Art of The Shepherd: An Interview with Chris Ables
Chris Ables is a professional illustrator and visual development artist based out of Los Angeles with 10+ years of experience in a wide range of creative industries including film and television, marketing and advertising, publishing and web media.
I first stumbled across Chris’ artwork as I was searching Instagram for artists. His art immediately jumped out at me. It definitely had a Disney-Pixar vibe to it.
His body of work was very charming and I absolutely adored Chris’ characters’ facial expressions.
I knew right away that I wanted to commission Chris to do The Shepherd and Legio, mostly because his artwork was so incredibly different from the styles we had tried previously. Frankly, I was curious to know if The Shepherd and Legio, characters I had always associated with horror and darkness, could be done in such a whimsical style. So, in June 2018, Roberto and I asked Chris to do the piece displayed above for us. I think the results speak for themselves and the success of Chris’ versions of the characters most definitely opened our minds to seeing our characters in a myriad of ways.
ROBERTO: What got you into art in the first place? Can you give us your “Ah-ah” moment where you knew this is what you wanted to do with your life?
CHRIS: According to my mother, I’ve been drawing since I was two years old. She says one day she gave me some paper and some markers to distract me one afternoon while she did household chores. Later, when she went to check on me, she expected to find a mess of childish scribbles but instead found an impressively detailed drawing of Big Bird. I can’t say whether this was accurate or just an exaggerated case of parental pride. What I can say is, I love drawing and have been doing so since I was a young child. I was that strange kid who, at an early age, knew with almost absolutely certainty that I wanted to be a working artist when I grew up.
ROBERTO: When we look at this piece, we see the influence of animation (both short episodes and full-length movies). If we are correct, what would you say are your biggest influences (examples) and what about those shows or movies is artistically compelling for you?
CHRIS: I loved Saturday morning and afternoon cartoons. My favorites were shows like Beetlejuice, David the Gnome, Looney Tunes, The Simpsons and Animaniacs which certainly influenced my love of animation as well as my sense of humor as a child. When it came to Disney Animated films though, I was a fanatic. Although I enjoyed the contemporary animated films like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin that came out during my childhood, I was drawn more to the classic Disney animated films like Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians and Robin Hood. They formed the foundation of my love of animation and my intense desire to become a Disney Animator, a goal I held from ages 9 until entering college.
ROBERTO: You really seem to have “leaned into” the ghostly aspects of the characters of The Shepherd and Legio. I reference the illuminated eyes, Legio’s ghostly tongue/mist coming from his mouth, how The Shepherd’s coat completely dissolves into smoke, and, of course, the mist in the background. Did the supernatural aspect of the characters appeal to you? And have you done artwork of other supernatural characters you could share with our readers?
CHRIS: When it comes to illustration, a supernatural element always makes the process even more enjoyable in my opinion. You get to play around with stylized shapes and line art, vibrant color schemes and more. Characters from fantasy and sci-fi films and tv shows tend to be one my favorite things to illustrate. Over the years I’ve done a number of pop culture illustrations so its hard to list off specifics.
ROBERTO: The staff is probably the part of The Shepherd that has the most variation from artist to artist. Yours is a fusion between the more naturalist takes (imperfections and outgrowths of the wood) and the industrialized (almost Japanese-influenced look to the lantern). Any thoughts on how you came to that take?
CHRIS: For the staff, I wanted to go for something organic and unrefined when it came to its depiction. Gnarled, twisted lines and shapes can be more interesting than straight lines and simples when it comes to drawing wood and I wanted to convey that idea that this staff was more of a natural object combined with the lantern which I saw as being ancient and supernatural in its appearance.