Peter Chan works in the animation industry as a concept artist and is a neighbor to the shop and gallery. He’s often seen walking his dog Henry wearing a hoody. His recent body of works captures his plein air art in a style that’s his own. The brush strokes are tedious and at the same time appear blocky. The colors are pastel and light, but capture sensitive moments.
Giant Robot: How does working at an huge company in animation affect your art? I work with a lot of artists who work in animation these days. Perhaps just years ago, there were only a couple.
Peter Chan: Working in a big animation studio is like going to the best art school and getting paid. You are constantly learning from other artists and getting better in many aspects of art and design. Working on different movies with different stylistic goals also forces me to adapt quickly, but in that way, I kind of lost my own artistic identity. I never did any personal work outside the studio so it was definitely tough for me. When I started around early 2014, I just didn't know what to draw or how to draw it. In the beginning many design elements and influences from other industry artists carried over to my weekly artwork, but I didn't mind since It helped me start somewhere. Now I have a better idea, most of it is embracing things I have picked up along the way from working in video games and animation, but finding a way to add my own personality to them. I'm still struggling though. Sometimes I want to do super realistic video game art but other times I want to go full abstract painting. Hopefully I will figure it out, soon!
GR: Your work that you’re showing is observational paintings. What are you looking for in a composition?
PC: When I started doing personal work, I went back to my roots in art and things I like to do, which was painting from life. I went out a lot – away from the computers. At first it was much more literal and painting what I see, then I started trying different things. Now I like to play around with the idea of making images that have an interesting play between representation and abstraction.
GR: Tell me about the class you teach?
PC: Me and my old co-worker Arthur Fong from Dreamworks hold our own 1 day plein air workshop call the Toughpainters. The name came about because we had a group of friends that woke up early and painted every friday morning for two years straight. We even painted in a rain storm. Now we are not so tough. We go out when its 70 and sunny. The idea for the workshop was to encourage young artists from the industry to get away from the computer and paint from life. I also taught a semester of plein air painting at the Concept Design Academy in Pasadena.
GR: You also do another series of work that looks more animation based. Can you tell me about that?
PC: Yeah, I don't know what to do with those yet, other then keep on drawing them. Drawing was always harder for me than painting, so I do them partly to keep my drawing skills in check. They started out as a series called the Sculpture Garden when I first created my Instagram account. It was kind of an excuse for me to draw whatever the heck I wanted within this garden filled with strange art created by people in that alternate universe. A lot of them are based on my childhood experiences and other things I find interesting.
GR: Your color choices are pastel this time, what made you go in that direction?
PC: The feeling of light is a big part of my painting, so most of the colors are based on communicating the lighting situation at the time when I painted them, and slightly exaggerated. I also just love the pastel impressionist color palette!
GR: Why are you called PixelPChan? The pixel part sort of echoes your work, but I don’t see it as being inspired by games.
PC: There are too many Peter Chan's out there (good for my resume though). If i didn't pick something quick back then, I would probably still be deciding on my account name now instead of working on stuff. Damn it, I regret picking that name now, but I'm stuck with it. Should I change it to @pchan_on_sawtelle?
GR: Tell me about the materials you use? It’s gouache right?
PC: Yes currently all my paintings are done in gouache. At the time when I decided to start painting outdoors again I really wanted to learn a new medium. I had a gouache painting class at Art Center before and I hated it, mostly because it was hard to use and all I cared about was making cool paintings in Photoshop. So it was kind of a way to challenge myself to start fresh and use something that I was unfamiliar with.
To see some of Peter Chan's work see Superunnatural