Took longer than expected, but here’s a brand new entry in the interview with artists and creators series. I talk to men and women whose work I admire and try to psych them into spilling the secrets of their genius. I should have another one on the heals of this coming down the line fairly soon-ish.
Francisco is a graffiti inspired artist I discovered through deviantArt quite some years ago and I always enjoy checking out his daily drawing exercises. His work has that punchy candy color palette that I love from the best street art, but used in a way that works wonders for less abstract subject matter. He gratiously agreed to an email interview to talk about his work and to give advice to other aspiring creators and self-starters.
Fanboy Confidential What is your earliest memory of being creative? Do you recall the first thing you drew/made?
Francisco Perez My earliest memory was drawing the cover of a Donald Duck cartoon. My mom loves telling this story, but apparently I was being a pain running around getting into trouble and she didn’t know what to do so she sat me down and told me to draw Donald Duck from a cartoon cover we had. She was amazed at how my drawing came out since it looked a lot like the original drawing. I think that she might still have it stored somewhere.
FC Do you come from an artistic family? How nurturing were they of your interests (share any anecdotes)
Francisco Yes, luckily I do come from an artistic family. Both my parents draw very well. My dad went to school to study architecture so you need some sort of foundation when it comes to drawing on paper. My mom went to school to study fashion and modeling. She is an arts and crafts master, she can literally make anything. My sister is a very talented graphic designer and has her own company (inkberries.com). I’ve always liked art and it’s always been around for as long as I can remember. My parents were very supportive of my career choice since they knew I had potential to make it. And it’s only logical that my 8 year old niece is an artist herself. Already showing a lot of interest and skill when it comes to drawing and painting.
FC What were your artistic influences earlier in life and how did those change (if at all) leading to the present?
Francisco As a kid, I immersed myself in the world of video games and cartoons. The colors, sounds, character designs, etc. all of that caught my attention at a very young age. So a lot of the stuff I was drawing at the time had to do with that. In my early teens my family and I moved to the United States from Colombia, and as I got older, it was more about comic books and graffiti/urban art. I started following the work of my favorite artists and started developing my own style. And now it’s just all kinds of art and music that influence me and I’ve learned to appreciate them all.
FC Are you self-taught or do you have formal training? Where would you say you gained most of your skill as an artist? In or out of school?
Francisco I’m mostly a self-taught artist. I picked up a few tips and tricks from home since I grew up surrounded in an artistic environment. I learned how to work a lot of traditional media in school for fine arts pieces. But all the digital stuff was on my own. My sister would be in college and would have all the latest Adobe software in her Mac at home, where I would just go and mess around with every single day after school.
FC What is the biggest lesson you learned in school?
Francisco I’d say presenting your art. A lot of critiques and feedback from faculty and other students really helped. Stuff that I wouldn’t normally think about was being brought up and made you look at your own pieces in a different way.
FC What was your first professional gig; describe the experience.
Francisco My first gig was in 2004. It was a character design gig for Power 92.3, a radio station from Houston. At first, I wasn’t sure how they even got to me. At that point I only had DeviantArt as my only online gallery source. I would also participate in draw-offs over at Penciljack, so it was a pretty big deal for me that someone had noticed my work and reached out to me. It consisted of drawing a Dj, two characters in urban clothing and a tricked out school bus. Until this day, I’m not sure what they used the school bus for hah. After that, I started posting my work online on a lot of different sites and the more I got noticed, the more work that started coming my way.
FC How much leeway did you have to place your own creative stamp on the work?
Francisco At that point in time, they liked what they had seen in my gallery so I just went ahead and did my thing. Now that I look back at it, the characters were done in a different style than the Dj and the school bus. Something that wouldn’t happen now, you know? But of course they had some changes and a couple of things that I had to tweak but that’s something that it’s always going to happen with commissioned work.
FC How did your first work experience influence your outlook on the profession?
Francisco I was ecstatic to say the least since it was my first paid gig. And the experience was pretty smooth. Can’t say the same for every single commission that I’ve gotten before. But even though there’s been some tough ones, at the same time there’s been really good ones, so you just have to find a balance. You can trim your clients by knowing who to work with and who not to work with. But it’s hard to say the least. Being a full time freelancer means that you have to hustle and be at your best at all times. Not having a steady paycheck is scary, but if you believe that you can do it and have a portfolio that speaks for itself then there shouldn’t be any problems.
FC How would you describe your personal style to those who are unfamiliar with your work? What sets you apart or makes your work recognizable?
Francisco Someone once wrote this about me – Freelance illustrator based off Miami, FL. Pac is an 80’s kid who lives in a world which evokes an overriding sense of imagination made up of robots and flying tattooed animals who rock. Same place where comic books and urban art meets video games. His inspirations cross the spectrum from reality to imaginary with a colorful flair. So I try to walk a thin line between a “realistic” painting style and a more cartoony feel while trying to mash them both together. So I’m basically taking a bit from both things that I like the most and blending them. I’m a perfectionist at heart and I just like my stuff to look clean. That’s one of the things that stands out the most from my work. No squiggly lines; unless they’re meant to be squiggly.
FC Was this personal style a gradual evolution or a deliberately chosen direction based on your interests? How did you settle on this style?
Francisco This was definitely a gradual evolution. I wanted my art to look great from far as it looks from up close. It was just something that I noticed some time ago about some artwork not looking so tight up close and that just bothered me. Maybe it’s a form of OCD hah, but I’m not happy with something unless it looks clean enough for someone to want to zoom in and see no imperfections. But then again, imperfections in art are subjective. That’s just my personal taste.
FC You mentioned that your first gig was obtained through DeviantArt. Where do you get most of your work, direct referral or is it primarily from people discovering you online?
Francisco Most of my illustration work comes from my portfolio website and art communities such as Deviantart and Behance. There is some direct referral but here in Miami there isn’t much of a market for illustration, there are more graphic design gigs than anything else.
FC Any advice on self promotion? Besides simply doing good work, what have you found to work more often than not?
Francisco I noticed that I started getting more job offers and gigs once my personal website was up. I’m guessing that potential clients that find your work will take you more seriously once they see that you have your own thing going on instead of just hosting your artwork on free art community portfolio galleries. It just shows that you took that extra step to showcase your work and someone that’s looking for an illustrator definitely takes that into consideration, like this guy means business. But then again, if someone really wants to work with you that wouldn’t matter, but it helped in my case.
FC While not the only palette you use, I’m particularly drawn to your great use of bold colors as found in some of your artwork. You mentioned being a fan of graffiti and urban art which leans in the direction of a warmer color scheme. Is your work a conscious effort to emulate that or do you simply find yourself doing it unconsciously?
Francisco At this point in my career, I look back at older work and the urban/graff influence was present a lot more than it is now but I still love it. An artist’s work just evolves with time and if there are hints of it now, it is definitely done unconsciously. I really like working on stuff that I like, mostly out of personal satisfaction. If I’m happy with it, that’s good enough for me. Luckily there are people out there that have similar taste in art and like my stuff.
FC Tell me a bit about how you choose your color palette for each piece. To make it a little less broad, let’s use one of your past works as a sample. You did a piece titled ANTLER GIRL for the Dead Astronauts (band of illustrator/musicians). Tell me how you made the choices you did for this particular work. Walk me through your thought process.
Francisco This particular piece spawned a series of profile portraits because I was really pleased with the result. When I was invited to participate on designing a wallpaper for Dead Astronauts, I was sent some reference of the character. I wanted the crystal antlers to be more deer-like and have a flat look along with the hair which would give the piece an overall nice contrast with the rest of the more detailed elements. But the soft feel of the piece was my personal choice to make it stand out from the rest I had seen that had very dark backgrounds. So I didn’t want any black present on the piece. And I wanted a nice contrasting color with the blue so I went with bright pinks for the shadows. Most of the time I play around with colors to see what works best and I even end up with a different color scheme than what I started with. It’s whatever feels right. But there are some palettes from Adobe Kuler that definitely provide inspiration or a starting point if you’re stuck with something.
FC In general, what is your approach to color? How much of it (if any) is specific direction from your client vs your own tastes?
Francisco It varies, really. There are times that clients are very specific as to what they want and how they want it. There are times they say do your thing, and those projects are the most fun since you get to experiment and explore different palettes. I usually try pushing what I think looks best if what the client wants doesn’t look good or if it isn’t a good fit with the line art.
FC You’ve been doing it for some time now. Do you find it difficult as you start on that blank canvas? How do you get over what the equivalent to writer’s block an artist might have?
Francisco It’s hard. There are times there are no creative juices flowing so I go back to look at some of my older work or my sketchbook. I think having a sketchbook definitely helps in providing some ideas for some new pieces. Just filling out pages with random doodles and ideas will definitely come in handy on a rainy day. Unfortunately, I don’t really have much time to work on personal stuff anymore so I’m having the problem of not being able to create all the new ideas that I’ve been having. I guess it’s a good problem hah, but not really.
FC You’re not only a great colorist, but you draw pretty darn well too. Which of the two do you consider yourself best at? Depending on which one you chose as your best, tell me about the other one. What are the difficulties you find yourself in every time you put pencil to paper or stylus to artboard? Do you have a routine you go through to make it over that hump?
Francisco Coloring definitely comes easier to me. The groundwork has been laid and now it’s just making the line art pop. Drawing is my first love but it’s harder to create things from scratch, obviously. Rough sketching is a must to get anatomy or layout down first before going full force on the final line art. And I feel like my line art has suffered a bit because of my coloring style. With time I’ve avoided drawing out certain details because I know I can do that during the coloring stages, so it’s a double edged sword. I definitely want to get into doing more traditional art so it forces me to focus more on the drawing itself. And there are no undo buttons!
FC When drawing original work, what part of the task do you tackle first?
Francisco The process is pretty simple. Subject matter -> layout -> execution.
FC Do you thumbnail at all or do you largely let the canvas speak to you as some artists have told me they do…
Francisco I don’t thumbnail, but I do a really rough sketch that sometimes I end up fixing since I like the way it looks, and won’t have the same feel with cleaner line art. But it really depends on how loose your wrist is that day, there are times that things just come easier than others.
FC Are there any particular things in drawing that still give you a difficult time, how do you deal with that?
Francisco Oh yeah, reference will always be your best friend. When it comes to anatomy or the way light hits something, or size comparisons. All that stuff can be referenced from photographs or other art.
FC What are your tools of choice (medium, brands, specs)?
Francisco For years my go-to digital tools have been Adobe Photoshop CS5, a Wacom Intuos4 Large tablet and 27″ iMac. I usually work on a 12×16″ canvas at 400dpi but the canvas size does vary from time to time. Recently I’ve been doing some marker and ink work and I’ve been using a heavy weight paper (100+lbs) along with grey Prismacolors.
FC Any cool projects you’d like to plug, what are you working on now that your fans would be interested in and should look forward to?
Francisco I recently colored a few Marvel covers for Captain America & the Mighty Avengers. I also colored the interiors of the Army of Frogs book, and a few indie comics titled Okemus, Blades of Hope and Half-Dead.
Thanks for a great interview Francisco and taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this. Really appreciate it.