Awesome Artists We’ve Found Around The Net: Chris Koehler
August 7, 2021 by: Theodore Bond
For years, Awesome Art We've Found Around The Net has been about two things only – awesome art and the artists that create it. With that in mind, we thought why not take the first week of the month to showcase these awesome artists even more? Welcome to “Awesome Artist We’ve Found Around The Net." In this column, we are focusing on one artist and the awesome art that they create, whether they be amateur, up and coming, or well established. The goal is to uncover these artists so even more people become familiar with them. We ask these artists a few questions to see their origins, influences, and more. If you are an awesome artist or know someone that should be featured, feel free to contact me at any time at [email protected].This month we are very pleased to bring you the awesome art of…
Chris Koehler is an award-winning artist and illustrator working from San Francisco, California.
He has illustrated for Marvel Studios, Business Insider, Penguin Random House, Tor, The Atlantic, and Popular Science and he is a regular contributor to the New York Times. His work has been recognized by Communication Arts, Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Spectrum, and 3×3.
In addition to being a freelance brush for hire, Chris is the artist behind the Z2 published comic "Legend." He has taught in the Illustration and MFA in Comics Programs at California College of the Arts and UC Berkeley and co-owned Sketchpad Gallery in San Francisco. He can often be found hunched over a sketchbook in a coffee shop.
JoBlo: What got you started as an artist?
Koehler: My dad is an artist and an art collector, so our whole family grew up loving art and failing miserably at sports. There was a culture of art appreciation in the house. My older brother is an incredible artist (he worked for Lucasfilm and ILM), I always followed in his footsteps. He’s probably the main reason I pursued art as a career. Also, for a short, husky kid with no game, doing art made me stand out, so it eventually became the biggest part of my identity.
Who were some of your favorite artists growing up?
I came of age during the McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld era, it was an amazing time to be into comics. My favorite comics artists of the time were Eric Larsen, Jae Lee, and Liefeld (and damn it, I’ll defend Liefeld to my last breath). But the comic artist that influenced me the most was Frank Miller, and later in life Charles Burns. Their aesthetic DNA is in every piece I do. Chris Van Allsburg and Donna Diamond (namely her work in Bridge to Terebithia) are also indelible parts of my origin story. My family used to go to the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco a lot growing up, and I was obsessed with the John Singer Sargent and William Harnett paintings. Something about that level of control seemed impossible to me then and still does now. I was also a weeb before there was a word for it, I was lucky enough to see movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell in the theater growing up. Also, a huge shout out to How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, that did more for my education than four years of art college.
Who do you really dig these days, follow on Instagram?
I try to limit my social media usage these days, going on IG was becoming a problem. It’s so intimidating and overwhelming to see a never-ending flood of incredible work, I always end up feeling way more unaccomplished and demoralized than inspired. But there are thousands of artists I look up to and admire. Some of my favorite working poster artists:
- Jes Seamans – I love the way she draws. She’s not trying to trace a bunch of production stills and screencaps, she has a unique vision for each piece and sees the world through her own lens. She’s highly rated and still completely underrated. I probably own more prints by her than any other artist.
- Marc Aspinall – Marc has one of the bravest and keenest senses of composition in the poster world. He grounds his work in a strong golden age aesthetic, so I don’t think he gets enough credit for how risky his work really is.
- Laurent Duriuex – Clear contender for the alternative movie poster GOAT, he’s just mastered the medium to a degree no one else has.
- Jay Shaw – Jay Shaw is the post-punk of posters. He melds a grindhouse, underground vibe with incredible design and the best typography in the game. And he makes posters for all the weird movies I like.
- Tula Lotay – Every piece by Tula Lotay feels like stepping into a lucid dream.
- Daniel Danger – I like art that communicates on an emotional level, and there is no other poster artist that makes me feel specific moods better than Daniel Danger. I always have a piece of his in rotation on my studio walls.
- Marko Manev – I don’t think people realize how versatile Marko is. He could’ve hung his hat on being THE silhouette artist, but he keeps pushing his work in new directions while never losing his unique voice. Perhaps one of the best non-Greek Macedonian movie posters artists.
- Kilian Eng – A single square inch of a Kilian Eng piece has more drawing in it than most of my full posters. Absurdly good.
- Benedict Woodhead – Benedict makes pieces that I wish I thought of, but I’m not that smart.
- David Henry Lantz – David has a perfect batting average with his poster work, brilliant color sense, and feel for mood.
- Craig Drake – I probably wouldn’t be doing this without Craig’s help and support, he’s one of the coolest people in the game and his design and line work is second to none.
- Melvin Mago – Criminally underrated and super hard working. He’s released some of my favorite pieces of the last few years.
- Little Troublemaker (Martina Esposito) – I love her portrait work, so rich with humanity.
- Matt Ryan Tobin – What’s left to say? Matty has been on the hottest streak in recent memory, just one killer piece after another. He’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
- Vance Kelly – Vance is an absolute beast. He’s Mr. Rogers of the poster world — universally beloved and with good reason.
- Oliver Barrett – I love Oliver’s use of space and framing, his mark-making, and the careful balance of elements. Every piece he does is a knockout.
More artist that inspire me: Matthew Woodson, Housebear, Barret Chapman, Duke Duel, Daniel Castro Maia, Kimberly Cho, Camille Joblin, Owen Freeman, Raf Banzuela, JC Richard, Tegan Bellitta, Rich Davies, Ryan James Shumate, Matt Taylor, Dakota Randall, Paolo Rivera, Sara Deck, Phantom City Creative, Nico Delort, Gabz, Scott C, and of course Aaron Horkey… and these are just artists in the poster world.
Needless to say, this list could easily be twenty times this long (and I’m sorry to anyone I left out!), but I need to cut myself off before I use up the rest of the internet…
What advice would you have for budding artists today?
A few caveats first – I’m just one opinionated person, I still consider myself a budding artist, and these are mainly points I try to keep in mind for my own work. Every artist has their own unique journey, so hopefully, this can help a little.
- Start on paper. Sketch, draw, make thumbs! Drawing and sketching are fundamental to creative thinking. With technology being so accessible, it’s tempting to just take a bunch of screen caps and move them around until they are relatively well composed and work right over that, but I think that misses the opportunity to make inspired work. I always do my thumbs with no reference and let myself ideate without the limitations of what’s available through screenshots or production stills. If I have an idea worth exploring, then I figure out how to make it happen. This usually involves a rum punch of screenshots, 3D modeling, my own reference photos, and good old-fashioned imagination. But it always starts in a tiny box on paper.
- Widen your art diet. Most aspiring movie poster artists are fans of movie posters. But it’s important to have a huge diet of art and inspiration so you’re not just pulling the standard moves in poster art. The best artists are the ones who bring something new to the medium, and that won’t happen if your only inspiration comes from within the poster world. Read comics, look at classical art, pay attention to cinematography, look at what artists are doing in Africa, South America, South Asia, anywhere that goes beyond the art world you’re familiar with. Study typography, calligraphy, graffiti, graphic design, photography, sculpture. Become obsessed with everything. Ironically, the more sources of inspiration you have, the more unique your art will be.
- This is one I have to constantly remind myself: Have something you want to communicate to the viewer. This can be a mood, a concept, a narrative, an opinion, anything! But you have to communicate something. It’s not enough to just show a group shot of everyone involved in the movie in descending scale. How did the movie make you feel? What is it really about? Is there a moment or sequence that really hit you? How do you show these things using space, color, design, and concept? Show something new, make the viewer feel something.
- The only right way to do this is your own way. Just do your thing, don’t worry about what’s hot, don’t worry about what properties people like, don’t worry about standard compositions. All my favorite posters I’ve done have been for movies that few people care about besides me. If you work from a place of passion and inspiration, you’ll do your best work. Be brave, be weird, take big risks.
What should we be looking out for from you in the future?
I have a lot of pieces in various states of approvals right now, I can’t wait for some of them to see the light of day. I have a piece for Gallery 1988’s Crazy 4 Cult show dropping this week, a Mandalorian poster for Acme Archives hopefully dropping soon, a big series in the works for Universal, a sci-fi poster for an upcoming Hero Complex Show, and a Naked Lunch poster for the AMP 30×30 show. Beyond that, my horror villain ink series is always in the works as well as a constant stream of editorial illustration and packaging design…
What are some of your favorite movies/TV shows of all time?
Growing up, my shows were Twilight Zone, and X-Files and more recently, I really loved Channel Zero. For movies, my all-time favorites are The Night of the Hunter, The Fountain, The VVitch, Aliens, and Hara Kiri. I’ll watch anything from trashy exploitation to Criterion deep cuts, but sci-fi and horror get the most play.
Scroll down to check out some of our favorite art pieces from Chris's as we continue to follow his journey across his Website and social media hubs: Instagram / Store
Back To The Future
Beyond The Black Rainbow
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild
Lord Of The Flies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The People Under The Stairs