Interview with visual artist Carter Chase

“I’ve just always appreciated street art and the colours and the amount of energy that a lot of graffiti and street art has. [Artists] go out of their way to risk certain things to make art, which I love and I love the style.” – Carter Chase

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Mark: On the line right now I have Carter Chase, an artist live from the Barracks. Welcome, Carter, to the show.

Carter: Hey, thank you very much.

Mark: Carter, you started on Monday in the Barracks, a little bit of a rainy week so far, but how’s it been going?

Carter: It’s been going good. It’s only been rainy yesterday and today. I’m really enjoying it – we’ve got a lot of people coming in and I just talk about my artwork and work here with Katherine – it’s been great so far.

Mark: What kind of work do you do, Carter?

Carter: Most of my work is a mix between contemporary art and urban street art style. I use a lot of ink pen and I do a lot of fine-detailed work. Not much painting, but a lot of drawing.

Mark: So pretty intense, close to the artwork kind of work?

Carter: Very close sometimes. Actually sometimes my face is less than a foot away from the page when I’m drawing, so very, yeah.

Mark: What sort of topics do you tackle in your work?

Carter: Well my work is all meditation to me, so I sit down in front of a page – usually I won’t even start with an idea – and I’ll just let it flow. It all depends on what I’m going through and what stage of life, so I like to express my understanding as I grow in wisdom and knowledge.

Mark: So what kinds of things have come to you as topics before? What sort of things have you drawn before?

Carter: Well if I turn around and look at some of my prints hanging on the wall here. A lot of my work is inspired by relationships – love, my relationship with God, addiction – just certain things I’ve been through. There’s one I’m looking at right now on the wall and it’s called Willpower. There’s a hand holding a flame, a snake with an eye on it, and there are other coloured flames, and it represents something that I would hold, something that means a lot to me. The snake is representative of evil, and the eye, lust. The other fires are something that look really good and something that I really might want, but I know that it would burn me and hurt me. At the top of the page I have my temptation and my willpower wrestling for the conclusion, or the outcome of what my decision’s going to be. So a lot of my art has a lot of symbolism, I use a lot of negative space, and usually only put a couple of colours in each piece.

Mark: So when you’re working on something like that, does it come to you as a full image when you start, or is it gradually growing as you build it?

Carter: Absolutely not. It starts with nothing, honestly, and it grows and evolves and every line I do opens up new doors of opportunity for where my mind is gonna venture.

Mark: Does it surprise you sometimes, what comes out?

Carter: Oh yeah. It’s actually really exciting to do a piece because I have no idea what’s gonna happen – I just start drawing and I get excited, and as it grows I get more excited and I love it.

Mark: How long have you been at this particular art form?

Carter: I started using ink pens, I wanna say, in grade 11 or 12 – probably end of grade 11 – I’ve been drawing my whole life, but when I got into ink – it just felt right for me. So I’ve been doing it for about 5 years.

Mark: And was it the kind of thing where you started out by doodling and then you found a structure or an inspiration or a style which appealed to you and you went after it, or was it that you tried all the styles and they all combine together still?

Carter: Well doodling was definitely a huge part. One of my biggest inspirations, one of my favourite artists is Dr. Seuss and the way he uses his lines and not following the rules, and just being creative and not really caring. But I learned a lot as I was growing up, having my parents read me those books and see all the pictures. Other artists that I see. There’s so much that we see all the time that we don’t realize we take in, but I think a lot of my art is just from looking at other art and from things that I’ve seen.

Mark: I find it amazing, the range from Dr. Seuss to urban street art. Do you find there’s more in common than more people might realize?

Carter: I totally think so, yes. All the bends and the funkiness to it – street art I guess can be really anything, but there’s a lot of lines and bending and Dr. Seuss uses a lot of curves.

Mark: Do your works always have that sort of abstract, symbolic nature, or do you do concrete works as well, on things you can actually see in the real world as well?

Carter: Well I don’t do observation drawings too much – I have one hung up in Isaac’s Way restaurant right now actually which is an ink drawing where I studied and did an observation drawing of a rock, tree bark, fungus, and wood. I do a little bit now and then but it’s usually just drawings from my head, from my imagination. Not all of it has symbolism in it – some of it is just for visual appeal. I do one thing I call ‘visual music’ and it’s where I sit down and listen to music that inspires me, or music that I love, and I just draw with nothing in my mind and I just see what happens. So some of that doesn’t have too much symbolism in it but it works out really good.

Mark: Is there an average length of time that it takes for you to put together one of these pieces, or is it really following wherever the muse takes you and it can be widely varied?

Carter: Well it’s very varied. I have some pieces that take a month, some take maybe a week – most of them take about a month. My longest piece – I put it away for a couple months at a time but it took 2 years, my longest piece. But for the most part it takes me about a month.

Mark: That’s a tremendous amount of time. Is it difficult to get back into the same mindset after you’ve put it away for the day?

Carter: It can be. If I can’t get in that mindset then I just put it back away because there are a lot of pieces that I have that are almost finished, or that I started, and so I take out the one that I feel that I’m wanting to work on and when I’m done with it, I’m done with it for the time. You just kinda know.

Mark: Do you keep notes on what you were kind of thinking at the time?

Carter: I do sometimes, yes, but usually I can remember as soon as I see my artwork. But I do have a little book where I write down certain ideas and whatnot, but like I said for most of my artwork I start with maybe no idea or the smallest idea and I just let it flow and see what comes to me.

Mark: Do you ever take and rework an idea? I know some painters, for example, will paint the scene, and then they’ll paint the same scene but from a different perspective, or they’ll go “I learned what I learned in that scene,” and do another version of it, or is every single piece basically on its own?

Carter: Hmm, I don’t really understand your question there.

Mark: Well I’m just wondering if you do kind of a study of a piece and let it flow and think “ok well I can do it differently, or better, another time” and then rework that piece or if you let it be as it is.

Carter: Yep – I’ve actually done certain ideas and think, “I wonder what these colours would look like with this ink on top” or something and I do a study drawing, and then after that I do a piece. But all the time. It actually happened a couple days ago – I drew a tree a certain way and I loved the way the texture was in it, and so there’s another piece I’m working on now and I’m using the same technique, so just from drawing and exploring with my ink I’m always drawing new stuff. I don’t like drawing the same lines over and over again, although I do. I like to explore and find new stuff and when I do I get excited. Yeah – I definitely use it in other artwork.

Mark: So how big is your artwork? ‘Cause I imagine, I have the impression probably because it’s ink, I think of it as quite small, maybe an 8.5 x 11 inch artwork, but what is the actual size of your work?

Carter: Yeah, most of them are fairly small, about what you said, but what I usually sell are my prints and I usually scan my work at 800 dpi, which is a high resolution, and then I print it, usually at 20 x 30 inches to keep the quality so my prints are a lot bigger than the originals. The originals are usually a sketchbook size or maybe a little bigger, but I’ve been getting into lately working on illustrator board, which is larger. I wanna get into larger pieces.

Mark: What’s illustrator board like, is it a cardboard surface?

Carter: Not really, it’s like a really thick, thick paper. It has a very smooth surface and ink doesn’t bleed on it very good and when you hold it in your hands it doesn’t flop. It’s a nice material to work on.

Mark: So what’s it been like so far and what are your thoughts about working in public? Is this something that’s different, or new for you or do you do this all the time?

Carter: Well I don’t work in public all the time but I’ve definitely done a bit of it. I love talking about my artwork and I love showing people my stuff. I spend a lot of time on it and I like people being able to see it and appreciate it.

Mark: What sorts of questions are people asking you about your work?

Carter: I get a lot of people asking “how long does it take you to do that?” and I tell them what I told you.

Mark: Does it surprise people how long it takes? Or is it a matter of, you know, a matter understanding as they look at the intricacy of the work?

Carter: Well I usually tell them it takes about a month, or whatever piece they’re looking at I tell them what I can remember of it, and the answer I get back is usually “oh, I can imagine.”

Mark: What are you working on while you’re there right now? Is it more than one piece or is it working focusing on a certain piece?

Carter: Well I had a single piece started. I’ll have time – I’m gonna finish it maybe even today, but I’ll have time to start on another one soon that I’ve been working on for a while. The one I’m working on right now is called A Common Rainy Day and it’s an experiment I did. I was at the Rothesay Common and it was raining that day, so I wondered what it would be like to do a watercolour painting in the rain with watercolour pencils. So I sat on the bridge with my pencils and this piece of paper that I taped down on a board and I just did this painting, which just looked like a mess. So I took the painting home, and I started drawing on it and adding ink, pencil crayon, paint marker, and just layering it over top but leaving some of the mixed watercolour as some of the texture in the background. It’s actually looking really cool. So I’m excited to try new stuff – I just need more ideas and I’m just ready to explore certain stuff.

Mark: Is it often about the exploration of the new or the refinement of the skill? Which is the preferred mode for you?

Carter: Definitely refinement. I love working with ink, I really do. I love working with just black ink but I’ve been working on, especially over the past year, just working with colour and coloured ink and trying a bit of watercolour, and other stuff to add to it. I like sticking with ink, but I like to mix it up a bit. So usually if I am going to do a watercolour there’s gonna be ink in it.

Mark: You described your work earlier and one of the words you used was ‘urban art.’ What does that mean to you?

Carter: Well more of a street style. I have a hard time defining the difference between street style and urban, but urban to me is more like old school, in an alleyway sort of thing, kind of grungy – that’s how I see it.

Mark: Do you have any idea why that speaks to you so strongly?

Carter: No particular reason – I just always appreciated street art and the colours and the amount of energy that a lot of graffiti and street art have. They go out of their way to risk certain things to make art, and I love it and I love the style. I picked up on it a bit, and I used to watch some YouTube videos of some of what the pros would do and I learned a bit of the angles they used. I just interpreted it and put some of it into my work. It’s a lot different than a lot of my my ink drawings, but if you knew much about it you’d see some of the style in my drawings.

Mark: That sort of work is typically done with something like spray paint. Do you use that medium as well?

Carter: Not often. There are times that I do but it’s very, very rare. I usually just like to do it in my drawings.

Mark: Given your interest in intricate ink work, I’m kind of wondering whether you’ve ever designed tattoo work or something like that.

Carter: I actually have a little list of tattoos that I gotta make – I haven’t done any of them yet because I just haven’t had time yet, but I’ve got some friends and family who are wanting me to design some tattoos. I used to think about going into the tattoo business and I met some artists and talked to them, but I don’t think that’s where I’m headed.

Mark: You prefer the palette, or the page more than a person, I suppose, for your artwork?

Carter: Well I’ve never tried drawing on skin. Well actually, that’s a lie. I gave myself a little tattoo on my foot, but I dunno. I’ve never tried it so I couldn’t tell you but I do love working with paper. I love the feeling of pen on paper. Who knows? Maybe I’ll try it someday.

Mark: You mentioned doing prints of your work. Do you ever do other forms? Does it show up on a t-shirt, or is it a logo for a company or anything like that?

Carter: I haven’t yet, but there’s something that I’m going to start doing soon – I just have to find the right contact and I know where to find them, but what I wanna start doing is going to festivals and selling my work on bandanas and the coffee to-go cups. But bandanas is the big thing. I wanna start selling them at the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival or collaborate with them or Folly Fest – I wanna start getting a certain design made or a certain drawing made with those words on it in my style of art and sell bandanas, because I think it’d be a huge hit and everyone loves wearing those at festivals and it’s a good memory so that’s kind of the plan I have right now.

Mark: You mentioned there’s a piece of your work at Isaac’s Way. Is there another way people could see your work?

Carter: I’ve got a couple of prints at The Abbey right now, but I think they’ll be taken down soon. I might have a new piece going up but I haven’t gotten that in yet so it’s not a for-sure thing. I have a couple of prints down in Rothesay at the Common Creperie and right now I think that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. Actually, I have a print at Cafe Loca which has been there for a while so who knows if that sold or not.

Mark: Is that something you want to do more of? That you want to get prints out there, or would you rather people come to you and make requests and ask for prints? What do you look upon the business side of your artwork?

Carter: I definitely prefer people to come to me – it saves me a lot of work. But I work hard to try to get my art out there and look for art shows and galleries to get into. For most art, you’ve got to work to get there. I have a show coming up in September in Saint John at a cathedral – I couldn’t tell you which one – and that was my first invitation without me having to actually do anything to get in. I definitely prefer that instead of trying hard to get into these places and sometimes being denied or never getting an email back, but for sure, I’d rather have them contact me.

Mark: You have a lot of work with you this week though, to show off to people?

Carter: Yeah, I have a decent amount here. I have about 6 prints hanging up and I have my portfolio if anyone wants to take a look through it. I also have some original work and a couple I’m working on. So yeah, I have some work here.

Mark:  Do you have a place online where people can check out your work as well?

Carter: I have a website: and it’s pretty much my portfolio online. There’s prints that people can look at and if they were interested they could email me. All my prints are one out of seven – they’re original ink laid prints that come with a letter of authenticity. Now I’m starting a new thing where I’m doing proof prints with my newer ones, not with the ones that I’ve already set one of seven. I’m gonna start keeping those seven original ink laid prints but also having 77 cheaper, smaller prints that don’t come with a letter, they’re not signed by hand but they’re more for tourists and markets and stuff like that. Things that are more affordable.

Mark: Very cool. Well thank you for joining me for these last 20 minutes, Carter. I really look forward to taking a look at your work and I hope a lot of people will stop by and marvel at your work.

Carter: Well thank you.


Find the audio podcast of Carter’s interview here:

The Lunchbox Interview: Carter Chase (Drawing)


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