Creative, versatile, humorous Chris Morris shares stories behind newspaper illustrations

Plain Dealer art director Chris Morris recently retired the paintbrush on the left, after creating nearly 2,000 illustrations with it, and is breaking in the new paintbrush on the right.

A photo of two Winsor & Newton paint brushes – one with only a few bristles left and the other with its ferrule full. Guess which one was used by Plain Dealer visual journalist Chris Morris as he created 2,000 drawings? The audience at the Westlake-Westshore Arts Council quarterly event Sept. 18 at Westlake Porter Public Library saw an impressive body of Morris’ artwork as well as the sparsely-bristled brush that had been used for nearly 2,000 of his ink drawings. That number, however, is just a percentage of the art that Morris has created. The 542 figures he inked over the course of eight weeks to honor each Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee may offer a clue regarding the size of his portfolio.

Chris Morris opened his presentation with: “I like drawing.” He also likes Cleveland. He admires how The Plain Dealer embraces visuals and is “fearless” when it comes to size of the art on a page. He is complimentary of his colleagues. He likes to draw people. He likes to tell a story in visual form.

Chris Morris came to The Plain Dealer from the Las Vegas Sun and before that the Dallas Morning News, the San Francisco Examiner and the Dallas Times Herald. When he left the Sun in 2011, Rachel Perkins of the paper’s parent company Greenspun Media Group, stated that she “regrets to announce that GMG’s illustrator extraordinaire is leaving the Sun to become Art Director at The Plain Dealer.”

In his presentation, Morris shared that as a child, he received a Walt Kelly “Pogo” book from a great-aunt. Kelly’s long, beautiful lines still influence Morris’ work. His current Plain Dealer “Browns Town” drawings reflect Kelly’s line influence as well as the ability to fit surprise drawings into little pockets of space. Pocketing “locals” into spots in the “Browns Town” strips is especially enjoyable for Morris.

Morris states that he likes to “jump around with different styles.” Other influences for his art are Jim Unger and Chuck Jones of Warner Bros. for sense of humor; Al Hirschfeld with his pure and simple black line; Chris Payne, with whom he studied for three semesters at East Texas State; and Charlie Harper’s clean, stylized work.  

“My art is a combination of styles and flavors, but at its core, I would hope that readers appreciate the lighter touch, the humor perhaps,” Morris said. “Of course, when I have to illustrate a story about a love triangle that ends in a strangulation, I have to reach a bit deeper! But ultimately, I have been blessed with a talent, supported from an early age by a wonderful family and am able to do what I do in a very visually smart newspaper.”

From the reaction of the Westlake-Westshore Arts Council audience and this writer, we can conclude Chris Morris is likable and a wonderful contributor to the vitality of visual art in Northern Ohio.

Marge Widmar

Westlake Resident; President, Westlake-Westshore Arts Council

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Volume 4, Issue 20, Posted 10:19 AM, 10.02.2012