Anderson, Indiana

A peek into the world of illustrator Chris Sickels

Thu, 2014-02-20 13:22 -- univcomm
February 20, 2014

This Saturday, the Jessie C. Wilson Galleries at Anderson University will present the annual Juried Student Exhibition, a collection of student work selected by juror Chris Sickels.

Sickels, the artist and operator of Red Nose Studio, is a professional illustrator who creates fantastic, imaginative worlds through sculpture and photography. His work has won numerous awards and has appeared in a broad range of media, including advertising, magazines, newspapers, and packaging. Sickels has also illustrated several children’s books and created short animated films.

[Photo: Attention Seeker, mixed media, 2011, 7”x6”x6”]

It’s been almost two decades since Sickels was himself a college student, but he remembers that, like many college students, he did not have a clear idea of what he wanted to do. He knew he was interested in art, but wasn’t sure what opportunities were available. “Initially I thought I would probably become a fine artist,” he says “or design shampoo bottles.”

For awhile Sickels studied painting and explored a variety of different media; it wasn’t until midway through college that he discovered illustration. He remembers, “An older student took me to a newspaper stand and showed me what illustration was.” And from that moment, he was hooked.

Around the same time, Sickels started going to puppet performances by a contemporary artist, Mark Fox. He was fascinated by the tactile quality of the puppets and realized he wanted to bring the same immersive, dimensional feeling to his own work. “I wanted to pull the viewer into my world” he explains.

Yet it wasn’t immediately apparent how the would achieve that.

“As a student you have this pressure to have it all figured out” Sickels remembers. But he didn’t. Five years after college, he was still working to figure out how to merge his passions for illustration and sculpture together. He had begun to establish his career as an illustrator in painting, but still wanted … something different.

“It’s really scary to work for a few years in painting, then show [clients] these sculptural illustrations,” he says. “It was a big challenge to convince [them] to jump on board with the new process … it took a lot of trial and error.”

While the difficulties of his early career may have faded, Sickels still encounters challenges; they just look a little different.

“How do you keep it fresh? That’s the challenge for today,” he says. It’s also what makes his work exciting.

Currently Sickels is working on illustrating a children’s book for Random House, which will take a full year to complete. He’s also working on a small stop motion piece. And a lot of little projects.

“That’s what’s great about what I do,” says Sickels, “[I’m] doing the same thing but the subject matter is always changing.”

Looking back on those early years, Sickels realizes, “the fact that I was naive enough to think it could work was an asset. If I had known how hard it would be, I probably would have tried something else — a job in real estate.”

So to students, he says, “Be dumb enough to trust your gut and go for it.”

He also offers this perspective: “I live in a small town in Indiana, and [my studio is] in my garage. The great thing about being at a university is the networking, access and resources. Chase it down. Press your instructors to get the criticism out of them. Screw up while you’re in school. Be nice and stay hungry and go after it.”

Sickels’ work will be on display in conjunction with the Juried Student Exhibition; he will give a lecture on his work at the opening reception this Saturday, February 22 at

The Jessie C. Wilson Galleries serve Anderson University and East Central Indiana with monthly exhibitions that feature the work of regionally and nationally recognized artists. Through these exhibitions, the gallery is dedicated to enriching and engaging AU students, as well as promoting the visual arts within the greater community.

For additional information contact Tai Lipan at or call (765) 641-4322. Gallery hours are Monday - Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

Anderson University is a private Christian university in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.), Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.