#FlorisDesign Illustrator Interview – Alfredo Belli
Today is the 270th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden. Based on the famous Skye Boat Song, and with stunning illustrations by Alfredo Belli, new picture book Speed Bonnie Boat charts Bonnie Prince Charlie’s flight from Culloden over the sea to the safe shelter on the Isle of Skye.
But who is the artist behind the sweeping illustrations of stormy seas and skies? All the way from his studio in the Mediterranean, we speak to Italian children’s illustrator Alfredo Belli about art, design and what inspires him in his day job.
Hi Alfredo, thanks for talking to us today. Could you tell us about your studies and training?
Ever since I was a child I have loved art. When I was younger I used to spend entire afternoons lying on the ground drawing and colouring in. I particularly loved drawing animals. Years later, when I’d finished school, I began studying architecture but this didn’t really inspire me. At the time when I was having doubts about my studies I happened to hear about a course in illustration at the European Institute of Design. It was the crossroads that led me down the path to where I am today. Without a doubt, the talent of my teachers and my fellow classmates at the institute were fundamental in shaping my own identity as an artist.
We’d love to hear about your decision to become a children’s book illustrator.
At the beginning I worked across various media, from advertising, storyboards and magazines, to scientific books, school text books and, of course, children’s books. I also had the exciting opportunity to illustrate some of my favourite classic adventure books. Children’s books have always been my favourite area to work in; I think children’s publishing is a fantastic world. As an artist, it allows you great freedom of expression, fun and imaginative creativity. Fortunately, when I was starting out, my work impressed some children’s publishers and the rest is history. After my son was born, the desire to illustrate children’s books became even stronger and now I show all my work to my son first before I consider it to be finished.
Do you work using traditional methods or digital methods or both?
In the first years I worked solely with traditional methods, then I started to use digital techniques and now I use both depending on the project. I always begin by drawing pencil roughs. Sometimes I colour them in digitally and other times I use watercolours and more traditional techniques. Whichever method I use, I always have fun with it. The only thing that I miss when working digitally is being able to dirty and sully the colours. Maybe it sounds strange but I really love being able to introduce some grit into my drawings this way!
Where did you draw inspiration for your Speed Bonnie Boat illustrations?
I drew upon various sources of inspiration for the illustrations including historical and adventure books, movies, comics, and even a lovely holiday in Scotland. The Scottish landscape is so beautiful and exotic. However, I’ve never visited Skye so I relied on photographic images as references. Hopefully, sooner or later, I’ll go there on holiday and see the legendary Isle of Skye for myself! I find it quite amazing that I was born and raised in the south of Italy, on the shore of the Mediterranean with equally beautiful views that are nevertheless so different.
What sorts of things do you most enjoy drawing?
I particularly enjoy illustrating characters; I like to imagine their personalities and translate this into their facial and body expressions. For each character, I always draw several sketches. However, my childhood love of drawing animals, both real and fantastical, has always remained my artistic passion.
What are the biggest challenges you face as an illustrator?
Trying to convey the atmosphere, the “taste”of a story and the characters’ state of mind, in particular through light, shadow and colour. In my opinion, this is the most difficult thing to accomplish and what I’m always striving for.
Do you have any tricks in your bag for when you get stuck on a brief?
My only trick is drawing over and over, again and again until something good comes out of it. Usually, sooner or later, I find this method works. From time to time I also look for inspiration in other media like film – I love cinema.
Is working as an illustrator what you expected?
Before I started working as an illustrator, I had no expectations and didn’t know what it would be like, as there are no artists in my family. When I first started it was a whole new, exciting world to me.
Which character did you most enjoy illustrating for Speed Bonnie Boat?
I loved drawing the Scottish warriors who throw themselves into the heat of battle with all manner of weapons. And of course I relished illustrating the main characters, Charlie and Flora. The strength of their courage, their desire for freedom, the will to rebel against their oppressor really appealed to me. It is something that I can easily relate to as these emotions and sentiments lie at the heart of Italian history too. I also enjoyed illustrating the stormy sea and sky that are much more than just a background. My intention was for the scenery to reflect the danger, fears and concerns of the characters in a physical and imminent way.
Do you have any illustrators or designers that you consider to be your favourites?
I admire many new artists as well as those who are already established. Whenever I see beautiful design or illustration it always inspires me and pushes me to improve and excel in my creative work.
Alfredo Belli lives and works in Rome. He illustrates children’s books and school textbooks on behalf of different publishers, spanning age ranges from preschool through teen. Alfredo also contributes to various advertising agencies, graphic and web design studios as an illustrator and visualizer. He uses a wide-range of styles and techniques, utilizing pencils, inks, watercolours, acrylic paints, oil pastels, digital and mixed media…not necessarily all together. Speed Bonnie Boat is and available to buy now.
To read about the editorial process behind this new adaptiation and to hear a clip of Gaelic singer Catherine Tinney singing the Skye Boat Song visit our guest blog post on the Book From Scotland site.