Monday, 14 June 2010

Sara Gavioli - Illustrator

Today I have the pleasure to have a special visitor here at The Tea Box: Sara Gavioli, illustrator at her first publication with the publishing house Orecchio Acerbo. And I mean ORECCHIO ACERBO!

I met Sara in Bologna, during the Book Fair, and I immediately liked that slim figure, full of energy, hiding behind the wonderful illustrations of  La Governante. If you'll ever meet her, don't be taken in by her appearance, Sara is an absolutely vigorous person and full of surprises.

But let's not lose any more minutes... it's question-time!

Let's start with some personal information:

- how old are you? 26

- you were born in? Carpi (Carpi is a small town close to Modena, in Emilia-Romagna, Italy)

- where do you live? Carpi

- can you point out your blog/site? For the moment I only have a blog

- when you were a child were you a good reader?
At primary school I had an incredible teacher who made me love books from the very beginning; I therefore started reading very soon and a great variety of books.

- what did you usually read?
I literally devoured all of Bianca Pitzorno's books, Roald Dahl and Christine Nöstlinger, followed by the series of The Little Vampire by Angela Sommer Bodenburg.

- is there a book you still remember?
The first book I remember, probably because it was my favourite book at the time, is Trumpets in Grumpetland by Dallas-Smith Peter and Cross Peter (not to mention the series I Quindici*), as for novels I can say La casa sull’albero by Bianca Pitzorno. I remember I painted with utter care all the charming illustrations by Quentin Blake. I don't know why, but I imagined them in bright colours and I didn't like the idea they remained in black and white.

Let's talk about the beginning of your course in illustration:

- how did you discover your passion for illustration?
My passion started when I was very little: when I listened to my grandmother and my parents reading aloud I Quindici, I used to stare at the illustrations in enchantment. I still remember that peculiar smell the pages of these books had, I never found it again in any other volume, and this is why I keep sniffing all the books I hold in my hands.

- when did you understand you wanted to pursue this career?
Career is a big word, for the moment all I can say is that it's a very big passion. I kept being charmed by children's books: even when I stopped reading them, I kept looking for those sensations of pure pleasure I felt when I was a kid. I never really stopped drawing, I kept trying, even though I have to admit that I carried on with illustration almost by chance: I took illustration classes held by  Eva Montanari, and then I said to myself "why not going on with this?"

- I know you followed an Illustration Master class, can you tell me something about it?
I obtained a First level degree Master in illustration with the Accademia di Belle Arti of Macerata in 2008-2009, the Master is organised by the cultural association Fabbrica delle Favole, , with whom I had already followed another course the year before. The Master**, that lasted one year, has the peculiar characteristic of alternating summer classes you need to attend, with winter classes that are held on-line, this allows working-students as well to follow, it is an attitude of great respect towards those people who cannot leave a job to follow their passion. Furthermore, the key point of the master is that it gives students the chance to confront with real editorial projects. In fact, every student receives the assignment of a book project from a publishing house, having thus the chance to undertake a real consignment.

- which was, if there has been one, the most difficult moment of the Master?
The hardest time has probably been the impact with the book's project: centring the characters is the spring that starts the whole mechanism of illustration, but it's as well the most frustrating moment. After an exhausting research, finding the right characters is a real conquest and an incredible satisfaction.

- how was the impact with the illustrators that taught you?
Having the chance to confront someone who is a professional illustrator is nothing but useful. I treasured their experience, and asked many questions! Being an illustrator means working alone in your studio, therefore having the chance to have an exchange becomes an occasion of growth. It's stimulating when you can observe the different points of view, the various techniques and the different stages of work of who already practises this job with excellence. And it's as well a very strange sensation when you can, finally, give a face to the stories you have been reading.

In-depth on illustration

- can you tell me if there is one, or more, illustrator that has particularly struck or inspired you?
Well, making a choice is really difficult, I can mention a few names like Quentin Blake, Arnal Ballester, David B, Marjane Satrapi, Elena Odriozola, Luci Gutierrez, Yoshitomo Nara, Riki Blanko but there would be many more.

- how about your favourite painter?
Another hard choice: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Ingres, Dalì and Surrealists, Chagall.

- how does painting, and/or visual arts, enter your imagination? Assuming they do somehow...
I believe that all artistic expressions are a starting point and inspiration for something else. Photography, comics, sculpture, architecture, graphic, everything contributes to nourish your visual knowledge. A picture could become inspiration for a composition, graphics can be for colour combination, and a sculpture can become research for a particular shape. Personally, having a good visual memory, I can say that most often this reformulation happens unintentionally; illustration derives as well from the things you nourished it with, it is therefore influenced by all we have read and seen. A great teacher I had, Maurizio Quarello, particularly impressed me when he said: "Visit as many exhibitions as you can and you'll have done half of your work.”

- which illustration technique do you prefer, if you have one in particular?
I like experiencing, I therefore enjoy many techniques, but I am mostly charmed by printing techniques like lithography, linoleography, xylography, serigraphy, engraving, even moulds obtained with rubbers.

- do you follow a precise outline when you start illustrating a text? For instance do you start with a storyboard and then you pass to finished tables? Or do you produce many sketches to then produce a more accomplished form? Does inspiration guide you?
I usually start with some sketches to find the character I need, when I finally get it (which is always a great conquest) I pass to the storyboard and then to finished tables. I try to produce a storyboard as complete as I can as far as composition is concerned; this is being preceded by a number of sketches.

- which is, in your opinion, the most interesting challenge you have to afford when you illustrate a text?
The most difficult challenge, but also the most satisfying part, is when you tune in with the text you have to illustrate, when you can plunge into it. When you end dreaming it at night, you then know you're at a good point.

- even if you already have partly answered my question, I would still like to go a bit more in depth on the importance of entering the spirit of a text in order to illustrate it convincingly…
I believe it's fundamental if you want to obtain a good result. What I have learned is that behind the few tables of a book there's an immense work, including the study of all that can be necessary to get closer to the heart of the text: for instanceyou can start reading works contemporary to the one you're working on, or the interpretations of other illustrators, to then study of interiors and landscapes, dresses and photography of the times you have to refer to. Entering the spirit of a text is a process that requires loooots of patience and as much research.

- have you ever had problems ending a work? For instance in finding the right faming, or the right colours or problems to get on the same wavelength of a text?
I believe that everybody can have such problems when they start a brand new work. At least, for me it's usual! An illustration is often the result of a reasoning that must meet framing, colour and spirit; it therefore requires commitment and some difficulties. When you obtain a good result then the satisfaction is quadruple.

- in this case, how do you overcome difficulties?
There's no good solution for everybody, otherwise it would be too easy! For example, when you're not happy with a character and you're stuck with a certain figure, you can try to draw it using other techniques, like outlining instinctively spots using Indian ink, to obtain a less rigid shape of the same character.

- how important is the unsaid in illustration?
Illustration and text have to perfectly marry each other, therefore none of the two must walk all over the other: both must say something that completes the other. This balance includes the unsaid as well, that stimulates reader's curiosity and pushes him/her to turn the page, to be part himself of the mechanism of the book, letting imagination complete those gaps.

- what about white space?
White space as well has its importance, it allows other elements of the composition to breathe, it makes them stand out. Giving white space the right space is not always easy, a least for me, because at the beginning I tend to to exaggerate with details. Once finished the sketch, you should ask yourself what's really important for that illustration, and eliminate all the rest.

The project with Orecchio Acerbo

- in July your first book will be released, can you tell me how the idea o the book came along? 
The text of La Governante was my assignment during the master: I received the assignment directly from the publisher, Orecchio Acerbo. At the end of the simulation, the publisher contacted me telling they were interested in publishing the book.

- working with a publisher like Orecchio Acerbo for your first book must have been an exciting experience, had it happened to me I would have walked clouds level for at least a month, how did you feel?
Not that my reaction was much different from what you described. Having the opportunity to work with a publisher as renowned and innovative was an honour, imagine publishing the book. It was a dream become true.

- how was the collaboration with the publisher during the creative phase? Did you have many exchanges? Did they give you carte blanche?
The relationship with the publisher was both of exchange and freedom, I proposed solutions that I thought appropriate and they directed and advised me without imposing their vision, even because we have been on the same wavelength from the very start. The publishers suggested me to get in touch with the heart of the text, letting the dreamlike and grotesque side of the interpretation rise to surface.
I was particularly struck by the care they had for this book, the meticulous attention they devoted to characters and to the right balance between story and text, with its shades of absurd and comic.

- Osmont's text is quite a difficult one, for sure a very refined text, how was your first impact with this mysterious and unknown author?
I don't want to lie, I didn't know the author before I had to afford this text, but I immediately found it intriguing, dark and absurd. It carried with it the charm of past times, with an extravagant and surreal atmosphere. It wasn't exactly a text for children, and to properly find the right tenor I read poems and novels by Edgar Allan Poe. Also, the text somehow reminded me of The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde, but you shall discover why only reading the book!

- the chromatic choice of this book is absolutely solid: the book is in black and white (with the exception of a red I won't tell more about), how did you get to that decision?
Assuming that black and white has an incredible power, it seemed to me that the dark tones of the story, the setting and the times perfectly matched with the choice of this chromaticism. In this case colour would have been something more, and inessential. The publishers too agreed with me on this.

- I had the opportunity to see your tables in person, in Bologna, and I really liked them. What struck me was their sharp, frank cut, how much o this aspect has to do with the text they refer to?
I made the tables always keeping in mind the text (humour noir) they referred to, and the publisher I was working for, considered as well they were leaving me a big expressive freedom. I tried as much as I could to tune illustrations into the spirit of the story, I wished them to reflected its tones both comic and grotesque and essentials. I believe sharp cuts are a natural evolution of this representation.

- there is, in your illustrations for La Governante by Osmont, a marked evocation of the dreamlike side... in some case they reminded me of Hitchcock’s movies. Am I dreaming?
While preparing the storyboard and the tables, I tried to find all that could be useful to me to get deeply in touch with the text in all its different nuances both dream and absurd, the result is therefore the fruit of the movies, the books, and the comics I devoured. The excellent black and white by David B, and those from Satrapi, the wonderful short in black and white Fears of the Dark, Edward Gorey, Mattotti, Toulouse Lautrec, Degas, Ingres, Semp, old Victorian prints, period dress and frame catalogues, pictures dating the beginning of the 20thcentury, Hitchcock, old black and white movies, all this and much else nourished my imagination while I was drawing.

"Fears of the Dark" video

The future

- your first work is of excellent quality, are you afraid of the future?
I would be artificially cocky if I said I'm not, I believe it's human being afraid when you start a new project, because none is ever like another, every time it's a new beginning. And, by the way, showing something as personal and intimate as your imagination is not easy, and from time to time being afraid is permissible.

- would you like to keep illustrating other people's texts, or would you like to produce your own stories?
I would like to pursue both ways, I'm always curious when I can collaborate with someone who's external, someone who doesn't share my same vision, because the result is as twice as rich. Though, meanwhile I would like to follow an a solo project as well.

- would you like to keep doing picture books or would you like to experience other expressive forms as well?
I'm convinced that, if you want to grow as an artist, you have to experience and I am young and ready for new adventures! Even if I don't want to abandon picture books, because they always have such a powerful and magic flavour.

- any new project in the works?
I'm a bit superstitious and I won't say much about it, but I'm working at a project with a friend writer, Silvia Santirosi***, about a strange animal collection. But I won't say more!

I thank Sara for stopping by and for being so kind. I shall tell you very soon about La Governante by Osmont, for the moment though you shall have to be patient...

* I Quindici was a collection of fifteen books, exactly, it was the Italian version of the American "Childcraft" encyclopaedia. Every book corresponded to a different macro-subject: they treated from poetry, to geography, to science. For more information you can go here.

** You can find all information about the Illustration Master class here. Amid the teachers you will find: Pablo Auladell, Maurizio Quarello, Joanna Concejo, Alessandro Sanna, Luigi Raffaelli, Carll Cneut, Fabian Negrin, Javier Zabala, Pia Valentinis, Gek Tessaro, Eva Montanari, Dušan Kállay and Kamila Štanclová, not to forget Mauro Evangelista, the Master's dad!

*** Silvia Santirosi, I met her in Bologna as well, was a very agreeable discovery. Silvia is a journalist, writer and illustrator, she has a great culture and ability and I wish her to soon get her place - I hope important - in children's literature.

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