Interview with Anna Castagnoli
You’ve travelled a lot as a child, how does this influence your work?
More than traveling, what impacted me a lot was my parents' passion for beauty. My mother knew how to make me discover the beauty in a flower, a common garden or a museum. It appeared to me that I was surrounded by marvels everywhere. I’ve kept this vision of enchantment. There is no place that I don't like and everything can inspire me. Sometimes I feel like my vision is blurred and nothing moves me. When this happens, I know that the problem is inside, not outside, and I try to feel again that marvelous state.
My father loved the mountains, he took us there from the time we were little to the mountain trails, telling us stories about gnomes and ancient creatures that lived in those woods.
I don’t think it’s traveling that enhances your perception of the world, I think it’s actually how you look at the world right here, right now.
Are your parents artists?
Not in the strict sense of the word. My mother used to teach art in a school when she met my father; so we grew up around colors and art books. She used to draw on our bedroom walls and I thought it was magic that my mom’s hands could give birth to such beautiful fish, trees, and faces!
My dad is a quantum physicist (http://www.giuseppecastagnoli.com/) with a great love for philosophy. He used to read Plato and Nietzsche to my siblings and I when we were 6 or 7 years oldl!
Where is home?
My sister lives in France, my brother in Berlin, mi parents in Italy. I was born in Italy and live with my husband in Barcelona… My husband is French but grew up in Algeria. I believe home is where my husband and my family are, no matter what place of the world.
How was Le Figure dei Libri born? Tell us about the beginning of the project.
When I started my career as an illustrator and author I used to buy many picture books. I used to talk to my husband about them, what I liked the most, why, etc. He is a journalist and used to work for a digital agency. He suggested that I start a blog. He says I have too much passion for books and art to keep it to myself. I didn’t have any experience with internet and I thought it was very difficult. I thought of the name first, “Le figure dei Libri” [The Book’s Pictures]. I liked that name because when I was a child and someone would give me a book I would ask: Does it have pictures?
In 2007 I’ve found the book Hansel and Gretel, Illustrated by Susanne Janssen. It was love at first sight! I started a blog in two minutes on Blogger to write about this book. It was a very long work, I don’t know how, more and more people started to read the blog every day. I decided to move the blog to Blogpress and I think it was a good decision because the blog soon stood out from other Italian blogs. That gave me the energy to keep going, and some years later "Le figure dei Libri” is one of the most important blogs in Italy, it has more than 30.000 unique visitors per month. I also collaborate with different Universities and Journals, but I could say that my career as a critic and scholar was born with the blog.
My latest acquisition (I just got it yesterday!) is the first edition of What is the World? By Betty Miles and Remy Charlip. Such a beautiful, visual and poetic work. Another title I adore is Roland by André Francois. The first edition has such and incredible blue for the ocean and the sky, it’s fantastic. It’s the most beautiful blue I had ever seen in a book. I also collect other illustrated books for children. In my collection I have the lovely The World from my Window edited by George Mendoza.
What is childhood for you and how is this idea connected with illustration?
A child is a person with a more elastic, curious, intelligent and open perspective of life and the world. Some adults have lost this perspective and they confine themselves to a microscopic life, with very narrow believes.
I don’t like books written by adults that think they have answers to teach children. They write slogan-books with false truths. The only truth is we don’t really know anything about life and I like books that ask questions instead of giving answers. If the book is written for kids or for adults; by kids or by adults is the same thing, listen to this:
“ I am me
I am just me
I am a Little like other children
I am just me”
Mark Giloni Age 11 (The Word from my window. Hawthorn Books, Inc. Publisher, New York 1969).
This, for me, is the best definition of what a kid is.
Tell us about your favorite or favorites books as a child.
My absolute favorite: I am a bunny, by Richard Scarry. My mother bought it for me when we lived in Seattle. I liked my parent’s poems books, even though I didn’t understand what they meant (maybe I liked them because of that) and I also liked that they didn’t have pictures.
Tell us about your video series “Mano a mano”, how did it start?
The idea was born from a conversation with my friend, the graphic designer Anna Martinucci. We wanted to make a 3 min. video in which the artists’ hands drawing are the protagonists that show an art technique. It works like this: we send the illustrator the instructions to film the video and we edit the material afterwards. One can’t only imagine how much work there is behind 3 min. of video!
How is your work routine?
I’m not very organized. Sometimes I work from 8 AM to 8 PM without interruptions, like a clock. Sometimes, I waste a lot of time. I don’t really like when I have an obligation to do things, I have to actually like things if I want to finish doing something.
People must think you read all the time, do you watch TV?
No, I don’t read all the time :), but I don’t have a TV either. It’s been years since I don’t like what is on TV, and my husband and I decided to get rid of it. We read the news on the computer or listen to the radio, and in the afternoon we watch a film at home or we go to the movies.
I have to confess that I try no to waste my time. If I have free time, I go to the park to draw, read, or look for books on Ebay.
What are your future projects?
Last summer I finished writing a Working Guide for the Illustrator http://www.editricebibliografica.it/scheda-libro/anna-castagnoli/manuale-dellillustratore-9788870758863-358229.html) with everything people need to know to publish a first book. It will be published this Fall in Italian by Editrice Bibliografica, but I also have the right to publish it in other countries.
This fall I’m going to the Frankfurt Book Fair. My book La voliera d’oro, illustrated by Carll Cneut, is finalist in its German version. I hope it gets an award, but if it doesn’t, I will be happy visiting a Vintage Illustrated Book Fair that will open around the same dates :)
How do you see the future of illustration?
We are entering a golden age for the picture book. It will last about 10-20 years and it’s going to have an emphasis on printing, paper quality and manual techniques such as engraving. After that, I believe, the paper book will change into the digital book. That doesn’t make me sad. Art takes different paths, and when it comes from a true inspiration, it doesn’t matter which media utilizes. I can say I’m happy to have been part of this “swan song”.
Do you think is important to have art at home? Why?
Yes, I think it’s important. It doesn’t have to be a painting: a book illustrated with quality, an artwork, a vase, anything. Art is something that speaks to us, or can move us through a medium. It connects with our subconscious feeling and the way we perceive the world.
I believe that a child surrounded by beautiful things would not need to be educated in morals, because the development of morals is natural and follows a path of equilibrium in our own being. Iosif Brodskij, in his speech for the Nobel Prize said that morals are, first of all, an ethical necessity. For me art is not an accessory, it is a need of the human being to relate to the world. If you think about it, when there is a war, the first thing that is destroyed is the art of the people that they want to annihilate. There is no humanity without art.