Study, discipline, commitment and patience. And a lot of passion. These are the working key words of the young Italian fashion designer and illustrator Valentina Battaglia. She is inspired by her charming city, Rome, and her work is a constant and meticulous quest for beauty in every detail. A watchful eye, determination and restless practice guide her hands in the creation of a painting not far from perfection.
We had a pleasant chat with Valentina to learn more about her work and the importance of illustration in fashion environment.
I believe that the brushstrokes of a traditional painting express such a more intense emotion than digital painting, which lacks a bit of human touch.
Hi Valentina, tell us about you
I am a 26-year-old fashion designer and illustrator, born and raised in Rome.
What’s your educational background and how did you get interested in fashion?
I always knew drawing would be a fundamental part of my life, but it took me a while to find my way. I graduated in humanities in high school and then I decided to study Architecture, but after a few years I realized that it was not the path for me. Drawing was not my only passion, though. My family has always been connected to the world of fashion: I actually grew up among tailors, costume designers and artists, so you could say that love for fashion lays in my DNA. That’s why when I got in the Koefia Fashion Academy in Rome, I suddenly understood that it was where I needed to be. Inspiration is the only word I need to describe the years I spent studying and working in such a creative environment and that made me accomplish so much. I am also grateful to Koefia Academy because I had the chance to meet so many people who played and still play a fundamental role in my personal and professional growth: first of all, my teachers, assistants and also my fellow students.
Nowadays, more and more fashion designers specialize in illustration. What do you think?
I think illustration is a fundamental tool for a fashion designer, because a sketch helps you having a clear idea of how your project will look like and how to develop it. In my opinion, designing fashion creations cannot be a gamble: if you want to realize a garment, you have to study it and beak it down to the smallest detail first, and that’s where illustration comes to your aid. If well done, an illustration is like a detailed photograph of the garment before its realization.
Would you rather work with pen and paper or digital softwares?
I think digital softwares cannot replace pen and paper. I started working on digital supports quite recently, about a year and a half ago, but I still prefer studying and practicing using pencil and paper. I think that just as you can't work with fashion if you can't hand sew, you can't digitally draw if you don't practice on traditional supports first.
I want my work to be tangible so that people can observe every detail as if it was a traditional painting.
How do you see traditional and digital drawing coexistence?
I think both methods of drawing have some technical difficulties, but they are so different that they are incomparable, in my opinion. If you are asking me, I believe that the brushstrokes of a traditional painting express such a more intense emotion than digital painting, which lacks a bit of human touch. For this reason, in my digital illustrations, I always tend to blur as little as possible in order to give defined and distinguishable brushstrokes. I want my work to be tangible so that people can observe every detail as if it was a traditional painting. However, I think digital softwares are an incredible tool, that thanks to last year’s technological progress are becoming more and more similar to the traditional drawing method.
Inspirations are often unconscious and unseen.
Looking at your work, we can see a meticulous attention to each detail, to the interplay of light and shadow. Tell us about how your artistic process begins and how it goes on.
For me, studying is a crucial element of the fashion illustration process. What I did at the beginning of my studies was reproducing the most interesting outfits of the most famous brands’ collections just to have a deeper insight and a better understanding of their artistic design. This method really works: while reproducing some outfits I actually discovered some interesting details in terms of packaging or modeling that I hadn't noticed before and that helped me to improve my following illustrations. When I draw, I ask myself the same questions I would ask if I had to physically make the outfit: how is this sleeve sewn? What does this pocket look like? How is this pattern drawn? And I give myself some answers that guide me fitting of all the details in their right place. Then there are colours, lights and shadows: these are the fundamental elements for the three-dimensional rendering of any object. As proof that all experiences are useful, I often rely on the theory of shadows I learned during my years of studying architecture.
What do you mostly find inspiring?
This is one of the hardest questions, because inspirations are often unconscious and unseen. Without any doubt, my favourite artists and illustrators have a great influence on my creations, starting from the great classics up to the most modern artistic trends. But I try to let everything around me inspire my art: I often take pictures of cars parked on the street, if I find interesting their colors and if they give me hints for shades matches I could reproduce. One of my greatest sources of inspiration, though, is my mother, Antonella Caraceni, painter, gallery owner and my strictest drawing (and life!) teacher.
How do you feel when you work on your drawings? Do you listen to music or do you prefer silence?
When I draw time flies and the mind goes blank. I forget about everything and dedicate myself 100% to what I’m working on. Music is a very important part of my life, I listen to it all the time, and it helps me keep up with the pace of work. I’m a little bit old school – I love The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Genesis. Actually, I have a playlist ready for every mood, from chill to disco. When I’m working, silence bores me terribly.
It can be frustrating to do a job apparently steady but without being really passionate about; while devoting everything to what you love to do can eventually lead sooner or later to great satisfaction.
In your opinion, can you live just on fashion illustration in Italy?
Right now, it is difficult to live on anything in Italy. But, for this very reason I think it’s worth investing in your greater passions. It can be frustrating to do a job apparently steady but without being really passionate about; while devoting everything to what you love to do can eventually lead sooner or later to great satisfaction. And, if not, it will never be a waste of time because it will mean you’ve spent time doing what you love.
What is the project that has given you the greatest satisfaction so far?
The greatest satisfaction was receiving a message from the head designer of Ports1961, Christian Boaro, who complimented me on my work, in particular for the illustration of the outfit of the brand’s spring 2020 collection. It was an unexpected and very welcome message, and he is a designer I really appreciate.
What advice would you give to those who approach fashion illustration for the first time?
The advice I keep giving myself is to draw and study a lot. I think that to be a fashion illustrator you also have to be a tailor and modeler and should always be informed about the new collections. But I think above all that you should study both geometric and anatomical design. Basically, the more you draw the better.
In your opinion, what is the main difference between photography and illustration?
Again, we are talking about very different functions. For me, illustration is mainly a study tool. The anatomical proportions in the illustrations do not necessarily have to be realistic: their aim is to give an idea of the whole outfit and of the realization of the garment. Photography intervenes when the design is completed – the aim is to show what has already been achieved.
Tell us about your professional experience at the Peet Dullaert atelier, at Arnhem, Holland. How did you enrich your art?
The experience at Arnhem was very important, it taught me a lot and gave me the opportunity to test both my skills and my limits. The environment was young and dynamic – my colleagues came from all over the world. Just the exchange of ideas and experiences among us taught me a lot. I find Peet to be a brilliant designer and a beautiful person. I had the opportunity to witness his creative process and participate in all stages of the collection’s production. This experience has given me so much from every point of view, from the artistic to the personal one.
Many fashion illustrators create drawings based on works by others. As a fashion designer and illustrator, is it more difficult to draw works by other designers or your own?
For me, each illustration is a new project. Illustrating a work of another designer or one of mine is similar in some ways. The questions that I ask myself and which I find answered while drawing are the same. As for the illustrations by other artists, however, the answers have already been given and I just have to read them in the pictures of the fashion show, while for mine I have to find them. From a certain point of view, it’s harder to draw mine, because it is an illustration but also a project to be studied at the same time, while the illustration of a fashion show outfit already encompasses its entire project well defined.
What do you think about 3D rendering of fashion collections?
I think it’s a very fascinating and interesting world. I think 3D rendering is also a very useful study tool for the style offices to make an outfit even more realistic before it’s even made. However, I don’t think it’s a technology that can replace shooting or fashion shows, although I loved Sunnei’s 3D representation for digital fashion week, with models dancing to Macarena’s notes. Who knows, maybe I’m wrong!
I can’t say where I see myself in a few years, but I hope to keep drawing, because that’s what I love to do.
Are you working on a project right now?
I always have a thousand projects in the pipeline, and I’m thrilled with every one of them. I’m currently working as an illustrator with a fashion consulting firm and some brands.
Do you often think about the future? And where do you see yourself in a few years?
I am constantly thinking about the future, and especially at this time of uncertainty I cannot pretend that this does not scare me. But I like to think positive and not plan too much, because I know that, as John Lennon used to say, «life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans». I can’t say where I see myself in a few years, but I hope to keep drawing, because that’s what I love to do.
Follow Valentina's illustrations on Instagram.
Interview & Article by
Vivian di Lorenzo