It’s simple, really. I come across something that strikes me in such a way that I am compelled to share it with others . . . like the fabulous illustrations of Simona Ceccarelli found here.
As a writer, I love words. I love the way they can transform just about anything. The way they can make something from nothing. Even the way they can take something down, piece by piece.
Music vibrates; it resonates. It touches us physically and emotionally, and there is no other art form quite like it.
But visual art, to me at least, seems to have an element of magic. The way a skilled artist can use color and lines and combine them in such as way as to create a thing that inspires, astounds, moves, delights, fills us with wonder, or maybe even makes us tremble.
One of the best things about social media is the way it allows us to discover things and people and experiences we might not otherwise ever encounter.
Thanks to Twitter, I have come across several of the artists on Other Cool Birds.
Recently, I happened upon a number of wonderful illustrations popping up by Simona Ceccarelli (a few related to the #colourcollective prompt, some just posts on their own) all of which led me to investigate her work more fully.
I’d been aware of her, indirectly, through SCBWI, but hadn’t yet dove in headfirst in my exploration of her work.
Boy, am I glad I did!
Through an email interview, I learned some fascinating things about Simona that made my attraction to her illustrations all the more clear. It seems that she explores the concept of identity through her fabulous illustrations. And that’s a concept that resonates very profoundly with me as a writer, and as a person.
“What makes me me?” she wonders. “How and why am I myself and not somebody else?”
What wonderful questions. It’s those character traits revealed in her illustrations—at times quirky and silly and wildly imaginative, at times tender and poignant and very realistic—and the stories they evoke, that has me enamored with her work.
One definition of art is “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” Art is related to the creation and appreciation of beauty. But it is also a means of connecting, of communicating, of conveying a particular circumstance in a specific moment in time and, often, of sharing that moment with the world so that they might experience it, contemplate it, be moved by it.
It is all the layers of visual art that I love: those colors and lines I mentioned earlier, which you’ll find here in Simona’s fun illustrations, but also a pure appreciation for beauty, and for the imagination behind it.
Below is the interview exchange between myself and Simona. I hope you enjoy her responses, and especially her art.
OTHER COOL BIRDS: Young Adult author, Jacqueline Woodson says that writers tend to focus on the time in their lives they’re still working through. Is there an element of truth to Woodson’s claim as it relates to Visual Artists (or to your work)? If so, how?
SIMONA CECCARELLI: I am really grateful for this question . . . because it made me think and I believe I have learnt something new about myself. Yes, I totally agree with Jacqueline Woodson. I also write (only picture books so far) and I find I keep writing about the same things. I never reflected that it’s the same with art, but looking at it under that light I can confirm it. I am still working through the concept of personal identity.
Since I was a little girl I have wondered:
What makes me me? How and why am I myself and not somebody else?
How can I be sure that other people see the same things that I see, hear the same sounds, taste the same flavors?
Why do we sometimes feel compelled to behave like everybody else and blend in, and other times we find we can’t but stand out?
In art, I got sucked in very early by character design. I am fascinated by expression, characterization, body language. I try to work in clear and strong characters in all my illustrations. I also love visual storytelling – but always approach it through the eyes of character. I think ‘what could this character be doing and why? Where does he come from? What does she want?’
Even backgrounds and objects are characters for me. So, it figures – it seems identity is my standing issue.
So the one question which always intrigues me most is simply, what are you illustrating or creating art for?
What is it about the act of illustrating that speaks to you or resonates with you most? It’s less about doing it to pay the bills and more about doing it because of how it makes you feel if that makes sense.
SIMONA: It does make me very happy to connect with people through art. Whenever someone responds to one of my works or posts a comment like “You made me laugh!” I feel I have accomplished something important.
But in full honesty, I draw and paint (and write!) mainly just because it makes me feel whole. When I am working on a painting and completely forget time, place and physical needs I feel in perfect balance with the world.
There is also an element of compulsion – give me an idle moment and I will probably end up with a pencil and a piece of paper: it’s an addictive habit.
As for paying the bills: if art does not pay the bills I have to spend some time doing something else that does. So yes: the ultimate goal is that art pays the bills so that I can do art all the time, right?
OCB: What technique/media did you use to create the Alice-inspired illustrations, like “The Cheshire Cat,” “Queen of Hearts,” and “Tea Party?” I could have identified so many pieces for this question, as I love all your work.
SIMONA: Today everything in my portfolio is done digitally. I use Photoshop as my workhorse, complemented by a variety of other software for specific things.
I was trained traditionally in oil and pastel before going digital and I try to keep the same look and feel in my digital work.
OCB: Since many of your illustrations are related to stories/books/concepts for kids and young readers (among other things), did you have a favorite book, illustration, or illustrator when you were young (or now)? If so, why?
When I was young I had two favorite books, which I still have in my library: King Arthur, illustrated by Antonio D`Agostini and Branston’s God and Heroes from Viking Mythology, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli.
I was very much into mythology, fantasy and science fiction. I read The Lord of the Rings decades before it became a cultural phenomenon and I considered Foundation by Asimov one of the best books ever written.
The number of books and illustrators I love today is countless – from Gregory Manchess to Carter Goodrich, Chris Ayers, Peter de Seve . . . the list could easily go to over one hundred without thinking much about it. Same with writers.
I do have a natural affinity towards literature for young people and children’s illustrators – it’s not just a consequence of my work, it was there always. I feel books targeted to young people are sharper, more interesting and more profound than most adult literature.
I also have a guilty passion for minimalistic design and typography, even though you don’t see any of that in my work…yet.
OCB: As an aside—I, too, love Asimov’s work, especially Foundation. It was fantasy (Salvatore, Tolkien, Le Guin), science fiction (Heinlein, Card), and Arthurian legend that helped convert me from being a staunch anti-reader into a book lover and voracious reader. And, ultimately, into a writer. I knew we had a lot in common.
So, how long have you been interested in creating art? And what sort of background or training do you have?
SIMONA: Here’s a surprise for you. Although I have always done art in one form or other, I have studied PhD level science (chemistry, to be precise) and have worked as research scientist in pharmaceutical research for over 11 years.
In 2011, I decided to quit active science and enrolled in art school to get formal training as illustrator and concept artist. I graduated with an MFA in 2016 from the Academy of Arts in SF. Since 2013, I worked in science communications first and later as art director in corporate communications, where I still work part-time.
I started freelancing at the end of 2016, focussing very deliberately on children’s books. I also started writing, more or less at the same time. My first own book dummy is looking for a publisher right now.
2017 has been the first full year working as a professional illustrator – it has been both maddening and rewarding and I look forward to continuing the journey!
OCB: If you could work on any project (a personal one, time traveling to work with another artist, etc.), what might it be and why?
SIMONA: When I was at art school, my dream would have been to work on a Dreamworks movie – it’s everybody’s dream in the Concept Art department.
Nowadays, I feel more excited by what people like William Joyce do – manage their own IP and create a whole set of products out of it. I would love to create a whole package around teaching chemistry to young children: books, apps, games, animation. I am sure I will tackle it when I feel ready. I have all the foundation in science I can possibly need and art as the universal language.
OCB: Any exciting projects coming up for which we should keep on the lookout?
SIMONA: As mentioned, my first book is looking for a publisher: it’s a book about a young boy’s reaction to his parents’ divorce and how he copes with it in his own way.
I have manuscripts in the works for several picture books and a couple of graphic novels. And of course there’s the book I am working on right now as illustrator: a very unique picture book about technology.
Simona is represented by Transatlantic Literary Agency and you can read more about her background there.
Be sure to check out her Pirates of Oz for fun, fascinating concept illustrations that blend worlds (I mean, Jack Scarecrow – how funny), or her Forest Fairies and Goblins for fantastical creatures. Enjoy a few more of her stunning illustrations by in the gallery below, on her website, and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Behance.