Chris Hipkiss (né Payen) was born into a successful working-class family in 1964. The youngest of three, he and his family lived in the crowded suburban landscape of Uxbridge, West London, though weekends were usually spent on one of a series of boats moored on the Thames upstream from the city. It was during these times spent in the country that Hipkiss first fostered his interest and love of nature, not only observing the birds and the plants through the seasons, but studying them, learning latin names and reading up on his finds in his spare time at home.
Other than this somewhat unusual behaviour in a boy so young, Hipkiss enjoyed a normal childhood, taking pleasure in his time at the local Catholic and Grammar schools and at home, and never at a loss for things to do. His habit of drawing repeated motifs did start young, however; at the age of two, he covered a pillow-case with ‘spiders’ rendered in black biro. Unsurprisingly, his favourite place in school was the art room.
Despite showing academic promise and gaining good basic qualifications, he left school at age 16 to become an apprentice model-maker at his father’s joinery and pattern-making company. Within a few years, he was producing wooden and plastic prototypes for (amongst others) tool companies such as Black&Decker. Despite the utilisation of some his innate skills, such as visualisation and attention to detail, Hipkiss found the need for technical precision a little tiresome; however, as the trade faded with the rise of computer-aided technology, the company shifted to specialise in more mainstream joinery, such as staircase manufacture. Hipkiss was not happy as a joiner, but became a specialist in the making of handrail turns, which relies upon visual judgement rather than a ruler; finding enjoyment in this craft, he occasionally takes on such work to this day.