Illustrator Erica Bortoloso: ‘my characters are always linked to an emotion or a feeling’

Erica Bortoloso, also known as Ekira, is a freelance children’s illustrator based in Italy. She talks to us about developing her cute characters and enchanting worlds and why she made the switch to Affinity.
Erica, please tell us a bit about yourself and your creative background.

I’m a children’s illustrator based in Italy. I studied painting in Venice and illustration for publishing in Bologna. I love children, magic, fairies and nature in general.

Have you always been interested in children’s illustrations?

Not really. I’ve always loved children’s books, and I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, but the turning point came while I was following an illustration course in Venice. I felt like I had arrived home; if you know what I mean :)

Character design is a big part of your work. How do you plan each character and communicate their personality?

They simply arrive. Pareidolia (seeing faces and patterns) is a big part of my creative process, and when I “find” a character and start structuring it, it’s always linked to an emotion or a feeling. Each of my characters has a story that evolves as they take shape. So, when I have to illustrate more complex stories, it is easy to carry them out because the character already exists.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

From nature, emotions and memories.

As an illustrator, how important is it to have a recognisable style?

I think it’s important. Style is something that, like it or not, comes out and is structured over time. It’s your signature, the proof of your work.

How did you first hear about Affinity, and what inspired you to give Affinity Photo and Designer a try?

I was looking for a leaner and faster alternative to Adobe. For a few months, I used Designer and found my way around the program very well. Then I decided to purchase Photo and switch between the two programs. I would never go back, I’m too happy.

“I was looking for a leaner and faster alternative to Adobe. For a few months, I used Designer and found my way around the program very well. Then I decided to purchase Photo and switch between the two programs. I would never go back, I’m too happy.”

What features do you use most/couldn’t be without?

There are so many. Firstly I would say the way layers are structured—they are so comfortable and intuitive to use, and then the customisation of styles and brushes, especially raster, which I find phenomenal.

Talk us through your workflow; how do your illustrations tend to develop?

Through sketches, sketches, sketches, ideas, further sketches, filling shapes and then going all the way with my brush strokes.

You regularly share the processes behind your illustrations on YouTube. What inspired you to do this?

I have always been a bit ashamed to show off my work, thanks to bullying by “real” painters and various experiences that went wrong. But then I said to myself: “Anyhow, you will draw for your whole life. You might as well film yourself, and you might as well publish it online. Maybe someone will find it useful and beautiful.” So that’s what I did, and between YouTube and Patreon, I feel great satisfaction when I see that my content is appreciated and studied by people.

What do you love most about being an illustrator?

The freedom I feel in expressing myself in a playful, dreamlike way without rules. It’s a bit like going back to being a child every time, and it’s a feeling that I love.

“The freedom I feel in expressing myself in a playful, dreamlike way without rules. It’s a bit like going back to being a child every time, and it’s a feeling that I love.”

If you were given the chance to illustrate for any book or story, what would it be and why?

I would love to illustrate Pennac and Hesse. I would also say Walter Moers because I love his worlds, but he already creates the best illustrations for his work.

Also, the thing I would like most would be to illustrate some magical unpublished stories.

What are your creative aspirations for the future? What would you like to achieve?

At the moment I’m looking for an agent. My goal is to grow in the publishing field and make a name for myself, to be able to illustrate more and more magical adventures.


You can find out more about Erica and her work at ericabortoloso.com, on Instagram and by subscribing to her YouTube channel.