Stanley Chow’s illustration career rocketed just seconds after The White Stripes’ management team called. They asked him to remove a bootleg poster he had designed for The White Stripes’ upcoming Manchester gig. Their slap on the wrist was—to Stanley’s surprise—immediately followed up with a commission request for The White Stripes’ upcoming release. Stanley’s artwork was turned into a limited edition USB version of 2007’s Icky Thump. He’s been working non-stop ever since…
Stanley recently came to Shillington Manchester to talk to our students about his journey. While he was here, we asked him a few questions to get to know him better.
What’s your studio like?
My studio is split into two parts. The main room is where I work, and the other space holds a couple of large format printers, where I get my prints done. The walls are covered with tonnes of prints by various artists, but there is a blank wall where I can use my projector and watch films. The rooms are reasonable tidy, except for my desk which is literally a tip. I have an absurd ability to turn any area into clutter.
What was the biggest mistake you made in your early career?
My biggest mistake in my early career was not taking it seriously enough. I cruised through college not doing very much, but I was getting commissions and having a good time. I assumed it would be easy to find work when I left school and still keep doing things I enjoyed, like DJing. I wasn’t focused on being an illustrator, which is what you need to be to stand a chance of having a career solely as an illustrator.
What did you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
I wish I knew how to use a Mac—or at least have a computer! My work is pretty much 99% vector/digital based now. I spent about eight years of my career painting and drawing, until eventually my dad bought me a Mac. He told me I had to move on and get with the times. I spent about three years teaching myself how to use Illustrator.
I was 30 by the time I felt reasonably competent using Illustrator.
You have such a definitive personal style. Has this always been the case or was it formed over time?
It has developed over the years, and it’s definitely more refined now. Basically, the style I have now was a process of trying to cut as many corners as possible, discovering visual short cuts, so I could speed up the process of getting an illustration over and done with so I can work on the next thing.
I kind of want to be an illustration conveyor belt!
I don’t like dwelling on projects. I prefer to do a job which is one quick illustration and that’s it. I want to move on to the next thing as soon as possible. I’m impatient like that.
Do you think having a very specific style works against a designer early in their career?
It’s difficult to say. There are plenty of great illustrators who have had the same style all through their careers and haven’t felt the need to change styles. For me personally I’ve changed styles really dramatically since I started, mainly because in the early days I wasn’t particularly successful, so I guess it was in terms of survival I had to change and alter my style to find success.
How would you describe your frame of mind when you come up with your best ideas?
To be honest, that’s something I never really thought about! I’ve been so busy of late. It’s literally do one commission, then work on something else directly after it. So my best ideas probably occur when I’m under pressure working on a commission. While I’m working on one job I’m already thinking about ideas for the next…