Illustrator Profile - Federica Bordoni: "Challenges are opportunities"

By Robert Newman   Thursday November 9, 2017

Federica Bordoni is an illustrator who lives in Trento, in the northeast part of Italy. Her illustration work has appeared in numerous U.S. publications, including The New York Times, Nautilus, and O. Bordoni creates her illustrations digitally; the result is work that is stylish, elegant, and colorful, with a bright palette and smart conceptual ideas. She recently started branching out into animation; the results are quite striking. Of her personal work, Bordoni says, “I like to focus and investigate emotions and feelings and I try to represent them in a visual metaphor.”

I was born and I live in Trento, a small town surrounded by mountains, in the northeast of Italy. I live with my family: Claudio (my partner) and Arturo (our little boy), and we have just adopted a dog, Dorotea (Tea for friends)!

My parents were not in the artistic field. My mother worked in a pastry shop and my father worked as a sales agent in the construction field. One of my aunts used to paint and I remember I was fascinated with it. She’s very talented.

I was the only child of my parents and I used to fill up my spare time with colors and fantasy. I remember with tenderness the pleasure of drawing I had when I was a child, and now I feel the same joy when a new assignment arrives!

When I was 13 years old I had to choose a specialized high school. I would have loved to study art but instead I attended scientific high school, following the suggestions of my parents and teachers, who thought that it was better for future work opportunities.

Scientific high school taught me the capacity to analyze and it is a useful ability for my creative process now. There I learned also to accept failure and try again…and I think it made me stronger. Furthermore, in that school and in the swimming pool I met some of the best friends of my life. I love to swim and I think that this sport influenced my character too, in particular concerning resistance, determination and my passion for the color blue. I started teaching in the swimming pool when I was a student, especially during the summer time. I continued teaching swimming until just a few years ago. There I also met my love, Claudio.

After graduation I decided to follow my art attitude studying graphic design at IDP (Instituto Design Palladio) in Verona. I remember I thought that graphic design could be a good compromise between art and work. When I discovered Milton Glaser’s “art IS work” I interpreted it as a great encouragement!

After my studies I started working in some small local advertising agencies in my town and later as a freelance graphic designer. That experience was not as creative as I expected and I discovered that I was very much more interested in illustration. I started attending some illustration workshops, in particular, one with Yuko Shimizu in Venice, in 2008. She opened my mind to the world of illustration and I seriously started trying to be a professional illustrator after this date.

The way was not easy. For a quite a long period I did a lot of different jobs at the same time, in order to gain enough money to pay rent and bills. Beside graphic designer I worked as a swimming teacher and part-time secretary (I’m the worst secretary ever) but I finally understood I had to make a decision and follow what I really want to do and to be. Now I dedicate myself completely to illustration and just some selected collaboration in graphic design.

I think I have been very lucky to turn this passion into my profession, although it took a long time. I’m still evolving and I like to believe that this process will never end.

I usually work at home, with my computer on my desk in living room. It is comfortable for the moment, but I think I’ll get a studio outside in the future, or maybe a coworking space with a few friends.

My favorite technique is digital. I create and finalize my illustrations using Adobe illustrator and Photoshop. However, before that, I always start from simple hand-drawn sketches. In the last few months I started to sketch directly on my iPad Pro and I find it very comfortable.

When it comes to commissioned works, my illustrations come as a result of my interpretation of a specific topic. I always do research on the argument and I start to write keywords and doodling concepts that can inspire me, making a sort of mental map.

In my personal work I like to focus and investigate emotions and feelings and I try to represent them in a visual metaphor. What I like most is to allow people to get to their own interpretation of my works.

When I came to New York City for the first time, in November 2013, I had the opportunity to meet some art directors. I got my first assignment for The New York Times, with Rodrigo Honeywell, just the day I was leaving! I remember I was very excited and I sketched all the time during the flight—and when I was home I did the final in time for the deadline! It was my first collaboration with the a publication in the U.S..

Another “big break” was winning first prize in the Tapirulan International Illustration Contest. The 2015 edition was the tenth, and its theme was “X.” Creating this illustration was really fun and the award was a completely unexpected and a wonderful surprise! Winning this prize I also had the opportunity to have a solo show at Spazio Tapirulan in Cremona, Italy. More than 50 of my illustrations were exhibited and published in a catalogue called STAY.

I think also that every personal experience and important person I meet in my life (including my family, friends, teachers, coaches, colleagues and also domestic pets) has influenced my personal vision of life, and I think that this vision is reflected somehow in my illustrations.

I like the artworks of great masters such as Picasso, Matisse, Magritte, Dalì, and Depero. I love the dreamy work of the architects Gaudì and Hunderwasser. I also admire a lot the not only the illustration work, but also the graphic design, scenography and animation of Bruno Munari, Leo Lionni and Emanuele Luzzati.

I have been influenced and inspired by the work of many illustrators and artists with different styles. I had the opportunity to speak with some of them and each one gave me precious suggestions, and I’m very grateful for that. In particular I thank Yuko Shimizu, who helped me a lot, and Alessandro Gottardo (Shout). I think without their encouragements at some point I would have given up.

One of my favorite illustrators, Gianni De Conno, sadly recently passed away. I didn’t know him personally, but only through his magnificent surreal and dreamy illustrations. I think what he left us is a great cultural gift.

I also love the work of Iela Mari, who is able to tell poetic wordless stories thanks to the strength of graphic sophistication and attention to natural details, and Kveta Pacovska, for the great power of her graphic works, in particular her pop-up paper projects and alphabets.

I admire the works of Lorenzo Mattotti, Guido Scarabottolo, Chris Buzelli, Victo Ngai, Jody Hewgill, Julia Breckenreid, Anna and Elena Balbusso, Malika Favre, Olimpia Zagnoli, Lorenzo Gritti, Arianna Vairo, Violeta LopizMarina MarcolinFrancesco Bongiorni, and many many others.

The last summer I visited the Noma Bar solo show in Vicenza, at Illustri Festival, and I was fascinated by his impressive metaphorical synthesis.

I recently discovered the works of Gizem Vural. I love her style, so fresh and abstract but also so meaningful.

I admire the singer Björk, not just for her particular voice but also for her eclectic style and sensitiveness and the surreal atmosphere she can create around herself. Especially I like the artistic elements that appear in each one of her works, such as fashionable costumes, masks and creative animated videos.

Browsing books and magazines, visiting museums, and travel are all activities that can help find ideas and inspiration. But when a commission comes I usually have to work quickly and I have no time to dedicate to these activities. In that moment I have to find inspiration by myself, searching my imagination for a spark.

Sometimes I lose my inspiration. I’ve learned that in those moments I have to distract my mind. What I usually do is to tidy up my desk and house, which helps me in reorganize my thoughts, too! If I have time enough I go outside for a walk or a swim. Then the right idea comes soon and in time!

I think challenges in general are inspiring. Challenges are opportunities. Working on my own has meant taking on a lot of responsibilities. But I love this job and I think that the best challenge is to find new ideas. Toward on different topics is also a wonderful opportunity to learn something new!

Sincerely, I don’t know which assignment was the best! In the past year I have started a lot of new collaborations. Recently I had the pleasure to create the illustration for La Settimana del Buon Vivre, in Forli, Italy. This edition focuses on the theme Personae (people) and I found the topic very inspiring.

My dream is just to have opportunities to do a good job and try to do my best for every assignment. I would like to work on projects that focus on consciousness and sensitivity, dreams, feelings and emotions, psychology.

I am very happy to work on projects that I believe are ethically correct; it stimulates creativity and makes sense of my activity.

One of my best collaborations was with Len Small, for Nautilus magazine. Len is clear and professional and also very nice and kind. One memorable assignment was a series of illustrations I made for Nautilus about Cajal, a neuroscientist who fights against Freud’s theories. One of my illustration assignments for Nautilus was selected for American Illustration 35.

Another art director I love to work with is Rebecca Horne, for Spectrum. She gives me great suggestions and quick feedback. I’m working with her right now on a special report with a very inspiring topic.

I also loved to collaborate for Family Circle with Lisa Kelsey on a project that focused attention on women’s health.

I created an illustration about infrastructures in Greece for Chief Investment Officer and I loved collaborating with the art director SooJin Buzelli.

Among my future goals is to get closer to children’s illustration and carry on some personal “analogical” projects. I’m working on creating artwork made of wood and paper. It is just an experiment, but I hope that something good will come out of it.

I’m very fascinated with land art and murals. I would like to experience it sooner or later in my life. I also would like to expand the application of my illustrations to other fields such as fashion, interior design, and animation.

I’ve recently created with Giulia Mirandola a short animation for this last summer season at Il Masetto, a beautiful little house surrounded by mountains, where their visitors can live a lot of beautiful and creative experiences relating to illustration, food, and nature.


I have a website and a Facebook page and an Instagram profile that I try to update as often that I can. I'm not very good at self-promotion but I’m trying to improve! A great help in promotion comes from my recent collaboration with reps Marlena Agency. Most of all I think that the best promotion is trying to do a good job for every assignment.

If you really love your work, you’ll be able to face all the problems. Never give up! To be talented is very important but I think that it is more significant to be determined and professional, respecting deadlines and following clients’ needs and…sometimes surprising them!

See more Federica Bordoni illustrations, new work and updates:
Federica Bordoni website
Marlena Agency
Instagram: @fedefebo