Other comms channels

back button
{ - }  Creator Series: Chuck Anderson, Part 2: Creative Boundaries, Crash Report & Trying New Media
published at: 2023-06-27T16:06:08.714Zcontroller: Anonymous

Welcome back to our Creator Series Talk with Chuck Anderson! 🙇

In Part 2, Joe & Chuck dive deeper into topics like creative principles, and the practices that make Chuck the industry icon that he is. They’re tackling questions like: Are parameters essential or restrictive for creative minds? How do you know when a piece of generative work is finished? And should you ever compromise your style or principles for a client? Chuck also tells Joe about why he loves using Photoshop 'wrong' (despite Adobe making that as difficult as possible) and how doing so enabled him to create his epic Crash Report project.

Let’s get back into it 👇


Joe: So one of the things I wanted to dive into a little bit more, changing tack a bit here, is to get into the actual creative principles. A while ago, we did an AMA on FWB Radio together, and afterwards, we had a bit of back and forth on Discord about creative restrictions and parameters and how they can be essential to doing creative work. I've always thought that, and I think you articulated it really well when we spoke. From the outside looking in, if you're not a designer or if you're not in the creative industries, it might feel counterintuitive. "If you're creative, you don't want any boundaries." “You want to be able to think freely and do anything you want.” But I think the opposite of that is true. So I'm curious to hear, what's your thinking around how restrictions can add to more creativity, and how has that played out in your own work?

Chuck: Yeah, I think there's a common misconception that artists always want unbounded, unlimited, borderless briefs where they can do whatever they want. And I think in theory, that's nice. But it really depends on the context. If an artist is creating something for their own personal pleasure, like a painting or a drawing, it's one thing to just sit down and start going with an improvised approach. And that's often how I work. I'll have ideas in my head, ‘shower thoughts' kind of thing, and then I'll sit down with a very loose idea in my head.

But when it comes to client work and briefs, I think that for the most part, creative people generally thrive when there are some rules in place. Our minds are so prone to floating and wandering. An artist's mind is often very ethereal and in the clouds. And if you have carte blanche to do whatever you want all the time, you have to be very disciplined, creative, and experienced to end up with a confident output when you're very loose about what needs to be accomplished. So, I think that parameters are really healthy.

For me, having a clear sense of what I'm supposed to accomplish when I'm being hired to do something is really important. Even if I'm being commissioned to do something with full creative control, I still want whoever's coming to me to give me some direction, like a color or a format or a size or a word or something to go on. I think those sorts of subtle prompts are really important for artists. So the structure can be really loose and abstract, or it can be very rigid. But I think, for the most part, artists do well when there's some type of agenda on their mind for what they're going to make, contrary to the idea that artists can just do whatever they want. Yes, you can, and that's great. But it's definitely helpful to have some structure in place.

Joe: Yeah, for me, it's like if you're trying to get from point A to point B or if you have a particular destination in mind for what you're trying to produce—if the road to that is completely unbroken and just a straight line that goes on and on, you don't have to do any creative gymnastics to reach that end goal. But if you have lots of barriers, small holes to get through, and things to jump over, you have to use your creativity to generate a new, more interesting journey to reach your destination. So, I think those restrictions really force you to be more creative. It's like problem-solving; the more challenging the problem, the more creative you have to be to find the solution. Speaking of process, I just shared a tweet at the top of this space featuring some of your work. As a designer, I'm always curious about other people's processes, especially when the work is visually interesting but hard to understand how it was made. So, this piece of work—I believe it's from the Crash Report print series you did?—I'd love to know more about it and have you talk us through the creative process from a blank canvas to achieving something like that.

Chuck: I'll try! This is a tricky one, thanks to Adobe. This particular body of work is called Crash Report. Something important to know about me is that I'm quite impatient. When I want to make something and I don't know how to achieve it technically, I tend to find shortcuts to do it the ‘wrong’ way or a ‘broken’ way. I have never learned Cinema 4D or ‘real’ 3D before. I'm very well-versed in Photoshop and Illustrator, that's like my bread and butter. I'm very good at those two programs. But then after that, the drop off is pretty severe. When I need a lot of InDesign work, I usually prefer to find someone to hire and work with because it's more efficient that way. I really wanted to do some 3D stuff, and I had been playing around with Photoshop's basic 3D tools in an abstract way, not in the way they were meant to be used. And I just started to develop a really fun process that looked very, sort of, bitmapped and degraded almost, that I really liked. I started adding all these layer adjustments over the top of them to make it not look just raw, whatever Photoshop would kind of spit out in that way. But yeah, I would basically just take these photos or images or text or default brush in Photoshop, and then you can extrude it in Photoshop, and then you can do all these different sorts of things, I don't know, you can just kind of manipulate it and add points and all this kind of stuff.

And I started just getting a really good handle on how to do something that was really unique aesthetically and using it in a way that it was definitely not designed for. And I know that to be a fact because Adobe has actually since pulled support for 3D that's built in Photoshop because it was so janky and not a particularly, I dunno, successful product within Photoshop? And then they've since moved onto Adobe Dimension and they've put more 3D capabilities in Illustrator. And I think they broke out their 3D offering into different software and are slowly moving away from supporting and developing the 3D capabilities that Photoshop had, because it wasn't a priority.

And I actually had been pretty pissed off about this because it sort of ruined my ability to make this type of work. Because the longer we're captive to Creative Cloud and the whims of what Adobe wants to add and subtract from their software that everyone uses, you can really only use what they allow to be in the programme. They have pulled support, and so the only way I could use that is if I were able to find a backdated version of Photoshop from two years ago or whatever on another computer, and basically never connect it to the Internet again.

I really miss doing that kind of work, and I haven't figured out how best to do it. But yeah, it's a very archaic, weird, arduous process to make that stuff. And I wish I could explain it in a way that everybody can go pick it up and do it, but it's next to impossible right now because if you try and make a 3D Photoshop layer, it'll let you do it to a point and then your canvas will go black and you'll be forced to restart the program.

Joe: You need to keep some sort of Holy Grail old iMac.

Chuck: I have an iMac that is really good. I mainly use my newer MacBook Pro connected to my display, but I still have an iMac—I've got to figure it out. I was just talking to someone the other day about this, and I was trying to figure out how I can get a version of Photoshop on there that I can just lock in time, and never update again. David Rudnick, if you're familiar with his work, I think he still uses a pretty old version of Photoshop and Illustrator on a computer that he's never moved to Creative Cloud—still, like, disc-supported Photoshop—because it just works for him. And why not? Just because they upgrade it doesn't mean it's better.

Joe: I'm pretty sure the start of most creative people's careers are on some kind of ripped version of Photoshop. There's got to be millions of hard drives out there somewhere.

Chuck: 100%. Mine definitely was, I definitely downloaded illegal copies of Photoshop on Limewire and Kazaa in like, 2000, and I'd have to get these things called 'keygens' that would generate a product key, and then you could get these things that would track it. And they were always super dicey. You don't know what you're downloading, but that was definitely how I got started with it all, for sure. You can't really do that so much anymore because you need to log in, but I guess people are still probably able to figure it out.

Joe: Yeah, I'm sure. So I'm curious about this piece of work in particular: this undoubtedly looks so cool, but from my perspective, how do you know when it's finished? It seems so generative and experimental. Do you have multiple versions of it? When do you know when to stop?

Chuck: In this case, this one's a little easier because this was real subject matter. If you go and look at some of the other works from this series, a lot of it is very loose and abstract, and there is no right way to know when it's done. The other example you could look at is the stuff I did for Jordan brand. Actually, I did a series of these pieces in the style of Jordan, and then the brand came to me and licensed some of that work and then commissioned some new pieces in that same vein.

In that case and in this case, I wanted to make sure that there was, like- I think any basketball fan would be able to pick up on this as LeBron. Even though, when you really look at it, it's pretty obscured, which is kind of the goal. But also, I want it to be clear enough that you can make out what's happening. And so with this one, I think, because of his build, you can tell who it is. I could take that and rotate it on its axis and have it look a bazillion times different with every rotational drag that I would do. For this one, though, it was just about making sure that it stayed recognisable.

With the other ones, there really is no right or wrong. It's just a feel. It's purely a case of when it feels right to me. And, yeah, I've got thousands of iterations of all these different files—I'll save it, and then I'll save 001A, 001B, and so on and so forth. I don't know. I've never really known how to answer that question. If I look at all my work, when I say it's done, it's done. And it could have been a little different, or I could have kept spending time on it. But that kind of thing comes with experience, I think. The idea of knowing when something is done and the idea of feeling a sense of completion with your work, I think, comes with a certain level of confidence and experience and perhaps knowing yourself more? Certainly when I got started almost 20 years ago, pieces got finished but I think there was a lot more second guessing. You're trying to figure out what you’re trying to do, what you’re trying to say, how are you trying to make people feel when they look at the work.

And I think that comes a little quicker to me now, but there's still an eternal struggle with that kind of thing. You just never really know. But I guess I always look at it as there's always going to be a next project, and I'll use that next project to build on what I learned, be more efficient, do something in a better way, change the colors to be better next time, or whatever. And with client work, sometimes you have to just decide that it's time to ship—it's time to be done. That's it. I could torture this thing forever. And I think that comes with just developing your taste, maybe, and knowing how to edit yourself and knowing when to stop. Sort of an abstract concept, but that's about the most I can say.

Joe: It sounds like your folder and naming system is much more sophisticated than mine. I'm still in the mode of Possessed Logo v2.3/New. I get so much stick from Tom because our shared Dropbox folder is an absolute mess. But I'm still very much of the group that if your folder system is too tidy, then you're not working hard enough.

Chuck: You’ve got to keep some sense of organization, for sure, but I always feel like when things are a real mess, it means I'm working hard.

Joe: Yeah, I totally agree. But that's really interesting, the whole thing of tinkering with it and waiting until it's finished and letting experience dictate when something's done. One thing I’ve noticed about your style is that it feels very experimental, and really unique and expressive in a lot of ways. I'm curious about how you protect that and maintain that style. Have there been any times when you needed to compromise on that style to accommodate commercial opportunities? Or do you think artists should be really staunch in their style and not bend their principles?

Chuck: I would say that style and principles are two very different things. I think an artist should always be willing to compromise their style in a way. It should always still be very you and it should always be something you believe in, for sure—but I think when you get too rigid or think "I only do this" then... but, I mean, that's easy for me to say. Look at the name of what I call myself in my studio! No Pattern. When I came up with that name I was 16/17 years old, a very long time ago. I'm glad I still like it. But I think I knew enough about myself. My interests change so frequently and the type of work I like to do seems to evolve and change and shift almost daily. One day I'll feel like working only in Illustrator and the next day I'm using my airbrush, then I'm drawing, then I'm doing photography—it's all over the place and I've just come to accept that.

So I don't even know that I have a discernible style at this point. I just have lots of distinct bodies of work and silos of projects that I've done. I think maybe the main constant in all of them is usually pretty intense color, but beyond that, I don't really know. There's definitely an aesthetic and a taste that I try and put through, but I don't know. It depends if a client comes to you—you really get what you put out there, and I don't really get asked to do stuff that I don't do often. I've certainly done my share of things that will never see the light of day in my portfolio, because I think most artists, graphic designers especially, will do something at some point in their career for the paycheck, not necessarily because it's a project that they want to show the world. And I think a certain degree of that is fine. But yeah, I think I'm at the point where I've been doing it long enough that most people come to me. I'm a pretty known quantity at this point, so I don't really get asked to do stuff that would ever make me bend to such a degree, where I feel like this isn't me.

I recently did a project for Johnnie Walker. It was a huge twelve-hour video installation at a big arts festival called Nuit Blanche in Toronto. It was up from 7pm until 7am, two weekends ago. And I do motion work in Photoshop—there's a video timeline in Photoshop and I started learning how to use it last year when I did some NFTs. And this project came along and I ended up hiring a guy to work with me. I made dozens and dozens of clips, and then he took all the clips and stitched them together into a seamless twelve-hour, very slow-paced work.

On one hand, I'm like, oh, I don't do video. But then it's like, why not? It's just a medium. If the idea and the quality of the work still lines up with what I like to do, then of course I can do video. I just have to find the right collaborator, the right outlet for it, the right project. And it was three 15-foot-wide by 7-foot-tall screens, so it was pretty huge. And the footage and videos and photos of people standing in front of it were really cool to see. And I think very much in line with my work, even though it's very different from anything I've ever done. And I don't feel like I compromised anything. I just feel like I stretched myself and asked, is this something I'd like to do? Is this something that feels like me? Can I still do this and maintain ownership of the work and feel proud of it? And ultimately, I felt like I could, and I was really happy with the way it turned out. So I just think that artists should always stay open-minded to the way that they might apply themselves to any given opportunity, even if it doesn't feel like their style.

Joe: Yeah, I saw that installation. It was so cool. I could instantly tell that it was your work. And I think that even though it was a new medium, you could see how your style transitioned into that space. But I have no idea how you create animations in Photoshop. I've been using Photoshop for 15-odd years, and the most I get out of that timeline is doing frame-by-frame elevated GIFs for static frame-by-frame animations. So you’ve clearly mastered that, which is quite impressive.

Chuck: Yeah, it's funny. It's actually just a video timeline, there's no frame-by-frame work at all. You can basically make layers move in Photoshop with keyframes, and you just tell it that you want it to start here, that's this moment. And then you add the keyframe and you set your timeline length. So, let's say you want to make a 30-second video and you want a circle to move from the left to the right: you just take that layer, you open up the video timeline, you place it where you want it and add a keyframe under the little row that says 'Position'. And then you drag your layer to the right side, and then you click on, say, 30 seconds, maybe you want that to be where it ends. And you add a new keyframe, then you hit play, and the layer just moves from A to B.

Joe: I've tried it. I still couldn't get my head around it. The day I learnt AfterEffects was the day I closed that animation timeline tab in Photoshop.

Chuck: I think the thing is, though, for me, I just stack tons of layer adjustment layers over the top, so that the movement underneath is just always being impacted by scrubbing through varying opacities. So I'll just establish one moving object and then I'll also put in there for it to go from zero to 100% opacity, down to 50, up to 80, down to 20, throughout the timeline. And then on top of it, I'll add all these layer adjustments. And by doing that, it just creates these really, sort of, wild abstractions that...Again, my whole career has just been tinkering until something works. It's just been a series of mistakes and goofing off and letting myself be distracted until, like, a light bulb would go off and, like, “oh, that was cool. How did I do that?” And then I'll try and turn that into a real thing.

Missed Part 1? Catch up here. Or continue the conversation in Part 3.

p4sd logo

Access Insider Info

Sign up to be the first to hear about our upcoming partnerships, products and clinical trials.

This room contains laboratory broadcast facilities designed to create and transmit lab Propaganda information. Test subjects and the public at large are encouraged to regularly observe transmissions and stay blessed at all times. Stay tuned to broadcasts for updates on the possessed outbreak and the dangerous ongoing experiments taking place at p4sd.

Other comms channels: