Interview: Christopher David Ryan aka CDR
December 21 2014
Christopher David Ryan, the graphic designer and illustrator better known as “CDR,” is by all accounts a generous person. Aside from the plethora of free printout downloads of the more shareworthy design on his site, he recently ran an online promo where anyone who filled out a form would receive a free original drawing for the holidays. Separate from giveaways and client work, he has also been spending a great deal of time on More & Co., the Portland, Maine-based creative agency and brick-and-mortar shop he is a partner in. These ventures aside, CDR’s style is instantly recognizable due to the signature characters which appear throughout his work.
These characters, which he’s been drawing for at least 20 years, also appear in his “Sunday Styles” series, which has picked up social media steam over the past year via his Instagram. In proper “Moments With Sunday” fashion, CDR spends the last day of each weekend drawing his characters into print ads from fresh issues of the New York Times and assorted fashion catalogs. Examples include covering a beauty model in grinning faces, or a character mean-mugging from the opposite page of a Céline ad.
The man who has worked for brands like Google, Nike and Victoria’s Secret has a sense of humor that comes through not only in his work, but also simple conversation. When we asked what variant of Christopher/Chris/CDR to call him, he replied: “You can call me any of those things actually. My mom calls me ‘Chris.’ My pals call me ‘CDR.’ I think you’re a pal.”
What’s your typical Sunday morning like?
My typical Sunday morning is quite mellow and mostly uneventful. Our cats wake us up early like every other day of the week. I get up and seek coffee and the New York Times. I pull out the “Sunday Styles” first so I can page through it to see if there are any good ads that I can draw on.
Speaking of the Times, your “Sunday Styles” series where you draw your characters into print ads catches a lot of attention online. How did you start doing those and sharing them?
The “Sunday Styles” started almost by accident. I was drawing in my sketchbook at the breakfast table one Sunday morning and I just kind of moved over to the newspaper. I noticed an ad that pictured a particularly sad looking model, so I just drew in a character that was basically mimicking her in the ad’s white space. I found the whole experience very enjoyable so I posted it to Instagram, where it was well received.
I did it again the next Sunday and started hashtagging the images with “#cdrsundaystyles.” I try to post one to three images each Sunday, provided there are some good ads in the Times to work with. I think I’ve only missed on Sunday over the past year. It’s kind of become an institution. Some of the posts are good. Others, not so much…but I enjoy it all the same. I think my followers feel the same. It’s all just for fun.
The “Sunday Styles” characters are the same ones starring in a lot of your work. Have you been drawing these guys since you were much younger?
In some shape or form, yes, I have been drawing these types of characters for a long time now…20 years at least. I started doing so as a revolt against all of the “life drawing” that I did all through my youth. I was the kid that could draw anything realistically. At a certain point in my teenage years I found some freedom from that.
After time jumping between coasts, you’ve been living in Portland, ME for the past several years. What’s your favorite thing about the city?
I started spending a lot of time in Portland, Maine while I was living in Brooklyn. After a few years of commuting back and forth I found that Portland was just more my speed as far as daily life was concerned. It’s a small, very manageable city with a very mellow vibe. At the same time, there is a lot going on. There is excellent art, food, drink, interesting characters, and its proximity to some of the wonders of nature is a bonus. You can jump in your car and within 30 minutes be someplace that is breathtakingly beautiful. I lived in San Francisco for many years and I feel a similarity between there and Portland. They are both coastal, with a dramatic climate, natural beauty and good vibes.
In Portland you’re involved with More & Co., a creative agency that also has a physical storefront. What’s that been like?
Yes, I am a partner in More & Co. We started as a small creative agency servicing large and small clients both locally and internationally. In the past year we have been focusing less on client work and more on our own shop and brand. We have a small shop in Portland and a webshop that ships globally. The experience has been quite a ride. Between myself and my partners we have over 30 years of combined experience in the worlds of art, design, retail and advertising. It was a very natural progression for us to move from servicing clients’ brands to ultimately building our own. Portland has been a great place to make this happen. There is a very creative landscape here with a lot of opportunity.
You recently promoted a free drawing giveaway, where anyone who filled out a form on your site would get one in the mail. Over 400 people responded…how did you get that idea?
I get a lot of ideas…too many sometimes. A lot of them are just bad, or insane. I guess this one leans more towards insane. Basically, the idea began to form right around Thanksgiving when I was getting bombarded with marketing about sales and discounts and the like. I started thinking that instead of trying to sell things from my shop, I would just give things away. So, I went for it. I was not expecting the reaction I received. The best thing about it was how positive and thankful people were. I think someone actually offering to give them something in the “season of giving” really took them by surprise. Ultimately, it’s a lot of work for me to make all of the small drawings, but it feels really good.
You know, I think about this from time to time and I have to say that I wouldn’t change a single thing about the path my life has taken. If I could tell my past self anything, it would just be to “let it be what it is.” I was just telling someone recently that every moment of my life, whatever it was made of, has ultimately always just felt like me.
However, ten years ago, I don’t think that I really was aware of this. I was capable of getting caught up in what it must be like to be someone else because I admired their achievements, actions, aesthetics, etc. I don’t feel that now. I know who I am in this moment, and I am happy to just be that. I don’t know who I’ll become though, and I am happy to just be that too.