By Jade Leonardo
If you watch the animated American sitcom “Bob’s Burgers,” you may wonder who designed the original backgrounds, such as the ones with the classic Victorian houses. Meet Sirron Norris, a well known illustrator and mural artist in San Francisco who uses the knowledge gained throughout his career to educate aspiring artists in the Mission District and in the general San Francisco community.
Norris always knew he wanted to be an artist. Having had what he calls, “above average drawing skills” as a child, Norris focused on his illustrations throughout high school. Originally, his goal was to work for another artist and to have a body of work that was seen by more than just his local community.
After graduating from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Sirron Norris moved to San Francisco in 1997 and began painting murals two years later. Having never depended on galleries to promote and sell his work, Norris describes his career as “not cookie cutter.” He worked hard to build his own brand and do what felt right to him.
Blue Bears and “Bob’s Burgers”
Before “Bob’s Burgers,” Sirron Norris was known for the blue bears he included in his murals. His blue bears and other characters stemmed from his love for cartoon literalism, which he describes as “a series of characters (where) each character means a certain thing.” When he began creating his own characters, Norris chose a blue bear to represent love because just like love, bears have a certain duality. Love and bears can both be seen as scary or as approachable. He made the bears blue because at the time he created the character, he was not in a relationship and had a negative view of love. The blue bear continues to be a staple in Norris’ murals and other artwork.
About eight years into Norris’s career as a mural artist, Loren Bouchard, the creator of “Bob’s Burgers,” approached Norris. Bouchard was in the planning stages of creating an animation series he planned to call “Bob’s Burgers” and was looking for someone to illustrate the show’s backgrounds. It was Norris’ first ever mural, which pictured a mix of San Francisco landmarks, people, animals and futuristic machines, that intrigued Bouchard. He offered Norris the opportunity to work on the show. Bouchard’s studio was located a few blocks from the mural, which has since been repainted by Norris and titled, “The Disruption.” Norris and Bouchard worked along with the show’s writer Nora Smith for over a year to develop the pilot episode of “Bob’s Burgers,” which aired on FOX and runs weekly on Sunday nights, though it has not yet been confirmed if the show will return for a fourteenth season. Norris was initially hired to create the show’s original backgrounds, he also assisted with character design.
A New Art Form
Since Norris completed his work on “Bob’s Burgers,” in 2008, he continues to work on his murals. His visibility is growing, particularly where most exist, in the Mission District. He also offers seasonal art camps, weekly classes to children and other community focused events such as a guided bike tour of his murals.
Norris hopes to move his art in a more personal direction. While he still sells art for commissions and teaches various art classes Norris also pours his time and creative energy into passion projects, such as the whimsical landscape painting that currently hangs on the wall in his studio. This painting does not contain Norris’ signature characters nor Victorian houses. Instead it features colorful windblown trees placed on various sized islands that sit in a seemingly multidimensional stream. While this painting is not representative of Norris’ “typical” or more established mural work, it still represents the voice of an experienced artist.
Norris respects his students and believes in their abilities,. During his classes, he walks around the room inspecting each student’s work. He encourages them and gives constructive criticism. His teaching style leads to confident, capable students as well as parents who believe in Norris’ mission. He has created a “community environment that is inspiring to adults and children,” says Marie Autophen, a parent of one of his students while waiting to pick up her child from one of Norris’ classes.
Norris advises art students to take classes they might remotely be interested in in order to test things out and see what they might really care about. He believes trying out a specific art form is the best way to know if a student would actually be fulfilled in pursuing that art form. In order to develop as an artist, Norris insists that students must “pay their dues.” They cannot and should not expect to be able to jump in and expect immediate success. They must simultaneously set long term goals that are bigger than themselves, and set short term goals that they are capable of reaching in a reasonable amount of time.
If you would like to follow along with Norris’ career you can find him on instagram @sirronnorris and his website, www.sirronnorris.com. His studio and gallery can be found at 2860 24th St in San Francisco.