Q&A: Frank Chimero

Frank Chimero is another illustrator whose work I admire. You may have come across Frank’s work in Fast Company, Wired, Business Week or just around the web. Good stuff.

Click below to check out a quick Q&A with Frank Chimero.


For those who are not familiar with Frank Chimero, please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m an illustrator and graphic designer in Portland, Oregon. I typically do conceptual illustrations for editorial clients, but I’ve been venturing out into considering user interaction models, user interface design, and thinking about what this world needs, what’s going on and how we can actively work to make it better.

I teach at Portland State University, write on the internet, and speak where ever they’ll let me.

It’s a good life.

Was there any one thing or inspiration that got you into illustrating & design?

Music! I always grew up drawing, but the thing that turned me towards illustration and design was pouring over albums’ liner notes. I loved those things. I’d read lyrics and credits, look at the type and memorize album covers. I remembered the first time I realized the spaceship on the Boston cover was also a guitar. I flipped.

I enjoy the simplicity of your work, It’s fun and has a vintage quality too. Do you have a certain process you go through to create each piece, or do they all differ?

Most jobs follow a similar mindset, but the actions usually differ. Most jobs go like this:
1. Analysis of the job. What’s the problem? What is trying to be said? Is it what needs to be said?
2. Research. Mental inventory. Word lists. What do I know about it? What do I associate with it? What has already been done?
3. Spin cycle. Mix and match. Play with meanings. Word play. What’s old? What’s fresh? What doesn’t work? What does?
4. Work. Typically, pencil sketches and digital renderings because of short deadlines. Wrap it up. Most of the hard work is in the thinking, and less in the mark-making.
5. Review. Is it good? Suitable? Does it do what it is supposed to? Better yet, more than it is supposed to?

Considering some of your work is very sparse, is it difficult to show restrain when finishing certain pieces?

The easiest way to produce sparse work is to overbook yourself.

Actually, I was always drawn to sparse work. It’s so clear. And it’s also really scary to make. Some times I need to remind myself to be brave and to submit the sparse idea. I’m not against decoration, but most of my work needs to have a quick read because of the audience (someone flipping through a magazine).

When I first started, I’d have to start at 100 and whittle what I made back to the proper point. (Say, a 20 or so.) Now, through experience and intuition, I’m finding myself starting more and more at zero and working to 20, and having an additive process and knowing when to say when, rather than a subtractive.

I’m thankful for that.

What is your favorite medium to work in?

I love a wooden pencil with some loose paper. It’s quick and dirty. There’s nothing special about it, but it’s so romantic to me. It’s democratic and it’s not about the marks, but what they mean. It signifies work in process, and that all engines are burning to create ideas, produce brilliant work, and make some awful ideas too.

My favorite medium is pencil on paper. But, the typical artifact isn’t drawings, it’s crumpled up paper in the waste basket.

You seem to be a fan of typography. True or false?

True! I went to school for design. I teach typography classes. As an illustrator, it’s my neighbor on the page. We’re good friends, and it treats me well. There’s something really satisfying about working with type. To me, it’s such a nice contrast to the illustration work.

Is there a font you wish would disappear?

No. I think people like to get up on their high horse complaining about typefaces. But really, it doesn’t matter. You can’t make something disappear. You can just choose not to use it.

Your Flickr page is full of random stuff, do you try and fire out things that pop into your head a lot? Like White Anglo Saxon Pterodactyl?

I try to execute as many ideas as I can. Most of them don’t have a good home, because they’re not really portfolio work, and they’re definitely not suitable for clients. I consider a lot of my accounts on these sites (Flickr, Twitter, et al) to be an overflow of my id.

Tell us a little about your teaching gig at Portland State University.

I’ll be starting this spring teaching the senior thesis class. It’s going to be great because the class is mostly composed of students exploring personal graphical interests and personal projects to develop a voice. I’m excited about it, because this process is what I believe to have helped me to achieve a little bit of the success I’ve had. I think there’s also a real ease that comes as a human being to be able to understand your own personal point of view as a space you can own and live in.

I’ll also be teaching some other courses like typography, infographics, portfolio classes and the like. The school’s on the quarter system, so classes are shorter and more per year, so we get to have classes about a bunch of diverse topics. I’m excited to dive in, and to use the students to explore a lot of the areas I’m interested in and I feel are relevant. They seem to be excited too, which is great.

Who are 3 of your favorite artists and why?

Can’t narrow it down to three, but I can tell you about the three I’ve been thinking about lately:

Alan Fletcher – Fletcher opened up my eyes to what design could be: not just marks on paper, but rather the product of seeing the world in a certain way. Fletcher’s work makes me value and feel thankful for things I’d probably not notice otherwise.

The Eames – Charles’ furniture. Ray’s patterns. Both of their films. Their embrace of play in process. All of it, really. If I think about who’s work has the biggest impact on my life day-to-day life, it’s the Eames. Their cards are on my mantel, their chairs are under my rear, their design decisions affect what I perceive to be “the good life.”

Tibor Kalman – Tibor was the first designer to look around, see the work he was doing for clients and say “Wait, what are we doing here? Is this the way it’s supposed to be?” So, Tibor was 15 years ahead of all of us.

If we were to look at your desk/work station, what would we see?

A desk. With a computer on it. A cup of pencils, a pad of paper, an apple (edible), and a painting by my pal Dan that says “Skills pay bills.” It’s tidy. I get chaff for this frequently. I’m not the messy creative people tend to imagine us to be.

You have an impressive list if clients. Who was your first “big” client and what did you produce for them?

Way, way back, about 8 years ago? I was hired by Microsoft to design some alternate interfaces (skins) for their newest release of Windows Media Player. I remember finding the files a few years ago and thinking “Good god. I got paid for this?”

I’m sure you spend some time on the internet, what are some sites you check out daily?

I go online to read more, and less to look at pictures. Here are a few sites I frequent, because they make me think and get my brain tingly:
www.thinkingforaliving.org
www.snarkmarket.com
www.bobulate.com
www.kitsunenoir.com
www.linedandunlined.com
www.typographica.org
http://jackcheng.com/

Are there any current projects you are working on that you would care to spill the beans about?

I’m currently working on some materials for an Facebook is putting on. Let’s just say the format is very non-conventional and about 6 foot long. I’m excited.

Thanks for your time, anything you would like to add before we wrap this?

That’s it! Thanks a bunch, and be well.

Be sure to visit Frank’s site HERE and Flickr HERE.

6 responses to “Q&A: Frank Chimero”

  1. Ian Weed says:

    Great read!

  2. Chris says:

    Frank Chimero is a huge inspiration of mine. His clarity of communication is amazing and he makes everything look so good! He makes it look easy which it certainly is not.
    Great interview.

  3. Olivia says:

    Great interview!

  4. colton ponto says:

    I’m studying graphic design right now to become an illustrator, so that was a superb inspiration, not only hearing what Frank Chimero said but also how he said it with a real love for design.
    excellent.

  5. Ryan C. says:

    After seeing Frank’s stuff consistently in the various publications mentioned above, its nice to find the “who” behind it. Great stuff Nuno, always providing fresh ideas and interviews.

  6. nanoo.net says:

    Traders do pay direct and indirect costs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *