School mural activity with Chris Nixon
Chris Nixon is the illustrator of the internationally renowned Jake series and Crocodile Cake but he’s so much more than that. He’s building a CV that includes public art, video direction and commercial illustration. Here are some notes about how he approaches each project and a video of Chris at work. What would you have on your school wall if you were designing your own mural? Skip to the end for this fun classroom activity.
How is your approach to public murals and street art different from book illustration?
You obviously have to factor in the scale and the landscape. I approach it by surveying the area and then reflecting some of that into the artwork rather than just something that looks good. The design definitely has to have a purpose. I approach book illustration more like a film. The individual illustrations capture a particular part of the story and then are maximised for greater impact. All the while I am conscious of a bigger story where they all have to flow together. With a mural, it’s often one idea or story and I only get one ‘frame’ to tell that so it’s often a bigger idea condensed into one design.
Does one art form influence the other?
All areas of my work overlap because I think they’re all influenced by my interests at the time. So if I’m working on a children’s book or a mural or directing a video I’ll approach it the same way, building ideas up from small sketches or words. Often they influence each other where I might see something in a composition I worked on for a children’s book that would work really well in a commercial illustration job for an editorial piece. It’s really great if I can revive some of those compositions that I really liked but got cut by an art director or publisher and then find a use for that approach somewhere else, but I don’t push it, it might just flow naturally.
What would you say to students who want to become artists?
I think the main thing is to find out what you like first and what really interests you outside of art, then put that back into your work.
Passion drives you and is reflected in your work and will ultimately create a sense of style. Your style might not be how you execute an idea, but how you come up with the idea and so that should be encouraged to develop. Visual problem solving is a huge part of the craft. Other than that, work hard and have fun. You have to remember you’re working to do something you love, so enjoy it.
Watch the video of Chris at work. Hold a competition where students draft a design for a mural for your class or school. Discuss the values and attributes that make your school or class unique that you wish to portray, and brainstorm symbols that could express these ideas in a visual manner. This exercise could be done in small groups or individually. Have students complete a small-scale version of their mural on canvas. Hold a vote. Paint the winning mural somewhere special in your school.