In the Studio: James Chadderton

Join us as we get to know more about British mixed-media artist James Chadderton in this months featured artist blog.

James’ work consists mostly of post-apocalyptic landscapes, collapsing the boundaries between traditional and composite drawing. His playful, colourful, and at the same time dark and nightmarish landscapes open up possibilities within the space between reality and fiction, or intent and interpretation.

Which medium do you work with and what do you like about it specifically?

For my sketchbook, I primarily work in pencil, pen and ink; and for larger colour images, digital paint. Traditional media is always the first choice for ideas creation at speed and for that, I use a lot of Pantone markers Watercolour, carbon sticks and 3D modelling materials.

I moved to digital paint, as it allows infinite variations, modifications and accuracy, plus no drying times. With digital painting, you can fit a whole studio of art media into a very small space, and that was essential when as a younger artist, I was working from my bedroom. Corel Painter is my favourite package for digital work, as it offers the closest match to traditional painting techniques, but with all the main advantages of digital art such as layering, instant colour mixing and of course, a step backwards.

Describe your style of art:

A concept art style involving traditional and digital media.

Coral Island by James Chadderton

Can you talk us through your process? Do you begin with a sketch, or do you just go straight in? How long do you spend on one piece? How do you know when it is finished?

Almost all my work starts in a sketchbook of some shape or form. I work using a fountain pen, bic-biro or fine liner. I don’t usually use pencil for linework as it smudges when working fast and you are always tempted to rub out bits you don’t like. The fact I can’t edit a pen drawing makes the process of sketching a lot more exciting and allows the opportunity for ‘happy accidents’ to help boost my ideas process. I then switch to A1 paper on a drawing board and start working up the idea into a more resolved version, adding detail, correcting perspective and geometry and usually adding pantone inks to cover large areas of tone.

Most drawings are done either on-site or from reference photos, I take with my camera at the time. When you are trying to paint something to resemble a real place it’s incredibly tricky as people see these places every day and will know if you miss a pillar or a set of windows. I endeavour to add as much accuracy and detail as I can and digital paint is wonderful for this as you can increase the image resolution higher to gain more depth to an area. It’s a balancing act when using digital paint as the temptation to make it more and more detailed is always there; therefore I try to stop myself from zooming in too much and to keep my linework loose. When producing a post-apocalyptic style scene, the real challenge is to imagine those same buildings after 100+ years of erosion and lack of maintenance.

So I spend a lot of time looking at old buildings, concrete structures and rusted metal. From mistakes I made with my earlier work, I found that it’s very important to research the structure of the building and see what it is made of before you start coming up with concept drawings. As an example, before painting the Liver Building, I read a lot on its pioneering concrete construction. Prior to my research, every time I visited the Liver Building, I assumed it was made out of stone. If I hadn’t done the research I would have designed it as stone and it would have looked completely wrong. From the initial sketch to completed digital painting, it takes me between 200-300 hours of studio time. I guess you know when it’s finished when it matches the concept you have in your head to the best of your ability at the time. It’s a really tough decision.

When did you begin your career in art? 

In 2001 I started to train as a sculptor/3D Designer through Foundation and University. Throughout University, I maintained an interest in painting and drawing and was encouraged to keep a sketchbook. I still make and enjoy sculpture, but over the last 10 years, most of my time and effort has been focused on painting and drawing work.

Who or what inspires your art? 

The Post-Apocalypse series of work came from my love of science fiction and landscape drawing. When I was young, I was fascinated by Post Apocalyptic films like The Terminator, Threads, Logan’s Run, Mad Max, Escape From New York, Soylent Green; they were exciting and scary in equal measures. Threads, a BBC docu-drama set in 1980s Sheffield, gave me nightmares for a year. It is the most terrifying film I’ve ever seen but left a lasting impression and no doubt contributed to my ideas process later on. More recently, inspiration has come from all sorts of media and hundreds of creative pieces from thousands of different people.

I draw inspiration from Video Games, Film, Design, Books, Music, Television, Teachers from College, University and YouTube, Architects, and Sculptors. There are some practitioners who I just keep coming back to including George Hull (Film Concept artist), Rob Cunningham (Video game concept artist), Dame Zaha Hadid (Architect), Thomas Heatherwick(Architect), Natasha Tan(Concept Artist), Grzegorz Rutkowski(Concept Artist), Kait Kybar(Concept Artist), Flying Debris(Concept Artist), Hideo Kojima(Game Designer); all amazing and all worth checking out.

james chadderton at dot-art gallery

What is one of your favourite pieces that you have done and why? 

I value my sketchbooks. They are chunky things, most of them falling apart and the drawing quality isn’t always the best… ink bleeding through pages destroying previous work, and they also have plenty of brew stains. However, they are a diary of the journey, and to me, are often the most free and liberating parts of the creative process.

james chadderton studio imagejames chadderton studio image

What are you working on at the moment?

Currently, I am preparing a new body of almost completely sketchbook based work. It was scheduled for a European exhibition last year, but sadly due to recent events, it got put back to 2021.

What’s your most unusual artistic habit or strangest technique you have learnt?

Whilst on foundation, I was taught to make first and draw second; something I carry to this day. I often build my landscapes in blocks of wood and bits of Lego to get the perspective right.

What are your favourite things to listen to whilst painting? If anything!

I always watch or listen to something whilst making artwork. I don’t think I can make work without something on in the background. Star Trek is my go to, but I have been known to watch Babylon 5.

What’s the best advice that was given to you as an artist? 

Measure twice, cut once.

Discover more of James’ artwork on our online shop!