Conversations with Chris Kemp
Hailing out of the "Edge of America", Folly Beach, SC, Chris Kemp is an artist, surfer, and Director of Doodles at Revelry Brewing here in Charleston. Chris helped us out with a photoshoot this past fall where we were lucky enough to take in his surf and art shed and plenty of his awesome creations. We caught up with Chris to learn a little bit more about what inspires his creativity, how he got started, and talk a little bit of surf along the way.
MW: First off, we’re always impressed by your artwork! If you’re not out surfing somewhere, It seems like you’re doodling, sketching, or creating some awesome work for clients and yourself. How’d you first get your start as an artist?
Chris: Thanks! I’m very grateful to have been able to follow this path. I’m self-taught and have just approached all this as it was something fun to do. A way of expressing myself and being able to get paid for it, to be honest.
I moved to the Outer Banks after college and was inspired by the rawness of the ocean there, the people, and the landscape. I started collecting treasures that would wash up after the hurricanes or nor’ easters and started painting on whatever I could find. (I also couldn’t afford many art supplies). Shortly after I met a good friend who was a surfboard builder, and owned a skate/surf shop. He had me painting murals and creating graphics for apparel. I was also his resident artist, illustrating custom surfboards for clients and helping with the glassing process.
From there, I kept making similar connections, usually surrounded by the things that I was interested in working for bands, beer companies, surf shops, magazines, and more. I give huge thanks to all those people that gave me those chances in the early days. I did not know what I was doing and had to learn so many lessons along the way. (As a matter of fact, I still am.)
At the end of the day, I was lost as most kids are in their twenties. I found a passion and pursued it. I tried A LOT of different things, moved around a few times, and failed a few times, but I kept making stuff. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I was going but if I was having fun and kept progressing (professionally and skillfully)… it was for me.
Chris Kemp in the Delano Shacket in Black
MW: What’s your favorite medium to create with?
Chris: It depends on the day. I enjoy it all but mostly linocuts, ink, watercolors, and spray paint. Most of my client work these days is digital, so it’s nice to let loose and get my hands dirty as often as possible. I’ve been trying to make more and more art for myself just to breathe a little from the client stuff.
MW: What came first, art or surf?
Chris: Art probably came first. As a kid, I was really into skating and music. I was always influenced by all of the amazing art coming out of that scene. I didn’t take the art thing seriously until after college around 2006-ish.
MW: Last fall, you helped us on a photo shoot and we had the chance to check out some of your incredible artwork on surf fins and boards. We’d love to hear a little more about that and where people can grab those from you (shameless plug!).
Chris: Appreciate it! The fins are just a little something I’ve been messing with when I get time. I’m slowly building a collection up and will probably release them all at the same time. People have been trying to purchase them, but I want to see 50-some fins hanging on a wall for some reason. I’m hoping to find some space to carve for that project this year if I can make it happen. My New Year’s resolution is to start releasing some short-run prints and other art for sale as well this year via my Instagram. (@sea_kemp)
MW: The people will just have to patiently wait on the fins then! As a surfer, we’d imagine that blending your art and surf culture came naturally. But, beyond surf, what else inspires you with your art and doodles?
Chris: Just society and culture in general. I’m always taking notes and snapping reference photos. We’re funny creatures roaming around this planet with a bunch of other funny creatures. Inspiration is endless.
MW: Lightning round… if you had to choose one place, local or exotic, to surf for the rest of your days, where are you going?
Chris: We’ll keep exact locations private for the local’s sake, but it’s warm year-round and there’s always a wave, tasty food, and good music.
MW: That's a seasoned answer right there! What's your favorite board to surf?
Chris: I’ve been so amped on riding my 11’ glider the last few years. It opened up a whole other realm of surfing the smaller waves around here. If I had to pick another it would be some sort of twin fin, I like that they go fast and turn smooth.
MW: We’ve noticed that your artistic style and designs translate really well to logos, labels, posters, etc. Do you prefer the process of creating your art digitally or by hand? A mix of both?
Chris: Really a little bit of all of it. I’ve learned a lot more about graphic design these last few years, and just sort of use whatever tool feels like the right fit.
I started as an illustrator, and have just had to learn the skills to be able to design along the way. I still do a lot by hand and start every project with a small sketch. A lot of textures and photos from different mediums get used in the actual digital work too.
I illustrate a comic a few times a year that tends to get super detailed. Being able to illustrate the final on the iPad for the last few years has been a huge time saver for me. At the end of the day, I am running a business, and a tighter final product that I can deliver in a shorter time span is pretty epic.
MW: How do you come up with ideas for clients? Do folks bring you most of the meat and potatoes and you just create? Or are you brainstorming the full concept from idea to finished product?
Chris: Every client and product is different. I try to ask a lot of questions in the beginning and then there are usually a few rounds of sketches.
Thanks for the time Chris! If you'd like to check out more of Chris Kemp's artwork and designs at www.artofkemp.com or on his Instagram, @sea_kemp.
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