Today, I caught up with brilliant Italian artist Manuela Adreani, illustrator of The Wooden Camel. She talked about her illustration process, the challenges and joys of creating art, and what she learnt about Kenya, where the book is set. Read on for a glimpse into the life of an award-winning illustrator!
Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a few of your favourite things about living in Turin, Italy?
I have been drawing since I was young and I think creating is one of the most stimulating things. It is so fascinating to me. There’s something magical when I see the drawing coming to life. This is the reason why I’ve always chosen creative works.
I came to Turin to study animation. I was so lucky to find a job in an animation studio so soon after I finished a Master’s at IED (European Institute of Design), and so I decided to stay in Turin. Even though I can work from anywhere, it is difficult for me to leave. I rent a nice flat in the city centre, and so I can walk and use my bicycle to go anywhere. There’s a splendid veggie market so close to where I live! For a vegetarian, this is fantastic! Turin offers many cultural activities, too, and has many beautiful parks.
Do you think you have a particularly Italian or European illustration style?
I’ve never thought about it. I’d like to think that there are no borders. I love so many illustrators from all over the world, but I’ve noticed that when I draw, my mind often recalls the works of the great Italian painters.
Can you tell us how you go about creating your illustrations? What materials do you use?
I read the story a few times, and then I go through the words again and sketch a storyboard — in very small drawings that I almost don’t understand myself. When I’ve finished all the sketches, I draw them in their actual size. I scan the pencil drawings and colour them using Photoshop. I keep the pencil drawings and then I use brushes in the same way that I would use them on paper to give warmth to the end result. I love colouring. It makes me happy, dreamy and emotional. When I’m not very well I just can’t get the colours right.
Did you enjoy illustrating The Wooden Camel? What did you like about the story?
I did enjoy working on this story, although it was difficult because I knew so little about the Turkana people and I’ve never been to Africa in my life. I spent my time looking at the photos and videos I could find, trying to immerse myself in that place. The easiest part was to understand the loving attitude of the oldest sister of Etabo, because I am the oldest of three.
Have you learnt anything about Kenya that you didn’t know before?
I really didn’t know the Turkana people so I had to learn how they live, what they do. They are so beautiful with their colourful beads and they have these delicate features. I love their sense of community. We don’t see that so much in the Occident.
Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?
It is very important to know other cultures. We live in a multicultural world, and knowing others through their stories is the only way we learn to respect and not be afraid of what might seem different from us.
What countries or cultures would you like to see represented more often in children’s books?
In my small career as an illustrator, I was lucky enough to illustrate covers showing the Indian culture and one story from the Native Americans, and then this story about the Turkana people in Africa. I guess I would like to see more of these kinds of books, as I don’t see them in Italian bookshops. We mostly have books representing Europe and America, as far as I can see, so there is a lot to do.
When you are not illustrating picture books, what other types of artwork do you create?
I still work on some animated series sometimes, and I find it very funny because it is almost like being an actor — which I could never be because I am a shy person.
Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?
This might seem funny, but my first advice is: take care of your eyes and the backs of your arms. Illustrators spend many hours sitting in a chair, and there are no holidays and few free weekends. Love what you do. And believe in yourself instead of the doubts that will always accompany you.
Photo from Manuela Adreani.