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Q&A with Gaia Bordicchia

Childrens illustrator from Italy

I'm Gaia Bordicchia and I am an illustrator. I live in a small town in northern Italy and I work mostly for children's publications (picture books, educational books, notebooks and sometimes greeting cards.)

What inspired you to become an illustrator?

Like most people who work as illustrators full-time, I've always had a strong interest for drawing. I think this is something that is evident from a very early age. While most kids draw, some find it not only amusing, but comforting and challenging. It's both a past time and an activity they need to be happy. That's what drawing has always been to me. During my 4th year of high school, I took a program for foreign students in the U.S. It was a huge change for me. I came from a very traditional italian school, where I had an Art History class, but not a proper drawing class. My art teacher in the U.S. encouraged me to develop my drawing skills and showed me that my interest for books, stories and art, could be combined into one career: illustration.

Sometimes we know what our interests are, we just struggle to connect the dots...

What design software do you use?

I use only Photoshop. I've worked for many years traditionally, with pencils and watercolors and I use Photoshop in the same way I would use any other traditional tool. When I have enough time on a project, I add digital color to a pencil rendered drawing and this gives a warmer finish to the final image. I hope to have the opportunity to use this technique more often in the future. Schedules seems to be always very tight for the type of illustrations I make.

What is your ideal work environment?

I need a lot of light, the rest is not so important. I prefer if it is quiet, but I also enjoy having some kind of traffic buzz in the distance. I lived for 10 years in central Milan and the noise of the street below was part of my working day. I do listen to music, though not all day. Especially if I work in the evening, I prefer to have a tv program in the background. Series or movies I've already watched and can only listen to or natural history documentaries. Sometimes my son reading out loud a book we both like.

I'm an extremely messy and disorganized person. I would be a nightmare as a studio mate! During a project my desk is covered with mountains of paper, books and forgotten coffee cups. I clean after a project is finished, as that chaos has its own order and if I tidy up daily, I will not find what I need. When I send final art, I clear the table as a reward or as a new starting point for the next adventure.

Where does your design inspiration come from? 

I follow a lot of illustrators and designers on Twitter and Instagram, but in the end inspiration is for me a very personal process and something I can't really pin down. I think it's mostly in the past. I collect old picture books, ephemera, seed packagings, stamps, tins, old store catalogues.

There are many resources online, like this collection of Little Golden Books.

You can see the influence in the slightly vintage finish my illustrations have, even if I try to work with a style that is not so easily connected to old books. It's important to keep a personal view instead of following a trend. It's the only way to evolve with time and maintain your own personality. I also like people. I live in a small town and italians can be very expressive in the way they communicate. I sometimes sketch while waiting for my turn at the post office and then a child or an old lady I see there, will be used on the spread I've left on the table before I went out. I believe expressions are very important for a children's illustrator and there is so much people say, without really saying it. The way they stand or hand out a ticket or smile. Illustrators are good at picking up details from everyday life. A cleverly designed character will be always dull if you don't give a little bit of soul to it…

I'm also inspired by subjects that are not related to illustration and design.

Who is the person you admire most?

This is the hardest question!! I admire different people, for different reasons and none of them are related to their jobs or their achievements, so if we restrict the field to illustration, I find it very difficult to answer. Rather than I admire the most, I'd say that there are illustrators who's work reminds me the reason why I love this profession. France has an incredible variety of talents at the moment, Annette Marnat is without a doubt one of my favorite illustrators. Daniela Volpari, Simona Cordero, Simone Massoni and Riccardo Guasco are some of the best illustrators in Italy today. Always inspiring.