I collected the art of Chris Shary for more than two decades before I knew who he was. In the early ’90s, his illustrations began appearing on T-shirts and records by ALL, Chemical People, and Big Drill Car when I was seeing any combination of the three bands and gobbling up all of their merch practically every weekend at the Anti-Club. And then when 3/4 of ALL started playing as Descendents again, his work started showing up on their gear, too.
These days, Chris is best known for his ongoing work with Descendents (including his contributions to the Filmage documentary and watches for Vannen) but is also making limited-edition T-shirts in partnership with Bifocal Media in collaboration with bands he loves such as Adolescents, Agent Orange, TSOL, and The Germs. Many of those pieces are simply portraits drawn with a Sharpie. Punk rock!
Because we have mutual friends and our paths cross at shows, it was just a matter of time before Chris and I became friends. Having donuts with him, Milo (Descendents), and Tony (Adolescents) last summer was like a summit meeting of my favorite things in the world and, more recently, I saw Chris hanging out with David from Vannen Watches at the Steal Music, Buy Art group show. That’s when I hit up the Stockton-based artist about answering 8 Questions…
MW: How do you balance your art and your teaching gig?
CS: Balancing art and teaching has always been a bit of struggle. The real difficulty is when I am directing a play (I’m a high school drama teacher by day). Typically when a play is happening, I have about two hours of free time at home and I try and squeeze things in there. During my lunch breaks, I usually draw but I am always thinking of ideas. When I walk the dogs, when I drive to work, when I take a bath in the morning–I’m always thinking of ideas. That’s actually the most difficult part: getting a good idea. From there, the drawing is the fun and easy part!
MW: Can you tell me how your art started appearing on band shirts and cover art?
CS: During my high school years (’84-’88) I was living in England and most of my favorite bands were American hardcore. Luckily, I had Toxic Shock Records in Pomona to mail order from, but a lot of the bands I loved didn’t have shirts available easily. So I did what any self respecting punker kid would do: I made my own shirts.
Mainly, I used spray paint stencils, but I did a fair amount using Sharpies as well. I would pore over the crazy Toxic Shock catalogs, practically drooling over the shirt section, and I knew I wanted to make shirts that bands would eventually print professionally. I began doing work for my Ipswich pals The Stupids, and that was my first taste of being a “real” artist.
In ’88, I moved to the Denver and rather quickly became friends with Dave Nazworthy, who was in the Chemical People at the time. Dave was connected to virtually everyone in the Southern California music scene in the late ’80s and he was only too happy to make introductions for me. He really was my biggest supporter, and is very much why I am where I am.
I sang in a few bands in Denver and I did a zine in England, but I really wanted to be thought of as is a punk artist. 25 years later, I’m an overnight success (at least that’s what my wife says).
MW: What are some recent or ongoing art and illustration jobs?
CS: March 19th was the opening of an art show at Angel City Brewery in L.A. that I had ten new Sharpie sketches in. Typically, I will do new work for every show I am asked to be in. I like to keep things fresh and current. I also just finished off a drawing for the new Good Riddance album cover as well as tour shirts. I have a new piece in the upcoming Teenage Bottlerocket album which is also being used as a hoodie design.
Someone from VICE magazine also just asked me about doing some add work, and Maxim was interested in doing a piece where they were looking at the process I go through to turn an idea into a shirt. As far as ongoing work, I’m always doing new designs for Descendents and Bifocal Media. We have a whole bunch of new designs that have come out this past year.
MW: Where do you find inspiration in music, art, and anything else?
CS: Music and cartoons have always been my key sources of inspiration. I’m a huge T-shirt junkie and am constantly checking out what shirts are out there, because it’s something that really interests me. I’m a fan of T-shirts and I want to make shirts that I would like.
MW: As a kid, did you want to be an artist?
CS: My first hope was to be a superhero, but when I realized that wasn’t much of an option then it seemed like drawing them would be the next best thing. John Byrne, George Perez, and Jack Kirby really got me stoked as a little fella, and made me want to draw better and better. My mom kinda pushed me on that path when I was 3. We were living in Germany, she was at home with me, and were would draw and color until my dad got home from work. It was fun for both of us, and it’s where I could go and let the rest of the world melt away. It’s a fun place for me to be.
MW: What’s your favorite post-work destination?
CS: The only place I ever want to be after work is home. In fact I was in L.A. recently (flying solo as it were) and it was so very lonely for my wife and son that I decided to skip seeing John Doe and Exene play the First Unitarian Church so I could be home with my family. My family is the most important thing in the world to me. I love them more than anything and where they are is where I want to be. Of course, I’m really happy to be in front of a stage taking pictures as well…
MW: Reading anything cool at the moment?
CS: I wish I could say I am reading something cool at the moment, but I honestly don’t read much any longer. I will read comics before anything else and am a lifelong X-Men fan. Marvel all the way for me. Usually if I have free time, I’m drawing or doing something with my family. It sure would be nice to have reading time again, but priorities…
MW: Is there a publication or zine out there that collects your work?
CS:I don’t think any zine or publication has ever done much on my work before. I kinda fly under the radar I suppose. Dude, I’m underground! It is pretty cool for people to get to know me, though, and begin connecting the dots of all the work I have done over the past 25 or so years. There really has been a lot but, as of now, it’s just kind of all out there. I had a publisher ask me about doing a Sharpie portrait book, but it didn’t seem very serious. Guess I’ll have time this summer, so we’ll see.
Thanks for reading, and follow Imprint on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Also check out Chris’s work at chrisshary.bigcartel.com and if you spot him at a Descendents show just say hi. He’s one of the friendliest guys you’ll ever meet!