Confession: besides filmmaking and photography, I am also a big fan of design, illustration and all things related to typography. For over two years now, I have been visiting Tina Roth Eisenberg’s design blog swiss-miss.com for a daily dose of inspiration. A couple of months ago, Tina wrote a glowing post about the work of Olimpia Zagnoli, a 26 year old Italian illustrator. I was awestruck by Olimpia’s flair for design and impressed by her accomplishments at such a young age – as a fellow Italian woman, I know how hard it is to succeed in a country ruled by a caste of old Italian males. I immediately contacted Olimpia, asking her for an interview on No Country for Young Women. Here is her story.
P.S.: make sure to check out the presentation Olimpia prepared for AIGA/NY (last link at the bottom of the post)
What is your name, age, and location?
My name is Olimpia Zagnoli, I’m 26 and I live in Milan, Italy.
What is your profession?
I’m a freelance illustrator.
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
I attended the European Institute of Design (IED) in Milan where I got a degree in illustration and animation.
What was your first job?
I used to organize art laboratories for kids dreaming of becoming an illustrator.
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?
I’ve been dreaming of working with The New Yorker for a long time and when it really happened it was a very special moment for me. I was looking for new contacts around the city (NY) and I had enough luck to meet with Steven Guarnaccia (illustration chair at Parsons and great illustrator). He took a look at my work and asked me “Who would you like to work with?” and I said “The New Yorker!” That very day, a few hours later, I was waiting with my portfolio in the hall of Condé Nast building and a few weeks later I did my first piece for them.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?
Does being asked out for a coffee count?
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?
It only happened working with Italian clients. Sometimes they tell me my work is “too feminine” for them. Once a client told me that if I wanted to earn the money I asked for an illustration, I should have come to his office with a pair of 10 inch high heels. What?
Do you want to have children? Why or why not?
I’d love to. I think I’m lucky to work as a freelance cause I can manage my time by myself and this will certainly help when a kid will be around. The only thing that scares me is that in the modern world and especially in Italy, having a kid before being 40 is considered crazy. There is basically no support for young couples, kids and their mothers and this is the thing that worries me most.
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
My mom is an artist and I think she gave me a lot in terms of DNA, love and inspiration. A big part of what I like now comes from what I observed and absorbed when I was little. People like Bruno Munari, Gianni Rodari, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Keith Haring, Arthur Conan Doyle really caught my attention at the time and they still do.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
Draw everyday, study the past, imagine the future, call everyone, work hard on your portfolio, get a website, print business cards, go outside, visit museums, drink green tea, fight for your right (to be paid), read books or at least look at the images, breathe and never give up.
– Interview by Elena Rossini
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