Interview: Olimpia Zagnoli
Born in a small city called Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy to photographer and artist parents, Olimpia Zagnoli moved to Milan when she was six years old.
Enrolled at Reggio Children Kindergarten where she started to draw at a very early age, Olimpia Zagnoli spent her childhood surrounded by books, materials and her parents ‘weird friends’, sparking an interest in pursuing a career as an artist.
She made drawing her profession after getting her diploma at the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan, and started working with the prestigious newspapers of New York and continuous to work editorially for a variety of clients. Her latest project – an illustrated ‘re-imagining’ of The Wizard of Oz is out now.
We caught up with her to find out more about her creative background, latest projects and journey into design.
We throughly enjoyed your illustrated book of The Wizard of Oz – can you tell us a little bit about the project and how got involved?
I got an offer from Rockport Publishers to work on this series called Classics Reimagined. The Creative Director sent me a list of 20 titles they were planning on reprinting for me to choose from. When i saw The Wonderful Wizard of OZ amongst them, I couldn’t resist and I immediately picked it. It’s been my dream to illustrate this title [for years] because i’ve always been in love with the story and my name and surname together form ‘OZ’ so I think it’s a nice match.
Is this your first book cover, or have you illustrated books before?
Yes, many book covers and a few children books. One of them is called “Monsieur Horizontal & Madame Verticale”, it’s a story about a man who likes to do horizontal things and a woman who likes to do vertical things, they both wear a striped t-shirt. It’s now available in french, italian and english with the title “Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical”.
Can you share anything particularly memorable about your childhood and early introduction into design and illustration that has stayed with you?
When I lived in Reggio Emilia I attended one of the Reggio Children Kindergarten and it was really inspirational for my future life as an adult and an artist. We had the chance to experience so many different things from painting to cooking. We also made our own tomato soup!
How did you get your first break in the industry? Did you approach clients initially or did you have an agent in the early days when you were starting out?
I started off on my own sending emails and knocking on doors and then i got an offer from an agent in the US which is still my agent.
Who are your creative heroes? Writers, artists, musicians, family members or friends who influenced you as you were growing up?
My heroes are Gio Ponti, Leni Riefenstahl, Sonia Delaunay, David Bowie, Carmen Miranda, Henri Matisse, Grace Jones, Rudi Gernreich, Pablo Picasso and Kermit the frog.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do? Any places where do you like to hang out when you have some downtime?
I like reading in the park, have lunch outside, take a train to a close destination or visit my sister in London.
We’ve read that you live and work in Milan – what’s the creative community like out there? Can you describe your living and work environment – we imagine it’s very colourful and stylish!
I like the fact that many people who visit Milan for the first time are not impressed by the city, but then if they have the chance to come back they slowly begin to discover its beauty and it builds up every time. The creative community in Milan is quite subtle. Everybody who works in the publishing industry, design and fashion lives here but you can’t really tell.
The creative community in Milan is quite subtle. Everybody who works in the publishing industry, design and fashion lives here but you can’t really tell.
We love your quirky product & home ware range Clodomiro – especially the plates! They’re really rather wonderful. Who did you work with? Are there a different set of challenges involved when designing for physical products?
My dad had this idea of opening a small online shop dedicated to objects and sex and he asked me to join him. I like working on actual things cause i get to touch them, visit the factories, talk to the artisans that make them. It’s a total different approach compared to my everyday illustration job. We just launched a new t-shirt called Bacio, you should check it out!
My dad had this idea of opening a small online shop dedicated to objects and sex – he asked me to collaborate with him.
Are we likely to see more products in future? What else would you like to design?
Sure, we’ve been launching one product a year for now. It’s going quite slow because we both have other jobs and we want to keep it as a family project taking the time to work on the details, make tests and discuss them with each other over a plate of spaghetti.
Briefly describe your working process, how do you record ideas – what materials do you like to use?
I take notes everywhere i go on a sketchbook or on my iPhone and then i translate them on my computer with a tablet. Sometimes when i have time i play with collage, paint and other fun things.
As a self employed designer do you find it challenging to find the balance between personal work, client projects and having a life? How do you manage your day?
I try to include a good amount of work, kisses and pasta in my routine. I have everything i need around me, loved ones included so it’s quite easy. I cook at home everyday, i go to the farmers market with my mom on Saturday morning, I watch movies with my boyfriend at night, and I work in a beautiful studio with my friends.
Can you tell us anything about the projects you’re currently working on?
My exhibition “Parco Zagnoli” is on until September 20 at Nina sagt Galerie in Düsseldorf, i’ve been working on it all summer and it includes different experiments like mobiles and aluminium sculptures. I’ll have another show in the Fall in Bologna here in Italy.
Where do you see your work taking you in the next decade? What kind of projects, collaborations, experiences do you hope to cultivate for yourself?
I’d love to work with different materials and open spaces. I’m thinking of buying a grass field and do something there.