Today’s Creative People interview is near and dear to me. When I moved to the country a handful of years ago, I left behind the vibrant arts community I’d been a part of for over a decade. While my new community is filled with plenty of wonderful people, artists are few and far between. When I met Chris Rhodes, I secretly cheered.
Aside from being a genuinely nice guy, Chris is a father, partner, and artist in Ashtabula, Ohio. He’s made his name in custom tattoos, and is also quite skilled as a photographer. Not long ago he opened his own brick and mortar shop, and things were going pretty great.
Fast forward to the beginning of the year, I set aside some time to finish the book I’d been working on. I’d completed the writing and editing and was finally ready to tackle the illustrations – when I realized how much I hate doing illustrations. I’d scroll through Chris’s Instagram feed and swoon. I remember thinking, “if he could do that on paper…”
And then the pandemic hit.
Tattoo shops and daycares were among the first to be forced to close, and the last to reopen. Having a young son, he was impacted by both. It was hard to watch someone I care about not be able to do what they love – and what quite literally sustains them.
I reached out about the illustrations and asked if he’d be interested, and he said yes. He had never illustrated a book before, and I’d never hired an illustrator – so there were plenty of learning curves. But we were both excited about the possibilities. We started our now socially distant collaboration by passing a manuscript back and forth in a box, me leaving it on his porch with a wave and him stuffing it back in my mailbox.
At the time of this interview, the state has newly reopened, our collaboration is drawing to a close, and Chris has finally returned to doing what he loves. He’s busy these days, and that’s a good thing.
Here’s his story.
My creative world exists as the edge of my routine. Things happen every day in a certain order, and after I take care of them I’m free to let my imagination wander. I’m able to take today’s client idea and run with it.
The things I make aren’t as timeless as a painting or sculpture; they only exist as long as the client does, and it’s that balance of permanence and fragility that comes with its own inherent pressures.
I feel that creativity comes from our experiences, and sometimes for me it has nothing to do with drawing or art at all, but more with the time to reflect on everything I’ve done and what worked well and what didn’t. Sometimes that happens while in my car, listening to music, or playing video games; sometimes it’s while drawing, sketching, or painting. I can be a professional procrastinator.
As businesses and daycares were forced to close, I realized that the time driving to work, or sweeping and mopping the shop, or prepping a canvas panel in silence, that those were the moments when I was having my inspirations – and now I had to figure out how to have them while also entertaining a two year old. Not an impossible task, just a different one for me. Not in my pre-existing routine.
Well, it’s sink or swim, and I’m a decent swimmer. My father used to have my brother and I tread water in the pool for 20 minutes before we could actually play. He was a marine and he figured a five and ten year old should surely receive the same training he had, lol.
Well I guess it paid off, because that’s what I did. I treaded water. Worked just enough to stay afloat, thanks to a few friends and some meaningful projects. I spent over two months not doing something I had been doing for 14 years. It was strange. I decided to take it as a blessing. Focus on the fact that my family and everyone I knew personally was healthy and safe. That I was getting to spend time with my son that I probably wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, at least surely not as much. And just make art when I could (typically during nap time). I woke up earlier. Created a new routine.
Now that things are opening up again, I’m creating a new routine yet again. It’s working – because it has to. I’m sure there’s some saying about how those reluctant to change will be destroyed by it, and if there isn’t, there should be. Thankfully people still want tattoos, and I’m finding other ways to market my artwork. I have new goals because of this. Better goals, I think. Thankfully before this I had just finished reading Dr. Stephen Covey; he talked about paradigm shifts and how sometimes that’s all it takes to go from a negative to positive.
Art will always exist – as long as we keep making it. Tread water and let your imagination and experience guide you. Shift your perspective from time to time. AND SEIZE THOSE NAP TIMES!”– Chris Rhodes
Thank you, Chris, for sharing your story. You’ve expanded my perception of what it means to be an artist, and it’s been great to collaborate with you.
You can find his work at Fox and Crow Art Co.
Thanks for reading!