We take a peak at some of the creatures that appear in the artist’s new book, Brian Froud’s Faeries’ Tales and speak directly to the artist about his colourful career.
Brian Froud began his career in book illustration. He went on to design the award-winning and cult films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth for Jim Henson.
He has exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the world, and been the recipient of many awards including the Hugo award, Chesley and Inkpot as well as the American Society of Illustrators. Creative Bloq caught up with the cult artist to talk all things small and magical...
Where did you grow up and how has this influenced your art?
I grew up in Hampshire, southern England, in a place called Yately. It was a small country village, and my school was surrounded by trees and scrubland.
This is where I found adventure, by exploring the hidden, secret places. I felt so at home in such a liminal place. I won five shillings in a local art competition – this seemingly vast sum of money sparked my interest in art (and money still does!)
You're a kid and you see some art that changes everything… what are you looking at?
It's a sculpture – a large bronze of Alfred the Great – in Winchester. It is dramatic. He stands nobly with his sword in hand. He seemed to connect me to a powerful past, to the aspect of the hidden land of England itself. I have continued to explore this ever since.
Someone who helped you on your way?
John Penny was a teacher at my grammar school. He spotted my talent which I didn't know I had, encouraged me in my work, and showed me around my local art school in Maidstone. This was a revelation of oil paint fumes, purple-haired models (Quentin Crisp) and huge paintings of Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton. I had found my home.
And did anyone try to get in your way?
I won't name him, but there was someone – he was an art director – but he didn't succeed. He said that I'd never work for him again, but later, because of my growing success, he worked with me on four career-defining projects.
What are your painting rituals?
I start at nine in the morning – worry, make coffee, fret, make coffee, despair, have a glass of wine – until five pm. Other days I take off and go shopping.
Is your art evolving? What's the most recent experiment you've made?
Absolutely. I'm going deeper into the inner structures, the rhythms of my art, trying to allow them to be revealed on the surface of the image, making fluid paint strokes that evoke spirit.
What advice would you give to your younger self to aid you on the way?
That it's okay, everything will be alright, and no decision goes disastrously wrong. Be true to your own vision, not someone else's.
It'll be a difficult and sometimes lonely path, but there's no other way. Be kind to yourself about whether you are good or bad: your duty is to do it and keep going. Believe that sometimes your art does reveal truth.
How has the industry of fantasy art changed for good since you’ve been working in it?
Fantasy art used to slumber within books and then rest on book and record covers. Now, with new technologies used in games and films it's on new, feverish journeys.
Fantasy images writhe and explode across the eyes of many more viewers than before. It's more mainstream to our culture.
What annoys you about the industry?
It's too shiny: much is overwrought and over-rendered. More is not necessarily better. In its desire to be more realistic, it's in danger of going the opposite way and becoming divorced from reality. What's missing is meaning or connection.
Why is the fantasy art industry still the best place to be working?
Modern art has abandoned so much. It's only in fantasy art where technical skills and inspiration are in service to images that engage; where passion for ideas flourish; where metaphor and poetic thought are valued; where drama and story are still thought to be essential in elucidating the human mind and its relationship with the world.
At its best, fantasy art is not a retreat from the world, but an expressive re-engagement.
Illustrator and concept artist Sean Andrew Murray on the push-and-pull method of sketching.
The advantage to working in a scattered approach is that you allow the paint, lines or brushes to guide your imagination and do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, so you don't over-think the image and lose that sense of energy and freshness.
The best way to achieve this is to work fast and loose and to try several different brushes or approaches. Allow randomness to happen – you'll find that your mind tends to assign meaning where previously there was none. You may find that you've solved the problem of giving your character dramatic lighting without even trying!
It's like when Bob Ross used to talk about happy accidents. You want to make a lot of deliberate happy accidents: try something, see if it works; if not, erase it and try again, or just paint right over it!
When you have something you like – a figure in a particular pose, say – but you don't know what you want to be in the background, or what the character's holding, just create a new layer and experiment. That way you can save what was good while creating something new using those happy accidents.
01. Work fast and loose
First I create a border or bounding box. I like doing this because it gives me a little stage to work within, even though I don't have to be bound to it. I use a pencil-like line tool (which is essentially just a flat Round brush) and I start moving the brush around, finding interesting shapes within that border. The key is to let the forms present themselves.
02. Vary your brushes
Using a variety of brushes, I begin to bring that same randomised approach to adding internal forms and to rendering quick, early values to the form, giving the figure weight and solidity. I have to be either willing to experiment with various shapes and forms to fill out the individual details, or leave things alone for a while if I'm not sure where to go with it.
03. Different dimensions
Don't be afraid to change the dimensions of your work area. If the composition starts to feel cramped, then either change the size of the bounding box or increase your canvas size. If you were working on paper then you'd add another sheet if you started to get too close to the edge – it's no different when working digitally! Use simple forms and shapes to express ideas.
04. Rough is right
Allow the speed of working in this improvised approach to add emotional impact to your image. Don't worry if some elements are looking too rough or haphazard right now – those things can be refined later. Instead, I'd advise embracing the chaos on the canvas and turning it to your advantage. The initial impact of an image is what's most important.
Using a rapid, improvised push-and-pull method of sketching can produce great results, both in terms of creating interesting forms, and also in forcing yourself to think of value in its most simple terms.