Chris Ayers is an LA-based artist specializing in character design whose credits include productions with DreamWorks, Disney TV and Sony Pictures Animation. In 2005, Chris was diagnosed with leukemia. As part of the recovery process, he began a personal art project where he completes a drawing of an animal every day. More than a decade later, selected sketches from The Daily Zoo have been collected into three volumes from Design Studio Press and have touched the lives of many fans. We recently had a chance to talk to Chris about what the Daily Zoo means to him.
The Daily Zoo 3 – Signed Editions Available on ArtStation
A Big Milestone
You celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Daily Zoo this year. How has that been?
When I started the project, if someone had told me that ten years later I would have still been doing an animal a day, I would have found it hard to believe, probably. But it’s been just very fun, rewarding and therapeutic for me.
The Daily Zoo books are full of details from your life. Do you share your stories as a way to help support other people?
Not consciously. It’s turned into that, because the Daily Zoo has been such a big part of my life for the past ten years, and a lot of the drawings are inspired by actual events. An artist’s personal work almost always reflects what kind of person they are. The Daily Zoo has become sort of a visual journal for me, and if I’m going to share these drawings with people, it makes sense to me to let them know the story behind these pictures.
Maybe if I stopped to think a little bit more about how much of my personal life I’m revealing to my audience, that might cause me to scratch my head a little bit. But I do appreciate honesty in the art I see from other people, so I’ve never really thought much about it. It just seemed right to me. I think partly that’s why the books have been able to connect with people, sometimes on a very deep level—because they’re part memoir. And that’s especially true for people who can identify with the things that I’ve gone through.
So the title of the third Daily Zoo book,“Healing Together,” seems like a perfect way to express what the project has become.
The thought behind the title is that healing is so much more successful if we don’t do it in a vacuum, if we have a support system. If you’re going through a difficult situation, I think it can be helpful to reach out to people as you need it, even if it’s just to talk about some of the stuff that’s going through your head. It can be good to share your fears and concerns with other people so you don’t have to hold all of it yourself.
The Daily Grind
What else are you working on right now?
A lot of stuff I can’t talk about, that’s the life of a freelance concept artist working in entertainment. But I’m doing some work right now for Disney TV, as well as a small production company called Paperclip Limited. We’re developing an animated children’s TV show where I’m doing some characters and helping with story development, which is quite a bit of fun.
I’m also working on a couple more books of my own artwork that are proceeding much more slowly than I’d like, but life is busy—I have an almost-four-year-old son, who is a joyous handful.
It must be a real challenge to keep up a daily drawing schedule.
If I hadn’t had cancer, and if I had just decided to do a drawing-a-day project, I don’t know if I would have been able to be as disciplined. I sometimes tell people that cancer is rocket fuel for the soul. Some days it’s more difficult to come up with an idea, or I don’t have much energy, but there’s always a reminder of why I’m doing this.
A Word to Others
Would you recommend this kind of schedule for any artist?
Yes. Engaging your mind and your imagination in creative pursuits is a really good thing to be doing, whether on a daily basis or at least as frequently as possible. I think it will keep you young at heart and help you face difficult challenges when they arise.
It can be difficult to maintain that discipline, and you need to get into the mindset of “this is important and I should make time to do this.” Life is so busy that we put things off and start with what we feel needs to be done—grocery shopping, bills, work. But I’d like to challenge people to keep in mind that we also need to be active in making time for creativity in our lives. It doesn’t have to be drawing. As long as it’s something that engages people’s creative side and brings them joy or comfort, then it’s probably a worthwhile pursuit to follow.