Chris Nielsen - Digital Illustrator

Stumbling into the work of Chris Nielsen, I thought I had found a photographer not an Illustrator. His work is exceptionally realistic. Even as I look very closely at his renderings I find it quite flawless and almost unbelievable that it is not a photo.
Chris Nielsen is a digital illustrator located in Southern California. He is best known for his incredible style he calls “Stylized Realism” (Nielsen). To execute his polished style Nielsen takes around 100 photos of a motorcycle on his digital camera for references, and then places the photos into Adobe Illustrator. Nielsen then relies mainly on the pen tool to increasingly map out the details he sees to create the incredible stylized illustration. He focuses on one section at a time, starting with simple shapes before focusing on great detailed sections. When working on exceptional detail sections, “Nielsen would often zoom to a comfortable 300% or so to work” (Shewer, 2009). Chris then goes back to the shapes he has created and selects the shape, “and use the DIVIDE PATHFINDER to cut the shape down into smaller, more descriptive pieces for coloring later on” (Hodge, 2008). Chris’s illustrator files normally have around 500 layers by the time he is finished.

Chris Nielsen did not acquire this extraordinary style over night. He attended California State University, Fullerton and received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Illustration with a focus on digital art. He also has over ten years experience as an instructor at the college level.

With Chris’s illustrations so sharp and crisp with rich detail, many assume his photo quality illustrations are packed with visual effects, and filters to achieve such a lustrous effect. Nielsen is quite clear that this assumption is completely false. He claims, “My work is completely made up of flat-colored shapes... lots and lots of them! I DO NOT work with any types of Filters or Special Effects. I like the process of developing a realistic look in my illustrations with totally flat colors and abstract shapes” (Nielsen).
One of the more ironic things about this accomplished illustrator and his subject matter is that he doesn’t have a motorcycle of his own. In fact he has never even sat on one nor does he have a clue of how they work. Many people would wonder then why he would choose this subject matter. Chris explains that his choice of imagery is a refection of what appealing to him visually. He elaborates this in the ‘Statement’ section of his website, “I choose to work on portraits of motorcycles that you and I do not have the privilege of viewing on a daily basis. I do not focus on the whole motorcycle either. I prefer to crop in on those amazing and complicated, little parts and focus on those relationships. Those are the portraits I like to draw... simply because it’s a challenge to me... and they’re fun to look at and talk about” (Nielsen).

I find Chris Nielsen quite inspiring as an illustrator. I appreciate his discipline to mastering the pen tool and his patient consideration of his subject. When I consider the tedious hours that this master illustrator commits to his work I understand his statement, “I draw what I like to look at” (Nielsen). In general I try to search for subject matter that is somewhat visually appealing or interesting to me. Especially when I will be looking at it so much in the creation of a digital vector illustration. 
Chris’s discipline to detail to make his work as realistic and in some cases better than the original is something I feel I strive to as a beginning artist. Especially when creating vector art, I work toward his style of “Stylized Realism” (Nielsen). Of course I am not there yet, but he is defiantly an inspiration to keep working to become a master of the pen tool.

Works Cited:

Hodge, Sean. “Chris Nielsen Interview”
14 May. 2008: Web. 23 Oct. 2009

Nielsen, Chris. "Statement"
Web. 23 Oct. 2009.
Stewer, Sharon. “Advanced Techniques – Gallery”
The Adobe Illustrator CS4 WOW! Book
Peachpit Press, 2009.384-385.

Vectorvault.com. “AnchorPoint”
2008: Web. 23 Oct. 2009.

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