Duration: Four years.
Location: I currently live and work from my home in a small mountain village in the Italian Alps near Trento, Italy.
Education: MFA in visual arts, LUCA School of Arts, Campus Gent, Ghent, Belgium. I started at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent in 2011, but then switched to LUCA School of Arts after one year as it more closely matched my vision of illustration.
Career path: I’ve always been fond of storytelling. I wrote and illustrated my first book when I was five because I didn’t like the books that we had in our school library. Obviously, my book had exactly the kind of quality you’d expect from a crazily ambitious five-year-old; however, I’ve always maintained that determined mindset I had as a kid.
Throughout my childhood, drawing and painting was always a hobby, but more in a decorative way. During my teenage years, most of my free time was spent dabbling with all kinds of storytelling from writing to poetry to even film directing—I had a wonderful set of friends that were crazy enough to help me on a week-long filmmaking session. In my last years of high school, I had a psychology teacher who decorated his classroom with pictures from children’s books; it was then that I realized how powerful illustrations could be as a storytelling medium. Those drawings spoke to me, even if they were ripped from their context—and even if they were meant for children. That was the moment I decided I wanted to study illustration.
After graduating, I took one year to build a portfolio and presented it to potential clients. Shortly after, I got my first big client, and that project quickly brought in others. I quit my job working at a printing studio about half a year later and have been working as a full-time freelance illustrator ever since.
Artistic influences: When it comes to my influences, I’m a bit of a sponge. I’m fascinated by so many things from textiles to ceramics to architecture to nature to futurist paintings to the characteristic line work of illustrator Dick Bruna. I don’t think I can draw a direct line to what inspires me, but if I had to pick a constant, it would be my love for the tactile and textures. Elegant, smooth forms contrasting with rugged, geometric shapes can be equally inspiring in architecture as well as in flower arrangements. The search for interesting contrasts in shapes and texture, however subtle, is always something I keep in the back of my mind when I draw.
Favorite project: “When to Stop,” the piece I did for Belgian newspaper De Morgen. It won the Editorial category of the World Illustration Awards in 2019. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the viral short story “Cat Person” by Kirsten Roupenian, the article I was tasked to illustrate dealt with the dilemma of how even consensual sex can turn bad—and the taboos involved. Based on Roupenian’s story, my illustration reads as a sexual experience slowly turning bad, represented through the gradual removal of color, and the evolution of soft and flowing forms into sharp and aggressive shapes. The passage of time and the feeling of movement are suggested by showing fragmented scenes, which both transition and disrupt each other.
Despite the tight deadline, I ended up having a lot of fun working on this illustration, and the end result was exactly what I wanted it to be. This illustration represents both my visual and conceptual abilities—especially given the delicate nature of the subject—and it remains, to this day, one of my favorite editorial pieces.
Aspirations: I’m already very happy with the wide variety of clients and projects I’m working on, so my main aspiration is to be able to keep up that momentum, keep reinventing my work and having it remain relevant. Of course, there are still so many things I haven’t done yet that I’d love to get into, like murals and product design. Delving a bit more into animated illustration is also high on my list. Finally, publishing my own written and illustrated book would bring me full-circle to that first book I wrote as a five-year-old, so that’s also a goal I keep in the back of my head. I’d probably need several lifetimes to do all the things I’d like, so for now I’m just excited by all the things that come across my path already.
Philosophy: I have two guidelines that I try to keep in mind. First: Don’t take confidence from what you can do. Take confidence from what you’re still willing to learn. You don’t learn anything from always hearing your work is great. Be open to change. Always be hungry for knowledge or skill. Seeing opportunity in failure instead of fault will allow your work to keep evolving beyond the scope of just honing acquired skills.
Second: Don’t confuse art with business. One of my biggest disappointments in my art education was the lack of focus on the business aspect of being an artist—as if talking about pricing and contracts was similar to selling your whimsical artist’s soul to the devil. Being able to negotiate good terms for your work doesn’t mean you need to make concessions for your authenticity. There can be a clear distinction between the process of creating an artwork and the process of selling it, but both require skill. Educating yourself in business is equally important if you want to be able to live doing what you love.
Anything else? I’ve recently released an illustration brush pack for Affinity Designer. Over these past few years, I’ve been making my own textures and brushes to use in my commissioned work when I want to attain specific effects. I started out illustrating with traditional media but slowly changed to digital in order to keep up with tight deadlines. To bridge the gap between these worlds, I started creating brushes that didn’t lose the textural quality of my traditional work. When Affinity noticed I had made my own brushes, this idea grew to distill my collection into a brush pack that would tackle the entire range of the illustration process. It launched last month in the Affinity store. I’m very happy with how the brush pack has been received so far. If you are a designer or an illustrator who likes the textural feel of my work, you might be interested in using it!