An Interview with Magge Gagliardi
Magge Gagliardi is a professional illustrator, designer and commercial artist. She has a BFA in Illustration from Paier College of Art in Hamden, CT and a MFA in Illustration from the University of Hartford in West Hartford, CT. She has taught at Paier College of Art, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT and currently, New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, NH.
How would you describe your work?
As anyone else, I often get asked the question: “So what do you do?” As time has gone by I’ve found it harder and harder to list off the many jobs, styles and projects that I take on. As of late I have grouped it all into the term “Commercial Artist”.
As far as the style of my work it ranges. In its most natural form I often describe it as “perverted Disney.” I have a recognizable style that tends to bleed through everything I do whether it’s a figure drawing, an environment, a character or a branding design, there is always something there that lends to the fact that it was me who did it.
How did you get into illustration? What do you do for inspiration?
I have been drawing since before I could walk. It has been a defining piece of who I am my entire life. When I was younger my parents allowed me paint on the walls. I have always had a love for movies and cinema, I would go see a movie and as soon as I got home I would paint the characters on my walls.
I originally went to school for traditional animation but discovered over time that I would rather be the person coming up with the ideas and designing the characters and elements than being the person to actually animate them. This change of heart is when I turned my focus to illustration and I haven’t looked back since.
Inspiration for me comes in many different forms. I still maintain influence from movies and live theater. I also have a love for the strange creatures and mysterious happenings of the world. The idea of a “cryptid” is something that has a base in a lot of my work, something that’s existence has not yet been proven creates this mystery that one can define in endless ways through story and character design. Along with the idea of creatures that lurk in the night I also pull inspiration from historical folklore and ghost stories. I have, however, never been one for horror. I am always more interested in something with a story that is only slightly creepy, or open for interpretation.
I also like to keep other artists work around me. I prefer not to hang too much of my own work on my walls and in my studio. It’s always nice to get out of my own brain and look at someone else’s work.
If you weren't an illustrator, what would you be doing?
Oh man, this is a tough one. I’m not sure. When I was in high school I tried so hard to put the artist in me away and focus more on playing sports and being a normal kid, again, the art bled through every time I tried to suppress it. Back then I would probably say I wanted to be a gym teacher or a veterinarian. Nowadays, I cringe at the thought of either of those. I would hate teaching in a school that was at any other level than college and I could not deal with any form of animals in pain. I guess today I would have to say that maybe I would be a detective. I’m good at problem solving and I am always up for a good mystery.
Who are 3 illustrators that you admire?
There are so many out there that have influenced or inspired me in one way or another whether through their work or their personality.
#1. Taking a step back in time. From an early age I always had an admiration for Brian Ajhar. He was one of the first illustrators I would say I truly became a fan of. Just the natural feel to his work and how everything he does seems so effortless yet all the while developing these amazing characters and illustrations. From the fluidity of his line work to the way he highlights the nose, there are so many elements to his work that I look up to.
#2. Currently I’m really digging Ming Jue Chen and her work on Marvel’s Silk. Her color choices, line work, stylization, work with light, and I can list a million more ways she impresses me. Ultimately she is a badass female artist at the top of her game and at the highest level! She is an inspiration in more ways than one.
#3. As a vector artist I am always super impressed with Orlando Arocena. He works magic in Illustrator. I haven’t seen anyone doing the type of stuff he does. It’s almost inconceivable at times how he achieves the effect he does with vector. It’s like a combination of old school airbrush meets new school comic style and it’s always epic!
Of all the work/projects you have produced, what are you most proud of?
This one is on a personal level and for various reasons. I recently painted a digital portrait of my weird little dog in all his glory (seen at top). I haven’t done a hyper realistic piece in many years. This was an exercise in combining that realism with the stylistic illustrator I have become. It is also the first full blown painting I have done in Photoshop. I’ve done a lot of smaller more cartoony work in the program but this was on the next level for me. It took me about a month to complete and there is nothing more satisfying and hilarious than seeing it in a big gold frame hanging above my dining room table. Also, because I haven’t gotten sick of looking at it yet. Usually I hate my work after about three days or so, as any artist does.
What are your views on art school?
I myself am a product of art school on the undergrad and graduate levels having attended SVA, Paier College of Art and The University of Hartford’s MFA in Illustration Program and I am now a college level instructor. Personally, I don’t know where I would be without it. My training in foundations and illustration has influenced every artistic decision I make to this day. I was an extremely hard working student as I am as a professional artist. If you are not one of those students that puts their all into everything that they do then art school will most likely not benefit you. Art school is what you make of it. If you take full advantage of everything and everyone around you it can be extremely beneficial. Even if you are at a school that may be lacking in the resources you need, you must find a way to make it work for you. I think nowadays having that degree is very important as well, but student’s need to realize that it is not an easy degree nor is it an easy business to break into. If you are not someone who is driven everyday by the need to create or succeed than it is not for you. For those that are ready to take on the art world I would suggest it, not only for the training and the degree, but more importantly for the networking, possibly the most important thing you need to do to start your career.
Can you describe your creative process?
The best way I can describe my creative process is that my brain works in layers, just like Photoshop or Illustrator. I tend to slow things down and work in reverse. Usually something will randomly inspire me and I will just start to draw. I keep a sketchbook on me at all times in case such an opportunity arises. I often force myself to draw things that I usually avoid in my own work like architectural or mechanical things. A lot of times this stuff never makes it out of my sketch book but it is good practice. I prefer to sketch with Prismacolor color-erase or ink. Once in a while I will play around with watercolor in my sketches. My actual work is almost completely digital at this point. I personally love working in vector, using shape and line allows me to build rather than paint. It’s like putting together a puzzle. I also really like clean lines. Another thing that aids my process is that I always have a handful of projects going on at once. If I’m only working on one thing at a time I tend to get bored and lose interest. It helps to distract myself from one piece with another.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an illustrator?
Being an illustrator is not easy nor is it always rewarding. You have to continuously work hard, promote, network and create even when the jobs are not there. It is a constant way of life. It is not the type of job that allows you to work 9-5 and then forget about it. The work is constantly on your mind and deadlines don’t care that you have a life. You must be extremely driven to be an illustrator. Work will not just come to you, often you have to go out and find it. Dealing with clients, edits, criticism, competition and fighting to get paid are all part of the deal. It’s not a glamorous or high paying job. It’s a job that you do because you love it, you live and breathe it, and there’s not a second that goes by that you are not thinking about what the next great thing is that you are going to do.
Thanks very much for taking time out to do this interview, can you leave us with any parting words of wisdom?
Stay motivated, stay relevant, continuously educate yourself and do what you love.
(Bonus) CURAAATED by Magge
Who's your favorite artist?
I always admired the work of Thomas Hart Benton. His strange, almost surrealist exaggerations of the human form and his depictions of historical time periods resonated with me from my trips to the museum as a child. He always presented his work with lively figures regardless of the subject of the piece. He has an amazing style that breaks the line between fine art and illustration and forces the idea that art can be “perfectly imperfect.”
What’s your favorite book?
The classic, Where the Red Fern Grows.
What movie can you watch over and over again?
Easy. Sleepy Hollow.
What’s one movie you would call a hidden gem?
What’s your favorite video game?
I actually am not a video game person. I get bored really easily – does Fruit Ninja count? I can play that shit all day long.
What’s your favorite TV show?
My favorite TV show is anything that I can listen to while I’m working that I can tell what’s going on without actually watching it. Law and Order is always good for that.
If I had to choose one recent show it would be WestWorld.
What are 3 of your favorite websites?
Who’s your favorite musician or band?
It’s cheesy but I’ve never heard a Maroon 5 song that I didn’t like.