Meet the Artist - Stanley Chow
Posted on January 15 2016
"Always do things you want to do and be good at it and people will ask you to do the things you love doing."
Stanley Chow Illustrator
Born Manchester, England
Lives In Still in Manchester (though he has moved about)
Amy Winehouse Scoop Tee from the Stanley Chow Collection
What have you been working on lately?
For the last four years, it’s just gone bat-shit crazy.
I work on more commissions than on my own personal work. I’m working for The New Yorker regularly and my reputation just grew from being in there. I’m part of their branding now. Every contributor has a portrait that’s done by me. I’ve done a ton — Nike, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Vanity Fair, GQ, WIRED Magazine, various books. But even before that I was nominated for a Grammy award for my work with The White Stripes.
It’s been a massive snowball that I can’t control. Last week, my illustrated balloon of Donald Trump was on the cover of The New York Times Magazine.
Stanley's illustration of Donald Trump printed on a mylar balloon for the cover of The New York Times Magazine. Photo by Jamie Chung.
It’s been a good year. Now I’m just trying to figure out how to suppress everything. I don’t want to get too busy. When you’re freelancing, you’re almost trained to say yes to everything — even to jobs you don’t want to do; You don’t know when the next time you’ll get paid, you see. You think, it’s bound to slow down, it’s bound to slow down. Then, you have a day of nothing and you’re kind of scared, but then it’s busy again for another three weeks.
What was your first job?
Working in my parent’s Chinese Takeaway since I was about 20. Then I said, "I don’t want to work here anymore." I wanted to work as an illustrator, but there was no work there. All I wanted was a part time job doing a data input or whatever. I never managed to get a job doing that.
And your parents? They were into you being an artist?
They always encouraged me. My parents were very open. They knew I had an ability and talent. They helped me nurture it, really.
What was Plan B?
There was never ever a Plan B from day one. I knew from when I was four or five years old that I wasn’t going to be able to do anything else. Actually, being an illustrator or an artist really was never kind of any doubt in that. That was what I was going to do. There was a time when I was 30, my father asked me, “You aren’t making much money, why don’t you do something different?” He was leaning against a big advertising poster and I looked at it and said, “I was paid £10,000 for that poster and it took an hour to do.”
Mona Lisa Crew Sweatshirt from the Stanley Chow Collection
So, you’ve done it all it seems. What’s next?
No idea. The weird thing is that all the little goals you give yourself over the years, I’ve done. All I wanted to do is see some of my pictures end up on TV or something. Even in college, being in The New Yorker was the holy grail. The only thing I haven’t done is have a book of my work — I’ve done children’s books. And I haven’t been on the front cover of The New Yorker, yet.
When you got in the New Yorker did it feel as good as you’d hoped?
Oh yes, it made me feel like scoring a touchdown. Like, Yes! It felt good and was a proud moment. The hard part was waiting for the next New Yorker commission to come in. It took two years. It became pretty regular after that.
Ultimately, I want to be able to look after my kids and watch them grow. I want to keep on enduring, keep on illustrating. Personal achievements, I think I’m done with all that. Achievement is now see my kids grow and watch them turn into adults; work is purely to be able to look after them.
Any advice for young artists?
My only wisdom is to illustrate things you love. Don’t try to create a portfolio of work that you think will get you work. Then people will ask you to do things you don’t want to be doing. Always do things you want to do and be good at it and people will ask you to do the things you love doing.
I love drawing faces, really — portraits, and caricatures. That’s what I was drawing at school and what got me a reputation. But when I left college, I was too scared. There are so many great portrait artists and caricaturists I’d be up against. Some of the giants: Robert Risko, Hirschfeld. These guys, they’re amazing. Oh, and comic guys like Mike Mignola, Jack Davis. There’s all these books at library, these American illustration books. Oh my god, these guys are amazing — even guys you didn’t even remember the names of.
I thought, I’m not going to be as good as these guys. Finally, after ten years illustrating, I let myself do what I really loved.