Wednesday 24 June 2020
In conversation with Chris Frost
This week we are ‘in conversation’ with artist, illustrator and observant commuter Chris Frost, whose work exhibited in Beyond the Frame juxtaposes a side portrait of William Austin (1802-1857), adopted son of Queen Caroline, George IV’s consort, from the Paton Bequest alongside commuters in a London underground carriage. This is what he had to say.
How and when did you start drawing?
I got into drawing through comics and cartoons. When I was little my dad would bring home big stacks of computer paper, the ones with the holes down each side from his work and I would just draw anything and everything. I went on to study animation at university, and now I work in design, so drawing is very present in my life!
The drawing I made for Beyond the Frame was built slowly each day on my commute to work in Camden. The scene is made up like a collage of overground and underground carriages with different people at various ends of the rush hour. This meant there was a lot of pushing and pulling back individuals depending on who else got on the train. Some of the figures are unfinished and this was generally because they got off too soon.
How did you know about this engraving and about the collection? Were you looking for a face to fit in your study of commuters or was it seeing the engraving that inspired you?
A bit of both. I have always had an interest in drawing people, and I often make drawings from strangers in public spaces. When I came across the engraving portrait of William Austin in the Richmond Borough art collection I particularly liked the way he wasn’t looking at the artist as it seemed typical of the more candid poses you get in everyday situations. He felt almost like he could be a stranger on the train.
You seem to enjoy travelling by public transport and use this as an exercise in observation. There is an illustration on your website of an empty train carriage that has character and ambience. Are you inspired by it and by the possibility of fortuitous encounters?
I think I do like travelling by trains. It’s on a track and doesn’t have too many random things like roundabouts or other trains tailgating. Before quarantine I spent so much time travelling to and from work that the train carriage almost became like another room in my house that I would occupy each day – except I shared it with lots of strangers who would be often much too close physically and yet very distant inside their own heads. I’m not sure if it’ll go back to being that way now and I’m not even sure how I feel about it yet.
Have you had any incidents when you were observing and drawing people?
Sometimes people notice and usually then the drawing goes downhill because once you’ve got eyes on you it becomes like a weird performance. Also I feel like some people have the film trope in mind that when they ask to see a drawing by a mysterious stranger they’ll be greeted with a perfect rendition of their face on the best day, when in reality I’ve drawn their ears too big and it’s in pen and I can’t rub it out.
You state you work both digitally and using paper and pencil. Do you have a preference? Do you start with one and finish with the other? How do you tackle animation? Is it a purely digital process or do you start on paper?
I love to use both! I heard some good advice from a comic artist called Dan Berry. He said that digital elements shouldn’t be noticed – which I have really tried to stick to. For ideas I start most things on scrap paper as the crooked edges keep it quite carefree and then if it sticks in my head for a while I’ll redraw into a sketchbook in pen and ink. Then I’ll amend in Photoshop for a clean up without perfecting and packaging the energy out of it.
I studied animation using a lightbox and mountains of paper, and while fun, it’s also a mess. So it’s purely digital now, but some elements like colours or textures I’ll create in real life and comp into the final film.