The DART Interview: Elisa Talentino

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday April 1, 2020

Peggy Roalf: When did you get the idea that art and design would be your life’s work?

Elisa Talentino: I have been drawing since I was a child. I was born and raised in Castellamonte, a city famous for its ceramics, in the province of Turin. My primary school was next to the Institute of Art, and I was always admiring the girls and boys with their giant drawing boards and blue or green hair going to classes. They were handsome and rebellious. What I knew for sure was that I would go there when I grew up. And so it was. I never had any doubts about my choice: it was all very clear.

PR: When did you realize that watercolor might be your most natural—and “go to” medium?
ET: Actually watercolor is just one of the mediums I use; it's not the first, I started to use more this technique in 2016 when I created the short animated film "Dandelion." In this animation I drew more than 1000 watercolor drawing, through which I became familiar with the medium.

PR: Silkscreen, your medium of choice for larger works, could hardly be more different than watercolor; yet you bring a beautiful fluidity and almost transparency to these pieces. Could you tell the readers why you took up silkscreen printing, and how you manipulate the few tools required to get the results that you seek?
ET: As it often happens with the important things, it occurred by chance—or fate—while I was searching for my own style after the Fine Art degree. When I was 25 years old I experimented in various art forms from video to painting—and screen printing, focusing on the serial reproduction, with the graphic designer Paolo Berra. I found that the result in screen printing was as warm as with painting, yet with the minimal effects that the division into flat colors required. So I discovered that screen printing was the right combination between my passions: painting, etching and graphic design.

PR: I noticed that you do a lot of hand lettering. When/how/why did your interest in this art form originate?
ET: I’ve never studied lettering. When I write by hand it’s my calligraphy, simply done with more care than when I write the market list.

PR: Animals—including lots of birds—populate your portfolio. What is there about non-humans that makes them a great subject??
ET: I like to be inspired by the color combinations in birds, which are absolutely perfect, as often happens in nature. They suggest textures and colors that usually don’t come to mind. Nature offers a big color chart if you can see it: it does all of the color corrections for you.

PR: Where do you live, and how does that place contribute to your creative work?
ET: I live in Turin, a beautiful city in the north of Italy. I work from home, but my printmaking studio is in a country place, so when I have to print I go there, where I can enjoy the natural surroundings. This is very important for inspiration—and to take a break from the city.

PR: What changes have you made, in work and in life, to accommodate getting through the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 virus?
ET: I went to live in my country studio; here the quarantine is less strict because you can go outside your house without any risk.

PR: What do you consciously do to maintain a positive outlook in this difficult time?
ET: I’m spending a lot of time in this old place, which had been uninhabited for more than forty years. It was my auntie’s home; she left it to me when she passed away and now I’m trying to fix it up. I always wanted to do that, but now, with less work in Turin (the design institute where I teach is shut down, the city is quarantined) I’m spending my time painting the walls, taking care of the garden and in general trying to make the place more livable.

PR: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it?
ET: I always look for the synthesis. I try to communicate with as few signs as possible, so I take off until the point when if I cut one more detail the image is no longer is readable—so that is often the end. Then I let the illustration rest for a while before deciding it’s finished.

PR: What is your favorite activity when you take a short break from the work?
ET: I am a nature lover. I am interested in herbal medicine and botany. I collect photos of animals, and in particular I am fascinated by the plumage of birds, I love folk songs, I like cooking, going about by bicycle to observe the animals in the river, traveling by train, talking in dialect with the elderly, doing yoga and walking in the mountains.

PR: What advice would you give to a young illustrator struggling to find the way into a difficult assignment?

ET: I don’t think there is a recipe, but I can try. When I have to represent an idea, be it the cover of a book or a newspaper article, I first listen to my intuition and write the first things that come to mind on the subject, without thinking too much, so that the ideas are fresh, instinctive. Then I start my research by analyzing the etymology, the symbolic meanings, the messages related to the theme. I create a mood board of images that have the same atmosphere and flavor that I intend to evoke; sometimes it can be a color, a figural pose, a landscape detail. Then I start to draw. Each stage in the process is preparation for the next. Once I have identified the image that I want to represent, I proceed to defining it directly and then go to digital.

PR: What would be your dream job—the one thing you have always hoped for in an assignment?
ET: The truth is that I couldn't wish for better.

Elisa Talentino is an Italian artist working with illustration, graphic arts, painting and animation. She published Le jardin d’hiver (Print About Me, 2013), Bendata di stelle (Inuit Editions, 2014), Metamorphosis (La Grande Illusion, 2016). Her illustrations appear also in Il tramonto birmano (Add Editore, 2016), and she has created work for for The New York Times, The Washington Post, La Repubblica, La Stampa, Mondadori, Einaudi, Bompiani, Edizioni e/o, Goethe Institut amongst many others.

Her works were selected and showed in various festivals in Italy and abroad, among them Bologna Children’s Book Fair, BilBOlbul. Festival internazionale di fumetto in Bologna, Ilustrarte – International Illustration Biennial of Lisbon, Viñetas con Altura. Festival internacionál de historietas in La Paz (Bolivia). She won the Gold Medal of 3×3 Mag Professional Show of New York for two consecutive years (2017/2018). In 2017 she realized the animated short film Dandelion, from which the eponymous book (Lazy Dog Press, 2018) was published and it has been selected in the main international animation festivals.  She is specialized in printmaking: her screenprints are exhibited in galleries in Italy and abroad.




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