Right now there’s a woman working at an Arby’s somewhere in Columbus, Ohio who has no idea there’s a super cool t-shirt line named in her honor. You’ll have to read the interview below to get all the deets, but whatever their origins, Choonimals t’s are…well…I want to call them cute, but not sure how that will go over with Choonimals founder and artist Chris Theibert.
Here’s Chris in two of his designs.
Here’s Chris answering all kinds of prying questions aobout Choonimals and his work:
How did you get started as an artist?
I got started as a clothing company designer very randomly. My friends and I used to make badly drawn animals in class all day back in high school just to make each other laugh. We named them Choonimals after a woman named Choon that worked at our local Arby’s. She has no idea we did that. A few years later we picked up drawing these “Choons” again in college where somehow it morphed from us drawing these weird animals on paper, to us using Sharpie markers to draw them all over. Everyone loved it, people would request the strangest animals and I would draw them in the most haggard way possible all over, wherever. It was like a hilarious temporary tattoo that came with the promise of washing off (after a few showers) in the morning. Somewhere along the way, the idea clicked… let’s put these Choonimals on t-shirts! And here we are…
Tell us a little about your work. Are there lots of artists who do what you do? What makes your work stand out from the rest?
Obviously there are plenty of people making t-shirts out there, but I think ours stand out because they really are original… every scraggly line is drawn by my own hand, with a Sharpie marker onto a piece of paper and eventually end up on our shirts. It’s nice that our subjects are animals too, because everyone loves animals and that gives you an endless supply of possibilities for new designs. I drew a Red River Hog the other day. Our shirts hail from Columbus, Ohio, so we get a lot of them on random people around town. We also have a huge market out on the East Coast thanks to a festival we attend every year. Our Choons have been spotted from London to L.A. and even in Southern Africa (because I went to Africa and gave them to people).
How would you describe your style?
Original and simple with great appealability (I just made that word up). What I mean is that we’ve seen our clothes appeal to a wide demographic. The elderly, children, moms and dads, babies, dogs, hipsters and punks and swooning teenage girls. I think because the style of shirts (or just Choonimals in general) is so simple, intriguing and mostly unisex, they can appeal to just about everyone and everything.
How did you come to use Sharpie markers in your work?
When I think of markers I think of Sharpies. So when the idea arose to draw a Choon on someone’s arm, I reached for a Sharpie off my desk and started to draw. Now at all of our shows, we have a bin of all different colors and kinds of Sharpies and promote the fact that we offer free Choonimal Sharpie tattoos. It’s one of the first things people ask for when they come to our booth. They even inspired 10 of us to get real tattoos on our skin. We wanted a permanent Sharpie tattoo to honor the tradition I suppose.
What about Sharpie markers makes them your medium of choice? Is it the variety of tip sizes, colors, other? Please describe how you use Sharpie as an art tool.
For us, we need a type of ink that will stand out. We use Sharpie because of the boldness of the ink and the variety of colors. They stand out, draw easily and stay on.
Tell us about some of your own favorite work. What seems to get the most attention or is most coveted by others? Why do you think people are drawn to your work?
Our sevenandahalf’tapus which is a seven-and-a-half legged octopus gets a lot of attention, as does the extremely long and crooked necked giraffe (we call it a ‘Grauff’). My favorite Choonimal right now though is a Raccoon or ‘Racchoon’ that I drew while at work one day. My co-worker asked me to draw him one, so I did and it came out looking extremely mischievous and rabid. It’s on one of our hooded sweatshirts now. I think people like that they can shout out an animals name and have their very own personal Choonimal. It connects us with our fans and makes them feel special, which they all are to us.
Can you describe the process you go through to create your work? How many hours does it take? Is it a free-hand approach or do you create a template in advance?
I literally grab a Sharpie marker and a few pieces of computer paper and just draw. Each Choon takes me less than a minuet to do. It’s mostly one-line with some added strokes here and there. Then I scan it into my computer and start the process of using it to design new clothes.
Jabberwockies, gremlins and beanie babies. Really though, my inspirations are other people, they shout out different animals for me to draw at shows and in emails and then I take it from there. Sometimes I’ll see a really strange looking animal in a magazine or on TV and have a nasty compulsion to grab a Sharpie marker and go to town on a portrait of the creature.
What statement are you trying to make, if any? What do you want people take from your art?
I want people to smile. I want them to see our clothes, tilt their heads in confusion and then crack an intrigued smirk. I want people to have fun when they come to our booth and feel like they can treat us like one of their best friends. That way, they’re not just walking away with a t-shirt we slung; they’re walking away with some interesting new friends and a place to come back to for more.
Sharpie’s tagline is “Write Out Loud!” Does this apply to your work and if so, how?
Absolutely. You know when people wear like the most neon blonde outfit ever and you almost want to cover your ears it’s so loud? That’s what Sharpie does for us. I’ll draw a monstrous octopus Choonimal for a girl and when she walks away, her vibe is suddenly at decibel 150. Thanks Sharpie!
Which Sharpie markers do you use to create your work:
The original Fine Tipped Sharpie markers… all colors of the rainbow. And sometimes we get crazy and use the Jumbo Tipped ones.
Go to Choonimals.com and get yours.