what I get to do everyday. Sure some jobs lack the magic that 5% seem to conjure up, but with every job there is always at least one aspect that gets me fired-up. Sometimes its the concept, and sometimes its one of the little props that gets built. A little chair or coffee maker can have a charm and quality to it that tells me that I am doing something right.
4. HOW: So tell us, what’s been one of the most exciting and/or complex projects?
Chris: Exciting and complex … it would have to be the book projects that I work on. There is something magical about being able to create characters and worlds that exist through an entire story and across several pages.
It’s scary starting a project that will take at least 12 months to complete (normally a single job for me has a life span within 2 weeks), and exciting to sit down and try to figure out what these lives and environments will become. Every scene in a story has its own problems, and every image seems like it could have 14 different solutions. How do I pick? How do I know what to show and not to show? This excitement and energy can really allow me to tap into solutions that only seem to surface under overwhelming pressure.
5. HOW: When you create the 3D characters and environments, where do you draw inspiration from in bringing their stories to life?
Chris: I think it comes from wanting to make things that I want to look at and hold. I love to see what others are making and have made throughout the centuries, but there is certain joy that comes from making something almost out of nothing, a sort of ownership.
I love to people watch, even folks here in my small town of Greenfield, IN. There are qualities to how people carry themselves and the clothes they wear. I also get a kick out of house-watching, driving by a garage with an open door and getting a peek on how they organize the overflow of their lives.
Then there is Patina, no not the girl I first kissed, but it’s the age and wear on objects — rust, dust, dings and scratches. That’s where the under stories are told, and it’s not just on objects, it’s also in faces. The imperfections that make everybody unique and beautiful. That’s the stuff that gets me fired up. That’s the stuff that I hope to capture and utilize in my work.