I hope you enjoy getting to know Fabi and her fabulous illustrations.
A couple of weeks ago my daughter was telling me how she’d like to design surfboards for a living. Obviously I was delighted and praised her ambition. Quietly I despaired. Seriously, what’s the chance of combining her passion for surfing and design as a career?!
The next day Fabi Aguilar emailed me out of the blue, and shared her uplifting story of surfing and illustration. It eased my despair and inspired my daughter.
I’m sure she’ll have a positive effect on your life too.
Interview with Fabi Aguilar
Keen to discover more about how and why Fabi created these surfer artworks, I took the liberty of asking a few questions. Here’s what Fabi had to say:
I’ve read you have your very own Surfer Dad, did he teach you to surf? If so, what can you remember good and bad?
Yes he is and no, he didn’t teach me. We were living in Canada until I was 10, where the sea is frozen. Then we moved to the south of Spain, looking for some sun and where, as you know, the Mediterranean Sea is pretty flat.
Every time we went on holidays where there was surfing, my brother was the one going with him while I was staying with my mum and sisters on the beach.
I guess I wanted to go many times with him but the currents always pulled me back. It’s ironic because later on, as I got older, I started swimming every week, which I still do today.
What makes me breathe, eat and sleep surf is to have seen him telling me stories with shining eyes about when he was going to catch waves early morning with his friends in the 70’s, when surfing was starting in the north of Spain. Also seeing him super happy every time he was coming out of the water and always saying: “Fabi, the day I retire I just want to get in the water every day with my longboard. I don’t need anything else to be happy”.
How has your nomadic life and parents influenced your work? and lifestyle?
Pouf… in everything. My parents have been a key part in my creativity, in reality, the most important one. My art is a combination of their passions turned into a tangible object.
From an art perspective, everything started with my maternal grandmother, who was a piano teacher and a portrait painter.
When I was 6 years old I started piano lessons in Canada and ended up at the conservatory in Spain for 14 years. As you can see, since very little I was connected to art. Music was and is my spine (the proof is my 300 playlists on Spotify, haha.)
At that time my mum was working as a photographer for the Spanish newspaper “El Mundo” and covered several wars. Watching her black and white portrait slides impacted me and stayed engraved deep in my brain.
As a creative person too, she always encouraged me to create, to do what made me happy. And I think this is key. Nowadays there are many people who do not follow the arts because their most intimate circle discourages them, tells them that they will starve, that they are not good enough, what is wrong and what is right and oh Lord… what a pity to even consider what they say.
From the travel perspective, I was born in the north of Spain but then moved to Dakar (Senegal) and later on to St Pierre et Miquelon (let’s see if you can find it on the map!). We also lived in Madrid. After that I moved on my own to Cork (Ireland), Perugia (Italy) and St Martin (French Antilles, Caribbean) where my parents were living at that time until hurricane Irma arrived and all our lives changed. And now Melbourne (Australia) for almost 3 years.
Each place and a lot of trips in between had a huge cultural impact on me. The south of Spain, the place where I have spent the longest period of my life, has a big Arab art influence due to its proximity [to North Africa]. At the same time, there were many objects in my home from all over the world, colours and patterns that stayed in my brain too. Especially from South America, since my mother is originally from Argentina and my father’s ancestors are Cuban. A good mix… I know.
You say in your bio “I invite surfers from all over the Globe to engage with art”. How would you like surfers to engage with art?
I believe that surfing and art go hand on hand. They are different worlds and at the same time the same. Art liberates your soul, so surf does. When surfing and drawing, you enter into an emotional and physical flow state where your brain does not exist, it is the pure connection within yourself.
It is also rare to find a surfer who does not like illustration. Boards are canvas. Each surfer can show their artistic self on it (independently of the sponsors’ stickers).
I want surfers to engage more with illustration through their own portraits. Why? Everyone is born creative, everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry uninspiring books on maths, geography, history, etc. I want them to feel that “creative bug” again, this voice telling them: “I’d like my crayons back, please”.
They already know that feeling when surfing, now it’s their turn with the crayons. Creativity is a direct channel to happiness, which in the end is the key to success in life, right?
This is my clear message: let’s create more, let’s be happy!
Why do you illustrate surfers?
Passion. Passion for the sport itself and all the culture around it. When you decide to change the direction of your professional career it’s because you have a clear vision of where you want to go and you will give it 100%, no… 10000%. The passion and joy for what you do is your compass. You just know when you’ve found it, you can’t explain it, you just feel it deep inside, in your gut.
How do you select the surfers to illustrate? What do you search for?
I draw only photos that really catch my eye. I look for something different, it can be the pose, the look, a characteristic gesture of the person or the clothes they wear.
After drawing the realistic portrait in black & white, I do my interpretation of the rest in colour.
What’s your process for creating the images?
First of all I choose the photo of the person to draw (it is key to have a high quality one so when zooming in it doesn’t get pixelated). Then I decide if I draw it as it is or I add clothes and/or accessories. Later on, I do a quick pencil sketch that will serve me as a guide for the proportions.
After I move to the painting itself. I’m exploring oil paint and I’m just loving it! I like to keep the person in black and white (as a tribute to my mother’s photographs) and the rest in colour, predominating pastel tones.
Each illustration takes me an average of 10-15hrs. Everything depends on the level of detail. For example the curly hair takes me much more time than the straight one because I have to paint each curl lights and shadows in order to see the depth and natural movement.
When the person is drawn, I move to the background which is the “boho” part. I am inspired by photos of objects from my family house and patterns from Africa, South America and Australian Aboriginals.
I’m excited because I’m soon going to create a YouTube channel as well as IGTV where I’ll post the time lapses of all the portraits so you can see the whole process!
How do you choose what to add and leave out from an illustration?
I keep only the portrait of each photo, I remove the background and draw my own one.
I try to make the portraits as realistic as possible. If in the photo there is a black line on the right, I paint a black line on the right.
When I have the portrait painted, I change brushes and start with the colour part.
I love adding symbols on the surfer’s face, as well as around. This is 100% my tribal interpretation of the person.
As I go drawing, I add or erase depending how it’s looking like (this will be seen in the time lapses that I will upload soon).
I usually choose a colour palette for each portrait. Many times I choose the favourite colours of that surfer or the ones that they tell me they like.
Why create these wonderful works?
Thank you! Interesting question. It all started as a mix of passions: drawing, black and white photography, surfing, and tribal graphic elements. All of them are a clear representation of myself as a person, my parents’ passions, my travels and how the world has influenced my way of seeing life.
I started without expectations a year or so ago, simply doing what I was passionate about and sharing it on my social networks. And slowly it became a job!
I’m getting each month more and more commissions from surfers who want a portrait of themselves or someone else to give as a present.
I’m also being surprised by business proposals that I never imagined could happen! Stay tuned to my Insta to be updated 😉
Phew… a lot of things!!
With this Covid’s second wave lockdown in Melbourne, I had much more free time to explore new things. I’m experimenting with new brushes for the portraits and different types of paints for the surfers’ quotes hand-lettering.
At the moment I’m just focused on illustrating surfers, but I am very attracted to the skateboard culture too.
In the next few months, as I said before, I will create the YouTube channel and Insta tv as well as an online shop where you can buy the prints. Interesting brand collaborations are coming up too.
We’ll see… every day I’m getting more and more positive surprises from Insta as well as emails that are guiding me in the direction that all this should take.