Interview with Steffi Venturi
Steffi enjoys creating traditional artwork with a special focus on the cute and quirky. Some of her work, best described as fun and vibrant line art, depicts little moments from her day to day life and has been inspired by the cartoons and animated films she enjoyed watching as a child and by graphic novels. She aspires to become a full-time illustrator after graduating in the not-so-distant future.
- Tell me about the various sources of inspiration that influence your content.
The people I meet are definitely my biggest inspiration, along with their unique characters. I also take inspiration from the pets I meet through other people. The various cartoons and films, particularly the works of Disney and Studio Ghibli, also find their way into my work.
- How do you explain your fascination with animals?
Labelling animals as what they are is something we can all do. I feel people tend to look at an animal and only go as far as labelling it for what it is. Every animal, however, has a certain character. Some, for example, may be shy, while others are happy or quiet. When I am given a pet-related commission I can empathize with the character and capture it in my art. I examine the picture closely to look out for particular features that bring out the pet’s characteristics. Particular features in the picture I present highlight the character of the pet. You realise that they do indeed have personalities of their own, just like people do. And in a similar way they have special features, such as the way their eyes are or how their mouth is shaped, that bring them out.
- Is there a particular style that you like to use out of the various techniques you use to create your art?
I prefer experimenting with various illustration techniques, so that I blend the traditional portraiture style with my own personal twist. I like to take on caricature, but not to the extreme that is usually seen. Instead, I like to place focus on particular physical features and, at the same time, focus on the narrative aspect of the subject. I feel that there is always a story to tell and I bring that out in my works because that makes the picture complete.
- What influences your drawing style?
Eyes are the windows of the soul, so that is the point I really like to focus on. I enjoy experimenting with colours to highlight the mood being expressed in the picture.
When you’re talking to someone, it is important to interpret the body language. You can learn a lot about someone just through keen observation. People unveil more of their own personality through the various ways their body moves throughout the conversation. Body language subtly explains who they are. Their smiles, hand gestures and eye contact all give away a trait, and that concept fascinates me. I feel there is always a positive aura around a person, even if you only see it for a quick second. And I want to use my art to capture that split second moment.
- Would you describe yourself as a positive person?
I try my best to be so. Art is a great passion that I have been practising for years now. It not only brings me joy, but I believe it is growing into something bigger. As it does, I want to carry a positive outlook to life and my art.
Looking back at my previous artwork, I can see that I used art as a coping mechanism to get through tough times – as I wanted to use my skills to change my perspective to a more optimistic one. When working on my last zine “You Will Be Alright”, I was going through a rough patch, but I wanted to use my art to cheer me up. For me, having that moment of happiness, even if for a split second, can make a big difference. This zine was aimed at reassuring people that bad experiences can be overcome in time. I felt it could have that effect since I relate to other people when there is the need of comfort after a bad experience.
My style is also minimalistic, which, for me, is ideal, since it makes for an approachable, more comforting image. For me, a highly intrinsic drawing would be too stimulating for a person going through stress. The simplicity of my style in the zine puts more focus on the message behind it.
- What is your aim as an artist?
I want my art to reach out to people and provide comfort to those who are troubled. My aim is to create art that takes people out of their troubles for a moment, to not question anything and calm down so that they can tackle the problem properly later on. My work has received positive feedback from time to time. Some people have told me that my work has indeed managed to calm them down.
During my time as a student I have found myself challenging the sort of work we had to carry out. We were told to depict the human body in a particular way; one which I felt was not genuine. So, through that experience, I got inspired to go against what I learnt and add more of what people may consider to be “body flaws”. One of my proudest works is my set of sketches I did for National Women’s Day, which portrays four women who oppose beauty standards. So they would have curvier bodies, body hair; features that are shunned by the media. It was an emotional project because I could express the power of having confidence in one’s image, of feeling completely open and proud of your looks, feeling free of judgement.
After posting these sketches online I received appreciation from people, since I reflected a confident attitude towards body image by pushing the boundary and going against what is considered perfect by showing authenticity.
Another aim is to give myself confidence. On days that I feel down or simply not myself, I draw myself in a better place. When I do so, my own work delivers comfort and confidence to me. There are a few works I don’t post online because I fear they are too negative, which goes against the joyful, vibrant sketches I usually post. There are moments I want to show my serious side, but also, at the same time, put in my humorous side too. The result is a more comforting sketch, opposed to only showing the gloomy aspect of the situation.
- Do you think we should be more childish at heart?
I definitely am a child a heart – my family and friends will back that up. Although I have set goals for my future, I like to sometimes take a moment to mess around and be completely boundless. I feel this ability is a gift which I cannot let die, otherwise my art will not be alive anymore. I think, apart from the mediums you use, your traits are the essential tools you require to create authentic content.
While studying Fine Arts, I was told to follow a certain set of rules which were set out to supposedly make you a better artist. In such a situation I felt the urge to be rebellious, so I challenged the set rules to bring out my own style. For example, I would insert a smile where I was told to put a serious face, or replace dull shades with bright colours.
- Do you think it is hard to be taken seriously here in Malta?
If you dream of having your work in an exhibition, I feel artworks with darker stories, or that are more provocative, get more attention. Although there is nothing wrong with this, at the same time I do feel positivity is not given as much attention. This also results in a less serious attitude being given to such art. So it feels like you will be taken less seriously as an artist if you shift away from portraying negative, gloomy images. I don’t understand why that sort of art seems to be given more attention.
- Would you say your art provides an escape from your problems or does it confront them?
The first approach is an escape, but the final result is a confrontation. The art I work on feels complete only when I have an answer to my problem. There are artworks in which I am the protagonist in a story set in a bad day. I want to show the possibility of hope when despair makes it hard to come up with a solution. I want to show that I have experienced a particular event in my life and how I tried to find a solution, how it can be solved. I found that art can provide a more positive route towards a solution.
What I enjoy about drawing and illustration is being able to use it to reflect on how I felt at the time of creating the work. Every artwork is a journey, especially those which stem from hard times.
10. Do you feel distant from who you were? How do you connect with your past self?
I was not always this positive in my art work. I had a completely different personality back then and sometimes I feel like I still retain a part of it. But I still wanted to reach out and be happier with myself and my art as well as to share. The difference is that now I have a better idea on how to express my happiness. I have learnt more about how to tweak my work to highlight the message behind it. I learnt that we should remember our past selves. Even if we hate them and secretly want that part of our lives to die, they’re still a part of who we are, and we should keep them nonetheless.
If I had to meet my past self I wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation with her. She was quite anxious and conservative, not to mention reserved and quiet. She also had angst and anger. And most definitely would not be able to show me her sketchbook, out of fear. So for me, I now pat myself on the back for improving greatly. Sometimes I find myself being insecure about a project I’m working on. Every time that happens I feel like a part of my past self is returning. But now I embrace it, because a part of who I was is still there but is not dominating me.
My art definitely improved when my personality changed. It has everything to do with changing my personality, meeting different artists and learning from the various experiences I have passed through.
Many people admire the art for the skill and technique that can be seen at face value. But, aside from that, I think importance needs to be placed on the story behind it. Without the experiences and stories the artist has, what work is left behind from them? Because art has to result from an experience, it cannot just come out of the blue.
11. One final message to the readers.
I want to show that simplicity in art can also be powerful and effective. Most importantly, never let your childish side die. Embrace it instead. Embrace all your emotions, regardless of their nature. We all have stressful and difficult times, and I believe that, while we need to be realistic, a little positivity in such times is very helpful.
Timothy Borg is a 19 year old University student who is studying dentistry. He has also taken up a passion for creative writing and music. His current instrument is the electric bass
© 2019 TIMOTHY BORG ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Background photo credit and portrait of Steffi Venturi