Chris Nickels is the only CSA artist working with digital media. Co-founder Ann Simmons had a chance to ask the Spring share artist about what brought him to Charleston, how he began working with digital media, his future goals/secret ambition, and more.

AS: How would you describe your work in 3 words?

CN: Conceptual, Interpretive, Fun

AS: You began your formal art training in painting and photography. how did you become interested in digital illustration and when did you begin using it as your primary means of creation?

CN: The transition to digital for me, happened piece by piece, not all at once. Early on in college I still wanted to be a fine artist, a painter, rather than an illustrator. I thought that I would go to school for Illustration and apply those skills to being a fine artist. Which, don’t get me wrong, is totally possible, that’s just not what happened. I kind of kept two faces during school - there were my drawings and paintings and there was my digital work. I still felt like there were things that I could only achieve using traditional media. All that changed when I had a really great digital illustration professor, John Forester. He taught us Photoshop from the ground up and really opened the doors to making a whole new kind of work for me. A lot of my work is still made with traditional media, and that will probably never change, its just always translated into a digital space.

AS: You grew up in Athens, GA, and then studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design before moving to Charleston in 2013. What brought you here? Did the change in your surroundings significantly impact your work?

CN: Initially I planned on coming to Charleston for just three months to teach art classes at Redux for the summer. After the summer I moved back to Athens for about six months to try and decide what city I wanted to move to. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I had such a blast in Charleston that I should just move back. I would say that the cities of Savannah and Charleston have have had a large impact on my work, even beyond just visual inspiration. It’s really easy to live a very balanced life style down here, and that always makes it easier to stay motivated and follow your goals.

AS: Being an illustrator means that much of the work you create is commissioned to accompany a written piece or for commercial purposes. How much do the pieces you do for magazine, authors, etc. affect your personal work?

CN: This one’s really got me thinking - it’s a really good question. So far many of the projects I’ve taken on have been really easy to personalize, to the point where I don’t really make a distinction between those illustrations and my personal work. I feel really lucky thinking about it. I’ve also been really lucky to have worked with some really great art directors, which has added up to some really great feedback on my work. Their feedback is something that I definitely carry over into my personal work.

AS: When most people think of illustrators they think of books. Have you ever illustrated a book? If not, would you like to?

CN: I would reaalllly like to work on a book. But not so much a children’s book, or at least a traditional children’s book. One of my dream projects would be creating illustrations for a compilation of short stories, where I would create a couple images per story. I’ve had a few projects like that for magazines but it would be neat to do it for a book.

AS: Did you always know you were going to be a working artist? Did you come from a home where that was encouraged?

CN:  I always loved to draw but I remember as a little kid thinking that I was terrible at it. Other kids in my class could draw a spot on copy of the Berenstain Bears and I couldn’t. I remember being pretty upset about it. It wasn’t until high school that I started taking it seriously. By junior year it was pretty clear, at least in retrospect, that art is what I wanted to do. Senior year I decided that I wanted to go to SCAD and started working to try and make that happen. My family has been really supportive all the way through, not that they weren’t all nervous about it, because they were, and probably still are, but they were always encouraging.

AS: What is the most indispensable item(s) in your studio?

CN: Right now its my Muji pen and a stack of computer paper. But I also couldn’t do without some coffee and my scanner/computer.

AS: What has been the greatest joy for you as an artist?

CN: Trying to make lasting work. Looking back on my work from a few years ago it’s pretty easy to see how much I’ve grown and all of my older work seems unsuccessful. But when you hit on something real, you don’t really discard it no matter how many years go by or how much you’ve changed as an artist.

AS: What are you looking forward to as an artist in the near future? Are there long-term goals you’re working toward?

CN: More commissioned work. I’m really looking forward to the chance to work with more art directors, authors, and reporters. That’s definitely the main goal on my radar right now.

AS: Can you share a secret ambition?

CN: Opening a sandwich shop. Don’t steal my idea.


Chris Nickels is one of the 2015 Spring season artists.