Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Artist Interview: Graham Franciose

After spending just a few moments with his work, it's not shocking to learn that Graham Franciose was born and reared in the forests of rural Massachusetts. Though trained in photorealism at the Hartford Art School, Graham's style has developed into an evocative mixture of illustration and pop surrealism. On the surface, the subjects appear familiar and almost mundane. His work has been characterized as equally whimsical and melancholic - seeking to freeze an ordinary moment in time, often evoking unsettling, yet familiar, emotions. It's easy to picture his style as one you might find in a children's storybook, but Graham appears to be addressing the deeper and sometimes darker recesses of the human experience. Graham lives and works in Austin, Texas. You can find Graham's work on display throughout Austin as well as in Houston, New Orleans and Washington D.C.

"Best Friends" by Graham Franciose
BGJ: I love that each one of your works of art are not just incredibly detailed and beautifully rendered, both that they each tell a story as well. Or, I think that they land in the middle of a story leaving the viewer wondering what happened before, what are they thinking, what's going on...??? While going through your portfolio, I certainly got drawn in and lost track of time while filling in the stories in my mind! So, I'm going to assume that you like storytelling—visual storytelling. Can you walk me and my readers through your creative process for coming up with one of these visual stories? I know I'm intrigued and curious about how you come up with your ideas!

Graham: Well, it's actually rare that I approach a new piece with a concrete, or even vague, idea of what I am going to do. I generally start with a sketching out of a character, usually starting with the head and sometimes just the eyes. Once the first building block is where it's supposed to be in my mind, I sort of internally figure out the next step. is it a boy or a girl? what kind of posture are they going to have? what will they be doing? where are they? I let the drawing build itself and try not to think too much about where it's going. As it starts to become clear what is going on, I will make some more conscious decisions about layout and composition, but most of the process from the blank page to the final sketch is organically dictated by what is drawn before it. It just kind of builds itself. I guess it's sort of a backwards process. Once the piece is done I can look at it and figure out where it may have come from in my mind and what it means to me and what's going on, but I also like to keep my pieces open ended so what I see could be completely different from what you see. I am usually, like you said, trying to portray a sliver of a story, but it's one that is not completely clear. There is definitely something going on, but it's up to the viewer to decide what it is.

"Bloom" by Graham Franciose
Once the drawing is where I want it, I will then ink it using a crow-quill dip pen. I used to use those real expensive Radiograph pens, which are great, but a few years ago I started using the old style dip pens. You can control your line width by applying more or less pressure and you can also get incredibly minute details by just utilizing the very tip. It can be kind of a pain to constantly have to dip the pen into the inkwell, but I like the nostalgia of it and the very "hand-made" look that it gives. Finally, I will paint using either watercolor, gouache, or ink wash and occasionally a little acrylic. If it's an oil painting it's pretty much the same process, except the drawing is on a wooden panel, and then I go right into the painting.

"Neighborhood Gossip" by Graham Franciose

"The Discovery That Changed Everything" by Graham Franciose
BGJ: Since we're on the topic of stories, do you have a favorite author or a favorite book? In my imagination I have you pegged as someone who has loved stories since he was a kid.

Graham: I remember going to visit my grandmother a lot when I was growing up in rural Massachusetts. She had this whole library of children's books from when my mom and her 6 brothers and sisters were growing up and it just kept getting bigger and bigger. We would go there and just look through tons of books. I am sure that is where my love for stories and children's books originated. It was also a great way to get away from things and be somewhere else if things weren't that great in your real world. You know that old cliché, "get lost in a book"!

As far as my favorite books, anything by Shel Silverstein, Where The Wild Things Are, Harrold and the Purple Crayon, so many really. I would say that the most influential to my work would be The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. It's a book where each page has an illustration from a different story, but all you have is this one image and one sentence to go off of so you are encouraged to make up what has happened and what is going to happen next. I really loved that idea and mystery behind each picture and the fact that you could spend hours coming up with some unique story based off of this one image, and that it could be completely different from someone else's.

"With A Selfish Heart" by Graham Franciose
BGJ: Are there any other artists that have significantly inspired you along the way while you were developing your own unique style? It's my philosophy that creativity never happens in a vacuum. We are all inspired by others in one way or another.

Graham: Oh for sure. When I was getting my BFA in Illustration from the Hartford Art School I was trained in photorealism. I actually really enjoyed it and was pretty good at it, but as the years went on I started to notice everyone's pieces looking fairly similar and there weren't a lot of styles being formed. Everyone was kind of doing the same thing in a sense. Don't get me wrong, there are some great artists out there that are still very successful using those techniques and that style. I just got bored with it. I grew up skateboarding so I was introduced to a lot of what may be considered "low brow" art via skateboard graphics and magazines. When I discovered Juxtapoz magazine it opened up a whole new sea of artists that were doing what I wanted to do. Jeremy Fish, Michael Sieban, Travis Milard, Andy Jenkins, Barry McGee, so many amazing artists that were involved in this, to me, new art movement that was gaining respect and recognition. These images just seemed so much more interesting and had more imagination and uniqueness to them. When I first saw Joe Sorren's work, I was convinced that I could do something different and be successful. He seemed like the first person I had ever seen to really bridge the gap between this quirky weird style and "legitimate" art. The man is a master. My senior year I drastically changed my style and it's kind of been changing and evolving ever since.

"Taking in the Simple Wonders" by Graham Franciose
BGJ: Okay, one fun and easy question (I think). I've been working on a detailed post these last few days about the color emerald since it has been declared the 2013 color of the year. (It will have been posted before your interview is posted.) As an artistic person, I love many colors and appreciate almost all of them. But...emerald just isn't my favorite. So, I've been wondering if other artists have certain colors that they just don't really like no matter how hard they try. Please, tell me there is at least one color that you don't like!

Graham: Well, I definitely tend to steer towards warmer colors—browns, reds, oranges, ochres, siennas etc., even warmer greens and blues. Yeah, I'm not much of a fan of emerald either now that I think of it, it's like the coldest green there is! Down with Emerald!

Sorry, emerald...it looks like Graham doesn't dig you either.

BGJ: What shows/projects do you have coming up?

Graham: I just finished a project where I was doing an illustration a day for a year, from the day I turned 29 to the day I turned 30. I will be having a show with all 366 pieces (leap year!) in New Orleans at The Shop in February. You can view the entire project here. I also have a solo show in Houston coming up in April at Space, and I will be involved in two group shows in DC at the Art Whino in February and April.

Well, Graham did an amazing job answering all of these questions and he was such a good sport. I want to extend tons and tons of gratitude to Graham for opening up and sharing so much insight and inspiration for all of us artists and designers! Thank you, Graham!

On a bit of a side note, I would like to point out one thing about Graham's name. It is commonly mistaken for the French version of Franciose, which is pronounced Fran-swah. But, his name is actually the Italian version of Franciose, which is pronounced Fran-chose.

So, now that you know how to pronounce Graham's name, go check out more of his artwork—there is much more to see!

Graham's website and blog can be found here: http://grahamfranciose.com/#home
Graham's Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/grahamfranciose

Thanks for reading!


  1. I love his work, something very delicate about it.

  2. Great interview! One of my favorite artists. Can't wait to see more at Art Whino!