Creative Lounge: Michael Fugoso

Creative Lounge: Michael Fugoso

Michael Fugoso (AKA Fugstrator) is an illustrator, designer, and Adobe Evangelist. In this in-depth interview, Michael shares his journey into the world of illustration.

If you've ever felt like you're stuck in a rut creatively, this interview is for you. Michael speaks candidly about his personal and professional challenges, his distinctive style, and advice on growing as a creative.

Michael, thanks for taking the time to share a bit about your work and story with us. Can you start by telling us how you first got started in illustration and design?

I started out of desperation from not knowing what to do in life. I was 29 years old, and was coming off a broken engagement and a dead end job working at a bank. I studied finance in University, and was moving in the direction of starting a family, making enough money to settle down... All that.

When my engagement fell through, I had no reason anymore to carry though this plan haha. I'd be miserable if I have. I tried to remember what I liked doing when I was a child through grade school... That was drawing :) I was never really a good drawer too, just an OK one. After thinking back to this I decided to go to graphic design school on impulse, thinking it was the same thing as art school.

DeLorean illustration by Michael Fugoso

You describe your style as utilizing depth, lighting, and texture, can you share with us how you developed this style?

Design school taught me how to make things very flat and communicative... Which is a good thing. After school all my stuff looked that way and was challenged by a friend to make things look a bit more realistic with highlights and shadows.

It was a time when everyone trashed skeuomorphic design, and Apple transitioned from that to a more flat look with iOS 7. So then I decided to basically illustrate something in that 'dead' style, made it look very 'retro' and '80's' and people dug it! I started sharing that on Instagram and it kicked off pretty good.

I think another huge draw from that was it was completely vector with a ton of detail. After making a ton of those things I realized my stuff didn't really look realistic... It was more like exaggerated realism with crazy looking highlights and shadows. I experimented more and more with that, and then landed on the paper-pop-texture style. That's when I really hopped on texturing.

Robot illustration by Michael Fugoso

Many designers and illustrators struggle to find their style. What's your best advice to help other designers find their style?

I love this question! I really think the "goal" of finding a style hinders you. I have never met a successful illustrator that was in constant search of an awesome style to fall into. The best thing to do is constantly execute/complete quality work that excites you. The more you make things you love, the more you'll want to do what you do, the more projects you'll complete, and the better and better you'll get at your craft.

Eventually you'll start tapering off elements and techniques of your completed work and naturally come up with something that becomes your "style." At first it really doesn't matter if you're doing all kinds of different things... It's exploration for a reason. Instagram is great practice for that, as you'll be getting feedback and reception from your work as well.

A good way to find that "thing" that excites you to complete an illustration or project is to look back into things you liked as a child, and still like today. I love rockets, space ships, jet planes, and pretty much everything Aerospace.

My dad used to take me to air shows whenI was a child all the time, that's where all that joy and excitement to do this work comes from.

Castle illustration by Michael Fugoso

What's one tool that you couldn't live without and why?

For me it has to be a decked out Macbook Pro and Adobe Illustrator. As I mentioned earlier, I don't know how to draw that well, so I rely on a lot of the precision tools (i.e shape builder) within Illustrator to get the look I want. To be honest I just started using brushes...

Happy to report that my first RetroSupply Brush project turned out awesome. This is what I meant by not being in search of finding your style all the time... My latest illustration using that Gouache brush looks nothing like the other stuff I do, but it's just as good. If not, better. Keep aiming to complete quality work and you'll be set!

You mentioned your favorite RetroSupply product is our Gouache Shader Brushes. Can you share what you like most about it? How do you prefer to use it?

I use these brushes to represent exaggerated lighting and shadows on my subjects. I specifically like the Gouache Shader Brushes because they have a thick granular texture. Most 'dust' looking brushes I see are very fine looking, to the point sometimes where you might as well just use a gradient and put some kind of noise filter on top.

The Gouache brush had that unique sizing of grain I was looking for, and all the sizes and variations I need to make any illustration awesome no matter how much detail it has. It's one of the things that makes Adam Grason's work amazing too, it's a very unique and eye pleasing look that highlights color more than any other 'dust' brush I've seen.

Rocket illustration by Michael Fugoso

You have a distinct look to your shading. Can you share a little bit about your technique?

In Photoshop, and even Illustrator, I love using Gaussian Blur for shadows, and stacking a ton of them of various blurs and opacities and offset them on top of each other.

It makes a very unique, and painterly shadow look, and is a very, very underrated tool for these purposes. I always tell people to never use the FX panel for drop shadows, do it the long way by using Gaussian Blur and stacking different layers of variations on top of each other.

Sometimes I'd get a very linear gradient diagonal beam, Gaussian Blur that, and stack that offset on top of another beam and get this really cool sun ray effect. Blurring shapes and objects is a great way to blend color as well.

What I love about the Gouache Shader Brushes is I can mimic this look by simply brushing different levels of granular brushes. It's the same type of concept with a totally different look

Do you have any tips that you can share with the community that helped you take your art to the next level?

This is actually a hard question for me to answer, since I'm not a great drawer. You can practice being like me lol, where my sketches are very basic, and look nothing like my final piece! Haha. I really only sketch to the point where I know how to execute something in Illustrator.

I would say that's the practice to focus on... Practice completing projects. I used to be a design teacher, and would meet a ton of students that would start a project, and call it quits 3/4 the way though. Get into the mindset of constantly completing quality work, and you can do things the long way if you like. Like I do.

I don't know every shortcut, every efficient way to get through techniques. I know about 10 tools in illustrator really well, focus on those, and if I need to do something outside of that, I use google to search for tips.

Rocket cutout illustration by Michael Fugoso

What advice would you give to designers and illustrators to help them stand out?

Learn to be an amazing curator. I think that's what all designers and artists are essentially, curators! Don't look for trendy work all the time, curate things that excite you to complete your next big project.

For example, I mentioned skeuomorphism earlier... which is a visual style that a lot of people think is dead. It was that kind of look that got me really excited to incorporate in my work and ran with that.

At the end of the day, that's really all that matters, which is for you to work on things that you enjoy and is very personal to you. This is the only way for you to sustain making illustrations and projects over and over again over the years.

If it's personal to you, your personality will show in your work, and it will be perceived as something special. Potential clients will see that, and will want you to put that personal touch into their projects. That's how people go to you for the 'thing' that you do!

You've been really successful in growing a following and interest around your work. Any tips?

In the beginning, quantity and frequency is more important than quality. Start off by posting at least weekly, or twice a week if you can.

Try to get perfection out of your head and think of completion first. Your 60-70% effort may be better than a lot of people's 100%. You'll constantly get better the more you complete work too. Once you get some good traction, I think this is when you can taper off a bit and focus on the quality side over quantity.

Thanks for taking the time to share your story and advice with the RetroSupply community. Anything else you'd like to share with us?

Last thing I want to say, is try to weed out all the bad stuff around you. Surround yourself with people, things, and a lifestyle that will elevate you. There is absolutely no point for you to hang out with your ex girlfriend/boyfriend lol. Got a poisonous friend feeding you negativity? Time to cut homie!


Michael Fugoso, also known as "Fugstrator," is an Adobe Evangelist and an accomplished illustrator. Fugoso's unique artistic style blends traditional and digital techniques, making his work stand out in the design community.

To learn more about Michael Fugoso and explore his inspiring work, visit his Linktree page.