A lovely thing about working on Storytime is watching the careers of illustrators we’ve worked with blossom, and cheering them on from the sidelines. We’ve seen many illustrators land their first book deals, win prizes or simply develop their style into something truly unique and special.
We think Italian illustrator Gaia Bordicchia has been blessed with a uniquely beautiful and recognisable style from the start, but we’ve loved watching her career go from strength to strength in the last few years. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to continue working with Gaia. To date, she has illustrated four stories for Storytime, including our magical Nutcracker Christmas cover.
In our latest Storytime Issue 42, she illustrated our fable Little Mouse Makes Friends, so we thought it was high time we featured an illustrator interview with Gaia Bordicchia to give you an insight into her extraordinary creative mind.
Illustrator Interview: 11 Questions with Gaia Bordicchia
1. How did you get started in illustration? Were you arty as a child?
Yes, drawing has always been part of my life. My grandad was a painter and bought all kinds of art supplies for my cousins and I. I think every kid enjoys drawing, though for some there’s a sense of wellbeing connected to that moment. Those are the children who could potentially pursue a career in art or illustration, because that very simple feeling stays the same even when you grow up. I didn’t really consider becoming an illustrator until I was 19.
2. Do you have any favourite artists or illustrators who have influenced your work and why?
I have so many it’s hard to name all of them! I’m intrigued by stories and I like both children’s books and comics. There are many hugely talented people working today. I grew up admiring Arthur Rackham’s and Edmund Dulac’s fairy-tale llustrations. I’ve always been a big fan of N.C. Wyeth and his son Andrew, as well as Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell. I’m also very interested in French books as the illustrators are excellent – especially Rebecca Dautremer, Annette Marnat and Clement Lefevre.
3. We’ve had the pleasure of working with you on four different stories in Storytime – Fate Finds a Fish, Heidi, The Nutcracker and Little Mouse Makes Friends. Which was your favourite to work on and why?
Tough question! I enjoyed all of them for different reasons. Illustrating your cover was a lot of fun (Storytime Issue 27) and The Nutcracker offers so much in terms of detail and atmosphere, but I’m also a huge fan of folk tales and classic fairytales!
4. What was your process for creating your Little Mouse Makes Friends illustrations for Storytime Issue 42?
Little Mouse was a bit more experimental. Thank you for trusting me with a new technique! I created a base rendering in pencil and then I added the colors with Photoshop. I also did some minor tweaks to the drawing, but it’s quite different from a fully digital illustration and it’s important that the composition is planned well ahead.
5. You’ve had a lot of exciting new projects in the past year as well as moving house and juggling family life. How do you fit it all in and keep the creative spirit going? Do you have any top tips?
I try to stay on top of the madness and I often fail! Juggling work and life is always very tricky, but taking care of yourself should be the top priority. We tend to push to the finishing line, often disregarding sleep or fun and it’s a big mistake. I’ve learned to accept the bad days where I can’t get any art done because I’m not in the right headspace. Instead of forcing it, I quit immediately and tend to the practical things (house chores, admin work) or I simply go for a walk. I know that the following day I’ll work twice as much if I allow myself to stop. I’m also a little more careful and realistic with the commissions I take. I try to avoid overlapping schedules, but it’s not always possible.
6. Your illustrations for The Amazing Animal Atlas with Flying Eye Books are stunning. When did your passion for wildlife illustration begin?
Wildlife illustration is how I started in the late 90s. I took two beautiful classes at the end of my illustration degree. The first with Massimo Demma and the second with Franco Testa, who was Massimo’s former teacher. They worked together in a little studio in Milan and after graduation they invited me as a kind of apprentice. For a few years I had my little desk there, I could use their library and they introduced me to some of the wildlife magazines and clients they had. All the work was done in watercolours, though towards the end of the 90s many of these magazines closed or replaced illustrations with stock photography. In 1998, I was selected for the Illustrators’ Exhibition at Bologna Children’s Book Fair and I stopped working as a wildlife artist.
The Amazing Animal Atlas was an incredible opportunity to bring that old world back to life and, even though the art in the book is digital, the process was the same. There is one scorpion on the African spread that is done in watercolors and luckily you can’t tell the difference! Flying Eye asked me to add this element when my computer was broken so I picked up the brushes again for a day.
I’m very proud of The Amazing Animal Atlas. It’s the best book I’ve done so far!
7. Looking at your Instagram feed, we see that you’re pretty playful with art supplies. We love your biro drawings. What’s your preferred creative medium and why?
I’m an old dog who gets bored very easily so playing is important. I started as a traditional illustrator and I often find computer work frustrating. I love watercolours and pencils. With computer work, I tend to be lazy, because almost everything can be altered at a later stage (colour, composition, etcetera.) Watercolours are one of the least forgiving mediums, so thinking ahead is important and it’s a great exercise.
8. Are there any favourite projects you’re working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
I am working on a pop-up with Usborne that will be published next year and I’m finishing a book with Editions Milan. Also I’m very excited about some black and white illustrations I’m developing with my new agent and I hope they will eventually become a story.
9. What would be your dream project or are there any different areas you’d like to explore?
As a wildlife artist I’d love to work with museums, botanical gardens and aquariums. I really enjoy collaboration with people who have something new to teach me and scientists are incredibly nice.
10. Is there any advice you can give to children (or aspiring artists) who want to get into illustration?
Drawing is a matter of practice, so as long as you’re passionate about it, there is a lot you can learn just by investing your time. Listen to the advice of those who are more experienced than you. Take in what you need and ignore everything that doesn’t ‘feel’ like you or is too big to tackle at the moment. You can always go back to that bit of advice when you’re ready.
Illustration is a never-ending learning curve. We never arrive. It can be very frustrating, but it also means that it never gets boring unless you allow it to. Ultimately though, it’s also a business and you’ll be running it as a one-man-band. Don’t be discouraged by rejections, but be prepared and realistic about it.
11. Finally, what would be your dream fairy tale to illustrate?
To see more of Gaia’s amazing portfolio, visit her website. It’s a bit like bathing in a rainbow… a tasteful one! You’ll see what we mean. To keep up with her latest work, don’t miss her inspiring Instagram feed, which comes with the occasional video, so you can watch her illustrations in action. You can also catch up with Gaia on Twitter.
We hope this has inspired you. Whether you’re a wannabe illustrator or not, there are many gems here for creative types.
Be inspired and passionate this week.