I am delighted to introduce you to Alexia Petsinis – the fabulously talented Australian artist who illustrated my new skincare book French Complexion (Penguin Books).
I chose Alexia for her brilliant skills and strong sense of aesthetics and beauty. I had been following Alexia on Instagram (@alexiapetsinis) for a while and fallen in love with her style and artwork. I just knew that her creations would perfectly complement my words and give the book the right French feel.
Working with Alexia was an absolute joy. We only met a few times to discuss my illustrative vision for the book. From our brainstorming sessions two characters – ‘Charlotte’ a chic Parisian lady and ‘JJ’ her French bulldog – were brought to life.
I was keen for you all to get to ‘meet’ the artist behind the book’s beautiful illustrations and hear what inspires her.
1- What/who inspired you to become an illustrator? Where and when did you learn to draw/paint?
I think about one year ago I decided I wanted to become an illustrator/mixed media artist. I had thought about the idea for most of my high school years, especially because I always took art class and I enjoyed it so much, I felt as though I might end up making that into my career one day. It is a great feeling when you actually go after your dream, and slowly you turn it into a reality for yourself.
Even when I was a small kid, I was always painting or making things. I hardly watched TV (and still rarely do!) because I always had creative interests to keep my mind and hands busy. I don’t think I ever really ‘learnt’ to paint or draw, it was sort of my own style that developed, that’s the beauty of art. I think you can learn to be a great ‘artist’ and then you can ‘un-learn’ to be an amazing artist by challenging the rules. I think it’s more about feeling the freedom than it is about learning perfect technique.
2- When do you feel the most inspired to do your work as an illustrator? What is your ideal work environment? Where do your work from?
I feel most inspired to do my work when I travel or after I have come back from a trip away. The creative mind is like a sponge, so it absorbs every single sensation that your body feels. Sight, smell, taste…everything. Traveling is like opening up a new world of possibility in your mind, because it exposes you to sensations that you never knew existed. Even just the fact that the breeze feels different in Rome as it does in Paris or Melbourne, is enough to get my mind ticking over about how to capture this notion creatively.
My ideal work environment is in a bright room with good natural lighting and great airflow. Some nice soft music, maybe French or 20s jazz is very stimulating for me. I have a studio, a nice little cosy place. It’s important to feel protected in your creative space, and to fill it with good energy.
3- How did you come up with the vision of Charlotte and JJ?
Well I wanted to capture my view of what French women represent, without being too cliche or stereotyped. I wanted to create a character that symbolised harmony both inside and out; one that encourages readers to focus on the holistic nature of your words and sentiments. Of course I enjoyed styling Charlotte in a few classic ‘Parisian chic’ garments such as elegant stripe tops, flowy skirts and silk scarves, because I think these are all beautiful aspects of effortless French style that can’t be ignored.
With JJ, I just love that little guy. He is like the best friend every woman needs! Loving, playful, loyal – he encompasses the good, healing energy that radiates through your words. He is that little bit of youth in all of us, no matter what our age!
4- Can you take us though the creative process for one of your beautiful illustrations – from the initial outline to the finished image? How long does it typically take? Do you work on multiple illustration at a time?
Well I always hand-draw my basic shapes to begin with, be it figures or objects. I start with outlines and work ‘inwards’ in the case of details like facial features, etc. I like to use ink and brush usually at this stage. After that, I’ll use a soft watercolour or marker to add colour, but I don’t like to colour the whole image. It is usually more expressive to only colour certain parts of it.
As a final step, I can scan the illustration in digitally and then play around with it on the computer if I need to add stronger colours or textures. It’s hard to say how long it takes to complete one illustration. Images with lots of details or with a background scene can take a long time!
I usually work on a couple of illustrations at a time, for example if I have my wet ink equipment out, I’ll do that stage on about 3 or 4 illustrations at a time before I move on to colour.
5- What media and materials do you use in your illustrations to create ‘special effects’? How do you transfer your physical/hard copy illustrations into a digital format?
Mostly ink, watercolour and digital effects to enhance the textures on objects and surfaces is what I like to use. The combination gives a nice effect overall.
The fabric effect is usually achieved by painting a swatch then scanning it in to the computer, and there are various ways you can texturise your swatch to really make it ‘pop’ with editing software.
6- Are you a perfectionist and/or tough self critic (like many artists tend to be)?
I am not overly self-critical because every job or client you work with will ask something slightly different of you. So it’s not like you are always comparing the results of one job you did to the next one. There is a tendency to be a perfectionist with creative work, and constantly going back and fixing or redoing things, but at the end of the day, you usually reach a point where you look at what you’ve done and feel a sense of pride and achievement, even excitement to share it with other people. That is a nice feeling, but you do have to work hard to get it most of the time !
7- Where do you see yourself five years from now? Describe the ideal scenario, dream, vision.
Hmmm. Well I’d like to be living overseas – Paris or somewhere in Italy perhaps. I’d like my work to cover more than just illustration, but to span across writing, 3D art and maybe some photography. I like to have peace in life so that creative ideas continue to flow easily, and to live each day without making too many plans.