Chris Coulon A.K.A Tallboy is a talented illustrator dominating the world of low brow and bold lines. Tallboy has worked with a wide variety of skilled artists and companies providing unique illustration work. He has been creating his own exclusive goods like clothing, enamel pins, prints, patches and more under his shop named Night Watch Studios. Today in the Creative Cult we go over some of the history of his upcoming as an artist, the struggles of finding your footing in art consumerism and helpful lessons learned over the course of his art career, enjoy!
What’s the story behind the name Tall Boy?
I drew a comic of John McCain fucking Barack Obama on an island and titled it "Off-shore Drilling" for an illustration class in college. I was too cowardly to sign my real name so I thought up an art moniker based on being somewhat tall and my appreciation for the fine canned PBR tallboy.
How would you personally describe your own personal art style?
I would describe it as a mixture of underground comics style and skate graphic style. Those are the 2 genres I've referenced most while trying to define my style.
Is there anything that stands out in your mind that got you into your specific taste of art?
Yeah, I always loved Ed Templeton's graphics for Toy Machine. I loved the fact that he was a pro skater and illustrator. His style was super fun and really spoke to my stupid teenage brain! I also loved Todd Bratrud's graphics for Consolidated Skateboards. Later, I researched more and discovered Jim Phillips and VCJ and Pushead but they were before my time. Same with comics. My friend Marty let me borrow "Buddy Does Seattle" by Peter Bagge and I couldn't put it down. He also let me borrow some Dan Clowes "Eightball" comics. Getting more into indie comics led me to underground comics and that explosion of comic gold from the 60's and 70's. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams etc.
Has there been any specific piece of art from an early age that has made an impact into adulthood?
Maybe Bart Simpson and all the Simpsons characters. I find myself ripping off Matt Groening when I'm trying to come up with characters. Also, I remember finding old Ed Roth "Weird-oh" models in my uncle's childhood bedroom in my Grandmother's house when I was young. Me and my brother really liked those models and played with them like they were toys, destroying them! Bastard kids.
At what point was making art transitioned from just being a hobby to your main focus?
It must have been some time in high school when everyone was pushing college on us. I figured "if I have to go to college I should try to be an artist and go to art school!" I used to draw skateboarders from Thrasher Magazine at school and a few friends told me I should be an artist.
What sort of traditional or digital art tools do you use?
I use a lot of Sakura pens, and colored pencils. All my black line work is done by hand. I scan in that line work and color digitally most of the time using Photoshop. I make separations for my screen prints using Photoshop too. Then I get those printed on clear film and burn my screens and print after that. I feel like I balance traditional and digital methods well. Too much time in front of the computer screen sucks!
What is your design process when working on something for yourself or a customer? Do you have set steps or do you have to work on each piece in its own way?
I like to get as much info from the customer as possible up front so I can tell if I should take on this job or not. I have learned that it's OK to turn down jobs that aren't ideal. From there I will sketch until they are happy, then ink by hand and color digitally. It's a pretty set system, some customers are easier than others, ha!
A great aspect of making art is having the opportunity to work with other talented and creative artists across a wide variety of art spectrums, what are some of your favorite collaborations that you have done?
I did a really fun collaboration with Burney (Batdog) when I lived in Austin. He drew half and I drew half of a skull getting impaled by a pair of scizzors. It was crazy to see that mad man TCB! I've recently had the pleasure of coloring, separating, and screen printing a couple of posters with Thomas Fernandez and Haig Demarjian. That shit was super fun.
Seeing that you’ve collaborated with many other artists over the years how much do say you enjoy the collaboration process?
Drawing for me a super personal thing. For some reason I just really enjoy my alone time when I'm drawing so I haven't done many art collaborations where I draw with someone. I've been really enjoying coloring and printing artwork by some of my favorite artists. I feel super good if they get stoked on the prints!
Do you find the best work tends to come out when you work with others or alone?
I'm a loner with a boner.
How has working as a screen printer affected you as an artist? Are you constantly keeping how a design will print in mind when creating?
Most definitely. I think it's ingrained in my thought process but I see that as a good thing since I am still obsessed with screen printing.
Have you had any sort of creative breakthroughs when it comes to trying to create a marketplace for an online art scene consumerism?
I think the best part of that is just meeting so many talented artists. Night Watch Studios is a creative breakthrough that stems basically from artists we've been able to meet or at least keep in touch with via Instagram and the internet in general.
What is your work environment like? Any tips for creating a productive environment?
My environment is the coolest it's ever been. We have a garage/warehouse with offices in an upstairs loft area. It's insane because this all started as 3 shelves of t-shirts in my closet. I would probably sell like 5 shirts a week if I was lucky. Then it grew to a large shelf in our living room when Krusty joined. Then we got a sketchy warehouse space in Philly, then a better warehouse space, now this awesome warehouse! As for tips for a productive environment, I'd say just keep your shit organized but I can't do that. So if you think I am productive, just be a complete slob and just keep piling shit on top of more shit and drive yourself insane, that's what I do!
What was your experience of finding out and understanding exactly who your audience is in a business sense like?
We still aren't sure who exactly makes up our audience. I think that's cool. We don't want anyone to feel alienated. I think it's made up of generally fun loving people who like to look at rad imagery.
Looking back to when you were really starting to get the ball rolling with your work, what something that really made you grow? Any sort of hard lessons learned?
When we started releasing the zines, people really responded and we sold lots of them. But we didn't quite understand cost and profit stuff so we were selling them for super cheap and always wondering why we were always broke when so many people were supporting us. We had to raise the price of the zines and then people got pissed, but it was just us learning how to price shit in real-time.
With all of the different ways to promote yourself as an artist and run an operation, what type of characteristics do you think a modern artist needs in today’s age to really push their craft to it’s full potential?
I think it just comes around full circle and really depends on your art. If you have a relatively unique style and keep crushing your projects, people will pay attention. Just stay passionate and keep making art and it will get better! Skinner told me that a long long time ago. He's the best.
Do you ever run into walls in terms of a lack of inspiration? If so what do you find usually gets the wheel turning again?
Going on a trip and/or skateboarding. You gotta let the ol' brain air-out its cobwebs sometimes.
What is your biggest support to keep on doing what you do?
Our customers and my wife.
With a wide variety of options on how to go about it , did you formally study art or did you learn what you know on mainly by the actual act of doing?
A mixture of both. I took classes in college for drawing, illustration and graphic design so it was great to have some direction and formal training. The chaotic hell of college does benefit your planning and time management skills but it comes with overwhelming stress and mental breakdowns. Not sure how I feel about it... But I've been doing my thing for almost a decade and I still think I am learning new things all the time. So the actual act of doing is definitely where you learn the long term lessons.
How much of a value would you put on formal art education in a university/college setting?
Not as high of a value that our system has in place. I had an overall great experience in college studying art, but a lot of my other required classes (geology, creative writing) were bullshit. Very expensive, overhyped, over priced bullshit.
As an artist that has lived in several cities over the past couple of years, can you mention some great aspects of some of the ones that were great as a place to be doing this sort of design work out of?
Man, all the cities I've lived in have been great in their own ways. I can't say enough about the importance of getting out on the road! I lived in San Francisco for a very short time, and that city is obviously great for creative people. That's why it's been ass-raped by the tech industry. After that, I spent a year in San Diego. I wish I spent more time there in retrospect. I met a lot of great artists and friends. Probably half of our Night Watch contributors are from SD. Austin is great for live music and partying. Philly is a great place to get a cheap warehouse space and give your art room to grow! Massachusetts is just great for me because it's home and there's no place like home! I feel like I want to become more of a part of our local scene here and make it weirder.
What have you found to be one of the most challenging aspects in terms of creating an art piece?
The initial idea and sketching can be a real mental pain in the ass for me. But once I find my composition I get really psyched to ink. Inking is my favorite. When it gets to be time to stipple or shade in other ways I can zone out and listen to a podcast. That's when I'm happiest!
Do you find yourself to be your biggest critic? Do you often bounce your ideas off other people?
I'm lucky to have my wife/business partner, Krusty, around most of the time to bounce ideas and questions off. She's very honest with me and not afraid to crush my dumb ass ideas if need be! I like to bounce ideas off my friend Mikey (Bosssdog) and the rest of the Swamp Wizards too. But hell yeah I can definitely be my worst critic, but I don't get down on myself for art. I just stay motivated to keep growing. I get down on myself when I have gone too long without drawing!
In your opinion, what are some of the key aspects of a solid design/illustration?
I was taught the acronym, CRAP in college and I agree with it and think about it pretty often. It stands for: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. Contrast speaks for itself. With repetition I think of line weight and use of colors. For alignment, I tend to start with a grid to keep shit legible and then distort from there. And proximity just means to keep different elements close or far enough away from each other to keep everything legible. It's different with every piece though. Sometimes I want shit to be super easy to read and other times I want to scramble people's brains!
Are there lessons you’ve learned recently when working on new projects?
I feel like I'm always learning new shit. More recently I've been trying to use more shading methods rather than only depending on stippling. It's fun to think about what shading method makes your desired texture. Like stipple shading a skull makes the bone look more rugged. If you use contour lines you can achieve more shape. It's fun when it works!
Were there ever any struggles with turning the result of your art process into a product?
Yeah for sure. If someone else is producing the product I always like to see a sample photo, even if it costs more. Especially with embroidery and woven products. I have such little knowledge on how that process works it can be hard to predict how the finished product with look. Most of the time with those types of products I will have to hold back on super detailed designs and make it more solid like a logo rather than an underground comic.
Do you ever find that the mixture of having to deal with commerce takes away from the fun of creating art?
Yeah, now that me and Krusty run Night Watch as our full time jobs, I can't just do whatever is the funnest all the time. That being said, lot's of times I have to take a step back and look at what I get to do for a job. My job revolves around drawing, designing and printing skulls, boobs, beer and puke. It's all I've ever wanted to do. It's just that this endeavor has made us amateur business people whether we like it or not because we own a fuckin business! Lately I've embraced my position as a commercial artist. I need to think about whether people will want this or not when I'm designing something.
How do you keep creative with the sort of products you’re creating? How much experimenting goes on when trying to create a new type of product for the first time? Some examples like your custom birch signs, prints on specialty papers/inks or intricate moving enamel pins.
We just want to provide something that is unique to Night Watch. We are both weird people who appreciate innovative, different things and that carries over into our business model I guess. We are constantly throwing around stupid (or genius?) ideas. The prints on wood come from my appreciation of old bar plaques and dated 70s decor. I love that shit and want to provide my modern take on it.
Have you ever had to run your operation out of an apartment or house before getting a studio space?
Yes, it's hard but necessary.
What was running a shop operation out of an apartment like? Any tips on how to run a similar in home set up in the most efficient way possible?
It kind of sucks not leaving the house for basically 24 hours every day. Breaks are important. Take a walk, get a coffee. When we got a dog it was cool because we have to walk him so it conveniently breaks up your day and makes you get fresh air and inter-human interactions, haha.
How much of an importance would you place on operating in a separate studio space just for your work?
For me it felt good doing that. It felt more like a job rather than a desperate scramble. But it took a long time to get there. If I didn't have Krusty working with me I would never be able to afford a separate space. Strength in numbers is key!
Are you involved in other art projects that aren’t drawing?
Printing and co-curating Night Watch projects.
Is there any art forms or hobbies that you’ve always wanted to try getting into but just haven’t had the chance?
Airbrush art, sign painting and sculpture.
Do you have any special upcoming products coming out or that you’re working on?
We are getting ready to launch a series of collaborative screen prints with our favorite artists! And I recently finished my first graphic for Santa Cruz Skateboards due out in Spring 2017!