Chris Conlin resume reads like a designer's dream.
He's won Best Music Video from the Tokyo International Short Film Festival, Bike of Year from Vital MTB, been featured in the Los Angeles Society of Illustrators annual and the New York Society of Illustrators and we've been lucky enough to have collaborated with him on graphic design.
When the idea came up to have a custom painted Catalyst, we thought he would be the perfect artist for his fresh look and illustration skills.
We wanted someone who can think outside the box, so we let Chris run wild with his brushes. The only box we put him in was we wanted something hinting at California's Highway One. Anyone who loves moto knows Highway One as a rider's dream of scenery and twists.
We are excited to share our interview with Chris Conlin and hope you enjoy learning about his influences and more about this particular custom project.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your career journey.
I was born in Leadville, Colorado. At 10,000 feet it is equally harsh and beautiful. A perfect place to instill character and a do-it-yourself attitude. I spent a lot of time outdoors being an adrenaline junky on skis, mountain bikes and whitewater kayaking and was very fortunate to have grown up in such a wild environment. That sense of independence has stayed with me all my life and played a large role in defining my art career. In 2001, I moved to San Francisco to study illustration at the Academy of Art University and discovered that while I might have been considered a good artist in my little home town, here I was mediocre at best. I built a solid portfolio based on a simple work ethic: every assignment I complete needs to be my personal best. Of course it did not always end up that way but that specific goal was all I needed to produce work worthy of the time I put into it. I spent a couple years as a bike mechanic and freelance illustrator after graduation before landing a graphic design internship at Specialized Bicycles which turned into a full-time position that exceeded my personal expectations as an artist and provided a wealth of experience on many levels.
Since then I have expanded out independently and today I am regularly working on a wide variety of projects including illustration, graphic design, logos and branding, motion graphics, sound design, animation, 3D modeling, video editing and lidar imaging. I also co-created a small production company with a long time friend and fellow artist called "Sharp Tools Productions" which allows us to exercise all of our creative potential in a collaborative manner. No two days are even remotely alike, which is good since monotony is one of my biggest fears.
What type of art gets you excited and motivates you to drop everything and start creating?
I have always had a sincere appreciation for film. Every type of art imaginable can be encapsulated in film. Writing, composing, animating, painting, performing, acting, lighting, literally everything. When all of these elements are executed and coordinated flawlessly, there is a timeless quality to it that can't be beat. The idea that hundreds of artists who dedicate their entire lives to a respective trade can come together and create something that is wholly impossible by any one individual is very inspiring.
How do you evolve your craft, learn new techniques, or adapt new styles to your current process or style?
This is actually one of the cornerstones of my career. I am rarely content with a single process and am always driven by the idea of new possibilities. For me, the most important thing to remember when learning a new technique is that gaining experience is all that matters. I can spend 20 hours creating something and then just straight up throw it in the trash without blinking an eye because I know I have acquired the experience necessary to apply that new skill-set to any project I work on in the future. Some of my decisions for developing a new technique or craft are very pragmatic.
For instance, I started doing more digital illustration because it is easier to make edits if a client wants a different composition or color scheme. I started learning motion graphics partly to better align with growing demand and expectation for video content over static graphic design layouts. I started learning sound design to accompany my motion graphics. So the first part is recognizing the need relative to my personal interests, bandwidth and current tools at my disposal. The second part is putting in the work to get up to speed with that new process. For example, I use After Effects for the bulk of my motion graphics work. The degree of creative freedom you have with that program is directly related to how well you know how to use it. Getting to that point, technically is pretty straight forward: lots of YouTube tutorials.
Are there any artists/designers that have mentored you, inspired you or anyone that you've modeled your game after?
Oh man, there are many artists who have, and continue to inspire me. Ralph Steadman for his combination of precision and chaos and the satirical, defiant nature of his pieces. William Bouguereau's ability to replicate subtle temperatures in skin tones is insane. Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendak, J.C. Leindecker. M.C. Escher, and on and on. Artists currently producing work who I admire include Audrey Kawasaki's flawless line quality. Anna Park's super energetic cartoonish characters that somehow have photorealistic shading. Nigel Sussman's orthographic illustrations. Nychos' can control and anatomically dialed street art. Mona Coran's massive murals (also a mentor). Mark Tennant's ability to convey light and volume with the most minimal number of brush strokes. Beeple, for absolutely shattering what it means to be an artist in the 21st century. As far as mentors are concerned, I believe you can learn something from everyone and consider just about every artist I have had the privilege to work with to be a mentor.
Tell us about the concept, process and execution of your latest painted helmet design.
The concept for this helmet is Highway One and is painted purely by hand with brush and acrylic. The idea was to forgo the traditional paint mask and airbrush technique and treat it like a three dimensional canvas. I decided to focus on the primary attributes that make this place so unique and attractive for those who ride it.
One of the most distinctive features is its front row seat for the Pacific sunset, an essential aspect of West Coast living. Another intriguing aspect of Highway One is how closely it follows the contour of the coast line. Its twists and turns take on a very rhythmic feel, far removed from the linear characteristics of your typical highway. This is represented by a flowing road encircling the bottom portion of the helmet with double yellow lines as anyone who has traveled Highway One knows passing zones are not very common. The ground texture surrounding the base of the helmet represents the raw characteristics of Highway One. It is constantly at odds with the forces of nature and its ability to exist at all is a testament to the desire we have to experience the sheer beauty of the coast in person. The classic US highway shield is framed between the spoiler and the typical US or state name is replaced with "KALI" in the classic road sign font.
Technically, I highlighted the hand-painted concept by means of adding texture throughout. The sunset is a series of individually painted brush strokes as opposed to a simple airbrushed gradient. The road is multi-toned splattered paint using a toothbrush and the ground is a series of wash layers, paint splatters and glaze layers.
Catch up with Chris and his latest creations at www.chrisconlinillustration.com.