Redbubble artist and illustrator Sofia Bonati‘s studio in the suburbs of London is a crisp, light-filled space. After admiring her Redbubble portfolio for some time now, I had imagined a space that was filled with exotic looking, long haired women and an assortment of animals. Her studio was revealing in its utilitarian elegance. It contains everything Sofia needs to create her subtle and magnificently detailed drawings, and nothing more. I recently had the pleasure to catch up with Sofia, who has moved to the United Kingdom from her native Argentina and discuss the effect of melancholia and her favorite drawing pencils.
I notice you’re self taught, can you please talk about how you came to create artwork? Was there a catalyst moment that lead you to making art, or was it something you’ve always done? What’s been the best, and worst parts of being self taught?
I always drew and painted a lot, since I grew up in an artistic environment. My parents are both artists, and most of my other relatives are in art-related businesses. I began to learn by copying from paintings and illustrations from books that appealed me and were always around the house. Strangely enough, I didn’t go to art school, instead I chose geology. When I was about to finish it (never happened :( ) I had to move to a different city where I began to study graphic design… for only one year until I had to move again. Last year I finally settled in the UK and it was here that I decided to focus on my art.
I guess the hard part of being self-taught is the lack of knowledge on certain techniques. Many times I struggle to go from the picture in my mind to the illustration in the paper and I feel I’m lacking the tools or skills. The good thing is that you learn in a more flexible way, without having to take classes that you are not interested. To be honest I would have loved to go to art school.
I hope this isn’t too much to say, but often I see a despondency in the eyes of the subjects you draw. Do you think this is true, and if so could you elaborate on the low spirits of many of the portraits you’ve created?
I always thought all the girls I do have a melancholic look and I guess they can show a dejective spirit as well. In general, I try to make them have a profound look, as if they are trying to communicate with the observer, although I’m not looking to transmit melancholia specifically, that’s the way they turn out.
Ah right, are they women you know personally, or are they imagined? And do you see elements of yourself in them?
I always drew people. In the beginning I mostly drew bearded men that looked more like cartoons. Afterwards, I started drawing women, and little by little they gained complexity and realism.
I start by doing a sketch of an idea that’s spinning around my mind. Then, I look on the internet for pictures that can help me as a guide to get the proportions right. If I can’t find any, I take pictures of a friend or myself and I use that as guidance. I generally do not copy the exact same face of the picture, the eyes and the mouth is what I change the most.
I definitively see myself in the girls I draw, I feel identified but not over something specific… except “Luella,” I used a picture of myself and she resembles a lot to me.
I notice you include a lot of fruit and animals in your work. Why is this? And do you have a favourite animal and fruit?
I like to draw people that are doing something.
I probably draw fruits because I can play more with their colours in comparison to other objects. I’m not sure why I use animals. The first I did was “Gada” holding a rooster, and I find it amusing to incorporate something from the animal in her own body. But really, there’s no particular reason. I try to create pieces that generate a bit of intrigue in the observer but also that are beautiful and appealing.
I’ve long admired your drawing skills, can you talk about your favorite pens, pencils and tools? And on top of that, what have you noticed works for you to work optimally? Do you like to be alone, listening to music, or are there any things you need to be doing to work well?
A 0.3 mechanical pencil is what I use the most, from H to 2B. I always have next to me an eraser pen, a kneaded rubber, and watercolours. Sometimes I use pens, but not too much lately. Regarding paper, because I use both pencils and watercolours, it’s hard to choose the best. I’m always trying for new ones. Now I’m using a hot pressed 300gr watercolour paper.
I also use a lot my Wacom tablet to make some final touches to the illustration once it’s digitalized.
While drawing, I like to have mate (a hot drink from Argentina) and listen to music. Although I don’t prefer to be alone, I generally am because I have time to draw when my son (he’s almost 2 years old) is either having a nap or out with my husband. When I’m with him he doesn’t let me grab a pencil!
And lastly, we ask everyone this question, you’ve been sentenced to life in prison in Alcatraz, and can only take three art supplies with you to make art for the rest of your life. What do you take?
I would take an HB pencil, my small box of watercolours and an A5 plain notebook. Although I generally work with bigger sizes, I feel more confortable drawing in smaller sizes.