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An Interview with Charlie Dunkel

Clean, simple, and bold imagery with strong references to traditional tattoo styles and the city of Philadelphia is what first drew me to Charlie Dunkel’s work. Whether they’re drawn by hand or digitally, Dunkel’s illustrations are so clean and interestingly composed that they never fail to pop right off of the page or screen. While his images can and do stand alone, one of the most enticing aspects of his work is his ability to structure and compose a page with a collection of images. Some set a clear scene, some just gently apply an atmosphere (i.e. a floor), and others are completely void but the images that inhabit these spaces always manage to link together and construct a narrative. It’s really interesting the power and storytelling ability that these rather simple illustrations possess, it really speaks to their boldness and deliberate application of color.

The beauty of Dunkel’s work doesn’t just lie in the imagery either, but also the diverse application. His illustrations can be seen on apparel, skate decks, his ceramic collaborations, and obviously a variety of print/page applications. We tend to see diversity like this in strictly digital, design type artists, so it’s rare but extremely refreshing to see an artist who works primarily by hand to have such diverse applications. I was extremely fortunate to get to chat with Dunkel a little while back about the development of his style, his process, and all of the little nuances of his work. It’s a quick interview that’s definitely worth the read. Enjoy!

1. To start off, tell us a little bit about your background in art. What got you started? Any Schooling? All of the things that helped shape you into the artist that you are.

When I was probably 5 my parents hooked me up with a little art room in our basement where I would just scribble with markers and crayons. I always like to make things and I was lucky to have an awesome art program in high school. My teachers encouraged me to sign up for art camps at Tyler School of Art. That experience gave me a glimpse into life as an art student, and after getting accepted to Tyler’s BFA program that’s what I chose to do. I spent 2 years in the BFA program before switching to Temple’s communication school where I got my degree in Advertising along with a Studio Art minor. During my time at Temple I started interning at an animation studio called Deux Wave where I met 2 mentors of mine, Tammy Hahn and Raymo Ventura. They really showed me the ropes of working as a freelance illustrator/designer/animator and they still school me to this day.

2. Your work is very unique in that at some times it’s an arrangement of images and at other times a detailed composition that all fits together. So how do you decide what images are being used and how those images are related both spatially and in imagery?

I guess it’s a matter of how I feel a thought or moment should be documented. Sometimes the idea is best understood when the images live in their natural setting, and everything just is what it is. Other times I think the importance lies within the chaos.

3. You've got a few clear inspirations in your work, could you tell us in some more detail the character inspirations, cultural inspirations, etc. that helped form your style?

Children’s books were probably the first thing I looked to for inspiration. Sometimes I draw this character that’s like my take on a wild thing from the Maurice Sendak book “Where The Wild Things Are”. But for the most part, I like to travel and take in the natural geography as well as the architecture and design that surrounds me. Distinct style was never something I really tried to achieve. It was a product of my surroundings, the way I naturally draw, and the amount of time I’ve spent making different kinds of images.

4. You've got a very subtle but deliberate use of color, how do you decide which pieces are going to be a little more colorful, or what deserves color and what doesn't? Or is it a bit of a random process?

I’m still spending a lot of time experimenting and practicing new things, so sometimes the way I apply color is random, but the color pallet and the pieces that require color are always a deliberate choice. Deciding whether a piece will be black and white or colored usually happens in the earliest stages of planning out the artwork.

5. Your website features some pretty cool design work and work with clients. How does client work differ from your personal work? Do you find that people or companies that come to you tend to let you work in your style more? Or is it sort of open imagery/collaboration?

I’m usually hired to create work that looks like the stuff I make in my own time, but it definitely feels like client work when the idea isn’t my own.

6. You've got a little bit of animation sprinkled into your body of work, is this something you're well versed in and looking to explore more? Or is it something you don't really do much, but have in your bag of tricks?

I consider myself an illustrator with some 2D animation skills. It’s definitely not my strongest suit, but it’s something I’ve been practicing and working on with some really amazing animators over the last 3 years.

7. Any new avenues or experiments you're looking to pursue in your personal or client based work?

I’d love to do more murals. I’m also really excited about the ongoing collaboration I’m working on with ceramicist Dominic Frunzi. He makes really beautiful clay forms on the wheel, then passes them off to me to paint and etch. I’m looking forward to doing more of that.

8. Finally, plug yourself! Where can people find you? Any shows, new works, big events coming up? Anything and everything YOU that the people can find!

I’m very spontaneous so it’s hard to say exactly where to find me and my work, but I always post my show flyers and events on my Instagram. Check me out at @Chunkel to see where I’ll be.


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