Chris Nolen is big in Texas. The commercial artist and designer moved to Louisville a little more than a year ago and is still so busy with his clients in Houston, Austin and Dallas to take on any new work here except for his job as senior designer at Mightily.
In addition to his work at Mightily, Nolen creates gig posters for bands and music venues as a freelancer and takes on other design projects.
He grew up on a farm in rural Mississippi and graduated from Mississippi State’s esteemed design school. He says “fear and loathing” brought him and his wife to Houston in his 30s. There are a lot of good people in Mississippi, Nolen says, but not a lot of people who are like-minded to Nolen.
Nolen says when he was a kid, if you gave him a Happy Meal box, some tape and a pair of scissors, he could be happy for hours. He’d make buildings, cars and robots out of them. He also doodled and drew. He says he wasn’t very good and didn’t develop “good taste” until he was in college. Even now, he thinks his taste is superior to his technique.
He first came to Louisville 10 years ago and it made an impression on him. So when his wife, who is in the medical profession, got offered a job up here, he felt good about the decision to move. Just last month, though, his wife and the dog moved back to Houston for a really attractive new job, and the couple is doing the long-distance thing for a while.
Although he has only worked for Mightily for less than a year, he’s already helped the agency take home a bunch of ADDYs, top advertising awards. He also recently won an AIGA award for a poster he designed for the Houston Zoo. AIGA awards are for the design community.
Nolen creates his work on a computer. He considers himself a commercial artist, not a fine artist. Fine artists, he suggests, do their work by hand. Even though his elaborate gig posters may look like fine art, they’re still advertising a band.
Currently, Nolen is doing design work for the new White Oak Music Hall in Houston. He’d done work before for the new owners, so when it came to creating this new music venue, they asked Nolen to pitch in on the branding, interior design, stage design and other aspects of the huge venue, which was built from the ground up.
Nolen says relationships are crucial. “When they grow, they bring you along with,” he explains.
Speaking of which, Nolen also has done design work for the Houston band The Suffers, who recently put out their critically acclaimed debut album and are getting a ton of great press. They’ll be at Forecastle this year.
Nolen loves Louisville. He loves the Victorian architecture. He lives in a stunning downtown apartment with views of the river.
“There’s something magical about a river,” he says. Nolen even loves cloudy, cool days, which made living in Houston hard.
He says he wished people in Louisville could see more of his work, but he doesn’t expect that his Texas clients are going anywhere soon. So you’ll just have to settle on taking a look at his online portfolio. It’s pretty great.