Story, Work

What I would draw if I wasn’t worrying about market and social approval

When I first thought about writing this post I had another title in mind: “What I would draw if I didn’t have to worry about market and social approval”. Have to. I had written it down not to forget it and it stayed there on the notebook for days on until something sounded suddenly wrong. Have to. Has anyone ever obliged me to worry so much about external approval? Nope. Why do I feel obliged then? It’s because of me, only me.

The idea for the post comes after a disappointment. In the past months, I’ve been working non-stop on my portfolio and on a couple of illustration contests which I had put a lot of hope in. I felt ready to give a boost to my job and I worked hard to achieve the goal: finishing personal projects, creating a book project, updating my website to show it to potential clients. I focused on what, according to my thinkings, could bring me more (and better) work. Sometimes even pushing my style a bit to get a more “marketable” version of my illustrations. Everything was ready by the beginning of February. I sent my emails, published the best things on my Instagram account, and then I waited.

 

 

By mid-February, I was still waiting to see the results of my strategy. Neither via email or social network things were moving as I had expected. By the end of February I had received a couple of feedbacks, none of which followed by a commission. I kept waiting – “waiting for Godot” my boyfriend told me one morning – and, in the meanwhile, I tried to do new things. But the less feedback I had the less I felt like drawing for a new project. I desperately needed an external approval and this was not coming. I waited and then I got completely stuck.

 

 

 

It’s impressing how external approval has the power to change the opinion we have of the things we do – and to give or take away the energy and passion. To even change the opinion we have of ourselves. I wasn’t getting any positive feedback and this made me think that nothing of what I was doing was worth the time and the effort. Even worse, I – the mind and the hand behind these creations – wasn’t worth anything. Day by day the passion I had put into my works drained and the energy left to continue, to improve and make new things almost exhausted. It’s at this point that I took the notebook to write and, after some days, I realized I was the one obliging myself to please others with my work. I was the cause of my own frustration.

I don’t know if caring about external approval is wrong. What I know is that it’s not good. And it doesn’t make any good to us. When I started drawing again without thinking about anyone to please but me, joy and ideas slowly came back. I drew whales and lines, and things that don’t make sense but that helped me get back on track. Now I’m still in the process of recovering but what’s important is that I’m back in my priorities. Here in the post, you see some of the things I actually drew the moment I stopped thinking about market and likes on social media. They appeared on the paper sheet and I felt light and free to do as I pleased.

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style, Work

Does creative process always have to be painful?

Every time I start working on a new project I hope my creative process will work differently than it did for the previous one. I hope ideas will come smoothly and in abundance. I hope I will follow all working phases consciously and without panic. I hope I will get to the final goal with elegance and self-confidence like an expert climber gets to the top of a mountain without any trace of strain nor sweat. I wish all these things all the times and each time I am disappointed.

My creative process is painful. And by this I mean it’s a workflow where phases of great enthusiasm (there are, of course) alternate with phases of despair and panic. Sketches are abruptly torn, thrown into the bin and dig up the day after. I spend hours – sometimes days – begging for a good idea, I panic when I don’t see it, I watch my previous works wondering where on earth I found the skills to make them – and where are those skills right now? I cry, not always, but sometimes I do. And the reason isn’t that I’m creating something deeply emotional, but because I’m frightened I will never make it.

 

 

 

 

It happens all the times. Then each time, right after the biggest crisis, something happens and I make it. It’s usually a matter of cleaning the table where I work and going through all the sketches I’ve made. With renewed rationality, what looked like a chaotic set of doodles just a minute before, suddenly becomes a good idea. THE idea. The time to finish the work is then ridiculous compared to the time spent to get there. I complete the project. I am relieved.

 

 

 

 

Since, as I said, this process repeats every time I’ve come to the conclusion that this is my creative process. Even the images you’re seeing in this post (a little series for the Italian clothes brand Salomè) went through these phases. From a rational point of view, I know there’s nothing weird in the way I process ideas. Afterall I start with a brainstorming, I put my ideas on paper, first quite freely, then in a more selective way. It takes time, of course, and some thinking. Rationally I have nothing to object to my creative process. But emotionally there’s so much I wish I was able to control in a different way.

 

 

 

 

And here I come to the question I’m asking in the title: is creative process always painful? Is it a matter of personality, experience, confidence? Does it improve with time or do I have to accept the fact that there will always be some struggle?

 


 

I don’t have any answers but I do have some good reads on creative process I’d like to share with you. My favorites:

  • this recent post by Valentina Solfrini on her blog Hortus (love the part where she explains crisis)
  • this post by LJ (yo!) from Superlatively Rude – I’m going to repeat “Your story is not ready for you to worry about yet” as a mantra
  • the comic by Giulia Sagramola published on Illustratore Italiano last issue, such a true story
  • I love reading artist’s biographies, my favorite so far is Picasso by Gertrude Stein (here in English, here the edition I have at home in Italian) – it was relieving reading about Picasso’s research for his own voice.
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Work

Illustrating an App, (my) “Instructions for Use”

While I organize my ideas for this post, I scroll the past ones and worry that you might feel dizzy with all the different works I’m showing you on this blog. A series of Christmas cards in two colors in the last post. An experimental half-analogic half-digital series of illustrations in the previous one. Other different things in the older posts. And, today, an app. It’s probably due to all the changes I experienced in my way of working during this past year. But it’s also very likely due to my normal work routine: being able to adapt my style(s) and my illustrations to different contexts and different media is a daily need. I never get bored, that’s for sure, but I too get dizzy sometimes.

For three years I’ve collaborated with an Italian publishing house, Art Stories, which makes educational apps for children (an educational app is mobile or tablet software – often a game – through which kids learn about a certain topic). It’s one of the most interesting, yet, most challenging jobs I’ve had so far. Interesting because it’s a chance to get to know a whole new world and to directly contribute to a learning process. Challenging because illustrating an app isn’t the same as illustrating a book. And while I learnt how books work at illustration school and through essays and courses, I’ve always found few – or no – explanations about how to properly illustrate apps.

That’s why the first thing I do when I start working on a new app is to study. I download the apps I like most (I’m a huge fan of Yatatoy‘s apps and Meikme, just to name a few: they both mix minimalism and a rigor for colors and shapes that I admire very much). I take notes and see how I can apply some of the things I see – a particular use of textures, or a certain organization of the elements, or a use of colors that is both pretty and useful. The screen has its own rules. There are animations. Elements – characters or objects – are interactive and it has to be easy to touch and move them on the screen with a finger. Images have to be simple and clear. In other words, illustrations for apps have to be first and foremost functional.

 

 

 

 

I didn’t know that when I worked on my first app (which was also my first job as an illustrator). I used watercolor textures and digital collage. Not a functional choice as I understood later that each element had to be animated and it took me a lot of time to create all the pieces we needed. The color palette had some issues as well, as I worked on tone-on-tone scenes. Delicate and pretty, but I learnt that the contrast in apps is very important to allow all interactive elements to emerge from the background. A trial and error process, as usual.

 

 

 

 

Maybe the most challenging part of working on educational apps is when illustration and photography have to fit within the same scene. Art Stories, for instance, often works with paintings and original photos of works of art. A lot of times, I found myself dealing with paintings I had no idea how to fit in the illustrated world I had so carefully created. Or dealing with a color palette I was so proud of, but that didn’t work with all the paintings we needed to feature in the app. It’s a delicate balance between different artistic styles and a unique graphics that should be able to add value and give coherence to the whole product.

Project after project I do have found some solutions that I like and that are also functional. The images you see in this post come from Cities, an app to learn and play with some of the most fascinating cities in the world. I worked with Adobe Illustrator which is so far the best tool I used to illustrate an app – this is my opinion, though. Photoshop works as well (I used it for Artesport, the lastest of Art Stories’ apps) and has the advantage of making me feel freer to draw as I would normally do. Yet I think Illustrator works perfectly with animation and looks great on every screen. As for the colors, I like experimenting with textures, but the solid color is still my favourite choice.

 

 

 

Last but not least, the style. So far I’ve changed style every time I did a new app. Again, it’s always me, but the technique and the drawings look quite different. It was both the need to adapt to different kind of scenes and game mechanisms and the will to experiment and see what worked better – and fitted me better. Each time I get more confident with the logic of the app and the screen and I feel like, experience by experience, I’m able to put a little more  “me” in the project. And that’s always a good thing.

Have you ever worked on an app? What are your “instructions for use”?

 

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Work

A New Website to Get out There

Yesterday I sent my portfolio to a list of publishers and magazines for the first time. Today I’ve got a headache, I’m checking emails every other minute and I’m pretending to be working on something important while I can’t even concentrate. I should just call it a day off. So far I got one answer: “Thank you very much!”. I spent the next 15 minutes asking myself whether that exclamation mark had some deep meaning in it I needed to encrypt. Was it a hopeful exclamation mark, or just a kind one, or, even worse, a bored one? Of course, there’s no answer to it. I’m just feeling vulnerable and I guess it’s time to cope with it.

When one week ago I started building my new website from a blank webpage, the first thought I had was: “I’m not ready”. My work seemed a confused set of drawings I had no idea how to organize. “I’m not ready to get out there”, I said to myself.  And “there” meant the foggy yet fascinating book and editorial market, a place I hadn’t dared to ask myself in so far. 

It’s a place I’ve always looked at from the cozy protection of my studio (that is, my living room), wondering if I’d ever been good enough to work there. I’ve worked and studied and worked on myself for the past year always aiming at that goal. Criticising my own work like I thought an art director would do; slowly feeling more self-confident, surer of what I was doing, happier with what my hands were able to produce. So happy that at the beginning of February I thought: it’s time.

 

 

 

 

I wanted to build a new website with a portfolio that could look professional and show that I can handle longer projects, that I know how to deal with texts and images. And I wanted a coherent portfolio, not a scary mix of styles and personalities. That’s why as soon as I started working on the website and had all my illustrations opened on the computer screen a part of me thought “Not yet”. Not yet because I don’t have only one style. Not yet, because there are things I like, but in a couple of months I know I could do better. Not yet, because I might receive a lot of “no” and it might be painful. Not yet, because there are always a lot of good reasons for keeping you inside your comfort zone.

I took my time, I looked at a lot of online portfolios. I looked back at my illustrations and found again the reasons why I thought I was ready: they represent me and I wouldn’t feel bored nor scared if someone asked me to work with one of the styles I was going to present. In the end, it’s always me. I could be waiting, but no one forbids me to update my portfolio with new work whenever I want. There’s no harm in getting started.

 

 

 

 

Hence, I built the new website – which is here, by the way. All my last illustrations found the right place in it: some can already be seen on the static homepage, where I had fun (yes, in the end, I had fun!) creating a coherent yet manifold composition, some only in the projects. I thought this was the best way to present my illustrations without forcing them into style limits that don’t belong to the way I work. With this online portfolio, I presented my work to publishers and magazines yesterday. Each email I sent felt like jumping from a trampoline and endlessly waiting to reach the water. I’m sure tomorrow it’ll all be fine – with or without answers. But for now, let me and my headache refresh the inbox a little bit more.

 

 

 

 

P.s.: The illustrations you see in this post were my entries to Hoppipolla‘s Christmas Cards Competition. The last one was selected and became part of December 2017 surprise box.

 

 

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Story, Work

36mountains, or Falling in Love with a Sketch

I’m starting this blog with the story of a mistake.

It was last summer and I was working on a project for 36mountains exhibition (here all the information about it). I had been asked to fill a concertina notebook with black and white drawings about mountains – free interpretation, free media. I took some days for sketching and deciding what I would be drawing. Then I started.

My sketches looked like this.

 

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04 copia

 

I had overlapped different layers of paper – I didn’t mention it had to be tracing paper, like the pages of the notebook – and I used paper scotch tape to be able to move every part as I pleased. The goal was to recreate the flexibility of Photoshop, a software that I had been working a lot with those days, while dealing with the fact that the notebook had to be “the” original: no prints were allowed on it and, most of all, no mistakes.

I designed my sketches with extreme care, calculating the exact position of each element: nothing had to change in the final work, it would have been just a matter of relaxing and copying. Then something happened.

Has it ever occurred to you that, no matter how much energy and precision you put in the final work, the sketch always looks better? My teacher at the illustration school used to call it “falling in love with the sketch”. It’s a kind of love, I think. It’s probably the lack of pressure, the fact that the sketch is yours and potentially nobody can see it; or it’s the feeling you have when you’re sketching. However, the sketch is special, it has a magnetic roughness and, unfortunately, is irreplaceable.

And here comes my mistake. I convinced myself that I could actually reproduce my sketch. The secret, I thought, is in the paper cuts: it’s this way of mixing drawing and collage that makes the sketch so powerful. I bought a very expensive spray glue and, proud of my discovery, I started drawing and then pasting paper cuts as in the sketch. The result was, of course, terrible: it had nothing of the plainness of the sketch, it was just a bad collage.

I hurried up to remove all the paper cuts but the glue was still there. It took me three days to dry it under August’s sun. The pages were still sticky though. I closed the notebook and put it in an envelope, hoping my addressee would be able to open it. Luckily she did.

Here are a couple of pictures of the exhibition (in the second one you can see people actually looking at my notebook, a photo that honestly made me feel relieved).

 

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The notebook looked like this.

 

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Needless to say: if you’re in Rome and you need spray glue hit the “contact” button and I’ll reach back.

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