Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1. Well, of course I have to start from this question, although you must have said it many times in past and sick of it… Can you tell the readers about how you came about using name Shout?
Yes of course.
Between 2002 and 2005 I was represented by a Canadian illustration agent. They were nice but they didn’t allow me to try different ways of expression. I wanted to change my visual language but they didn’t let me do that. I signed an exclusive contract with them so I had no choice.
They started representing me in 2002, and I think they were scared of loosing some clients by showing different styles from me, although I didn’t work so often with them at that time. Maybe only about 2 assignments a month, almost always with clients you have never heard of who didn’t have good budgets…
Anyway, during that time, I never stopped creating work for myself, looking for my own voice. I worked very hard, trying and trying again. It finally ‘clicked’ in October 2005. That month, I found a way. My way.
It was an assignment that gave me a spark; I tried to think more on the concept and put less attention on the “make up”. I was enthusiastic of the outcome but the client rejected my sketches. At that point I decided I have to do this all by myself.
For one of my first illustrations, I made a new brand name: Shout, a man shouting from a bottom of a hole in the ground. I chose the name to hide myself from the agent. I started looking for clients on my own. In 6 months I collected more than 2000 art director’s email addresses. That worked immediately. This was how Shout was born and I left the agency.
Now I have some problem going back with my real name, but I eventually will.
2. You live and work in Milan, Italy. Represented by Bologna book fair, most of the Italian illustrators are focused on old school children’s book aesthetics. Your work fits in the rest of Europe, and of course US really well, but probably not in Italy, at least when you started in this current style. You have focused on marketing to the US from the start, if I remember this correctly. When and how did you decide you wanted to work for a foreign market? Was it hard making the decision when you are in another country far away and have language barrier too? What did you do to market to foreign land far away?
You are right, Yuko. When you are in Italy and you say “I’m an illustrator” they think you make children’s books. I have never worked on one in my life (although I just got my first project a few weeks ago), therefore you can’t count on the Italian market if you want to do commercial illustrations.
It was 2000, internet was still not so popular but was growing very quickly. I thought that I could make my drawings in digital form and use internet so I would be able to reach any clients anywhere in the world. Digital step was important because it made my life easier by allowing flexibility to make changes and to be able to meet tight deadlines. Internet can break all the borders and make the whole world your market. With this potential world market I was sure that I would be able to find a way to work regularly.
That was what happened. (Thank god.)
About the language barrier, I didn’t take any English classes during school. Art high schools in Italy don’t teach foreign languages, at least at my time. Therefore I just took a short 2 weeks course in the UK. The rest of my English knowledge, I’ve just been learning through reading articles and writing e-mails for work. It was hard but necessary.
When I started working as Shout, I started looking for clients on my own. Looking for US clients was not so hard. It was easy actually. You can find any art director’s email through Googling. So I did. I posted 10 of my new work on Altpick, a portfolio online, and sent short emails to art directors with only one or two of my images, paying attention on the “type” of illustrations I was sending to whom. For example: feminine images to women’s magazines, sports related images to sports magazine etc. That worked.
In US people are very open-minded. They don’t care if you call yourself Shout or whatever funny name you have. They only look at your work. That’s what matters.
3. I remember first time I met you years ago when you are just starting out as Shout. You didn’t speak English so well. Recently you had an occasion to live in San Francisco for a year to experience the culture and language. Has this experience of actually living in the country where you mostly work with change the way you create your work, or give better understanding on creating illustrations for US market, clients etc?
It helped me build more self confidence, especially when I have conference calls with clients. I still don’t speak English so well now, but I can understand much better. SF experience was surely helpful.
SF was an incredible experience for many reasons. I met Robert Hunt and his students, I had lunch with Mark Ulriksen, and a couple of dinners with Adam McCauley… I felt that I was being part of a community there. You can’t feel the same here in Italy.
Overall I had a super high quality of life. Every day was special. Because of the sun, because of the people smiling around me, because of the bay, of the food (surprisingly delicious), and of the green area everywhere. For those reasons and many more.
4. Can you briefly explain your creative process, mediums, etc?
I always start with pencil sketches on paper. But the very first step is the article/brief. I highlight the key words, I work a lot on some small but important phrases, titles, headlines, synopsis, try to find the core of the project. I write them down on the paper, near the sketches, to remember the path. I look for the alternative words which explain the same words in a different ways, synonymous etc..
Third step is the composition. I basically work with 2 standard perspectives: 1) high view or bird eye for the narrative/suggestive images (frequently used in book covers, posters, some ad campaigns), and 2) close up one for the iconic image, where the idea/concept is the main thing, straight to the point, those images works very well generally with business magazine, politic, some ad campaigns too. Those are not my only two ways, but works that way in a broad sense.
Visual metaphor is the forth step. I look for the “thing” can explain the concept visually.
Fifth and the last step is the color table that depends on my feeling at that moment. I love medium tones anyway, not saturated colors. Often monochromatic background with a red details where I need your eye go for first.
5. Now with all the experiences and numerous awards abroad, your home country is finally seems to embrace “Shout the Italian illustrator”. You seem to have more Italian clients now than ever, and a book coming out. At the same time, now there are more and more Italians and European young illustrators who want to be like you, or…. You yourself. How do you feel like getting recognition and more work back in your country, and with the side effect of getting some imitators? Honor? Annoyed? I am curious to know.
Yes, now the business here is better. Italy is a small old country where they need to know that you have won something important abroad. Then they would believe that you must be good at what you do. They need to read your name in the newspaper. That is quite ridiculous but you know, that is our reality.
Young illustrators make me happy. I receive a lot of emails from everywhere and I always try to find time to write back some suggestions. I feel like this is my duty. I think you (Yuko) know this better then I do. You are an extraordinary teacher, one of the best worldwide illustrator, I think you won more awards then everyone, so you are very imitated too. But this is a normal consequence of your success.
When I was younger, during the very beginning of my career, I was super influenced by Italian illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti. That helped me, he was a reference point for me.
When I started to work more on the concept the work of Guido Scarabottolo was very important to me as well.
If you need a starting point, it is better that you chose the best one, right?
There are, anyway, illustrators with weak personality, they are just copying you, using you, to reach their own goals. They are using you like a wooden staircase. That is not fair. I hate that.
If young illustrators are just taking you as a reference point to start, it is ok, I’m sure that with time they will find their own way. It is different from the illustrators who take short cuts, stealing your hard work and tell everyone: “that’s mine”. You know what I mean?
6. Any advise to those who (not just in Italy but also around the world) want to aim to work in US and international market, but live outside of the country?
First rule: believe in yourself, don’t be afraid, and always be positive, especially when you don’t get any feedback.
US market is very open. Be sure to learn at least a few words in English enough to work on the projects. Don’t worry too much if your English is imperfect. Clients will understand you.
Take a look at thousands of different illustrators’ works; learn the visual language as if it was a spoken language. Find the differences between one from another. Study the works by the best pros in world, looking for them in annuals, online, wherever you can find them.
Prepare a portfolio always thinking of the magazines you want to work for, read their articles. Sports, politics, business… think of what kind of jobs you want, then try to translate that into images. When you are sending low-res image to a potential client, make sure they match the content of the magazine.
Visual language is universal; anyone in the world can understand you.
7. What’s on your horizon? What’s next for Shout?
I want to go back to my real name. It is not time yet, but soon.
I’m going to start my first children book soon.
After the publication of Mono Shout, I started to receive request from galleries. I had received proposals to do the book launches in Italy and abroad in several cities. We’ll see where this will take me. I’m excited and nervous at the same time.
One day I want to go back to paint on canvas again.
I’d also like to do some design projects. I love design, especially 1960s Danish and Northern Italian designs. Let’s see, at this moment it is just a dream.
Shout bio: Born in Pordenone, Italian artist Alessandro Gottardo studied at a specialized art high school in Venice and Illustration at the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan and went on to work as an illustrator under the name Sashimi. In 2005 his second pseudonym, SHOUT, emerged marking a new and purposeful beginning for the artist. The success that followed led to worldwide recognition and the celebration of his work in important publications. He has won gold and silvers medals from the Society of Illustrators NY, 3X3 Magazine and the gold medal from the Society of Publication Designers Spot competition.
Choosing a name that represented his idea to speak with his own true voice Shout’s conscious goal was to work on projects where he could express his personal beliefs about a subject rather then always being forced to present the safe, commercial option. Describing sensitive issues with delicacy and elegance he lends his hand to many NGO projects, charitable causes and political articles.
“the idea always triumphs over style”
American Express, United Airlines, Barclays, ENI, Volkswagen, Lloyds TSB, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, TIME, Esquire, Newsweek, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Fortune, Asset International, Le Monde, The Economist, Financial Times, Guardian, Random House, Penguin Books, Simon & Schusters
New Visual Artist for 2007 – PRINT Magazine
Illustration: “Style And Substance A Visual History” by S. Heller & S. Chwast
“The future of the illustration” By Steven Heller & Marshall Arisman
“All the Art That’s Fit to Print (And Some That Wasn’t): Inside The NewYork Times Op-Ed Page” by Jerelle Kraus
Design Week Magazine (UK) 2011
Page Magazine (Germany) 2011
3×3 Magazine 2011
‘Fifty Years of Illustration’ (chapter 5: a new wave) by Lawrence Zeegen – Laurence King Publishing Ltd
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