Artist Enrique Figueroa is already familiar to many under his creative name Frankentoon, but there is much more to this multi-talented artist and designer from El Salvador than you may realise.
After adopting the Affinity apps for his own creativity in the early days of development, Enrique quickly became an independent expert on all things Affinity. On his Frankentoon website you can find a ‘one stop shop’ of learning tutorials, eBooks and beautiful creative assets like brushes and textures for Affinity Designer.
The success of Frankentoon has led him to launch FXMonkey, a range of post-production tools for Affinity Photo, accompanied by mini guides.
We spoke to Enrique to get an insight into his myriad of creative projects…
Enrique the illustrator
Were you creative growing up? What were your main inspirations?
I grew up as a very solitary child for some reason, I got bored playing with other kids, which was fine for a while. I preferred to read books and draw my own stories inspired by Japanese TV and American comic books.
How did you get started in your creative career?
I think it started at home. My mother is a traditional painter, from a very early age she taught me how to draw and paint. Despite having a graphic design degree, I truly believe my creative career was born at home, drawing for friends at school in exchange for candies or toys. Those were the days!
What/who inspires you now?
This is a very difficult question… there are too many things to count! I’ll try to sum up the most important ones.
Most of my visual inspiration nowadays comes from the real world (as boring as it sounds). I love nature, abandoned places, construction vehicles, all kinds of machinery and of course, people.
I love to sit in a crowded place and observe all different kinds of people and try to capture their personalities through drawing.
How is your studio space set up? What technology/equipment do you use? What things wouldn’t you be without?
I have a late 2015 17-inch iMac, a Wacom Intuos Draw tablet, a Pixma Printer/Scanner.
I usually borrow my wife’s Nikon Camera, an M-Audio interface and Beringher condenser microphone for recording our latest video tutorials.
I also have a lot of sketchbooks laying around, acrylic and oil paint tubes, watercolours and a nice collection of brushes and a hundred or so Prismacolor markers.
What I cannot live without (for the past couple of years) is my iPad. I carry it in my backpack at all times, it has replaced my traditional sketchbook when traveling.
Describe a typical ‘day in the life of’ Frankentoon.
I wake up at 4.30-5.00am, get my morning coffee and do a daily 30 minutes warm-up sketching session, then I check my emails. I read work-related emails once a day and try to reply them all at that time.
After this I take a little break for a shower and have a breakfast while watching Youtube or Netflix. Then I make a quick to-do list for the day, based on my monthly agenda.
I work on Frankentoon stuff three days in a row and then dedicate one day to work on FX Monkey stuff.
“I try to get all thinking-related work done by noon; I think my right brain works better in the morning.”
Usually I try to get all thinking-related work done by noon; I think my right brain works better in the morning. Then I make a pause for lunch and work from 2-5pm on my illustrations and anything related to our Franken-Packs. Then I head to the gym for one hour.
Depending on my mood or current deadlines, I work from two to five hours at night, which I love. I find it very relaxing working at night; then I try to get in bed by midnight. I must say I hate sleeping, it prevents me from doing the things I love. I know this isn’t healthy at all, but I cannot help myself, I love to be alive and sleeping is a waste of precious time haha.
This is just an ideal agenda of course, I always try not to be too robotic and do the same stuff everyday. Since I work from my home-studio most of the time, it’s very difficult to tell the difference between Monday and Sunday, for real! Sometimes I’m taking the day off on a Thursday and working my ass off doing a late-night Saturday…
I’m a bit of a workaholic, but I’m 33 already and I know the energy won’t last too long, so I try to get the most out of each day doing what I love.
Do you work in isolation or are you part of a creative ‘scene’ where you live?
I love to talk and share experiences with other artists and I try to keep in touch with them once a week. But when it comes to pure work I’m a total loner, even when collaborating on a project with Brenda (my wife). We usually start working as individuals and put the pieces together later on. We appreciate our space and tranquillity. That’s why we decided to move almost two hours away from the city (San Salvador). We have no kids, no neighbours…you get the idea. I’m unable to finish a project when I have too many distractions around.
When we were working on our latest eBook for Affinity Designer, ‘Intro to Isometric Illustration’, I barely went out for a month. I used to sleep on a couch near to my workstation, to be able to get up and keep working on it at any time of the night. When the book launched, I slept for almost three days in a row!
What are the best art tips or advice you’ve received over the years?
Set a goal for your life and get rid of all the distractions that are preventing you reaching that goal.
Invest in your personal education. Don’t only learn about the software you use. Learn about colour theory, anatomy, composition, and even non-art related disciplines. I love biology, science, and musical theory. In one way or another your skills, confidence and inspiration levels will benefit from any knowledge you feed your brain with. Not only learn about how things look, but how they work.
“your skills, confidence and inspiration levels will benefit from any knowledge you feed your brain with.”
Your illustration skills cover a range of styles, from highly stylised vector work to painterly digital art… what’s your favourite style to work in?
I don’t have a favourite style yet and I don’t think I’ll ever have one. See, I get bored very easily and I can’t keep working the same style too many days in a row. One day I feel deeply moved by SpongeBob SquarePants and the next I’m touched by some Glass Animals piece of music.
Both make me want to approach my art from totally different angles.
A few years ago I was struggling to get to the ultimate ‘Enrique Figueroa’s style’ and felt very frustrated about it because I couldn’t settle down.
The moment I felt I had reached my sweet spot, I watched a movie or saw a piece of art that made me want to take another direction with my art style.
So as years passed by I ended up embracing my volatile self and accepted the fact that perhaps I’d never have a definitive style that identifies my artwork.
How did you discover Affinity? What tools do you use most often in your workflow?
I read about it on a blog (Creative Bloq if I’m not mistaken) back in 2015, purchased immediately and fell in love. My all-time favourite tool of Designer is the Adjustment Layers menu. The idea of changing colour settings without permanently affecting your illustrations makes you want to experiment and be more daring with your art. That’s one of the reasons I couldn’t go back to Illustrator.
What’s your favourite piece of work you’ve created in Affinity?
For some reason, there’s something I always like about my ‘We are the Freaks’ illustration. In fact, I have something planned using that title in the near future.
Frankentoon and Toon Lab
Can you tell us about Frankentoon/Toon Lab?
The whole idea of Toon Lab and Frankentoon was based around Affinity Designer. Let me explain—when I started to play with the software I felt like I had found an actual contender to Adobe Illustrator. I was writing tutorials for digital art enthusiasts using Illustrator but I was kinda blocked trying to find an easy way to teach through it.
So I put that project on hold while I was figuring out a way to make illustration more accessible to non-artists.
“The more I used it, the more I saw the educational potential of the app.”
In 2015 I started using Affinity Designer for my professional work, like right away. The more I used it, the more I saw the educational potential of the app. I was particularly fascinated by Designer’s Shape Tools—so much so that I made a style based on them and that’s how the original Frankentoon style was born.
It looked cool and was easy to explain and to follow, for beginners and experienced users alike.
What inspired you to start creating brushes?
I’ve always been curious about creating my own tools, it was something I practiced since design school. I used to experiment with my own home-made paper, pigments and brushes. I was obsessed with that kind of stuff.
Another thing that I love is to take photos of interesting textures or shapes wherever I go. I have a multi-terabyte collection of walls, papers, leaves, rust, etc.
Creating my own digital brushes was a matter of mixing up both worlds.
Tell us about how you create your brushes?
First of all, I only create new brushes or any other resources when I need them in my own work. This way I make sure I’m not making gimmicky stuff but actual functional tools.
“I only create new brushes or any other resources when I need them in my own work. This way I make sure I’m not making gimmicky stuff ”
I have a separate private collection of about 400 brushes, which I call ‘Brush Lab’. That’s like my personal sandbox where I play around with new brushes and see which tools work well together.
When creating brushes I don’t have a particular theme in mind. Later, when my wife Brenda and I have a mix-and-match session to decide which brushes or tools would work as a whole to make a pack, the process of making a pack happens. Of course after this selection we usually fine-tune these tools a little further to really make them part of the same family.
In a way, I can say I’m always creating something new. I’m carrying my camera everywhere to capture anything interesting I see during the day or picking up things to scan at home. I try to make my work as fluid as possible, and this way of collecting assets without even thinking about it saves me a lot of time in the long run.
If we need extra help during the creation process, we have hired a designer or illustrator to give us a hand.
How has creating your own brushes influenced your own digital art practice?
I think it has been the other way around.
“I try not to think about the tools I’m going to use at all”
When I start an illustration or photo manipulation project I try not to think about the tools I’m going to use at all. I always start with the most basic brush possible (that’s why most of the times I include a pencil brush in our packs).
It’s only when I have decided what to do, and how I want my final artwork to look, that I start searching for the resources needed to materialise the final image.
If the tools I have at hand work, great. If not, I go back to my library and create a new brush, texture, style, macro, etc.
That’s how every pack we’ve created has been conceived, always around functionality and covering a particular need.
We love your micro-tutorials—tell us a little bit about them and what inspired you to create them?
Thank you! It’s very simple actually—one day I was experimenting with specific ways of adapting our tutorials for different social media when I stumbled upon Pinterest. I found myself looking at a whole world of mini-tutorials that you can read very quickly on your own phone.
I loved the way other people were able to explain a bunch of useful things with a couple images and very few words. So I put together a couple of them and uploaded to Pinterest too.
It wasn’t until December 2017 that I was checking out our pins again and realised how many saves and re-pins our micro tutorials had.
So we decided to replicate them in our own Toon Lab. The challenge here is to teach something useful in less than five minutes. Currently, we’re working on a little batch of these micro tuts, since the format has become quite popular.
Tell us a little bit about your Advanced illustration eBooks for Affinity Designer.
We were brainstorming different ideas for our Frankentoon project back in 2015 when we had the idea of creating a collection of tutorials for beginner illustrators and art enthusiasts using Affinity Designer.
We didn’t have an audience to offer this book to right away, so we decided to launch a website with free tutorials to get to know who our audience was and find out what they wanted to learn.
“Our goal is to make Frankentoon a virtual academy for independent digital illustrators.”
Our goal is to make Frankentoon a virtual academy for independent digital illustrators. They can start learning for free with our beginner and intermediate tutorials. Once they feel the natural need of scaling up another notch, they can do it through our Advanced series.
We’ve already started working on our third instalment of Advanced Illustration. This time is very special since we asked our audience to decide the subject matter through a Twitter poll.
Tell us a little bit about the newly re-launched FX Monkey.
Brenda and I are huge fans of photo-manipulation and photo-retouching. We have worked on advertising campaigns as photography directors and retouchers. When Affinity Photo came out, we started FX Monkey as a side project for fun.
I left my job to dedicate my full time to Frankentoon in 2017. We had to put FX Monkey on hold once we realised how time-consuming running a full-time website could be. Still, FX Monkey was a fun little project that I missed working on.
One day I logged into FX Monkey and to my surprise we had more than 1200 subscribers in our mailing list interested in our macro packs.
You cannot ignore that, so in early 2018, we decided to re-launch the website with more products, free tutorials, and a more organised structure.
We’re currently working on new tutorials for Affinity Photo and a gallery to show our photo-manipulations and photo-collages. It’s a fun project, that we both love as our youngest child.
What inspired you to start making macros and photo textures for Affinity Photo?
The need of having an organised library of resources at hand when working on big projects with tight deadlines. As with Frankentoon, we create the tools we would love to use in our own projects and commissions.
What’s next for Frankentoon and FX Monkey, do you have anything exciting planned?
First, Frankentoon. We are working on our own webcomic called Tunkita Pig, which is gonna be made in the good old ‘Sunday newspaper strips’ fashion. This is a project I’ve been looking forward to working on since I was a kid, can you believe it? I’m a huge fan of Calvin and Hobbes and those type of short comics.
We’re taking our time with this one since it’s practically a life project, made for the sake of pure enjoyment and hopefully, people’s entertainment.
We are also interested in the possibility of having video courses for Affinity Designer, which is a huge request from Affinity artists. We already launched a couple of video tutorials on YouTube, to gain more experience and confidence creating this type of content.
Second, FX Monkey. We are almost ready with another macro pack. This one is paying tribute to cinematic photography and a second one called POP, which will do more than just changing colours (that’s all I can say).
These new Monkey Packs will be available in July.