The Q&A: Joana Avillez

By Peggy Roalf   Monday February 6, 2017

Q: Originally from New York what are some of your favorite things about living and working in the Big Apple?

A: I grew up in the Seaport, when it was a very smelly fish market, and I still live nearby, which is either a sign of the utmost uninventiveness or total security.  Because my family and so many of my friends are here, from pre-school to the RISD, it really feels like home. New York has really shaped my humor and outlook; however, I will say, the best thing about New York is coming back after you've left it.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper [or other analog medium] versus in the computer?

A: I feel like I make work that is the equivalent of a sketchbook. I really value a doodle made while talking on the telephone just as much as something very worked, if not more. Above everything, I love a simple line that conveys a funny attitude. I always draw on paper and clean it up in Photoshop, because it's the look I like and also because I'm sort of incapable of anything else.  


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

A: I'd like to say my giant scanner, because it feels like a luxurious car, but the most important item would have to be my pen.  I wrote an ode to my favorite pen for New York magazine [info], and it sparked a raging pen debate online. I didn't even know people still used pens! Totally thrilling.

Q: How do you know when the art is finished?

A: When none of the red flags in my brain go up. I think the collaborative aspect of working with art directors, editors, graphic designers is such a great part of doing illustration—it’s like having a brain with many, many eyes.

Q: What elements of daily life exert the most influence on your work practice?

A: Trite as it is, walking around New York City exerts the most influence on my work. Since I was in a stroller I was looking at people and sizing them up and down from my very low stance. I pay the same amount of attention to people when I am traveling, if not more. I just love how people present themselves! I love noticing trends come and go, that can sound very superficial but I see it as being within the tradition of satire. 



Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: My favorite book as a child was every William Steig book my dad read to me. My mom always did Margaret Wise Brown and Beatrix Potter and I love all their books, too.

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

A: I just read The Possessed: Adventures in Russian Books and The People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman. Good golly gosh she is so smart. I also just reread Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf, and it is so fresh and transgressive and stunning.  

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: I really only work one way: pen/ink and watercolor, but since I love writing so much, I would try just writing for a year. I think of deciding between using words or pictures or both as the mediums I flip between, more so than materials.



Q: If you could spend an entire day away from work and deadlines, what would you do and where?

A: What are my travel limitations? Do I get any spending money? If I just have the day I'd take my dog Pepe to Rockaway Beach so he can run and splash, wild and free.

Q: What was the [Thunderbolt] painting or drawing or film or otherwise that most affected your approach to art? 

A: My dad used to take me to see Hieronymus Bosch's The Temptation of Saint Anthony at the Museu de Arte Antiga in Lisbon. It really rocked my world. It was so naughty and humorous and done 500 years ago. It always stuck out to me.  

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: My last supper would be a mountain of percebes and an ice-cold Super Bock beer in Lisbon. Though I plan to have many more on the way to that one.



Joana Avillez is an illustrator living in New York.  She is currently working on D C-T, a post-lingual picto-puzzle book co-authored with Molly Young, being published by the Penguin Press in 2018. 
Instagram: @joanaavillez

Twitter: @joana_avillez

Drawings above, from top down:
1. Illustrated story about Joana's father and their relationship though drawing, Zeit Magazin
2. Three illustrated stories for Daily Shouts, The New Yorker
3. Spots, Bon Appetit
4. Travel diary, New York magazine