Horses, hats and vast empty spaces: illustrator Fabian Franck discusses the art of Western world building

With a background in creative writing, the Stockholm-based illustrator has had no trouble making well-rounded characters and intricate visual storylines.

Date
19 May 2022

"There’s just something about the Old West," says illustrator Fabian Franck. “Or rather,” he clarifies, “something about our portrayals of the Old West, because I’m fairly sure the actual Old West was terrible in almost every way.” After spending years immersing himself in Western-themed films and literature, and falling in love with the “horses, guns, hats and vast empty spaces”, that's when Fabian decided to take his art more seriously. It seemed only natural that he would use his skills to create his very own slice of Western escapism. Having now created a whole town’s worth of unique drawings, the illustrator’s work has developed a lively, characterful charm that we just can’t get enough of here at It’s Nice That.

Alongside his illustration practice, Fabian is currently in his second to last semester of a teaching degree, prior to which he has studied both history and and creative writing. Although he doesn’t write very much anymore, his background studying literature and learning the craft of storytelling has significantly influenced Fabian’s character creation and world building. “Every single character and place in every one of my pieces has a name and a history,” Fabian explains, “I’m not sure how I come up with them, they’re just kind of there.” Listing a few of his favourites with eagerness – Patty “the blonde cowgirl who spends most nights drinking in the local Concord drive”, or Billy Blue Eyes, “the ageing Hollywood Western actor who’s beginning to realise his glory days are behind him” – it’s clear that Fabian is also pretty fond of his rag-taggle bunch.

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Fabian Franck: God Bless Concord (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

Another element that crafts a sense of realism throughout Fabian’s work is his ability to make believable spaces. He doesn't restrict himself to character portraits, meaning his landscape and scene-setting pieces are just as realised – all achieved through his spectacular attention to detail. Wood panelled bars are littered with an array of liquor bottles, living rooms are adorned with hap-hazard frames and cow skin rugs, and gas station windows are plastered with ads and lost cat signs. After viewing Fabian’s body of work, it’s almost as if you’ve become familiar with every nook and cranny his Western world has to offer.

Whilst Fabian has been drawing since he was a kid, the thing that really led him to pick up his practice was his interest in tattoos. “I started doing stick and pokes on myself and my friends a few years back, and I kind of ended up doing my bachelor’s thesis in history on tattooing,” Fabian says. “Then in the fall of 2021, I asked a tattooer how one would go about getting an apprenticeship and got the answer ‘just draw a lot’. So that I did and pretty soon I went from drawing tattoo designs to what I do now. I’m very happy it brought me to this place.” Although Fabian may have let go of his tattooing dreams, its influence still shines through in his work. The playful, character-focused style of his creative hero tattooer Rosie Camanaga is ever-present, and in his piece For Lucy, his subject stands topless – a heart emblazoned across his chest, a snake covering his forearm. Not only for fans of a good Western, Fabian’s work is sure to catch the eye of anyone who loves endearing, unique and thoughtful illustrative worlds.

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Fabian Franck: For Lucy (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

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Fabian Franck: Karaoke night in Concord (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

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Fabian Franck: Franklin Hardware and Groceries (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

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Fabian Franck: Live at Judy’s Blues Tavern (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

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Fabian Franck: Snake River Canyon (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

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Fabian Franck: A new home – Who’ll follow? (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

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Fabian Franck: Nelsons Basked Stuffed Scrod (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

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Fabian Franck: Johan (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

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Fabian Franck: The final days of Billy Blue Eyes (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

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Fabian Franck: No Soliciting (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

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Fabian Franck: Holy Thursday (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

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Fabian Franck: Red (Copyright © Fabian Franck, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in illustration, photography, ceramic design and platforming creativity from the north of England.

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