Olimpia Zagnoli / Self-Portrait Exercise
I have selected to undertake a Skillshare mini-brief set by one of my favourite contemporary illustrators Olimpia Zagnoli. Zagnoli is a Milan based illustrator who specialises in editorial design. Her work is characterised by its bright, graphic qualities and playful narratives. As I can identify many shared aspects between Zagnoli’s current career and my goals for the future I thought that this would be an excellent mini-brief to set myself as part of my risoprint experimentation phase.
Zagnoli’s class asked participants to simply illustrate a self-portrait. This intrigued me as I had never considered illustrating myself before, strange as that might seem. As part of the Skillshare class, designers share their thoughts on how they would approach a similar brief. I found some of Zagnoli’s insights to be very helpful and inline with much of what my Masters course has been helping to understand over the past year or so.
“As illustration becomes more popular I think its important to know where you are coming from and know what your references are in order to become a unique illustrator and to be happy and successful. In the beginning it was really hard because I knew what I liked but I didn’t know how to translate it onto paper. It took me a long time to learn how to incorporate all of these different elements of things I love into something that was mine.” (Zagnoli, 2017)
Zagnoli reinforced the point multiple times how are own personal creative practice is informed by a variety of influences and enviromental factors and that we must be cognitant of these references in our work in order to be able to explain the context of our work to a public audience. This line of thinking is very much on the same page with what I’ve learned so far during my MA studies and it is reassuring to hear someone so advanced in their professional career stating that this approach has worked for them.
“Most of the time my choices are accepted by an Art Director, so to stop for a second and ask yourself what is the story you want to tell I think it is very important and I think it is a responsibility that everyone who works with visual images has because once the work is printed your audience is going to recognise the choice that you have made and if you don’t make a choice you make a choice anyway.
So I think it is really important that you address your piece according to your thoughts on the world.” (Zagnoli, 2017)
The Skillshare brief called for participants to design a self-portrait that expressed an element that was distinctive and unique about themselves. I chose to depict two of my daily rituals which are central to my routine; my morning coffee and my daily gardening. Both of these activities represent a slower period of day, times for reflection and contemplation and are an essential part to my creative process functioning positively. I really liked the visual juxtaposition between the coffee pot and the watering can and felt that there was enough interest elements in my idea to warrant further exploration.
“In my experience teaching a lot of students feel like they need to go abroad to make it as an illustrator. They forget that the reason foreign illustration feels so exotic and exciting is because its unique location. We need to cultivate this uniqueness that we have inside us. In order to do that its good to ask yourself some questions before you start working. One of the questions to ask yourself is where are you coming from. You might think that the place that you’re coming from is the most boring place on earth and that theres nothing good about it but I bet every single place has a potential.” (Zagnoli, 2017)
I really enjoyed working through this self-portrait exercise. It is the kind of activity that I one not have decided to do instinctively but on completion I can appreciate its mny merits. Similarly to how I have found journaling and blogging useful in recording my ideas and reflections in the past, this seems like a fantastic way to challenge myself to describe my current position in a visual way that is appropriate to my practice. I will definitely be returning to this activity again on a regular basis.
“Doing a self-portraits is a great exercise as it puts you in front of a mirror and you have to find a way to describe yourself to other people and sometimes even describing yourself to yourself.” (Zagnoli, 2017)