Drawn From Life
Illustrator Pascal Campion turns ordinary moments into extraordinary works of art
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TThe hottest, most prolific art operation in Sacramento is run out of a converted two-car garage in Arden Park. Here, a 6-year-old consultant sits shotgun to the artist, offering creative advice and printing pieces to sell from her dinosaur of a PC. Twin 3-year-old boys and a butterscotch-colored Shih Tzu named Charlie (or maybe Charley—his owners say they never committed to spelling his name, just to speaking it) scurry in and out of the room with curiosity and cheer. At a desk on the other side of the room, the children’s mother tracks orders from clients like Marvel Comics, Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Nickelodeon and other cultural monoliths while coordinating a self-published book release that will find the space clogged with 3,000 hardcover tomes in November.
This studio—like the volumes of sketches, concept drawings, animations and other art produced inside it—didn’t even exist before June, when Pascal Campion and his family came to town. Today, though, with the French-American artist at its center, it alights and surges like a kind of chaotic dawn. It’s fitting, since Campion usually rises before the sun to get to work on his customary “Sketch of the Day” that he’ll post online for his fans and followers (including more than 180,000 Facebook devotees alone) around the world.
“My Sketch of the Day is very … instinctive,” Campion says during a lull between assignments, his lanky frame coiled in a wingback chair at the center of the room. “I don’t know what I’m going to draw. Sometimes I’ll be drawing and I still don’t know what I’m doing until I’m 15 minutes into it. I don’t want them to be directed. It’s my moment to be free—to do whatever I want.”
Campion has accrued enough of these moments since 2005 to curate his favorites in his new book 3000 Moments That Happen When You Are Not Paying Attention. The sketches are stories, melding potent visions of whimsy, romance, tenderness, mystery and light into Campion’s distinct world of color and emotion. His work belongs as much to the traditions of light-worshipping impressionists as those of French graphic novels (both of which he cites as influences), cinematically depicting frolicsome children, enthralled parents and couples, intoxicating cityscapes, animals pogoing across plains, and nascent courtships. You might have missed some of the moments even if you had been paying attention—say, a moody monkey smoking a cigarette by a window, or Spider-Man in the middle distance, dangling upside down at the end of a web—but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.
“People ask, ‘Are these all experiences you’ve had?’ ” Campion explains. “I say, ‘Yes, they are.’ Even the animals, even the superheroes, because they represent an emotion I’ve had.”
And now Campion’s early-morning moments are coalescing into a more figurative, open-ended career moment, one that is seemingly about to overtake the actual world around him. For starters, there is the recent Kickstarter crowdfunding project that Campion launched to support the publication of 3000 Moments, which raised a total of $106,329 in a month—seven times its goal of $15,000—and still keeps Campion busy planning his shipping strategy to fans from Germany to India and Australia. Then there is the document from Paramount Pictures sitting on his desk, a top-secret story treatment awaiting Campion’s concept art and other visualizations that the studio may adapt for an animated feature. There is the DVD on the shelf beside his desk, reminding him how Oscar-nominated animator Bill Plympton—an admirer—traded Campion for two of his prints at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. There is the growing collection of Campion’s art commissioned by Marvel, including cover variants for famous titles like Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy and a poster for Marvel’s TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
“It’s really just the thought that he puts into it,” says George Beliard, a Marvel executive who invited Campion to contribute work to the comic book giant in 2012. “While a lot of it is in the execution, it comes before that. He just has such a knack for understanding the emotion of a situation and figuring out the best way to capture that as an image.”
And then there are Campion’s well-received gallery shows from Paris to Burbank, the periodic art workshops he leads and cherishes, and the prospect for opening a storefront and educational space in the heart of Sacramento—the city where the erstwhile Bay Area resident had barely settled in with his family this summer before the Internet further reinforced his phenomenon.
Then again, Pascal Campion is all about speed. He’ll sketch world-class art within 90 minutes. He’ll animate a music video in 72 hours. His Kickstarter reached its 30-day target in its first 24 hours. “The only reason I’ve had the career I’ve had is because of how fast I am,” says Campion, who turns 41 on Oct. 13. “I have at least 50 friends who are better than me at the actual art itself. But in terms of speed, I’m definitely one of the fastest I know.”