Christopher Thornock is a freelance illustrator and active gallery artist from Utah. He received a BFA from Art Center College of Design and an MFA from Brigham Young University. He also teaches art as an adjunct professor.
Tell us a little about your career as an artist. When I graduated in 1996 from Art Center I started working freelance in just about any gig I could. I did exhibit design, tv storyboards, ad comping, adjunct teaching and illustration. I even worked for a short while as an in-house graphic designer before taking the leap and focusing on a studio career. Most of my experience between then and attending grad school was selling paintings as a gallery painter. I focused on traditional figure and landscape oil painting. After receiving my MFA I returned to the gallery work and taught.
You studied at the Art Center College of Design and then BYU. Contrast the two experiences. I started my higher ed at BYU back in the 80’s as an illustration major. After my junior year I transferred to Art Center where I received my BFA in Fine Art with a minor in illustration. I came back to BYU and graduated in 2007 with my MFA. They are very different experiences. Art Center is a more focused ‘art and design’ school and doesn’t really give you a rounded liberal art education. I rarely recycled faculty and most were working professionals. Going to school in the Los Angeles area offered great opportunities for expanding experiences. The greatest motivator there were the other students. Imagine taking all the most driven art minded kids and putting them together. Competition was fierce. Everyone had immense talent and it made me want to push hard with my work. There is a price to pay for this kind of experience. Art Center was, at the time, 5X the cost per semester. Now it costs much much more.
BYU has an excellent undergraduate program. When I was in illustration, I always felt like they really were trying to help us succeed. There is a strong focus on drawing and a lot of effort was made into bringing outside talent to Provo to inspire. The faculty demanded good work and helped you if you wanted to succeed. As far as my BYU graduate experience. I enjoyed working with the faculty. At the time Bob Marshall and Bruce Smith were there, and they were the ones I wanted to study with. Unfortunately Bruce retired halfway through my time. Bob was my graduate committee chairman. The MFA program was pretty open, allowing me to explore whatever path mattered to me. Much like most graduate programs, it is not about taking ‘classes’ per se, much more like getting feedback on whatever you might be doing. They have a good visiting artist program which allowed us to hear from divergent opinions and that made it interesting. As with most grad students I put on hold most of what I had been doing and really tried to make changes to my direction. That can be a tough road. I always felt a little upended. Not that that is bad, you just have to learn to push through it.
You seem to have moved from fine art to illustration. What do you like most about each? Yeah, a little backwards. Most illustrators move the opposite direction. I think of it as getting back to illustration. I joke that I am a bit ADD when it comes to art. I always want to be doing something new. My return came about when I was asked by BYU to be a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Illustration program. As I gave assignments, I would drive home thinking that I wanted to do the projects as well. So I did. Pretty soon I had a portfolio of works just sitting in the studio and decided to approach a rep and see if I could get work again as an illustrator. I was lucky, I got picked up by a New York agency and am now balancing time between illustration and my studio work. The two bodies of work are very different. I like the calm quiet of my studio. The slow process of building a painting, working through my ideas. I like the handcrafting of objects, building the supports, smelling the turps, etc. The illustration gives me a challenge to paint under constraints not of my making. It allows me to be much more playful and not have to worry about the perceived serious nature of ‘fine art’. And the variety of assignments makes if fun as well.