The graphic illustrations of Charis Tsevis are reflective of his being. They are unique, intricate, and colorful. Tsevis likes to think of himself as a simple man. He doesn’t flaunt the world’s demand for his work, and he’s not too fond of talking to mainstream media. But the man himself cannot be so simple. His creations are proof he is a pro at design, a creative genius indeed. And for him, that’s second nature, since what he values the most is that everyday he does what he enjoys best. “I love to wake up in the morning and say ‘oh yes…I’m going to design today,’” he says.
Based in Athens, Tsevis is living every designer’s dream: to have developed a signature style recognized and enjoyed worldwide. Tsevis’ graphic art has adorned the covers of popular magazines internationally. “I am lucky enough to have my own signature style and do what I love… it’s the dream of a designer,” Tsevis says. His characteristic style is vibrant and highly detailed. Tsevis is best-known for his image collage – portraits created by stringing together smaller images, almost like a cell structure of some sort.
He creates these digital illustrations using personally developed techniques of scripts and hacks, and piling on loads of patience while working with graphic design programs such as Adobe Creative Suite, Synthetik Studio Artist, and Apple Quick Time Pro. His portrait of Hugh Laurie, lead character on the hit TV series House, for example is made entirely of a variety of pills and medication, which House is notorious for prescribing to his patients, and taking himself. (Check it our for yourself in our featured gallery below). Tsevis, who holds a Diploma of Graphic Design from the Akademie fur das Grafishe Gewerbe, Munich, and a Master in Visual Design from the Scuola Politecnica di Design, Milan, manages what he calls a modest studio: Tsevis Visual Design.
– – – A COLORFUL JOURNEY – – –
Coming back to Greece after having spent time in Milan in 1992 was a mental burden on Tsevis, who says the country’s design market was not all that friendly. “In Italy all my friends were design students or professionals, so I was feeling fine. But here all my friends were something else…economists, doctors…whatever. But not designers.” In an effort to be closer to like-minded individuals, Tsevis in 1996 joined AKTO College of Art and Design where he still teaches editorial design and typography. “It’s only one day every week I teach but it’s one of the most beautiful days,” he says. “The nice thing with teaching is that you’re going into an environment where you’re not exactly working for money. You’re designing for the sake of designing… to experiment and learn. Teaching is learning,” he says.
In the early 2000s Tsevis was worried that relying on art and design was not going to work for him in Greece. “I was feeling that just by doing my profession I would probably not make it,” he recalls. He then got involved with writing and teaching about design, and eventually landed a position with Adobe in 2007 to manage the company’s operations in Greece, Cyprus and Israel. By 2008 Tsevis found himself stretched thin multitasking. He was working for Adobe, writing articles on graphic design, teaching, and managing his firm. It all eventually caught up and Tsevis found he was designing less and less, so he decided to quit a few things while he was ahead and go back to his love of art. “I said ‘I’m going to change my life completely because I don’t want to be an entrepreneur, and I don’t care if I’m going to have a lot of money or not. I’m going to do what I love and if I’m making money that’s fine, if not, that’s okay too.’ It was a big risk but it was worth it,” he recalls.
“If you are creative…you will be successful.”
Describing his daily routine as a professional designer, the main goal, Tsevis says, is to come up with an artistic concept that both encompasses the artist’s style and at the same time, satisfies the needs of the client. “The client has a problem and as a designer, you have to resolve this. The biggest problem is how to convince the client to accept your solution.” Luckily for Tsevis, who has developed and adopted a signature style, the “problem” is more of a pleasure every time. That’s because the world of print and digital media adores the detailed creations so characteristic of the name Charis Tsevis. And recognition doesn’t come easy without hard work. Design is time consuming, and Tsevis has had his share of 3 to 4 hours of sleep per day, taking very few days off. “I’m pretty close to 16 hours of work a day and that’s difficult but I want to remain an artist,” says Tsevis. “Even though that sounds very romantic, it makes sense business-wise.” Lately, Tsevis tries to control his temptation to constantly design. When on vacation he deletes creative programs on his laptop, for instance.“In America I was visiting Key West… and I was working,” he recalls. “There it was…a nice view of the beach…and I was working!”
– – – FORTUNE – – –
Tsevis made his first international break in 2007 when he designed a cover for Fortune Magazine. The invitation came to him as a pleasant surprise. “When I got the message for the job I thought a friend was pulling my leg,” he recalls. The Fortune cover brought Tsevis a fortunate string of interest in his art. In the years following, Tsevis designed for major companies around the world, including Nike, PepsiCo, Toyota, and IKEA. His art has been seen in Time, Smithsonian, and Wired magazines, among others. Yahoo Mail users enjoyed some original Tsevis pieces during the summer of 2012 when the internet corporation featured his colorful artwork of various athletes as part of the Yahoo! London Olympic Games coverage. “If you are working freely you are developing something that is who you are. I am very lucky to work freely,” he says.
But luck and success has its downsides. Being successful during a period of crisis is very strange for many reasons because there is a contrast, Tsevis says. “You are happy and the people around you are sad. You are progressing and the people around you are striving to survive.” Newfound success is very difficult to manage, Tsevis explains. “People hate you.” But working for big names is not as difficult as it seems, he says. “If you’re lucky enough to enter a certain club of clients, then the one client brings you to the other. It’s simple, and this is how I am trying to inspire my students.” “I haven’t done something big. I’m sure they will do something more than me because that is the nature of things…the student should do better than the teacher,” he says.
Tsevis’ general dislike for mainstream media attention stems from the idea that adequate time is not spent on understanding the artist. “The press wanted to interview me and create a lot of buzz around me…they don’t care about quality, they want to make a story out of you,” explains Tsevis. “I’m not feeling like a great guy. I feel like a normal person who is doing something that is not a recipe for success.” Tsevis has for now made the decision to limit his interaction with the press. “I don’t want to read interviews and see myself being portrayed as the successful person…I don’t care about that. It’s not how successful you are in your life or your job, it’s how happy you are. This is reality, because if you are not happy, you are not successful.”
One of Tsevis’ real life heroes was Steve Jobs, the man behind the Apple Inc. legacy. The designer began to illustrate interesting portraits of Jobs that were picked up by the technology mogul’s fans and widely circulated through the internet. “At some point it was his followers who took me under their shoulders and shared my work around the world,” Tsevis recalls. Having followed him since the 1980s, Tsevis was hard-hit when Jobs passed away in October of 2011. And even though the event sparked instant media attention and significant interest in his portraits of Jobs, Tsevis felt a great loss. “Everybody was calling me to tell me their congratulations and I was sad. This contrast teaches you some things.”
– – – I LOVE GR – – –
Western Europe has been kinder and more open to the arts, making it a more feasible place to live for an artist and designer like Tsevis, but for him, nothing compares to his native country. Throughout the ages, Greece’s beauty has been an unparalleled muse to many creative individuals. “I really love the land, the nature, the sea.” Tsevis says. “It’s perfect.”
Though design success stories like Tsevis’ are rare, especially in Greece, fate worked out for him and he got to stay in his favorite place on earth. “In order to leave you have to be a little desperate, to have a good reason, I never had a good reason,” he says. So he stayed. “I love Europe, but every time I visit I think ‘no’…I’m coming back here.”