In the modern digital age, physical illustration is a dying art. The act of putting pen to paper and drafting the human likeness is a skill that’s as ancient as our most valued historical treasures. The value of older crafts and trades are on the rise as modern interest and desire for nostalgic stylings has brought light to things that are disappearing even in the art world.
Cannaday Chapman has been featured in the most fabled publications in the world. He is an illustrator with the ability to make an image jump from the page, a rare talent here by way of New York. Cannaday Chapman is like the modern, black Norman Rockwell.
Cannaday’s work has been featured locally and nationally, with clients like The New Yorker, GQ, and Oprah. Cannaday, when possible, depicts people of color in his work, although his art is not really about race, it’s about representation.
How does a humble kid born in Virginia who later transplanted to Rochester, New York end up in The New Yorker? Cannaday says it all starts with cartoons.
“Way back as a kid, I was into American cartoons and Japanese cartoons,” Cannaday explains. “I would try and draw what I saw on television—GI Joe characters, Dragon Ball characters, action figures.”
When you look at Cannaday’s work, it’s evident that some people are just born with the ability to draw well. Growing up, Cannaday realized drawing dudes with muscles could finally pay off for him.
When the time came for higher education, he matriculated via scholarship at the prestigious School Of Visual Arts in New York City. He completed his course of study with a bachelor’s degree in illustration. Cannaday saw his time on campus as in intro to the professional realm. He saw people succeeding in the field and his professors and peers were either starting or had established careers in illustration. For a kid this gifted, the art world was wide open.
Cannaday hung out in NYC for a bit before he heard the sirens call of sweet Cleveland. His mother was originally from the region. Also, American Greetings actively recruited him for a few years. Still, he was in love with New York City.
“At the time I didn’t want to Leave New York, but I think it was good for me,” Cannaday says. “New York is so fast and expensive, and as an artist, some people think if you’re doing your thing and getting by that’s enough. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything important. When I came to Cleveland, my career took off. I had time… I had no stress.”
An illustration is on par with oil painting, engraving, and linocut when it comes to difficulty. One is almost all digital now, another is a craft these days, and the linocut is extinct. Cannaday still uses actual ink and paper. He then scans the images and does the final work on a computer. As a 33-year-old man, Cannaday remembers going to school and not having the modern computer drafting table. Those roots in a fading craft are apparent in his work and bring desirability to his work.
“My own stuff is getting bigger than it ever has,” Cannaday says. “How far can you really go?”
When you get work in The New York Times, that’s like the top of the charts. Luckily for Cannaday, his creativity and style are the recipe for longevity. There are more achievements beyond showing up in big-name publications. Cannaday is making moves with Cleveland as a home base. See the work for yourself and be struck by the atmosphere he creates all with just a pen and a pad.
Don’t just read about Cannaday. Check out his work online at cannadaychapman.com or on his Instagram @cannadaychapman.
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James Earl Brassfield or simply JEB is a writer, podcast host, humorist, actor and “Black Hunter Thompson” type madman of no ill repute. Language has yet to evolve fully to describe his unique view of Northeast Ohio and the world. JEB produces work across all media with his original and clearly stated voice. @Jearlbrass