Drawing AttentionThere are many ways to get on the cover of Newsweek — solve pi, become president, capture Sasquatch. Chris Gall of Tucson found another way. He used his talents as an illustrator, which also landed him in Time, Fortune and The Washington Post. And then he started thinking about robot-dinosaurs and a giant green teacher-squid.
By Kathy Ritchie
Chris Gall's imagination runs full-steam ahead. After years of doing what he does best — creating magnificently bizarre illustrations for clients like New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority and a very well-known Hollywood producer (who shall remain nameless), and writing and illustrating award-winning children's books — Gall keeps coming up with ideas. Good ideas.
"Ideas are the easy part," he says.
His Tucson-based studio, with its vaulted ceilings and skylights, is brimming with inspiration. The walls are covered in his richly hued illustrations. On one hangs Judgment Day, from his latest tome, The PTD Cocktail Book, a collaboration between Gall and mixologist Jim Meehan. It's the artist's only book for the 21-and-over crowd, and it's so wonderfully disturbing, you'll want a martini to help settle your mind.
Everywhere you look, there's something to occupy the eye and arouse the imagination. Gall's short-wave radio sits in a nearby corner as a "remnant from an old hobby." Old notebooks filled with ideas lie stacked. Model airplanes dangle from the ceiling. A vintage telephone sits on a stool.
Random. Eclectic. Colorful.
Gall wants to tap into your imagination with his art. Is something going on beyond what you see? Is there some greater story or reality? It's certainly easy to get lost in the details, but for Gall, the easy ideas come fast and furiously — like the time he was driving on Interstate 10 and conceptualized his book, Dinotrux. Just like that.
"I saw these giant earth movers making all of this noise and it reminded me instantly of dinosaurs," he explains. "What if they were dinosaurs? What if, unbeknown to mankind, trucks weren't trucks, but instead they evolved from a primitive species?"
Gall came home, Googled his idea, and determined that no one had thought to write a children's book about bionic dinosaurs. The book hit shelves in 2009, and its sequel, Revenge of the Dinotrux, came out last May.
Call it the Chris Gall effect.
As a kid growing up in Phoenix, he dreamed of doing it all. "I wanted to be everything," he says. "A spy, an astronaut, a geologist, an undersea explorer." He also liked making something out of nothing. In college, he would spend weekends looking for "weird things" in junkyards. After graduating from the University of Arizona, Gall took a job at an advertising agency, and also freelanced as a cover designer for Tucson Weekly.
Although the side gig didn't pay much, it gave him the chance to experiment with different styles. "They let me do whatever I wanted," he says. Eventually, a cover for Newsweek earned him an award from Communication Arts magazine. Not long after, opportunity knocked — loudly — in the form of an agent from New York.
Thanks to fax machines and FedEx's next-day delivery, Gall garnered clients across the country without having to leave Arizona. "I'm a big outdoors person, and everything that is 'West' is here, which I love so much," he says.
As Gall's career soared — his work has appeared in Time, The New York Times, Fortune and The Washington Post, as well as at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport's east economy parking lot and on labels for Tucson-based Nimbus Brewery — he rediscovered another passion: writing.
Gall had a strong literary influence when he was a child. His grandmother was a librarian and a good friend of Maurice Sendak's, so he had a smorgasbord of books — including Sendak's — to devour. In college, he took up creative writing and, years later, pursued stand-up comedy.
"I was really enjoying writing all of this funny stuff. [The process] got me thinking about what I could do with it."
Gall's first book was inspired by a poem written by his great-great-aunt Katharine Lee Bates. The poem was America the Beautiful.
The book was a success. Publishers Weekly named America the Beautiful one of its best children's books of 2004. Gall went on to produce Dear Fish, Substitute Creacher, There's Nothing to Do on Mars (inspired by Sedona's red rocks) and his Dinotrux series. He has at least three other books on the horizon, including Awesome Dawson, about a boy with MacGyver-esque abilities. It's due in 2013.
Gall can't imagine running out of ideas. After all, he's the kind of artist who understands the importance of taking a concept and turning it on its head.
"Everything has been done," he says. "Everything has been thought of. How are you going to make a meaningful statement?"Gall is straddling two very different worlds, and he wouldn't have it any other way. "I love that I'm still, in some weird way, being a third-grader. I'm creating things. I'm putting something together from nothing that other people notice. And it's a career."
For more information about Chris Gall, visit www.chrisgall.com