Art has been the driving force in Christopher “Tobar” Rodriguez’s life ever since the days of his youth growing up in Chicago. The need to translate his ideas through a visual medium is what brought him to city of Orlando, where he graduated from Full Sail University’s Digital Arts & Design degree program. Years later, he has found himself contributing to the City Beautiful, as he has become a sought-after visual artist who has enhanced the aesthetic of local landmarks and businesses through his mural paintings.
Inspired by lifelong idols (Todd McFarlane, Shepard Fairey, and Roy Lichtenstein) as well as by the work of Orlando’s very own B-Side Artists (a collective of local painters and street artists of which he is a founding member), Tobar’s work has a clear graffiti influence that heavily relies on the use of spray paint and markers. But what might be surprising to some is that the foundation for many of his pieces actually begins in the digital realm.
“I’ll draw inspiration from being outside and seeing something, or maybe hearing a song lyric that stands out to me, and put that sketch of an idea straight to my computer,” he says. “Maybe I’ll take a photograph and manipulate it to create what I need by scanning stuff in. The digital piece allows me to make a template that I can then transfer to a canvas or wall format.”
Workshopping his ideas in a digital space – which he identifies as one of the key practices that he took from his time in the Digital Arts & Design program – allows him to experiment without having to worry about any time restrictions or other logistical challenges. By testing out different color schemes and other variations of his vision, he’s able to have a more finalized idea by the time he begins the more intense process of putting it up in public.
“I want my mural work to be striking. Some artists like to be crazy detailed and that’s great, but I like to skew towards simplicity for a larger piece because I want to catch peoples’ attention,” he says. “It also boils down to time. I can spend weeks adding and fixing things when I’m working on a piece at home, but when you’re doing a piece on a wall, you have space and time issues, and deadlines. I’ve even found that approach spilling into my work outside of murals.”
With his work adorning the walls of local hotspots such as art supply store Sam Flax and downtown bar/grill SideBar, Tobar sees Orlando slowly but surely embracing local talent in defining the city’s overall aesthetic.
“There aren’t as many people in Orlando who are open to having murals on their walls right now, but I’ve found that the more that I put myself out there, the easier it is for me to get work from that,” he says. “As I get bigger and bigger, I’ll get more business owners who say, ‘oh, that could be great for my establishment,’ and so my portfolio continues to grow.”
Part of that growth comes from the various gallery shows and pop-up shops/events that he participates in every year, but a few years ago Tobar felt the need to really step his game up. Enter his OCTOBAR project, a concept that finds him going into full-throttle mode with his branding and presence in Orlando’s art community every October. From announcing random scavenger hunts that feature his artwork around town to releasing limited-run t-shirts, OCTOBAR helps keep Tobar on his toes as a creative.
“Setting a standard to showcase so much work every year definitely challenges me to push forward and keep making work, even when I don’t feel like doing that,” he says. “I also like to involve local businesses to help bring new foot traffic there, whether it’s through my scavenger hunts or by doing a random pop-up show. Every year I can look back and see how I can make improvements to make it even better the following year.”
Between his growing portfolio of mural pieces, personal and freelance projects, and a full-time gig as Art Director at the Orlando Weekly, Tobar’s schedule typically doesn’t allow for much downtime. It might seem like an exhausting endeavor, but his passion for his craft prevents it from ever becoming too much to bear.
“I like expressing myself and my thoughts about the things that I see around me in my day-to-day life. I could paint for the rest of my life, and every single painting would be like telling a different story,” he says. “Making things that didn’t exist beforehand is always exciting. It’s definitely a never-ending journey, and that’s really cool.”