Beatrice Alemagna is an illustrator and writer specialized in children's literature. At age eight, she saw it clear: she aspired to be a painter and a novelist. Until now, she has published around 40 titles known worldwide by people of all ages. Her illustrations are also featured in magazines such as Vogue, Libération and Elle. In 2010, she was awarded the Andersen Italia Award, as well as has been winner twice of the New York Times Award for Best Illustrated Book, among other prizes.
We speak to her about the characters inhabiting her stories and the path that leads her to them.
You're a self-taught professional that started from nothing. What pushed you to illustrate books?
I've always had a huge passion for illustrated books. I grew up reading a lot, and when I went to art school –which was not precisely an illustration one– I attended a Salone del Libro contest and won the last prize. From Italy, I went to France and started publishing.
What fascinated you as a child?
Pippi Långstrump had a great influence on my work. I was fascinated to enter a store full of objects with many details waiting to be discovered, hence the idea of wanting to shed light on the magnificence and magic of daily life.
How do you translate this nostalgia onto paper?
By creating particular atmospheres and lights. For example, I love working with materials: fabrics, small objects... This is translated into the pleasure of images, the details of the subject. The same happens with the color, the contrast between dark and brighter atmospheres. I always try to introduce the marvel of everyday life; as well as a bit of surreality.
What do you consider yourself?
A narrator through images. When you narrate with images, you can be anything: artist, craftsman, sculptor, architect, stylist… I am not an illustrator because I always write my stories. In any case I would say that I am an illustrautrice (illustrauthor) because my drawings always go hand in hand with my stories.
How would you define your style?
I would define it as order and disorder at the same time, fragility and strength, full of contrasts and contradictions. This is part of my deepest nature: I am a very contradictory human being, funny things make me cry.
This comes from the idea of working with the hands, as we used to, and also using the mistake as a moment of luck and inspiration. The computer scares me because it doesn't allow you to make mistakes and makes everything very flat.
What drives you to draw?
Emotions. The need to urgently explain something that lives within me, to children as well as to older people, because it is often adults that are interested in my books. For example, in ‘On a Magical Do-Nothing Day’ I needed to explain the lack of essence, the boredom, the difficulty of emerging from the technological world to find the real one.
You have a very personal signature.
Fortunately! People often tell me, "You really resemble your drawings." It is normal to be present when you design precisely with your living matter, with what’s part of you.
When you design, do you know what you are looking for?
I believe if I knew one day, it would be somehow my end. It's precisely the unknown, the doubt that inspires me. I'm always looking forward to going where I've never been, discovering, getting excited.
You let yourself go, then.
It is a very intimate personal exploration, so much so that sometimes it’s hard for me to work. When I can't find what I'm looking for, I can struggle a lot. I am very visceral.
You said that you find it inspiring to explain stories not only to children but also to the child we all carry inside. How is this reflected in your illustrations?
I like to not be reductive with what I do; I’d rather be able to offer more than one reading layer. I don't only think of the child as a reader, but also a grown-up who might simply be interested in what I say. In fact, adults are often the ones who get passionate about it, even before children.
This year the FLIC Festival dedicates its edition to the unique characters of literature. How are your characters?
A bit hesitant, incomplete, often misshapen and unconfident about themselves. They are people who doubt.
Why do you give voice to vulnerability?
In a book that tells a story, there should be no barriers. I explain stories, and I speak as I can to whom I have to. When you start thinking about the kind of literature you do, you don't do literature anymore. You create with freedom, with emotion.
Also in the framework of the FLIC Festival, the publisher Libros del Zorro Rojo will present your book 'Gisela di Vetro'. What makes this character unique?
Gisela is a transparent girl, born made out of glass and her thoughts remain suspended in her head as if they were balloons. It is a story about the truth, the difference and accepting oneself for who you are and the diversity around you.
What is your portrait of childhood?
Childhood is a wonderful moment in the sense of being incomplete. Having all the possibilities at your fingertips allows you to walk to the infinity and build yourself in a thousand different ways. I talk about childhood of the possible, the dream and the infinite.
What will you talk about at your conference in Barcelona?
About the importance of children's books in the world and how this has had an impact on my work. Then I will show how I have evolved in my self-taught career.