Meet Chris Vanderhurst, Future Heavyweight Champion Art Director
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
On the eve of our trip to London, we figured we'd get the lowdown from WNW Member Chris Vanderhurst. After only a month in London, Chris still feels like a seasoned tourist more than an official resident but he's excited to break into the UK's freelance scene. Chris also tells us about his creative successes and challenges, why he loves London advertising's use of the word "middleweight" in place of "midlevel," and offers some advice on the importance of choosing battles wisely.
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Chris and how did he get here?
I ask myself these questions almost every day. I started my career in Chicago after portfolio school, then LA, then to New York, and now London thanks to my girlfriend’s lucrative job offer and my inability to cope with certain election outcomes. There’s never really been a concrete plan or job offer in advance, but things have a way of working out if you’re willing to put in the work and not be an asshole.
People should move more often. There’s neat stuff out there.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links most of your projects, or do you try to excuse yourself and approach each project as its own entity?
I’d like to say I don’t have a particular creative style because every brand and project is going to have its own unique solution. What works for BMW might not work for Google. I’ve always been more interested in solving the advertising puzzle than imposing a style onto a project that might not call for it. It’s why I ended up as an art director instead of a designer, and why I consider myself more of a problem-solver than artist (despite what my mom thinks).
What do you see as the turning point in your creative development and career?
There isn’t an exact date and time I can point at, but there was a point in my career I took pride in working weekends. But putting in 80 hours a week for 6 months straight isn’t something to be proud of. Thankfully, I’ve gotten at least a tiny bit wiser and stopped mistaking activity for productivity because it’s really easy to forget that this is all just advertising. It’s that whole “work to live, don’t live to work” thing.
What were some of the challenges in launching your creative career?
Getting a foot in the door is absolutely the hardest part for me. I’ve had the good fortune of employers generally wanting me to stick around long after my first freelance project wraps up, but it’s surprising to me how difficult—and panic inducing—it still is to get a recruiter’s attention in the first place. Fortunately, sites like WnW can help alleviate that. (Look at that shameless plug!)
Which of your projects are you proudest of and why?
I’ll go with our HBO Escape event for a few reasons. First and foremost, it was crazy cool to see Timothy Simmons (Jonah from Veep) pop up on my twitter saying “holy shit this is great” while he is in the middle of something I was brainstorming 3 months prior. Beyond that, it was satisfying because my partner and I had never really done any kind of event, but we still managed to impress our clients enough to take it on the road to SXSW.
What would be your dream project or job, or is it already on your resume?
The dream job is always the next one. I feel like we’re all on the hunt for it, and that’s part of the fun. I’ve worked with brands that I truly adore (and brands that no one does), but the truth is that there is no such thing as the perfect agency or golden brief that is going to be everything you’ve ever dreamt of. The trick is finding something to fall in love with wherever you are at the moment.
All of that being said: astronaut.
You’re new to London. From what you’ve seen so far, how does the London creative scene compare to that of New York and Los Angeles?
It’s hard to say because a month in, I still feel like I’m playing tourist. So far London has hidden the endearingly rough edges and eccentric personality you accidentally stumble upon in New York and LA, but I’m excited to find them.
I will, however, say their term “middleweight” is significantly cooler than “midlevel.” This distinction should be applied across the entire agency structure so my business card can someday read “Chris Vanderhurst. Heavyweight Champion Art Director”
How have you seen the industry shift from when you first started your career?
There was a glorious time not long ago that I thought an “influencer” was just the cool kid in high school who encouraged bad decisions.
If not in London, where would you most like to live?
I think Portland would be next on my list. Or maybe Austin, the Portland of the south.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
At the risk of sounding sentimental, I have to say it’s my late professor and friend, Robert Sedlack. He was the heart and soul of the Notre Dame graphic design program who opened my eyes to the power of design as a tool to solve problems, not just make powerpoints look pretty.
What scares you most about making creativity your career?
The fear that I’m a total hack who has already come up with my last decent idea, and there are a million 18-year-olds out there that are more naturally and terrifyingly talented than I ever will be. Fortunately, this fear consumes only most of my time.
One book, one album, one movie, one show. Go.
The Bone Clocks, The White Stripes’ Elephant, Battered Bastards of Baseball, The Simpsons (the early stuff. obviously.)
What is your most treasured possession?
Do my two cats count? Other than that, a pillow I had embroidered with a Run the Jewels lyric that Killer Mike retweeted.
What do you do when Not Working?
Putting 3 hours of anxiety-fueled research into where to eat dinner, or traveling an embarrassing amount of distance to play Mario Kart and drink beers with friends.
What is your motto?
I’m not the type of person that claims to have a motto. Is that a motto?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
“You guys. It’s just a fucking Instagram post.” - midmeeting from an exasperated creative director to an overzealous team. There are absolutely problems out there worth fighting for, but a little perspective goes a long way. Choose battles wisely.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
My job right now subsists of finding a job and making sure my cats don’t tear up the furniture.