Olimpia Zagnoli is a freelance illustrator and artist from Milan known for her super fresh shapes, voluptuous forms, and clean palette of brights and darks. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Apartamento Magazine, and she's also collaborated with the likes of Fendi and the Guggenheim Museum. If you're based in Los Angeles, head over to HVW8 to catch her solo show, “Cuore di Panna,” up until July 16th.
Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance illustrator and artist.
My path is probably very similar to that of many illustrators. You love to draw, you graduate from some sort of art school, you’re out and terrified, you’re desperate to find your own language, you sorta find it, you begin to work, your first works are terrible, you get better, you work more, one day you’re like “this is not too bad” and you feel kind of happy for what you’ve done, then you’re lost again, two days later you’re happy again, you struggle to get paid, you finally get paid and you buy a nice pair of shoes.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
One of the hardest parts was looking for a visual language. I wasn’t looking for anything COOL back then but I was looking for something “me”. A set of subjects, shapes and colors that reflected who I was on the inside and made me feel comfortable. It wasn’t automatic but as soon as that started to take shape, more clients started to connect with my world and understand it.
As a freelance illustrator, artist, collaborator, designer, and shop owner you are balancing a lot of roles and projects, do you have any tips for being your most productive?
I am terribly lazy. I only like to do things I like, that’s the one thing that makes me go go go. I don’t follow routines, I don’t have particular discipline, I just approach whatever feels good at the moment very seriously but with an open spirit.
Clodomiro is a shop that you opened with your father. What do you love about this collaboration and what have you found to be challenging?
My dad came up with the idea of opening an online shop which theme had to be “erotism” but approached in a light way. When we opened we only sold a set of china plates with my illustrations and then we slowly made t-shirts, panties, scarves and pillows. It takes us so long because we work on this side project in our spare time which is very limited and we also want to make sure the quality of everything is really good. Sometimes we work on a product for years before it sees the light. The most interesting part of the job is the relationship with the artisans that we involve in the project, especially the face they make when they realize they have to prints 50 plates with a pink penis at the center. The job is literally just me and my dad. We are the only ones who reply to emails, ship packages, drive to visit factories, update our Instagram page and take care of business in front of a plate of spaghetti.
Do you have any advice for fellow designers looking to enter into a familial collaboration whether it be with a family member, a spouse, or a close friend?
I think it’s a great idea, but it can lead to some stress. Defining roles like in any other relationship could be of help. I do all the drawing, communication and social stuff, my dad keeps the storage, ships items and make invoices.
We love your surface pattern designs for fashion brand Marella and shoe company Arrels. Are there other physical products you hope to illustrate for one day?
I’ve never worked on an umbrella and I think it could be fun, but my dream at the moment is to work on some public art, like illustrating the bottom of a public pool, designing a fountain in front of a hospital, make a monument dedicated to moms or soup.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelance creative so far?
As mentioned before, I struggle with organizing my time. I work pretty well on a tight deadline and it seems like the more time I have the worse it is. I like to improvise and enjoy the freshness of the moment.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
I try to make a good selection among the proposals I get based on how I feel instinctively about them. I try to not associate my name with brands or causes I don’t support or don’t love. I’m still learning how to say “no” more often, but the more I do it, the more I think it shapes the opportunities I get for good.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
I couldn’t survive in this business without an accountant and a lawyer. Filing taxes and reading a 20 page contract by myself would kill my soul and send my creativity to Mars. Unless you enjoy that kind of thing, I’d say hire someone good to do it.
I quite recently started working with an assistant and as much as it’s difficult to delegate, I’m enjoying it very much. She takes care of emails, shipping and she's of great help when I work on workshops and exhibitions.
If you could give your just starting out self a piece of advice what would it be?
Work on the quality of what you do, less on the quantity.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Be critical, be radical, be you.