Rudy Faber, a digital illustrator and traditional painter, lives and works from a small creative flat in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. Bouncing back from a severe 9-to-5 burnout, he talks tattoos, the women of his work, his pregnant mannequin and hints at a "hush hush" Playstation 4 project. His thematic diversity is inspired by tattoos, Americana, Japanese folkore and an appreciation for the female figure.
BEN: Can you tell us a bit about your workspace?
RUDY: My creative space is just a small room in which all my painting gear and digital set-up is crammed up in one. The fact that I'm kind of hoarder as well - books, toys, dolls, skulls, etcetera - makes this room, and my entire living space, often look like an incredibly messy, unorganized wunderkammer of sorts.
A lot of tattoo-inspired art comes out of here. What about tattoos can't you get enough of?
I consider many styles of tattoos as a high form of art. It bothers me when I hear people speak of how tattoos are just some trend and everybody will regret theirs when they hit 50. They put every form of tattooing in the same category of being some low and dumb form of self expression. But they seem to lack the ability to see the difference between those small trendy tattoos and, for instance, the ancient art of Japanese Irezumi. The latter, literally, being showcased in respected museums.
At the same time, I hate the idea of tattoos being fully accepted in society. Maybe that's something rebellious and me wanting to stand out from the crowd, but there's a huge difference between wanting a tattoo and the urge to be tattooed. Those who are covered in ink will know exactly what I mean.
How would you explain it for those without ink?
There's something special about enduring the process of getting tattooed. It's kind of a right of passage which goes beyond getting a permanent mark to celebrate or remind you of something. It truly becomes a part of life. Apart from a great deal of my arms being tattooed, I'm still an empty canvas waiting to be filled with great art.
Impossible not to notice all the tatted up women either. Any real life muses?
None to be really honest. I guess one of the perks of being able to draw is that you're able to visualize that perfect woman. Hahaha. Which can be a major downside, as well, if you know what I mean. But really, they mostly just stem from my mind.
Not one muse? How did you figure out what your "perfect woman" was?
Haha. I wasn't being totally serious about that. I haven't the slightest clue what the "perfect woman" would be. I'm quite sure she doesn't even exist. Haha.
Haha. So the real question then is 'Why do women play such a prominent role in your work?'
Well, figurative art is much more interesting to me than anything else. From an artistic point of view, a woman's rounded and soft shapes are so much more interesting to me than a masculine shape. It's probably only natural to draw and paint certain features that I would find attractive in real life. This is something you're probably able to see with many artists throughout history.
I have a really hard time drawing handsome young men. You know - the CK model type guy. I like to draw guys, but I always want to draw them with an ugly mug and a beer gut. For drawing women this is completely opposite. I hope the women I draw aren't seen as the typical supermodel types either. Those are equally uninteresting to me.
Otherwise, I always like to draw women with some form of power. Instead of depicting her sex appeal as degrading (like classic Gil Elvgren pinups for instance, which were kind of degrading), it's about empowering her. Often she's the seductress and she's always completely in charge of whatever event that may be.
Where does your interest in Japanese folklore stem from?
I've always been very fascinated with Japanese culture. I don't consider myself a Japanophile. As in an obsessive fan of anything Japanese like manga, anime, games etc. Though I like it. Rather someone who loves feudal Japanese culture like the Samurai, traditional clothing, art and folklore.
I'm always going through phases in which certain themes are massively interesting to me. I've had a freakshow circus and theater phase, the 1920s Americana, Victoriana etc. As of right now, I'm in a Japanese phase in which I'm exploring ways to implement traditional Japanese art, motifs and themes mixed with contemporary styles. Sort of like hybrids. Or take some part of mythology and turn it into a modern western-ish interpretation.
Cirque du Mort. I couldn't not ask. You a shit starter?
Haha. I do love to spark some controversy, but it's not the intention of this piece. I knew some people may find that illustration offensive, but it's, more or less, based on some visuals that popped up in my mind one day. It doesn't have any more meaning behind it.
Of course, I was fully aware that many, if not everybody, would see this as referring to a certain historical/religious figure, but why should you automatically assume this is a depiction of him? It could easily be a reference to anyone of the thousands of people who suffered the exact same death. The funny thing is that there hasn't been a single negative response, that I'm aware of, on this piece.
Are you doing more brush-to-canvas or digital these days?
I love both, but it's a lot of real painting lately. There's something special about being able to translate ideas using traditional media - working on an actual physical piece that you can touch and smell.
And you learned digital before stepping into real painting.
Yeah. I'm pretty much autodidact. I didn't have any serious former training in any technique, and I did actually learn to paint digitally first. Kind of the other way around I guess. It took a lot of trial and error and soaking everything up I could find on oil painting before I finally got comfortable with the medium. I'm nowhere near where I want to be. Will you ever? But I'm very happy with what I'm able to do right now and I'm honestly proud of the results.
Going back to your game design days, how did your time as a concept designer influence your career?
I didn't go the traditional art school route. I attended college and studied Multimedia Design, while minoring in Game Design and Development, because I wanted to work as a game artist. I've never been a hardcore gamer, but did love video games since early childhood - pre 8-bit.
Through contacts at college I started working freelance for some guys who started a small game studio. After graduation I got offered a full-time concept artist position, which I took.
One thing I realized during those years is that I found it extremely difficult to work a 9-to-5 office job in which you have to be creative and produce art during set hours - week in week out. I ran more and more into those awful artists blocks and just didn't know how to solve them. Because it was such a small studio, I was the only concept artist. Thus, I couldn't find a solution through learning from or being inspired by a creative team - all the while feeling very guilty.
So, what happened?
It resulted in a massive burn-out which completely drained my energy and any type of passion I once had. I was literally sick for about six months even though it drug on much longer than that.
Yeah. During the first wave of burn-out, I started working half days. Luckily my bosses were very understanding and compassionate, but they didn't know how to cope with this either. This couldn't continue on and because this was right when the economic crisis hit hard. They had to let me go.
This was followed by an incredibly insecure time that still hasn't completely let me go, but that's mostly financially. My mojo definitely, has been back for quite some time.
Any big takeaways from trading full-time for freelance?
I learned that I get so much more satisfaction from doing just that what I want to do and get commissioned for that type of work. Since being on my own I've had the pleasure of working on illustrations that are right up my alley in theme and style and that's a factor I can get very excited about.
Also, the fact that people like my personal work and are willing to buy prints and merchandise through Society6 is incredibly rewarding. It's a real honor actually. This isn't to say that I've given up on game art. I've actually done character designs for a Playstation 4 title for a major studio - still hush hush - and would love to do more work like this. I would love to get a team together and work on games or get hired by a cool studio, but I can't picture myself working full-time in an office environment anymore.
So, other than your sanity, what have you sacrificed to advance your art?
Oh you know, a steady job and income, committed relationships, leading a normal life. That sort of stuff. Haha. No, I don't know really. I've been on this path forever and I really can't picture how it would be otherwise. It's all I know. I've known and still know hardship getting by, but it hasn't gotten in the way of my urge to advance in what I'm doing. It's a huge part of who I am and I wouldn't be me without it, so it's very difficult for me to answer this question and make some actual sense.
You own a pregnant mannequin.
Haha. That thing is a good example of what my mom finds on her treasure hunts in second hand stores and flea markets. I got a call from her one day saying she's staring at a pregnant mannequin torso. She was asking if she should take it home for me so I could paint it someday. I was like, "Alright. That's kind of weird, but sure." It's made of some sort of soft rubber material and I think it actually might hold some ink. I haven't done anything 'artsy' with it yet though. I actually kind of like it as an odd studio decoration.
Seems like your parents have been pretty big supporters?
My parents are awesome. They've always been and are still very supportive. It's hard trying to be an independent artist, but my parents never tried to convince me to pursue another career. They recently helped me hang paintings for a show, my mom printed and hung up pretty much anything I did in their own home and she likes everything I post on Facebook. Haha.
Haha. Any memorable responses from your parents?
A great response was quite recently when I told my mom on the phone that I got hired to illustrate a book for a major American publisher. She said, "Your dad and I want you to know we're proud of you son." I mean that's something everybody wants to hear from their parents, right? I consider myself lucky with my folks and, as an adult man, I still appreciate their involvement in my life very much. which is just that: supporting.
You've mentioned taking inspiration from rock n' roll. How has music played a role in what we see in your work?
I've done a handful music themed pieces and various portraits of famous musicians. There's almost always music playing in my house. Some of my earliest childhood memories are those of watching music videos on TV. I guess those were the good, early years of MTV. Music is almost as important to me as art is. Although I don't play any musical instruments myself or have a real ambition to do so.
Rudy put together this Spotify playlist for readers: Rudy Faber - Society6
Is this your painting playlist?
Just some of it. I have a very broad taste in music. I'm sure you'll find some clearly guilty pleasures in that list as well.
Any other big influencers on your work?
Pfff. So many fellow artists. I'm really into contemporary realism such as the works by Soey Milk, Kris Lewis, Lu Cong, Kent Williams, Golucho just to name a few. Past-era realist painters like John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, the Dutch masters, of course. The guys who took it to another level and influenced so many others following in their footsteps like Alphonse Mucha and Gustav Klimt. Artists in the lowbrow and pop-(sur)realism scene - Audrey Kawasaki, who I actually have a female face tattooed based on one of her works. Jeff Soto, Joao Ruas, Andrew Hem, Glenn Barr, James Jean and Travis Louis. I have a tattoo from one of Travis works as well.
Other than these artists, and I could literally list hundreds more, there's so many tattoo artists who influence me - which would be another couple hundred names.
What advice would you have for aspiring artists?
Just do whatever you want to do. There will be a point when you realize this will, potentially, be a professional career or not. Still keep doing what you love no matter what. If this is not the time, maybe it'll come later in life, maybe not. But what I feel is true about art is that drive, that passion, that urge to want to create is all that it takes to get better at what you do.
If you are able to make a living off it at some point in your life then you're all set. It's not about the money. Itaz about being able to live and do what you love doing. But if you manage to reach that status in which people are willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money for your work, just freaking take it! Don't become a dick though!
Any cool opportunities from your work being on S6?
I get quite a lot of emails starting with asdf I/we saw your work on Society6...asdf. I've done several cool projects resulting from being on S6. These were mostly small brand t-shirt designs, often linked to the tattoo scene. Besides that, being on S6 has been a huge boost for my online presence.
Any artists you want to give a shout out to?
Sites & socials:
All images courtesy of the artist.