If you’ve spent any time in Belfast over the last few years, chances are you’ll have passed by some of the work of Francois Got Buffed; FGB’s eye-catching, cheerful stickers and paste-ups are plastered on walls, street signs, and junction boxes all over the city. Belfast Beyond met with FGB to chat about his weird and wonderful characters, his serious sticker addiction and his dream collaborations.
Will you introduce yourself?
Yes, I’m ‘FGB’ Francois Got Buffed; street artist, originally from Derry, now living in Belfast. I stick things in the streets!
How did you get into street art?
I always just had a fascination with stickers, I don’t know where it came from. Everything I used to own was always covered in stickers. I was drawing characters for ages, and a mate I was living with bought me this book called ‘Sticker Art’ and said I should do something with my characters. So I started using address labels and doing these really bad characters, and was sticking them round the streets in Derry! And so I just kept going, and things just got bigger and bigger.
Did you collect sticker albums?
I did, I was always rubbish at it. People were going “I’ll trade you for that” and I was like “Oh no, I just stuck that one to the bus shelter”!
Did you study art?
I did, for a very short time! I went to college and lasted almost a year doing Art and Design but it was weird; we were doing all these things like ‘Yeah, now we’re going to do a weave; we’re going to go out and take a photo of something and we want you to weave it’. Nothing against weaving or weavers, it just wasn’t for me; I just wanted to draw. So I dropped out of that and then it was the discovery of street art, and realising you can just go out and stick stuff up in the streets yourself. Looking back now I can see what was good about art college; you have people around you all day, critiquing your work and there’s that kind of atmosphere, whereas now when you’re out on your own, you’re like ‘Am I mad? What am doing out in the middle of the night with a bucket of wallpaper paste?!’
Where did the name ‘Francois Got Buffed’ come from?
I didn’t use a name for a while and one day, the character with the horns, I named him Francois, and I’d painted him at the end of the Albertbridge Road in an old bit of waste ground. It lasted for a good few weeks and one morning I was walking to work and saw the council graffiti squad were out, and they were cleaning the other side of the wall, and I was like “I hope they don’t find my wall”. So I walked around the bridge and I saw them just whacking the stuff on the wall to wipe it off, and I got my phone and texted my girlfriend and said “Francois got buffed!” I spent the rest of the day with that rattling around inside my head, and thought “That’ll do for a name”. And now I’m like “Why did I ever choose that name?! It has so many letters!”
Do you have a few words to describe your style?
I just like to think of it as a bit of fun, something playful. There’s nothing serious about it, it’s meant to kind of raise a bit of a smile.
Do you have any influences, artistic or otherwise?
I think originally when I first discovered street art, I had this shitty call centre job years ago. I had internet access all day, and this was before you had internet at home or on your phone, so I could just sit and look at the internet all day. I discovered Wooster Collective and a few other street art sites, and I saw stuff like the London Police and Dface; they were just doing paste ups in black and white, and I was like ‘This is great! I do stuff in black white, they do stuff in black and white! This is brilliant!’ I’d say they were really early influences but I just take influence from anything; like Keith Haring, his stuff is so simple but brilliant. I could probably go on for ages. That’s a tough question, like when someone asks what kind of music you’re into!
Where do you get your ideas from?
With the Francois character, I was sitting working in the call centre, with a notepad, just scribbling away. I think mainly just from sitting sketching, just getting all the crap that’s in your head out. That’s why I did that ‘Drawing a Day’ last year, to try to figure out where ideas come from; sometimes I knew exactly what I was drawing that day, but sometimes I would just have a complete mind-blank; then on the way home I would overhear somebody saying something and go ‘Ahh that’s brilliant!’ and it sticks in your head, and you get an idea of how it’ll look. So I think my ideas come from everywhere.
From your initial idea, to getting stickers or paste-ups on walls, how does the process work?
Normally I just sit with a sketchbook; one of my recent stickers was from a drawing I’d done for ‘Drawing a Day’. I really liked it and I’d been trying to learn some digital stuff with a tablet so I used that and thought it might look really good as a sticker. So usually there might be an idea, then I’ll sketch it out, and usually then I badger my long suffering girlfriend who’s a graphic designer, and ask ‘Can you put that in the computer and do the magic stuff so that Awesome Merchandise can print it?’ Anytime I send them stuff, they’re like ‘We can’t accept that file’, or it’s some rubbish scan! The idea for ‘Spread the love’ came about like that; we were sitting in a bar one day, and I told my girlfriend about my idea of a butter or margarine tub saying ‘Spread the love’. So I did an outline drawing of it and she scanned it in, coloured it, and vectored it, so that’s why she’s got a credit on it!
With some characters, I’ll look at them and think it would look really good 2 foot tall, or other ones that are smaller or plainer, I think could be a nice sticker. With hand-drawn stickers I try to keep things as plain as possible, because if they’re really intricate I don’t want to sit there and draw 50 of them, like ‘Why am I doing this?!’ If you see some of my really old stickers that have still survived, they’re like these wee ghosts, really easy to do, just cut out the eyes and there we go!
Do you use digital resources more than you used to?
I suppose I’m trying to learn about it but I still like sitting down with pen and paper and drawing; I can just do that anywhere but with digital you have to be sat there with a computer and all these bits and pieces. I love going to Real Sketchy, or just sitting in a bar drawing. If I’m getting prints or stickers made, digital makes life a bit easier. You can draw on the tablet, save it as a jpeg straight away as opposed to drawing it, scanning it in, moving it into illustrator, then all these mice inside the computer do their magic! When I got a tablet and started using it, I wasn’t sure about it. But then I was sick for a week and I basically sat in the house watching Youtube videos on how to use it; it was definitely a steep learning curve but I really enjoy it; you can do things really quickly with it and it’s always good to learn a new way of doing stuff, because that influences your ideas. Last night I was sitting vectoring kid’s drawings of dinosaurs and if I’d have been doing that by hand it would have taken me ages; you have that instant ability to change and if you were doing it by hand, you would just have to start again if you wanted to change something.
How did your collaboration with Bricedu come about?
We contacted each other online, and started chatting and he said “I really like your ‘Spread the love’ thing, it’s like my airplane, its a similar message”. So I said when I next paste it, I’ll paste your plane too, and he said he’d do the same. So it was a kind of mutual thing. We traded some paste ups, and started putting each other’s work up, then we started trading ideas, like what software to use, and it was really good; working with someone and not even being in the same country. He’s actually invited me over to Paris to his studio, so I’d love to go over there and do some work together. He does less paste-ups now as he came to the conclusion that paste-ups just don’t last that long, either the weather batters them or they’re ripped down, so he’s started doing more painting and stencils.
Is there anyone else you’d like to collaborate with?
There’re loads of people I’d love to collaborate with, there’d be a very long list. The person I’d most like to collaborate with is Jamie Hewlett. I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with people like Anxti, I did stuff with him and his previous character ‘Toast’ that was really good fun. Paper Cloud as well, her stuff is just so much fun. And Señor Schnu as well; I was talking to him about doing some stuff together but he’s just mad busy at the minute. He’s based in Berlin and last year when I was over there we went pasting and that was just nuts. We went to a spot near a train station and when we got there there was a police van sat there. He went up to the van, looked inside and said “There’s no police there, it’s alright”. This was at 7pm in the evening, hundreds of people walking past and next thing he unrolls this huge 2m x 2m paste-up while I just have these tiny piddly wee ones! He said that as long as you don’t have a spray can in your hand the police don’t bother with you.
It’s always good fun seeing how someone looks at your idea, and how it fits with what they do. I think someone saw one of the characters at the bottom of Ravenhill and someone described it as a ghost, and I’d never thought of that before. People have been chatting to me before and said “Oh I’ve seen your dead people!” and I didn’t really see them as dead!
How did you get involved with Give Crohn’s A Slap From Me?
I had colitis so when I saw the campaign I just got straight in touch with them, and they gave me some stickers and told me to do some stuff. I thought it was just a really novel way of raising awareness of something, and just doing something really clever with it, rather than just asking people for money.
What’s your favourite piece of your own work?
I think one of the big ‘Spread the love’ pieces, one of the first ones I did; it was the first time I did something bigger than A4. It was Bricedu who sent me a link to a poster website who could break the design down into A4 pages, and you just have to stick them all together.
I like some of the stuff I’ve painted as well, like Fred, the pink guy out at Holywood; painting just feels like a completely different process.
Are you painting more at the minute?
I’m trying to. It’s easier in a way than pasting, because pasting, even though the thing’s already painted, and you go and just stick it to a wall, there’s a lot of prep work involved. Whereas with painting, you take a few cans of paint, you’ve got your idea, you know what it is, then you go out and paint it; it’s actually really enjoyable. The paintings at Knocknagoney, that was a strange one; a guy just came up and just started chatting and asked “Did you do that?” And you don’t know whether to say no, even though you’re standing there with paint all over your hands! There was another one at Titanic train station, it’s now been painted over; a guy came up to me and said “Is that a viking?” and I was like “Yeah I suppose it is, it’s whatever you want it to be” and he goes “Hmm, I don’t like it myself but some people would”! He was brutally honest about it!
Where is the best place in the world for street art?
I think my favourite city for street art is Amsterdam. Cities like Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona and Berlin, when you walk down the street it’s wall to wall art; different styles everywhere you go. In Barcelona there are loads of alleyways where every shutter is painted. And I like Berlin because there’s that feeling of, ‘do whatever you want, but don’t be a dick’, and people are generally quite appreciative of street art there. But in other cities when you’re doing something, people are shouting at you in a foreign language but you can tell they’re saying “Stop doing that or I’ll call the police”!
Is there anywhere in the world you really want to put your work up in?
I’d go anywhere. Street art really is a worldwide thing; you just know if you’re going somewhere you can get in touch with someone and ask if they want to go out and stick some stuff up; the internet has had a really good effect. I would go and paint, paste, do whatever, anywhere! I’m going to New York soon and I cant wait; it’s not how it used to be but its almost the epicentre of the whole street art thing. I’ve just finished an order of stickers to bring over with me. But if any of the airport authorities are going to be reading this, then no I’m absolutely not bringing anything!
Do you think Belfast will ever be up there with Amsterdam and Berlin, as a city renowned for it’s street art?
If they stop knocking stuff down and leave enough walls standing, hopefully so! I think it will some day; I just don’t think it has a huge number of people doing it yet, whereas other cities there are far more people doing street art.
Do you think the amount of stickers and paste-ups have increased in Belfast?
I think so. I’ve noticed a few different ones, big hands pasted up around the city, and definitely a lot more stickers, a lot of them for tattoo artists; people are realising they can just print a load and give them out. I think Belfast is catching up with other places; if you go to somewhere like Paris or Barcelona there are just paste-ups and stickers and stuff like that everywhere. There’s a guy in Barcelona who uses empty cans, paints them, writes letters on them and sticks them up really high on the streets, and there’s GZUP in Paris who puts up these wee octopuses, cut out of wood and painted really nicely, really colourful. I think here maybe paste-ups and stickers are looked down upon but in other places it’s been more embraced.
What’s your favourite piece in Belfast?
I really like like the big cockatoo (Palm Cockatoo) by Dan Leo, and KVLR‘s big piece with the headphones (Home Taping is Killing Music); I remember seeing that being started and thinking it must be one of the biggest pieces in Belfast, it was huge. I really loved the Urban Lover piece by Maser that used to be on the side of the Black Box.
I remember when I heard that Conor Harrington was coming here to paint; I went for a beer and walked round the corner and he was standing there, and I completely fanboyed! I was trying to have a conversation with him without sounding like complete twat! There are just so many pieces, and it’s not just by the people who are visiting here, it’s by the people who are from here; I’m blown away just walking down the street.
In your opinion, what is the difference between street art and graffiti?
I think graffiti is what it always was; it’s letters, and it was done by graffiti artists for graffiti artists. 9 times out of 10 someone will say “Sure you can’t even read what it says” whereas a graffiti artist will look at it and know exactly what it says. On the other side of that, street art is just a broadness; it’s about sticking cans to walls, painting wood, stickers, putting up pasteups, anything goes.
Will we see your t-shirts soon?
Yes they are still happening! That’s another learning curve. I have some printing equipment which I’m practising with at the minute. I’m trying to figure out how to keep the costs down while producing a good product, so hopefully they will appear some time soon! If there’s any interest, I’ll get some printed, then use any money that’s made to get new equipment.
Finally, what are your upcoming plans?
I’ve been chatting to a mate about doing a zine, maybe doing a few pages each, and making a comic so it’s not just images. One of my favourite artists Dave the Chimp does his own zine; you can either buy it or trade it with your own. People are doing them everywhere now, it’s a much cheaper way of self-publishing.
I’ll be sending a few pieces hopefully to Free Art Friday in Peterborough; all the art will be part of an exhibition, then after that they’ll all be put out in the streets of Peterborough for people to take.
I want to do more painting too, especially with the summer coming up; I’ve been sitting practising so I don’t make a complete bollocks of myself! ‘Did you see what yer man did with that wall?! He should go back to wallpaper pasting!’