Ryan Chapman was number one lurker at the gallery (Beach London) a few years back, when we used to serve coffee and stuff. We used to sit around for ages and natter about ideas, creativity, and art. Ryan really has some wonderful ideas, and a really unique thought process, which I think comes across in his illustration. He’s a great creative person.
A couple of years ago he moved to Tallinn in Estonia, which isn’t the beaten path for most illustrators, just establishing themselves in London. We caught up with him over there and visited his amazing (and cheap, Londoners!) studio space, housed in Estonia’s old KGB HQ.
Hey Ryan! How’s tricks?
Great thank you! Its minus fifteen degrees outside today, so just in the studio after an early morning sauna to warm the bones.
You’ve been in Estonia a few years now! How did that come about?
We moved to Tallinn around 3 years ago. My girlfriend is originally from here, and I really felt at the time my freelance freedom was being wasted just living in an ever-changing London, so we headed for the Baltics! It’s incredibly beautiful here with a really nice, laid-back Nordic pace. plus breathing in the world’s third cleanest air everyday has its advantages.
We still miss London from time to time, but we have Helsinki a couple of hours away for the big city stuff, which is great.
Your studio is in an old KGB bunker right? Sounds amazing! What’s it like?
It’s the old KGB headquarters in Tallinn old town. The building still has the original wooden elevator in use, and it even has a phone inside that used to be connect to the Kremlin – I tried it earlier, there’s no answer. It’s a pretty old building with a real Grand Budapest Hotel feel to it, the basement has the old prison cells inside and has a super eerie atmosphere.
There must be lots of pros and cons to working as a commercial artist over there – especially when you were (and still are, of course) well established in London: tell us about them!
Contemporary illustration is still fairly new and misunderstood here, despite it being the complete opposite in Finland – but it’s changing slowly. I work closely with the design studio AKU here so have had the opportunity to collaborate on a series of great projects, from packaging to music festival branding. Last year I had the pleasure of creating the artwork for the 25th anniversary of Estonia’s independence, and as a thank you the President of Estonia invited me to his garden party at the Palace, which was fun.
Your work’s always struck me as staying quite consistent stylistically; but I think colour-wise, it’s evolved a lot and your colour palette is really nice – it seems, to me, to be inspired by old design/paraphernalia.
I’m always trying to reduce colour and detail: to make it simpler. Occasionally I will create a piece of artwork and then slowly work backwards, removing parts until I have just the right balance, working with a tested limited palette that I feel can lend itself from a heavy editorial topic to a children’s illustration. Early on I was really influenced by a lot of mid-century and Scandinavian illustration. Having such limited budgets / printing techniques back then produced work that was always direct and striking.
What have you got on at the moment work-wise?
Right now i’m about to start a bucket-list project that i’m really excited about but can’t really disclose, along with a good mixture of editorial and commercial projects that keep me on my toes.
I might also have another LEGO figure released this summer for the Mini-Figure series 17, but i’m not 100% sure yet.
Whose work is influencing your practice at the moment?
Recently I have been trying to look outside the obvious illustration channels for influence on colour and shape, artists like Ellsworth Kelly and Daniel Buren who have worked to a strict set of colours and techniques for 50-60 years to create a simplified, consistent visual language.
If any readers find themselves in Tallinn…. give us your top tips!
The city and old town are incredibly beautiful, you also have the Telliskivi Creative City with a stream of speakeasies, pop-ups and galleries. However Estonia is 2/3 forrest / natural beauty so if you do get a chance try and get out of the city, go play DiscGolf – it's like regular golf but in the forest with frisbees and beer.