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Illustrator Christian Musselman Is All About the Details

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You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Longtime children’s illustrator Christian Musselman recently launched a fine arts career with a dynamic and detailed eleven-piece collection called Deco Next Door, on display through the end of June at Racines. It’s a perfect setting for a series showcasing the architecture along the streets of Capitol Hill that Musselman says is “one of my favorite neighborhoods.”  

Musselman is from Chicago, and he says you can't can’t live in the Windy City without gaining some appreciation for architecture. When he moved to Santa Fe, he missed the variety of the buildings where he'd grown up — but didn’t realize just how much he missed it until the self-employed artist relocated to Denver in 2014. “I love living in cities, and it felt like it was time to get back in one,” says Musselman. “Denver is jam-packed with interesting residential and commercial architecture, and it’s a great size with a lot of amazing history.”

That history really started to sink in as Musselman, who's been in the illustration industry for thirty-plus years, roamed the streets of Denver with his dog. “I kept finding all of this ornamentation in the architecture around me, and when you see such an extravagant use of ornamentation, it makes you stop,” he says. “It takes a certain amount of attention to detail to create these things, and the more I looked at them ,the more I realized how much work it had been to make some of the buildings in Capitol Hill. It just felt like a lot of that was disappearing.”

Musselman, who'd been in the illustration industry for thirty-plus years at that point, decided to commemorate the inspiring detail work in a fresh way, and began looking for structures that met his three requirements: “The building had to have a name, that name had to be written in art deco-style typeface, and the door had to be the original,” explains Musselman.

The next step was taking pictures — lots and lots of pictures. From there, Musselman worked in Adobe Illustrator, “simplifying and playing with color and stylizing the image to figure out what I wanted to show,” he says, calling the process a synthesis between design and illustration. For punch, Musselman added “more of a fantasy color scheme,” playing with an art deco palette to bring out the details of the buildings.

Still, Musselman wanted his work to be accurate, down to the correct number of bricks. “I didn’t want to play with reality too much,” he says. “I wanted the style I was using and the colors to be what brought out the building in a different way.”

After he'd done a few renderings — he calls them illustrations — Musselman created a template to unify the pieces. “They’re almost like a deck of cards," he explains. "For example, all of the doors are the same height, and there is a format each building has to fit into.”

His organized approach reflects the kind of work Musselman has done for decades, including packaging for toy companies — he’s worked for Mattel on projects involving Barbie and Hot Wheels — and also branding for food and alcohol products.

The corporate jobs paid the bills, but Musselman says he recently realized he wanted more control over his art. “There’s always a little bit of a compromise in working for other people under their parameters; it’s not an individual creation,” he explains. 

Musselman is currently working on two more fine art series: The Corbel Project features Capitol Hill’s unique corbels, and another collection explores decorative wrought-iron elements found around town. Musselman does custom home portraits, too, and he hopes to show his work at more venues in the future. For more information, visit Musselman’s website

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