The Chicago-based artist Cam Collins lets the art speak for itself. Rarely (if at all) revealing physical features on social media, the prolific artist instead showcases canvas and articles of clothing covered in timeless worlds. With a style that feels antiquated and vintage while also somehow appearing futuristic and galactic, it is hard to namedrop similar artists. Who else tapes rose monocles onto heroes in collared shirts?
While splitting time between passion projects and artwork covers for Windy City acts like Ravyn Lenae and Manwolves, it comes as no surprise that the artist is about to continue to grow by taking courses at the Rhode Island School of Design. I spoke with Collins about 2017, about the future, about wearing sudoku instead of clothes, and, of course, about the ability of bringing to life the worlds within an artist's head.
Just to get started, how has 2017 been treating you?
2017 has been very productive but in a very factory like way so far. I'm essentially doing a lot of things how I would do them best, no drastic changes yet. 2017 is a green + warm creme year, and I thought this would be the case since 2015 really. I tried emailing Death Grips to see if I could do art for them, but they didn't respond, so they might be telling me to wait a bit. The only conflicting thing is if it's okay for me to be satisfied about me being right about the color this year...
For those unfamiliar, how would you describe yourself / your art in a couple sentences?
My art is largely narrative and can be seen from a very sequential angle, due to the way it seems like it's taking inspiration from both "fine art" and comics. My work will include a lot of humans, and the humans could be ones you already know, but it doesn't really matter, they will always be doing something. As of now, I am having fun using ink, pastels, graphite, and very little digital manipulation for my work.
Your creations seem to fit in a unique world where rooms are packed and many characters exist. Is your brain full of people coming and going?
In terms of coming and going, the people usually just come and stay there and it's very hard for me to forget people. The people I draw are not people I know of and I would not compare them, but just because I don't do it doesn't mean the viewer can't. I'm very into the idea of other people's faces and their occupation, and I think this probably stems from my past Portrait a Day project, where I essentially just forced myself to draw a face a day for 1333 days. It is fine for the faces to be there in my head, if they weren't, it would be kind of hard to draw a face! In terms of packed rooms for everyone to be in, the room and the situation of the piece is what makes the people, so everything in the piece should be very important to the people's tastes, and if a person is in the wrong room in my pieces, it should be easy to tell.
What's the rest of the year looking like for you?
In August, I'm going to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) to learn more things. I know there are a few people saying " Oh, you don't need to go, your art is already very good!" and while I think that is a nice thing to say, it would be a bit boring for myself if I already knew everything I drew was going to look the same, especially since I'm still young. Living in a different place for four years, it should be inevitable that I will probably change a bit, but there are a lot of things in my head I know I'll finally be able to execute if I get better at certain things. A jacket I drew on has finished scanning and I'm ready to do more things with that, but I am also thinking of doing a GIF series at some point, my own soda can drawing (I've always wanted my art to be on soda can or packaging, so I want to see what it would look like), and I'll also probably be in some other shows near the end of this year.
You've been creating original art for Manwolves and Ravyn Lenae as well as one-off clothing items. Is it difficult to split time between projects?
No, I just do different things at different phases of a time. It's really just when I feel like it, because it's a lot easier to make something "touching" if someone really felt good doing something. I've never really found time to be an issue -- a lot of the clocks in my house are slow, and I use a lot of movies to measure my time. Instead of time being an issue, it's more the effort I put into one thing. It's not that I just decide to not try hard on something, but with every piece I do, regardless of what cover it is for, I'd like to spend the same amount of effort on it. To put it simply, effort and time aren't really the same thing for me, I just have a list of things I'd like to work on / need to do in my head, and I do them the best I can. If I, or anyone else, follows those rules, then there is a good and thoughtful thing.
Some of your pieces feel stuck in past decades, would you agree? Care to speak on this 'vintage' feel?
With my art, I do imagine a certain time period for specific pieces, but even with that in mind, there are some things I would just like to make look cooler. So even if I set a piece in the contemporary, it wouldn't matter if all of us in the world are using a touch screen phone, I will probably still draw it as a cool and nice chubby telephone, so that the viewer (possibly) knows what it is, and so that I'm happy, because I know that the people in my pieces are using something I probably made up. The "vintage" feel might also come from the material I'm using, which is just simple ink pens on canvas. So to say the least, the time of the piece is thought of beforehand because of a color scheme I have in my head, but the objects can change because an object can look however it wants, as long as the people in my story can use them.
Outside of design/illustrations, do you have other hobbies/interests?
I watch a lot of movies, but I wouldn't call myself a cinephile because that word sounds kind of mean. I know it's not, it just sounds that way. I really like learning languages and the idea of them, so hopefully me not staying in the same place for a long time is a hobby. I usually wake up and bike so I can listen to music alone -- bikes have circles and I bike in a circle, so it's a very satisfying thing to do while listening to music, or any repeating sound I like. I also play Um Jammer Lammy and Street Fighter Alpha 3 sometimes, but that is while I'm waiting for a scan to load. I know when I list things it seems a bit simple and orderly, but these things are very easy to remember because they are worth me taking a break with them.
What are some studio essentials?
My studio is really just my room for now, but I hope it changes very soon. What I use now is just a portable scanner, Copic ink pens because while Micron pens look cool, they run out very easily and are very weak people. I also like having pastels in my room. Recently, I have not used them very much for serious art pieces, but they are nice to have in a room, and are colorful enough to make you remember what colors you might like that day. The window in my room is small, but I like that a lot more than I could really show. Hopefully once I get an actual studio, there will be a nice radio that is blue and red. I could get one now, I guess, but they will look cooler in a studio so I will wait until then. You should also have a few sudoku puzzles and clothes. You could wear either of those, but clothes are a lot easier to wear, and sudoku puzzles have a very nice grid that makes you look at numbers in cool formations. Sudoku is a bit hard for me and I have work to do, so that's all I would use it for in a studio setting.
What have you been listening/watching/reading as of late?
I usually like reading JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, but I am all caught up so now I have to wait a month for a few pages to be finished, but it is worth it. I saw a movie called "Sexy Beast", and I was really happy it had nothing to do with either of those, and it felt very Australian, so I've been thinking about that a bit. I still listen to Aphex Twin, Daedelus, and Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO). I heard a neat yellow song and my friend told me the difference between West Coast jazz and the other jazz, so it's nice to know that territory changes the style of things. Latest song I listened to is "Firestarter" by The Prodigy, and I like it with turquoise and red. Those things are harder to find though.
Do you have any advice for artists working on their craft?
I always find a lot of trouble helping people but the most I can really say is that it's really important that you try to think as much as possible. You don't have to think about a certain thing all the time, then you would be like a fan or a table. Those items only do a few things, and are boring to watch. A lot of people like watching TV, or things that can do a ton of different colors and activities -- whether those things are necessarily what you're into or not, it's good to pay attention to everything and care about it. A lot of people confuse "caring" with it meaning that you like it, but I think "caring" just means putting thought into it, and why it is the way it is. When you have that, then you have a story in your head, and if someone ever asked you to make a piece about it, no matter how mundane it was, you will be able to make art about it, simply because you cared about it.
Any final words/thoughts/shout-outs?
I'm very happy I'm able to do an interview like this, I have a different background on my computer, and it was very good to look at while doing this. I am not going to shout right now, but thanks to my computer background, and to everyone that helped me realize it is good that I'm doing my art. Especially Manwolves because doing cover art for them is fun and nice. I also want to thank my mom because she helps me a lot and cares, along with how she taught me how to not get headaches as easily. When I have headaches, it's kind of hard to think.