Art Quarter Interview
Would you share something about yourself with us? What’s your education background,
your creating style, etc.?
I love my watercolors and I love flowers, even more than art history, books (and chocolate).
My father taught me the love for plants and it was him who gave me the first box of watercolors,
I was five years old and since then I have never left them. I graduated in Art of the Printing and
Graphic Design and then in scenography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples. For years I
worked as a graphic designer and for theater as a costume designer, assistant director, set
designer and later as interior designer. But what I wanted to do was illustrate fairy tales and
write them myself. Together with drawing and painting, books and stories are my great passion.
So I took a master
degree in illustration and published a dozen of children's books, some written
by me, in Italy and abroad.
My style was formed around the work of great watercolorists like
Arthur Rackham, Beatrix Potter and Lisbeth Zwerger, with whom I studied for a short time in
What are your creating materials/tools?
Watercolor is my technique, but I am really into pencil and with ink and nib draw. In the past
my watercolor illustrations were often contaminated by other techniques such as pastel or
collage, while presently for the botanical painting the watercolor is pure, it is used by the
lightest washing up to the most defined of the details.
When did you start to create in your current style? How did you develop it? Why are you
fascinated by birds and flowers?
Throughout my studies and my entire carrier I have kept some sketchbooks to design, take
notes, write, but mostly to paint several natural elements. They have been not only a useful
exercise and a great pleasure, but at a decisive turning point in my private life flowers, plants
and nature have been a new field to explore. Drawing and naturalistic painting have become a
new creative challenge for me and a peaceful place to let my brushes move. I started to practise
seriously with regard to shapes and techniques due to the fact that I discovered botanic
watercolour to be very different to how I was used to know it. Indeed, I studied thoroughly,
practised a lot, trying to find a balance between scientific fidelity and my personal style, in order
to respect the care and definition required by botanic watercolour. At this point in life, begin to
carefully observe the nature turned out to be for me, a very internal path. You get in touch with
a beauty source, so pure and mysterious, to be completely charmed. Even the most common
flowers are incredibly perfect vital devices and the birds are intriguing and marvellous creatures.
What is the general size of your work? How long does it take to paint one, generally? Which part of the process takes the most of time?
In botanic painting there is a tendency to respect the actual measure of the subject and in
general I do prefer little dimensions, the ones that require a precise willing of the observer in
watching. My sketchbooks’ pages are generally small and the maximum size of the plates is
35x50 cm. Although these are just sketches or studies, they are very detailed and for this reason
if I can’t manage to finish them outdoors, I take the specimen with me and I complete the work
at home. The large and more complex works take several days to be finished, partly because I
spend time painting just some hours in the morning and some in the afternoon. The colour is
the most demanding and the longest part during the realisation of a botanic plate. I work up to
the smallest fold of a petal, to the lights and shadows of a single tiny stamen.
Do you produce commercial works? When you do, how do you shorten the time it take?
How do you handle it if customers want to make changes?
I worked a lot in advertising and publishing too, but now I produce high quality prints of my
botanical works, postcards and a board game that I sell in the shop of my website and on Etsy.
There are always exact deadlines that must be met regarding both deliveries or shipping.
Furthermore, in my opinion to achieve a result of a good level, the execution times cannot be
shorten, it’s the effort taken that must be multiplied! I love receiving private commissions, but
most of all to get to know, to talk with and to understand exactly the desires of the people that
appreciate my work and wish to have it in their homes. Obviously it’s possible that some clients
request some changes, therefore I always provide them a very detailed preliminary sketch, with
various options in order to offer a wider choice. I would like everyone that decides to invest in
my work to be satisfied at least as much as I am in painting it.
Would you describe your typical day?
I wake up at 6.50 AM to prepare breakfast for my daughter and after she leaves for school, I
do prepare a cappuccino that I sip while writing or drawing a sketch. I have been writing at least three pages, every morning for many years now, indeed it is an activity which frees mind and prepare yourself for creativity. After some routine activities I work at my desk, outdoors (I live
near a river) or on my roof garden, looking for plants to portray. I continue working until lunch
time, to restart then in the afternoon, compatibly with the activities carried out with my
daughter. After dinner, when it’s possible I watch films (I adore cinema) or I read until I fall
asleep. During weekends my routine changes, I often travel by train, I search for exhibits or
interesting events or I go seeking for books (I could spend entire days in a bookshop), I see my
friends for a pizza or a glass of wine. When my daughter is away I love staying at home and
dedicate my time entirely to my projects. As soon as I can, I fly to London, where another part of
my heart lives and there I often draw in Kew gardens and I spend most of my time in museums.
Wherever I go I always bring a sketchbook with me.
What’s(re) your next plan(s)?
I am working on two projects that are very dear to me, a children book and another on
creativity, which will collect together my past and most recent work experiences. One will be
accompanied by a greater dose of poetry, while the other will be more practical, but both will
have in common love and amazement that only nature can gift. Moreover I am preparing for an
important botanical art exhibition.
The Botanical Artist
Journal of The American Society of Botanical Artist
December 2019/ Volume 25, Issue 4
BY Claudia Campazzo
ONE DAY NOT TOO LONG AGO, while scrolling through my Instagram feed, I came across a luscious image of a sketchbook page. Elegant watercolors and ink drawings mas- terfully placed amid diagrams and notes reminded me of some of Leonardo’s sketches. I stopped scrolling to admire the image and learn who the artist was: Giacomina Ferrillo.
The Italian artist-and ASBA member-who makes her home both in Italy and England, says her sketches were integral to her studies in printmaking, graphic design, set design, and illustra- tion. “When I started my artistic studies, sketchbooks became indispensable for me. Since then, all my ideas before being realized go through a sketchbook. It is an excellent keeper of ideas, a kind of external disk, and I have used it in all of the jobs I have had. I have written down graphic projects, sets, fairy tales, illustrated book layouts, and fashion photo shoots.”
Beyond the practical use of the sketchbook, however, lies a much deeper aspect. In Giacomina’s words: the “sketchbook is play, freedom without constraints or perfectionism.” It has a creative and therapeutic value. "The notebook is the 'fun fair' of creativity, a land of plenty where everything is possible—to capture the true reality, invent our own, go out with an abso- lutely fantastic vision, or eventually come face to face with our own demons. It seems simplistic or naive, it is only a notebook; however, this is the magic of a notebook. In blank pages, there is a friend for the soul, our 'treasure island,' the memory of the moment.”
On sketching days, you may find Giacomina along the Sabato River that flows under her house in Italy (at right, top), in the roof garden she built atop her house (opposite page), or in London at Kew Gardens, in the gardens of the Castle, along the river at Hampton Court, or in the small romantic garden of her English home. “In my walks I try to clear my mind and watch until something catches my eye.”
According to Giacomina, the choice of subject is the most beautiful part of the process, akin to falling in love.
“You can fall in love with a wildflower that grows along the sidewalk you have crossed a thousand times or a leaf in a sea of other leaves. As in love, we see something in others that others do not see, and those qualities are brought out into the open. But for this to happen, one must be curious, attentive, open.” This kind of attention is both microscopic and univer- sal—the minute discoveries that catch her eye are then connected with universal ideas that bring meaning to her art. “I love the formal similarities.” For example, she says a Phalaenopsis orchid may remind her of elephant ears or pelvic bones. “They lead me through the imagina- tion to a universe coherent with itself and to a form of unity that binds everything.”
Giacomina’s highly detailed sketches are sometimes embedded in a sea of notes, creating a unified and coherent composition.
“Not having a scientific botanical training, I also use sketchbooks to study, so my notes are botanical notes, observations, and scientific data, but also private notes, which concern personal impressions, the feelings of the moment regarding the subject, the situation, the context where I found it.” Her background as an illustrator and children’s book author is apparent in both the layout and the content. “I know the importance of the text/image function, and it is inevitable for me to integrate the drawing with the written notes, of whatever nature they are, therefore I am pleased to think that they can also be pleasant to read.” The combina- tion of Giacomina’s scientific curiosity and introspection creates images that are like a meditation and portray a sense of wonder at her surroundings. “A botanical sketchbook can help you see what sensational things we have around us and develop a deep sense of appreciation for them.”
Story by Lara Call Gastinger
IN OCTOBER 2014, I LOGGED IN and created an Instagram account. I was not sure what I was doing (I am still not sure how the algorithms work), but I wanted to have a visual place to look at my art and see how it would develop and change over time. I also wanted to reach out to other botanical artists around the world. Five years later, I am surprised and grateful for where Instagram (IG) has led me.
There are many reasons to be on IG as a botanical artist and everyone has their own reasons.
One is to connect on a positive visual platform and create relationships with other artists. This can also be a great venue to give and receive feedback on art. Works in progress (especially videos) receive much attention and many students love to see the process (Fig 1 and 2). During my time on IG, I have watched my unique style and voice develop, something easily seen in this visual format. In terms or sales, I tend to sell smaller items such as cards and my classes. I do receive commissions such as paintings, tattoos, brand designs, and teaching opportunities from Instagram (Fig 3). Overall, 86% of my followers are women, primarily between ages 25 to 34. This platform indeed skews toward a younger audience and thus I try to be relevant
with this in mind.
Through IG, I also focus on engaging others to draw and observe the natural world around them. Through the process of creating a “perpet- ual journal,” I have started a hashtag #lgperpetualjournal that has connected others to join and share nature observations. Like an account, a hashtag can be followed so you do not miss posts. People around the world post to this hashtag regularly, and it warms my heart to have created a group of nature observers! (Fig 4)
I also use my IG account to speak out against environmen- tal injustices and feature local leaders who are improving and protecting the environ- ment. This can cross a line into politics, but I strive to keep it positive and direct people to ways they can make a difference. I sometimes create short-term fundraisers and sell cards and donate 50% of the proceeds to local environmental groups. This usually gets a large response. (Fig 5).
Some Instagram users want to gain more followers, but the mystery of the algorithm makes that challenging. Here are some tips for creating an attractive feed. Focus on your own work and aesthetic and, if you use inspiration from someone else, tag them in the photo and credit them in the text. Better yet, ask first if it would be OK to repost or tag them. Be consistent about the timing of your posts. I aim to post two to three times a week and try to answer comments all at once. I rarely post or comment on the weekends. It is a good idea to include an email and website in the bio at the top of the page.
In your main feed, you are featuring your own aesthetic, but do not include personal details or photos of food, kids, pets, or trips (I have a separate private family Instagram feed for that). Occasionally I post with multiple photos and include extras, but the first image is always my artwork. I do include details about plants I’ve seen, trip features, and works in progress in my Stories. This can be a place to mindfully express more about your personal life. These stories disappear after 24 hours, but you have the option of archiving them at the top of your page. I do this for details about creating my journals (Fig 6).
When posting images of my work, I rarely show the entire image. Instead of a watermark, I place a paintbrush or tracing paper over part of the painting. Sometimes I even tilt the paper and include a shadow so the image is not “perfect,” as a strategy to prevent anyone from stealing my images to use. That said, my Instagram feed has been impersonated five times, meaning a fake account was set up using exactly my images.
Thankfully, Instagram has been very responsive about removing impersonated accounts.
Many botanical artists are on IG; two that really embody botanical nature journaling and inspire me are @giacominaferrillo (Fig 7) and
@artofnorka (Fig 8). Looking over the #lgperpetualjournal hashtag will also reveal a world of wonderful artists.
I think the social media platform of Instagram can, in some ways, enable botanical artists to do what revered poet Mary Oliver said about how to live a life: “Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.”!