S&H editor Ben Nussbaum chatted with this issue’s featured artist, Andrea D’Aquino, about creativity and silence, her affinity for collage, and more
Ben Nussbaum: You do a lot of illustration, so a lot of your work exists only digitally, on a computer screen, until it’s reproduced in a newspaper or magazine. How does not having a physical piece of art you can touch and manipulate challenge you as an artist?
Andrea D’Aquino: I think we do have to make a distinction between an artist and an illustrator. I think of illustration as more in service of something, where you have to fulfill something. So even though you’re being creative, it’s not the same as someone in a paint-splattered studio all day. They’re different pursuits. But in my illustrations, I try to incorporate the spirit of someone who does physical work and is more experimental and free. And in my work life I try to keep juggling both balls of the physical, organic, handmade, experimental work and the editorial or assignment work.
Ben: In some ways, New York City is this huge collage. For example, there are so many types of buildings all jostling with each other. Do you think living in New York plays into your affinity for collage?
Andrea: Whatever you bring to it is probably relevant, but I would say that’s off from my own perspective.
Usually people imagine a more stereotypical New York situation, surrounded by buildings and people and a million different things. I don’t see that when I look out my window. I see a lot of sky. Yeah, there’s some buildings, but they’re all fairly low. I’m two blocks from the Hudson River. I walk a lot with my dog. I actually live pretty quietly. I’m not in the middle of the hubbub.
Any creative person probably benefits from being more introspective. At least for me. I don’t like being in noise. It’s true sometimes I pick up little bits and bobs of stuff on the street, but that could be anywhere.
I think the collage aspect probably comes from the fact that I started as a graphic designer. And when I started, you would do design by moving a lot of things around the page manually, physically, and seeing how they juxtapose. I think probably my gravitation toward collage is due to that.
Ben: That’s interesting. I like that answer.
Andrea: But you might be right. I’ve always lived either in or around New York City. I don’t totally discount that. I probably have seen a lot of very disparate things, from highs and lows, now that I’m thinking of it. Maybe there’s something there. It’s not conscious, though.
Ben: I’m wondering, when you work in collage in particular, you can pick from so much. How do you know where to start?
Andrea: Well sometimes I don’t! When I’m working for myself, sometimes I have no idea how to start, so I just start.
And I have no idea where it’s leading. Pieces of paper or elements or patterns can just sort of lead you down a path that you don’t expect to go. Sometimes the best things come out of having no preconceived notion or goal.
When it’s for an assignment or something specific, I do draw a lot, I would say, so when I have to be specific, especially for editorial assignments, collage doesn’t really work, in a way.
Ben: Many of our readers have their own creative pursuits. Any advice for them for getting in touch with their creativity? What works for you when you’re stuck?
Andrea: I definitely go back to having a reasonable amount of quiet time. You can go on walks and take breaks where you feel like you’re doing nothing and you might even feel like you’re wasting time, but something is happening. Just don’t even be thinking about your project. I really think a healthy amount of mental space—so that when you do come down to work, you can actually do it pretty quickly, in short bursts.
Pushing it day in and day out can be very counterproductive. That said, I do think there’s something to doing it often, if you have time. Maybe it’s just a little bit every day. A certain amount of just putting some time in, even if you have no idea where it’s going to lead, is vital. But don’t underestimate the breaks.
And not every day is going to be great. It just can’t be. So you have to be very forgiving of yourself, really, and not let it stop you from trying the next day and the next day.