Artist meets Gamer: Interview with Pixel Painter Francis Gordon

I, DefyAllLogic (Tavia) of The Game Fanatics, had a chance to e-meet and interview artist Francis Gordon.

Francis is an international pixel artist. Unlike most pixel artists, Francis doesn’t use a computer. He creates his grids using a regular pencil and maps out his colors by eye. Once he’s gridded, mapped, and outlined, he paints neatly within the lines with oils or acrylics and a paint brush.

When he’s finished there are beautiful pop-art paintings depicting some of 8-bit gaming’s favorite characters.

Gold painting from Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal (1999, 2000). Oil on Canvas, using a 3x3mm hand drawn grid.
Gold painting from Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal (1999, 2000). Oil on Canvas, using a 3x3mm hand drawn grid.

TGF’s Tavia:      Francis, your process must take a crazy amount of patience?

Francis Gordon: Patience certainly helps. I’ll often hate the process of having to do an entire colour in certain places so precisely, only to have to do it again to strengthen that particular coat, then repeat that process for every other colour until it finishes the painting, but I’ll love the work when it’s done to the point where I’ll totally forget everything that got me to that stage

TGF’s Tavia: (Hm, U’s where they don’t belong…) Where are you from? 
Francis Gordon: Glasgow, Scotland. But I’m in New Zealand now for some reason.

TGF’s Tavia: How old are you?

Francis Gordon: I am currently 20 years old. 

TGF’s Tavia: How long have you been gaming?

Francis Gordon: Well my first gaming memory is, my parents had just gone and bought an NES second hand from somewhere, along with a copy of Super Mario Bros. At the end of the first level, some people will know that after your score is tallied up and stuff, Mario enters a pipe to the right of the castle to enter into the next level, the underground one.

But I was watching my parents play this, and as soon as Mario entered the pipe, I started crying, because I thought he was gone forever. I must’ve been only four years old or younger at the time, but my Mom assured me that Mario wasn’t gone, and surely enough, he dropped down from the top of the next level, and the game continued. I’ve been gaming ever since.

TGF’s Tavia: (I think my cat was thinking the same thing when Mario disappeared.) How long have you been arting?

Francis Gordon: I don’t have a straight answer for that one. As long as I can remember, mostly drawing. The pixel stuff I do now I’ve only been doing for two years or so, and I’ve been doing simple comics at random points in my life, more so now than before.

TGF’s Tavia: Which came first, the art or the games?

Francis Gordon: Pretty sure I got an enjoyment outta’ drawing random stuff before I’d started with video games, but I couldn’t be sure.

TGF’s Tavia: You make your pixel art using what mediums?

Francis Gordon: I originally used oil paints because of their historical notions of high quality. But because they take ages to dry, I stopped using them recently, and went for acrylics instead. 

TGF’s Tavia: How long does it usually take to create a piece?

Francis Gordon: Usually two weeks if things like my job or University don’t get in the way. My first few more complicated pieces would take a year, but I’ve gotten faster. I’m sure you can appreciate how much patience is required for drawing up a grid on canvas where each square can sometimes be no bigger than 2x2mm [about a sixth of an inch] each, then there’s the time required to map everything by eye co-ordination, getting the colours right, and so on.

TGF’s Tavia: University? What are you studying?

Francis Gordon: I’m currently doing a double major in Japanese and Design. The Japanese part stems from my interest in video games, when my Father told me when I was younger about the country where Nintendo was based, and I was self taught until I could attend University. The design portion of my degree I don’t actually enjoy all that much, but the skills I’ve learnt there I’ve found to be pretty useful in every other artistic field that I’m interested in, with things like composition, how to communicate information through graphical means and so on, all of which can be applied to my paintings.

TGF’s Tavia: What’s your favorite piece you’ve made?

Francis Gordon: My Banzai Bill painting from Super Mario World. The sorta’ cute / cartoony / angry subject matter works really well with the amount of black there is, which has a good contrast against the shades of grey, white, and that bit of pink. Also the orange, which is my favorite colour.

TGF’s Tavia: You seem to have a lot of Nintendo pieces, are you a big Nintendo fan or do your style and theirs just work well together?

Francis Gordon: I probably do a lot of Nintendo for stylistic reasons. My first gaming experience was with Nintendo, and I was a big fanboy for a while, but these days I really try to experience games on as many different systems as possible. Nintendo stuff also benefits from being quite iconic, and because my work is pixel based, it’s mostly the old NES / Super NES stuff that works best.

TGF’s Tavia: What would you say is your favorite system to game on?

Francis Gordon: I’m gonna’ say Super NES. That’s probably not true, but I’m moving towns soon, and out of all the old systems I could’ve taken with me, I decided to take my Japanese Super Famicom Jr. and all the games I have for that. I’m not sure why. It’s probably just more lingering fanboy bias from my childhood.

TGF’s Tavia: What is your all-time favorite game?

Francis Gordon: The original Metroid for the NES. I don’t play it all that often and I can’t really prove that it’s my favorite, but I just like the atmosphere of the whole thing, being all alone, not knowing where to go or what you’re meant to be doing. And the unforgiving difficulty level. Its inspired sequels are also great.

TGF’s Tavia: What would you say is your favorite type of video game?

Francis Gordon: Probably platformer. I don’t really choose games based on genre, but if I were to look at all of the games I play and like the most, they’d probably be all platformers.

TGF’s Tavia: And at the top of your holiday wish list?

Francis Gordon: I’ll just want some money for my move to a bigger town later in December, but I plan to buy a 3DS from Japan for myself, somehow, after Christmas. 

TGF’s Tavia: Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself, your art, or your gaming habits?

Francis Gordon: I will add that as I’ve grown up, my attitude to games has certainly changed. I’m expected to be doing adult things now, like thinking about my graduation plans, and all of the study required for that doesn’t leave me with a lot of time for gaming. There was even a time when I was buying more games than I was actually playing them. I’m just fond of owning the original boxes, and manuals, and I’ll often just walk around a certain level in a game just to look at the way the sprites move or the way the backgrounds were drawn, in an artistic sense.

And it was for this reason that I started painting all this pixel stuff, because it just looked pretty. But I’m looking forward to exploring the questions that go through my head as I paint them, such as, maybe I’m just so involved with this as a form of escapism. Because there are certainly many things about the real world I’d rather just not think about, like underlying notions of social injustice like racism or homophobia or just some of the dumb things that politicians say. I’d just rather play video games than listen to all that. Themes of ignoring this stuff alongside self analysis and criticism through video game related subject matters are certainly things I’d like to explore later on.

Oh, and I’d love to start working with bigger canvases.

TGF’s Tavia: (Francis doesn’t know yet, but he’s my new best friend.)  If you’d like to stalk Francis around the internet and peek into his virtual studio windows, check out his DeviantArt page: or follow his blog:

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