Freak City’s work is full of energy, wit and rich in detail. Fascinated by urban/suburban life, the box design ‘Babylone’ highlights the unexpected beauty in battered store fronts, natural overgrowth and half deserted streets. His work perfectly captures the feel of being totally immersed in the drawing, observing from an office window or through a car windshield, momentarily watching people, monsters and other creatures in this urban wasteland, compelling you to move around and explore.
I believe that as an artist you become a receptor of what is around you, what has been your greatest influence?
Probably my greatest influence was the hardcore punk scene that i’ve been involved in since I was a young teenager. I mean, the energy and anger, combined with ethics built around the DIY agenda, it all lead to starting something new, like a label, a band, a fanzine… I did all that, and as I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, I started drawing shirts for friends’ bands, record covers, whatever… I was fully into being straight edge, so I wanted to invest my time and energy into something positive, and I started building a world of my own that slowly became Freak City. Apart from that, I was also heavily influenced by movies (especially SF from the 80’s), skateboard graphics, pattern design like Memphis/Milano, comic books, and urban/suburban life in general…
How do you think growing up in France has formed you as an artist?
We have the chance to see an incredible amount of museums around here, so it gives society a solid cultural and historical background to rely on. But i was more influenced by popular culture, like TV, movies, cartoons, comic books, toys… And we also are very lucky to have such a strong comic book culture here, which I’ve been enjoying since I was a kid. All in all, there were many great artistic sources in France, from very historical to more popular ones, so as a very curious teenager with an appetite for learning, I guess it was a good opportunity to grow as an artist.
What kind of things do you do beyond what average people may see? What does a typical day in your life look like?
For years working was the main thing in my life, when it needed a 24h/7days-a-week involvement, to make sure I was making it right. Lately, I’ve been trying to relax a little bit more, and splitting my time in a more balanced way. Like giving friends more time, meditating, playing in bands, reading, doing sports… Not sure what a typical day looks like, but I try to make space for everything, not just drawing. I love so many things that I cannot just spend a whole day drawing, I need more things to feel at peace with my life and with the world. I’ll start teaching art/illustration in post Bachelor’s degree schools very soon, and this is a definite step forward, where you have to learn to give a lot, and take a bit of distance with your own work.
Do you think your habits help (or hinder) creativity?
I think it’s a matter of balance. Balance is the key word to me, so your habits can be a real stable thing for your mind to be effective, but it can also turn your brain into a jail if you don’t use them in a proper way. I just think we have to learn to know ourselves right, to make sure our habits and the way we lead our lives are a good foundation for what we do, especially when it requires creativity.
There are many misconceptions about the art world. Being a creative illustrator is a label you will wear throughout your life – and like most labels, it’s bound to come with a variety of inaccurate stereotypes and cliches. What misconceptions do people have about your job? Even the ones closest to you?
Some people might think it’s the 100% dream job, but things don’t come off so easy. Just because you do something you enjoy most of your time doesn’t mean you don’t have to struggle. In fact, you have to struggle with yourself everyday first, to keep your head straight and lead things in the right direction. We just have different issues than the typical salary-man of course, but that doesn’t make things easier. In fact, I think it make things harder, as you have to rely on yourself only and cannot depend on guarantees, and you have to really work hard on what you’re building. Things are just so intense with art… When I manage to pull off what I want, this is very gratifying, but when I need to struggle with a project, an idea, whatever… This can turn things into a nightmare, but in the end, this is satisfying too because you learn more from difficulties or failures than from victories.
Hélène Jeudy’s surreal and evocative stories, packed with striking, highly detailed landscapes and warped figures, come alive in her drawings. A visual artist and filmmaker from Brussels and co founder of GERIKO, she works in both 2D and 3D to create pieces so imaginative that they inspire you into believing such universes could actually exist.
The drawing on the box is part of a series called ‘Digital Species’. This is the first series of a project Hélène is currently working on and is divided into different parts, like chapters, created as a means of exploring the female form.
It is evident that the representation of the woman plays a vital role in her work. In essence, all of her projects evoke this subject and with this series in particular, her amorphous drawings address, examine and pose questions on identity and the perceptions of femininity. She does this specifically by, inviting the viewer on a journey, full of immense detail, of a woman’s body in mutation, the relationship with genetic and numerical evolutions and how the body adapts to these changes.
Hélène describes this scene for us “We find a garden with different species, small fairy creatures, plant specimens and a collective of women merging with the garden. This illustration represents a gateway to a parallel universe, the Chaotic Garden.”
She explains this further ‘An ecosystem that lies on the border of the unconscious, there are strange landscapes, cloudy digital memories. A large number of creatures still unknown co-inhabit. The universe is not in a linear time, it evolves or alters according to our state of consciousness, it is a world in perpetual mutation.’
Hélène often collaborates with visual artist and friend, Antoine Caëcke, working together for more than 10 years; forming their collective identity under the name Geriko and producing several films, digital installations and other projects under this name. They place their practice at the frontier of contemporary drawing and digital arts. Helene discusses concepts and her appreciation for digital tools to generate those concepts. She adds “These are tools that fascinate me as much as they worry me.”
The T-Shirt design is by Geriko. This drawing is part of another series of three drawings that are named ‘Final Molt’.
In view of the pair’s creative partnership, Hélène reveals that they are so close that sometimes their mutual universes merge and is a culmination of the research they do alone. A wonderful example is the unparalleled video ‘Anvil’ created in 2016.
She asserts the power of a creative partnership and how working on projects independently, present them both with the opportunity to experiment, introduce new themes, try new illustrated writings and then re inject them into their joint projects.
Donya Todd is an artist, illustrator and book maker based in Cornwall. We’ve adored the world’s she creates in her art that somehow manages to be simultaneously morbid yet adorable. We’ve explored this box design for hours, getting lost in a fairy tale and continuously discovering new details. Her whimsical scenes often have a nightmarish feel to them, but always manage to be delightfully charming.
Every panel tells a different story. How much of your stories are planned and how much just happens on the page?
I don’t plan too much when it comes to imagery – I just start sketching and eventually, the magic happens!
You play a lot with female characters and the female form in your illustrations. What is it about the shapes or even mythology attached women that interests you?
The feminine and strange informs the majority of my work, and mythology is a large well to draw from. My favourite narratives are romantic, magical and sad and I like to create feminine characters to accompany them.
Living in a remote farm in Cornwall, what do you do to recharge your creative batteries? Do you have any rituals?
If I’m under the weather I will watch movies all day long under a blanket with my cat. Weird musicals: Rocky horror, Corpse bride, Little shop of horrors. Alternatively I love escaping to St Ives with my other half. We can go to the Tate and the Rum & Crab shack – my favourite bar.
You’re an associate lecturer at The University of Plymouth after recently graduating with a First Class Masters Degree in Authorial Illustrations from Falmouth Univerisity, Congratulations by the way! Some of the most inspirational people in my life have been lecturers. How important was this training to becoming a professional artist?
I don’t work as a lecturer full time, I’m invited in during term-time for lectures, extra tutorials and help with the assessments. I love meeting students and seeing projects progressing – and i think it’s useful for students to meet working illustrators making weird stuff.
For any aspiring new creators reading this interview. What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out?
Advice? It’s all well and good making work but if you don’t show anyone you don’t get anywhere. Don’t take rejection personally – they’re looking for something specific. It takes a really, really, really long time to get good – and you can only get better and better with time. Keep it weird.
You’ve done a fair share of interviews. What’s the one question you’ve never been asked, but always wanted to answer?
I’m a big reader, no-one ever asks me what my favourite books are that I’d like to adapt into an illustrated book or comic. The answer is Wuthering Heights. One day I hope to.
Tallulah Fontaine is a freelance illustrator currently based in between Toronto and LA. Tallulah’s style reflects on home, using watercolours and traditional printing techniques for art shows, collaborations and Zines.
– Where did the nickname Tallulah come from?
Tallulah: It’s a nickname from Junior High that I got from my friend Emma. We made up some band member names for a rockabilly band called The Johnny Fontaines that we never ended up forming.
I’ve always used it for social media and it just eventually became my name by accident.
– What did you get up to on your recent travels?
It’s been a while since i did a proper vacation. The last one was to LA which I recently just moved back to.
Last spring I went on a road trip from Toronto and Texas, making stops in Detroit, Flint, Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. Lots of great food and cemetery visits. Also we went to a boxing tournament.
– We appreciate artists that use a more traditional approach for their artwork. Do you think using watercolours and traditional materials are the reason your illustrations feel personal and delicate? What do you think of digital art?
I’m not opposed to working digitally and that’s how I colour and do some of my edits. I just haven’t gotten around to learning how to draw well with a tablet and I do really like the feel of watercolours and pencil. Its nice to take a break from looking at a screen sometimes.
I’m glad to hear that my work feels personal.
– You didn’t go to art school but you’ve achieved a lot without it. How do you feel about art schools, generally? What path have you taken instead and would you recommend it?
I didn’t go to art school because I’ve always had a hard time with structured learning and thought it would be a waste of money since I knew I would eventually get bored and drop out. School seems good for those who want to do it and I’ve been a little jealous of some of the resources students get access to. I think it really depends on how you want to learn. Sometimes being self taught is messy and limiting but I also appreciate the freedom. I never planned on becoming an illustrator. After high school I worked odd jobs and thought I would end up managing a restaurant or doing something in customer service. Friends really encouraged me to pursue the art that I did just for fun as I career. I’m glad that they pushed me to do it.
– Do you have any stories about the people you’ve been inspired to draw from? Do your friends mind being illustrated?
I draw my friend Megan all the time. She’s a really important part of my life and I don’t think she minds.
– Ever had an embarrassing moment when you’ve been observing someone in public?
I don’t really like drawing in public too much because I’m self conscious. I embarrass myself all the time basically as soon as I leave the house.
– Having creative friends, do you ever compare techniques, style & their presence on social media (even without meaning to)?
Probably. The internet is just a huge bank and all of it influences you in some way. I met one of my best friends Maddy Young because someone told me my art reminded me of hers. When I looked her up I saw we drew a lot of similar themes at the time and I felt so connected to her. We started chatting and eventually met and I think she might be my soul mate. Thanks INTERNET.;
– Do you have a particular question for any of the other featured artists?
Tallulah: Maddy What’s your favourite lipstick colour?
Maddy: Deep burgundy red, or bright tangerine orange – red for winter, orange for summer.
Born in China Town, Los Angeles. Michael works with a large number of collaborations including brands such as Vans, enjoi skateboards and Dr. Martens. His work is inspired by mythological creatures, mainly creating bearded men, mermen and centaurs. While bearded men have become somewhat a trend, years of development have set him far apart from the rest. He’d describe himself as, “An Asian bum with a mustache who draws pictures”.
– Your illustrations often have interesting stories to them, where do they come from? Do any of them represent events or real life characters that you’ve encountered?
The narratives in my work I think originate subconsciously – a lot of times it isn’t till I’m finished that I start seeing a story or interaction that may or may not have been there. Drawings involving mermen don’t always represent or come from real life characters, but often time come out of something I may have read, seen in a movie or at a museum.
For instance, a few years back when they had a Magritte exhibition here in LA, I remember going to that and seeing in a display case of his personal possessions, a journal opened to a page of a . . what seemed to be a sketch of a merman (not his fish top and person body) but your more typically formed merman, being hung from a noose. You bet I went home and drew a version of that. . . I felt like I was randomly having a conversation with him on that.
Other characters, like of men skateboarding or partying, usually just come out from experiences, imagined stories or inspired by randomness.
– When did you start taking an interest in mythological creatures?
I’ve been interested in mythological creatures since I can remember. Chinese mythology and religion have lots of weird creatures, and then after learning about the Greek and Roman goddess . . I was hooked. I was super into Dungeons & Dragons as a kid as well as movies like Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad and his Seven Voyages, and Clashes of the Titans.
When I was studying for an English degree in college, my favorite works were really those involving ancient beasts and battles – Iliad, BeoWulf . . My middle name Chia Ling actually is a type of Chinese mythological beast. . . dragon type of guardian creature. My mom told me its the Chinese Unicorn. I will not confirm nor deny that truth.
You’re on your way to creating your own illustrative world, was this your intention? How far do you see this going?
When I was drawing and “making art,” I never really had an intention of it going anywhere I guess. I found stuff I was into drawing like mermen and centaurs . . . which eventually just lead to me drawing my cast of characters and worlds. It was fun. I just found something I enjoy doing that people were interested in, and allowed for me to be creative.
I still can’t believe where its taken me . . I started out drawing to make some of my buddies laugh, after a hard evening of drinking… and then it slowly evolved.
– If you were to be friends with any of your illustrated characters, which illustration would it be? And why?
Probably the centaurs! You might have thought mermen, but the way I see mermen . . . they’ve got it rough. Always drunk, heart broken, and lost . . . the Centaur are like my mythological hippies. They explore, eat strange plants, and urinate where they please. I’d enjoy living with their wildness, freedom, and nonchalance.
– You and your sister are both very talented, is this a result of a creative upbringing?
Pearl is the most talented person I’ve ever known! When we were kids, we played a lot of stuff that I guess makes you use your imagination.
For instance, if we played Newspaper, we would draw and copy out of books and basically create our own fake publication. When we played cook, Pearl drew up food we didn’t have at the time so we could play with them. I guess it was just the part of the way we played. In those ways we were creative as kids, but we weren’t really brought up to be creative, until perhaps my folks realized Pearl had a serious artistic talent.
– Do you have any interesting stories about artists you have met?
Gosh, that’s a tough one. I’m BLANKING on this one . . . raincheck, raincheck!!
– Would you rather be a merman fighting pirates, or the pirates fighting the merman? Who would win?
Unfortunately, I’d be a merman fighting pirates, but that being said . .. I believe the pirates would win. I mean. . .the mermen are extinct, and pirates are sort of still around. I know its a disappointing outlook.
– Do you have a particular question for any of the other featured artists?
Michael: For Bene Rohlmann – Centaurs vs. Mermen? Who wins?
Mark Breed is an illustrator that has become well known for “Hoodbats”, a clothing company from Cambridgeshire which started in 2013. When Mark isn’t working on Hoodbats, you’ll find him with ‘The Wytches’; touring, sketching and directing their music videos.
Hoodbats Clothing revolves around a raw trashy feel, with the slogan “Creep it Real”. Home of the Death Party. Keeping things disgustingly nasty since 2013″.
“Cactus” design available in our sample store here.
– We know you love old horror films, what do you think about modern horror films?
I do indeed. It seems to me that horrors have lost the magic they used to have. Hollywood horrors are packed full of jump scares and mediocre story lines which just leave me so unsatisfied. However my faith was slightly restored when I watched “WNUF halloween special”.
– If you were to make your own horror film, what would it be about? What would happen for the kill of the week?
I’ve actually attempted to make quite a few horror films in the past few years but they all kinda flopped because I only have VHS cameras and the whole, “found footage” thing is being overkilled recently. I’m currently writing a horror movie that will be incorporated into the new Wytches video. We are scouting locations for a spooky building to shoot in, so that’s pretty exciting. Plus we will have some kind of budget!
A great kill of the week would be some dude tying fishing string around his neck, tying the rope to a tree, jumping into a convertible and driving hella fast into a busy city, when the rope tightens…. you’ve got a headless driver… and that’s what’s up!
– Did you ever drink wizard piss? If not, would you?
I actually have never tried it. I recon it would taste of Red Bull for some reason.
– Would you rather have giant fingers for legs, or miniature legs for fingers?
I’d have miniture legs for fingers and shop around for the most glamorous miniature shoes.
– You just went on tour with The Wytches, anything weird happen? Were you able to illustrate on the move?
The Wytches tour was incredible, and like anything wild that goes on for a whole month their is sure to be some weird moments. I did illustrate on tour but mainly on drum skins. Whenever Gianni was finished with a drum skin, Kristian and I would collaborate on a wacky illustration and stick it up on the merch stand. I think in the end we sold them all but we will be sure to do more.
– Any shout outs?
Shout out to the Mark and Kristian band, Baby in Vain, Johan, The Cookster, Ladlow, Mid Vicious, Ewan the shadow, Sam Gull, Dj Turntable, Don Ramsey, G Honey, Gravy Classic.
– Do you have a particular question for any of the other featured artists?
Carla McRae is a Melbourne-based illustrator. Growing up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, she spent her childhood hunching over a sketchbook, obsessing over cartoons and culture. Not too much has changed since. Carla’s drawings pull together a blank space with crisp lines, geometric shapes, strong colour and characters. Her work depicts small, open narratives and stories about characters and their worlds.
“Reading Girl” design available in our sample store here.
– How has your style progressed from when you first started to draw? Where did the name Paper Beast come from?
I’ve always been pretty obsessed with drawing characters and people, even as a kid. That’s been a constant theme through my work for as long as I can remember. I’ve gone through lots of different mediums, but stylistically the last few years I’ve become more interested in geometry, abstraction and creating more minimal, simple images.
‘The Paper Beast’ was a pseudonym I made for myself in uni. I was making a blog and needed a moniker, and so looking around at all the piles and scraps of paper that were constantly around me, I came up with that. I don’t really use it so much anymore.
– What is your process of starting each illustration?
I’ll have a hot drink and put on some ambient music to put me in a calm headspace, and always start with rough sketches, either in my sketch book or using a big A2 bond paper pad that I like to dump my ideas down. Sometimes I’ll flick back through previous sketches as a starting point — it’s kind of like keeping a notebook for my rough ideas. I’ll choose a place to start and re-draw the sketch. Then it’s a process of re-drawing and eliminating and simplifying until I am happy. Sometimes I can re-draw a piece 5 times before I’m happy.
– We come across a lot of talented female illustrators that live in Melbourne who create work that focuses on a strong female role. Is there something about Melbourne that creates such a positive effect?
Yep! Melbourne is chockers with powerful, amazing women and I feel really lucky to be part of such an amazing community. I think it’s a bit of a case of strength in numbers and just a nice tight-knit place for creatives with plenty of room that’s really good at encouraging and supporting each other. It’s all inspiration to keep working and pushing forward.
– You’ve done a lot of collaborations. What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I got to design the artwork for a sneaker with Bared Footwear, and we launched it with live-painting and ice cream in the summer. Pretty fun!
– How do you stop yourself from procrastinating when working in your home studio?
Shutting down all unnecessary internet windows, throwing my phone far away from me. And, if all else fails, play Aphex Twin on repeat.
– Where do you see yourself next?
I’m just about to move into a new studio space, and have some travel plans for a little time in Tasmania and Tokyo before the end of the year. I’ll be squeezing in some walls and new work in between.
Maddy Young is an illustrator based in Melbourne who is known for her drawings of moths and roses.
One side of herself is loose and carefree, the side drawn to flowers and wildlife, but her other side is disciplined, focusing on her shop and her journey into tattooing.
“Tender” design available here & “Butterfly” design available here.
– What are your favourite things to draw? And Why?
I think i go through phases of obsession with subject matter – at the moment i am coming out of a phase of moths and roses, and really enjoying things with lots of big black drips falling off. I try not to be too restrictive, but if I’m being honest I think I am drawn to the same things again and again. Things like particular flowers and wildlife, elements of suburban architecture and tokens of loss and regret. I think above all else I’m interested in fragments, and parts of the whole.
– What is your process when starting a design?
I always try and start with an initial stage of brain storming and sketching, to properly clarify my idea before I am able start. If I don’t have a clear idea before beginning, I find myself getting overwhelmed and the process takes a lot longer. Usually I will try and create three options for myself, and I often seek the opinion of a handful of close creative friends for the final outcome. Sometimes this process is simplified, and sometimes it becomes more complex, but routine helps with my creative process a lot.
– You make your style look like it comes so easy to you, yet we’ve learnt from wanting to work with you that you’re very particular with your final outcome. Are you like this with everything you do?
I think I’m of two hearts when it comes to this side of myself – one side is very particular and one is more loose and carefree. I think growing up I was quite lazy and forgetful, so I made a conscious effort to try and reconcile these sides of myself when I became an adult. The disciplined side of myself definitely doesn’t come as naturally as I wish it would, but I find satisfaction in knowing exactly how I want things to be, and knowing I am doing all that I can to produce this result. I think this definitely comes through in other aspects of my life, like the way I dress and the way I curate my home.
– You have creative friends who are also influential on social media, like Tallulah Fontaine. Does having creative friends help pursue new opportunities?
Tallulah is someone who is very dear to my heart, and although we met through our art I think our friendship extends beyond a sense of being peers to a kind of sisterhood that I value above all else. I think with creative friends there is definitely a sense of helping each other when you can, but I would hope this is about constructing a sense of community more than anything else. I feel very lucky to have made the creative friends i have, and that sense of banding together when you are able is so special, and in my experience is built more upon genuine friendships than anything else.
– Who would be your ultimate dream team?
Tallulah Fontaine, Georgia Hill and Rihanna. I don’t now what sort of fantasy project we are all working together in this dream scenario, but hopefully there would be matching outfits involved at some point.
– What are the difficulties of having your own online store (maddyyoung.bigcartel.com)? Any tips, for anyone influenced by you, on how to start their own store?
Maintaining an online store can be fairly time consuming and stressful; often people have unrealistic expectations of what an artist run store is, and the limitations of a one person operation. I try to be clear and concise in my store policies so my customers are aware of how I am best able to manage my store; sometimes you still have to explain that you are just one person, and not some huge corporation with a team of people. For me having a clear process in place helps a lot, and I try to dedicate a set amount of hours each week. I would also recommend taking as high quality photos as you are able – even if that still means an iphone photo, make sure you find the best light possible and scan your work at a high resolution when you can. In my experience people respond to clear documentation and direct information.
– You’re now a tattoo apprentice (which makes complete sense), how is it going so far?
Learning to tattoo is simultaneously the most terrorfying and rewarding thing I have ever done – like trying to learn to draw all over again. I’ve found you need to be ready for anything and everything to go wrong, and be able to push through a lot of self doubt along the way. It’s very time consuming but fulfilling; lots of late nights drawing, early mornings to keep appointments, and is quite physical work. At the same time it’s also a total dream ; to have such a high level of trust with people, and mark their skin forever is an indescribable honour.
– Do you have an interesting story about any of your tattoos?
I try and document moments of importance on my skin when it feels right to do so; things like moving cities, my sense of home and my mothers recent passing; things that are parts that make up my whole. I’m lucky to have friends who who are generous with their time and skills; it is such an act of trust, one that i am blessed to be able to share with people I care for in safe and intimate environments. I also have a handful of crappy home jobs I got when I was younger, in my friends kitchen during parties and hungover mornings; small tokens of recklessness from friends long lost that I will probably get covered one day.
– Do you have a particular question for any of the other featured artists?
For Tallulah <3 : what is your favourite bette milder movie and why? I’ve always been into Better Midler more as a performer than an actress but Beaches is probably my favourite because it was the first movie of hers I saw. I rented it when I was maybe 8 years old and kept watching it over and over until eventually they gave me the rental copy.
Tallulah’s question to you: Maddy: What’s your favourite lipstick colour? Deep burgundy red, or bright tangerine orange – red for winter, orange for summer