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The works of NYC-based illustrator and painter, Frank Stockton, tell stories plucked out from the realms of his brilliantly wacky imagination, resulting in his ‘fancy comic book style’ garnering attention from publications including The New York Times and Rolling Stone. Initially setting out to prove to himself that he could make a living out of being an artist, Stockton discusses his current projects, artist ‘freedom’ and future pursuits.

What led you down the path of becoming an illustrator?

I became an illustrator for two reasons – one being that I wanted to prove to myself that I could make a living being an artist, and second, because I liked the idea of tens of thousands of people seeing my work in print instead of maybe a couple of hundred who might see it in a gallery.

How would you describe your illustrations to someone who’s never come across them?

I hate describing my work, but if someone asks, I will say my work has a sort of ‘fancy comic book style’.

Could you describe your design process?

My design process consists of me coming up with some kind of story that seems interesting to me. After that, I start to sketch the best way to tell that story. My design naturally flows out of that solution.

You recently worked on a project where you drew furniture in unusual natural environments. How did you come up with the different environments for each of the drawings?

Well, originally I thought it would be fun to do some crazy environments like an alien planet or a cartoon background, but because I had to do nine, I wasn’t able to find nine different environments that were similarly fantastical. So I decided to focus on iconic real world environments.

What were the most challenging aspects of undertaking this project? What were the most enjoyable aspects?

I don’t draw a lot of environments and this was on a short deadline. The challenge was dealing with those two factors. However, I think the fact that I had no time to fuss over anything ultimately worked to my advantage. Sometimes lacking resources lead to more elegant solutions.

What has been your favourite project/s to work on? Why?

Right now my favourite thing is my personal work: making strange drawings and paintings. Professionally, I never know what is going to be interesting. Sometimes the wave of inspiration hits and I’m able to take the project to another level. There are factors that facilitate this of course, like a client who trusts me or an interesting story.

Outside of illustration I am a painter. I try to surprise myself with my personal work all the time. I know a piece is complete when it gets to a place that feels right and absurd. The process is almost the opposite from how I approach illustration.

In your blog, you mention that there have been occasions where work of yours hasn’t been published for varying reasons. How do you manage the balance between creating something you are happy with and complying with the standards of a certain publication or publisher?

I don’t think you can be a great illustrator if you’re not a good artist. What I value in art is the unexpected, or a sense that the artist had total freedom when he or she created the piece. ‘Freedom’ for me is when the artist lives the piece, as opposed to conceives it. I have to trust my gut though since it’s not something you can measure.

For me, no one has to ‘like’ my personal work. It’s not about proving anything to anyone or even executing a work that looks like a ‘Frank Stockton’. Illustration is different in that it does have to look like a ‘Frank Stockton’. And the client has to like it.

I probably don’t manage that balance very well. I’m pretty stubborn and am frequently trying to push my work into unknown territory. Often this means trying something in a piece that might not be very palatable to the client. I usually fight against changes if I like what I’ve come up with, but the client almost always wins that fight.

What or who has influenced your illustrative work?

My illustration work pretty much comes from American superhero comics of the 1990s, Norman Rockwell and classical art training.

What are you working on at the moment?

I just finished a piece for Rolling Stone and I’m working on a book cover that I’m pretty excited about. I’m also doing a bunch of big, strange paintings.

What do you get up to in your spare time?

These days I spend my spare time in the studio painting or hanging out with my girlfriend.

Are there any other creative pursuits you’d like to realise one day?

I’d like to find a way to exclusively work on personal work while maintaining a decent income. I also would like to learn to play the guitar.

Check out more of Frank Stockton’s work at his website

– Interview by Christine Miralles