Creativity inspired by traditions
BY ANJA FAHS
In a few weeks, Christian Watson will be driving – on some deserted road undulating through the foggy, rain-swept forests of Oregon – along the northern part of the American west coast in a 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. In September, he is planning to travel from Oregon to Alaska; without a phone, without sat-nav and without a road map. He will be publishing his experiences in his new book ‘Forth goes the road’ in January 2017.
Embarking on a trip in such a traditional way is very typical of Christian. He loves the traditional, everything that is original, that has weight and contains a message, things that have been hand-crafted and tell a story. This is also reflected in his work as the Creative Director of his design company and lifestyle brand 1924.us. All designs are created using only pencils and pens in precisely the same way as his well-known miniature drawings and illustrations. Before Christian sets off on his trip, he talked to us about his creative passions.
Christian, if we step into your world of 1924 what will we find?
Christian Watson: I love this because ‘world’ means so many different things, but for me my world is defined by my house and the Jeep I am always trekking in as I go around the world. It consists mainly of hundreds of pens, antiques and old cameras. In the midst of all the clutter you find me, a boy in love with all of it.
You are an artist, graphic designer, illustrator and photographer. How does all this come together in your work?
C. W.: I like to title it all underneath the guise of ‘Creative Director’, it makes it a bit simpler to understand. To put it simply, we always tell our clients that if you need something done – we can do it. I have been drawing since I was a child and it has only just recently, in the last five years, become my full time career as a brander for companies. All of these mediums have one thing in common, and that is vision. I am heavily influenced by the 20’s, and in faded colour, washed-out clarity and hand-drawn things you can really see a common theme.
How did you get your company started?
C. W.: Originally 1924.us started as a blog that I was running, just curating images from users all around the world. It wasn’t political, religious or out of any other drive other than to create. I wasn’t striving to make a life of it, at the time I was a librarian at an architecture school on the other side of the country. It has since grown from a curated page into a curated life where every moment I am awake I am trying to apply my vision to how I am living as well. I wouldn’t call it a company so much as I call it my every day.
Where does your passion for your special art of very tiny drawings come from?
C. W.: I love drawing miniature illustrations because it takes a lot of patience and finesse, even one mistake will ruin the whole thing. So it takes a lot of careful consideration – I’m not one for patience to be honest, so this really helps me hone on that skill.
Your artwork is created and done only with ink, pen and paper: everything drawn by hand. Don’t you use any digital tools or graphic software?
C. W.: I draw everything using pen and pencil, from there we vectorise everything using Adobe Illustrator. This allows us to have the drawings printed, published, etc. There is no digital manipulation for our hand-drawn works, this helps us keep the authenticity of each piece intact.
I read that almost all tools you use are made before 1940. Is that true?
C. W.: From the rulers to our pencils we use I would say 80 percent of our tools are older than my grandfather; we have compass sets as old as the early 1800’s. It helps me stay in touch with how things were done, sure there are tools that exist now that are so much easier and more convenient to use but it doesn’t have the same feeling for us. So we struggle through the use of older techniques to create truly original art.
Is living in a world with modern technical achievements and convenience not the real life?
C. W.: I don’t think it’s about what’s real or not real, for us we just like the process of old ways. To us, it is more about integrity than it is about practicality. If I wanted to design a lot of things on the computer, believe me it would speed up everything tenfold, but it wouldn’t be the same story. I am obviously not always so traditionally-minded, as I write this to you on my MacBook. I use Instagram, cell phones, and the list goes on, but the most parts of all our gear, down to boots and clothes, are older than I am.
Are you counting on traditions? What does tradition mean to you, your personal lifestyle and your work?
C. W.: I love tradition. I don’t think this is a phase either. Ever since I was a child I was in love with old things, you can thank my Nana for that – she ran an Antique store too. So for me I grew up surrounded by things that were old-looking and I did the job better than most people can nowadays. It shows me that hard work and belief in ideals for betterment still exist. It’s not about ‘harrumphing’ and sighing at the situations we are in, it teaches us to make it with what we have. I smoke a pipe and drink whiskey and my grandparents and their parents and so forth have done it, and I love it in my life. Tradition isn’t always healthy or the best option, but for me it’s the most rich and fulfilling.
You use modern social network channels to proclaim your work and to inspire other people. Is this not in contrast with your traditional way to work and live?
C. W.: Exactly, as mentioned above it definitely contradicts, which is why my next book ‘Forth goes the road’ will focus on the application of disconnecting. We won’t be on social media in anyway and I’ll have my phone locked away in a little glass box that says ‘for emergency only’ so that when I head out I can’t touch it. I want to live the way people did before the availability of convenience. Back when people had to talk face to face and ask for directions. So I’ll head out on a month-long trip to Alaska and leave all those things behind me.
What does inspire you?
C. W.: People. I believe that people are the only thing that keeps me going in a very full and prominent way. Without people I wouldn’t have the drive I do to share my life with others so fully, and it’s not about followers or likes or all that – but my friends, and distant strangers, even my enemies! We all interact in some way that makes us who we are and shapes us into those adults we grow up to be.
How do you want to inspire other people?
C. W.: I just want others to feel motivated to do the things that make them truly happy. Life is quick and we got one shot – make the most of it and be decent to those around you, help people who need it and love others even when it is hard.
What kind of industry or company would you love to do a project for?
C. W.: I am so blessed that I have had the ability to work with a lot of companies that I have always appreciated but if I could work with anyone it would be Wes Anderson, in the hope we could create a piece that inspires humanity and togetherness through simple things. The way people live is important to showcase as well in the way people work. I would love to do more cinema.
Christian Watson was born in Virginia and grew up in Oregon. He studied architecture in Boston and set up the blog ‘Lyla&Blu’, from which his company 1924.us later developed. After living and working in Texas for several years, he now once again resides in Oregon.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue Q2 2016. Picture credit © Christian Watson