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CHOPPING BLOCK: TERRY FAN

In a constant changing world where mediums collide, one man has managed to keep his head above water and keep it (sur)real.

We recently had the wonderful opportunity to chat with gallery artist, Terry Fan, for a glimpse into the insight and wisdom needed to create such beautiful imagery.

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POW: When did you first pick up a pencil, and at what point did you finally realize that you were able to make a career out of your artistic abilities?

TERRY: For the first question I really have no idea, but I must have been pretty young because apparently I was drawing airplanes all over the walls before I could even talk. I first realized I could make a career out of this just a couple of years back. About five years ago on a rash impulse I quit a relatively well-paying, full-time job as a hospital pharmacy technician. I had been working there for about eight years and it was pretty soul-destroying work. At that point I didn’t even care what happened, even living on the streets would have been preferable, that’s how much I hated it. After quitting, I did indeed struggle for the first few years, but I slowly started to get more exposure and recognition and it just kind of snowballed.

It was great timing in a way because that’s just when print-on-demand sites started to arrive on the scene so I got on that boat early. POD sites have really changed the rules of the game and given a lot of power back to the artist. Personally speaking, they have been a complete life-saver. I actually don’t even do freelance work anymore unless it’s something really cool and I pretty much just work for myself, which I couldn’t have even imagined five years ago. So although there were struggles and sacrifices along the way, I’m glad I took that big leap into the unknown. I’m just so grateful that through the incredible support of the people I work with and my fans that I’m finally able to make a living at this, for me it’s a mini-miracle.

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POW: What was the biggest challenge facing you at this point in time when you decided to make the leap?

TERRY: Okay, I’ll have to backtrack a bit. I had my formal training at the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto long ago (actually it’s a University now). After graduating I didn’t have any practical game plan career-wise so I got really discouraged and basically gave up on the idea of making a living as an artist, it just seemed impossible. Part of it was my own lack of organization and immaturity, but also at that point the internet barely existed and it was much more difficult for artists to get exposure. I dabbled with other creative mediums sporadically over the years, but nothing that would allow me quit my day job.

The biggest challenge after I took the leap many years later was just polishing up my drawing skills and also tackling the technological demands of the modern artist. For instance, I didn’t even know how to use Adobe Photoshop and it was excruciating for me to learn it because it was so out of my usual realm. In college I was only taught traditional methods and at first I was resistant to the idea of producing any kind of work done even partially on a computer. So yeah, the steep learning curve and getting past that self-imposed mental block was quite the challenge.

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POW: When creating your illustrative works, how does your creative process progress over the course of the project? Do you start out with a theme followed by a round of sketches, and from that, decide on a composition? Or do you just approach a blank canvas and start working on it until it's finished?

TERRY: Sometimes I start out with a general idea, more of a feeling than anything else, and other times I have something very specific in mind, especially if it’s conceptually based, it really depends. My approach will be determined by this as well, but most of the time I start with a very rough sketch, just to help visualize the idea and get the basic composition down. I also keep a notepad beside my bed because sometimes I come up with some really cool ideas when I’m falling asleep, dreaming or waking up. So if it’s a good enough idea I then proceed to a more worked up illustration usually done with pencil/pencil crayon, sometimes also micron pen or watercolour depending on the type of illustration.

The next step is scanning the illustration into my laptop at high resolution (usually 600 dpi) and then importing the image into Adobe Photoshop. From there I do all the colouring and may also add additional texture, shading, highlights or lighting effects. Often if a design is complicated I’ll draw and scan individual elements so I get higher resolution and then I’ll compose them in Photoshop. Photoshop is awesome that way and allows for tremendous freedom and flexibility, I guess the downside being that the end result often ends up looking very different from the original illustrations. The Photoshop part of the process usually takes longer than the actual illustration because this is where I experiment with different approaches and colour palettes. I’m kind of a perfectionist so I tend to endlessly tweak things, something I’m trying to get a handle on!

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POW: Several reoccurring themes manifest themselves in your work (such as trees, flying, deep-sea diving, etc), what is your relationship with these elements and why do you draw inspiration from them?

TERRY: Ha ha, yeah, those themes tend to crop up a lot. I’m not exactly sure why, my current theory is I used to be a sailor in a past life because I’m really attracted to nautical themes. As for trees, there’s just something so primal and wonderful about trees that puts me back to my childhood. When I was growing up I always had a very close connection to the natural world and it directly tied in with my creativity. Actually a lot of my work is based around this kind of nostalgia I have for my childhood and the past in general - that sense of wonder and mystery that many people innately posses as children, but then lose somewhere down the road. I’m always trying to re-capture that feeling in some way, to tap into that reservoir of imagination that lies buried and forgotten under layers of social conditioning.

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POW: Here at POW we have fallen in love your art pieces, they look so natural printed on wood. Have you gotten any feedback from your collectors who have purchased your art printed on wood?

TERRY: Well, thank you! In turn I’ve fallen in love with the way my work looks printed on wood. I’m a big fan of natural materials when it comes to pretty much anything, that’s actually what attracted me to your site initially. When I saw the pics on your Facebook page of actual finished prints that customers had ordered I was completely blown away. Even though I’ve sold quite a number of pieces I haven’t actually received much feedback from customers or collectors to be honest, but from what I’ve seen in the pictures I’m throughly impressed, by the depth of the colours, the quality of the printing and the way the wood grain sometimes shows through. For some reason there seems to be a rich luminosity to the prints that I don’t see in paper prints, I’m not sure whether it’s the wood or your printing process, but whatever the reason, it looks awesome! I really respect the way Prints on Wood does their own printing and takes pride in each and every piece that’s printed, it really shows in the final result. I also love that you’re so environmentally conscious, that means a lot to me.

Anyway, thanks for the interview and for being such a wonderful and supportive group of people to work with!

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