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London based illustrator Cristian Ortiz, a.k.a CROM, has a distinct art style. A combination of intricate illustrations, manga influence and dark themes; we visited CROM at his home studio to find out about his story...
Upon arriving, we made our way up to CROM’s top floor studio, a place we could film with plenty of natural light. The walls of his neatly organised home are a window into his ever-expanding portfolio, acting as a gallery for previous and upcoming projects. Nestled away in Peckham, CROMs studio is a surprisingly serene nest in the middle of such a bustling city.
From here, CROM runs a successful Etsy business and his Patreon which transports his artwork around the world. He does everything himself - the artwork, the marketing, the customer service enquiries, the social media content and many daily post office runs to ship everything off to new homes. He’s a busy man and we’re interviewing him just hours before he jets off to Paris - so let’s start where his following would expect, with The Bird King.
If you’re unfamiliar with CROM’s work, The Bird King is one of his most well-known characters. A skeleton on fire, wearing huge War Hammer-esque armour. Inspired by Ghibli, The Bird King is a character who has been cursed by the Gods and lives in a palace full of birds. One of the many fantasy universes CROM has created from these four walls in Peckham.
“I put it together because I thought it looked cool, then people started asking me ‘is this art or a character from a TV show?’ and I kept saying it’s just my character.” But this wasn’t ‘just’ any character. The artwork that caught everyone’s eye became the basis of CROM’s on-going Patreon campaign and became a beloved feature among his instagram following which currently stands at 72K strong.
“I think it just naturally pushed me to create something and I thought I’d do a comic, which is a medium that I like and I know.”
It wasn’t just the final product that CROM has allowed people to see, he let them in on the entire creative process of creating the comic - something art fans rarely get to see. “I put up the Patreon so that people could experience the process of it. Usually I’m working on a comic for months and people will see the result without seeing the process… this time they get to see every step of it, all the roughs, all the character designs and then see the end result.”
It’s a bold move that many artists would avoid. The vulnerability of showing your rough drafts can often lead to wondering whether people would either see them and prefer what could have been or embrace the artwork that has grown from it. Then there’s the age-old fear of showing your work before your 100% happy with it. Something some artists are never find the confidence to do.
However, the honest relationship CROM has fostered with his audience has driven the project to new heights. “I think a lot of my followers at the moment are art students and illustrators themselves, so we’re interested in seeing how other people work. They ask a lot of things about my process and this is my opportunity to share with them specifically as it’s not the sort of this you want to share on every platform.”
The project has been steadily picking up momentum online. “At the moment it’s my main IP and I’d like to push it as far as I can.”
Aside from his Patreon, CROM also runs a successful Etsy store which he operates from home. Among the collection you’ll find beautifully intricate prints, zines and clothing. The artwork featured is distinctly CROM; slightly dark themes, skulls, a hint of manga inspiration. It lends itself to all types of mediums, hence why we at Shores were so keen to work together.
Previously CROM has released pins, tote bags, jumpers and now with Shores, you can find his artwork on the back of leather jackets, but what is it about clothing that appeals to CROM? "Someone who has style shows their personality through the stuff they're wearing and I think it's important that there's no right or wrong style... You're telling people who you are. Not everyone does it consciously but you can tell who does."
Looking around CROM’s studio, you can tell that he’s a man of style but it’s subtle. His artwork is pinned on every wall. There's trinkets neatly placed on shelves that he’s collected from his travels - a tengu mask sticks out in particular, hanging from a shelf, watching over you as you walk through the door.
Tengu are mainly found in Japanese mythology and represent protective (yet dangerous) spirits of forests and mountains. The term itself is derived from tiāngoǔ a fierce demon of Chinese folk-lore. It’s easy to see how this falls in line with CROM’s work. An entity that can be seen as protective yet still has an element of danger - similar to some of his other character designs.
For his collaboration with Shores, CROM has designed striking a Tengu motif. Center stage on the back of a leather jacket, this amazing artwork is sure to turn heads. “I had recently come back from Japan so I open up one of the sketch books I’d taken with me. The tengus, they’re kind of like Japanese demons. They’re very visually strong.”
“My style is most recognisable from my line work, which is there. It’s reflective of my style, it links to my themes. You’ll be able to look at this piece and say ‘that’s CROMs work”.
To gain exclusive access to CROM's jacket sign up to our mailing list. This collaboration will be a limited print run of 20 jackets - printed on demand to ensure you receive the style and fit that you desire.
The Shores X CROM collaboration goes live on January 16th. Don't miss out.