Our Featured Illustrator this month is Gaia Alessi. Originally from Italy, Gaia came to the UK to study fine art, working extensively on art installations before discovering her true path as an illustrator. See more of her work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

I was born in Rome and raised between ruins and triple-parked cars. For my parents there was no question about my name bearing traces of both the city’s ancient past and of primeval Greek divinities, ‘Barbara’ wouldn’t cut it for them, and so I endured the brunt of its effect for the rest of my childhood. Suburban playgrounds do not take kindly to flaunting mythology of any kind and so, to avoid hitting tarmac too often, I climbed trees, built dens in abandoned construction sites and played in my imagination.

My family!

Lost Souls

For a period I enjoyed all things with spots.

As child I possessed five books, three of which are Richard Scarry’s (ABC, What People do all Day and Around the World), the other two are Gianni Rodari’s Filastrocche in cielo e in terra illustrated by Bruno Munari ...

... and Italo Calvino’s L’Uccel Belverde illustrated by Emanuele Luzzati.

I still know these books by heart and I can recall any of their pages instantly. The rest of the books in our home were about medical sciences, civil rights law, contemporary art and a LOT of ancient Greco-Roman art and mythology!

As a kid, I did indeed draw loads but never produced a drawing to my father’s satisfaction (to this day!) preferring to draw dragons, robots, ghouls and big eyed manga girls to making studies of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphaël and Michelangelo (he nagged and nagged and nagged about it!) "Learn from the masters" was his constant solemn refrain. But that one time I lovingly produced a classically rendered drawing of the pizza-eating ninja turtles for him, he neither appreciated it nor the joke. Meh!

Banoffee Dragon, I wish I had drawn one of these as a kid to drive my dad insane...so I drew it now. He’s fuming!

I have no formal training in illustration, my path as an illustrator just began a couple of years ago. After gaining a BA and MA in architecture in Rome in the mid ‘90s, I came to the UK to study fine art at Chelsea College of Art and Design. I gained a BA and MA here (yes, I do collect academic qualifications! I still have a PhD going on the back burner) and then created installations in exhibition spaces in this country and abroad for just over fifteen years. Unless you are a hard-core contemporary art lover who is especially keen on large conceptual site-specific ephemeral installations, I doubt you will have ever encountered my work (although one was on Trafalgar Square and, should you be curious, a website can still be found with my past works).

Drawing and redrawing to get things just so.

I love to draw all manners of animals because they are generally honest and playful. This is my dog Twig.

A few of the site-specific installations were commissioned to be in books, magazines and catalogues. This is the beginning of my undoing as a fine artist. The book form is a far more interesting home for artworks than the museum! So much more democratic and available: you can take one home with you without spending a fortune! And so I risked it, came ‘out-of-the-closet’, embraced my passion for sequential illustration and I am seeing where it will take me now.

I make loads of tiny thumbnails before I commit to anything.

process images for Midnight Picnic print

My process as an illustrator hasn’t changed very much, it’s still idea led; style and materials are secondary. As a conceptual artist, style is an idiom that changes with the context the work inhabits. It is also a catalyst to precipitate an idea, initiate a reaction or focus a feeling. Style is a mode of delivering an ever-changing discourse. However, I have come to realise that this flexibility is not an asset for an illustrator and so I am learning to rein in and educate my inner Leonard Zelig (art directors, editors and agents out there: hang-on in!). My ultimate goal is to make a picture in which the degree of inaccuracy is the same all over.

process images for Surprise Party foldout card

If I were to offer you my crumb of wisdom I’d say don’t let reality get in the way of a good design, simplify; remember that not everything has to be defined, a certain lack of clarity makes images more interesting: if everything is revealed at a glance then why look any longer? And allow for enough empty space for the viewer to complete the image by themselves, they will do it better than you ever thought possible. At least these are the things I keep in mind when I draw, re-draw and draw again. I guess, test and iterate a lot as I don’t think it’s possible to make anything without making loads of mistakes.


See more of Gaia's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery. Her official website is here. Follow Gaia on Twitter @GaiaAlessi and Instagram @hiyaitsgaia

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a fascinating article and love what you say here - "style is an idiom that changes with the context the work inhabits. It is also a catalyst to precipitate an idea, initiate a reaction or focus a feeling". From my experience that flexibility and freedom to use a different style or approach CAN work for a children's book illustrator especially when creating our own stories or concept for books and presenting that to a publisher as a totality. Working with a children's literary agent as author-illustrator - or even contacting publishers directly with book projects - is such a different world to that of a illustration agency which picks a specific style from a spread of artists to match them to editorial / commercial purposes.


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