Black ink rushes across the page in fluid swoops, met by splashes of colour to form leggy models in the latest prêt-à-porter looks; illustrator Lucia Emanuela Curzi certainly has a way of bringing her drawings to life. Now based in London, Curzi graduated from an art school in Milan in Film & Design to go onto a career in advertising. She moved to London where she focused on multi-media illustration, from advertising and live painting (painting things as they happen) to editorial and textile design. Since then she has been published worldwide in magazines and in advertising campaigns, has won multiple awards, and has an impressive client list that includes, Kurt Geiger, the V&A Museum, Selfridges, Estée Lauder, and many more.
Did you always know you wanted to be an illustrator?
Having worked in many different creative areas I realized that illustration was the one that left me more freedom to create my own language and visuals. On top of that, since I was 6 years old I had already a particular style in drawing, although at that time I liked to think I would have been a dolphin trainer or a psychologist.
What is it about illustration specifically that draws you in, as opposed to another art form?
The pure and essential aesthetic of fashion illustration and the power to create a strong visual concept using just your own hands. It's hard to find a commercial form of art that shows the same elegance and perfection.
Fashion has always been a huge inspiration to me as I see it as a form of art and creative expression; an opportunity to create a dreamy and fantastic scenario. I love drawing women figures and represent models as fragile and beautiful creatures.
What was it like moving from Italy to London?
London is full of creative opportunities but incredibly challenging; it gave me a lot of energy to create my portfolio and sell my work in such a meritocratic market. It was a great school of how to promote myself, especially if you compare the scale of the industry here to the Italian one, which is definitely smaller. On the other end, it was tough to leave the Italian lifestyle, all my friends and my previous job to follow a dream.
What is it about living in London that you enjoy most?
London is full of extremely talented people and its cultural offer is simply huge; I love being able to visit for free the permanent collections of great museums like the V&A Museum or the Tate Gallery, and I feel privileged when I see the amount of interesting exhibitions all around the city. I also love the fact that even if I'm living in a big city I can still enjoy beautiful parks and live in a Victorian house with a garden.
Has living and working in London influenced your style at all?
I think my style is pretty much in the mark that I had since I was a child; really impulsive and natural. When I created my portfolio in London I just learnt how to control this natural gift taking off a lot of lines and experimenting with colours.Even so, I don' think places or cities really influence my work. I have to say that I am more inspired by colours, shapes and patterns of exotic nature; I definitely feel more fascinated by spanish and italian architecture and lifestyle.
Where do you tend to get your inspiration (aside from fashion)?
I never stop drawing inspiration from the unlimited source of art history: pop art, the Japanese ink masters as Hokusai, expressionism and surrealism, which are my favourite artistic movements of course.I also love designing inspired by the detailed shapes of nature; old botanical illustrations and photographs represent a great method of study. Cinema is my greatest passion, film directors like Luis Buñuel create surrealistic and elegant frames that are an incredible sources of inspiration.
How did you refine your signature style?
Life drawing was the perfect way to study the human figure and starting to experiment with proportions and postures. Once I was really confident with it, I found my own way to express the woman body combining my style of drawing and colour techniques. Although I attended in Art classes, I always refused to follow the exercises and standard step by step procedures for painting and colouring that were taught in these classes. In this sense I am a self-taught artist as I spent some time alone freely experimenting how to mix and balance colours. Part of my style was kind of a gift, as before studying I already had my own mark and I just learned how to control it by showing less lines and strokes.
What is it like doing live illustrations versus conceptual ones?
Live illustration is much more about sketching and bringing immediate impressions and feelings on the paper.Conceptual illustration on the other hand is much more work; to research and to plan how to deliver something that hopefully has not been done before but it's still contemporary and fashionable, just by using few lines and colours. It is like the pre-production of a shooting where you have to plan and choose the model, the styling, the make up, the posture, and then just communicate one strong statement on a piece of paper. Actually I use to research a lot and sketch for a few days before starting the final artwork.
How did it feel when you got your first big client?
I was very excited and proud, I couldn't really believe it. I went to the Company Magazine Headquarters in London to meet a great art director with whom I have collaborated for 3 years after that meeting. Then, new big clients and magazines came and the feeling was almost the same; excitement and pride as this happened in an unbelievably short time since I decided to make a career out of my natural inclination for illustration.
Looking back at this big client list, how does it feel knowing you have worked with so many esteemed brands?
I never feel really accomplished, and I guess that's my strength to keep doing bigger and better things. I am always eager to create new things and experiment with new media and digital tools. I'm happy to study and research in order to improve my knowledge and my skills so that new clients and brands will be always satisfied with the evolution of my work.
What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?
I don't feel one in particular, but having my work printed worldwide on nearly 20 fashion magazine issues in 3 years only, that is probably my biggest achievement, but also working with Mary Portas' agency was a huge accomplishment. If I had to tell you about just one more particular achievement though, I would say that I was very proud to create my own label starting with a limited edition collection of scarves and t/shirts that I sold worldwide.
Do you have a favourite artist (illustrator or otherwise)?
I am falling in love with a new artist every day but here are some: Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Amedeo Modigliani, Francis Bacon, Henry Darger, Tamara De Lempicka, Dorothea Tanning, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Man Ray, Takashi Murakami, Roy Lichtenstein, Antonio Lopez, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
It has been said that illustration is a dying art form; what is your view on the subject?
Lately there has been a big return of fashion illustration and London has been celebrating this art with a lot of exhibitions. We are witnessing an important return of hand drawn and handcraft feeling art which have the power to stand out and to be really different; this is happening in contraposition to the digital productions that are creating too many serial images both in illustration and photography. These days things change really fast so that it's difficult to predict the future of art; for sure we need to protect the quality of art from the mediocrity that unfortunately internet helps to spread. Fashion is all about unique luxury and I can't see anything more precious and exclusive than an image created by hand.
Out of all your work, do you have a favourite piece?
My favourite one is an illustration inspired by Marc Jacobs' show, I particularly love the way I was able to design the look of the eyes of the model inspired by Cara Delevingne.
Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?
A lot of students write to me asking for advice. I think the most helpful one is to try to do something different, not copy other illustrators and be focused and unique. Some tutors in universities push students to replicate the work of famous illustrators; I think you have to look at many illustrators just like a source of inspiration, but then you need to find your way practising a lot of different styles. Using social networks as free marketing tools is another good advice. At the beginning your career it is also helpful to have your work printed in independent magazines.