Alumnus thrives as creative force on PBS digital design teams

Tuesday June 23, 2020Roger Coda
alumnus Chris Bishop
Alumnus Chris Bishop.

Chris Bishop traces his love of art to grade school when he began drawing cartoons and copying images out of newspapers.

“Art has always been my thing and all I’ve ever cared about,” Mr. Bishop recalled. “My mom told me when I was little, the teacher would hand out coloring sheets and I would flip mine over to the blank side to draw my own picture. I remember studying and copying ‘Garfield’ in first grade which led to making up own comic strips.”

It was a comic strip, “Convenience Store,” carried by the national magazine React, that became Bishop’s first paying art job while he was pursuing a B.F.A. in Art, with a concentration in Drawing, at Fredonia. The three-panel gag strip depicted two convenience store clerks, Sasha and Audrey, working the late shift. (Bishop worked nights at a convenience store while on semester breaks.)

comic strip“This was a huge relief for my parents who were always 100 percent supportive of me pursuing art while also being quietly nervous about how I would make a living at it,” the 1998 graduate said.

“Up until and through college, I was most passionate about drawing cartoons and comic strips,” Bishop said. “Becoming a syndicated cartoonist like in the newspaper was my end goal.”

Ground floor at PBS

The Syracuse native grew to love illustration at Fredonia but becoming a freelance illustrator didn’t quite pan out as a career, so he taught himself web design and HTML so he could build a website to promote his art. That technical knowledge combined with proven cartoon skills made him an ideal fit for a full-time gig at PBS Kids.

Those were the early years of PBS Kids; Bishop was their fourth employee.

Today, Bishop is the award-winning senior creative director of PBS and PBS Kids Digital, where he leads two digital design teams – stocked with interactive designers, user experience designers, animators, illustrators and a sound/music designer – but still keeps his hands in actual design and illustration work. Bishop’s body of work has grown in nearly two decades to encompass digital games, websites, apps, branding, social media and digital and broadcast content development.

“We craft the user experience and visual design of websites, apps and games on all digital platforms such as phones, tablets, computers, Apple TV, Roku, etc.,” Bishop said.

The creative team grew as the use of the web, apps, phones and tablets exploded, Bishop said. “I pride myself on being able to find creative talent and build teams. Despite this, I’ve always remained hands-on with design. It’s easy to get rusty or lose touch with the latest software or techniques.”

Bishop loves doing character design and creating art for apps and games, as well as creating logos and branding. He works in a flat art style with vibrant colors and a bit of humor, and counts Looney Tunes, Mad Magazine, Garbage Pail Kids, Groo the Wanderer and Ren & Stimpy among his influences.

Bishop is the mastermind behind Kart Kingdom, PBS Kids’ first-ever virtual world. In this game, children build their own karts and go on adventures that they create, which can unlock prizes and reveal secret worlds. “We wanted to have a social place where kids could get together and kind of learn things in that world.”

Designing for children, ages 2 to 8, is a unique challenge, Bishop acknowledges. “Trying to get into the mindset of a kid and think how they would use an app or interface is a different way to think. I love trying to carve a concept or visual down to the most simple it can be while still working intuitively.”

“Trying to get into the mindset of a kid and think how they would use an app or interface is a different way to think. I love trying to carve a concept or visual down to the most simple it can be while still working intuitively.” - Chris Bishop

Bishop credits three faculty members for having a profound influence on his growth as an artist.

He remembers Emeritus Associate Professor Mary Lee Lunde, his advisor, as a phenomenal art instructor who taught Bishop how to navigate the system, find loopholes and get away with pushing the boundaries. “And you could just chat with her endlessly.”

SUNY Distinguished Professor Alberto Rey, Bishop’s illustration professor, was simply “the toughest. Looking back now I get it. There were no shortcuts with Alberto – just hard work.”

Though he admits to having a horrible memory for names and dates, Bishop took more than the minimum art history classes because of SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus Daniel Reiff. He loved courses Dr. Reiff taught – including a particularly challenging one focused on the study of art historians and their writing techniques – and his teaching style. He was a “very funny guy,” Bishop recalled. “I barely passed these classes, but they were fun.”

College life parody

Bishop also served on The Leader staff. He began drawing comic strips, of course, and eventually became the Lampoon editor. His comic strip, “They Tell Me I’m Annoying,” made fun of college life, students, student government, Dunkirk and other aspects of the Fredonia experience.

“A lot of people loved it and a lot of people hated it. The newspaper staff and faculty advisor were very supportive no matter how many unhappy letters or phone calls we received about the comics. Some of my best memories of Fredonia are hanging out with the people from the newspaper.”

Bishop still does freelance illustration work, including beer can art for Crooked Crab, a brewery in Maryland. His website is populated by paintings (large scale pop art); illustrations (games, logos, etc.); prints (sold on INPRNT); Instagram (daily art and works in progress) along with PBS and PBS Kids digital; and merchandise.

Bishop and his wife, Shannon, who also works at PBS Kids, have two sons, Connor and Leo.

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