Making Art, Music and A Name for Himself: Chris Mitchell’s Adventure to the Big City
"Just take the jump and try it and then it always pays off," Chris Mitchell urges. Originally from Halifax, he recently moved to Toronto with his twin brother. As an artist, he paints, illustrates, does graphic design, makes jewelry, paints murals and does woodworking. Before becoming a professional artist, he worked in construction and even helped administer elections.
As musicians, his brother plays the drums and he plays guitar. He got his first guitar when he was just six but he didn’t play much until he was a teenager and got a bass for Christmas. After college, he wanted to play guitar again and a friend came over to help teach him. He really only wanted to learn power chords, but his friend showed him the scale on the guitar and it unlocked a whole world of music. Mitchell wanted to learn the piano next, then the sitar.
“If I want to do something, I'll just figure out a way to learn it or do it and then do it myself. It takes longer. You make a lot of mistakes, but that's just how I do music. It just comes naturally to me. I just love making music,” Mitchell explains, reflecting on how he uses Youtube tutorials to figure things out.
The band Mitchell has with his brother is called the Wampums and when they needed an album cover, they would draw it. They would then try to make the cover art look like it belonged in their local record store and learn the programs that could help make that happen. From Photoshop to Illustrator, they learned to take their ideas and turn them into professional and tangible things.
Mitchell loved drawing since he was a toddler and wanted to be an artist. Teachers noticed he would draw all the time, even during class. When he had an idea, he had to write it down and it was the same with drawing.
Some of what he learned in Photoshop was from youtube tutorials, while the rest he learned in a design class in high school. After graduation, Mitchell went to Brooklyn College in New York and got a marketing degree. His brother took graphic design and they share their knowledge to be as successful as they can be.
Over the years, Mitchell has struggled with not having the space and software he needs. They started off with a bootlegged version of graphic design software until they could afford to get a proper account. In New York, they didn’t have room for the guitar or an amp and he couldn’t play the drums. They started making electronic music on a laptop which had some broken buttons but still worked enough to make a song that ended up on the show, Broad City, a song they still get royalties for.
Access to supplies was also a challenge. In Halifax, often things they needed weren’t in stock and would have to be ordered, a process that could take a month. In New York, it would take 45 minutes on transit to get beads at a store and sometimes he would find that he got the wrong thing in the end. Now in Toronto, they can walk down the street and find what they need.
Mitchell’s advice for aspiring artists considering leaving their small community is to do it, to move to a bigger city where there are more opportunities and make a name for themselves. Even in cities like Halifax, you can only get so far and paint so many murals. What he’s found is that when you leave and make a name for yourself in the city, people in your hometown will support you more.
In moving to a big city, Mitchell recommends taking time to explore new surroundings to meet people, find places to get supplies and get to understand the city as a whole. In New York, he would get off at random subway stops and walk around. He did the same in Toronto and it helped him navigate his new city.
Taking a leap and trying new things has always worked out for Mitchell. He and his brother were asked to do a public art sculpture in Brampton and he was nervous but he’s found the biggest growth can be found in discomfort. He’s always worked hard towards his dreams and made some of them come true, reflecting on the people he aspired to meet and work with one day.
Unemployed in Halifax, he thought things would be easier in Toronto and now he lives there. He stays up until all hours working on his craft because he’s so passionate. If he could tell his younger self anything it would be, “keep working at it. Continue that work pace and you will actually achieve a lot of stuff. It's worth it.”
While Mitchell is social and loves speaking with people at marketplaces or performing on stage, he doesn’t love going to events or concerts. If he’s not performing, he likes to stay home and work on things. He gets so caught up in what he’s doing, he loses track of time, forgetting to eat or drink.
A lot of his inspiration comes from Canadian musician, Seripop’s silkscreen prints, Indigenous art from the 70s, Woodland art and their colour palettes. Mitchell finds the art he draws on an iPad or creates digitally doesn’t have the same feeling and emotion as vintage art he loves. He looks to European artists and thinks about how he can apply that to his culture and artwork. In his music, sometimes he layers in the ji'kmaqn, a mi'kmaq instrument that sounds like clapping.
In closing, Mitchell’s best advice for young people watching is to treat others as you would want to be treated. He believes in doing so, a person can go very far. He also believes in staying true to himself. Even though he’s far from home, he holds fast to his cultural beliefs and his practice of Catholicism, resisting the urge to conform to local customs just to fit in.
As an artist and musician, Chris Mitchell took the jump and tried it and ultimately it paid off. He moved to the big city and made a name for himself while making art and music with his brother. He didn’t always have everything he thought he needed to make it work, but he always found a way and always found his own way, living in a crowd but never feeling the need to follow it.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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