Freelancer Spotlight: Chris Lyons, Illustrator & Professor at RIT

Chris Lyons is an illustrator, teacher, and ballplayer. He gets to draw for great clients (The New York Times, Pentagram, The Smithsonian, The USPS, The World Wildlife Fund), teach incredible students (RIT), and play basketball every morning with guys WAY better than him. His work has been recognized numerous times by Communication Arts, The Society of Illustrators, American Illustration - and the cherry on top was a Gold ADDY last year. He also won the Edline M. Chun Award in 2017 for Outstanding Teaching and Service to Students at RIT.

Q: How did you get started in this business?

A: As an intern working for Milton Glaser in NYC. I saw him work, and I knew I wanted to be an Illustrator/Designer. It took me 20 years in advertising to make it happen.

 

Q: Who was your very first client?

A: The first one I remember as a professional illustrator was a front page Wall Street Journal piece. My hands were sweating and shaking. I look at that piece now and I cringe…but in a sweet way.

 

Q: If you could have anyone’s job in the United States who would it be?

A: One of my RIT grads is the Global Brand Designer for Nike basketball…are you kidding me?

 

Q: What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?

A: Playing basketball. And doing Global Brand Design for Nike.

 

Q: How does it feel knowing that millions of people have licked your artwork on a stamp?

A: If they’ve licked the artwork they may need an intervention. The glue is on the other side…

 

Q: What is on your playlist right now?

A: All the artists from the Honest Folk concert series. Such inspiring talent: Jeffrey Martin, Anna Tivel, Mandolin Orange

 

Q: If you could make any broad change in the advertising industry, what would it be?

A: More women in positions of power. More diversity in our agencies and studios = fresh voices

 

Q: Who is your favorite brand as it relates to advertising?

A: Nike. I know it’s obvious, but that brand speaks my language. And it’s beautifully designed.

 

Q: Name someone who inspires you?

A: My daughter Clare and her relentless fight for women’s health and reproductive rights in NYC. On the creative side, illustrator Edel Rodriguez. So talented and utterly fearless. His TIME covers are inspiring.

 

Q: Favorite Cocktail or thing to drink?

A: I’m a beer guy. As my grandfather always said, “Life is too short to drink crappy beer”. I love good beer. And chocolate almond milk…sinfully good.

 

Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you want to have with you and why?

A: Anne Esse and a basketball. She’d figure it all out while I dribbled and shot around.

 

Q: What’s the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced in the last year? How did you overcome it?

A: Learning to broaden my skills. A lot of my clients are looking for movement in the illustrations they commission so I had to teach myself to make that happen. It helps immeasurably to have my young RIT geniuses on speed dial.

 

Q: When did you decide advertising was your thing?

A: I never really did. I got swept along by the current just out of school and 20 years later I was a partner and creative director and not really fulfilled. I try to drive this home with my students: YOU decide on that career path of yours. Try things. Stay open. Your first job does not define you. Shape your career to suit you. Be brave.

 

Q: What’s your greatest fear?

A: I would not know what to do if I lost my energy and my curiosity.

 

Q: What’s your favorite movie and why?

A: The Godfather. It’s so rich and such a great story. Best ensemble ever?? (close seconds: Goodfellas, Christmas Story and Groundhog Day)

 

Q: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about getting into advertising?

A: This industry has limitless opportunities to apply your creative talents. There are so many ways to make a go of it. Figure out where your talents and interests lie and pursue that. Some patience is necessary…

 

Q: Did you ever pursue other career paths?

A: Yes. Constantly. I had a ball in advertising. I love being an Illustrator. My favorite thing now is teaching. I love my students. Nothing pleases me more than their success. It’s incredibly fulfilling. And I’m planning something else going forward. I can’t sit still.

 

Q: What’s an idea you had or project you’ve worked on that didn’t make the cut, but you hold dear to your heart?

A: I’ve tried to get everyone to stop painting garden rocks white and to stop chewing gum.

 

Q: What do you think the Rochester ad scene needs?

A: More women in charge. More diversity. More brave clients. I’d love to see more opportunities to keep all of the best and brightest from RIT in this market.

 

Q: Who inspires you locally?

A: I’m excited to see the uptick in quality of the work in this market. And the competition is making everyone better. But what I’m most inspired by is the camaraderie and genuine goodwill we all have toward one another. 20 Minutes + a Beer is one of my favorite evenings. Old and new friends, great conversations, students, and beer. That works for me.

 

Published from an interview with
James Ashbery, RAF Content Co-Chair

Chris Lyons Headshot