Interview by Vicky Woo
Claudia Piras is 27 years old and drew her first doodle in Cala Gonone, Sardinia. She is currently living in Urbino, where she finished her studies at PERF in animation and cartoons last summer. Claudia is one of the ten young cartoonists behind the recently released GAP zine.
Hi Claudia! It’s wonderful to have this opportunity to talk to you about your art! Your work often features portraits and always has an intimate atmosphere to it. Is this subtle sense of mystery in a work important to you?
Yes, a wonderful quote from the Italian writer Italo Calvino comes to mind: “scrivere è nascondere qualcosa in modo che venga poi scoperto” meaning “to write is to hide something in a way in which it can then be discovered.” I also like images that conserve a sense of mystery because it leaves room for the viewer’s imagination.
Well we absolutely loved your comic “Non Uccidere” (“Thou Shalt Not Kill” by Antonia Dettori) which is full of atmosphere and mystery. It was one of the first pieces of yours that really caught our eye. Could you tell us the background to that story and how the project came about?
It’s one of my very first works..I drew it for a small comic festival here in Sardinia: “Lapis in Gurgos” in May 2012. After my first year at the Scuola del Libro di Urbino I’d won 3rd prize in a flash comics contest at Bilbolbul (the International Comic Festival of Bologna). The news crossed the Mediterranean reaching the ears of Manuelle Murreddu, who was organising Lapis and a special project to bring together literature and comics. I was invited as a debuting cartoonist to turn a story by Antonia Dettori into a comic strip. Those were three very intense and constructive days. I’m usually very slow when creating comic pages. I usually look for pictures and photos for a starting point. But there I had only 3 days and no pictures: a true challenge! But I’m really glad something has come out of it if people enjoy it. And meanwhile I had a very good time drawing, looking and listening to interesting comics, pictures, books, debates at the festival. And I met lots of smart cartoonists! It was really an unforgettable experience.
Tell us about your creative process. How do you take an idea to its final construction as a finished piece?
I need to think a lot before start drawing. Walking or running helps me focus as I find it hard to come up with good ideas by sitting at my desk – at least not at the beginning of the process. Also when I draw, I need to listen to music. Usually I listen to the radio so I don’t have to worry about making a playlist! I’ll also do some research on the topic: watch movies or collect pictures from the web. Then I start to sketch out a story.
I’m never satisfied with the first result, and I’ll change the story and the order of the cartoons several times before I feel satisfied. For me it is also necessary to show drawings to people to see if they work and to collect valuable advice. The comparison with other illustrators and readers is very challenging when they are critical and honest!
While I look for the story, I also think of techniques to make it better and make colour tests. At this point, I’ll arrive at the final design. And when I do look back on my old work, I see a lot of mistakes but then I fondly reminisce the creative experience that led me to produce it.
What does your research process entail? Do you work with a certain objective in mind?
Before drawing “Night of Bones” for example, I pondered long over the theme of death and resurrection. I looked at how artists such as Giotto, Brueghel, Rubens and Piero della Francesca represented the Resurrection…but nothing clicked. Then my mind wandered to zombies, cemeteries, and the atmosphere of horror – Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein, the 1931 film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Seventh Seal, Wolf Elbruch’s illustrations, Jason’s comics…and slowly ideas started developing in my mind. The goal was to develop a ‘micro-story’ that expressed a darker atmosphere, a touch of horror…it’s maybe internalized a lot too but I hope that’s not lost in the vignettes.
What particularly appeals to you about working in graphite?
I love how graphite smears on a sheet of paper after it blackens my fingers and hand…how it smears when I use a stained eraser and how it sticks on the sheet when I press too insistently. I love how it darkens when I work on top of it with translucent oil pastels and it stops reflecting, so you can look at it from any point of view.
Do you have a favourite pencil? Wood? Mechanical?
I prefer wood pencils but I don’t have issues using mechanical pencils either!
What other materials do you enjoy using?
I like to draw with pens – especially very thin black ink pens and gel pens where the ink dissolves in water.
I prepare the drawing board with red wine because I love how it turns the paper gray when they touch and also how the colour turns pink under light and over time.
Talk to us about your work in animation and how it’s different to drawing still images.
Animation forces you to have a vision that is truly attentive to details. It’s an issue of time – the timing of movement expands as you draw. Just one frame could compromise the outcome of the entire movement, such as a lack of fluidity that would render it unbelievable. However, sometimes you discover surprising results from something that you thought was a mistake. Sometimes it’s better not to edit too much. Then there’s the issue of rhythm. The sense and the perception of a set can also change radically depending on the succession of shots. Animation also teaches you to be precise with the message you want to put across. There’s a lot of work that goes into every second and so you avoid the superfluous, the unnecessary or uninteresting images.
And then there’s the sonic element of animation that doesn’t quite come across in comics and speech bubbles. Sound here has to become an image and it deserves a completely different treatment. It’s hard to explain.
What are you early memories of drawing like?
When I was a little girl (2 or 3 years old) I had a drafting table. It was made of wood and sat very low. It was my own space. I drew a lot and almost always girls with long hair. I didn’t understand why adults wanted to know whom I was drawing – the girls were all imaginary and you could tell!
Yes, of course! I always carry it with me. I like to draw people; I try to capture their gestures and I take notes of their funny or strange expressions. However I don’t like it when my subjects notice that I’m concentrating on them and these things. It complicates the process a little.
What can we look forward to seeing from you next?
I’m working on a comic book based on an evocative story by a writer who contacted me, looking to collaborate. It’s about mermaids and women.
Right or left-handed?
Right! Who’s winning so far?
Coffee, nicotine, or booze?
Espresso after lunch. A cigarette every now and then.
Last film you saw in the cinema?
I don’t go often to the cinema. The last time I went I saw Tutto parla di te by Alina Marazzi, though yesterday morning I streamed Profondo rosso by Dario Argento.
What books are on your bedside table?
There are so many…too many and unread. I read too little.
You can find out more about Claudia’s work and previous projects at:
Claudia’s work also features in Issue 4 of Tiny Pencil: The Death & Resurrection Issue! Available to buy here.
This interview was brought to you by Victoria Woo and The Tiny Pencil – fine purveyors of the pencil arts. Follow us on twitter @TheTinyPencil, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram for the latest news on all of our new anthology artzines.