This month's Featured Illustrator is Gary Fabbri. Born in Rhode Island, he lived in London for many years working in television and advertising before moving to Stockholm, Sweden. With an extensive international experience as a creative, Gary is now a full time Writer, Artist & Creative Director of his own company.

I was raised with my grandmother’s stories about her grandchildren. She’d send me, my brother, sister and a group of my cousins, stories on worldwide adventures. One day we would join the circus, and another, fly around the world in a hot air balloon. One time I managed to save the Golden Gate Bridge from collapse with an indestructible shoelace. Another time, we travelled to Africa to assist local park rangers protect the nearly extinct black rhinoceros from a group of evil poachers. Grandma lived in a tiny cabin on the edge of a small town by a lake with a dog, Jeffery, two cats, and a large calico duck who liked nothing better than to steal Jeffrey’s crunchy dog nuggets from a bowl on the back porch. When she wasn’t telling stories, she cooked and listened to the radio.

Gary holding one of his sketches

I love telling stories in words and pictures. The combination of writing and illustrating keeps me inspired because there’s always something new to learn and explore. I still remember my grandmother’s voice when I sit down in the early morning in my Stockholm studio to write and illustrate my own stories. When Im not writing or painting, I am either out playing soccer with my two boys, Maxi and Ruben, cooking, or jogging around the nearby lake.

Gary painting at home
Gary sketching outside

My list of influences is an endless one. I have a pretty big collection of picture books, graphic novels and art books all over my flat. I can’t pass a bookshop without peeking inside to see if I can find a new treasure to take home. I’m very inspired by illustrators like Shaun Tan and Dave McKean and gestural illustrators like Ralph Steadman, Quentin Blake and Ronald Searle. I really like to work with texture in my work. I’m constantly searching for old walls, doorways and patterns as I explore a city.

Class of Everyone illustration
Illustration of two children
Muladhara illustration
Illustration of a girl and cat in a wood

I sketch a lot and love painting outdoors. Urban sketching is great. I take watercolours, gauche and pen and ink pretty much everywhere I go. This translates to my illustration work because I’m fascinated by observational drawing. But when I’m working on a specific illustration I can often get lost in online research too.

Illustration of child and tiger cub
Illustration of Vishuddha

sketch a lot on Pro-create and try to force myself to sometimes put the iPad Pro down and grab a pen so I don’t lose the gestural feeling that I like so much in other illustrator’s work. When I’m happy with my concept I dive into iterations. I think of art as a series of approximations. I build and work and stretch and pull until the looming deadline approaches. I often think of ten things I could improve as I hit the send button. So, it’s a never ending process of discovery and some struggle.

Cover of UG, by Gary Fabbri
Alternative cover for UG, by Gary Fabbri

I think there are two ways to approach work. One is as a designer and problem solver. You have an idea or scene that you want to express in pictures and try to find the best way to communicate using the tools at hand. But I also like the "discover" approach, where you set out with a blank canvas and allow  yourself to explore your feelings and thoughts. It can be frustrating sometimes, but when you hit the flow, then it is amazing. Sort of like improvising music. I try to walk the tightrope between these two. Maybe that’s the borderline of what illustration is, as opposed to "art" for its own sake. There doesn’t have to be a separation and there’s certainly a lot of overlap. I like to play in that cross-section where anything is possible, but in the end it makes sense to the person I’m sharing it with. 

Illustration of two youths jumping
Illustration of a youth under the waves

I’ve worked as a professional creative for a long time as a Creative Director, Illustrator & Writer. The most important advice I can give is to be good to work with. Most of what we do in this space is collaborative. In the same way that I think we want to be in a creative space that is solving problems, but inspired by discovery and exploration, I think we need to be open to receive art direction as well as lead our own personal vision. It’s sometimes a challenge with personalities and it can be hard to receive feedback. So, I try to put the work first.

Illustration from graphic novel
Further illustration from graphic novel
Illustration of Franky the Hot Dog
Preparation sketches for a pug project
Colour illustration of a fantasy scene
Illustration of a winged youth

See more of Gary's work here. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

*All images by Gary Fabbri


Tita Berredo is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. If you'd like to be featured, contact her at illustrators@britishscbwi.org. Follow Tita on InstagramTwitter and find her work at www.titaberredo.com

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