Interview with Second Annual MSBC Winner Chris Carlson!

With 2018 well underway, we at the atelier wanted to put the spotlight on our recent second annual MSBC winner Chris Carlson! Chris has some incredibly fun and unique work, and we are so thankful to have our own student Ivan Miletic take the time to interview him and hear what Chris has to say. Thanks to everyone who participated in the MSBC and enjoy the interview! – Luke K. 

Ivan: Congratulations on your win! Can you introduce yourself to us – where are you from and a little bit about yourself?

Chris: My name is Chris Carlson. I am 31 years old and I live in Denver, Colorado, USA. I am a professional 3-D chalk artist and street painter. I have been studying 3-D chalk art for 5 years and oil painting for 2 years.


Ivan: How did you find Watts Atelier of the Arts online and when have you enrolled?

Chris: I learned about the Watts online program 3 years ago on Pavel Sokov had posted some of his painting work and mentioned that he was studying at the Watts Atelier. At the time I was trying to improve my drawing and painting skills, but I didn’t really know where to start. I googled Watts Atelier and found the online school and signed up right away.


Ivan: Can you share with us how did you felt through the six-month competition? How many days did you spend weekly on your pieces for skill building challenges?

Chris: During the six month Skill Building challenge I felt a lot of excitement and nervousness. I was excited to push myself and try new things. Before the competition, I had never painted a self-portrait or a landscape.

But I was also nervous because I wasn’t sure how these paintings would turn out. For most of the challenges, I tried to work on my paintings every day.

This wasn’t always possible because I had to travel a lot for work. I would usually spend more time during the last two weeks of each challenge when I was trying to bring the paintings up to a finish.


Ivan: Was it overwhelming at the end of the competition or did you see it as a regular work with a deadline?

Chris: There were some times during the challenge when it felt a little overwhelming trying to balance work, family, and painting, but mostly it was exciting and relaxing.

The paintings were just to help me improve my skills, so I didn’t feel any outside pressure. I found the landscape painting especially relaxing (and difficult).


Ivan: What is your favorite piece of the 6 you did? What is your least favorite? Can you explain why?

Chris: My favorite painting of the six was probably the nude figure painting. I had never attempted figure

drawing before joining Watts because it seemed too difficult. I chose that painting for the final challenge to push myself. I think I spent the most time on that painting and I am proud of the result.

My least favorite painting from the challenges is the self-portrait. I took a “selfie” with my phone camera for the reference photo and I didn’t take into account the kind of distortion that can occur with a phone camera so close to the subject.


Ivan: I see on your social networks and from your bio that you are a street artist? Can you explain how that works and how you decided to be one?

Chris: I started as a street artist 5 years ago after seeing lots of 3-D street art on the internet. I read books by Julian Beever and Kurt Wenner and learned about the basics of anamorphic perspective.

Then I started practicing in my garage. I made a time-lapse video of one of my early projects and shared it on YouTube ( The video got way more views than I ever expected and I started to get emails about doing paid projects.

At this point in my development, my drawing and painting skills were not strong, but I devoted all of my time to practicing so that I wouldn’t embarrass myself on these projects. Fear is a strong motivator! I wouldn’t say that I “decided” to be a street artist, it was just a lucky opportunity that came along and I grabbed it.



Ivan: You said that you had over a million views on Youtube for your 3D chalk work – how that felt and did it help get you more client work?

Chris: When my first video went viral it was very exciting and completely unexpected. I never thought anyone except my friends would see the video.

It definitely lead to more work and it was my first push to focus on developing my skills. Eventually, I was able to leave my job in order to become a full-time street artist.


Ivan: How do you battle the elements in your work? Rain, sun, and other problems?

Chris: I work outdoors a lot and the elements are always a concern. Rain can destroy a chalk drawing very quickly, so I always have lots of plastic sheets in my toolkit to cover the work if rain rolls in.

Besides rain, the wind is the next most difficult element to work with. The blowing chalk makes it very difficult to keep your colors clean or maintain any hard edges.


Ivan: Now you are full-time chalk artist, do you plan on pursuing that in future or do you have some other plans?

Chris: Most of my paid work right now is large-scale 3-D chalk art. I really enjoy this art form, but it is hard on my knees and back. I know that I will not be able to work on the street forever, so I am working to improve my studio painting skills in order to make the transition to more fine art at some point.


Ivan: Do you plan to go to the brick and mortar Atelier or is it online only for you?

Chis: At some point, it would be awesome to attend the brick and mortar Atelier, but for right now I will just be training with the online courses.


Ivan: What is your preference in painting – fine art, illustration, concept art, design or something else?

Chris: My current preference in painting is more fine art. I am really enjoying portrait and figure painting.

When I started with Watts I was more into fantasy design. I think my interests will continue to evolve as I keep training and trying new things.


Ivan: What is your favorite subject matter?

Chris:  My favorite subject matter right now is figure drawing and painting. I am getting more practice drawing from live models at the Art Students League of Denver. It is very difficult, but the feeling of making a decent drawing from a live model is thrilling and I am hooked!


Ivan: Do you see a big difference in learning online and in the classroom?

Chris: I think to study online forces the student to evaluate their own work more closely because there is no one else to provide feedback. I discovered many bad habits that were ingrained in my drawing that I have been working to correct.

At some point, I would love to train with the Watts team and benefit from so many trained eyes and so much experience.


Ivan: Do you work in other art disciplines – sculpture, etching or something else?

Chis: I work mostly in charcoal, pastel chalk or oil paint. I use digital painting to create designs for my 3D street art and oil paintings, but I usually don’t create finished artwork in digital.


Ivan: Do you plan to compete in future skill building challenges (regular or master) or in any other competitions that Watts Atelier of the Arts online organizes?

Chris: I definitely plan to compete in future skill building challenges. I think it is a great way to push yourself and improve your skills.


Ivan: Thank you for your time! I really like your work and looking forward to seeing more of it in future!


That’s all for the interview, I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks again to everyone who participated in the MSBC, keep working on those studies!