Robert E Fuller: How I Stole From Him
Who is Robert E Fuller?
Robert E Fuller is a wildlife painter from Yorkshire, England who paints in oils and acrylics. He’s done work for the RSPB and the National Trust. In fact, jump on over to Robert’s website – I’m sure he’ll do a far better job at telling you who he is than I ever could.
I’ve been to his gallery and it’s in a place nobody’s ever heard of – Thixendale. To get there, you’ll have to stop and ask directions from many people, all wearing wellington boots and overalls. It’s worth the trek though, it’s a beautifully converted farm house with awesome artwork.
Basically, he does incredible paintings of a lot of British wildlife, but some of my favourite Robert E Fuller paintings are actually of lions, zebras and elephants. Maybe because all of those were in The Lion King and I’m yet to find a good Disney movie about Yorkshire’s finest Mustelids.
But Isn’t Stealing a Bad Thing?!
Okay, so I know that along with the word stealing comes some pretty bad connotations. Is it right to take someone’s new £1,000 3D television? Nope. What about stealing a movie off the internet that a studio paid $200,000,000 for? I mean, no… that’s not okay, but where else am I going to get 1989’s masterpiece The Wizard at 11pm on a Sunday night (okay, maybe 200 million dollars was a slight overestimate on the budget of that movie)? Actually, I always buy my music and movies but the general consensus on the internet is that the lines are blurred on stealing digital content. Take that into the art world though and stealing, in my opinion, is not only acceptable, but essential.
What Exactly is Stealing?
Ask Google the definition for stealing, and it will come right back at you with something like:
take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it.
Without stealing in art we would still be painting a yak with a spear through it’s head on a cave wall with crushed bugs and sticks. Some people find it difficult admitting they have influences and like they’re somehow sacrificing the sanctity of art. “I’m an artiste, therefor I’m pure and erudite”. The truth is though, getting to any stage worth bragging about needs hard work and hard study. When Newton was giving credit to the giants who’s shoulders he was standing upon, he was admitting that science (like art) is something that evolves and to evolve you need to build off something that already exists. Although, I didn’t see him giving any of the credit to the apple that fell on his head. Was it a Granny Smith, a Golden Delicious or a Pink Lady? We may never know.
I steal all the time and I’m proud of it.
It may be the way an artist paints a nose, or the way someone’s anatomy is caricatured. It doesn’t matter to me… if something stands out, I’ll take it. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not for one minute saying to directly copy something. I’m not going to take a photo and trace over it or colour pick a palette in Photoshop, but use these things for inspiration. The beautiful thing about stealing is that it’ll be going through your brain’s filter. Nobody else in the world has the exact same life experiences, tastes in music, art, food, movies or anything else. We are all individual and if we were all given the same assignment, we would all have a different spin on it.
I guess a better word would be influence… but that just sounds boring!
What Did I Steal from Robert E Fuller?
You may be thinking that I’m an editorial caricature illustrator so what could I possibly steal from a wildlife painter? A lot, actually.
Robert really knows how to market himself and turn his art into a product. Sure, he can sell one of his original paintings for ten grand, but it doesn’t stop there and he knows this better than anyone. In his gallery you can buy his artwork on absolutely anything. Placemats, mugs, prints, greetings cards, gift wrap, coasters, calendars and anything else you can imagine. In fact, for Christmas this year my Mum bought me a 2016 Robert E Fuller diary, a bookmark and a guess what was on my Christmas card from her? Yup… one of his zebra paintings.
Now don’t get me wrong, he’s not just bulk-buying any old piece of junk off eBay and slapping his artwork on it. Everything I’ve seen and held is super high quality and you can really tell that a lot of thought goes into what products to sell and where to source them. I think we can all learn from that.
The original artwork is not the end goal, but the beginning of further products and licensing opportunities. Not only that though, the main thing I took away from it is that the customer’s satisfaction needs to be number one. It’s tempting to get the cheapest t shirts to print on to or some sweat shop garbage off a website you’ve never heard of before, but that’s not benefiting your customers and it’s certainly not benefiting your brand (Yes… you went to art school and that’s all fancy fancy, but you are also a brand. If you’re wearing a beret, I’m sorry to break that to you).
Research, Research, Research
Aside from the branding and product methodology I took away from my trip, the biggest standout to me was Robert’s exhaustive research and referencing.
Robert goes above and beyond what I’ve seen from any other artist with his animal observations. He has built different areas for wildlife to live around his gallery and rigged them up with more cameras than a Canon warehouse so he can monitor them as they act in the wild with no human interference. His television is effectively showing an animal version of Big Brother at all times. Robert’s tireless research is that extensive that if you told me he gets in the bath with a lion every night and he has a family of giraffes living in his closet, I’d believe you in a heartbeat.
Human anatomy study has always been a big thing for me. I like to know what’s going on beneath the skin to bring believability to my images, no matter how exaggerated they are. Even from a young age, Robert used to collect animal skulls and anatomy and endlessly draw them and it shows within his artwork today. As you can see in the photo I took above, on his desk he has endless photos he’s taken of animals and if you look closely you can see that he’s cut heads off different pictures and mixed them up until he has a nice composition. I know a lot of people will wonder why he doesn’t just do something like that in Photoshop, but it’s refreshing to see an artist that still does absolutely everything by hand, from taking his own reference images, comping and all the way up to the final image.
Don’t get me wrong, if I get an assignment to caricature someone, I’m not going to sneak into their houses and rig up a complicated surveillance system. Not only would that be overkill but would probably land me in prison and I’m not sure I’d fit in too well there. I have though, been gathering an abundance of reference materials for each person I caricature. Before my trip to Robert E Fuller’s gallery I’d go on Google and find an image I most associated with that person and start sketching, but now I’ve been watching interviews with them, getting as many angles as possible in my photo reference and if it’s a musician I’m drawing, I’ve been listening to their music non-stop from the sketch phase all the way to the end whilst I’m working. It’s making my work stronger and I think that any artist can only improve by doing the same.
Don’t just be thorough, be exhaustive (just stay within the law).
Go out now and steal! Go find your favourite artist and take everything you can from him. Then once you’ve taken everything, find all of his influences and steal from them too.