Updated: Jan 31
Ilona brings her phenomenal artistry to the FAHn community!
There's a mirth and a bit of joyful mischief in Hog's eyes that Ilona has captured perfectly in this portrait of him. It is one of my favorites of hers and, I think, well worth showcasing here. This, however, is not the first piece of art that I saw of Ilona’s. That was something that was not FAH related at all, but I knew right away that she had such a gift of expression in her art. In the piece that I saw first – a drawing of trees and mountains – I felt that I could walk into the picture and be somewhere real. I’m drawn to art that feels alive on the page and I would say that Ilona’s art is just that.
Later I commissioned a picture of Pudge and she really captured his quirky sensibility, but also the love in his eyes when he looks at people. It’s an interesting portrait because although it is not of a human, there is the same sense of understanding – on her part – of her subject and “seeing” him as if she’s standing in the same room. I would say that Ilona has a good eye for her subjects, Pudge and FAH, alike, and that she has almost a sixth sense for picking up layers of what she sees in front of her. How she does that, I’m not so sure, but she manages to capture depth, light, beauty, the funny – as in FAH – or the kind, the quirky, the pragmatic, even. Examine her work below and I think you’ll understand what I mean.
This interview has been in the works for many months and I thank Ilona for her patience in seeing it through! Read on to learn all about how she came to her art, how she creates, and how she manages to capture so much about a person (or a dog) in her wonderful and beautiful portraits.
Did you grow up with art and/or drawing around you or in your life?
Not really, no. I did do some drawings as a kid. I guess most kids do, even if it's on a wall or someone's face :). I don't think I was growing up around more art/drawing than others. My mom always stimulated creativity though. If there was a competition on colouring or such she'd get me to join, for example. I actually won several competitions. Staying between the lines and use of many colours was usually what got me there. They even once made an extra prize/category because of the many colours I used.
Next to that I'm someone who always wanted to do more than one thing at a time. So, if mom or dad were reading me a story for example, I would be drawing or colouring at the same time. Multitasking for the win! The colouring could be any subject; the drawings were usually cartoon characters (which I found in the comics I read), animals and some attempts of an airplane or such.
Are there family members who are also artistic? If not, where do you believe your artistic skills come from?
My mom is somewhat artistic/creative. Not professional or making things often, but she did some (simple) drawings as part of her education and job and she made dolls, until I was born. As far as I know, I have no close family members that draw. Surely there are some creative family members around; don't most families have some? Think the skills come more from practice?
Did you take any art classes in the past or study art at university?
No, apart from a few general art classes everyone got at school as a kid. I have watched two online (1 hour) streams lately, they might count as "class" in a way. For those who've seen my drawings on Instagram or so - I made the hedgehog in a cup during that. I occasionally think “I should join some class,” but end up never doing so.
Are you or have you been influenced by specific artists in your own creations?
Not really. I've just tried to find my own way. Of course, I have looked at drawings by others to see different styles, get ideas on what might work for me, what tools exist, general motivation, etc. but not really someone specifically I know to name here.
Depending on your definition of artists here: I'm, of course, influenced by FAH and FAHns, nothing would have happened without them. Especially during the FAHnartchallenge it has been great to see all [the] different styles and chat with everyone. Seeing different interpretations, different styles, playing around . . . They made me start looking differently at other artworks and I'm enjoying it more, feeling more free to try things out also. I don't think it directly influences my art style; but some creations would not have [been] made were it not for some suggestion or remarks along the way and it all helped to find my way [artistically].
What attracted you about and to the art of drawing?
Poeh… I think… The challenge and connection? Making something with your own hands that you like and that others like. Making it for others if you're lucky. Creating something at your own pace and the thrill of getting better at it. Every bit being a challenge on its own; and I'm someone who loves a challenge and can get totally sucked into the process.
Although I can also get impatient when it takes [too] long. But I'm also very bad at abandoning a project, so in the end it'll get finished. And it's been a means to connect with people I like from [all] over the whole world too, which is awesome. Why it's this type of art and not something else is probably because I had the basic tools and had drawn a bit years before, so it was a bit more familiar to start with.
Why do you work so much with portraits?
Lack of other skills and creativity in other areas? ;-) I love how people can create cartoons and such! Use their creativity to make something up, take remarks and jokes to another dimension. I need a very good, clear example to be able to "copy" it because it's basically a really intensive way of copying, isn't it? I don't have to invent anything, but pay a lot of attention to details. A face is then most interesting and recognizable to get correct. And maybe it's a way of appreciating someone. Makes it is also a bit scary though, as it's not nice to mess it up. Next to that it may also reflect a bit of my character: some perfectionism, internal drive and love for challenges.
What tools or artistic products do you use when you draw?
I'm using paper (see next question) and graphite pencils. I'm using a whole range of them, mostly from 1B to 8B from Bruynzeel and Faber Castell (9000). 1B, 2B and 6B are used most by the looks of it. Finding good erasers was a bigger challenge than I thought. Most didn’t erase as I wanted and in some supply stores they didn't really want to sell (advise) them as there is 'no such thing as mistakes, it makes it you, it's your style'…. Nice thing to say, but I'm using it mostly for removing basic lines and creating highlights, so that advise wasn't right and I've happily ignored it. I just tried out a bunch. My 'normal erasers' are a mix of Derwent, Faber-Castell and for lifting some of the pigment I got a kneadable rubber from Bruynzeel. For the eraser pencils, which I use for precision and highlights, I mostly use a Tombow mono zero elastomer eraser (2.3 mm) and a Faber-Castell, but I like that one a bit less (maybe it's a bit too hard). I'll probably shop around a bit more (I've got my eye on one that keeps being sold out).
For working on the shadows, I use cotton swabs and a little (make up) brush. I've also got some other tools I collected down the way to try out, but I didn't like much (I might also just not be using them correctly yet). And I've also tried some art with fine liners and Aquarelle coloured pencils and have things like Aquarelle ink, ink pencils/brushes, etc. But I'm not doing much with that. YET at least.
Do you prefer a specific type or style of paper? Why?
Yes, I do. It certainly is a very important part of drawing. It took me some time to change to the one I have now. I'm absolutely no paper-expert, but here are some thoughts I had on that.
I started with a very simple, thin paper. Thin meant also that it was very smooth, making it possible to make very straight lines and easy/cheap to find. However, it was hard to correct things (sometimes I would end up accidentally making a hole in the paper or get a little fold in it) and I had a few times I couldn't get shadows right.
The thicker paper I tried was also more coarse and didn't feel right. The lines were less straight/clear and the shadowing didn't go as hoped. Some of that paper was also less white. You can probably see it in some of the drawings I posted (the one of Duck for example; that paper just…wasn't it). Then I found a bit thicker paper that was still smooth and though it did take some trial & error, I finally found the paper I like most (at least so far): a 200-gram A4 sketchbook pro from Verhaak.
For the Aquarelle pencils I needed different paper, obviously, as it needed to be able to absorb the water needed for it. I tried two different types for that, but haven't found "the" paper yet.
Is there something that you turn to over and over again to use because it is your favorite?
Not sure what to answer here. I come back to the same tools (as I got them and they're becoming familiar) and the type of drawing doesn't change that much (the way the lines are set, the details, etc.). Neither does the type of reference: I always need a very clear picture to work from, I want to make sure I put in the "correct details" so to say (otherwise it might be "a" face instead of "the" face) and I have my preferences of the type of example.
What drew you to creating FAH art?
The FAHns… After watching some videos and subscribing & following FAH, I got in contact with a bunch of FAHns. They are truly amazing and I very much enjoy talking to them. Some were making FAHnart or referred to it (in any form); others just enjoy it. I hadn't been doing any drawing for years and when we happened to discuss (FAHn)art I mentioned that I did some in the past and they encouraged me to pick up some pencils and just try something. At first I didn't really want to, making up all the excuses like; I'm not good at drawing, never did portraits and didn't think I could make that look good at all. You can "play around" a bit more with cartoons and animals, but someone's FACE?! And what would the lads think about it?… But…they weren't having any of that, so I gave it a go. That first attempt got nice feedback, even though I, as a perfectionist, wasn't thrilled (but [I was] also happy & surprised it turned out not that bad). That made me try again (and again..) to see if I could get better & have fun, as a way of staying in touch with FAHns. That FAH also interacts themselves sometimes has been great and encouraging.
Halfway [through] 2020 the idea came to organize a FAHnartchallenge with the amazing FAH_Sketched. That was so much fun! This event got me more comfortable trying out different things, finding more of a style and I absolutely LOVED interacting with everyone and [the art challenge] kept inspiring me.
This all makes me come back to FAH portraits over and over. It is the fun of the community and the many different characters that keep [the drawings] inspiring and fun. FAH have such fun and totally different characters that it keeps being interesting and fresh and full of challenges as well. I spend so much time on a drawing (just as a hobby) that I find it important to draw people that I like and not just random people asking for a portrait. Not that I don't want to do that, but there should always be some time reserved for drawings that make ME happy.
[Drawing portraits] started with FAH because I liked their comedy. They seemed like nice guys and the community was fun (obviously still is ;)). I've made some drawings of other people as commissions (I don’t do many of those) and others that I appreciate (movies / comedy / theater…) - and though those have been great, it didn't have the same "vibe" for me. So although I do want to change up my art a bit more, I also want to stay active in this FAHndom, it's such a nice group!
Lockdown helped by giving me some time to sit down in an otherwise very busy life. Things slowed down just enough to find that "bit" of time and peace of mind to give it a go. I have a full time job, a part-time job and two volunteer jobs (and some occasional tasks) andI play softball and love being out & about. Now that there is so much going on again I have a hard time finding my focus, especially now the drawings also keep taking more time. I really hope I'll keep finding the time to make FAHnart!
When and how did you discover FAH?
Not entirely sure. For sure, I wasn’t actively looking for it, or any comedy for that matter. I'm not too big a fan of comedy usually, scared away a bit by the stand-up comedy I experienced, which was usually to me not really funny and just someone complaining about politics, life, religion and making sex jokes and being offensive. I'm more for the silly things, word puns and sarcasm. Of course, there are several exceptions! I just don't actively look for it. Sketch comedy is more fun though, I'm more inclined to give that a go.
Anyway… I was scrolling around Facebook early 2020 and it showed me a sketch of FAH; I think it was Paperbag Hats. I enjoyed it and the lovely silliness made me watch one more. I think that was Sandcastles. I fell down the rabbit hole on YouTube after that. From what I see in my history I did so as from February 10th, with these first sketches: The Monks Song, WTF Is Brexit, An Englishman Plays Risk, Parents When You're Sick, A Kerryman Gives Directions, One Man Play. Aren't those great sketches to get started with?!
What was the first piece of FAH art that you created?
A portrait of Foil. I posted it on May 13th 2020 on my "personal account" (@falescilo) on Instagram. I posted a second attempt on May 14th 2020. I have no [idea] why I chose that one to be honest, I believe I looked for a photo without weird faces and not too much details/background to keep it a bit more simple - and just stumbled upon that photo via Google I liked to give a go.
Can I cheat a little on this question and add that it was followed by a first Hog from 'Monk in solitude can't come home" (looking back at that one it looked really weird to make a portrait of just a face and no neck/shoulders… I added some later that year). And then a first Arms on May 19th.
When did FAH first see your drawing(s)?
They replied on the second drawing, May 14th. So, they saw it quickly after I posted. They first got one in their hands to see April 2022, when I finally got to see them.
What was their reaction? And what was it like for them to see your work that first time?
As they have seen it online first I can't really answer that, as I haven't seen their reaction. I did get some replies on posts though: The first reply I got as on that drawing I posted on the 14th: "Hey I know that guy!! Awesome skillz, have no idea how you can do that". Well, let me tell you… neither did I.
Back in 2020 I reached out via Patreon to ask if they had any characters or photos or anything they'd like a drawing of. I got a few suggestions and I chose to draw Arms with a giant swatter from the Black Friday sketch. That one also got a reply "This Is soooo classs and an amazingly brilliant addition made by the fly. Cudos all round!" To explain that fly remark… When I finished the drawing and tried to make a photo, the fly that had been buzzing around decided to land on the drawing and walk all over it.
Later drawings didn't get a reply, but occasionally a "like". I had no idea if they were seen, what their thoughts are about those. Hopefully they still like them ;-). I'm always making a little jump of joy when they react. Silly that a little comment can make you so happy (from anyone, by the way). At the start I wasn't sure they'd see it at all and I was kinda nervous what they'd think of it. I still do I guess. But knowing they're keeping an eye on what is created and appreciate it is absolutely a motivation [to keep drawing.]
Anne, whom I posted drawings of on June 25 and 30th 2020, appeared unexpectedly in an Anne & Oisín sketch! They must have printed it from Instagram or something and they put it on the wall. Made me super happy! Now that I've met them they have a new and original drawing of that one - and it appeared in a sketch again.* So cool!
I do sometimes wonder if it doesn't get weird for them. As the artist you're spending a lot of time looking at the faces and by drawing them more often the faces get more and more familiar. The details you need together with the time spent makes every drawing kind of 'personal', but that's also quite 'one-sided'. I often (over)think how it is received. At some point I started wondering if it's not a bit weird as 'owner of the face' (so to say) that people spend so much time drawing it, staring at those 'details'. Does it get weird? Does it seem obsessive? And is there a point when there is so much around it stops being interesting?
What has the reaction been from others, including friends and fahns, about your FAH artwork?
Most replies have been of FAHns I'd say. Very nice, fun, encouraging replies which were sometimes followed by chats. Friends and family reacted with a mix of surprise and positive words, followed by questions of who they were and why I kept drawing them. It was fun to occasionally get a reaction by someone 'accidentally' seeing it like 'hey isn't that the curly Irish dude?" and we have something to talk about. And then there are "randomers" on Instagram; some just passing by and some stopping and interacting with the post or via chat, which has been fun.
Speaking of Instagram: I first posted FAH between my regular posts on my personal account, but quite soon (end of August 2020) I created a specific drawing account (@itjes_drawings) to make it easier for people to see just those and keep an overview for me (and others). Especially with the #FAHnartchallenge coming up (Sep 5th 2020 we posted about that first) it seemed better to have this madness on a different account. Some seemed a bit disappointed I split it up; but I think it was good. It brought also a lot of artists/drawing fans to my account and it made it easier for me to get connected with them, get ideas and interact differently/more.
Have you seen FAH live?
Yes! After wanting to go several times, but COVID being a *** I finally travelled to Dublin April 2022. Wasn't my first time in Ireland, but fair to say a totally different trip and it turned out to be an AMAZING week-long trip. I booked one show at first…then two… and then figured that since I was there I might just as well go to all three or I'd get serious FOMO of FAH. Sure it's the same show, but there is some different messing and, of course, I didn't want to miss a chance to chat with other FAHns. So many people I met only online were there and it was amazing meeting them!! I spoke to so many and at the same time feel like I needed to talk to so many more. Well…next time. It was amazing to see FAH live and meet them after the gig. It was a bit weird to do 3x a m&g, but with all other friends in line and the excitement of finally being there I couldn’t just walk out, could I?
I brought 3 framed drawings (thoroughly checked by airport security ;)) and a binder with several other drawings… as I just couldn't really choose which to give. I might miss [the drawings] a bit, but also am happy FAH has them now. I hope they enjoy them. If I ever see them ripped and folded on the floor of that office I'll unfollow them though! ;-)
On the first night I got to give my drawings to Foil and Arms and see them react to two of those as they unpacked their framed ones; which was great! Unfortunately Hog wasn't there at the meet and greet that night, so Anne had to spend some more time unpacked (have to admit I was actually very curious what they thought about seeing that one). As those m&g's are quite short they didn't go through the other drawings at that time, but I did show Duck his drawing in there and then made my way out. I spoke to Hog only very short the second day, which was more a "did you see it?" "yes" situation :).
Do you think your FAH artwork has changed or been influenced in any way from seeing them live?
No, I don't think so. It's not like their faces are different now and eh, I couldn't go staring at them close-up either (imagine that, hah!) Something I do in a mirror sometimes to figure out how a face moves and the shadows change and might have said to some of you I 'feared' I'd be staring at them. No worries, I didn't even think about that there.
First time meeting them and giving them drawings had maybe that first wonder & pressure. Having them with me as an excuse to go to the m&g (I always find those so awkward I usually don't go in general), having something to give and talk about made that easier. When I knew when I would go see them it surely influenced things a little bit, as I had to finish the last one, figure out how to present it, how to get it there in one piece, choose which ones I liked most to give away, get used to the idea of giving them away and overthink all of the above (and then overthink the overthinking)! That'd probably be different next time (well…).
Why did you choose these particular artistic pieces to include in this interview?
First of all: I don't time any of my drawings, so for none of these do I know how long it took. Overall the first drawings I made didn't take that long; maybe one or two evenings. The later ones took longer, especially the last few... The process takes longer because I get better, but I think also the examples get better. I mean that the quality of screenshots I can make to base my drawings on. Higher definition, better close-ups and light and… well it just all helps me to see more details. And where there are more details… I can work those into the drawing, making those better as well. But more details… cost more time. As I draw on my free evenings or weekends it can take about a month to finish one of these (last pieces). I must say that I've slowed down making more drawings due to that as well. It takes a lot of patience to go that slowly. And at some point they become quite literally a pain in the neck, so I have to take a break. It gets harder to not rush to the end and with more time between drawing sessions it gets harder to start (continue) again.
Anne drawing --> This is the last one I made and a second go at the same sketch. It was fun to go back and look at it because I really liked the shot/sketch, but with the new paper and the progress I made myself I hoped I could do better. And I really love the outcome, it is definitely one of my favourites. I might make it again for myself, but it took many hours so that might take a while. It ended up on the wall from a sketch! So it must mean FAH likes it too. For sure FAHns reacted to it enthusiastically.
Crime scene Foil --> Also one of the last ones and my favourite drawing of Foil. Does that need an explanation? Nahhhh. This one is also on that newer paper and new pencils.
Fly squatter --> As mentioned earlier it comes from a suggestion from Foil, so that makes it special. I mentioned I wasn't that good yet and preferred it to be a bit simple detail wise… Of course he suggested something with so much going on. Costume, accessories…. Thanks for that mate! But I don't get out of the way of a challenge, so there we went. Also, I made it during a holiday/not at home and it has that memory also kind of linked to it, I guess.
Arms (&Foil) birthday drawings --> Creating something for their birthday was fun. And… a group of FAHns made cake to celebrate from their homes. The whole thing together made that a fun thing to do. I doubt that'll ever happen again like that, maybe there were some good things about lockdown.
Hog from Hairdressers [Lockdown Haircut]--> Great sketch, good close-up shot and looking great. The expression was important here and I liked the challenge of the facial hair.
Foil as nobleman --> Although I posted it quite late, it was quite an early one. The face didn't fully work out as I wanted, but the whole picture, the clothing thát was the challenge in this one and I liked giving that a go and learn on the go.
Arms smartphone --> This one was quite quick, in colour (trying out my Aquarelle pencils) and just nice and silly. Absolutely not perfect, but somehow it just makes me smile and it has been on my wall for a while for that reason.
What advice would you give to someone interested in working in the same artistic medium as you or starting out as an artist or even creating some FAH art?
As several wise people said: find your inner child back. We do some drawings or other creative stuff and as we get older most of us stop as we don't allow ourselves to just play around and have fun. We put all kinds of pressure, insecurity and stress into the picture. It often becomes something you think you have to be good at or shouldn't do at all. There are all sorts of rules you think you need to follow and compare it to others way more. And if that's not it, we find ourselves too busy (really busy, or feeling too busy in our heads).
Just start somewhere. Really, the hardest part is to start. You can start with simple tools, I think most of us have somewhere at home. Try something out, find a style and then find the tools you like. Just doodle during class or work.. And if there is any place to feel free to share some of your work it's in this FAHndom I think. Everyone is so encouraging and positive that it's a great place to start and find & keep your motivation.
Don't be afraid to ask others for help either; or just reach out to have a chat about ideas, style, tools... And as always with social media… don't be discouraged by your "like" count or something, don't forget why you're doing it. Enjoy creating things and don't be afraid to make mistakes or pieces you don't like - you learn from all of them.
And maybe change up the type of creativity; it can be hard to keep working on the same drawing for a long time. It can be good and fun to change it up and do a quick doodle in between. It'll help to find your style also.
Please include anything else that you think is important or necessary to help readers understand your art and why you create.
Speaking with many FAHns has been amazing. I love how these creations get me connected to so many people and I'm amazed by how open people are and how many (MANY) people struggle with….life. Lots of struggles with self-confidence, self- esteem or feeling lonely, for example. It can be very hard to step over those feelings. Creativity is a great way to express yourself without words, a way to relax, make something you can look at with a smile. But it's also something that doesn't always work out as you want. It is something you put your ideas, energy and a bit of 'you' in and it can be scary to share it with others and frustrating if it doesn't look like the perfect picture you have in your head.
So many people who say they're not good enough to create something, have no talents. Please try to find that little kid back, who is just messing around and making something for fun. Forget about "rules" and comparing yourself with others. Do what makes you happy and if you want to compare, compare with your past self. And that picture perfect? It's nice to get that, but many people will like it as it is with "flaws" and all - those "flaws" make it something made with love and fun, make it YOU.
Maybe it's why there's quite some FAH art around. FAH's consistent videos are funny, positive, playful, silly... I think for many people it helps to escape life for a moment. And with many videos being linked to everyday life it gives these little references in our head [so] we can use [them] to cheer ourselves up throughout the day. I find myself smiling regularly so often, sometimes even unconsciously, because of some silly reference. Bananas, tomatoes, wine, something orange, the weather, dreams, cleaning, gardening, annoying people… I've even smiled at clickbait, scams and assholes typing negative messages (keyboard warriors). Maybe we need a bit more on car drivers, so I can smile more about the idiots on the road ;-). I think this all sparks creativity. And it built quite an amazing group of people, most I know are very supportive of each other. It makes it easier to share creative work and show these pieces of ourselves we might usually keep inside.
And yes, that's often easier said than done. I, for one, cannot let it all go and definitely should look at my own advice more often. I might have taken the hardest step: beginning, but I basically still say with every piece it's not as good as I want it to be and I'm still scared of feedback, or lack thereof.
It was also interesting and eye opening to see that most people mainly see and talk about what's wrong with their creations, while the viewers mainly talk about how amazing it is. The thing that makes us create can also be our worst enemy. Often others look at your art very differently than you do. That constant looking for what to make, how to make it, how to improve it, to make it the best it can be and the image in our heads what we try to make something… It helps us create great things. But it often also means we keep looking at it with a mindset of finding things to improve. So many pieces might feel like they're never finished, but there is a just a moment you stop working at it. It can be hard to take a step back and look at it with different eyes. See it as the thing it became as a whole and how it makes you feel, instead of focusing on all the things that are not as you'd like. Our knowledge of how we struggled making it, the things that didn't work out as we intended does not usually help either.
So guys, please go have fun creating things or just be around looking at art to enjoy it. And be nice to each other, we're all stumbling full fear ahead at times. Take that bit of time to interact with the others and please don't see it as a competition of ideas, creations or attention.
Thanks so much to Ilona for sharing her beautiful wisdom about creating her artwork and for sharing it with us. She's been very patient, as it has taken me some time to publish this interview. Look out for more Ode to the FAHns' interviews in the near future, as I keep discovering phenomenal artists in our community.
I'll include one more of Ilona's lovely portraits. The Snob!
*Arms has given me permission to take Patreon screenshots. This photograph of Ilona's original Anne Flanagan drawing is from "Hog, the set guru" (September 30, 2022.)