Third up in our series of through-the-keyhole-style artist photo journals is the man behind @themonsterist, the one and only Pete Fowler. You’ll have seen Pete’s...
There’s not many illustrators that have such universal appeal as Pete Fowler. If you don’t own one of his Monsterism vinyl toys, you’re likely to have seen one of his Super Furry Animals album sleeves, or visited one of his exhibitions, or seen one of his giant wall-murals, or danced around to one of his DJ sets… The guy has skills! So we’re delighted to now welcome him on board the Thunder Chunky train to ask him a few questions…
Hey Pete, welcome to Thunder Chunky! How do we find you today?
I’m well thanks for asking. It’s evening time so winding down after a busy day, with Wellington Bombers on TV in the background. Apparently they could build a Bomber in 30 hours! That can’t be right can it?
What does a normal day-in-the-life of Pete Fowler consist of?
Well, I end up typing a lot! That’s something I wasn’t really expecting from a career in art. Be it twitter or email I do spend a lot of time at the keyboard, it’s unavoidable these days. I do love a bit of out of office auto reply ON though.
I tend to split my time between drawing, painting and illustrating on the computer mostly. Of late I’ve been doing all 3 within any given day. It’s a bit of a juggle sometimes but I find it keeps each of the mediums fresh. I want to calibrate it all so there’s little difference between the way I approach each one.
There always seems to be so many things to do, with commercial work and self generated projects, but personally I like to have as much going with my own work. That’s the place and time where you can explore, try out new things and develop your ideas further.
Drawing and music seem to be equally important to you. What are your first memories of each of them?
Music is a difficult one to pin down, I can’t remember specifically what the first thing I heard was, more than likely it was country music or maybe the Beach Boys. My dad was a fan of both with an 8 track in the car and a selection of cartridges. What a brilliant but doomed format.
Drawing I seem to remember was one fireworks night where my brother and I had some felt pens and a small sketchbook given to us by our mum and dad. I have some quite vivid memories of that. Later it was copying Star Wars characters.
I fondly remember your artwork adorning a stack of Super Furry Animals albums and singles – how did the collaboration come about? Do the band get involved much or do they just let you do your thing?
I had a feature on my artwork in a Welsh language free paper in Cardiff called Atolwg that Bethan Elfyn wrote (many years ago) and it just so happened the band came across it. Creation, their label at the time, got in touch and met up with the band. I had a list of working titles for the songs on Radiator, their second LP and a selection of tracks but I was told I could take inspiration from those, if not ‘go for it’.
A selection of Pete’s SFA sleeves, including Radiator
There was a bit of pressure at the start as I felt I really needed to do my best as they were a band I really liked. Little did I know that I’d be working with them for so long and I’m always delighted to work with them as a band and beyond.
A selection of Pete’s other SFA work
Monsterism Island is the home of all your illustrated monsters – how did the whole Monsterism world begin?
It seems like a retirement home at the moment as I’ve been neglecting it of late! They’re quite happy to be left alone and look after themselves.
A Monsterism snapshot
It all started with sketching characters in my sketch book, making paintings, making sculptures then making toys. Along each step the creatures needed a place to live so the world became a little more developed. I’ve created a lot of characters related to that world and have a fondness for the creatures and the place that i’m sure I’ll come back to soon as self contained world, but for the time being I almost feel like I’ve drawn around what I do that sometimes feels quite trapping. As a creator I always want to pursue what ever excites me with my work so if it doesn’t fit into a certain slot then I never want to chip it down to fit.
Not quite the answer you had in mind perhaps!
A selection of Monsterism toys by Pete
Is there a process behind creating a new inhabitant for the island, or do you just wait for inspiration to hit?
I think all my characters have things about them that tie them to a handful of genes. Some of them can just flow from my pencil easily without much consideration whereas other times can go through several pencils, erasers and sheets of paper to wrestle it out.
One of Pete’s sketchbook spreads
I think the key to any creative paths is to create as often as possible. I think inspiration is only one part of it and believe the craft element of creating is as important. Personally… the more I draw, the better I draw and the more inspired I get. That has to apply to all walks of creativity.
Many of our readers are likely to have a Monsterism vinyl toy sat on their desk – do you still get a kick out of seeing your characters pop up in random places?
Absolutely! It’s great to know that my characters have a place in peoples homes and work places. I’ll never really take that for granted and thank everyone for supporting me to do daft stuff so far!
Monsterism residents in the TC studio
You also do a lot of large murals and live painting… can you talk us through how you tackle a large painting? Do you do prep sketches, are there certain paints you love to use etc?
I always start with a pencil sketch, to scale, then if possible print out the line art on acetate that i can project from to map out the outlines and general composition. I have painted big walls without that, recently the wall at Village Underground. I couldn’t get the project far enough back to get it on the wall to the correct size so that was a bit of a challenge to plan it out.
Pete hard at work on the Village Underground mural
If it’s a simpler design I have drawn and painted straight onto the wall without a projector.
Pete’s Seahawks mural at Truman Brewery
I always use acrylics as all of the outdoor pieces I’ve done haven’t been permanent and it’s tough enough to put up with our weather for a while. I’ve never really used spray paints but I would like to give it a go at some point.
On a different note… What do you think it is that makes owls so damn awesome?
I think it’s their beautiful appearance and the myth and mystery about them. They do have the cute factor too, which I think is a major draw for people. There’s so much written about them in fiction and myth that there’s become a bit of a supernatural aura around them that can all get a bit crystal new age. Not that I’m against that but each to their own.
Was it a good day when Bill Oddie responded to your Twitter question? Do you agree with his choice of favourite owl?
That was an excellent day! Worth signing up for twitter alone. His favourite owl is quite different to mine. It’s a bit of a classic owl, the Great Grey owl. They’re quite a formidable sight and have had the pleasure of meeting a few. In fact a friend of my dad has one!
Bill Oddie answering Pete’s question!
You’ve been busy doing your Snorse Walks ipad paintings recently. What’s the story behind it? And do you have any plans for the series going forward?
The Snorse character is one that I’m very fond of and always wanted to do something with him as the star. He’s the offspring of a Snorse and an unknown life form and exists in a parallel world, although I’m not saying it’s monsterism island, it’s just a place he lives in.
Snorse Walks #1
The reason for creating the first image was to try and combine some of the landscape paintings I’d been making on the iPad and both with paint, with characters. The Snorse character just came to mind with that and it wasn’t until after the first image did i decide to turn it into a picture story.
Snorse Walks #10
What I really enjoyed with this was using the iPad to paint, together with some photographed thumbnail sketches and also not having a set story in place. I enjoyed my moods directing me through the 30 images and not knowing myself what would happen in the end until it was time to paint it.
Snorse Walks #30
I really want to carry on with the series and i’m currently thinking of where I can take it. Perhaps a book as I’m yet to make a book. That’s always been on my wish list. But at the same time it would be great to some how keep it on a screen, perhaps as an app, or an ebook. I’d love to create the music and concept for a project like that.
What would win in a fight… a pencil, a pen, a paintbrush or a stylus?
A pencil, always!
What are some of your current top tracks to doodle to?
(Listen to Pete’s tracks via our handy Spotify playlist)
Do you have a favourite thing that you’ve bought in the last few months?
I love the Polychord app for the iPad, if non physical things count? It’s kind of like an Omnichord sim that’s lots of fun, especially put through some delay. My stylus for the iPad is pretty amazing, it’s really changed my work to be able to draw/paint straight into it. Quite revolutionary really!
The home for Pete’s new paintbrushes
On the analog side, I bought 2 really nice paint brushes in Berlin a few weeks back, I’m pretty happy with those. It’s the little things I like. I’m quite easily pleased!
Finally, what’s the one thing everyone should do today?
Be nice to people, there’s too much trouble in the world!
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