Today, we are joined by Anna & Elena Balbusso . You can view her portfolio here.

  • Firstly, I’d like to thank you for the interview. We’d like to understand how your interest for illustration started shaping up. Tell us a bit more about what made you go this route!

We have been drawing since three years old. We were those children who could always be found sketching. Our passion for art is born from an early age, from elementary schools.  After secondary school we chose to follow a path of artistic studies.  We have chosen to be illustrators freelance, not immediately. Although we studied painting we never thought to become illustrators but rather to do a job as a graphic designer. Upon graduation from Brera Academy of Fine Arts, we had intended to work as graphic designers in Milan, but in the mid 1990s, advertising and graphics were in crisis so we found the address of the Italian Society of illustrators in a magazine and we decided to join it and began submitting work to its competitions (drawing has always been our passion). We were lucky enough to find quickly an important Italian graphic designer Angelo Sganzerla who believed in us and gave us the first assignment. He introduced us to the international design world and encouraged us to define our own path in illustration. From that moment we understood that the illustration would be our work.

  • Tell us a bit more about how you learned it all.

We haven’t attended a school of illustration. Illustration as a subject didn’t exist at the university level. Our training is more structured. We have a high school diploma with a specialization in graphic design and photography but  we studied also printmaking techniques such as etching, woodcut, engraving, screenprint and linocut.  After this 5-year diploma we decided to move in Milan and we specialise in painting and art history at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan. Upon graduation from the Brera Academy, for two years we continued our studies at the University of Milan in art history, modern literature, philosophy, history…

We think the Art study has been vital in helping us in career choices. In all our work there is a clear reference to artists and paintings.

  • What changed in the last few years in terms of ease of expanding your skills and knowledge?

Since 1998 we have been working as a team doing freelance illustration. Our style has developed from our collaboration gradually. Since then the way we work has changed completely. It was very important the transition to the digital age and internet. At first, we used traditional methods of acrylic on canvas, tempera or watercolors combined with our drawings. At the beginning of our career we used only telephone, copier and fax.  Our promotion was only national. Since our introduction to the computer in 2000 our work has undergone a considerable evolution. Initially we used the computer only for the project presentation phase, this gave us a greater creative freedom and allowed us to continually experiment; it also saved time. Gradually we developed a personal style where traditional methods were combined with digital programs, however we chose not to use the virtual paint brushes instead relying on doing all our paintings by hand. The expansion of the internet and new media contributed in an enormous way to make us known throughout the world, allowing us expand beyond the narrow environment of the Italian illustration market.

The ease of communicating with the world has helped us to get out of the limited geographical area. Paradoxically, we were helped by globalization.  We have extended our collaborations to the United States, Canada, France and the United Kingdom, working on a variety of illustration projects in corporate communications, editorial and publishing.

The comparison with the other international artists makes us  better
understand what we can do to improve our self. The international Competitions are not only a way to promote us in the market but they are a test to compare our work with the best world production. This is useful to understand how our own artwork is evaluated by the best art directors, editors, publishers of the world in a marketing strategy focused on quality.

  • What does your creative process look like?

Our sources of inspiration are art in general. In all our work there is a clear reference to artists and paintings. Before starting an assignment it is very important [to do] the research, create an archive of sources. We collect all of the references for each illustration; these can be artists/art, sketches, photographs of people. After the documentation stage, we start making many layouts digital. When we get a compelling proposition, we begin to carefully study the individual elements of the image (faces of the characters, decorations, clothing, etc..)  through individual pencil drawings. We digitize (scan) the best pencil drawings of the individual parts of the image and we work the final version with Photoshop. We present to the client a very detailed pencil drawing. The last stage of the process is to make the final color art. We use mixed media: acrylic, pencil, and digital. Gradually we developed a personal style where traditional methods were combined with digital programs without  virtual paint brushes. The coloring process with photoshop is very complex and has been developed after many years of work experience. The final result is like a painting on paper or on canvas. Our final art is in digital format.
For exhibits we produce fine arts prints of our work in our studio. We are very picky about the quality and color of them. Our final pieces are limited signed prints on fine art velvet paper 100% cotton acid-free.

  • Do you have any recommendations in terms of good books, programs you use, or media choices you’re willing to share with us?

In general, art books of all periods from Ancient Rome mural painting (frescoes at Pompeii) to Modern Art and Contemporary Art. Web sites of major art museums with huge archives of artistic works. Each artist must find their own technique through continuous research and experimentation. We have developed our own style by mixing traditional media to digital. We use photoshop and illustrator.
We think Interpretation is more important than technique and special effects. It is important to study the history of art and to know the past as well as the present. Always strive to improve.

  • Do you have a special place or object that boosts your inspiration and helps your creative drive? What is it like and why does it have this effect on you?

Our special places are museums and art galleries. When we can travel we always choose a city of art…

  • Could you describe how a productive day would look like from your point of view? Which are the most important hours for you?

The morning hours are the most productive, but we also work into the evening if necessary. We don’t work at night. Sleep regenerates the mind, it’s very important.

  • What is your stance on today’s ever growing opportunities enabling artists to take on remote design work?

Today in the global world the competition is very high, there are many opportunities but also many illusions. Our profession is a very difficult and exclusive job. Many young people aspire to do creative work (graphic design, illustrator..)  to follow their passion, but only a few are able to turn their passion into a profession to earn for living. Talent is necessary but passion, study,  commitment, tenacity, hard work, research, courage to change and evolve forever are fundamental. It is important to not only think about the immediate gain. Without luck, it’s impossible! The road is long, you need to make the right choices. Success is important but we think it is much more important  last long…

  • What is your stance on today’s ever growing opportunities enabling artists to take on remote design work?

Today in the global world the competition is very high, there are many opportunities but also many illusions. Our profession is a very difficult and exclusive job. Many young people aspire to do creative work (graphic design, illustrator..)  to follow their passion, but only a few are able to turn their passion into a profession to earn for living. Talent is necessary but passion, study,  commitment, tenacity, hard work, research, courage to change and evolve forever are fundamental. It is important to not only think about the immediate gain. Without luck, it’s impossible! The road is long, you need to make the right choices. Success is important but we think it is much more important  last long…

  • What would you prefer: a steady, well paying job in a local agency, or the freedom and often stressful life of a freelancer? Why?

Unfortunately in Italy there isn’t the first possibility: well paying job in a local agency! The only way is to be illustrators freelancer. In Italy since the 90s the work of the illustrator is not well paid… It is necessary to be international artists and promote own work worldwide. In Italy there aren’t illustration courses in the public schools and University where you can learn this profession. The illustration is considered a minor art almost a hobby. We are among the few professionals  who are full-time illustrators without a second job.

  • How would you describe “the ideal project”? Did you have any recent opportunities to come close to this?

There isn’t a ideal project. We carefully select our projects. In general, we like the assignment with more time and with the greatest freedom. We must have the feeling that the art director trusts us and he is not afraid to dare. We do not work in series, but every project is unique. We hope always to improve and the last project we are doing is very important. When we take a new project, we always want to give our best. When presenting a project to the client we must be both convinced what we did. If necessary, we also know give up to one assignment if it is not suited to our style or there is not enough time to give our quality.