Fiona Stephenson is a trained illustrator who studied at Barnsley and Harrow School of Art in the mid-’80s. Her early career found her doing TV and magazine illustrations before comic book lettering for Judge Dredd 2000 A.D and Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000, which led to coloring work for D.C Comics.
While being steeped in the comic book world is where Fiona discovered and fell in love with American Pin-Up art, in particular, Gil Elvgren, Zoe Mozart and George Petty. After discovering the art of Pin-Up, Fiona felt the need to branch out beyond comic book coloring and decided to teach herself to oil paint. After spending a couple of years building up a reputation as an Elvgren tribute painter, Fiona then started creating her own vintage styled pin-up girls.
Fiona is now recognized as a modern Pin-Up artist in her own right, although she will be the first to admit that she still takes her inspiration from the artists of the 1940s and ‘50s.
Where were you born and raised? I was born and raised in South Yorkshire; it’s an industrial part of the UK.
Do you feel that had any influence on you becoming an artist? There is no obvious link, but it’s possible there’s a subtle influence. The area I come from is quite deprived, and I believe working-class people tend to be creative. My Mum used to draw pin-up style ice skaters for me to copy when I was young. I realized later she was copying the work of George Petty and Bradshaw Crandell.
What was the progression from art student to a professional artist? My path was a bit convoluted. After finishing art college in London, I briefly did TV and magazine illustrations. My husband (then boyfriend) was a comic artist and he asked me to letter some of his work. I was a Letterer for Games Workshop, 2000AD and DC Comics for a few years before trying my hand at being a Colorist. It was during this period that I attended the San Diego comic convention. A vendor was selling Gil Elvgren books and Collector’s card sets. I immediately fell in love with his art. On returning home, I copied an Elvgren painting, using oil on canvas when it was finished, a friend offered to buy it and that started my pin-up artist career.
How did you find your niche in Pin-Up art? Once my friend had shown interest in the pin-up painting, I wondered how many other people would like an actual painting rather than a print. I spent a couple of years doing Elvgren tribute paintings, practicing my oil painting skills and building an online profile. Circa 2008, I eventually started painting my own originals.
Many people have tried to pay homage to Elvgren, but they miss the subtleties. You are the best I’ve ever seen at work in his style. Any secrets? Thank you so much, you couldn’t have given me a better compliment! I always keep in mind that the pin-up has to have plenty of character in her face and the ‘story’ has to be plausible, even though it might be ridiculous. She should also be quite unaware, the flash of stocking top accidental and not too vulgar.
Are there any virtually unknown pin-up artists that we should look up? I think with today’s information technology it would be difficult for an artist to be totally unknown, but it can be difficult to find artwork from 1950s artists online. Rolf Armstrong is worth looking up; he created incredible pieces using pastel which is a very challenging medium to use. I also like Zoe Mozert, Earl Moran, Joyce Ballantyne, Bill Medcalf, and Al Buell.
I spotted a modern pin-up style artist at a comic convention in Leeds earlier this year called Genevieve FT. She’s a Canadian who does illustration and tattoos. I liked her work so much I bought a piece of her art.
Do you have a favorite pulp novel artist? HJ Ward is superb at creating action in a small two-dimensional area. His loose brushwork creates a brilliant sense of movement.
What are some of your non-fine-art-related influences? When I was at college I dabbled in animation. It’s incredibly time consuming and it didn’t suit me, but I loved the quirky films of the Quay Brothers and Jan Svankmayer. I haven’t found a way of working the creepy quality into my pin-up art. Maybe I need to move into pulp/noir. I also love biofilms, especially if they have great cinematography and color. A couple of my favorites are the Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes.
Best punk show you ever went to? There have been many, but here are my two favorites. Before the Damned were considered Goth, they were Punk and I went to see them as often as I could in the nearest city — Sheffield. Captain Sensible once set fire to the support band whilst they were playing because he didn’t like them. Funny for the audience not so much for the support band. I also saw Stiff Little Fingers in Wakefield on the “Guts for Sale” tour. They were supported by an up-and-coming fellow Irish band called U2. U2 had to leave the stage under fire from the audience, Bono was doing too much talking. Where are they now?; )
A band you wish you had seen, but never got the opportunity?
The Pixies. Life has conspired against me seeing them whenever they’ve been in the U.K. I know they still tour, but it’s not the Pixies without Kim Deal.
Have you ever thought of becoming a tattoo artist? No. Tattooing onto flesh must be fiendishly difficult. Working on canvas can have movement and spring, but a living, breathing being is a different matter. There’s no room for mistakes. I’m also very solitary. I don’t like an audience when I work. I would find talking to another person whilst working very distracting.
Do you have any tattoos? No, I’m a terrible procrastinator. Some of my friends have gotten incredibly beautiful body art. Tattooing has really blossomed as an art form over the years.
What’s the best thing about being an artist? The best thing is doing a job you love. A job that makes people smile and hopefully improves their life/surroundings. It’s also great being your own boss and setting your own course through life.
And the follow-up, what’s the most difficult thing? Money can be intermittent. You have to manage your finances well. You also have to be a self-publicist, which takes you away from doing the actual artwork, but it is a necessary evil.
If you weren’t creating via fine art, where would your creative outlet be?
Music is my first love and I always hoped I’d be musical, but alas I’m not. I keep trying to teach myself how to play the organ and I suppose if I had more time I’d put more effort into that. Realistically, I think I would have drifted towards being a make-up artist, not the fashion kind but the film/horror department, I love getting dressed up for Halloween. This year I was Medusa. I created a headdress of snakes. It was heavy, but I suffered for my art.
You can check out more of Fiona’s work and even buy some “stuff” at fionastephenson.com.