In the Studio with Giovanni Alberti

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday May 4, 2022

Peggy Roalf: Which came first, the brush, the pen or the tablet?  

Giovanni Alberti: Generally, my works are born from a pen-and-in sketch on paper. But sometimes I make the first sketches directly with the ink brush and it can even happen that the first drawing is the best of all. I usually use digital techniques only at the finishing stage, especially for adding color. 

PR: Where do you live and how does that place contribute to your creative work? 

GA: I live in Trieste, a beautiful seaside town (above) in the north-east of Italy and very close to the Slovenian border. Historically it is also very linked to Austria. In fact, it was the most important port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until the end of the First World War. Even today, many Austrian citizens enjoy spending time here. Furthermore, the presence of people from the Balkan area is also very strong, certainly due to its geographical proximity to Slovenia and Croatia. These characteristics make it a city with a complex and unique identity and perhaps difficult to decipher. Its history and its aesthetic and naturalistic beauty certainly make it a unique place of inspiration.


PR: Please describe your work space and how it contributes to the illustrator’s basic condition of working alone. 

GA: I currently work from home, where I live with my family. My studio is very bright and spacious enough to allow me to create even larger works. I generally use the table for drawing. On the same table I have my computer, where I finalize the works. I'm not a minimalist, so both the walls and the table itself are filled with different things (drawings, tools, pens, brushes, sketchbooks, objects). When I start a new project, I usually do a bit of cleanup, so that I have the space to reorganize the ideas and the workflow.

PR: What is the most indispensable item in your studio? 

GA: The most important thing is my large-screen computer, which allows me to finish the illustrations. In fact, I often draw outside the studio, where I then return to digitally make the changes or additions necessary to arrive at the final image.

PR: Do you keep a sketchbook? 

GA: Absolutely yes! I always have a sketchbook in the works to develop ideas; I will subsequently scan those sketches to finish them digitally. I prefer the ring-binder A4-size sketchbook because it allows me to make the best use of the page size, and to avoid the shadow area of the binding when I make the scans. 


PR: I noticed that fashion and mythology play a role in your illustration work. Could you tell the readers how these seemingly opposite arts inform the narrative flow of your work?

GA: My idea of fashion is more linked to the concept of iconic representation, rather than to that of "trendy dress". In this sense, I believe it is not a world that far from that of mythology. In fact, both have to do with the idea of “icon”: the myth could be defined as a "classic" tale, therefore iconic and out of time, although it can be read in different ways. I believe that looking at these two worlds is an instinctive operation for me, because both have to do with the idea of iconization of the image and of the narrative.

Speaking of this, I am very happy that my drawing Medea (above, right) is included in the "Villains" exhibition, conceived and curated by Ivan Canu and Giacomo Benelli of the Mimaster in Milan, with a catalog published by "Edizioni della Galleria L 'Affiche". The exhibition is traveling in Italy and abroad, with a different selection of works for each venue. A first selection was presented during the Bologna Children's Book fair in March.

PR: Do you use photographic reference materials very much? If so, how do you avoid the pitfalls that can arise when working from reference?

GA: It depends on the project. When I use a photograph as a basic model for an illustration, I always try to imagine it as if I were looking at a live image. In a way, I try to picture it as non-static, exactly as if I were drawing the live scene, with all the magical imperfections that can happen. Indeed, in reality nothing is static. Sometimes I mix subjects inspired by photographs with subjects taken from life, or even just imagined. To do this, I can help myself with a photo montage to serve as a model. In any case, there are always pitfalls, but I think a lot depends on the ability to identify with and "enter" the reference image, to make the image "vibrate" on the paper.

PR: What are some of your creative inspirations—artists, music, literature:

GA: There are certainly artists who have influenced me: in particular Alberto Giacometti, not only for the works themselves, but also for the process that was at the basis of his production: a search for the truth of form, almost an infinite attempt to see better the surrounding reality. In illustration, I love Quentin Blake, for the incredible freshness of the stroke.

In literature, Dino Buzzati, a great Italian writer and journalist, who mixed realism, existentialism and surrealism in his writings, with a sort of mocking accent on the events he was relating. On music, it's really hard for me to answer: I listen to very different things. I go from electronic to classic, passing through hip hop and grunge ... Wanting to include a name here, I would say that with a classic like Tom Waits I'm never wrong!

PR: If you could work in just one medium for a year what would that medium be—and what would you do to start out?

Large-format paper with ink and brush pen. In fact, there is a project that I have been thinking about for some time in which working in a large format would be really necessary, at least in the initial stages. Since this is a story in pictures, I would first work to better fix some key images, and then develop all the others. The paper size for the key images would be 70 by 50 inches. Seen together, they would represent the synthesis of the story.

All the other images could be made in a smaller format: they would be “the bridge” that connects the various key images. In a. way, the end result would be similar to that of a “huge” wordless picture book.

PR: What kind of breaks do you take to clear your head when working to a deadline?

GA: Taking a walk outside the studio is always useful for refreshing thoughts and ideas. But I also like sit in a cafe, where I can watch people while having coffee. For some unknown reason, if I watch the crowd, I can come up with new ideas and relax at the same time. It’s the perfect break! 

PR: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it?

GA: For me, the work is done when there is nothing I would remove or add. And this has to happen whether I look at the image from a distance or up close. It may also happen that it is not finished, but I understand that I have to stop. In this case, I let some time pass before I look at it and figure out how to proceed. Obviously this situation changes a bit when working with a deadline and the supervision of an Art Director. But I think it can be very stimulating to receive feedback, because it is possible to discover different aspects of the work to make the image more effective.


PR: What would be your dream job—the one thing you have always hoped for in an assignment?

GA: As an illustrator, I think doing a cover for The New Yorker would be great! But there are also many other magazines that I would like to collaborate with. For example, the French magazine Le Monde, where I often see really great illustrations.

More generally, as a visual artist, my dream job would be the opportunity to modify a large space through my works, ranging from sculpture to works on paper. In fact, in my dream job what really matters is the freedom to express my point of view, through all the tools I love

Giovanni Alberti is an award-winning illustrator who lives and works in Trieste, Italy. After graduating in Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, he approached the world of illustration, earning a master's degree in editorial illustration at the Mimaster in Milan. His illustrations range from life drawing to drawings inspired by the cultural and literary world, as well as by everyday life, sometimes adopting a measured and conceptual approach, sometimes more biting and seductive. He has exhibited in various exhibitions both in Italy and abroad. In 2021 and 2022 his work was recognized by American Illustration.
Link to "Villains" exhibition:
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