Christopher Cooper is an Australian illustrator from Sydney with a background in design and art direction. After a few years burning the candle in the ad game he crossed the tracks to practice illustration full-time. With a style that is playful, absurd and quietly irreverent, he applies an attention to detail that will have you discovering new elements in his work time and time again after the first viewing.
We caught up at a cafe up the hill from his studio. I placed down my phone with the tape recorder function on to give a real "I'm a journalist" feel to it and started to chat about anything that really came up.
CE: Ok cool, um standard "boring" question first, did you always want to be an illustrator or is this something that evolved from other work you were doing?
CC: Thats not a boring question. I used to draw when I was a kid – muck around and generally create stuff. It wasn't until fourteen that I decided I wanted to be a designer. I didn't actually know what that meant at the time but I pursued it with a vengeance and didn't really stop to think about it or second guess myself. I studied visual communication at UTS and that’s where I taught myself to draw.
After university I took an art direction job at a big agency and ran freelance illustration on the side until I pulled together a book to get me to where I am now.
CE: So where are you working now? Are you at your own studio or have your own space somewhere?
CC: I'm a freelancer in a shared studio space with a very good bunch – directors, jewellery-makers, illustrators - a whole crowd of people doing their own thing.
CE: Do you find it helps to be in a space where everyone around you is in that "creative zone" so to speak, as opposed to being isolated in a bedroom somewhere?
CC: Definitely. It’s incredibly motivating to be around professionals that are doing their own thing and, more than that, to be around people that are a number of steps ahead. That’s really motivating because I look at them and push myself to get to that next step.
CE: How do you get into that "creative zone" where you can plough through your work?
CC: Ah, the zone. It depends on the type of work that I'm doing and I do a lot of different types of work. So if I'm doing something like branding, which requires a lot of fairly straight logical thinking, then I find it really difficult to get into the zone. The best way to get there is to isolate myself from the computer in a separate space, burying myself in a pile of paper.
CE: How do you step back from your work and gain perspective on it after working on a project for so long, in most times in isolation?
CC: I'm in the fortunate position of being an illustrator who is often employed for my style and my take on things, which gives me the benefit of the doubt. I can go out on a tangent and people will pay me for that. That being said, I do relish working with other people because they offer a different opinion and I usually try and show my work to other visual people for that exact reason.
CE: Would you say you are your worst critic?
CC: Absolutely - I’m a perfectionist. It’s painful. I’m pretty brutal on myself and there is a point where I have to put the pen down - no more.
CE: What's your process?
CC: I start with a brief and, depending on the timeframe, I go broad and try to give myself the opportunity to think laterally. So jobs that may look boring at the brief stage – even then, if the client is asking for something straightforward, I try to give them not only what they want but also a couple of other options at the outset that hopefully make them laugh.
I aim to make them uncomfortable because sometimes those less-conservative ideas really pay off. When they actually buy the ideas and you're like "Damn" I put that in there as a joke.
CE: Has it ever bitten you in the ass?
CC: No, it hasn't yet. I’ve ended up with some good cracks at Nickelback though which makes for great job satisfaction.
CE: What’s the role of design in your illustration work?
CC: Because I was trained in design and visual communication I know that one singular style won't always be appropriate for the brief. So the work that I do often starts off design-focused, looking for the best way to solve a brief. At the moment that means I have quite a diverse portfolio which in the long run will hopefully be unified by a style of thought rather than "That’s my style and that’s how I’ve slapped it on". To me that’s less appealing.
CE: What’s your go-to space to get new ideas?
CC: I try to find inspiration as far away from design and illustration as I possibly can and usually that’s me just ambling about the place, doing some creepin’ people-watching or taking the time to relax and let my mind wander.
CE: How do you take your coffee?
CC: Long black – no fuss, no sugar – straight forward.
CE: What are you listening to at the moment?
CC: FKA twigs, from out of Britain.
Interview by Christopher Ellis
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