Updated: Apr 20, 2020
I’m a huge fan of linework and, while I loathe the idea of doing it, stippling. So when I came across the heavily punk and metal inspired work of Fred Grabosky aka FTG Illustrations at the Darksome Craft Market, I just had to talk to the guy. The conversation was almost more interesting than the work as he regaled me with the background of his illustrations and his fascination with spores. We started talking about science in the arts, death metal, podcasts and all while I flipped through this big book of marvelous prints of his. His illustrations are built on contrast, sometimes strong white lines and dots over black grounds, and sometimes the same qualities in black over white. Accents of gold or other heavily contrasting colors push the main subjects forward as their natural depth adds dimension to the entire page. The imagery in his work pushes and pulls between life and death. Skulls, bones, horns, insects, and fungi weave in and out of one another and present a whole heap of information in every illustration.
There’s so much more than meets the eye in an FTG Illustration. Once you get past the initial pop and boldness of the image, you can really take in the detail and the subtle narrative created by the interacting elements. There’s a whole lot to interest everyone in this work and there’s just as much to be said about the artist himself. As soon as we got talking, I knew I had to hear more and to share it with all of you, so enjoy!
1. I always open with the background, so what got you started in art? Any schooling? Big inspirations? What helped shape you into the artist that you are today?
I have been making art in some shape or form ever since I can remember. I drew pictures of weird Ninja turtle inspired creatures at an early age and then kind of stopped in middle school/high school. I gradually shifted my interests toward video production, as I went to a video vocational program junior and senior year of high school. The real spark of my inspiration toward illustration came from punk and metal album covers. I would just admire pen and ink work, sometimes with watercolor, sometimes without. I mostly scoffed at digital looking pieces feeling as though they looked too processed and had less real raw human emotion and grit. I decided to truly take illustration seriously when I went to University of the Arts in Philadelphia the second time around after shelving my video editing aspirations, working HVAC and ditching that career path as well! Looking back, I see just how much I tried pursuing before pressing into art as a career. My Senior Year at UArts was the hardest I'd worked toward my illustration progress, having made art for several friends' bands including my own.
2. Your work features detailed line work and vivid imagery in a dark style, so what inspires your imagery? How did you begin working in this illustrative style? How has it developed?
As I mentioned before, A lot of Punk and Metal artwork was peaking my interests when I started to push the same kinds of pens. Santos, Richey Beckett, Jon Baizley, Jeremy Hush, Paul Romano, Mike Wohlberg, Angry Blue, Mark Riddick and some older artists like Pushead, Mucha, Harry Clarke, Virgil Finlay and Albrecht Durer were all big inspirations. I also knew that with these artists in mind, I wanted to try my best not to copy their style, but all art starts with copying at least certain techniques if not subject matter, and even composition. I just hate to see so many artists doing the exact same thing.
3. We had quite an interesting conversation about your fascination with fungus and the representation of such in your work, so how did this fascination develop into illustration? (woah, that's a cool ass rhyme) Further, your work seems to be quite thoughtful, so how much research or development of concept goes into your work?
I honestly feel like I have been fascinated with nature my entire life, yet it started with reptiles and bugs. I only just recently started letting fungi truly influence my work. Something about my depression keeps me fantasizing about a fungus eating me. However, I truly find fungi to be strange, beautiful, so cool, and so alien. However, they are the rightful pioneers of the planet. Humans and life outside of fungi are the real aliens. I've allowed the obsession with fungus to affect most of my life, as I started a death metal band with the theme of it viciously attacking every living thing. I think that's just my sci-fi loving side of my brain going to dark corners and reaching into ominous holes, haha! In all seriousness though, there are so many different kinds and so many to marvel at. The drawing potential is insurmountable. I have several books on fungi and I spend hours reading about it online/ watching documentaries wherever I can find them. A simple google image search is enough to get an idea for a piece, but sometimes it develops into my own suggestions of fungi through rendering and style.
4. Your work features a very limited color palette, a lot of white on black or single colors on black. So what brought about this limited color palette and high contrast illustration? How do you decide what color(s) go with what piece?
It definitely stems from Punk and Metal album covers and shirt designs. I've always appreciated the aesthetic. It's the simplicity and raw energy it gives off. It's the feeling of less to fight with your eyes and a darkness that's all too real behind it. I don't hate color. I mostly prefer to use an earth tone color palette. Sometimes I'll use vibrant colors. But even so, black is the absence of color and I relate to it the most. It represents night, and the cosmos, the void and what I see inside of my head. Picture an old school view master, where you hold up the binocular-like contraption and click to change the picture. That's kind of how it is in my head. Black all around the image itself. I try multiple colors in my pieces through digital process, but ultimately, I find one that speaks to the piece loudest and choose that.
5. How does your illustrative process differ when working for a client? Do people know what they're getting when they come to you for work, or do you have to lay that out for them? Or does it vary?
It depends on what the client wants or how I'm feeling on how to attack a personal piece. It's usually the same process, however. I start with a thumbnail, which is usually very rough but shows where shapes will be laid down. Based on what I feel works best or the client's pick of the 5 or 6, I go into a preliminary sketch phase. I show it's progression/get the go ahead to make a final sketch, where all the detail starts to take form. From this approval, I transfer my lines and complete a piece on a clean surface. Sometimes for personal pieces, I'll just caveman into a scratchboard with a rough outline and work into it until if feels done. Other times, the same will apply for a pen and ink piece, skipping the final sketch and transfer stages and just inking on rough blue or graphite sketches. I prefer using the full step method mostly. It gives me the best results. Clients can view and pick from pieces on my website. This gives me a better idea of what they are looking for. Mostly, people know what they are getting from me.
6. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up? Anything you'd like to share and anywhere people can find you, fire away!
So I've just recently put up a new website where you will find all of my work from pen and ink fine art to design for businesses, to scratchboard fine art and band artwork. Visit FTG-Art.com and see what I mean. You can also visit my online shop for any prints of my work. Just click SHOP on my site, or search FTGILLUS on Etsy and follow me on Instagram @FTG.ILLUS, or FB at Facebook.com/FTGIllus.
Currently, I am between plans for any events, but I am open to invites/ suggestions. Email me at FTGIllustrations@Gmail.com!