Profiles Visual Arts

Practice Makes Perfect:
The Art of Christian Chavant

The first time I met Christian I was having dinner with him and his then wife in their lovely home in Paris. It was sometime late in 2000.

“My husband is a cartoonist” she had previously mentioned at work —she and I had been coworkers for a short period of time— which had me quite intrigued. I started picturing all sorts of stereotypes, including hubby doubled over a drawing table, wearing thick framed 60s style glasses, enslaved to the grind of his HB pencil.

Photograph by Jérémie Chavant

Christian, a fair skin young looking man was nowhere near those clichés. I was instantly drawn to his soft-spoken manners as well as impressed by his knowledge and wisdom in all topics related to culture. That night we talked about movies, music, visual art, and literature. At the end of dinner, eager to see his work, he happily took us to his drawing table, pulling out large Canson sheets of awe-inspiring watercolors and ink drawings.

“I started drawing as early as 4 years old,” Christian recalls, “influenced by my older brother who was already drawing. In those days that’s what we were doing all day long. We were very much influenced by Marvel publications (published under the “Strange” label). Fascinated by the white page, starting with a pencil stroke and just going from there. I also love to watch other people draw, almost like a magic trick”.

His mother could only draw two things: the “Deux Chevaux” car by Citroen (an old French classic) and the face of a woman. Yet Christian believes that this was a pivotal moment in his creative awakening.

Once he graduated high school, Christian spent two years training in drawing techniques at the prestigious decorative arts school Olivier de Serre in Paris. This is when, at the beginning of the 1990s, he found himself looking for a job at a time when France was already deep into recession.

“A former teacher at Olivier de Serre called me to let me know that Bayard Presse— one of France’s oldest leading publishing company who specialized in the children’s sector— was looking for a part time graphics editor. I was very excited to work for a publishing company that focused on kids’ publications.”

“Part of my job consisted of creating illustrations for “Babar Magazine” a monthly edition and spin off “Babar the Elephant,” the world-famous comic character.”

A couple of years later Christian started working for another renown French cartoon, “Asterix,” collaborating with the Albert René publishing company.

However Babar started again in the mid-nineties at a time when Christian was able to focus on more personal works. Various collaborations with writers ensued and some were even selected for the “Young Talents Competition” organized by Glénat Publishings, during the prestigious Angoulême International Comics Festival in France, the third largest comic book festival in the world.

The new century brought another huge change in Christian’s work when he hired an agent and started working for TV commercials and movies by creating storyboards. Christian was drawing them all, from cars to food products, often spending sleepless nights drawing for urgent commissions or for a movie director making last minute changes to existing work.

Back in those days Christian’s technique evolved as he trained in graphic design software. “I found very little pleasure when I first moved to digital drawing but working on Babar allowed me to continue enjoying working by hand,” Christian shared with me.

The years that lead to 2014 weren’t always filled with work and, despite being praised for his excellent work and unique attention to detail, Christian wasn’t always getting commissions on a regular basis.

It took working with a new technique and a change of agent to bring Christian renewed success: “I started drawing faster, the stroke of the drawing was feeling pleasant again. I had worked so hard for the commercial and movie industries that for some time it felt like I had destroyed my drawing technique because of the speed that was required,” he said.

Christian is a genuine artist, whose authenticity makes him a ‘purist.’ “I had to put everything into perspective in order to bring renewed quality into my work,” he added. “I had chosen heavy production versus quality and I had to change that.”

I am a proud owner of several of his great works that I have acquired throughout the years. Christian’s love of drawing, his passion for talented artists and painters are always reflecting in his art.

He sometimes says he should have pushed his own work as a graphic novelist more, but when people come to my place and see his unique ink drawings and original watercolors they are as much mesmerized as I was twenty years ago, when I first laid eyes on his work, after a lovely Parisian dinner.

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