Illustration West 54 Judge Interview: The Balbusso Twins –

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You two are twins who work together to create award winning imagery, including the Joseph Morgan Henninger – Best of Show at last year’s Illustration West competition. Can you tell us more about your process in regards to that synergy/push and pull? Take us through the process of a piece.

  • There is no recipe to create winning images, but our goal is to obtain images with strong ideas, synthesis, strength of expression, emotions. It’s important capture the viewer, creating questions. It is not easy to get this but we try!  Our style has developed from our collaboration. It’s a team work. We don’t make images produced in series but  we create tailor-made artworks designed exclusively with extreme attention to detail often using time-consuming techniques.  We can not delegate to others our work process. There are many phases of a project that can be easily divided between us. When we have to start a new assignment we need a lot of concentration. Our sources of inspiration are art in general, in all our work there is a clear reference to artists and paintings. Our passion for art is born from an early age, from elementary schools.

About our process, we always start by talking and imagining what we want the project to be. The first thing we do is iconographic research. We never start a project without our collection of images that will inspire us. We collect all of the references for each illustration. We rarely start from the pencil sketches, we prefer starting by many digital layouts, color or grayscale. When we have a compelling proposition we begin to carefully study the individual elements of the image through individual pencil drawings. We define the details of the image: the face of the character, the landscape, the clothes decorations….

The last stage of the process is to make the final color art. We use mixed media: acrylic, pencil, and digital. Gradually we developed a personal style where traditional methods were combined with digital programs without  virtual paint brushes. The coloring process with photoshop is very complex and has been developed after many years of work experience. The final result is like a painting on paper or on canvas. Our final art is in digital format.

When we take a new project, we always want to give our best. When presenting a project to the client we must be both convinced of what we did.

About our piece: Abram Petrovich’s dreambalbusso-abram-petrovich small
The image “Abram Petrovich’s dream” accompanies the unfinished historical novel “Peter the Great’s Negro” by Alexander Pushkin published in the book “The Queen of Spades and Other Stories” by Alexander Pushkin, Folio Society 2014.

About the subject and idea: We choose to represent this phrase of the novel “It was in his frame of mind that he lay down on the camp-bed prepared for him, only for his usual dream to transport him to far-off Paris and the arms of his sweet Countess”. To convey the idea of the dream, we imagined the two embraced lovers suspended in the clouds, the huge Countess’s skirt has the appearance of a great cloud. Below them we represented a view of the Paris city in the 1700s. We took inspiration from the fresco decoration of the greatest decorative painter Giambattista Tiepolo (1696 – 1770), Italian painter and printmaker from the Republic of Venice. We watched the “skies” of the Tiepolo’s works, his colors and pictorial textures. We have seen in person many of Tiepolo’s works at The Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Do you ever disagree when working together? How do you handle it when you have different visions for a piece?

  • We are lucky, generally we get along, we help each other, the goal is common, It would not be possible to work together if one dominates the other. We talk a lot before starting a project but  If we disagree about something, we can discuss and mediate. At the end of each project we must be convinced of what we did.  It is not difficult for us to work together because it is a natural thing, we must be humble and listen always to the other. The comparison is key to improving. Two heads are better than one.

Are there different idiosyncrasies and flourishes that are unique to each of you? For instance does Elena tend to default to a certain texture? Does Anna tend to place her marks in a certain direction? How does this influence your process?

  • No, there aren’t! We have the same capacities and similar tastes. Working together is simple, the final result comes from the contribution of both. We are a team with a unique signature. It is not possible to quantify or define what Anna has given versus what Elena has. We work together on all projects, even when we divide the tasks. If we are doing many different assignments, one of us usually starts to think how to develop a new project. There is no rational method to find the idea. It turns out, the work comes from a “feeling” then there are the imagination, fantasy and talent (essential) that are released. To power all this, we think it’s very important the study. By now everything has already been done, but you can rework, mix, through ongoing research, the constant effort and study of art history…

You are incredibly prolific, so we assume you spend a lot of time in your studio. Still, let’s assume you leave occasionally. How does your twin-bond function outside of the studio?

  • We need to be productive because we are only “illustrators” freelance full time. It is the only source of income. We know this is rare!

In our case, the phrase “art is life” is perfect. We are very  close to each other even when we go out from the studio ….We never felt the desire to separate ourselves in life, we have not-identical character even though we have the same genes! Our personalities complement each other. Only twins can understand this, it is hard to explain with words.

We haven’t a unique way to organize the day, all depends on the project that we are developing. We do not have a rigid routine because we can manage time without rigid schedules. The morning hours are the most productive. We also work into the evening if necessary but never after dinner and at night. We think sleep regenerates the mind. During the free time we love to get out, walk, visit art exhibitions, walking outdoors.The best way to to take a break is to travel, the United States are in our hearts, we love New York, but we are going to visit Los Angeles very soon!