Kiki Kowalski is an Italian artist from Salerno who creates original and wonderful illustrations with her characters or Harry Potter and Frida Kahlo. We interviewed Kiki and learned how the life of italian illustrators has changed because of the pandemic and how Kiki is drawing now at home.
— Kiki Kowalski is your real full name?
— Unfortunately no, but everyone calls me that and it is now my «stage name» as an illustrator. Kiki is short for Chiara (my real first name), Kowalski is from one of the Penguins of Madagascar, a character I relate to a lot.
— You are Italian, aren’t you? Nowadays there is worldwide quarantine, we have to adjust to new conditions. How tight are the restrictions in your region now?
— Born and raised in Italy! I live in Salerno, a really nice city on the beautiful Amalfitan coast. It is located in a southern region called Campania, where the virus spread moderately. We’ve been on lockdown since the first week of March and our lives changed a lot: we have to stay indoors, shop only for groceries (1 person per household), always wear masks and gloves, stay 1mt far from each other, not visit people who live in other houses, etc. I haven’t seen my grandma in weeks even though she lives in the building next to mine.
— Is it difficult for you to draw now? How do you deal with quarantine and is it difficult for you to stay home?
— I’ve always been a «couch potato» but ‘staying home because you want to’ is very different from ‘having to stay home cause the outside world is a dangerous place‘. Drawing helps a lot as it calms my mind and takes me to beautiful places. Every time I draw I’m right there between lines and colours and my heart can rest.
— How does an art community in Italy develop during the pandemic? Are these times hard for illustrators and artists?
— The pandemic definitely changed the priorities of a lot of people, and for me and many other artists some private commissions have been cancelled due to lack of money from clients. Despite that, I noticed that we all created a lot more, I think to lift each other’s spirits. The Italian community celebrated doctors and nurses through beautiful drawings, but also worldwide there have been many inspirational challenges like #drawyourwindow to show we are all in the same situation and can overcome this together.
— Does it affect your mental health? How do you deal with stress?
— I truly believe that artists tend to be more sensitive, so things have a stronger impact on them. I have been affected a lot as not only is it frustrating to stay in the same environment the whole day for many days, but knowing that we are not safe and our enemy is invisible and unpredictable is very hard to process. Whenever I feel anxiety coming, I grab my pencil and get back to drawing!
— How popular are the illustrations in Italy at all?
— In Italy there is a long tradition of illustrators and cartoonists such as Milo Manara, Hugo Pratt, Zerocalcare, Vauro, etc. In many newspapers and magazines you can find satirical cartoons or decorative illustrations. Through Instagram, even minor artists have access to a wider public and it surprised me a lot to find so many people love illustrations.
— You are an editorial project manager too, because it is hard to make a lot of money only on illustrations or there is another cause? (If yes, would you like to draw in a perfect world and not work at all?)
— I currently manage publications for many Italian publishers, and it’s a job I really like as it makes me see the behind-the-scenes of books creation, but I’d really love to be a full-time illustrator — I’d say, in a perfect world, drawing would be my main job! For now I juggle between both things and I’m working hard to build a portfolio of clients for my illustrations, I’d like to collaborate with agencies and companies all over the world.
— Your illustrations are soo unusual and unique. Tell me please how you found your style. What or who inspired you?
— Finding their style is something every artist struggles with, especially at the beginning. I started drawing when I was very little and painted on and off for many years before working digitally. I think the more you draw the more you learn what represents you, what you like, what fits in your art. And then you can build around that and develop specific features for your creations. For me it’s colours, textures and my signature nose and eyebrows. Inspiration can come from other artists, films, photos, feelings. I also get inspired a lot by the dreams I have at night, when my imagination runs free.
— You are self-taught. Which do you think is better: to be a professional in this field or a self-taught amateur? Do you lack any skills and knowledge or do you feel comfortable?
— Many professionals started their careers without going to art schools or having art degrees. You can always learn techniques and theories but talent is something you are born with and should feed to turn your passion into a job, if this is what you want. I want to be a better artist for myself and my clients and build a strong career in the industry, I am also very curious and feel I can always do things better. That is why I’ve been doing a lot of practice and studies on my own and I’ll do many more to develop my knowledge and train my skills.
— What are your favorite illustrations (among yours)?
— One of my favourites is definitely the self portrait with half face and half drawing. It represents my duality of being either super reflective and introvert or super social and funny.
Lately I’ve been loving doing Harry Potter fan arts, and I’m recreating famous paintings in my own style, for instance Caravaggio’s Bacco.
— How long does one illustration take?
— The time spent on an illustration depends on its complexity, the amount of details and texture I want to add, even my mood. sometimes it seems like I could go forever so I must decide that the illustration is done! In my experience I need at least 3 hours to be happy with it!
— Do you have a dream connected to the illustrations?
— Other than doing this full time, I’d love to write and illustrate a book for children (maybe even a series). Also I’d like to create clothes and accessories involving my art — something is already in progress, but I can’t tell yet!
— What do you think Russia is? How does it look like? Have you ever visited Russia?
— I’ve never been to Russia, but since 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, I put it on the list of places I’d like to visit one day. I think it’s one of those countries that people don’t know very well, maybe focusing more on politics than the country itself. There are beautiful lakes and mountains, stunning cathedrals and I know the food is super good too! Also, many great illustrators I know are Russian, so that’s a plus!
Special for 2x2, Kiki made an art with 2x2 owl as «easter egg»: