Clara Anganuzzi was born in the U.S.A. but moved to Seychelles at four years old and lived there until moving to the U.K to pursue further studies in Arts. Her childhood in Seychelles has influenced some of her artwork. She currently lives in Bristol with her partner of 8 years and is a children’s book illustrator. Her work has been longlisted for the Klaus Flugge, a prize celebrating upcoming new illustrators, which is proof that she is up there with the best illustrators in the U.K. Clara is an entrepreneur running her business, and has illustrated various books, and Cosmocreole is fascinated by her talent and work. Hence, we wanted to know more about her and her passion for the arts, particularly illustration.
How did you become an artist/illustrator?
It’s one of those things that seemed to unravel as I discovered different things. I knew I wanted to do something in art, but I didn’t know all my options. I’ve always really loved drawing, and being creative feels very natural to me, but I felt like while in school, the only thing we were taught was Fine Art. At that time, I didn’t see where that could take me in the long run. Then, after speaking to a few people, I was shown a Foundation course in Arts in the U.K, and that’s where my journey in art as a career began. There were so many options, and it all fell into place with a lot of guidance from tutors. Once it clicked that I could draw and make it my life, there was no stopping me.
Is it something you’ve always been interested in, and what kind of formal training did you do?
I was one of those kids that were always happiest with a piece of paper and a pencil to quietly drawing away in the corner. I’ve always wanted to pursue something creative in my life, and I feel like I was fortunate with the people around me who supported and encouraged me in many ways to follow a lifelong dream.
I did three years of studying Illustration at Falmouth University and then went on to study a Masters in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University, in Cambridge. I grew exponentially during those years and found a visual language that’s my own. Of course, you don’t need formal training to be creative, but it helped me gain confidence more than anything else.
Describe your creating/illustrating process on a given day?
First things first – coffee.
I typically start my mornings with emails and getting all the admin stuff out the way so that when I get in a drawing mood, nothing distracts me. My days can vary depending on what point in a project I’m at. If I’m in the beginning, then I spend a few days in my sketchbook learning who my characters will be, trying them out in different moods and positions so you can have a range of emotions throughout a story. I do a lot of visual research to help inspire what landscapes and creatures will feature in the book. It’s also where I play around with colour palettes and storyboard the book initially. If I’m at the end stages of a project, then it becomes a lot of podcasts, audiobooks, or T.V. shows in the background and drawing out the final spreads.
What kind of materials do you use?
Most of my work is done digitally; it allows me to adjust quickly for client-based work and gives me more room to play around. I create linework and textures with traditional materials, typically a 3B pencil and Parker Quink for textures, as they have a cool bluey/black effect. In addition, I’ve got a bunch of monoprint textures I’ve done; over time, I scan them and use those on a spread to add more depth and texture to an image.
Who are your artistic influences?
Oh wow, I have so many! It will be difficult to choose just a few. Miroslav Sasek is one of my longest-standing influences. He had a beautiful way of capturing the feel of a location and the people within it. I find his confidence in using negative space to focus on specific aspects within the scene so inspiring and want to bring that more within my work.
I like Michael Adams for his colour choices and soft movement in his paintings. His work always feels so fresh, and you feel his connection to nature in a way not many artists can show in their work; it takes me back to Seychelles all the time.
Finally, Rebecca Green. I’m generalising very much here, but there seems to be a box people put artists in, and this box seems to be labelled by the type of work you do or the materials you use. Rebecca Green would be what many people call an illustrator, but I would just call her an artist. She explores so many aspects within art and allows her work to adapt and grow to what she feels interested in constantly. She doesn’t let those ‘artist labels’ stop her from creating whatever she wants. Her work ranges from painting on wood, to painting for children’s books, digital work or even puppets that she photographs in scenes. Her creative ambition and explorations are my biggest influence on who I want to be as an artist.
How did you develop your style?
It started with lots and lots (and lots) of observational drawing. Drawing on location forces you to think and draw differently. People are moving around you, weather changes etc., there are so many things going on at once that you need to loosen up with your lines; it teaches you to be less precious about everything. After many hours of doing that, you begin to naturally find a way of drawing that’s your own. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!
Where do you look for inspiration?
Nature is my biggest inspiration. During the lockdowns in England, I noticed how uninspired and unmotivated I was, sitting at the desk day in and out. Then, when we were allowed out again, we went to the seaside, and I felt mentally so refreshed to create new stories and new images. There’s so much beauty in the everyday things that we can take for granted, and I love finding those little moments to incorporate into my art.
I also love looking through National Geographic magazines or the Wildlife photography pages; they capture perfect moments of animals that look like they have so much personality. Like seals that look like they’re laughing hysterically or a really sassy owl.
How do you balance work/social and family life?
This is a constant battle! As a freelance artist, you make your own hours which sounds great, but it’s also so hard to keep disciplined. Sharing a space with other creatives helps me work certain hours and keeps me on track (sometimes). My workload tends to shift weekly according to what point I’m at in projects. Sometimes you can have a quiet period of a couple of days while waiting for feedback, and that’s when I try to make time to see friends and family in those moments. I also try to make sure I don’t do any work over the weekends and stay away from screens as much as possible, as most of my work is computer-based.
What is the biggest challenge you face as an illustrator?
The uncertainty of where the next job is coming from, and it’s very hard to financially plan your year as a freelance artist. Another struggle is finding the balance between working for clients and still finding time to create things just for yourself. The best way to keep yourself motivated and inspired is to do stuff where you know no one will critique it or even see it if you don’t want them to; it gives you a lot of freedom to explore new materials you’re not confident with. It’s just finding the time to balance work for clients, art for yourself, family and friends.
What kind of projects have you worked on so far, and what’s the feeling when you complete a project?
It’s mostly children’s books like Dear Earth ( written by Isabel Otter), How to Mend a Friend (Karl Newson), and Violet’s Tempest (Ian Eagleton). I do greetings cards and fiction book covers on the side to have faster projects alongside the longer-term ones.
At the end of a project, it’s a combination of relief, excitement, exhaustion. Most of my work tends to be picture books which can take a really long time to make. You can be on the same project for about six months, maybe more, and at that point, I’m always fairly close to burnout, especially if two projects overlap at the end stages. After you’ve rested, there’s also a huge excitement to look back at it and think, wow, I did that.
Do you have a favourite illustration that you’ve done, and why is it your favourite?
One of my favourites is an image I did of a pride of lions snoozing in a tree and a gazelle bravely sticking its tongue out at them. Another one is an image of a boy and his grandpa cooking a huge bowl of pasta together. I think it’s the feeling I had behind making the images that make them my favourites. For both of them, I sort of went into the zone where I was so content drawing and didn’t sleep through the night because I was enjoying it so much. They’re done in different ways, one digital and one traditional, and they were both drawn just for me, so I didn’t have any pressure to share it with anyone or for them to look a certain way. I feel like both capture a quiet moment between characters, one a gentle humour between the gazelle and the lions, and the other a homely, caring connection between family.
To date, what has been your career highlight?
My debut picture book, Dear Earth. It was the thing that got me started in the industry, I worked with some amazing people on it, and it opened many doors for me. It was the ideal first book in so many ways, and I’ve been so moved by the response we’ve gotten from it. I once received an envelope from a teacher full of her school children’s drawings and ‘letters to Earth’ inspired by Dear Earth and the illustrations within it. It encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing.
A humbling moment was being longlisted for the Klaus Flugge, a prize celebrating upcoming new illustrators. It was an honour being listed with illustrators that inspired me, and it also quietened down the voices of imposter syndrome.
What’s your future plan regarding your work?
I have a few book projects that I’ve been contracted for. One really exciting one that has been inspired by my childhood in Seychelles. But mainly to keep growing and learning new things. I would love to go back to painting larger one-offs, maybe start a collection to have an exhibition!
What’s your message for women who has a passion/an idea but are scared to explore it further?
It can be very daunting following a passion! But I think with the world being so connected with the internet, social media — allows us to reach people we never thought we could connect with. So I would say to make the most of that. Reach out to people in the field you’re interested in, ask questions, start conversations. It’s scary, but when you find that group of people with similar interests to you and encourage each other to follow your passions, you’ll start to thrive. Also, do NOT be afraid of failure. Fail, and fail fast. It is where you learn the most and where you grow. There’s zero shame in trying something, and it didn’t work out the way you wanted; it doesn’t mean you stop altogether. It just means you have to approach it differently, which could be where you really find your stride.
Finally, Cosmocreole is all about inspiring other women regardless of their social background or political affiliation; as a woman, what do you think is the best way to inspire each other?
The main thing is to be a support system for each other. We’re in a world where social media can be something amazing – connecting everyone worldwide, sharing ideas, art, photography and many more. But it can also be a challenging thing to learn to navigate. It can create more anxiety and hatred because of the lack of consequences for being mean to others from behind a screen. I think being there to listen to each other, respect other women and share ideas is a good way forward. Cosmocreole is the perfect example of this! You’ve created a platform celebrating women in such variation, it’s something very special, and the world needs more things like it.
You can check out more of Clara’s work on her Instagram.