Francisco Fonseca

Francisco Fonseca

Represented by Good Illustration
Francisco Fonseca Interview

Francisco Fonseca

Children's Illustrator

Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?

The process of getting into illustration was really natural for me. I’ve been drawing since I can remember and from a really early age I started to create my own worlds and characters. I was far from knowing if what I was doing was illustration or something else, I knew at the time that I liked to paint and draw and that was what I called my creations at the time (from the age of 10 to 15). Only when I started university (Fine arts University of Porto) did I truly begin to understand what illustration was all about and from there it became my focus. 

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How and why did you decide to pursue illustration as your career?

I always knew that my career would be related to drawing. Drawing was the only thing that I did since I can remember. It’s always been something that makes me happy, makes me remember and create “checkpoints” in my life and allows me to look back and feel happy... So If I could be doing that and making a living out of it, that would be the ultimate goal. Since I started to draw, I never imagined myself doing anything else.  So all my life, from a young boy, till the end of my studies, I have been focused on achieving that ultimate goal of becoming an artist.

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Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?

Yes. I studied arts in high school, then I did a bachelor degree in Fine Arts at the University of Porto (literally studying all the aspects of it - painting, sculpture, contemporary art, classic art, performance, video, animation, audio, 3d animation, drawing...). Touching on so many areas was really fantastic. It gave me the tools to do a lot of different things, and to use drawing in ways that I had never even imagined before.

Then to finish my studies (for now) I did a master’s degree in Drawing also at the Fine Arts University of Porto. It was during these studies that I started to focus more on illustration and I started working on a project that I have been developing until this very day about Legends and Myths of my country.

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Who or what have been some of your major artistic influences?

My main influences are really my village and all the oral culture that lives in it... what made me draw in the first place was the landscape and mood that my village carries within it. And that same influence has stayed with me to this very day. When I want to draw, I just go for a walk and the inspiration comes.

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Do you have a favourite picture book or recall one of the first picture books you saw?

I don’t remember many pictures books from my childhood, also my parents never bought me any. They are farmers and for them picture books just didn’t seem that relevant or important to invest in. But on the other hand, they showed me a lot of other things that inspired me to the same level. 

Because I didn’t have many picture books when I was younger, now I compensate for that by buying them as a gifts for myself all the time. Some of my all-time favourites are : Sam and Dave dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, Ziggy and the Moonlight Show by Kristina Litten, Grandad’s Secret Giant by David Litchfield and I also love all types of art books from movies and games (honestly they are my favourites), I love the Allen Lee sketchbook book from Lord of the Rings, that book inspired me so much when I was in high school and I still have it in my side desk to look at it when I go to bed. 

Who or what has been your greatest mentor?

My biggest mentor is planning, haha. When I started to plan my days, I created so much more and as a result manged to evolve my skills a lot more. I learned how to not rely on “inspiration” to start something and instead just let the work process flow naturally. When something gets easy and intuitive, the process gets a lot more fun!! By contrast, not knowing how tools work or how to even start something makes everything scary and boring (for me). So planning made me bypass all those scary processes and now I’m comfortable with my techniques and tools (although following my own beliefs and trying something different can be scary...the hard life of an artist!).

What was your first commission as a professional illustrator?

My first big commission was collection of city maps for a bike tours company. (This was my first real job as an illustrator, I had a lot of small things coming through since high school, mostly portraits but they were not as significant as this one).

Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.

My techniques are a response to the need for something fast and traditional looking. So my favourite techniques that I have developed through the years is a “photoshop watercolor collage” this is basically where you are working with watercolor collages in real life, cutting them, pasting them, the only difference is being on a digital program which makes the process faster and also easier. This is my favourite technique. It’s super fast, I don’t even need any fancy tools to do it, (a lot of my illustrations until not so long ago like my “Douro” illustration were made just using the mouse), and it also gives the feeling of a traditional illustration which is what I really like.

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What is your favourite medium to work with and why?

My favourite medium is definitely pencil. I love to sketch, it makes me feel so much more free and ready to create. So I always keep my sketchbook with me to let my thoughts come to life without needing to be cute and pretty and to put that pencil to use. My sketchbook is my safe place. In the end I never illustrate the sketches that I do there. I always do a drawing just once, if it born as a rough sketch it will be a rough sketch forever, if it born as a more finalized illustration it will be a finalized illustration. I don’t see much purpose of re-doing the sketches, for me they have the same value as any other work that I make. 

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How many times do you tend to draw a character until you are happy with it?

In all my illustrations, I try to make everything in one try, so it’s quite rare for me to redo characters or landscapes. I just let the things appear in a natural way. I never think too much about it, but I do it almost as a training session. After finishing one training session (an illustration) I don’t think much more about it, I just move on to the next. I don’t think about re-doing something on the past illustration, but instead consider that I have learned and how I can improve the next piece of work I create, and so the process goes on.

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Do you offer more than one style, if so – talk us through the different approaches and the audience you are targeting for each.

I think I have quite a lot of styles. They are mostly motivated by the tools that I use and how I use them. If I use watercolors and digital I end up painting in a certain way, if I paint a mural or something for the street, I completely adapt my style of painting in a different way. And that happens with almost all the tools. I can’t really do the same with them all, so I just embrace the different styles and techniques that they give me.

How long does it take on average for you to finish a spread, from initial sketch to final colour?

A full spread illustration can take from one hour to two days, depending on the style, the tools, and the details. 

If I do my most typical digital collage, I normally take around 5 hours. I don’t really do sketches for digital collage because it’s hard to predict... I let the abstract base watercolor guide me, it’s almost a perfect balance between an unexpected but controlled process.

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What do you hope children take away from your drawings?

I hope that children who see my illustrations are inspired to dream, travel, and explore their own imagination. I hope that my artwork make them feel happy and motivated to do something. I basically hope that they get to feel the same way I feel when I create them. 

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What do you do in your spare time?

I don’t have much spare time unfortunately...or fortunately (and I’ve only been a full time illustrator for two years). But when I do have time, I like to travel, walk in the mountains, explore new cities and villages, think and to get my head re-charged. I also love to skate, it’s one of my biggest passions. 

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What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?

My typical day in the studio starts with an illustration. Then I organize orders or answer mails and then it’s the end of the day because the behind the scenes of an illustrator’s life takes a lot longer in a lot of cases than the illustration part, haha.

Take us behind the scenes and describe your studio / workspace.

My studio is also my house, I share an apartment with my girlfriend Eva, she’s also an artist, so basically we turned half of our living room into a studio space. I don’t have much art on the walls surrounding me because the land lord won’t allow us :/ so it’s just two desks with materials around, it’s enough. 

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Share your favourite piece of artwork from your portfolio and walk us through its creation.

I don’t have a favourite illustration from my work yet, maybe the “one” hasn’t yet come out or maybe I can’t choose between my creations, they all have a special place in my heart. And I love how much illustration I have already done in my small career. I think that’s my favourite part about my work. Seeing it all together as a big collection. One day I will make a book compiling them all!! 

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Which 4 words would you use to describe your illustration portfolio?

If I could describe my work in 4 words I would say, colourful, dreamy, also repetitive and simple. (I like to make strong images with simple icons that normally would not be as interesting).

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Outline your dream project.

My dream project - and I hope it will happen in the near future - would be making the book about the Myths and Legend of my country Portugal. I’m working on it, so hopefully it will no longer just be a dream in a couple of years :)

Have you visited any schools to speak or hold workshops?

In the last year I had the opportunity of visiting various schools and also working in social residences with kids. I like to make people excited about something that also makes me excited and happy. And who doesn’t love to draw? I also try to show them that it’s possible and emphasize the idea that being an artist is something real and if someone really wants to be something just put the effort in and enjoy the ride. Just like I did. 

What advice would you offer someone just starting out as a children’s illustrator?

If you want to be an illustrator, I recommend a lot of work, become a master of the tools around you, be with people, learn from everything around you. All of this will make you learn about you and your process, it will make you decide what represents you and what you like to do. And this process will be so natural you won’t even feel it... Most important of all, enjoy the learning and the process because in the end we never will be truly happy with the results and that’s what will keep us motivated to learn more and to create more. 

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What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Most people don’t know that I’m a young 26-year-old boy, I don’t know if my work seems like the creations of an older person but yes, I’m still young haha, having just finished my masters two years ago. 

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be doing?

If I was not an illustrator, I would probably be a gardener. Something that could keep me working outside, physically happy and strong and in a calm environment. A farmer could also be an option, because I come from the farm...

How do you overcome a creative block?

I have never had a creativity block, I don’t allow myself to get that way and just like I mentioned before, the routine and the practice makes me more ready to create. So I don’t depend so much on creativity, instead I just get excited to make new work. Of course I like to be inspired and motivated to create, sometimes my block is being lazy, but the process and the unexpected results always change my mood.

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Animals feature heavily in children’s books – do you have a pet?

Yes I have a pet! His name is Max, and he’s my dog, and my partner of walks through the forest. He’s getting old now, but still full of energy, sometimes a bit too much...

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