When did you realize that you had such incredible artistic talent?
As soon as I could hold a pencil I began to draw. I think most kids do, though. I was around five – I remember drawing a picture of my Dad napping. I had a ball point pen and a piece of cardboard that shirts are sometimes folded around in a store. I remember finishing it and being kind of blown away at the fact that I captured his likeness.
As far as talent being “incredible,” It only seems incredible to someone who hasn’t witnessed the 40+ years of practice. It’s like realizing how many hours an Olympic athlete puts into their discipline before they reach that level. If someone rolled out of bed one day and decided to begin figure skating in the Olympics and won.. now that would be incredible.
How much of your skill is natural and how much do you chalk up to practice?
I think it’s impossible to say. To quote oil painting God and author Richard Schmid who said in his book Alla Prima: “Don’t bother about whether or not you have it. Just assume you do and then forget about it. Talent is a word we use after someone has become accomplished. The thing that we label as talent is not a single ability. It is a complex mixture of motive, curiosity, receptivity, intelligence, sensitivity, good teaching, perseverance, timing, sheer luck and countless other things. If any part of it is genetic, God-given, the result of astrological fiddle-faddle, or destiny, that part is not the sole determining factor.”
I love that guy!
When did you become a professional artist?
I was doing freelance work while I was in art school. Should I have been? Hell no. I still have a copy of one of those jobs. It’s cringe worthy. However when someone needed cheap art they went to the art schools. So they got what they paid for.
After art school I moved to Chicago to find a job in advertising. Each day I was either on the phone, reworking my portfolio or interviewing. I finally got a job with Leo Burnett Advertising after about a month of searching. During that search time, however, a friend of mine who was an art director at BBDO Chicago offered me two Wrigley’s Gum commercial storyboards to comp up. That was really the first job I was paid well for and I later saw them on TV. That was 86 or 87. The commercials are on a VHS tape in the basement gathering dust. I should dig it up. I need a good VHS paper weight.
What was you favorite non-freelance job?
Working at TSR. Inc. I was 23 or 24 when I began work there. I worked alongside several great artist/illustrators. I learned a lot in a very short period of time. It was like going to another art school while being paid to attend. Unfortunately I became stagnate toward the end of my tenure but in retrospect we all had a lot of freedom to be creative. More than we knew at the time. I had a group of good friends and participated in a lot of fun things with them outside of work. As they say, “It just don’t get no better’n that.”
Do you have any advice for anyone who thinks they would like to make a living being an artist?
As far as being an artist I have only three pieces of advice. Draw often. Realize that you will be practicing your entire career. No matter how far you go as a professional, be forever the student.
In regards to working as an illustrator, have a backup plan before you begin. I did not and wish I had. Even in the best of situations this is a difficult business to survive in. Rates of pay have risen with the cost of living in other businesses. Not in illustration. In fact rates have actually gone down. A few companies have recently raised their pay rates, including Wizards of the Coast. I find some comfort in that. This is a feast and famine existence. I’m not sure what lies ahead for illustrators. Get a degree. Get a Masters if you can. That way you can always teach if the art jobs dry up or you decide you’ve come to a place in your life where you want to give back.
Who are your biggest artistic inspirations?
That has changed throughout my career. Early on my inspiration came from the top contemporary fantasy artists, Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Jeffrey Jones, Michael Whelan, H.R. Giger, Jim Burns and Sanjulian.
During my years out West I was inspired by artists like James Bama, Howard Terpning, Wildlife artist Robert Bateman and Frank McCarthy, and Paul Calle.
At the present I am quite obsessed with the works of Andrew Wyeth. I look back for inspiration now. Artists like Joaquin Sorolla, John Singer Sargent, Frank Schoonover and Winslow Homer. I just picked up a book on Salvadore Dali, so I’m sure I’ll immerse myself in his work for some weeks to come.
Are there any particular pieces you have done that you are especially proud of? Why?
I realized after leaving TSR that I averaged about one painting a year that I could truly call a favorite. It was usually a painting where the end result exceeded my expectations. It seemed the sum of the painting was greater than its parts. Anytime I do something that I was not aware that I was capable of it is a sign of growth. Sometimes the fans shared in my enthusiasm of the piece and sometimes I seemed to be alone.
I think one of my latest paintings that I consider a favorite is a painting called “Patience”, painted in 2012. I experimented with gold leafing. The wings of the faery are actual gold-leaf and the markings on the turtle are gold-leaf paint. I hired a great model who was in her mid to late 20s but had this very slight and ripped build. I turned her brown hair to red as a homage to J.W. Waterhouse. I was just genuinely pleased with the outcome. I wish they all gave me that feeling but the stinkers help to define the good ones.
Fred worked for several years as a cover illustrator at TSR Inc. and later with Wizards of the Coast where he worked with such notably talented illustrators as Jeff Easley, Clyde Caldwell, Alan Pollack, Dana Knutson, Tony Sczcudlo, Robh Ruppel and Brom. He later spent several years in Arizona painting the sons and daughters of the great American West. He has also worked as a concept artist for Dream Forge Entertainment and Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment.
Currently Fred is a self-employed illustrator, concept artist, storyboard artist and fine art painter. He now resides in his native state of Kentucky with his wife and sons. Life is good.