Not "Just an Illustrator"...

  • by Teigan Margetts

At some point in all of our lives, society at large has made us feel like just a girl or just a boy. Or just a person of colour, or just a mum; or really, something or someone else deemed to be of limited significance. But out of feeling like “just a [something]”, can come great things. And that is the very special theme behind our latest powerful and stunningly-illustrated book, Just a Rabbit

When we received the manuscript for Just a Rabbit, we knew instantly that we needed to publish it. And, likewise, when we saw Francisco Fonseca’s incredible work, we knew instantly that we needed to commission him. It seemed fitting, then, that we’d combine the incredible story that is Just a Rabbit with Francisco’s incredible work. Here’s Francisco’s story, including some ridiculously inspiring words about what all of us should do if society ever makes us feel small or insignificant. 

Portrait of Franciso Fonseca

So, Francisco, you’re kind of famous (with a 40k+ Instagram following and you’re also represented by multiple creative agencies). Can you tell us a bit more about you? 

Hello! I sure can. But before I do, I’d like to say a big thank you for putting together this interview. It gives me the opportunity to step outside of my creative bubble and reflect on my career to date, which isn’t something I often think about, despite being somewhat well-known (I suppose!). 

From a career perspective, I like, and I have always liked, having my work in a variety of different places. While I would never say that I’m “famous” in illustration circles, I have seen people try to create art based on my work. People have also given workshops based on my illustrations! They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so in that sense I do feel proud of what I’ve achieved. It’s nice to know that my work inspires or motivates other people. 

My career to date might have been successful, but it’s also been, realistically, quite short. 

I guess you could say I’m “just a young illustrator” from Portugal. I finished my art degree here two years ago, and since then I’ve been lucky enough to be able to support myself through art. 

In the beginning, like many creatives, I had all the passion, yet very little paying work. But I used that time wisely, and was able to invest all I had in illustrating, creating, and improving. I really believe that the time investment in the beginning was critical in helping me land a couple of the big roles I’ve secured this year. 

I began showcasing my work on Instagram, and I was approached to make my first book, which was, honestly, one of my main goals in life. It was an amazing feeling! I’ve also worked on a number of covers for books, other illustrations, games and magazines, and I’ve also been able to share my work in exhibitions. Among all of that, I’ve created a lot of personal work, and left plenty of time to explore outside and stay inspired. 

I couldn’t be happier doing what I’m doing! 

Just a Rabbit - animals climbing up to see the moon

That is so nice to hear! There’s nothing better than loving what you do and we hope every little Ethicool reader gets to enjoy that feeling one day. Speaking of being little, can you tell us a bit more about when your passion for drawing was ignited? Did you start as a kid? 

I did start drawing when I was really young, so young in fact, that I don’t even know how old I was. But what I do know is that ever since that time, I haven’t stopped creating. I’ve always been inspired by my surroundings, by the rural life, and by trees and houses. 

Interestingly, as a young child, the thing I would draw most was houses. Now, houses are what I’m most known for and are my favourite thing to draw. You could say that I refined my skills over many years. 

You obviously illustrate a whole range of things which is great. What is it in particular that you like about illustrating children’s books?

Illustrating a children’s book is a joy, but it’s also a challenge. I always find that you grow and learn as an illustrator each time you do it. 

I think that’s because you need to fully immerse yourself in the story for a little while. You need to dive into that story’s world and be there for a while to bring the magic behind the book to life. It’s almost like a spiritual retreat. 

Just a Rabbit - elephant filling rabbit's pond with water

I always enjoy it though, because it’s a trigger to learn new things. 

Your style is very unique! Can you tell us a bit more about how you developed it and what inspires you?

I believe that drawing is quite a technical art, so I really value the technique that goes behind drawing. I love to learn different mediums and tools, and similarly, love to continuously sharpen my skills. As an illustrator, you never stop learning. 

As for inspiration, I find my country to be truly inspiring. 

Everything here is inspiring to me. The houses, the people, the myths, the culture, and the natural environment are all so different. I feel as if it’s easy to get a lot of motivation to create. 

Motivation, though, doesn’t necessarily mean creating what it’s front of me. I am inspired by what I see, and that fuels my imagination in a myriad of ways. So of course, not everything looks like it does here in Portugal! 

Portugal or not, everyone loves your work. So much so that you’ve amassed a HUGE Instagram following. For anyone out there who is just starting out, do you have any tips for getting noticed and then growing your audience and client base? 

For me, it’s still a weird feeling because it happened quite fast. My best advice would be this: 

Every time you draw something, try to make it your best work. Don’t be afraid to take it seriously. 

Do what you love, and do it again, and again, and again, until you’re afraid you might not want to do it anymore. Then, if you still do, you’ll know it’s for you. 

Like anything in life, with illustrating, I think it’s practice makes perfect. Be serious, be professional and be consistent with everything you do. 

And in terms of growing an audience, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. No one is ever going to find you if you don’t! 

Just a Rabbit is the first book that you’re illustrating for Ethicool. Can you tell us a bit more about the creative process behind this one?

The book was such a pleasure to illustrate. Congratulations to the author, Priscilla Pho, for such a beautiful story! 

For this particular book, I felt like the interaction between the animals was a key feature. The rabbit is the main character, so we see things from his/her perspective, but because of the strong “just a” theme in the story it’s important to see how he/she relates to the other animals. 

As this story is both a microcosm of, and a comment on, how society makes people feel (but also what we can do about it), the detail and the emotion in the animals I depicted was critical. 

Beyond that, I worked like I always do, and created happy, colourful illustrations full of light and immersive scenarios, that guided the reader from the beginning to the end, in a harmonious way. 

And if I told you more I would give away the ending … so you’ll just have to buy the book and see for yourself! 

Just a Rabbit - Giraffe peers down from the sky to talk to Rabbit

Just a Rabbit explores the idea of being “just a” - specifically, the idea that sometimes, we don’t all have equal opportunities to pursue our dreams. Is this something you feel as if you’ve seen or personally experienced? Tell us!

The idea of being “just a” something is multifaceted, and that complexity is shown well throughout the book. While society certainly doesn’t give everyone equal opportunities, it is also possible to have different perspectives to the ones you’ve been given. 

To use an example from my own life, I definitely didn’t grow up with everything that I could ever want. But I certainly had what I needed, and that gave me the opportunity to understand how to value the simple things: the things that, ultimately, matter. 

I think we all just have different opportunities. Some are easy, some are hard. Some are fair, some are not. But they are all opportunities. 

From there, it’s a matter of hard work, persistence, and sometimes, luck. The point is to keep trying and never give up. 

Just a Rabbit - animals gathered in the forest

We love that! And finally, Ethicool is a special publisher focussed on creating books on the issues that matter. So I’d love to hear from you, finish this sentence: “If I could inspire the next generation to do just one thing, it would be…”

Learn to see beyond the obvious. Value things that others don’t, be impressed by things that aren’t obvious. Laugh at bad jokes. Enjoy life, but also… 

Question what is not yet questioned and follow your own path. Not anyone else’s path, or the path society says you should follow. Your own path. 

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Francisco’s absolutely stunning debut book for Ethicool, Just a Rabbit, is available to pre-order in strictly limited quantities. Grab your launch copy HERE

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