Interview: Chris Morkaut
At TShirtonomy our goal is not only to showcase awesome t-shirt designs, but also to celebrate the artists behind them. To this end, we’re kicking off our artist interview series with an up and coming print and tee designer that is already making big waves. You’ve probably seen his work on a number of the daily shirt sites, or you may recognize his popular Entertainer print series. Without further ado, here is our interview with Chris Morkaut.
How would you introduce yourself and your art to people who may not familiar with you?
Well, I’m still somewhat new to the game. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, but I didn’t actually start printing, submitting, and distributing my work until fall 2012. To be honest, it’s something I really only started applying myself to in the past year and a half or so. So, I think I have a lot of growing to do as an artist, which every artist should always be striving to do – but there’s no time of growth for an artist quite like those first few years that you’re doing for a living and have to push yourself to always be doing better.
How did you get started designing for t-shirts?
I was always more of a fan of posters and when I first started doing this stuff for real, I first tried my hand at poster art. To be honest it was more fan art than anything, but i learned a lot by teaching myself through learning from my favorite artists.
Then I created this poster in late 2012 that would have looked pretty good as a poster but it just needed to be a tee-shirt. It was a cartoony Walter White and Jesse Pinkman mashed with Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Walter being Charlie Brown in a lawn chair and Jesse being Snoopy, sitting on top of the RV. I’m still working at getting some tee-a-day websites to print it, but for now it is available on my red bubble store and will hopefully be available on Teefury, Ript, Shirt Punch, etc etc sometime soon. It’s a design I am especially proud of and would love for it to be available as a for $10 screen print through one of them, than just a DTG (direct to garment) print through Red Bubble for $20. DTG is fine, don’t get me wrong, I’ve just always been a fan of screen printing.
What inspires your work?
It’s a combination of two things. For one, I’ve idolized some guys for a long time. Guys like Stout, Taylor, Proctor, Budich, Slater, Cooper, etc etc. I admire their work and how they all do such an amazing job capturing the essence of a character, show, movie, band, or just an abstract design of some sort. That’s something I always admired and wanted to do but didn’t have the self confidence to trying do it for myself until somewhat recently.
The other thing is that I’ve worked some of the worst, most disgusting, labor intensive, miserable jobs you can imagine. Some of them paid pretty great, but it’s not worth it when you’re always sore, tired, and dirty. I don’t want to work a job like that into my 60’s or even 50’s. I respect the people who do, it’s just not for me, so I need to find another way and tee-shirt and poster design just seems to be my best bet, I think.
Can you give us any insight into your creative process?
It’s really all over the place. I guess first it’d depend on the subject matter and the medium. Once i figure the subject, say it’s Breaking Bad, trying figure out the focus of the whole piece. Is it going to be Walt, the RV, or something more abstract like chemical equations or something. Decide if it’ll be a paper or a shirt print. Set the color pallet, create the focus which is usually in the middleish and work my way out from there. Decide if it’s going to have a frame around it or will the frame be the edge of the paper/shirt. that’s pretty important so you can have some rough boundaries for the drawing, even if it is just something in the back of your mind as you create it. It also matters whether I am creating it in PS or AI. i use very different layer structures and color application depending on which of those applications I am using.
Which is your favorite design of your own?
For posters it is either my rock and roll legends print or my Breaking Bunch print, which has been put in a very limited edition coffee table book made by AMC. That was a real honor.
For tee-shirts it’d either be Link Floyd: the Dark Side of Hyrule, which is an old school pixelated NES Link, holding a triforce which has a beam of light going through it and coming out a rainbow. It’s a simple design that represents my favorite childhood video game and my favorite band. Or it’d be my breaking brown design. They both just came together really well, pretty much created themselves once I got them started.
How did your Breaking Bunch poster art come to be featured in an AMC coffee table book?
Well, someone in their marketing department e-mailed me (first saying, don’t worry this isn’t a cease and desist letter.) saying that they loved my work and were wondering if I would be willing to release the rights for them to put it in this book. the book was an idea they had that they were only going to make a few. just basically for Cranston, Paul, Gilligan and some AMC CEO’s. but they started thinking it’d be nice to feature it in some other places such as their offices, some art galleries, and the AMC lobby. As far as I know it will not be available for general public to purchase, which is too bad, but it’s more than enough for me to know that Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston, and Vince Gilligan will have a book containing my work in their home/office. Not to mention some of my idols are also in the book, guys such as Rhyse Cooper and Ken Taylor.
Which has been your most successful design to-date?
Financially, it’s easily been my Hip Hop Entertainers Part I. it was featured on Atmosphere’s page with Slug of atmosphere holding it, as well as Brother Ali’s FB page with Ali holding it. I made friends with Rhymesayers CEO and they became fans of my work and they mentioned my stuff and posted photos of it. It’s a feeling that never gets old for that many people to all pay $ to buy your work. A feeling I hope I can keep coming.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
To keep it short, Drew Struzan, Tyler Stout, and Ken taylor. I grew up studying everything Drew Struzan and as I got a bit older and got into PS and AI, I started falling in love with everything Stout and Taylor. All three have such different, yet such unique and brilliant work. Struzan’s stuff is so amazing b/c it’s mostly acrylic and the likeness of the people and figures are spot on every time. I’ve never been too good with traditional paints so seeing his stuff is pretty unreal. Tailor’s shadows are other level, they’re just so immaculate, and his work printed is always so cool looking because of his metallic or glow in the dark inks.
Stout was my main inspiration for getting into poster art, he made me really want to try it for myself. I started by creating Stout kinda fan art and occasionally taylor fan art and having their work to inspire me was a huge help in figuring things out. Like a guitarist playing Jimi Hendrix until they got it right enough to try creating their own piece, or a comedian standing in front of the mirror doing Richard Pryor or George Carlin’s entire set, you learn about delivering a joke, pacing, stance, cadence, etc etc. The same thing applies to art. The other reason I am such a fan of these guys is because I’ve spoken to them several times and they’ve always been so encouraging, helpful, nice, and friendly about everything. stout even recommended me to his Litho printer for my entertainer prints.
What are some of your interests outside of art?
I grew up skiing park but don’t do that much anymore, knee and back problems keep me from pushing it. I also used to ride a lot of motorcycles but I had a couple bad wrecks (mostly because I was reckless and thought I was invincible.) Haven’t had a wreck in about 3 years, the last one I had was because a guy parked in traffic, swung his door open in front of me and I hit it! But still, I’m just not into it anymore. It’s expensive and to be honest I’d rather take that money and put it into printing and distributing my work. It’s the responsible thing to do and you gotta grow up sometime. I put it off as long as I could, but can’t anymore. I still play soccer from time to time, mostly indoor pick up teams. I’m not settled in in any one place enough I can join a league, but at some point I’d like to get back into that.
What are your vices?
Women… maybe movies and video games… (used to buy any and every new movie just because, smart move of me to do right before everything went digital, huh! haha.) I don’t have many vices to be honest. I’m not a big drinker. I love the occasional White Russian or a nice import beer, no PBR or Bud for me. I really will only have one or two a night if i have any. Everything in moderation except for moderation! Never been a big drug user, smoked some weed, sure, but who hash’t these days. It’s something I may do once or twice a year, when in Rome I guess. If that’s what you’re into, you should do it. It’s insane that that’s illegal in 2013, yet synthetic heroin is perfectly legal, but that’s a conversation for another place and another time I think.
Hypothetical dinner party, you and any two people, dead or alive, who do you choose?
EASY! Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Cobain. I grew up reading stuff like The Great Shark Hunter and Hell’s Angels instead of the stuff in my school’s syllabus. luckily I had some way cool teachers that liked me and knew i was going to do something different, and all though I didn’t read their assigned books word for word, they knew I was reading, they knew I had plenty of common sense, and they knew I could write/speak proper English. So, they let it slide most of the time. HST was just such an awesome guy, that guy would have stories for days, guaranteed. I always admired how he worded things. I admired his opinion and his no BS attitude toward politics.
I also grew up listing to a lot of classic rock like the Beatles, the Stones, the Doors, Zeppelin, Floyd, Mountain, Hendrix, and Sabbath. My dad had a huge vinyl collection and I had a musical education unlike most of my piers. But when I was about 11 Nirvana showed up on the scene and they changed my entire view of music, expanded it, and showed me there was so much more than all the legends I grew up on. It showed me there may be some hope for future generations to keep the evolution of music going.
Are you currently working on anything we should keep an eye out for?
Lots of tee-shirts! I have some rough posters sketched but I don’t want to print any new posters till I make my big move back to CA from NY. It’s a pain in the ass moving a long distance with all those prints. Plus, I have quite a bit invested in my breaking bunch prints and my entertainer prints, so I’d like to start making a decent profit off them before I go shelling out a bunch more on printing. The overhead is just about covered on all of those, so I’ve got a good start, but this summer I hope to do an all new breaking bad piece that depicts the entire series somehow.
I also plan to do some new movie posters, some mainstream stuff. Maybe a Tarantino film or two, or a Coen Brothers film maybe, like Blood Simple or No Country for Old Men, as well some movies that’re kinda cult classics or more underground.
But for now just tee-shirts. The great thing about the shirt designs is I don’t need to put my own money on the line when printing through Ript, Teefury, Shirt Punch, etc etc. It’s a mutually beneficial situation that I could make anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand on a single design, and they make their money too. My overhead is literally nothing but my time spent creating it, so it’s basically a 100% profit. The profit isn’t quite as big as posters that I print and distribute myself but I risk a lot less and the turn around time on the money is mere days rather than weeks or even months on posters.
For any aspiring designers, I recommend trying one of those sites out. figure out your style and apply it one way or the other to a design and give it a shot. So far everyone I’ve worked with on those sites have all been way nice and helpful. If a design takes 5 or 6 hours to create and you only sell 300 shirts, if it’s one of the sites that give you a $1 per shirt, then $300 for less than an 8 hour day, sitting on your ass, designing some shirt, is a good days pay! My dawn of the dude shirt sold 676 shirts on Ript back in October, that’s a good deal for an 8 hour drawing.
One design I do have coming up is my “WTF Happened?” design. It’s basically the MTV logo but it says “Wtf HAPPENED TO MUSIC” instead. It is available on Ript Apparel on Friday the 24th of this month. That will be a solid black design on a red shirt. then on the 10th of next month, Shirt Punch will be printing it on a black shirt and I believe it will be florescent yellow and hot pink, going for a real 80’s look on that one. Follow me on Twitter and FB to be up to date on sales and availability.
Keep up to date with the latest from Chris
Checkout Chris’ Red Bubble Store for t-shirts, and his Etsy store for prints.
Thank you Chris, for an awesome, insightful and entertaining interview. We can’t wait to see what you have for us next!