Life is a Loog

CHRISTOPHER SOUEIDAN HAS GAINED WEIGHT–that's the first thing that strikes me when I see him today. I've known him for 15 years, but I haven't seen him in over two years.

Unlike Chris, I don't draw. I have made precisely three works of art that I am proud of in my life but if I were to draw a portrait of Christopher Soueidan, I'd start with the fact that he has gained weight. That's what I would highlight in a caricature–the fact that his face has filled up.

While this is clearly a weird opening to a profile, it's one that I believe will have a few readers laughing, not to mention that it happens to be true. Christopher Soueidan has gained weight. And more importantly, he himself will laugh at that opening–Chris usually laughs at silly stuff.

TO UNDERSTAND WHO Chris Soueidan is, you must first see him drunk–you must first see him at his worst. And at his worst, he's a lot like he is at his best. "He's crazy and impulsive, very intelligent, and a little kid at heart," Chris's younger sister Mary says in an email. "He definitely brings life to any party!"

This time, it just so happens that the party is his–Chris is celebrating turning 26. It's about 2:30 a.m. on June 2, 2012, and the creator of Loogart Illustration is drunk. He's wearing a dark t-shirt that says, "When Life gives you lemons, get tequila and salt," and he's spewing some nonsense about a man who was the then-Quebec Premier and who shall remain nameless. (His name rhymes with beret, and what Soueidan is saying rhymes with "Mock You, Beret!") It's raining outside the nightclub Le Confessionnal, on McGill Street in old Montreal, but most of his friends are with him. His brother Michael, 21, is holding him to make sure that Chris doesn't spill his guts or that if he does, then that it's at least not on anybody's shoes but his own. Twenty-two-year-old Mary is helping Michael, who's helping Chris, who doesn't get sick–he owes them one.

CHRISTOPHER SOUEIDAN IS THE CREATOR of Loogart Illustration (i.e. lou-GAH'R-t), but first he is a mechanical engineer. He was raised in Montreal, the son of a Lebanese father and Filipina mother. He went to high school at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf (i.e. an all-boys school at the time), and this is where I met him. "We certainly all had our hardships," Chris says. "I was a desperate virgin like everyone else." I have always known Chris to be successful and gifted in art and yet, he later chose a career in physics and engineering–where, when both of us were still just teenagers, he certainly was not successful.

"0.5 OUT OF 10!" That story is a favourite of Chris's, and it's one he tells to just about everyone he meets if I'm with him as well. "I was so lost in physics in grade 12, man. If you combined Neil's grade and mine, you would have gotten a perfect grade. (Chris calls me Neil. Probably just because he can.) I got 0.5 on 10. And I'm the one who's now working in engineering!"

(Understood is that I'm the one who's not working in engineering despite a 9.5 out of 10, but Chris never mentions that.)

Chris has worked in Ottawa, as a service supervisor at Otis Elevator, for the past three years. Before that, he studied mechanical engineering at McGill University, graduating in 2009. Chris says that his parents "wanted me to succeed in school and to get the job that they wanted me to get." These included an engineer, a doctor and a lawyer. "I selected engineer," he says, "it's the easy way out."

In September of 2011, Chris created Loogart Illustration after a few months of toying with the idea. The name made sense, because it's through his Loogs that Chris creates art: thus, Loogart. The name itself is from his mother's maiden name, Lugar. "Bingo. That sounds good," he says. "And when I draw, I will not call it 'An Illustration by Loogart. I'll call it a Loog...It defines an illustration made by me" without saying so explicitly.

And yet, Chris explains that it took him a long time to define precisely what is a Loog beyond that. "A Loog is an efficient illustration that wants to deliver an effective idea," Chris says. "That's why I call it efficient–using tools to create art."

All of this is to say that working at Otis was fine, but that he needed more. "My vocation in this life is to illustrate happiness," he says. Chris is a creative person and always has been. "We used to draw together when I was around 6 years old, and I would try to imitate him drawing Donkey Kong or Dixie Kong. I was never able to draw as well as him ever!" Mary says. "(It) seems like the right side of his brain was always more active than the rest of us."

I'll take Mary's word for it. I can personally attest that Chris played basketball throughout high school, and pretty well. He usually wore a home Lakers jersey that said "BRYANT 8" on the back. This year, the team adds the Canadian ageless wonder himself, Steve Nash. Chris would have preferred to see Nash sign with the Toronto Raptors instead of chasing a ring with Los Angeles. Winning with the Raptors would have been legendary, but Chris forgets that there is no way Nash could have won with the Raptors–that's why he chose the Lakers, and, well, there's nothing wrong with chasing a ring. (But both of us agree that though Nash went to Hollywood, the actual Hollywood ending would have seen him come to Toronto.)

But Chris was better in arts than he was at basketball in high school. For a music competition, he mixed in hip-hop (i.e. 'Forgot About Dre') with classical music (i.e. 'Chopin's Polonaise in A Major') on the piano, and it was a success. Brébeuf asked him to draw countless posters and flyers for French and English literary contests. Meanwhile, Hermin Lacourte was the unfortunate opus of Chris and I–though the comic is still unpublished and likely to stay this way, it helped make tolerable even the most boring of lectures of high school.

That's why I wasn't surprised to learn that Chris had picked up graphic design, nor that he was good at it. His first influence was Stanley Chow, who by now is a veteran of the industry with 15 years of experience under his belt, and who also happens to have one Grammy Award nomination to his name–for the design of a USB stick of The White Stripes. Chris calls him "one of [my] greatest mentors."

He was first struck by how big a following Chow had. "I told myself that if this guy can do it, then I definitely can do it," he says. He started learning Adobe Illustrator and mimicking Stanley Chow's artwork–"I would have never learned otherwise," he says. "I never went to art school."

MOVEMBER OF 2011 WAS "A BIG HIT" in establishing Loogart, partly because he received help from Mary–the "social media guru," he says of the role his younger sister played. She diminishes her role and simply says that, "I just use social media a bit more than him."

To gain a following, Mary created a Facebook event inviting people to like the Loogart Illustration page–for every 'Like,' Chris would donate $0.25 to the Movember cause against prostate cancer. "Loogart gained a lot of publicity," Mary says. "I think in the month of November alone, Chris gained an extra 200-300 'Likes'."

Three months in, Chris had gained a following–he couldn't back down anymore. Then came his '50 Rappers' Loog, and he almost did.

The Loog was impressive, popular, but also controversial when it was released. At the time, he had been reading Draw: How to Master the Art, from Jeffrey Camp. "In the foreword, the book explained that drawing is about expressing yourself," Chris says. "To learn how to do art, you have to copy others."

So Chris did. "That was probably part of my naivety," he says. The '50 Rappers' Loog depicts 50 different rappers, from Ice Cube to Missy Elliott and from Big Pun to Drake, on a white background. It's simple, but not simplistic, and Chris probably worked many hours to create it. The problem is that it's similar to Robert M Ball's piece titled "50 goodies/50 baddies." A few of Robert Ball's fans noticed the similarities as well, and sent vitriol Chris's way–he says it was "one of the most depressing Mondays ever."

Younger brother Michael helped. "I told him to take a break and to take his time with every drawing," he says. "I wanted to remind him that he had been incorporating his own style into his illustrations ever since he started Loogart...As a striving artist, he has an exceptional attitude, because he believes in what he does and refuses to give up."

Chow says that he wasn't surprised to learn about the negative feedback. "I believe Chris takes inspiration from my work and Robert M. Ball's work," he says. "Sometimes there's a fine line between being inspired by and plagiarism...It's more important to develop your own style than to look like somebody else."

This is essentially what Chow told Chris in an email to answer the one that Chris had sent him in the midst of this controversy–strive to be your own best self. "We are influenced by many other artists too, but our work comes from within," Chow says, "which makes us who we are and not lesser versions of the artists who have influenced us."

THOUGH SOUEIDAN HAS DISCONTINUED the '50 Rappers' design, he's at peace with it now. "The visual concept was copied exactly from Robert M. Ball," he says, "but the idea itself of 50 rappers isn't copying." He understands the negative feedback that he received for it, but maintains that he never meant to disrespect anybody's art–and he has said as much to Robert M. Ball himself. It also inspired a few other Loogs related to rap music, notably that of the 'Snoop Lion.' This one in turn led to him designing the cover photo of the Rap Memes Facebook page. Since, he's done the same for the Soccer Memes page.

He has plenty of fans, including someone who goes by the pseudonym of Large Tony. "(Chris) obviously has a very keen eye, because he really captures not only the details of whomever he is illustrating, but also instantly recognizable characteristics," Large Tony says. "There's also a liveliness and humour about it all."

That's probably why he asked Chris for a personal Loog–and also why he loves it.

Chris also tries to create Loogs with greater reach, but some of them fall flat. While a Loog like this Neil Armstrong one is as impressive as any other, it's tough to see just what else it might be besides an homage to an American hero. And that's not an insult–much like his company, Chris Soueidan is still growing as an artist. As he solidifies his creative style and identity, he will take more risks on what statements he makes, and those that he doesn't, through his art.

With time, too, Loogart Illustration will expand. His sales are up, in good part because of tools like Society6. A few of his designs have been featured for sale, notably the Snoop Dogg/Wiz Khalifa combo that became popular as an iPhone case. And yet, he says that the day when he can leave Otis to focus full-time on Loogart isn't there yet–but soon. Maybe.

Chow agrees. "In this economic climate, I'd definitely think twice about leaving a proper job to become a full-time artist. There's no guarantees as to when your next pay check will come," he says. "(My) best piece of advice is to find an agent to represent you."

Chris sees the reverse side to what Chow is describing. "I enjoy tackling a challenge, no matter how hard it is," he says. "I think there's a spot for everyone (in the illustration business)."

And Christopher Soueidan is securing his own. He's gaining weight, so to speak.