Chris DeLorenzo is an absolute badass. He’s created some of the most interesting, poignant, and delightful illustrations of the last 10 years. He has been a part of the Stranger Family since I first discovered his work in 2017, and his talent and ingenuity have rocketed him to success as an independent artist. In our interview, we discuss defining a signature style, his enchantment with the West Coast, and embracing distractions.
Can you give me a practical rundown of how you got to where you are in your career?
Sure thing. It’s a fairly typical story of a modern day art kid finding his way with the ultimate goal of making a living with his creations. The goal was in sight, but there were stops along the way. I studied at Syracuse University as a communication designer with a focus on branding and advertising because I liked having a problem to solve and designing with a goal. But I also hung around the printmaking studios too much and really liked the slow craft of making images. After school, I worked at a big ad agency in Manhattan and learned all about how an agency operates and working with clients and pitching ideas. But I hated the slow nature of advertising and how 90% of what I made never saw the light of day. I missed making tangible things. I reached out to a really unique clothing company based in my hometown of Boston called Johnny Cupcakes looking to get some freelance clients I could work with, but they offered me a full-time job instead! So I moved back to Massachusetts to become their main designer and that really started me in the direction where I am today. I designed everything there and got to see it get made and then enjoyed by customers and fans. I made countless T-shirts, hats, patterns, logos, posters, package designs, store decor, video graphics, neon signs, and even an ice cream truck menu and a Casio watch! I was looking for a job where I could illustrate more and boy did I get it. I started to find my voice working there and eventually started posting my own work and getting a bit of recognition with it that I was eventually faced with the decision to go out on my own, and now it’s been six years of illustrating full-time.
You are the master of distilling a complex idea into a totally delightful and surprising visual morsel. It seems really easy for you. Is it?
The hardest part is doing it on demand. I like to imagine these drawings like a slow-cooked meal, you have all the ingredients thrown together in a pot and it just takes a while for them to all come together and be enjoyable. The images are there jumbling around in my head, and at some point, it will click for me and I can spoon it on a plate, I mean draw it on a paper. But I like doing this kind of illustration because it is so gratifying when I feel like I’ve found that perfect marriage of concepts for an image. I pull from the vast library of symbols and meaning and icons in our world, things that come with history and instantly mean something to people, then it’s about changing its perception by breaking it and reassembling it differently. To me, it feels like I’m almost inventing a new word, like a portmanteau but with images, new slang to be shared.
You mentioned in an interview that if you could change one thing about your career you’d like to be on the West Coast or even in Europe. I’ve checked with the authorities and Seattle officially extends its welcome, but they want to know, what is it you enjoy or admire about this side of the country?
Ha ha, thank you for the invitation. Well, I’d probably change more than one thing about my career, but we’ll stick to location for now. One thing about me is I love rainy days, so Seattle would be a perfect spot to set up shop and work away while the storm clouds roll through. I’m also a big hiker and nature lover and I’ve always loved the variety of land you get along the West Coast. You can walk from Georgia to Maine on the East Coast and the views and terrain all look the same, so I’ve always been envious of that ability to go from a desert to the redwoods to a lush boreal forest in just three states, albeit they are big states. Maybe it’s a case of the grass is always greener, but for some reason I’ve always had a pull towards the West Coast, it probably stems from my early love of the Laurel Canyon sound, Kerouac, B-roll footage from Twin Peaks, and the Grateful Dead that had me dreaming of trips along the PCH and foggy coastal mornings and logging trucks. But in the end, my friends and family ties are stronger here and I now realize how much New England is in me and has shaped me.
I appreciate your insight that illustrators tend to focus on developing a unique style when a much more important tool is to develop a unique perspective or way of interpreting creative ideas. Can you elaborate on this?
Of course, illustrators want to stand out and mark their place, create their own sound in a way, something that becomes recognizable and easily sellable. Sometimes when starting out it’s easy to get caught up worrying about creating that recognizable look before you even understand what it is you like or the kind of work that look might get you. A look or style is stagnant, it’s a filter you put on your idea and it has a hard time evolving because it didn’t have a reason to exist in the first place. But creating an idea or intellectual framework for the look in the first place will help that style grow and develop and change over time and become adaptable from project to project. I see it sometimes with young illustrators, where an idea for a piece is incongruous with how it’s drawn and you can tell their chosen style for the idea isn’t lining up with their personal sensibilities. You want a career, not a fad—good ideas never go out of style.
Let’s talk about getting shit done. You are super prolific and I’d love to hear about your routines, how you manage distractions, and hopefully find balance?
If chaos and imbalance are my routine, does that count? Just kidding, sort of. I try to keep pretty normal working hours, at my desk by 9 am and finish by 5 pm. Gone are the days of all-nighters and working weekends. I’m a father now and so my old routine of working whenever I’m inspired and feel the urge, or spending a couple more hours perfecting something is no more. I stick to my office hours and if I don't get it done, then I’ll hopefully try to get it done the next day. I try to take out the sketchbook and get some doodles done off hours but the minute I pick up my pen my son hands me a toy truck instead. In a way, you could say that one thing that has kept me focused is embracing the distractions—letting go of the possibility of getting some extra work done and focusing on whatever has come my way that day. Knowing that those eight working hours are all I have has helped me concentrate a bit more. And after family time, I’ll stay up and play guitar or watch movies. A little me-time at the end of the day keeps me healthy. And whenever I need a recharge I go hiking or for a long nature walk. Most of my work is just work I thought of while hiking, but I’m finally just getting around to drawing it.
What are you listening to in the studio these days?
While I’m working I actually listen to a lot of podcasts, I used to be all music but since moving to my own space and having no studio mates or coworkers I guess I’ve subconsciously been looking to fill that now chatter-less space, even if it’s strangers talking from my phone. I have my fill of news podcasts, film, anything from The Ringer, the occasional true crime and occult, love the guys from Last Podcast On The Left. The most mainstream is the NYT Daily, and the most nerdy is a podcast about wristwatches. For music, I’ll usually listen to a Grateful Dead show, or what Spotify wants me to call Indie Folk. I could also listen to Waxahatchee all day. And then there are the random days where I see an article or headline about a band, like Metallica, and then proceed to listen to their discography straight through that day. Again, embrace the distraction.
Find more of Chris DeLorenzo’s work at chrisdelorenzo.com and follow him on Instagram at @chrisdelorenzo.