Anna & Elena Balbusso: The Q&A

By Peggy Roalf   Monday June 16, 2014

Q: Originally from a small town in Italy, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in Milan?

A: We were born in Udine, in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy that borders Austria to the North, Slovenia to the East, and faces the Adriatic Sea to the South.

After high school, we moved to Milan to attend Brera Academy of Fine Arts.

Milan is the Italian city most similar to the great capitals in the world; some areas are reminiscent of Paris, others of New York. The atmosphere is international. There are important museums, theatres and landmarks (including the Milan Cathedral, the fifth largest cathedral in the world, and Santa Maria delle Grazie, decorated with Leonardo da Vinci paintings). Milan is a city of design, fashion and contemporary art exhibitions.

Q: How and when did you first become interested in art and illustration?

A: Our passion for art is born from an early age. We have been drawing since the age of three. After secondary school we chose to follow a path of artistic studies and attended the high school Liceo Artistico G.Sello, an art school in our hometown.  Although we studied painting at Brera Academy of Fine Arts we never thought to become artists but rather to do a job as a graphic designer in Milan. But in the mid 1990s, so we choose to return to our first passion: drawing and painting, and we decided to join the Italian Illustrators Association.

Left: Gut Feeling, from the article "A Gut Feeling" by Nancy Averett, Coloradan Magazine, 2014. Right: Autoimmune, from the article “Living with an Autoimmune Disease” by Meghan O’Rourke. The New Yorker, 2013.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus In the computer?

A: We do not use a sketchbook; we work with pencil on tracing paper and on computer. All of our painting is done by hand, our visible brush strokes are all handmade not digital but our final illustrations are in a digital format because the color is achieved by working with Photoshop: first we paint each picture element separately (background, characters and objects) with black gouache and pencil on paper, then we digitize them and use Photoshop to color the image.

The coloring process is very complex and has been developed after many years of experience. The end result in digital format can be painterly like a painting on canvas, tempera on paper or very graphic, stylized and synthetic as a poster. 

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: The computer with the WiFi network that connects us with the world! Our idea is to be light. Our ideal is to be free to work anywhere, but the technology is required.

Q: What was your favorite book from your childhood?

A: Elena: "the invisible man" by H. G. Wells
A: Anna: "The Day of the Bomb" (Sadako will leben) by Karl Bruckner

Left: Burning Girl, from the web story “Burning Girls” by Veronica Schanoes, 2013. Right: Fire, from the book Eugene Onegin by A. Pushkin. The Folio Society, 2012.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: "The Queen of Spades," a short story with supernatural elements by Alexander Pushkin.

Q: Who and what are some of your strongest influences?

A: Our sources of inspiration are art in general: painting, sculpture, it depends on the project. Before starting an assignment it is very important to do the research, create an archive of sources. It is important to study the history of art. Surrealism, Symbolism, Russian Constructivism, Futurism have a lot of influence on our work.

Q: What was your first professional assignment and how did you get it?

A: We were lucky enough to find an important Italian graphic designer Angelo Sganzerla, who believed in us and gave us our first commission.

The mid-1990s, we joined the Associazione Illustratori Italiana and began submitting work to its competitions. Not long afterward we got a big break when AngeloSganzerla, creator of the cosmetic firm L’Erbolario’s identity, noticed one of our pieces in the Italian Illustrators Annual.

That led to our first professional assignment in Milan: illustrate the packaging for the L'Erbolario hair color line.  From that moment began step by step our art career as freelance illustrators. Our style and our signature began to form in 1998-2000 with the creation of the unique signature Anna+Elena=Balbusso and of our website.

Q: What are some of your favorite places/books/blogs/websites for inspiration?

A: In general, art books of all periods from Ancient Rome mural painting (frescoes at Pompeii) to Modern Art and Contemporary Art. Also the web sites of major art museums with huge archives of artistic works.

Q: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

A: For us, the color is a key element in every project. Each project contains in itself its own color. We think that the color is part of the personality of the individual artist and it cannot be dictated by an outside person.

Left: Cover for Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Folio Society, 2013. Right: Cover for Eugene Onegin by A. Pushkin, cover book, The Folio Society, 2012.

Anna & Elena Balbusso, twins, live and work in Milan. Since 1998 they have been working as a team doing freelance illustration with the unique signature ANNA+ELENA=BALBUSSO in Italy, France, U.S., UK, Canada, Republic of Korea. Their works have been published by major publishers and companies through out the world on various media such as book jackets, magazines, newspapers, in house corporate, ads, children’s books and classic novels. Their artwork has been exhibited in numerous exhibitions and galleries in Italy and abroad.

They have been awarded three consecutive Gold Medals (2011-2012-2013) in the book category of the Society of Illustrators NYC, two Silver Medals of the 3x3 Magazine Annual Illustration 2010-2012. In 2013 They have been named the Winners of the V&A Illustration Awards for best book by The Victorian and Albert Museum (London UK) for “Eugene Onegin” by Alexander Pushkin (Folio Society, 2012).

The Balbussos’ work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators (New York), American Illustration [Selected for AI30, AI31, AI33], Communication Arts Magazine, 3x3 The Magazine of Contemporary Illustration, Spectrum Fantastic Art Awards, Creative Quarterly The Journal of Art & Design, Applied Arts Magazine CA, LürzersArchive 200 Best Illustrators worldwide, Print European Regional Design, Bologna Children’s Book Fair. They are represented by Shannon Associates.