Welcome back to the Artists of Color Interview Series. This week I have the pleasure of speaking with Detroit-based illustrator and comic artist Francis Vallejo. I first discovered his work while I was a student at the online school The Art Department, where my instructors shared his work. I was stunned to see such impeccable drawing and intriguing story-telling skills from such a young artist, and have followed his career ever since via his blog. I'm thrilled to have him, and hope you enjoy his work and reading about his journey.
1). Tell us about yourself! What is your background, and how would you describe your work?
I am a Mexican-Irish illustrator and instructor residing in Detroit, MI. I create narrative work for the publishing industry using mixed media techniques with a foot in classical draftsmanship. I want my work to sound like the scene I am illustrating.
2). When did you first fall in love with art, and realize that you wanted to pursue it as a career? Did your parents approve or disapprove?
I've been creating artwork my whole life. I'm one of those! Really though, my father is a musician and wood worker so he really valued expressing oneself and encouraged me. Both of my parents encouraged me and for that I am fortunate. I learned to read through Superman comics and my first favorite form of entertainment was the Nintendo so I was digesting constant media from an early age. That must have seeped into my soul. I was an only child so I had plenty of time. Detroit could be rough at times, so my parents made sure I stayed busy with my drawings and sports. In high school when I realized the NBA wasn't in my future, I decided to really give a shot to the whole art/comics thing.
3). Are you self-taught, or did you go to art school? How important was this training to becoming a professional artist?
I took a couple of comic and animation workshops in high school in the Detroit area. I ended up attending the Ringling College of Art + Design. The bulk of my most significant training came from my 2 summers at the Illustration Academy and from hanging around all my incredible art buds there. Technical art training is not as important as is conveying the art spirit to a student. Once someone develops the right attitude, they generally have no trouble teaching themselves appropriate techniques. For that, I was fortunate to study with and become friends with the great George Pratt. From him most of my artistic personality originates.
I also absorbed so much of how to live as an artist from the Illustration Academy instructors and an art residency I attended with Paul Pope. I think learning how to draw and paint is pretty straight forward and logical to learn, and expensive art schools are not necessarily the answers to that. But surrounding yourself with mentors and peers that can push you in your work and life is key, and however you do that is worthwhile.
4). You are not only an accomplished illustrator, but a fantastic comic artist as well. How do you balance creating single-image narratives with sequential storytelling when working on your various projects?
Thanks! It's all the same: telling stories, although in different formats. My favorite part of being an illustrator is the puzzle of picture making. Comics are the ultimate picture puzzle and the feeling of finishing a page is a rush like no other. Comics are in my blood. Todd McFarlane is the reason I am an artist. But I cannot manage the brutal one-page-a-day comic schedule. So I look for ways to bring sequential imagery into my traditional book projects. For the current book I am working on, the chapter headers all read sequentially to tell a singular story outside of the main text.
5). What is a major obstacle that you have faced in pursuit of your art career? How did you overcome this, or is it something that you still struggle with?
Designing my schedule and formalizing the business structure was difficult. I can be the most stubborn but equally intense artist, so the art itself was never really the problem. Instead of realizing I needed to create a portfolio that could support me and structure my business and deal with the boring parts of the freelance business, I just drew....and drew....and drew. While that made me a better draftsman, that resulted in some very trying years. It wasn't until I began teaching and helping other artists structure their careers, that I had to practice what I preached and get my business in order. My career didn't really get cooking until last year, so it took me all of my 20s to begin to figure things out.
6). Does representation matter in art?
Of course. Art benefits from as many differing and genuine points of view as possible. That is the power of art in that it can convey ideas other communication and media cannot. Therefore, the more artists with varied backgrounds, ethnicities and life experiences, the better. The absolute truth is that white men have dominated art creation for 99% of art history. The modern age has led to more opportunities for women and artists of color, and we are benefiting from these new perspectives. I am excited to watch this new shift in who is creating art and what new content will result, especially in an art historical context. That leads into a tangential conversation of making sure young people at every economic level and region have access to the arts. It is integral.
7). If you could communicate one thing to artists about representing a background or experience that isn't their own, what would it be?
Research it like it is your job, because it is. If at all possible, visit the location of your story.
8). Do you have a favorite character of color (from film, television, literature, comics, or any piece of art)?
Spawn aka Al Francis Simmons was my favorite comic character growing up. I have every issue of Spawn from 1-111 that was paid for by cutting grass.
10). What piece of advice would you give to young aspiring artists of color?
Leave your home if you go to college. Even if you do not go to college try to leave home after 18 and expand your horizons. Find passionate people and surround yourself with them. Then come back to your home and enrich and support the next generation.
11). Any current projects you can talk about? What is your ultimate dream project that you canʼt wait to work on, or be a part of someday?
I'm working on a monster dream book project with a childhood hero. It comes out in March 2019, so I can talk about it soon-ish.
My ultimate projects is to work with the Detroit Pistons organization on a series of retrospective paintings/book on the '89-'90 Bad Boys.
Thanks for having me!
Thank you so much, Francis, for sharing your story and your stunning art! And thank you, readers, for joining us for this interview series. If Francis's answers resonated with you, please comment and share his interview far and wide!
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