Chuck Anderson aka NoPattern on Creating Through Constraints

Published November 07, 2019

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Today, long-time friend of the shop Chuck Anderson–the designer-slash-photographer-slash-artist-slash-creative director behind NoPattern Studio—released a new project entitled Crash Report. The result of a fortuitous bit of software experimentation, it is Anderson’s most personal work in a minute. Featuring a foreward from Chicago-based tattoo artist David Allen, this series of hyper-vibrant, often-chaotic compositions represents an ongoing negotiation between Anderson and his temperamental collaborator of choice—Photoshop. The title of the book references the dialog one sees upon restarting Photoshop after it crashes mid-session. Anderson used this dynamic as a tool for wrangling his experiments into a narrative. It’s the story of learning to work with, as he puts it, “this very talented but very annoying person.”

Driven by no agenda beyond his own creative impulses—a deliberate break from his more commercially-oriented work—Anderson has carefully assembled a focused, thematically-cohesive project, right down to its packaging. When we spoke on the phone last week, he explained that he’s shipping the book in the anti-static bags typically used for packaging hard drives and other computer parts. “I wanted it to harken back to trying to upgrade your computer,” he says, “adding more RAM. The feeling of buying something at Circuit City way back in the day.”

Stop by the shop tonight between 6PM and 8PM to hang out with Anderson, have a drink, and grab a copy of book and a collaborative Notre x NoPattern tee. You can also scoop a copy of the book via Chuck's web shop.

Adam Wray
Chuck Anderson

I would love to start by getting an overview of this project—what it is, and where does it come from?

I did not start off thinking, "I want to make a book. What should I make a book of?" One of my hobbies is sitting in Photoshop, fucking around, experimenting. I stumbled into the realm of 3D within Photoshop and accidentally came up with some cool results just by being like, "When I click this, what happens?" I started falling in love with this experimental process in a program that I was really familiar with. I've always wanted to learn 3D, but the learning curve is so steep, and, frankly, with a kid, I didn’t know that I'd have to time to commit to learning it. This felt close enough that it was scratching that itch, and the next thing I knew, I had dozens and dozens of these experiments. I started refining it, started to get a little more control over the output. It started to look so much like me, but also nothing like me.

It’s interesting that exploring working in 3D lead you to a print project—representing the work two-dimensionally.

This book is all about my interaction with technology as a medium. I'd be making these things and then get rudely interrupted when Photoshop would crash in the middle of nowhere. It would have saved 10 minutes prior, and I couldn't get back to where I had been before. This kept happening, so eventually I just incorporated and accepted it. It became something I started working with. It became humorous, in a way.

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Image from Anderson's Crash Report (2019)

Within the book, I really wanted it to feel like you're watching me work. You'll look through three or four spreads, and then all of a sudden there's text from a crash report message that I’d screenshotted and inserted to interrupt the flow. Then you turn the page and it’s a whole new section of work. It's meant to take what it felt like to work on all this stuff and put it in print. That’s something that I didn't expect when I started working on this—eventually, it just felt like it needed a tighter concept to make it feel like more than a slideshow of random images.

It sounds like an instance of a constraint actually being productive. Speaking of constraints, you have a lot of experience working in a commercial context, too. That’s a reality for most artists, and certainly a lot of the younger ones that look up to you. How have you managed to find balance between commercial and personal work? Do you find the commercial work inspiring in its own right?

Everybody starts with personal work somehow, and then that attracts commercial work. That's how careers start. I was doing my own work when I was 17, 18 years old, and it attracted a couple of small clients, then some bigger clients, and the rest is history.

"I really wanted to get back to putting things out that I was completely in control of—from the packaging, to the printing, the paper, the hard work that went in to orchestrating this whole thing on no one else's terms but my own."

Throughout that time, what was paying the bills for me really was the commercial work, but from about 2004 to about 2011, I ran a webstore store called NP and Co. I made a couple of portfolio books, sold prints, all that kind of stuff, and that was a creative outlet for me where I did what I wanted to do on my own terms. Over time, I got sucked into more and more commercial work, and got a little too overwhelmed to continue running the shop. I just didn't have the time for it anymore, but I always had that anxiety in the back of my head that I wasn’t operating at full capacity. I really wanted to get back to putting things out that I was completely in control of.

I’ve learned a lot doing what I do for commercial clients over the years. It's been extremely meaningful to me and had a huge hand in the trajectory of my career, but there's nothing like veering left all of a sudden when you've been going straight for a while and all of a sudden doing something very, very different.

And the feeling of investing money into something for me is a big one. One of the biggest pet peeves I have is when artists go, "Hey, would people would be interested in buying it if I were to make prints of this thing?" Make the thing. Spend the money. See what it feels like to take that risk.

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Image from Anderson's Crash Report (2019)

Spending money on something makes it feel real, for better or worse.

Yeah, and this a true investment in the next step of the kind of work that I would really like to be doing. I want to have future clients come to me to do this kind of stuff, because this is really what I'm excited about making right now. If I don't do it, no one's going to do it for me. I'll just keep getting what I've always gotten, and if I'm not happy with that then you have the definition of insanity, right?

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Image from Anderson's Crash Report (2019)

Do you think there is real value that can be delivered through commercial platforms? I think there's sometimes a binary view, like, "It's advertising, therefore it's bad.” Do you think there's potential to do meaningful work in the commercial sphere?

I do think there's a lot of value in commercial work—it just depends on what it is. There’s not an objective answer. Let's say someone is 23 years old, and their first job out of college is working on a banner ad for some shitty watch company. They might take a lot of pride in that. They're excited to go home and show their parents. It's really easy to mock stuff like that—we roll our eyes without actually considering there's a human being behind it who might be proud of it.

It's the age old conversation of, “What is art?” Is it defined by anything that means something to someone? If it's meaningful to someone, who's to say there's not artistic or soulful value in it? Think about a record cover. How many great bands commissioned legitimate artists or designers, and those album covers went on to define generations? Define entire just eras of people's lives, essentially? It's hard to cut through the noise, but when you do, if it happens through a commercial, client-based project, I think that's okay.

"My daughter is just a little over two now, but just because I'm a dad, that hasn't changed my desire to be someone who creates things and makes things. In fact, it reignited why I want to do all this stuff in the first place. I want to show her these things when she's older and they can mean something to her."

What advice you would give someone just out of college and entering the workforce?

I look back and I realize that I was just always curious. I never had to be reminded to look for inspiration. I'm constantly digging and looking at other people's work, seeing what people are doing in all sorts of formats and disciplines.

The advice is to not just look inside yourself. Be aware of what's going on around you. Find inspiration outside the media that you're personally most interested in. Young photographers, for example, get stuck just staring at Instagram all day. Make sure that you're absorbing things from all different areas so that you don't just end up in a rinse-and-repeat cycle.

What were some of those inputs that influenced you on this project?

If you have a similar sensibilities and tastes to mine, especially around music, you’ll pick up on my influences with regards to punk rock, hardcore, and metal. That's a huge foundation in my life. If you look at the styling of the type that I use in the book, the damaged quality to some of the things in it, you’d be able to pick up on that.

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Anderson assembling Crash Report

While I worked on this project, I was listening to a lot of rough, heavy, dark shit. I think that inspired some of the pages in the book that are really chaotic. Then all of a sudden there's a page that's really clean and empty. That almost felt like when I got to the end of a song and was like, "Okay, I need a palette cleanser. It's time to put some chill jazz on for a minute."

I can see how hardcore has influenced you aesthetically, but are there other parts of that world that have impacted the way you work? A lot of that music, especially the straight edge stuff, has an ethic to it that goes beyond aesthetics.

I've identified with the world of hard core and punk rock from the moment it was introduced to me—probably that summer between eighth grade and freshman year. For me, punk rock is the mentality of being fiercely independent, and really trying to do what's right according to what you believe. That's the mindset I had with this whole project.

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Image from Anderson's Crash Report (2019)

I was in a band in high school, and my favorite part of it was being responsible for all the design. I made our website, I made our tees. I would go to Kinko's and run copies and put the whole thing together. I like the idea of sourcing, pulling 10 different elements from 10 different vendors together to make one complete package, put together in a creative way. There's a lot of soul that I've really tried to put into this project, and that's what I hope comes through, and what I feel aligns with the spirit of a lot of music that influenced me.

Something that's changed for you since you last made a book is that you're a dad now. I would love to hear about how that has changed your creative process.

It really has.

I can imagine.

Yeah, it's been a huge, huge one—like, the biggest. It's the best thing in the world, but with anything in life, when you add something that's going to take up time, something's got to give.

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Image from Anderson's Crash Report (2019)

My daughter is just a little over two now, but just because I'm a dad, that hasn't changed my desire to be someone who creates things and makes things. In fact, it reignited why I want to do all this stuff in the first place. I want to show her these things when she's older and they can mean something to her. Tell her that I made these things when she was younger, that I worked on a lot of this while she was taking naps on the weekend, that after I put her to bed and I'd go sit on the computer and work all night on it.

Also, I really needed to prove to myself. I really needed a breakthrough. Can I do stuff as good I did when I was 19, 20? Can I still do stuff now that I'm 34 and I have a kid? Now I get up at five in the morning and work for two hours before she gets up. It has a massive impact, but I think it makes me all the more proud that I completed something with her around.