Anna FG aka ‘Strong Pencil’ is a designer, illustrator, and all round amazing women who has lived and worked in Australia, England, and other parts of the general United Kingdom. She brings boldness, whimsy and a touch of the grotesque to her works; and most importantly she is damn talented. Like eye-bleeding + vomiting-rainbows levels of talent.
(Photo Below of Ms. ‘Strong Pencil’ Anna FG + her creation Eugene)
BUT don’t listen to me, read the interview below – and check out Anna/’Strong Pencil’s’ work too…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B =
Anna Farrell – though my signature on my works is “AFG” Anna Farrell-Ghosh (Biological dad + Stepdad) 04.08.1988
City, State n Country you’re Repping?
Currently based in London, Uk…about to head over to Cork, Ireland…
Describe– a memory from three stages of yr life – ….basically trying to piece together Ms. Anna FG’s pivotal moments. Concerts, art, men, school, college… ANYTHING ma’am.
* age 10 – pre pubes:
Hmm…this would be about the time my family relocated to Sydney Australia (best decision EVER.) My mum bought me this awesome sketchbook for the plane with the little Disney ‘101 Dalmatians’ dog on it with real fur and I kept it with me like my bible until teachers had to pry it out of my grimy hands. In it I developed a classic 50’s American Jazz band of characters-racial stereotyping and all- and a character called ‘Sydney’ who had an Opera house Mowhawk and in the last few pages of the book, Sydney performed a striptease complete with ‘Censored’ boxes at the end. (In case my mum found it stashed under my school bag)
I like to flick through the book now and see my crazy little brain drawing a classic Satchmo-esque Jazz band, some weird storylines about drunkenness and the future punk band I wanted to be in and a man in a bow tie doing a strip tease.
* age 15 – pube rage:
Pube rage! Haha. This would be my awkward ‘I hate everything, I’ll be in my room wallowing in a depressive Radiohead-induced state…’ phase. At 15 I was a spotty and clichéd adolescent and my best mate had green hair and safety pins holding her uniform together.
(Picture Below of a 2012 Version of Eugene the Chicken, by ‘Strong Pencil’)
What came from this age was Eugene the Chicken – I was progressively bored at school particularly in Maths and I had started to draw this mad naked little man with crazy whisps of hair and a manic little evil eye and he appeared in everyone’s Maths book either dry humping their long division or doing a poo in the corner of the page. That age marked the birth and subsequent evolution of Eugene…
* age 20 – acceptance of pubes:
Age 20 I was still really developing my style and was in a bit of a muddled spot. I had my first exhibition at ‘Gallery 285’ in Sydney’s Darlinghurst after returning from a brief stint in London. The exhibition – a group show of some amazing illustrators – was lots of fun and I could finally see my style coming to fruition. I was all about large Rubenesque nudes – meet Ralph Steadman- spatter and cringeworthy grand political gestures. One piece in particular ‘Star Spangled Fuck-Up’ was my favourite of a fat American woman in a wolf sweater spattering all over the place…no subtlety to speak of.
Age 20 was a bit of a chaotic time where my work was still finding it’s place- it still sort of is 4 years on- and I was sort of playing the art field- so to speak.
(Picture Below of a Knitting Grandma, by ‘Strong Pencil’)
My personal quote used to be ‘Eat well, exercise regularly, die anyway.’ But I’m a little less bitter now so I’ll go with a combo of ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ (a little term coined by my partner Tim when I whined ‘Everyone’s work is betterrrrr than miiine…’) and ‘be confident in what your doing and have a blast doing it.’
Again this has changed massively over time! A combo of ‘Led Zeppelin’…‘Joy Division’ and ‘Clap Your hands Say Yeah’.
Favorite TV show(s)?
‘Party Down’, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, ‘Parks and Recreation’, ‘Peep Show’, ‘Girls’, ‘Eastbound & Down’, ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Mad Men’…the list goes on…
Favorite sport(s) + teams?
Hmm…not sure about this one, My family are all ‘Manchester United’ supporters (apart from my mum who is ‘Arsenal’) and my boyfriend is a ‘Liverpool’ supporter so I’ll be different and say my favourite sport at school was Hockey.
‘Harold and Maude’, ‘Stepbrothers’, ‘Old School’, ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘The Big Lebowski’, ‘True Grit’, ‘Spirited Away’, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’.
(Picture Below of an Old-Man with his Pet Cat, by ‘Strong Pencil’)
Specifics on Art
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
I’d consider I’m making art. Though, if you wanted to be specific, when it comes to certain themes I have definitely fallen victim to creating rehashed crap.
When did you first start making ‘art’ (drawings, paintings, anything)?
I was very young when I first started creating. When I was about 3 my father found a drawing I’d made of an old pirate ship sailing with it’s sails all buffeting in the right direction of the wind and his reaction was ‘wow that’s weird…’ I drew since I could grip.
At six I was drawing pretend maps -hundreds of them like something out of ‘A Beautiful Mind’ in sketchbook after sketchbook. I also made jewelry out of old crap I found on the walk home from school in London. I then started making my own figurines out of clay and at ten I was selling them on our street to passerby.
(Pciture Below of a Jewfish, by ‘Strong Pencil’)
Any formal art training? Or pivotal moment/influence?
I was selected in year six to go to this special uni-art course in Sydney at Tafe and made weird sculptures out of Tar and other crazy stuff. I had always known what I was going to be in life (a starving artist) and decided to go for it! In High School my focus was art and I did very well in my HSC so naturally I went to art schools afterwards- firstly COFA which was not for me…neither in Design or Fine Arts, then I settled with SCA (Sydney College of the Arts) which is amazing and I have one year left of my BFA. Apart from Uni and formal study I draw everyday which helps!
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle?
I decided this from a very early age – in my early teens- after a long back and forth of ‘money or no money?’ because it’s what I think about waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night. Art has and always will be my ‘thing’ and I couldn’t live without it! It’s an amazing feeling to create something and be proud of it and want to keep creating. It’s my own private haven. People around me who have only ever one story to fall back on: ‘Van Gogh died penniless minus an ear.’ Still attempting to sway my choice saying I should take up more of a real career – Graphic Design. Well I’ve experienced the Graphic Design world and it’s really not and never will be my thing I don’t think…
Why the name ‘Strong Pencil’?
(Picture below of the ‘Strong Pencil’ mascot, by Anna FG)
In London I was working as Production Assistant in a creative agency whilst finding my feet in freelance illustration. On a daily basis we would have to book designers, storyboard artists and other creatives and the term used if you really wanted someone and they were in high demand was ‘put her on strongpencil’ and ‘we want to strongpencil him’ so I thought – hell I’ll be Strongpencil! I’ll be in high demand. That and I had this image of a fat man in a Mexican Wrestler suit crushing a bunch of pencils in his fist –and created ‘Strongpencil!’.
No formal motto as such just currently that no project is too small, keep building and give it your all. I am drawing constantly and taking jobs I think will not only develop my style further and teach me to grow but any job I feel is right with the added bonus of ‘Strongpencil’ exposure (Hell, it’s a business!.
Favorite medium to make art outta?
Definitely the combo of pencil and watercolour – the effect is awesome, like a kind of dirty paint. I’m about to learn to use and tame Oils – very nervous about getting it right! I worship Lucian Freud so that’s been the inspiration there.
Favorite ‘other’ artist?
I love love LOVE Raymond Briggs – he’s an amazing watercolour and crayon artist (look up: ‘Fungus The Bogeyman’, ‘When The Wind Blows’ – an amazing post-apocalyptic middle aged British pensioners tale – and ‘Ethel and Ernest’ – be prepared to sob.) He’s famously known as the creator of ‘The Snowman’ – which was initially meant to be about death but ended up being about Christmas. I also love Edward Gorey ‘The Gashlycrumb Tinies’- his work is dark and he has an amazing dark humour. Other favourites are David Shrigley, Ralph Steadman, Lucian Freud, Tim Noble and Sue Webster (only members of the YBAS I can tolerate.) I also love the work of JanSvankmajer, a clay artist who’s incredible.
There are an insane amount of talented artists out there.
(Picture Below of a ‘Star Wars’ Inspired ‘Strong Pencil’ Commission)
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
Worst by far is the obsession with sort of “Hipster Art” – the art that just tends to blend into one big blur and very samey samey work. I think it’s hard for artists to make their mark in their own personal style these days because there’s a hefty amount of generic art being made. If I went down a list of: ‘Owls, thick rimmed glasses…naked waifs in cardigans…naked waifs anthropomorphizing into a fox’ you’d get the jist. I’m finding it difficult personally because I don’t want to just create because I know what style is in demand, I like to think I’m original but then that might also be the problem – define ‘original?’.
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
This would definitely be social media and connecting with other artists/promoting your work. I’ve heard older illustrators say ‘it’s a lot easier these days to get seen’ and it is! I love to show progress reports through my ‘Twitter’ account and I’ve made a handful of connections through ‘Twitter’ asking about collaborating or about my process and I love to pick their brains too – you look out for each other. I think there’s definitely more camaraderie in today’s contemporary environment, not necessarily in person but in the ether of social media.
Anna FG/ ‘Strong Pencil’ Art Questions
Describe the method of making an Anna FG/ ‘Strong Pencil’ piece? (dot point all o.k.)
obscure idea I have and then start to develop
fat couple making out
maybe the guy is in a vest
what could add to their sloppy kiss? Maybe the woman is holding an ice cream…
maybe the ice cream is ‘mucus green’
render from pencil into Watercolour/Gouache – depending on the mood
clean up the image with my pen/black colour pencil/additional colours/rubbing out
scan in to ‘Photoshop’
Clean image digitally
Save and publish!
Depending on the piece I’ll then choose the right materials. I generally go with a combination of Watercolour and Gouache though I do like to make pieces occasionally purely in pencil. I have also often had dreams and created works from characters within the dream.
(Picture Below of a Couple Making Out, by ‘Strong Pencil’)
You do commissions – often for bands, brands or friends and family – and you also work on making your own personal art – is it hard mixing the commission work with the self-directed stuff?
I generally combine the commission with my own self-direction. I would never create a piece I wasn’t happy to put my name to and my commissions reflect every aspect of my style. A recent commission was an album cover- entirely rendered in pencil but the band are an indie band and the soft lines suited not only their style but it was also very much my own. You need to find a happy median I think. I also recently did a commission for ‘i-D Magazine Online’ and it was a photographic shoot of a model. I was asked to draw tattoos on her – but in ‘Strongpencil’ style I painted Watercolour tattoos on her and it was definitely the SP touch I was looking for.
(Photo below of some of Anna’s ‘iD Online’ commission)
Worst commission + best commission you have worked on? And a story?
The worst commission I ever did was for an Indian restaurant when I was about 16. They were our favourite Indian Restaurant up the road in Sydney and I was imitating a style they already had for them upon request. Not only do I detest imitation art – copying a style directly and calling it yours – but it was totally out of my depth. I worked long into the night and was emotionally wrecked – the largest piece was awful, the colours were wrong and the paper wasn’t right and the other two images were average. I don’t think they ended up taking the larger one in the end but I was so disappointed with the result. I was put off for a long time after that and had mentally resigned myself to being a designer making cereal packaging.
The best commission I worked on was my most recent commission for ‘i-D’. There were four shots of a gorgeous pale model with lots of exposed skin to work on as my canvas- I was asked to tattoo her for a culture article on Tattoos. I managed to make these very simple, pretty flower and swallow, Madonna and vine designs in Watercolour and the combo of Watercolour – my “ok” ‘Photoshop’ skills – onto her pale skin looked gorgeous, still love the result and so did the mag!
You have recently had your work incorporated into the digital medium. What was that experience like?
It’s great fun to watch any traditional art form married to the latest technology. I generally always try to digitally touch up a work and clean it up here and there but recently with the photographic commission I did for ‘i-D’ my work was incorporated digitally into photography. It’s very exciting when two styles merge seamlessly. It’s also interesting a people have often told me my work is quite ‘dark’ or quite ‘rough’ and to watch the digital and ol school worlds collide it’s interesting and a bit risky!
I noticed on your website that you can ACTUALLY use ‘Photoshop’. How has having the ability to digitally alter your own work (touch ups etc) altered your practice?
‘Photoshop’ is really the trapezist’s net for illustration. You can make an image as rough as you like- rubbing out marks, splatter and food stains and clean up in ‘Photoshop’ but I really use it for refining my work and I’m very particular about the right colour (more Magenta than Cyan) size etc. ‘Photoshop’ has allowed me to refine my work and play with certain aspects to add to the piece – Eugene is also coloured in on ‘Photoshop’ as opposed to his usual Watercolour like he used to be as it’s fun, clean and often very effective.
Does your self-directed work all exist in its own ‘universe’; such as the ‘Strong Pencil’ universe? – you know, just as ‘Marvel’ + ‘DC’ have their universes; OR do all your pieces stand alone? (Yes I am basically asking if you see your characters all interacting in your head, in the ‘Strong Pencil’ universe. IF so, what do they get up to?)
(Picture Below of Some of the Many ‘Strong Pencil’ Characters)
At the moment I’m like the hostess at a party filled with gatecrashers and dickheads wanting to destroy my parent’s furniture. I’m trying to keep the peace in the ‘Strongpencil’ universe but there’s so much going on! Eugene is running around, penis flailing wildly, reminding me to have his life story published (currently in the works), ‘Strongpencil’ is directing me to go back to my roots – render in full pencil and lightly touch up in Watercolour and the other side is telling me to move on and explore with oils, other mediums and more marketable digital media. I’m attempting to control the party at the moment to have a bit of a better understanding of ‘Strongpencil’ – it is still only 10 months old- and enjoying the chaos of all these mad, chaotic ideas!
I know you worked for a while in an advertising company. What was that like? ‘Mad Men’? Corporate Soul Destruction?
Definitely corporate soul destruction. Haha. No it was an experience, a lot of work goes in to that industry and I really respect the level of hard work that goes into it! Having said that, it’s not necessarily my ideal industry – I would love to be creating work for me at the end of the day and to sit back and go ‘wow, that looks awesome, I worked really hard on that’ on a more personal level.
I worked with some incredibly talented people and took some great life lessons from my experience. It’s fast paced and really makes you appreciate the arts – there’s a huge industry out there and you have to work damn hard to get noticed.
You recently had some of your designs put onto tote-bags. Has that inspired you to get your designs on more utilitarian goods? Like t-shirts, aprons, anything? AND would you go this alone, or whore-out yr work to other companies?
I think it’s so cute to see my stuff on a tote and I definitely want to sell more products with my style on them. You’re not only advertising yourself but also creating good (sustainable) products to people of a good quality. I love when artists sell their own gear- it’s a self-promotion but also you can really appreciate there’s an amazing level of work and heart that goes into those pieces. Definitely stay tuned because there’s a lot more designs to come and I’ll be opening my own on site shop very soon.
Any collaborations on the horizon?
I have a couple of collaborations coming up – one with a London based photographer and another collaboration with a young student based art group here in London (in the pipeline). I’m also going to be involved in a new T-shirt company as their own Illustrator, which should be heaps of fun, and I can’t wait to get to work! For now I’ll just keep sketching and see where it leads me!
Any major projects you want to hype ma’am?
As I mentioned, Eugene is about to be put into comic book form – I’m currently co-writing with my partner Tim. Very excited to get his little weird naked world out there. I’m also collaborating on a children’s book I wrote ages ago at manuscript stage – very excited to get into Children’s book Illustration, it’s an industry that really respects hand drawn illustration today which can be quite rare. My shop should be open with all sorts of treats and gifts for everyone. Basically stay tuned because there’s definitely no stopping me!
(Below is a Pug Lady by, ‘Strong Pencil’)