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Illustrator David Sossella: ‘I try to breathe life into my illustrations’

We spoke to David Sossella to find out more about his work and what his first impressions were of our Affinity Designer for iPad beta…

David Sossella is a talented illustrator from Venice, Italy who has worked for some big brands including Cadbury, Hasbro, Usborne and Ray-Ban to name a few. He’s also founder of Gusto Robusto, a vector art company that collaborates with artists to produce stunning limited edition prints and is a partner at communications agency, Manifactory.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your history as an illustrator.

I was born in the mid-70s in Venice, Italy. I remember deciding that I wanted to become an illustrator at elementary school at the age of seven. Since that day I have not changed my mind, even if it did take a lot of time and effort to achieve. I attended art school, the Liceo Artistico first and then Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice. During these years, I studied painting and I also had the opportunity to experiment with different media—from engraving to photography and graphics to life drawing, but what I was most passionate about was drawing on a large scale. Even now in my spare time I still continue to paint on large canvases (more than two metres) with my characters. As for the use of digital technology, I am completely self-taught as in my time we were never taught graphics programs at school, though I have always had a passion for technology.

After graduating in painting, I started working in a communications agency where in addition to illustration I took care of graphics and photo retouching. In those years I was able to train as a graphic designer and digital painter. Thanks to my varied background I was able to learn many techniques and approaches to art which I now use to mix together and look for new ways to make my illustrations.

A lot of your work, including the work you created in Affinity Designer for iPad, has a Japanese influence. What is it about Japan and Japanese culture that inspires you so much?

My work has many different influences, but Japan is certainly one of the most important. I have been training in traditional Japanese martial arts for over 30 years and have always been fascinated by Japanese culture and aesthetics. I love their passion for nature and their ability to see magic within their culture. Five years ago, I was staying with a friend in Kyoto, a master of sumi-e (the traditional Japanese ink painting) and it was an unforgettable journey.

‘Sojobo’ created by David Sossella in Affinity Designer for iPad beta.
What did you like best about Affinity Designer for iPad?

The most amazing thing for me is to see a professional level vector graphics program work so well on a mobile device. One of the most positive aspects of this is that I can work wherever I want. I have always wanted to have one single portable device and for me Affinity Designer for iPad represents a turning point in this sense. I also love the integration of gestures in the program—they are intuitive and innovative at the same time.

‘The Dragon’ created by David Sossella in Affinity Designer for iPad beta.
What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like having a simple life, spending a lot of time outdoors walking with my partner, son and dog. Another thing I like is the sea—the beach is an hour away from my house, it’s always very quiet and completely natural with dunes full of flowers and lots of free space. I like to relax there, especially in the summer—it’s one of my favourite places.

I am also a very curious person and I like to learn about different topics which then often inspire me to create new drawings. Also, I am a teacher of Aikido.

In 2010 you co-founded the design agency Manifactory. How did this come about?

In 2006 I worked in a cartoon studio where I met my partner, Sara (also an illustrator who works with me at Manifactory). After a few years I wanted to have more creative freedom to create new projects. Two of my close friends had recently started a communication agency so me and Sara decided to join them.

Manifactory over the years has become a rather original project (at least in the Italian scene), it’s an agency that integrates illustration and communication. Often illustration plays a big part in the communication projects we create. We are an agency of creativity, we like to think outside the box and imagine with our customers unprecedented ways of communication. We are by choice a small agency, we have never wanted to grow too large because each of us loves our work too much to become a director. Our doors are always open to hosting new creatives for collaboration and young talents. We are an agency specialised in creativity.

David with his colleagues at the Manifactory studio.
Describe your typical work week at Manifactory…

I personally work mainly with foreign clients, but I also collaborate in the creative phase of projects that involve our customers in the area.

My usual day is spent drawing and emailing customers. I still have a large drawing table where I spend a good half of my time (unfortunately for my cervical bones) and the other half of my time is spent on my computer. I always reserve some time for my personal projects and purely for training my drawing—it’s essential to me to be able to give the best during the commissions. Initially our office was in the centre of Treviso but after a couple of years we moved to Badoere, a small country town which has a wonderful and ancient circular square. Now I’m able to take a walk through the nature every day and relax the eyes and the mind.

“I always reserve some time for my personal projects and purely for training my drawing.”

How does your approach to client work differ from your personal illustration projects?

When I work on a commission my job is to clearly communicate what interests the customer. It can be said that my work is at the service of the client as the work of the illustrator can also often be alongside that of the art director, and I try to find the most suitable style in every project. By nature, I am not a designer who works with a single signature style. Personally, I need to wander and change, and for each commission I try to find the most appropriate language. When I work on personal illustrations I have an artistic approach and I don’t care anymore if the communication is clear and immediate. In every illustration I try to insert more levels of reading, both from a narrative and symbolic point of view. I love to add detail and hidden meanings in my personal work. What I want is to develop my vision, it’s like looking inward to find one’s point of view on things. I try to breathe life into my illustrations, telling small stories or giving life to the characters expression.

Posters for the “Rare Print” Ray-Ban campaign created by David Sossella.
The backgrounds you created for the Monopoly Junior commercial are incredible. How long did this project take you to complete?

Thank you. The work for Monopoly Junior is part of a collaboration I did mainly as a background artist with a studio in Dubai called Clockwork VFX. We have been able to work together on commercials for clients such as Hasbro, Playdoh and Disney. Manifactory and Clockwork have been in partnership for a very long time. The whole team is made up of great people who are extremely easy to work with. I feel a great friendship and esteem for the founder, even though I’ve never had the opportunity to know him personally.

This type of collaboration is the best example of how the internet has opened up opportunities. Thanks to the internet I’ve got to know some wonderful people all over the world.

Tell me how your sketches form into the final artwork we see.

Normally when I have the initial idea, I already have in mind the technique I will use to make the finished artwork, and this partly influences the work process. When I work in vector, I usually start with a pencil sketch. However, since I started using Affinity Designer on my iPad Pro, I sometimes sketch directly on the iPad. In any case, the first phase is certainly to have a complete and satisfactory sketch of the initial idea. Often my illustrations are quite complex and to achieve a finished sketch there are several steps; to combine the design of the characters and possible vehicles, buildings etc, their dynamics and relationships (interactions, expressions etc) and perspective. I really love to look for alternative perspectives that make the illustration more interesting (even if they often complicate the vision). Once the sketch has been created, I then use it as a base to realise the final version. First of all, I choose the colour palette which gives an interesting atmosphere and mood. When I work with vector, I work with the mouse or with the pencil on the iPad to design each vector with the pen tool as you would for a logo. I have tried several times to use vector with a graphics tablet and various brush tools but it’s just not for me, I found everything too imprecise.

If I work with spot colours and a defined number of Pantone, the work is even more technical and is done entirely with the pen tool and the work of geometry Boolean. In this case, I have to cut and combine elements, and the production of the file is much more complex—it requires a lot of specific knowledge deriving from graphic design rather than illustration.

Shinto Shrine sketch by David Sossella.
Shinto Shrine by David Sossella created in Affinity Designer for iPad beta.
Tell us a little about Gusto Robusto. Where did the idea of it come from?

I studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, where one of the primary subjects was engraving. We learned to make limited edition art prints with the classic techniques such as xylography, etching etc. After developing my skills as a vector artist, I thought I could use vector as a “matrix” to create limited numbered and signed editions of some vector illustrations. I wondered if it was possible for the art market to accept the vector technique as a new technique for making art prints. This led to the realisation of the Gusto Robusto project.

Gusto Robusto has the ambitious goal of bringing vector graphics into the field of art. To do this we have on the one hand sought the best tools, paper, print quality etc., and on the other hand there are the tools that can guarantee the collector of the originality of the works. Each work is numbered and signed by the artist, stamped and provided with a guarantee certificate. Doing things this way has complicated a lot of procedures but has guaranteed us an impeccable product.

R_797B illustration created for Gusto Robusto by David Sossella.
What inspired your decision to use a limited colour palette on each print series?

We wanted the print quality to be exceptional, so the four-colour process didn’t seem like a viable option. We decided to print only Pantone colours so that every colour would be more vivid and powerful, as seen on a monitor. This limited the number of colours we had available to five, so we decided for each run, which is composed of four works, to create a unique colour palette.

For each artist we provided a pre-established colour palette and a predefined printing format. Other than that, we left everyone the utmost freedom of expression, this is because we think that every artist can give their best when they are completely free. Choosing the different colour palettes and deciding which artist to entrust them with was a very difficult job.

You’ve worked with illustrators around the world on Gusto Robusto print series. Who has been the biggest joy to work with?

As the Gusto Robusto project took shape, we had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the best vector artists on the international scene. In some cases, we collaborated with famous and recognisable names, in others we tried to scout and find new talent. In this sense, our choices have always been dictated by artistic esteem rather than the fame and visibility of the artist. This may not have always paid off from a commercial point of view, but from a human point of view it has given us the opportunity to create collaborations and friendships that still go on. I do not necessarily want to be politically correct, but I have to say that with each of these collaborations there has been something special and unique, precisely because we have selected each of the artists on the basis of the esteem.

The thing that was the greatest joy for me was the fact that on the occasion of an important exhibition we managed to host almost all the artists here in Italy, having the opportunity to know each other personally. With many friendships and art continued to this day, with everyone, the esteem and affection is unchanged.

Why do you feel vector-based illustration needs championing?

Making a project like Gusto Robusto in a country like Italy is a real challenge. Here the mentality is still quite traditional, and the art world is still very tied to its traditions and glorious past which is understandable considering Italy’s history in art. At best, contemporary art revolves around established names and changing market logic is very difficult. Considering this, to have vector art be seen as an art form is not taken for granted at all. I think we need to think outside the box and analyse the qualities of the vector technique (for example the possibility of working on huge formats) and enhance them. Gusto Robusto is an attempt to do this and the form that it has now taken will not necessarily be the same in the future. We want to remain on the extreme front of the avant-garde. For this however, we would need help and someone to believe in the project, as producing the prints by ourselves is not a long-term option if we want Gusto Robusto to reach its full potential.

Work in progress in Affinity Designer.
What would be your dream illustration project?

My answer to this continues from the previous question. Personally, I would like to be able to fully explore the potential of vector art and develop its strengths. The art prints highlight one of the major pros; the repeatability of vector art and the vector files role as the “matrix” of the work. My dream is to explore the potential of large format work and installations, made possible by the potentially infinite resolution of a vector file. I come from a background in street art, and the visual impact that comes from a big format is one of the things that I still find most exciting. In the past I have had the opportunity to create works of almost two square kilometres of vector illustration, and to see my works printed at this size was quite emotional for me.

Ultimately, I would like to explore together with other artists the potential of vector in contemporary projects with great visual impact.

Tarobo created by David Sossella in Affinity Designer for iPad beta.

You can find more of David’s incredible work here.