For many when you mention Tasmania you think of the slightly isolated island underneath the Australian mainland; beautiful and mysterious.
The art of Fiona Francois could equally fall into this stereotype: mysterious and beautiful. Whether it is her figurative representations of the zodiac, weathered trees, or the native fauna of Tasmania her work is captivating and intricate.
Prior to becoming a full-time artist, Fiona worked as a graphic designer and illustrator for over 25 years. Ten of these years were spent in the video games industry which has perhaps fuelled her unique imagination and narrative.
Interview with artist Fiona Francois:
For those unfamiliar with you and your work could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Fiona Francois and I am a contemporary charcoal artist living in the small town of Deloraine in Tasmania.
When did your creative journey begin? Were you always a creative person?
Always an artist. From a young age I taught myself to draw and paint from books. By the age of about 12 I was painting photo-realistcally. I was lucky to have access to the Famous Artist correspondence course (founded by Norman Rockwell in the 50's) when I was a kid. My father had done the course before I was born and the old dusty workbooks were always lying around the house. Looking back it was the perfect education at the right time. I learned things like drawing the head and hands, the figure, perspective, composition, colour theory, drapery...you name it, it was in those big old folders!
Prior to stepping out as an independent artist you worked as a graphic designer and in the games industry. How did this fuel your own creativity and what skills were you able to transfer over?
You'd think that video games and fine art are about as far apart as you can get but not so!
Having an arsenal of digital art and graphic design skills has been a godsend to what I do now. The most important overlap is making my own prints which constitutes about 90% of my income as a fine artist. I scan my work, edit it in Photoshop and have my own high-end equipment to make large format prints. I also fully designed, built and continue to manage my own ecommerce website, I produce all my own advertising materials, online and off-line as well as create merchandising products of my work like homewares and clothing. I'm also very active on social media creating and editing videos and other content. All digital.
And then there's the inspiration. With a background in video games, I was involved in concept art - designing characters, level building and art direction for fantasy worlds. This fantasy element carries over into the characters that I create now as well as the edgy bad-ass vibe.
Can we discuss your drawings method, most employed tools and methods? How does a work evolve from an idea to finished work for you?
The design process of each piece is conceptually led. I think carefully about all the things I need to say, what emotional response I want to ellicit and then I begin looking for or creating photographic material to use as reference to achieve this idea. I create the image in Photoshop first as I can play with ideas quickly and see if the image will be strong. After 2 or 3 iterations I will settle on my design and begin the process of drawing from scratch. I use powdered charcoal for the smooth skin tones and soft vignettes which I apply with cotton wool and soft paintbrushes. Then I use a combination of charcoal pencils and graphite pencils which I smudge and blend with brushes stiffened with starch. I use other weird tools such as acetone, water spray and large house brushes to finesse the background.
Where do you gain your inspiration from?
I've thought about this for a long time. I think my inspiration is triggered by quite inconsequential things (like a fallen tree) but that tree to me is symbolic of a much larger underlying thought process. The desire to share the deep feelings I have about what that tree represents drives me to find the most direct route to connect with other's emotions. I need a shock and awe design that says everything in one glance. Hence a weathered tree that looks like a woman who is suffering. We can relate to that.
In your Zodiac series you put a contemporary and diverse spin on the signs, for example your Libra piece features a Asian women with the Yin & Yang symbol instead of the traditional European women with scales. How important is it to you to show diversity in your work and do so in a way that is natural and not exploitive?
It astounds me the lack of diversity there is in popular culture with images of women and I am very conscious not to regurgitate stereotypes. I see beauty in women of all ethnicities and cultural backgrounds and I especially love the challenge of representing other cultures that are not familiar to me. I don't do this merely to be equitable, I do this because of a genuine desire to delve into the rich, exotic beauty I find there. With regard to the Libra piece, the Taoist symbol of Yin Yang and its expression of balance and harmony (the essence of Libra) drove the theme of a Chinese empress. A much more eloquent representation than the usual criminal-justice-style image of the scales, I believe.
Is there a piece of your work that is deeply personal to you that you would never part with? What does this piece mean to you?
I would say the most personal one for me is "The Fallen". It's the largest drawing I've ever done (2.4m x 1.2m) but the first in the series of driftwood pieces. This one represents for me the point where I honed all my pent-up outrage and helplessness about what we are doing to the planet and poured it into a single piece of art. I was also going though a very tough emotional time and some of that pain made it into the drawing as well (I think it's kind of a self-portrait!). I did part with it but I know the people who bought it quite well and I'm glad it went to such a nice home. Once I've finished a drawing I find it quite easy to part with it as I have learned what I needed to learn and I've already moved on to something new! I can't have my own art on the walls at home, I'm far too self-critical!
There’s a certain level of vulnerability sharing your work with others, particularly with social media. How do you silence your inner critic?
Great question! Oh that inner critic never shuts up! I am (as a lot of artists are) a painfully shy inhibited creature and the exhibitionistic practice of sharing everything on social media did NOT come naturally to me. However, you can do it on your terms and the rewards of putting your art out there are immeasurable. It's essential! Nowadays I love the interaction I get on social media and in some ways my followers have become part of the process of creating art by commenting, suggesting and showing me what they love and why. It has revolutionised the art world to be able to engage with your fans, followers and buyers directly and also to let them see into the mysterious world of art creation.