2016 VAROOM 33 Magazine - Come Together by Derek Brazell

From Varoom 33 Come Together . The AOI's Magazine - UK Article by Derek Brazell

Milanese identical twins Anna and Elena Balbusso are
multi-award winning illustrators team named Anna+Elena=Balbusso
whose clients include The New York Times, The New Yorker, Reader’s Digest
and le Figaro Group. They have illustrated over 40 books
from children’s books to sci-fi, such as Margaret Atwood’s
The Handmaid’s Tale. Critic Steven Heller described their
work as, “enticingly Renaissance and eerily new wave.”
They work under the name Anna+Elena=Balbusso.

VAROOM: When did you realize that you could create artwork
together? And do you believe that being twins helps
you to work closely together?

ANNA+ELENA=BALBUSSO: Drawing has always been our passion.
We have been drawing since we were three years
old. We drew all the time during classroom lessons at
elementary school and then at secondary school. We have
always created individual artworks too. After high school,
we moved to Milan to attend the Brera Academy of Fine
Arts. Upon graduation, we never thought of becoming artists,
but rather to do a job as a graphic designer in Milan.
We had already had separate work experiences as graphic
designers in advertising studios of our hometown, Udine.
e have
always created individual artworks too. After high school,
we moved to Milan to attend the Brera Academy of Fine
Arts. Our choice was rewarded!
Being identical twins is a condition that you cannot
choose. We’re basically a world unto ourselves. It is
not comparable to any other relationship. We think it is a
great fortune to be professional twins. It can happen, but
it is very difficult! You must trust and completely believe
in your professional partner – two people agree to become
one and lose their artistic individuality. They have
to fully share work and life. It’s teamwork, the goal is
common, never betray each other, be true friends, share
joy and sorrow...

VAROOM: Can you describe to us how you work on a commission?
(Do you both think of the concept / do research
for the image / share the creation of the artwork, or does
one person start something and the other finishes?). And
for commissions, do you feel working with the art director
is also a collaboration?ù

A+E=B: If possible, we prefer to work together at the beginning
of a new project, even when we divide the tasks. When
we are thinking of the ideas (concepts) to develop, we have
to try several ways simultaneously, being two helps to find
the right direction. We work in many fields of communication,
with different styles for different markets.
If we are doing many different assignments, one of us
usually starts. One of us, alone, is free to experiment, then,
at some point, can ask help of the other one. There are
no precise rules. For example, one of us is more expert
at working on the faces of the characters, the other one
focuses on the landscapes. One of us loves more stylized
graphic projects, the motion work, and prefers to deal with
the communication, social networking, promotion – we
divide the tasks without problem. In every step there is a
mutual exchange of ideas and work. There is a continuous
interaction between us, at the end of the work the contribution
is from both.
Working with the art director is always a collaboration.
At the start of each commission, we receive a brief with the
text of an article or story, or a complete book to read, or
specific requests, but usually we are totally free to develop
ideas. Our art directors trust us, this is very important to
achieve the best final result. Some covers projects for massmarket
books have to follow precise instructions, so we try
to mediate between our ideas and the art director requests.
At the end we have to be convinced and recognize the final
result, although it can be a little different from our initial
idea and our preferences. Since 2008 we have been working
a lot for the U.S. and UK markets. This experience
has been crucial for the improvement of our work and for
the growth of our career. We want to thank all art directors
– we have been learning a lot from them. The art
director comments and feedback often improve the image.
We found a great professionalism that made us very proud
to be illustrators. We’re lucky, we are international artists,
creating illustrations is a professional job abroad, much
more than in Italy where, unfortunately, there are not the
same opportunities and conditions.

VAROOM: Do you approach making images differently when
you create personal work (or a portfolio artwork) rather
than a commission?

A+E=B: There is not a substantial difference, we approach a
commission with the same freedom and courage to change
as when we create personal work. To improve, it is necessary
to experiment and take risks. We try to experiment
and find new ways also in the commissioned works. Very
often from an interesting commission can be born new ideas
that will influence our future work and also our personal
projects. Fortunately, the art directors who work with us
trust us and leave us very free to develop our projects.
VAROOM: References from medieval art appear in your artwork.
You clearly both have a love of this type of work – do
you find you are both interested in similar things?
A+E=B: Both of us love all periods of art. In all our work
there is a clear reference to painting, sculpture, architecture.
Most projects require a strong knowledge of art history.
The Italian art plays a key role in our work. While
the texture painting, and pictorial stroke of almost all of
our painterly style has as a reference the frescoes, each
project is different and unique. The references can always
change. We look at not a specific art period, but art in
general, from Ancient Rome mural painting (frescoes at
Pompeii), Italian Renaissance, Romanticism (prelude of
modern art) Modern Art (symbolism, surrealism, Russian
constructivism, Italian Futurism) and Contemporary Art.
We can choose several ways, it depends upon the project!

VAROOM: Your New Year image was sent as a Gif – do you
both work on the ‘motion’ aspect of artwork?

A+E=B: We are starting to work on motion, but we are at
the beginning. During our spare time (very little) we are
studying animation software to create more complex animations.
About the gif image, we have created the image
on layers with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Then,
one of us has worked on the ‘motion’ using Photoshop
animation tools.

VAROOM: What do you believe are the benefits, and positive
aspects, of collaborating together?

A+E=B: Our choice is to sign all projects together. There is
a lot of joy in sharing the credit. Our job requires a lot
of concentration and solitude, we don’t make images
produced in series, but we create tailor-made artworks
designed exclusively with extreme attention to detail often
using time-consuming techniques. We cannot delegate our
work process to others. We share the credit and successes
but also the difficulties and fatigue. Two heads are better
than one, we are lucky!

VAROOM: If disagreements come up, how do you manage

A+E=B: Our personalities complement each other. There
is no competition between us. It would not be possible to
work together if one dominates the other.
We talk a lot before starting a new project but if we
disagree about something, we can discuss and mediate. At
the end of each project we must be convinced of what we
did. We must be humble and always listen to the other.
The comparison is key to improving. In all phases of the
work we consult between ourselves. The comments of one
of us on the process work of the other one are fundamental
to achieve the best result.

VAROOM: You are represented by an agent for North
America and the UK – do you both communicate with
your agent, or leave that to one person?

A+E=B: One of us is responsible for all communication with
our agents and clients via email, translation, writing, management,
social media, galleries online, personal website
and self-promotion. This work takes a long time everyday.
We prefer a written communication because the time zone
is different. The division of this task is very useful because
the other one of us can then just concentrate on the creative
process without interruptions. Responding to emails
quickly, as soon as possible, is very important for the good
continuation of the projects. We work on two desks very
close together. Both of us participate in all decisions about
communication with our agent.

VAROOM: Do you ever do individual art projects?

A+E=B: Yes, of course, but we have chosen to sign everything
with a unique signature ANNA+ELENA=BALBUSSO or
BALBUSSO TWINS and not reveal who is doing what... !