Chris Shreve’s studio feels like a greenhouse and smells like incense. Sunlight bursts in through paneled windows, bouncing off hundreds of succulents. Colorful, whimsical characters pop against the white wall: a solemn pickle wearing a hat in a rainstorm, a white creature with an orange beak and human eyes.
Shreve — otherwise known as Normiehead — began drawing as a young boy in West Virginia, inspired by album covers and skateboard graphics. He went on to study illustration at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. After college, he ventured into fine art, and later embraced the creations that haunted his sketchbooks for years: whimsical characters with big heads, funky noses, and daunting eyes. He became Normiehead, adapted from his middle name, Norman.
In 2008, Shreve settled in Bellingham, where his wife is from. The geography of the Pacific Northwest reminded Shreve of West Virginia, where the woods and creeks fueled his imagination.
“We were little monster chasers when we were kids out in the woods,” Shreve says. “Out here we have Bigfoot. The Mothman was a big one from West Virginia.”
One of his paintings, “Mothman,” is a red and black creature with moth-like wings, human arms and legs, and a pair of knee-high boots.
In addition to nature, Shreve is inspired by artists like M.C. Escher and Salvador Dali.
“It seems like the things that I was always drawn to were things that stretched the imagination,” Shreve says. “I think I was drawn to [Escher’s] illusion, to be able to see things that were not possible yet you’re looking at them visually.”
Shreve hopes his work encourages a similar curiosity and imagination. Though Shreve’s characters are all unique, there’s a shared quality that makes them seem like a family. The tuxedo-clad dog in “Woof” looks like he could be playing poker with the creepy clown in “Jack O’ Nimble.” The tomato man in “Sun Ripened” could be whispering to the Dobby-looking subject in “Listen!”
Over the years, and with help from his wife, Shreve has sold his work at farmers markets and art shows in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. He’s been working as an artist full-time since 2007.
In late 2020, Shreve and his wife moved to the corner lot across from Nelson’s Market in Bellingham. While their living quarters are upstairs, Shreve has a private art studio downstairs, which will soon be available to visit by appointment.
The studio opens into a large common area with a ping pong table, leather couch, and a collection of finished and unfinished paintings. In addition to its size, Shreve admires the new studio’s abundance of light and constant passerbys.
Like any good artist, Shreve strives to challenge himself and avoid stagnation. During quarantine, when time stood still and we were isolated inside, he took advantage of the downtime to experiment with watercolor.
“[Watercolor] was something I was doing every day, sometimes for hours, just being pretty free,” Shreve says. “That’s kind of the best place to be, I think.”
Now, as places reopen and events are scheduled through summer, Shreve prepares for upcoming shows at the Bellingham Farmers Market and the Anacortes Arts Festival. He looks forward to spending many hours hunkered down at his desk in the new studio.
“Just to sit in my sketchbook or behind the easel … I think those are my favorite times,” Shreve says. “The space here just gives me space to sit and think.”
517 Potter St., Bellingham, 360.393.8588, normiehead.com