An Interview with artist John Folley

Over the years, John and I have collaborated on children’s books with Catholic themes. We both have devoted our time and talent to bringing inspiring books to young readers. It has truly been a blessingtoo have him share his talent for these projects. What did you like to draw as a kid?

I loved drawing knights and soldiers probably most of all. The more weapons, guns, spears, knives, bullets, and grenades I could pack onto them, the better I liked the pictures. I would also draw castles and battles and many other things to go along with these soldiers. When I painted a lot of times it was a response to art classes in school. I remember distinctly in preschool and kindergarten they were just set out the watercolor paints. Long after the other students were bored and left the tables I would be painting for hours. I also did a few “paint by numbers” projects that I greatly enjoyed. Some of my favorite early drawings were actually for a story that my teacher had us write in class. I Illustrated the mayhem and destruction that I imagined our two cats at the time wreaking upon the household if they were left alone. “Ollie and Poindexter’s Crazy Day” might be the first work that I ever Illustrated.

What is your creative process like?

I will start with a small Spencer pencil sketch in my notebook. Often this will be a 4 inch by 2 inch or a 3 inch sketch. I will try to get the main figures and composition worked out. After this I will often look for resources to help bring more liveliness and detail to these initial sketches. This will involve a second round of sketches. Finally, I go to the canvas and transfer what is essentially a vinyl composition to the canvas or watercolor paper and then execute my vision in final media – oil paint pen and ink and watercolor or some type of computer finish.

What artist most influenced my work?

Early on I fell in love with traditional art. I remember looking through the coffee table book that my mom had in our house of Sister Wendy’s 1000 Greatest Masterpieces and absolutely loving the work of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and many other great Renaissance and Baroque painters. Perhaps the single artist who most captured my imagination at this early phase though was Caravaggio. His realism and the immediacy of his paintings that often depict the supernatural realities of the Catholic faith still really resonate and speak to me. The way that Caravaggio presents supernatural realities with care and attention to the physical truths of light form and color are a particularly powerful combination and I think a particular embodiment of the Ignatian spirituality at its best. Of course, to my own teacher the very accomplished painter Paul Ingbretson I owe a huge debt a gratitude. His painting and teaching has greatly for me as an artist. Many other artists and illustrators that I have encountered later in life including N.C. Wyeth and Alphonse Mucha certainly play a large role and a particular influence in my illustrated work.

How do I gather ideas for my work?

I often try to do sketching from real life if that’s possible. However, often I will also look at photographs and past painters and illustrators whose work I admire. I often copy excellent works and that certainly has a very good effect on my own. Most of it comes from imagination and memory.

What is my favorite medium?

I tend to love working in oil painting for many things especially when I’m working from life with still life, landscape, or portrait. For illustration, my favorite medium is pen and ink with watercolor.

Of all your own art…which is your favorite?

 My favorite type of artwork is that which combines Catholic themes with high and beautiful art. I also firmly believe that art should be well integrated into the life of families and communities. I am very much opposed to the idea of art for art’s sake among other reasons that it quickly becomes isolated and egotistical. When art can serve God and others it is raised up and ennobled. One of my one of my favorites of all time is a small painting of Our Lady that I was privileged to do for a patron from Texas quite recently.

Another work that I am extremely excited about is the “Children’s Christmas ABC Book” that is coming out this September from TAN Publishing. I was able to employ a beautiful and intricate Art Nouveau style to meditate and illustrate the mysteries of Christmas as Paul Thigpen lovingly presented them in verse. I think this will also be a treasure for families to enjoy for years!

Learn more about John’s work at

1 thought on “An Interview with artist John Folley

  1. This was an enjoyable and interesting interview with Artists Mr. John Foley. The type of artwork that John loves and appreciates that combines Catholic themes with high and beautiful art. As challenging as this may be, I view the endeavor to integrate art into family life to be well worth the effort.

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