Hudson Christie on the playful process behind his uncanny illustrations

Using a clever combination of 2D and 3D, the Canadian illustrator’s textural creations have attracted clients including the New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek

There is an unshakeable sense of intrigue that imbues Hudson Christie’s work. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that his playdough-inspired creations are digital renders, but delve a little deeper and it’s clear that there is more to his illustrations than meets the eye.

Growing up in Canada, the illustrator describes himself as being “less athletic, more anxious”, and he quickly found himself gravitating towards art as a career option.

Christie spent much of his time at the Ontario College of Art & Design University trying to discover an ownable aesthetic. He started out on the graphic design course, before switching to illustration and experimenting with various styles of painting.

“After a few years of making some very unsuccessful pictures with paint, I was grasping at any sort of influence to help figure out how to get better at this thing,” he says.

“My gido – my hardened Ukrainian-Canadian grandpa – used to carve hundreds of these little fishermen out of wood. I grew up with a bunch of them in my house as a kid, so I think it was one of those early childhood visual influences that rooted itself in my brain. Eventually I realised that I should just try making sculptures and photographing them as finals.”

While this process is an engrained part of Christie’s practice today, when he was starting out a decade ago the concept of 3D illustration was still fairly new, and switching up his approach proved to be a huge mental hurdle for him personally.

Thankfully, all of Christie’s hard work clearly paid off, and he now regularly receives commissions from the likes of the New Yorker and Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin in Germany.

“The process was finicky, but I really enjoyed how it transformed my sketches from 2D to 3D, and then back to 2D as a final illustration. It’s a total performance in redundancy and it’s still a lot of fun,” says the illustrator.

Inspired by the simplicity of visual humour (“A good sight gag in a movie is just an illustration with an enormous budget”), Christie’s ethos for making pictures is based on drawing things in the most straightforward way possible and then executing them in a highly-detailed medium such as a photograph or 3D render.

“The trick with my approach is then figuring out how to plot this 2D image into a 3D space,” he explains. “This usually means using some forced perspective to make things adhere to the objectively incorrect perspective that I’ve drawn in my sketches. I would then build all these objects, paint them, and photograph them.”

Christie has also started experimenting with bite-sized animations, which he is hoping to develop into more elaborate stop motion films, and most recently has gone back to his old university to teach the next generation of illustrators.

“I’ve already established such a routine with my illustration practice, but teaching is often a way out of my comfort zone, so it’s been especially rewarding when it goes smoothly,” he says.