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Stan Chow Music for Monkeys
Illustrator Stanley Chow

Stanley Chow The Journey So Far

The creator of countless popular culture portraits, Stanley Chow talks about his working life in Manchester, and some of his of career achievements to date.

Manchester-born illustrator Stanley Chow is a man whose artwork often precedes him. The images he creates are recognisably his own, and have long been eliciting work for advertising and editorial clients. As a seasoned professional his innumerable depictions of public figures traverse the spheres of film, sports, and politics, many of which can be purchased through The Stanley Chow Print Shop.

Despite his unsurprisingly busy schedule, Stan was kind enough to tell us a little more about his admirable career journey to date.

Stanley chow alan turing

Portrait of Alan Turing, commissioned by Forever Manchester charity organisation.

Illustrator Stanley Chow

Walking through Manchester there's no shortage of your artwork to be seen. And of course you've worked with many overseas clients. Do you recall any standout moments when you’ve encountered your work in the wild?

There’s one moment that really stands out for me and that’s when I worked on ad campaign for McDonald’s. It was an animated ad that only appeared on the big digital advertising hoarding at Piccadilly Circus, London. Anyway, a few years back I took my kids (who were three and five years old at the time) to watch Paddington Bear at the cinema… There was one scene where the camera panned around London and the ad was seen in the film. Both my kids jumped up in the cinema and shouted “Daddy! There’s your picture!” That felt good.

Stan chow mcdonalds

Artwork commissioned for McDonald's Little Picca Campaign.

Illustrator Stanley Chow, Digital Interactive Design by Salt & Pepper Creative

I still always get a buzz when I see a book cover in a bookshop or whenever I see work I’ve done for a magazine. There was one time when I was at O’Hare Airport (Chicago, USA), I went to the newsagent and it was a pretty nice feeling when I saw work of mine in the New Yorker, Time magazine, and Wired magazine all at the same time, especially being in a different country. I never really ever felt successful at my profession until I experienced that.

Stan chow new york times donald trump

Award winning New York Times, October 2015 cover, featuring artwork by Stanley Chow.

Illustrator Stanley Chow, Photographer Jamie Chung, Art Director Matt Willey

Looking back, you started your career in Manchester in the 90s. I understand you were DJing while you built up your illustration practice. Were those two separate worlds or did they converge?

They were two very separate worlds, but every now and again they would also converge; for example, when I illustrated and designed flyers for the club nights that I put on. I wanted to stamp as much of my own creativity onto the marketing of a clubnight as I possibly could, so designing the flyer/poster seemed obvious. Also, I was given a regular DJ slot at The Fab Café because I had illustration work that the owner recognised in a magazine he read called ‘Cult TV’. He liked my taste in music too, so that helped. I kind of stopped DJing around 2010, after my first daughter was born, but every now and again I get asked to DJ, mainly because of my reputation as an illustrator rather than a DJ, so I guess that’s where it kind of converges too.

Stan chow music for monkeys

Poster artwork for Music For Monkeys, at The Gaslamp in Manchester.

Illustrator Stanley Chow
Stan chow decks a2

Northern Soul, art print.

Illustrator Stanley Chow
Stan chow white stripes pen drives

Pen drive caricatures of Jack and Meg White of The White Stripes, part of special edition LP release.

Illustrator Stanley Chow

Your work began to reach a wider public in 2007 when you did a project with The White Stripes. Since then you've grown an enviable list of clients while continuing to operate from Manchester. With London being the centre of UK illustration, did moving there ever cross your mind? How has it been working professionally from Manchester?

I could see the career advantages of being in London, but during my 20s my illustration career wasn’t the most important thing in life, plus it just seemed too expensive in comparison to Manchester. I was enjoying life in Manchester, all my friends were here, so London never really became an option. However, when I reached my 30s when my illustration started becoming more important, New York was where I really wanted to be, because that is the illustration centre of the world. It was something me and my wife discussed at great length, but unfortunately it never materialised. Working for the New Yorker magazine is the closest thing I’ll get to being a New Yorker.

Working in Manchester has never been a problem since the introduction of email… communication and getting the artwork to the client (the two most important things of being in the business of illustration) has never been easier. There was a time in my career when artwork had to be couriered from city to city. Thankfully none of that anymore. I’m lucky to have agents who work for me based in London and New York, so there’s been no need for me to do the hustle on the ground, meeting and chasing potential clients and all that. Nowadays I have no real inclination of wanting or needing to work in any other city… more likely move to the countryside or somewhere less urban.

Stanley chow chinese new year 2014

Artwork for 2014 Chinese New Year promotional poster, commissioned by Modern Designers agency.

Illustrator Stanley Chow, Graphic Design by Modern Designers

The world has seen some change in the last couple of decades – from your perspective what might be the most notable differences in the illustration scene? Has anything affected the work you do?

The most notable difference is that there seems to be more and more illustrators nowadays than when I started out. In all honesty, I thought I was the only illustrator hanging out in the Northern Quarter back in the day. Now every illustrator in the North West seems to hang out in the Northern Quarter! And all of them seem to be really good illustrators and pretty damn cool, which in turn makes me want to work harder and better myself.

Stan chow andy burnham

Portrait used in mayoral re-election campaign of Andy Burnham.

Illustrator Stanley Chow
Stanley chow mark rashford no room for racism

Marcus Rashford artwork for Premier League Black History Month / No Room for Racism campaign.

Illustrator Stanley Chow

Your images, particularly your portraits, have become immediately recognisable. Before being tooled up with computer software your approach was rooted in drawing and painting. Do you ever have the urge to revisit those traditional media?

Very much so… I’ve started drawing again a bit more, an art that I’d almost forgotten. Recently I’ve started posting a few of my drawings on Instagram. I’m still pretty rusty. I’ve also bought myself an easel, canvasses and paint brushes and some oil paints, so watch this space.

Given that portraiture is most prominent in your repertoire, what other subjects do you enjoy illustrating?

Buildings and food.

Stan chow toast rack

Fallowfield, collaborative art print for Manchester with Love exhibition, featuring The Toast Rack by L. C. Howitt.

Artwork Stanley Chow × Dave Sedgwick
Stanley chow noodles

Ramen noodles with frankfurters and egg art print.

Illustrator Stanley Chow

The world of work has been changed by COVID. That being said, the majority of UK illustrators practice as freelancers. Have the COVID restrictions changed your own professional life?

I work from home now. My work hours are the hours that I’m awake, so essentially I work whenever I want, as long as whatever needs doing gets done. I used to have a studio in the centre of Manchester before lockdown when working was a nine-to-five job (actually ten-to-six). We got our basement converted and now it acts as my studio space. I do prefer the convenience of working whenever I want now. When I have an idea that’s keeping me up at night, I can literally go downstairs and work on it. For me that’s been really freeing.

Stanley chow paul heaton jacqui abbott

Paul and Jacqui, double portrait art print of Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott.

Illustrator Stanley Chow

If you could offer your younger self a piece of career advice what would that be?

Other than maybe concentrating and spending more time on becoming a better illustrator, I have none… but then if I did that, I wouldn’t have had the fun I got from DJing and enjoying most of my 20s. If I was to give career advice to any young kid who wants a career in illustration, it would be to enjoy your life as much as you can when you’re young and worry about your career later, as I think kids start worrying too much about it the second they leave education… take your time.

Stan chow skater girl

Skate!, Japanese skater girl art print.

Illustrator Stanley Chow

COVID disruptions notwithstanding, are there any future plans you can share with us?

Doing what I do, I don’t really have any long-term or even short-term plans… everything is pretty spontaneous. However, I am quite serious about wanting to paint more, so maybe a bit of style change, but who knows. Life in this game can be fickle.

Learn more

Art prints can be purchased through the The Stanley Chow Print Shop.

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