Austin, Texas resident, Xavier Schipani, is a drawing machine from the moment he wakes up each day. He’s got big near future goals of completely changing up the art gallery scene in the land of keepin’ it weird. Currently he’s happily busy with commissions, album covers, publishing his own zines, and local mural painting. Xavier is also a MICA 2007 alumni and shares his birthday with Bill Murray.
SW: What are the common themes or ideas you work with, and what are your current muses or obsessions?
XS: A lot of my themes have been queer themes, but just kind of like creating a fantasy world for a lot of those themes that can be super serious. Kind of making it more light hearted. Right now I’m really into Sol LeWitt, I’m going back through a lot. I’ve been working in color, which… I don’t ever work in color. So, that’s something new for me. Kind of been looking back at a lot of abstract paintings from the 50’s and 60’s. Block paintings, just kind of trying to introduce color slowly into my work. I’ve just been using primary colors right now. I’ve been looking at a lot of different things. There’s this one Japanese artist who did all of the posters for The Beatles and he did the Yellow Submarine, he did all the animating and all the illustration. So, I’ve kind of just been looking at as much color as I can.
SW: What specifically are the queer themes, is it imagery, is it more idea heavy? Which hits you more, like ‘Oh I see what he’s trying to say’, or visually, like you just get it. I don’t know if that’s too confusing of a question.
XS: Well, the last show that I had was all pencil drawings. I was on Grindr for about 4 months and I basically went on and had an artist profile. I was looking for people to send me photos that I could work with, that I could draw from… and I got crazy shit. This guy was crouching naked on his dining room table with like a bag over his head. [Laughs] I just got all of these weird photos.
SW: [Laughs] Plastic bag or paper bag? Sorry.
XS: It was a plastic bag. It was pretty interesting. But that was kind of a way for me to explore the gay dating scene and see how aggressive it was and kind of just investigate some of that. So, that was more obvious. The theme there was that I was trying to expose this online dating style. I guess it’s true for straight people now too with Tinder and everything, but Grindr is super aggressive. I have a lot of friends that are on it and it’s just crazy. I was really curious about it. Being in a relationship, I couldn’t participate in any other way besides being curious about it. That was a little bit more obvious and playful. I saved all the headlines from the ads, I went on craigslist a bit too. Every time I got a really good photo from an ad, I would write down the ad title as well. That’s basically how I named each piece. That was more conceptual I guess.
SW: I think I saw those pencil drawings. You posted those right?
XS: Yeah, I posted some of them. I ended up doing about a 150 in four months.
SW: Holy shit. So, that leads me to my next question… What’s your typical process? How big is a piece? How long does it usually take you? Do you do pencil and then ink it? What’s your process like?
XS: I’ve been working kind of in like a 9 x 12 format as a standard and then with some larger pieces as well. Like, that show is mixed between 9 x 12 and then I had some pieces that were 19 x 24 and then 24 x 48. I had some bigger stuff in there as well. I would say, for example I did about 25 drawings last week. They’re all about 9 x 12. Sometimes I sketch on tracing paper if I want it to look really clean, and then I’ll transfer it onto paper and trace the lines back, and then work on top of that.
SW: With a lightbox or?
XS: No I just flip it over and trace right on the back of it and it will just transfer the pencil. I do that a lot, especially if I’m working on something for someone, if I want it to be really clean. Otherwise I just sketch and I usually do a little bit of pencil, at least to block out whatever I’m working on. I’ll go in over with ink and kind of free form the rest of it. So, depending on what it is but that’s usually how I do it.
SW: So, how long does a drawing usually take you?
XS: I would say anywhere from an hour to 4 hours depending on what it is. Sometimes less. 9 x 12, I mean I can really knock something detailed out in 4 hours.
SW: You work fast but that’s still a lot of work, it’s inspiring to hear. As an artist, I’m struggling to maintain that amount of work. What is your routine? How do you stay disciplined in that way?
XS: I watch a lot of really old movies that are kind of just like static noise. I get up pretty early, or I try to, and I just start working. I’ve been doing these color drawings and I’m really into them. I’m working on them a lot and I’m dreaming about them, so it’s crazy, I’ll wake up and I’m like ready to go. I just I don’t know, I don’t really think of it as being disciplined. I guess it is, I just can’t help it. I don’t have any discipline really for anything else. [Laughs] I don’t. I’m horrible.
SW: That sounds exciting.
XS: Yeah, I don’t really go out that much anymore, I don’t really party that much. So, I like drinking at home [Laughs] and working. I feel like now more than ever I don’t really care about anything else. People here are kind of weird. I have friends here but no one’s, like, really inspired to do anything here. This town is super stoner, just whatever, do nothing and that’s totally fine. It’s literally where Slacker was made and is just that. It’s like Peter Pan land, people never have to grow up here. I guess that inspires me to keep working. When I look around, there’s no gallery scene here, which I’m hoping to try and open something this year. Yeah, I don’t know, I’m not really engaged in the nightlife here or really any scene here. I think that’s helped me stay focused, for sure.
SW: That’s interesting, I’ve heard people be in similar situations and be influenced in the opposite way, of like falling into that slacker kind of mentality.
XS: I think it’s really easy to get like that. I think people move here from NY and they get like that. They’re so tired of hustling because they worked so hard they forget how to work. It’s crazy. Happens all the time.
SW: Hmm. [Laughs]
XS: I mean I don’t blame them, when I moved here I was like ‘Damn, people are just chilling in the middle of the day. Does anyone work here?’ You just see people out at all times of the day just chilling. And you’re like, ‘Alright, I guess they’re not going to work. Whatever.’ [Laughs] But yeah I can’t really say anything. I am quitting my job as well.
SW: But you have a goal. [Laughs] You’re not just quitting your job to sit around.
SW: Two more questions. What’s been the most exciting commission job you’ve done?
XS: I’m working on a possible collaboration with Nike, which is cool. There’s this guy I’m meeting later, he has two house boys and he’s married. So he has his house boy’s who are young and another whole dynamic going on. I’m going over to his house later to take photos of them all together so that I can draw their family portrait. I don’t know. [Laughs] That’s fun.
XS: I’ve been working with a lot of bands and that’s been really cool. I just worked with Double Duchess and I’m going to be doing something with Spank Rock possibly this year; this other band that’s really cool.
SW: Does your work circulate or are you friends with any of these people and they’re just like, ‘I want you to do this’?
XS: Yeah, sometimes. Like this guy, Klever, he’s a DJ. He’s on tour with Yellow Wolf. I met him when he came here. I did a portrait of him and by the next day I had like 400 new followers. Just because of that portrait, which is crazy. He’s got like a million followers. He’s actually gotten me a lot of work, because people saw that and were like, ‘Oh! Can you do this? Can you do that?’ I was like ‘yeah, sure’. It’s kind of been constant. I have Jenny, my Fiance, is my manager which is rad because she emails everyone for me. I don’t have to do anything, which is cool, because I suck at that. She does all my invoicing and emails, that’s been great.
SW: That’s awesome. It takes so much effort to do both.
XS: Yeah, it’s great.
SW: Last question, totally unrelated. What’s the tastiest food you’ve eaten in Austin?
XS: I’d probably say… Well, I work at Paul Qui’s restaurant. He’s won Top Chef a couple years ago and the food there is pretty fucking banging. Pretty awesome. It’s Filipino and it’s just all over the place, it’s super good. I also love this little place called Julio’s, it’s owned by a family and is right in my neighborhood. Their chicken is killer, it’s just very traditional Mexican and it’s awesome.
We bring you another amazing artist associated with the Baltimore art/comedy group Wham City, April Camlin. She’s somewhere between a fashion or textile designer and fine artist, and onced played Lex Murphy in a small stage production of “Jurassic Park”. Her current black and white textile series is so eye-catching we needed to ask her all about it.
SW: How long does it take you to come up with the designs and then create a piece?
AC: Well, I think that’d be the planning. I like to start out with an idea, at times it’s like an arsenal of techniques that are influencing the composition and I like to kind of intuitively work, so I think that the execution takes a really long time. Because I have that space, I can kind of change things as they go along. If I don’t like the way that something is working, I can undo it and then start over again. I definitely think that I spend a lot more time in the execution. I did an installation in August and I spent about 200 hours stitching. The design of it, maybe, I spent like a couple days just laying it out. I’ve been doing more with digital fabric printing. That definitely involves a bit more planning ahead and doing more design work on the computer. It’s been like a new thing for me, but I’ve been really excited about it. That stuff is a little bit more time consuming I suppose.
SW: You use like Illustrator, or something?
AC: I use Photoshop. I’m so technologically illiterate, but I’m probably using it in an incredibly inefficient way. [Laughs] So it probably makes it take longer. Every time I’m making work, I’m kind of like ‘I know there must be a better way to do this,’ but I’m very connected to the labor.
SW: So you’ve got needlepoint, weaving and digital printing? Is there anything else in the series?
AC: No, not at the moment. I’m drawn to working on anything that involves a grid. Mostly those three right now.
SW: I see actually one piece that’s an infinity sweater, it says machine knit.
AC: Yeah, I kind of started out with this series of ideas that I’m working on now, with the idea of super exaggerated or forced perspective, sort of tricking the eye. Then it moved into something a little bit different. I was doing some stuff on the knitting machines, but not quite so much anymore.
SW: Where do you get your fabric printed?
AC: I’m very fortunate, I have it printed at school. We have a really nice fiber reactive printer, which means that it’s printing the ink. The dye, it’s penetrating the fabric instead of sort of just sitting on top and not being extremely durable. It’s a really high quality image that’s getting printed. It’s a great resource.
SW: Wow yeah, so the nylon is like this sheer black color? Is that what it is? Then it’s printing the white?
AC: Oh no, the opposite, it’s white then I’m printing the black.
SW: Wait, whaaaat?
SW: How? What??
AC: Crepe Georgette is the material and it’s backed, it has a paper backing when it’s going though the printer. When you remove the fabric adhered to the paper backing before you steam it.
SW: That’s amazing.
AC: Yeah, digital printing on fabric is so cool. I feel like because I’ve been very connected to these very labor intensive processes, like the needle point and the weaving, it’s kind of forced my scale to be a certain size. Digital printing really allows me to think about things on a larger scale than I have before.
SW: With all of these designs, are you thinking more like a designer or thinking more like a fine artist that’s putting practical use to these? I can’t tell, some of the closeups are so nice on their own, but obviously they make great patterns to use. What was the original intention?
AC: That’s a good question. [Laughs] I feel like I’m informed and interested, both in the fine arts and also in more of an industrial fabrication. I think ideally, when I see myself in the future, I think about working in some kind of industry where I’m working with fabrication and having that be something that informs my fine art. I think that for me, the two are inextricably linked.
SW: Why black and white?
AC: I think that black and white kind of triggers this vibration almost, with my eyes and my mind, that’s very appealing to me. For me, they are the two colors that have the highest contrast. I was at Haystack this summer in Maine, it’s like a residential Art School. You do, like, two week sessions. I was looking at the ecosystem that was around me and the relationship of all these natural elements to each other. Somehow, one thing led to another, I started doing research on all of the plants in the area. It seems kind of weird, but it kind of led me towards this binary relationship between the eyes and the mind that exists in Op Art, and how that’s its own little ecosystem. So I started doing more research into Op Art. There’s always been something about black and white to me that I’ve really responded to it. I feel like I kind of understood why as I was doing more research over the summer.
SW: Are there any other artistic or cultural inspirations? You said binary and I can see that perfectly, but are there any other cultures that are involved or influencing this?
AC: Totally, I’m looking a lot at Kuba Cloth, which is this embroidered pile which is made of Raffia which comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve just been really inspired by the way that the people, the women who are embroidering these designs, they’re kind of working with this really complex structure, but there’s also this kind of play on the structure. It’s really appealing to me, really interesting to me.
SW: Yeah, it’s really cool.
AC:[Laughs] Yeah, it’s kind of mind-blowing/boggling.
SW: What’s your process like? I can’t tell if this is something where you have to be really focused or can kind of have Netflix on and zone out? It seems like you do once wrong stitch and you’ve made a new pattern.
AC: Well, that’s kind of something that I’m interested in exploring too. The way that a pattern can be manipulated and be caused to interrupt itself. Those moments where it collides with itself, that’s kind of something that’s really interesting to me. I think it’s for different things. I listen to a lot of audio books, it is kind of this weird involuntary focus. It feels very natural to me to be working this way. It is highly focused work, but I don’t feel like I have to devote every iota of my mental processing to execute the design. Know what I mean?
AC: I do enjoy some Netflix from time to time as I’m embroidering. I’ll admit it. [Laughs]
SW: Did you design this jumpsuit or did someone else design the jumpsuit?
AC: That’s a pre-made pattern I got from a website that sells patterns. I didn’t design the pattern just the print on the fabric that goes with it.
SW: Also, where the seams would meet, you picked all that and everything too.
AC: Yeah, it’s known as engineered print so you’re kind of working with a pattern shape and designing the fabric to fit specifically into that shape and then you can do things like orchestrate where the pattern matches up on the seams and things like that.
SW: Oh wait, did this design come first or second? How did that overlap? Did you pick the jumpsuit first and then you were like, ‘I need to make a pattern for this jumpsuit’?
SW: Ah okay, very cool.
AC: I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to do, I knew that it had to be a jumpsuit and so I kind of just looked for jumpsuit patterns.
SW: This back little piece, the dart or whatever that is, the fold, that came out excellent.
AC: Thank you! [Laughs] That fabric was… not fun to work with.
SW: It doesn’t look fun to work with, but it’s fun to look at.
AC: The funny thing about it, I kind of, like, smudged. You can see there’s some weird warping happening with the design, and that was something that I did intentionally, but as it was coming out of the fabric printer, the printer tech was like ‘Oh no! There’s a problem with the printer!’ I was like, ‘Haha! No I fooled you!’ That’s just my print! [Laughs] When things like that happen it’s really exciting to me. You’re tricking your mind. I’m really interested in the way that feels.
SW: Do you have any more big plans for this series or are you just kind of letting it go? Not go, but stop…
AC: I feel like I’m going to keep working in this series until it doesn’t feel right anymore. I don’t think too far ahead, I like to just focus on what’s happening and kind of let the work go where it wants to go. I try not to place too many restrictions on the direction. Sometimes these happy accidents happen and sometimes they can be just as inspiring as months of dedicated research, so I try not to impose too many time restrictions on it. It feels like a progression to me. I’m going to keep working within these parameters for awhile.
SW: I hope you do! It’s so fun to look at. Something about the way you worded something right now reminds me of this quote I wrote down the other day from ‘The Simpsons’.
SW: Officer Wiggum said, ‘Don’t censor me, it’s what stifles creativity.’ Something like that.
AC: Officer Wiggum said that? [Laughs]
SW: Yeah, he drew his gun and said something really bizarre. The other officer was like ‘…Chief?’ And then he said that. I thought it was kind of profound. [Laughs]
SW: One last question, just random. What kind of vending machine do you think needs to be invented?
AC: This is something that already exists, but I don’t think there are enough coffee vending machines in this country. [Laughs] Probably not a cool enough answer.
SW: No! Bring them back! They had those in the 70s and 80s, they were kind of dying in the 90s. We need those back. [Laughs] That’s a great answer.
AC: It’d be pretty cool if there was a vending machine that just sold thread. That’s the thing that I’m always running out of and I’m always running out of it late at night. There’s nowhere to get it, when I’m working at night I’m like ‘what do I need to unravel to get these colors…’ [Laughs]
We introduce to you another amazingly talented Illustrator from China, Jun Cen. He recently graduated from MICA’s new illustration Masters program, in the same class as previous artist interviewed Lisk Feng. Jun’s drawings and short animation Mutual Tunnels are mesmerizing. Perfect color pairing and textures, coupled with beautifully balanced compositions, create an emotional mood in each illustration. It was a pleasure getting an opportunity to speak to Jun, here’s how it went…
SHANON WELTMAN: What is your favorite medium to work in? It looks like you work digitally, but can you elaborate on that?
JUN CEN: I’ve tried many different mediums. For example, pencil, acrylic, gouache and digital. I kind of use them from time to time, but recently I’ve just focused on digital. I’ve been doing a lot of editorial illustrations, so I think digital is easier for me to change and edit.
SW: Because they’re so fast?
JC: Yeah, if you see my animation it’s hand drawn animation, done with pencil. I also really like pencil too, it’s very intuitive. That’s the reason I really like pencil.
SW: It also matches the gentleness in your drawings. In the personal work section of your website, are those ideas or stills from your animations?
JC: Yeah if you go to Mutual Tunnels, that series is stills of the animation. Original drawings from the animation, since the animation is all hand drawn.
SW: Can you walk us through your digital process? Where do you start and where do you end?
JC: Something very interesting about my pencil drawings, sometimes I use digital to do the sketches and then I print them out and finalize it with pencil. This is something I found very interesting. Usually some people will do sketches and then go digital, but I kind of did it the opposite way. For my digital illustrations I think it’s quite straight forward, it’s actually all digital. I do the sketches in Photoshop, I do different colors on different layers to mimic the process of screen printing. You can see colors, it’s kind of graphic looking. You can see when the two colors multiply together to create a third color. This is very similar to the process of printmaking. Especially when you’re using transparent medium. I was a printmaker before, I was kind of familiar with this process. It’s kind of good for me, to apply this technique in my illustration.
SW: Yeah, it seems really useful. That makes a lot of sense, your colors are so flat and they blend so well together.
JC: After I’ve done the drawings, I apply a texture to the top of each layer. I use a lot of layers masks. I apply the texture with the mask. It’s easier for me to edit the shape of the color and the texture since they are on different things.
SW: Yeah, so interesting. It seems like a lot of artists today are working relatively like the way you work, but like you said, you do it in reverse with the pencil. Everyone’s got their own little way of tweaking these new ways of creating texture for an older look, which is kind of funny. Do you think you’re going to do anymore animations like Mutual Tunnels?
JC: Thank you so much, actually I’m making another one. It’s an animated music video for a band, a Brooklyn based band.
SW: Have you done some album covers too? Is that in your website?
JC: I’ve done one, that was actually a collaborative project, I collaborated with a musician. I generated this project first and then invited the musician to participate. It’s kind of different from album design, because it’s a small conceptual project. Behind the project there’s kind of sophisticated concepts. As you can see the album is called Hermaphrodite, so we were very interested in things like… hermaphrodites. [Laughs] I’m not sure how to discuss it, it’s a project from a long time ago. It was two years ago, it was a very fun project.
SW: Did you do it in school or just on your own personally?
JC: Yeah, I did it when I went to the graduate program at MICA. In school we were allowed to do many different kinds of experimentation, so I kind of liked the idea. I don’t want to make a boring project, just for the assignment, just something. So I decided to do something fun, something I was very interested in. When I was in school I was very interested in psychoanalysis. That kind of thing. I took classes on psychoanalysis and film and some other types of causes. I was very interested in it. I came up with this idea, making a project discussing gender identity or something. That was something I was very interested in. My interest kind of changed a little bit recently. I focus more on editorial illustration, which is quite a different approach. I do both personal work and professional work, so I have two different approaches.
SW: MMhmm, yeah you can see that in your styles. They’re both beautiful, but you definitely feel a bit more free in your personal work. The other work is very good craftsmanship, really great concepts too, but you can see the clear difference.
Lohas Monthly Drawing
SW: What inspires your imagery and color palette? How do you choose your composition and those limited colors?
JC: I think everything I do reflects my personality. I think art really reflects the artist’s personality, so I think my decisions are very intuitive too. Let me see, inspiration… one of the inspirations was also related to my previous experience as a printmaker. I think what inspires the way I do the colors is very logical. I like to play around with colors and try to find ways to multiply the colors together to make a third color. Usually when I make a piece, the maximum number of colors is four. With just these four colors I can create a lot of colors. I kind of like to play around with this idea too, to use limited conditions to make something more than that.
SW: So I guess your answer is intuition. The one piece I was talking about, Lohas Monthly drawing, just orange and blue. The choices that you made like you said are very intuitive. The pastel and the pink and blue one, within the range makes so much sense. Same with the orange one, not too bright, the right amount of muted, it just works so perfectly together.
JC: Actually, what I told you, the purpose of that image was to really try and make as many variations as I can in this one image with those limited colors. So that was a very fun process, to me.
SW: Cool! So here’s a big question: What are the main differences, good and bad, between the American and Chinese illustration world?
JC: I think the big difference is the history. Illustration in China is kind of like a field with not that long of a history compared to America. I’m only saying that of illustration. I think that illustration in China started like… 20 years ago? But if you say illustration in America, it’s like a 100 years or something. I remember when I went to school, we took some courses about illustration history in America. We talked a lot about the golden age of illustration. Those were like early 20th century, but if you look at China, because everything develops so fast and so recently, I think the main difference is this point. The industry has a lot to develop. In China, we don’t have many categories for illustration. The one that we can see very often is editorial illustration, we also have a lot of comics but they’re manga, like Japanese manga. The style is very different too, the way the illustrators work is very different from the illustrators in America. Another thing, because the industry is so young, all the illustrators are trying to develop it. Also, experimenting, so yeah, it’s very exciting but also very hard for illustrators because a lot of times they have to figure out things themselves. Like me, it took a very long time for me to figure out the business side of illustration in China because not all the art directors would talk about contracts or copyrights with you, but in America every job you have to sign a contract to make sure things are right. You own all the rights of the image or something like that, but in China you have to figure it out. You have to remind the art director you have certain rights of these images. And then you have to protect yourself when you deal with clients very carefully. So this is also very different from illustration in America. Another thing is, because it’s developing and all the illustrators are experimenting, it’s also very exciting too. They don’t have anything to limit themselves. They can do whatever they want. Recently a lot of young artists in China are doing independent comics, they’re very interested in something more underground. Especially in Beijing. After I graduated from undergrad I went to Beijing for a year and then I met many illustrators and comic artists and also animators there. I think it’s kind of cool. Another thing is, this field in China is developing but it’s not developed by the government, so it’s kind of very hard to publish a book in China. That’s why a lot of artists decided to self publish a comic or something in China, which is actually more interesting.
JC: If you go to a bookstore in China, you can see, especially when you go to the comics section or illustration section, you can see the books there are very boring, but people try to find a way to publish their work and also do what they want with it. This is interesting to me. [Laughs]
SW: This is all really interesting to me, over in the western world we think of China as this very old culture, that’s very established with ways of doing things. America, we’re the western crazy ones. So it’s like the opposite. We’re an established deity of illustration, you guys are like the wild west.
SW: That’s so funny, you have to remind the art director you have rights?? That’s crazy! [Laughs]
JC: Crazy! Yeah, I think so too. When I first started doing illustration, the one or two years after I started I experienced a lot of things. Like, I didn’t get paid for the job because I didn’t sign any contracts or something, but now I’ve learned to do what I do in America with the clients, so this way they also learn that illustrators should be respected too.
SW: Mmhmm, in America there’s a lot of times where people don’t get paid, but when you have that contract it’s like, ‘you can pay me late, or I can take you to court. You’re making that decision…’
SW: Alright, that’s cool to know. Can you describe what you like your studio environment to be like? Do you like to have certain music on, quiet, loud, messy, clean? What’s it like in your studio environment.
JC: Actually, right now I have two tables in my studio. The reason why I did that is I love to move to another table when I get the first one messy. [Laughs] I love to work in different places. Like you said, I have to have music on when I work. I don’t watch TV or listen to anything with talking because I can’t focus on the work, but I really need music to create atmosphere, mood or something.
SW: What do you listen to?
JC: I listen to Spotify. [Laughs] I usually have my music preference, mostly electronic or psychedelic, shoegaze.
SW: Last question: What is the last book you read?
JC: Hmm, let me see… can I say a comic actually?
JC: I just finished Chris Ware’s The Building Story, which is an amazing book to me.
SW: He is awesome.
JC: It’s epic, amazing. It took me awhile to finish it, because I have to go through every page in a project, because he’s so great. When I was in school I even made an essay about it, because I was taking a film class. So I was using film theory to analyze the project, because I do think comics and films are very similar in a way. In the way that the artist uses the camera, the movement of the camera to tell a story. For comics, the artist use the frame as the camera to tell the story, so they have similarity. I did that, it was a fun project to analyze Chris Ware’s project.
SW: That’s really cool, that’s a good artist to do that for.
New New Yorker and Illustrator Lisk Feng is in the interview seat this week. In addition to making the huge move from China to the USA, she has recently switched from using any/all art supplies available to a much more limited approach. These days she’s only working digitally, but her artwork looks just as hand drawn as before. She’s a recent graduate of the newly founded MICA Graduate Illustration program in Baltimore, MD. Keep reading to find out more about this upcoming and whimsical illustrator.
SHANON WELTMAN: Who are your favorite artists and biggest inspirations?
LISK FENG: When I was little I think my favorite artist or animation studio was Ghibli, always. After that I think I really like Tatsuro Kiuchi, Yuko Shimizu, or those American illustrators that got really famous. I looked at them for a long time. The main reason I wanted to come to America to study at MICA, was because I was a graduate of the Academy of Art which is a really good school in China. After that I felt kind of lost because I was trying really really hard to get into the career and get published. I do publish a lot of books, do really good, but I just felt like I needed to jump out of my comfort zone, so that’s why I came to America. All the illustrators that I really like are Asian. Also, Josh Cochran, I really like his work a lot. That lead to me to start to develop a new style, which is combining screen printing texture with watercolor and hand drawing together. I’ve never done that before, I was always doing hand drawing really traditionally and now I feel I’m more capable of doing different types of works. Now I’m trying to think about doing some editorial stuff.
Paper Dolls 1-10
SW: What are your favorite things to draw?
LF: When I was little, definitely animals and afterwards I got into anime for awhile. After that, I started to think about doing young adult novel illustration. I’d always create a whole world that has a lot of kids in it and they’re doing some really fantastic things, such as an adventure together. I really like to draw things that are really magical or whimsical and at the same time they’re really childish looking. A lot of adults like my work because my work seems really childish and lonely, and they feel emotionally connected. I think my favorite things to draw are whimsical, classical, childish illustrations for young adults and adults.
SW: What about objects?
LF: Actual objects… I still really like to draw people. People are my favorite thing to draw. When I was little I started to draw people first, so after I came to America I always went to NY and saw different kinds of people in the subway and I feel like people are so different from Asians. Especially in NY, they have different countries from all over the world gathered together. On the subway I saw Asian, South American, Americans, people from everywhere. It’s a really magical thing to put so many people into a tiny city, and they’re building culture, building art, doing stuff, it’s really busy everyday. So I will continue doing that in the future, people are definitely my favorite.
SW: Do you think you will move up to NY or do you really like Baltimore?
LF: I really like Baltimore, but I still want to move to NY. I’m moving next month actually.
SW: Whoa! That’s fast. Just curious, what part of Baltimore do you live in? We went to MICA also.
LF:[Laughs] Oh nice! I was living off North Charles street for a year, now I live in West Mount Royal, across from MICA.
SW: [Laughs] That’s nice!
LF: Yeah it’s really convenient because my thesis is really heavy. I think it’s really nice just to live closer to the school.
Lust & Chastity: Lust
SW: Mmhmm, for sure. So we’ve talked about who you’re making art for, imagery you like. How do you come up with ideas? Not only the concepts, but the whole thing, the composition, the color. How do you finalize a piece?
LF: First of all, it depends on what kind of job it is. If I have an article, first I will read the whole thing and come up with multiple sketches in my brain. I don’t like to draw gigantic really detailed sketches, then make it one step at a time. I like to draw this tiny little sketch and I’ll draw maybe ten to twenty. Then I’ll pick the one that I really like and then try to draw them a little bigger with a little detail. And then move to computer and directly create the whole thing. For children’s books it’s all so different. I’ve made many children’s books before. I need to create the story sometimes and the story is like, I’ll write 5 sentences. The sentence needs to fully describe the story. Then you pick your favorite sentence of all of them, add little elements to the sentence, make it longer, longer, make it different. At the end you have a whole story with a lot of little elements, but the story is really brief and short. Next I will start to do spreads. That’s my children’s book process.
SW: Do you like to do children’s books the most?
LF: I feel like I really like children, so I like to draw little cute stuff for kids, but it’s a really really boring process to be honest, because you need to spend too much time on it. Too long to work on a project, sometimes half a year or even a year and then I get bored. I want to move on and work on something else. Especially the art director, they don’t like this, they don’t like that, they ask you to revise it over and over again. It’s kind of exhausting sometimes, but I still feel like it’s my job. Illustrators need to do things on time, you say you’re going to finish it, so you finish it. That’s your duty. I’ll still do it, but to be honest I’ll feel really exhausted sometimes.
LF: After the results come out though, I’m really happy! [Laughs] I prefer shorter projects. Now I’m working for Ghibli animations, the next one, but the novel for China. The novel is 200 pages, but I only need to draw one cover and eight illustrations, and the money is good. In one month I can focus on this project, I finish it, they offer me money, and I feel like there’s a finished object in a short time. That’s really comfortable.
SW: How many books have you done?
LF: In China I’ve published three books, two children’s books and one illustration collection book. The others are collaborative. I do a lot of illustrations for novels, especially young adult novels. I’m not sure how to count, but only myself, three books.
SW: Can you describe your process? You mentioned screen printing and watercolor. Can you walk us through how you make a typical illustration?
LF: I’m really interested in it [all]. First I want to say thank you America, I’m so glad I came here. If I didn’t come here, I wouldn’t have a chance to use screen printing anymore since I’ve graduated. After I started screen printing class, I feel like it’s extremely horrible, the process is really really long and then you can only use three to five colors. Limited color palette! Which is insane for me, because my own image style is a really abundant color palette. I use every material, I use watercolor, pastel, crayon, color pencil, even marker, watercolor, gouache all in one image. Everything I can find on my table and then to produce an image that people cannot tell just what material it is. That’s what I like, but after I came here, the screen printing teacher told me ‘you need to simplify’. Simplifying is always harder than adding more stuff on to something. It’s a really painful process. After that, I’m really into it. I feel like this is something I really want to try. My images start to become simple. Also, limited color palette to make it more consistent, especially for my books. They look better than before. I put less effort in it and results turn out to be really good, so it’s a smart choice. My process of making illustrations right now is, especially with the screen print style, always start with sketches directly on the computer. It’s easier for me to arrange the layers to make it a limited color palette. Sometimes if I do pencil lines first, I will scan it in and then scan the pencil drawing, erase some parts of the lines. Change the color of the line so it will have a limited color look. After that I will make brushes or I scan a lot of textures that I made by myself. For example I bought a plastic transparent roller that you put ink on and roll on paper. It’s really dry so you get some texture, just like a screen print. Scan it in and use the texture to lay on top of the drawing to make it look like a screen print. I also discovered some really nice brushes. Kyle’s brushes are really nice. There’s a lot of stuff online you can download. I also make my own brushes sometimes, just like a stamp. You scan it in and then put it on top, they look like hand drawn. My drawings are all digital right now, but they look really hand drawn. So I’m really happy with the result. I’m thankful for spending a year and a half in a screen printing studio and my thesis, half of my drawings are screen printed. I’m really enjoying the process right now.
SW: That so interesting! I can kinda tell that you use so many materials, but only because I do that when I work. It doesn’t look like one thing which is cool!
A Tropical Dream
SW: Can you talk a little bit about your experience at the MICA MFA Illustration? It’s relatively new and wasn’t available to us a few years ago. Whatever you’d like to say about it.
LF: First of all I want to say, Whitney Sherman is the leader of the program and then Jamie Zolar is the co director, so I feel like the program has superstar teachers. And then at the time same time, I’m on the second year of the program and the first year class only has six students left. Twelve students entered the program and only six students are left. So I feel like, its a really tough semester because people are dropping the program. The first semester is extremely hard because the director gives us kind of a hard time, forcing us to do something that really doesn’t matter to us. Focused on sewing. She wanted us to do a sewing project to combine with pop-up books and bookbinding. Three things you put together to make a project — in three days! How can you do something?? I don’t know how to sew. So at last I made a touching book, like a cloth touching book. For the cover I sewed the letters on top of paper. [Laughs]
SW: Oh, that was the ship right?
LF: Yeah! That one is my three workshop projects. Other people are doing pop up cards and they sew one line on top of it to count as sewing. People feel a lot of pressure around the first years project. Extremely hard working. After that, the second years work changed. I don’t even know how it happened but everyone now turned out to be really really good illustrators at the end. We’re winning stuff, this years 3×3 just came out, one student is silver, the others are bronze. Also, Sarah Jacobi won the Society of Illustrators Gold Medal, Jun got the AOI New Talent. Our program is new but we’re winning stuff, so I feel like the first year of training is really important for us. The second year, we have a lot of really really great illustrators come such as Jillian Tamaki, Josh Cochran, those famous illustrators gave us feedback. The program invited art directors from Candlewick and Penguin to give us feedback. I did get jobs from Candlewick, so I’m really thankful. The program invites people to come and I got something really nice. Josh Cochran also became good friends with me. I got to see him many times after that, he likes my work, we got to talk to each other. Also, Soojin Buzelli and Chris Buzelli got to be our friends. We got to NY, setup the meeting and then we talked to each other and I feel really happy about it.
SW: Aw! That’s a lot of really cool people.
LF: Yes yes, I didn’t expect them to invite all those people. The first semester I really wanted to drop. [Laughs] The only project that I really like from the first year is pattern design. [Laughs] Julia Rothman came and gave us a really nice workshop. I really liked it. The others are… mm, but we learn a lot of things from it.
SW: Last question, totally not about anything to do with your career as an Illustrator: What is your favorite American food?
LF: Hmmm…. favorite American food. That’s hard. I would say, bagels? Especially NY bagels. Burgers are really nice, [Laughs] but overall I still love Asian food more.
Illustrator Alex Fine is divine, and like Divine the drag superstar, a staple in the Baltimore Arts. He’s our second interviewed artist to be obsessed with drawing hair. Whether it’s Lorde’s long locks or the purple sheen of a Raven’s feathers, it’s such a treat for the eyes. His clean and retro-inspired style is perfect for his hundreds of spot-on accurate portraits that have graced the covers of websites, magazines, and weekly papers across the US. Check out his website for the full client list. Grab yourself a cold Natty Boh and read on to see what Ray Jones had to ask the Rockabilly illustrator that never sleeps.
RAY JONES: Maybe you’ve completely lost track over the years, but how many portraits have you done?
ALEX FINE: Oh man, it’s so hard to count because I’ve done so many. I’d have to say though, I know for Philadelphia Weekly I did at least one a week, and I worked for them for three years. So that’s definitely over a 150 for Philadelphia Weekly. And if you add together all the other jobs I’ve done, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s somewhere close to 600 over the years.
AF: They range from celebrities to people to even just friends and family.
RJ: Is it fair to say that portraits are your favorite thing to draw or is there anything else?
AF: Well, it’s weird. For me, I used to draw portraits all the time when I was in high school and I kind of just felt like it was something I was just comfortable with? I think I have fun drawing portraits when I can incorporate something conceptual into it. If it’s just a standard portrait, it’s good money for the time I’ve put in to it when I do it for a job. I wouldn’t say it’s the most fulfilling job because I don’t get to put as much of my personality in to it sometimes. It’s different for certain illustrators, because I think they stylistically have a little more fun with it. But whenever I do portraits it’s more on the realistic end, so it becomes more of an exercise in drawing. It’s something I feel comfortable with. I enjoy doing it as far as the job goes, but I think I always have a little more fun when I can do something that adds a little bit of conceptual thinking to it too.
RJ: Who would you like to draw next?
AF: Well, now that I’ve drawn Lorde who has pretty awesome hair, I’d say it’s pretty much always somebody with cool hair, because hair is my favorite thing to draw. I guess if I’m thinking about people with cool hair… let’s see, maybe Dave Mustaine from Megadeth? [Laughs] He has cool hair.
RJ: [Laughs] Awesome.
AF: I just saw a meme on Facebook recently that had Putin + Dave Mustaine’s hair = Dave Mustaine. [Laughs]
AF: So maybe that’d be a cool thing to actually illustrate. Maybe that’d be fun. I can’t say I’m a big fan of Dave Mustaine’s politics or him as a person in general, but I liked Megadeth when I was growing up. It’d be fun to draw Dave Mustaine at some point.
RJ: Yeah, Megadeth is pretty funny. You listen to it and you hear him like “No no no no no, faster. Faster than Metallica.” [Laughs]
AF: Yeah, there’s some history there with Metallica and Megadeth for sure.
RJ: You mostly work in brush and ink, with the exception of maybe your digital art. So, what draws you to traditional brushwork like this?
AF: Well, I’ve recently started to use a Cintiq tablet to kind of emulate ink lines and I know Kyle Webster the illustrator, his brush set for photoshop is really amazing. He actually has brush pen style digital brushes. He has this one called Mr. Natural, which has the same kind of break up that you get from the ink line where it gets kind of distressed based on the type of paper you’re using, but I have to say, nothing quite captures ink the way an actual ink brush does. Whether it’s a paintbrush dipped in India ink or it’s a brushpen, the way it feels on the paper, the way it picks up the tooth of the paper is completely unique. It’s never the same way twice. You know, when you put ink to paper, depending on the texture of the paper, you’re always going to have something completely unique and something that you can’t predict. I kind of like the fact that you can’t predict what the line’s going to be like and the faster the brush stroke, the more different the line will be and it’s something that gives energy to an illustration, I think. That’s something I love about your work so much, the texture of the brushstroke.
RJ: Thanks, man.
AF: I see a lot of people do digital work and no matter how good the simulation is, it’s never quite the same as when you put ink to paper. That’s not to say anything against digital art too, because everything has it’s own benefit. That sleek smooth line, but for me I always love the rough lines. The rough lines are my favorite.
RJ: Yeah, I enjoy going analog. It’s good. [Laughs]
AF: Yeah definitely, definitely, it’s always 100% unique. There’s never been a line exactly like the line you put down.
RJ: What are the biggest influences on your style?
AF: When it all started for me, I didn’t know what illustration was until I started seeing Kent Williams artwork in different magazines. He had this cool realism mixed with exaggerated figures. I thought that was cool because it was somebody that was going beyond a photograph. Before that I was really into Norman Rockwell and Wyeth and all these illustrators who were good at painting realistically and they create these great narratives, but there was something missing in the energy that people like Kent Williams were able to capture. I got really into those illustrators, and people like Roberto Parada and all these realistic painters who could add a little extra to it. Then when I got to MICA I got really into Charles Burns. That’s when I started doing inking, because when you look at Charles Burns’ comics like Black Hole or Big Baby, you see that this is somebody who inks in a way that doesn’t even seem real. It doesn’t seem like it’s possible to ink like that. There was the aspect of the challenge of learning how to ink in a way that doesn’t seem humanly possible. That was always a big part of art in general for me, it being a challenge. Seeing how somebody did something and figuring out how to do it myself. I carry that over to music too. When I play guitar, I always go to shows and watch the guitar player and see how they do it, because there’s always that challenge. You see a guitar solo, you want to know how it’s done. To that extent, art and music has always been about the challenge: seeing what’s possible to do. Every time I see an illustrator and I don’t know how they do it, or a certain style, I try to figure out how they do it, so I can do it myself. Not to say I’m going to go on and make that my style! I would never appropriate somebody else’s style like that, but I do like to meet the challenge and maybe have it contribute to something that’s going to create a new style as the outcome.
Charles Burns was a huge influence on me, then Yuko Shimizu came to MICA and gave a lecture and I just loved her work instantly. She actually turned me on to Nathan Fox and Tomer Hanuka, I guess they were classmates of hers? From that point on it was all ink and I started changing a little bit from Charles Burns to get more of a looser line, but still a basis in reality, but still playing a little bit on fantasy too. So now, every time I see an illustrator I like, it’s just one more illustrator I add to the list. I teach one class at MICA now, it’s Sophomore Illustration. I don’t let any of them get through the end of the semester until they can name at least ten illustrators that they absolutely love off the top of their head, because that’s the thing, you can’t make yourself better unless you have illustrators that you admire yourself. It all comes down to raising your own personal bar, your own standard. Having illustrators that you love will do that, so for me, my influence just comes from an infinite amount of illustrators. Every day I see Tumblrs, I see blogs that have illustrators that I never see that I love, and then I try to figure out how they do what they do. I try to hopefully make that another influence that I can add to the list of people.
RJ: Great! I don’t want to go on a tangent, but you mentioned so many of my favorite illustrators there. So close to my heart [laughs].
AF: Yeah, every time I see a Nathan Fox illustration online… I love everything he does. When he came to MICA last year, it was really hard for me not to become a gushing fan because I’ve loved his work for ten years. It’s been a really long time. He’s fantastic and a really really nice guy too, which makes it even better.
RJ: Yeah! His work has such a kinetic movement to it that is just beautiful, it is watching life frozen in time. Wow.
AF: Yeah, his compositions… he gets everything, every part of the illustration. If he was a student in one of my classes, there would be nothing I could negatively critique about his work. I can look at a lot of famous illustrators and say if I did it, I might’ve done something differently, but with him, there’s nothing I can say about it. Always perfect, you know? He seems like one of those illustrators that can do no wrong. That’s how I feel about Daniel Krall’s work too. I feel like it just comes naturally, though I’m sure he has his own struggles from time to time, when you look at his final product, it looks like it was effortless. [Laughs] Enough gushing!
RJ: What has inspired you to continue to work from Baltimore as opposed to moving to a bigger city, like New York for example?
AF: I like New York and I like LA. I like major cities like Chicago, I love Chicago, but the thing is, Baltimore… First of all, I grew up in Maryland. My parents lived in Gaithersburg, which is 45 minutes up from Baltimore and it would be hard to leave my family behind, but also my wife, her family also lives in Maryland. That’s one reason to stay in Maryland, but also I love Baltimore the city, I’m comfortable here. In NY there’s a lot of great people, but unfortunately there are some people who aren’t so great that kind of make you feel like you have to fit into their standard of living, standard of fashion, standard of style in general, and it’s really hard to not get sucked in to it. I can tell you, during my visits to NY I feel a little insecure [laughs], or a little like maybe fashionably behind or something. I feel like I have to dress up when my band plays there. That could be good too, I like dressing up [laughs], wearing clothes that I think are cool, but the thing is when I go there I feel like I’m a little bit behind or moving too slow for the hustle of NY. Baltimore has lots of perks of a big city. It has great restaurants, great art, great bands, but I feel like it’s more of what I’ve grown up with, so I have to sort of reinvent myself. There’s a lot of people in NY from Baltimore who don’t feel they need to reinvent themselves; doing a service to NY by bringing a little bit of Baltimore with them, because I think Baltimore has a little bit of what NY was back in the 70s. I think NY has a lot of good things going for it now, that it maybe didn’t have ten years ago. Last time I went to NY it felt like there was a little more of an art community than when I first graduated from MICA. Maybe if I graduated more recently, I’d be interested in going to NY, there’s some better stuff going on there now than I think there used to be. Both cities have their merits, I think it’d be hard personally for me to station myself in a city where I feel so insecure. If I was more of a secure person I think I would be better in NY because I would bring my own personality there, but I would change if I went there. I have so many friends in NY, I would never say that they’ve changed per se, most of them haven’t. Most of the people I know from Baltimore that move there still stay the same, BUT I know some people who move there and get sucked into their jobs in Manhattan where they got somehow detached from who they used to be. You can’t move at a slower pace and still make it in certain areas in certain professions in NY.If you become an Art Director, it can be hard to maintain that same kind of relaxed personality from a different city.
RJ: Impossible [Laughs]
AF: Yeah, NY’s so fast. [Laughs] Another thing though, most of the people I work with are in NY, most of the magazines I work for are NY magazines. That’s one thing Baltimore is lacking, a variety of publications and editorial illustration. The only publication I’ve really worked for in Baltimore is City Paper, and aside from that there’s really no one else I work for in the city. NY has a lot of great things too, it’s just for me, I fell in love with Baltimore, with MICA and I’ve just been here ever since.
AF:[Laughs] Kind of a long answer, but I wanted to emphasize how much I love Baltimore.
RJ: That’s a great answer, I feel like it’s sort of been treated like a Rite of Passage. Like, ‘Alright, go to school, go to NY = become successful.’ There’s not really that analysis of what happens between becoming successful and what happens right after you get out of school. [Laughs]
AF: It’s true, I’ve worked so many jobs in my life. I was having this discussion with my wife and one of our friends the other night. My wife works at Trader Joe’s as a sign artist. Her friend used to be a sign artist too, and now she works on the floor there. We were talking about how some people, politicians nowadays, talk about how people who are making minimum wage are just making that much because they don’t work hard enough. I told them that to me, the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life was waiting tables. The easiest job I’ve ever had in my life was being an illustrator. To me, illustration is brilliant, it’s fun, but it comes a little more natural than those other jobs did. I get paid a lot more to be an illustrator than I did waiting tables or working in a museum or working in a hotel. I’ve had so many weird crazy jobs that made me work like ten, maybe twelve hours a day, working with a whole spectrum of personalities. Some were good, some were bad, and physically or mentally draining. With illustration it’s fun, it’s stay at home and watch Netflix movies while I draw all day and I get paid more than I deserve sometimes. Sometimes less. I always hate the fact that some people will judge somebody’s skills or importance based on their job, because for me, illustration is a fun, easy job. There’s a lot of people working really hard on odd jobs that they really hate and are not making enough money. I don’t know how I got on that subject [laughs]. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about a lot.
RJ: Yeah, like what’s the cost of your soul and do people see the same value in it [laughs]. You know, that kind of stuff.
AF: Yeah, I feel illustration has a lot of value, but there’s a lot of other professions that are very necessary for us to operate, that I think people don’t value enough. I think I’m on this tangent because I’ve watched this movie called “Inequality for All”, a movie by Robert Reich, ex-president of the labor department. He did this about wealth inequality in this country… [laughs] that’s all I talk about, politics. It just struck me, as an illustrator. We started talking about the time between graduation and working as an illustrator. I would have to work eight hours a day at a day job and then work eight more hours at night on my freelance job. It’s a tough thing to do, I think some people are lucky and come from families that can help them out when they first graduate. Give them a little money and let them go. If you don’t have that safety net when you graduate it’s much harder work. Then the thing about moving to NY is it’s going to be so much more expensive and I imagine it takes that much more to work that day job and then work at night on your freelance. It’s tough, I respect every illustrator who went to NY after school and made something of themselves. It’s just so hard, working part time or full time even, doing illustration work. That’s the thing I think about Baltimore, it’s cheaper. Apartments are so cheap, cost of living is not so bad… but NY has a lot of fun things to do.
RJ: What does your schedule look like, since you’re balancing being in a band and you’re a full time illustrator, so what’s your day-to-day like?
AF: Mondays are my tough day, because I have a weekly assignment for a newspaper where I do five spot illustrations, usually one a night. I’ll do that on Mondays, but I have to teach the next day. So I’ll do the City Paper job, I’ll start it before my class starts, then I teach my class for six hours and then I come home at ten o’clock and finish up my City Paper job. That’s like doing two jobs in one day. That’s pretty stressful and tiring, but then the rest of the week I usually have about three freelance jobs a week, so I’m usually juggling those depending on what they are. I have some steady clients, I do a lot of work for a few different clients. I do stuff for NY Magazine for their website “Vulture”, and I’ve been doing stuff for this magazine called “Capital New York”. There’s City Paper once a week, then there’s always random assignments that come in. I’m really lucky to have a rep right now that’s based in NY. My rep, her name is Kat, she works very hard to find me new clients. Between that and the clients I have randomly email me during the week, it’s been good. I’m actually in a position where I can turn down work now, which is always a good feeling. My week after I teach on Mondays is usually Tuesday-Sunday nonstop work. It gets tough because I usually have two band practices a week, with two different bands, and I play at least one show a week. There’s always a lot of chaos in my life, I guess I could say, but I figure, I’m only 34 now, which isn’t young and isn’t old. I feel like I can still get as much fun stuff done and finish my illustrations while I can still do it. Probably once I reach 40 it’s going to be a lot harder to stay up all night working or play a show until two in the morning. Right now, it might sound crazy and stressful chaotic, but it’s something I’ve been doing for the last however many years. I figure I’ll keep doing it until I physically can’t do it anymore. For me, playing in a band is almost like a vacation from work. It’s something I do to kind of get the stress out. I remember you saying you were a drummer right?
RJ: Yeah, yeah I used to play in a metal band a few years back. [Laughs]
AF: I bet that’s a good thing when you’re stressed out from a job or an illustration, it’s just good to bang on the drums, same as being on guitar. If I’m really going crazy at a show on stage, it’s probably because I had a hellish week and I’m just getting it all out on stage. It’s pretty therapeutic to be in a band, especially if you’re playing in a punk band. I’m in a band right now with my friend Nolan, he used to play in the band Double Dagger. We started a band called Pure Junk, kind of an 80s hardcore punk band. Playing shows he goes crazy on stage, we all go nuts because we’re all artists in the band and we all deal with the same client issues and stuff. Clients are great, but every now and then you get a bad one or you get someone who over art directs you, or makes your life just really difficult. I think having that opportunity to just go nuts on stage is very therapeutic, makes you feel pretty good. I work at home, watch Netflix movies and my parents HBO Go account. Being an illustrator is the perfect job for binge watching a whole series of a show. It’s background noise, but you still get invested in watching. My day to day life is watching lots of tv, eating lots of snack cakes and drawing until my hand doesn’t work anymore.
RJ: [Laughs] That sounds awesome.
AF:[Laughs] If I could sum it up, those would be the main things I do.
RJ: Last question! Which of your favorite bands from high school would you be embarrassed to listen to now?
AF: It’s hard because I have very little shame when it comes to music. I will admit to the whole world I used to play in a ska band and ska has a terrible reputation now because of bands like Reel Big Fish. The thing is, the music, the ska I listened to was a lot of awesome british bands like Madness and Bad Manners… so I feel like I still love those bands and since playing with my band, we’ve actually played with all of those bands. We played with all the old 70s and 60s ska bands. I remember opening up for the Skatalites at University of Maryland. There’s really not much I can say I’d be embarrassed about. I listened to Green Day when I went to high school in the early mid 90s. I have to admit, they got me into all those Lookout Records bands that led me to other punk bands. It’s tough. I’ve never really been embarrassed of any bands, they’re always stepping stones. I can probably take it back to before high school… where I would be embarrassed of certain things. In high school I was listening to the Ramones and bands like that, but in junior high… I have to admit I had some Bell Biv Devoe cassette tapes and I listened to those in middle school, they were a hip-hop group in the lightest sense of hip hop [laughs]. They had a song called “Poison“. Then there was this a capella band, they had this song “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday“… [laughs].
RJ: [Laughs] I think you’re talking about Boyz II Men.
AF:[Laughs] You know, the early 90s, 1990-92… I listened to a lot of really bad radio hits. [Laughs] Bell Biv Devoe, MC Hammer, that’s what I listened to in middle school, I guess. When I bought a guitar it all changed, but yeah… [laughs] the one thing I’d be guilty or feel shame about, that’d be it. The early 90s were such a dark age for rap and hip-hop… I could’ve listened to less bad stuff, but instead I listened to that. [Laughs]
AF: I kind of followed whatever was popular, then I got into punk rock and pretty much lost all my friends and became the only one listening to punk rock at my high school… yeaah, yeah that happened.
RJ: Good times… [laughs]
AF:[Laughs] That’s when my parents started to ask if I was okay, because they’re like ‘You don’t hang out with people anymore.’ I was like ‘Well, I found The Ramones.’ The Ramones are all about being huge dorks and eating pizza, playing videogames. I don’t know. They like to think that punk rock ruined my life, because if I didn’t get into punk, I wouldn’t have gotten into art. I think they’re changing their tune now, since I’m actually making a living as an artist. [Laughs] I think they were afraid of what my future was going to look like… and they blamed punk rock, they blamed The Ramones, The Clash, whoever else.