This is what happens when Romanian folklore and ephemeral elements melt into an artistic style
The beauty of visual storytelling lays in its simplicity and at the same time sophistication: the observer understands the imagery and message instantly. The extra step of abstraction–deciphering words in order to comprehend isn't necessary and the emotional connection just happens, illustrated stories engage with their viewers right away. While this art form may have remained a tool for marketing thousands of years, allowing people of different languages or even illiterates to grasp information easily, the conditions for illustrators have changed dramatically. Other forms of expression have evolved, be it digital photography or CGI within the last decades alone. Besides these competitive challenges, staying true to one's style and fulfilling the commissioned brief seems one fundamental struggle artists face in their profession.
We talked to one artist who still favors ink on paper over digital brushes, and considers herself lucky to "pick the projects that don't require me to stray from my aesthetic." We find out where Heliana Adalgiza's (aka Aitch) vibrant floral imagery is rooted, how she goes about in her creative process, and how she only by mistake got signed by her current illustration agency–which turned out as "the breakthrough in my career as an illustrator."
Born in 1980s Soviet Romania, Aitch says, "My 20s were governed by this feeling of not belonging to a specific place or tribe and changing the setting was a routine." So she was traveling through Europe after graduating from graphics at The University of Timisoara. In 2009 she finally settled down in Berlin after years of relocating. That's also when she opted for her artist name Aitch, which stands for the phonetic spelling of her first name's letter. "Pseudonyms were kind of a thing back then," she explains laughing. Three years ago she moved to Bucharest and has been working on a variety of commissions for the likes of L'Occitane France, Google, and has completed the artwork for our Little Gestalten book Easy Peasy–Gardening for Kids.
Aitch, please tell us about your background, your early years of experimenting with visual arts, and how you finally became a professional illustrator?
Daydreaming while drawing was my favorite activity ever since I was little. I stuck to it and over the years I realized that the most intuitive and effortless progress I was making in any domain was in arts, and that's how I made it to where I am in the present.
In your work, luscious colors and floral designs are very consistent. How come these elements are part of your style?
Yes, large bright pink roses, chubby emerald leaves, and intertwined chartreuse colored vines are woven into a deliciously black background. I used to get lost for hours looking at my grandmother's Romanian folk-art tapestry. It hung over her living room daybed. Later in life, I rediscovered the mesmerizing effect that bright colors swallowed by dark backdrops has on me. And I have used these elements in my work ever since.
How do you start working on new projects? Do you have a certain routine?
The approach I take is very time effective. I move quickly from researching online, collecting images and text, to sketching first snaps as they pop into my mind. From there, I edit and pass my proposal as a comprehensive and appealing sketch to the client. It's essential for me not to let time pass between the initial excitement of reading the brief and the materialization of ideas in drawings. And once the client and I settle on a clear direction, from sketch to final work, it's just gliding in this awesome state of creating beautiful imagery and watching it come to life. Be it books, art pieces, tableware, clothing, packaging, etc. My daily props include lots of black tea and podcasts playing in the background.
You mentioned doing research online, are there certain sources or people you turn to for inspiration?
Nowadays nature, design, and fashion. I can't really name anyone as I'm not into specific artists, designers, or brands. I'm an observer of trends via Pinterest and eye-candy stuff on Instagram.
What do you enjoy most about drawing with ink and watercolors on paper? Have you ever considered moving towards digital brushes?
There's this palpable goodness I treasure in the paper, wooden pencils, and brushes. In sweet smelling erasers or in the stickiness of watercolors. I rarely get the impulse of going digital and although the process is fun, I figured that without feeling the magic my tools do in real life I can't fully appreciate the end result.
Looking back at your career, what would you think was the breakthrough for you?
Getting represented by my current agency back in 2015, definitely. I was sharing my "Beautiful US" series everywhere I got the opportunity to do so like on Hi Fructose and Juxtapoz, and mistakenly thought that CIA (Central Illustration Agency) was also a cool promo platform for young artists. I sent them a short message via Facebook showing off my latest 'baby' and their reply was something that I would have never imagined. I didn't even have something like illustrator representation up until then. It's the best thing that ever happened to me from a professional point of view. And it has had the most amazing impact on my life altogether.